Authors: Brett Halliday
Tags: #detective, #mystery, #murder, #private eye, #crime, #suspense, #hardboiled
The Violent World of Michael Shayne
THE BIG FISH BROKE WATER LESS THAN TEN YARDS FROM THE boat. After battling Michael Shayne for half an hour, it had begun to weaken. Shaking its head in a vain attempt to dislodge the hook, it twisted in the air and went under. The redheaded private detective spun the reel, his shoulder muscles rippling under his T-shirt. Totally absorbed in what he was doing, forgetting the problems and frustrations of the past forty-eight hours, he worked the fish in close enough for Captain Prideaux to reach it with the gaff. Together they brought it on board.
“It