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Authors: Brett Halliday

Tags: #detective, #mystery, #murder, #private eye, #crime, #suspense, #hardboiled

The Homicidal Virgin

BOOK: The Homicidal Virgin
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Brett Halliday

The Homicidal Virgin

 

 

1

 

It was one of those beautiful, balmy, autumnal days in Miami when the tempo of life in the Magic City slackens perceptibly; a time for relaxation between the brutally humid days of summer and the frenzied activity of a new winter season when hordes of fun-and-sun-seekers from the north would descend upon the area.

The sidewalks were uncrowded and pedestrians took time to smile courteously at one another, waiting patiently and politely at corners for the light to change, then strolling across the intersection under the unwontedly benign gaze of traffic cops.

In his office above Flagler Street, with both windows wide open to bring in the sound of sluggish traffic borne on the wings of a somnolent breeze from Biscayne Bay, Michael Shayne was relaxed in a swivel chair with his feet resting on a bare, scarred desk. He wore a short-sleeved sport shirt open at the throat, his red hair was comfortably rumpled, he sucked lazily on a cigarette and was at peace with the world. He hadn’t had an interesting case for a month, and was glad of it. Right now he didn’t care whether he ever had another case or not. Right now the only thing on his mind was the question of whether it was worth while for him to stir himself sufficiently to coyer the three blocks to Joe’s Bar, where he would find kindred souls and his favorite brand of cognac.

He yawned widely as he debated the question without a great deal of interest. It was very pleasant here in the office. Through the open door on his left came the subdued and soothing sound of Lucy Hamilton’s typewriter keys gently striking against paper. On this afternoon even Lucy’s normally crisp clatter of typing was slowed to a lethargic pace. It perfectly fitted the day and his own mood, and he contentedly decided to pass up Joe’s Bar until Lucy finished whatever she was doing and was ready to close up the office and go out with him for a cocktail.

A familiar voice impinged from the outer office. It belonged to Timothy Rourke, and it was offensively cheery: “Hi, Lucy my love. Is the great man in? Busy?”

Lucy’s typing stopped. She said, “Michael’s in and he isn’t busy.” As though it were an afterthought, though Shayne knew it wasn’t, she added severely, “He hasn’t been busy for weeks, in fact.”

Rourke said breezily, “We’ll have to do something about that,” and came through the doorway.

Shayne kept his feet placidly on the desk and his shoulder blades pressed firmly against the back of the swivel chair. He raised ragged red eyebrows a quarter of an inch to acknowledge the reporter’s presence and said, “Hi, Tim.”

Rourke was as lean as a greyhound, with cadaverous features and an inexhaustible store of bouncing vitality that gave a spring to his step and a feverish intensity to his deep-set eyes. He drew a square white envelope from the sagging side pocket of a shabby corduroy jacket and dropped it on Shayne’s desk as he passed on his way to the filing cabinet against the wall behind the detective. “Look that over, Mike, while I pour you a drink of your own good liquor.”

Shayne lazily stretched a long arm for the envelope while Rourke opened the third drawer and extracted a bottle of cognac with the ease of long practice. The typewritten address on the envelope was:

 

Classified Advertisement Department,

The Daily News,

Miami, Florida.

 

It was postmarked the preceding day at Miami Beach.

Timothy Rourke set the bottle on a corner of the desk, turned to the water cooler and nested three sets of two paper cups together, filled one with water and put a very small amount in the bottom of another set. He placed the empty pair in front of the redhead with the full cup beside it, opened the cognac bottle and made a five-to-one mixture in his own cup.

Shayne opened the envelope and pulled out a folded square of paper. Doubled inside it was a five-dollar bill. He groped aside for the bottle and absently poured cognac in his empty cup while he read the typewritten message:

 

Please insert the following advertisement one time in your PERSONAL COLUMN:

 

MAN WANTED. Adult, red-blooded American. Must be sophisticated, soldier-of-fortune type willing to do anything—repeat,
anything
—if the price is right. Replies addressed to Miss Jane Smith, Suite 1114, 562 Flagler Street, Miami, will be considered in strict confidence.

 

The enclosed bill will more than cover the cost of a single insertion. Do not bother returning change.

 

The signature,
Jane Smith,
was also typewritten.

Shayne dropped the typed sheet and the folded bill on the desk in front of him and lazily sucked cognac from the paper cup. Rourke had pulled a chair close to the desk and leaned forward eagerly, both elbows resting on the wooden surface, his feverish eyes searching the detective’s gaunt face for a clue to his reaction.

Shayne quirked one eyebrow at his old friend and said, “So?”

“What do you make of it?”

“Some hot-pantsied housewife eager to get rid of a hubby who’s standing in her way.”

“Maybe,” Rourke conceded. “Probably. But wouldn’t you like to meet Jane Smith and get the whole sordid story… and maybe save Hubby’s life?”

“Get the story to spread over the front page of the
News
under your by-line,” Shayne amplified. “Go out and do your own legwork.” He took another sip of cognac, washed it down with a swallow of water.

“But it’s right up your alley, Mike.” Rourke made his voice lyrically enthusiastic. “You answer the ad, see? You’d be a lead-pipe cinch to land the job. Red-blooded and adult. Sophisticated as all get-out, and a soldier-of-fortune type from hell-and-gone. I don’t fit the part.”

Shayne yawned and let a faint grin curl the corners of his wide mouth. “It’s too hot, Tim. Your Jane Smith will get hundreds of applications to choose from. All the hungry guns in town plus a few dozen bums and a scattering of romantic young fools who fancy themselves in the role.”

“Not to this ad, she won’t,” Rourke told him positively.

“I don’t think you understand the male population of Miami very well.”

“Oh, I know there are plenty that’d jump at it if they had the chance. But you don’t think the
News
will run that ad, do you?”

“Why not? She sent the money to pay for it.”

“A matter of public policy. Hell, you ought to see that. Look, we get maybe half a dozen crackpot ads like this every week. There’s a standing rule that they get sent up to the front office for okay before insertion. Don’t you realize we could be sued if we did insert that ad and a murder resulted from it?”

A glint of interest came into Shayne’s gray eyes. He admitted, “I hadn’t considered that angle.”

“And if it is an invitation to murder as you suggested, don’t you have a moral duty to try and prevent it?”

Shayne now grinned openly at the reporter. “Nuts, Tim. Turn it over to the police and let them do their moral duty.”

“Sure. I can do that. But because of our long-time friendship I felt you deserved a crack at it first.”

Shayne’s grin widened. “And because you know I’m more amenable than Petey Painter to passing on a front-page story to the demon newshound, Timothy Rourke. It is postmarked from the Beach, isn’t it?”

“Yeh. And that makes it Painter’s baby. You know how he’d handle a thing like this. Go bulling in and grab the poor gal who may have nothing more vicious in mind than meeting a new man. No matter how innocent her intent may be, Petey would twist it into something nasty, and blatantly proclaim another personal triumph in his crusade against crime. Don’t you want to protect her from that?”

“How do we know Jane Smith needs protection? Most likely she’s a tough old biddy who’s grown tired of waiting for Uncle Horace to die so she can collect his fortune.”

“Then think about Horace for a moment,” urged Rourke. “Poor old guy with his life in jeopardy. His own niece advertising openly for a killer to gun him down.”

“But you’re not running the ad. So she won’t contact any killers and Uncle Horace will remain perfectly free to live to a ripe old age.”

“Not if I know our Jane Smith,” Rourke declared positively. “Failing in this attempt, she’ll try something else. But if she doesn’t fail in this attempt…” He paused significantly. “If she were to achieve contact with the perfect guy who is willing to do
anything
for the right price… then you’d be in a position to dissuade her from whatever she has in mind.”

Shayne yawned and drank more cognac. “Chase down your own headlines, Tim. She gives a mailing address. Take it from there.”

“I just came from five sixty-two Flagler,” grumbled Rourke. “Suite eleven-fourteen is just what you’d expect. A mail-drop to receive and forward letters. Presided over by an old battle-axe who wouldn’t give out the correct address of a client if you twisted her arm off. I suppose their clients are mostly extra-marital lovers who are willing to pay plenty for the assurance that their real identities will be protected.”

“So she certainly wouldn’t give out any information to a private op who comes snooping around.”

“Of course not. Only way to get Jane Smith’s address out of her is by a police order. And that brings us back to Peter Painter. You going to force me to go to him?”

“I don’t see how else…” Shayne began, but Timothy Rourke interrupted him with feverish intensity:

“Answer the ad yourself, Mike. Your reply will be the only one she receives. If she’s at all serious about this she’ll jump at the chance and set up a meeting. You go on from there.”

“But she’ll be watching the paper and see that her ad doesn’t appear. She’ll know damned well my reply to it is a phony.”

“I’ve thought that all out, Mike. It’s easy. You write her explaining why her ad wasn’t inserted. But say that your girl-friend works in the advertising department and the letter came to her desk to be opened. And instead of sending it on up to the front office for approval, she simply held it out and passed it on to you on account of you’re just the man to fill the bill and your gal would like to see you make a fast buck so she can quit her lousy job at the
News
and get married. Doesn’t that make sense?”

Shayne stretched and leaned back in the swivel chair, clasping the knobby fingers of both hands behind his neck and furrowing his forehead. There was a long moment of silence while he blinked reflectively up at the ceiling. From the open windows on his right there continued to drift in the muted sound of slow-moving traffic from the street below, and from the open door into the anteroom there came the persistently soothing cadence of Lucy’s typewriter.

He had no important case on hand, and he was bored. And the unknown Jane Smith did intrigue him. He was too seldom intrigued these days.

He kept his gaze fixed on the ceiling and said ruminatively, “If the set-up is anything like it looks from here, Jane Smith certainly won’t confide in a private detective. And if she’s got a brain in her head, she won’t jump into anything blindly without investigating my background. I’d have to set up a whole new identity…”

“Simplest thing in the world for a smart guy like you,” declared Rourke expansively. “On a
News
expense account, Mike. I’ve got a curious hunch about this. That it’s something big. Important enough to be worth following up. You know how it is, damn it. You get that feeling sometimes… in my business and in yours. Honest-to-God, don’t you feel it too?”

“Not exactly. But if your paper wants to foot the bill, I’ll try to establish contact with Jane Smith and see what comes of it.”

“Go to it,” said Rourke fervently. “All I ask is to have a crack at the story… when and if it breaks.”

Shayne sat erect and finished his drink, drained the paper cup of water. He smashed all four cups in his two big hands, swung out of the swivel chair and dropped them into a wastebasket beside the water cooler. Then he strode past Rourke into the outer office, and Lucy Hamilton broke the even rhythm of her typing to look over her machine at him inquiringly, competent fingers lying lax on motionless keys.

He paused beside the outer door, reaching for a Panama hat on a hook beside it. “Tim and I are drifting out for a drink,” he announced casually. “Close up shop whenever you’re in the mood, angel.”

Lucy Hamilton’s serious brown eyes held more than a hint of disappointment as she said, “This isn’t anything really important, Michael.” She allowed herself a brief downward glance at her watch. “In fact, I could close up right now…”

“Sure. Go right ahead,” Shayne said heartily as Rourke sauntered from the inner office to join him. “You know you can take off any time you like. See you in the morning.”

He opened the door onto the corridor and stepped out, held it open for Rourke to join him.

“Some day,” said Timothy Rourke, “you’re going to drop into your office on an otherwise fine morning, and there’s going to be no perfect secretary to greet you. I saw that warning in Lucy’s eyes just now. You can be just so casual just so long with a gal like that. Why push your luck?”

Shayne had stopped to push the
Down
button on the elevator. He said morosely, “This time it’s entirely your fault. If you hadn’t walked in when you did with this Jane Smith deal, Lucy and I would be hightailing it together to the nearest air-conditioned cocktail lounge right this minute. If I do have to break in a new secretary,
that
will go on the
News
expense account too.”

 

In his corner hotel suite on the north bank of the Miami River, Michael Shayne selected the smartest piece of luggage he possessed, a five-year-old grayish suitcase of lightweight material for airline travel, and opened it out on the bed to receive a careful selection of clothing to fit the move he intended to make.

He tossed in his most flamboyant pajamas and a silk dressing gown Lucy had given him for Christmas three years before, and two of his most garish sport shirts, laying aside one atrocity with pineapple trees and hula maidens outlined in red against a bilious yellow background to wear when he went out. He added underwear and socks, and a pair of creamy-white Italian silk slacks, toilet articles and clean handkerchiefs. From the bottom drawer of his bedroom dresser, he lifted out from underneath a pile of white shirts a short-barreled .38 nestled in a worn leather holster strapped into an efficient shoulder harness which he hadn’t worn for many years. He placed this carefully inside the folds of the slacks at the bottom of the suitcase, spread the other clothes on top of it, and closed the bag.

BOOK: The Homicidal Virgin
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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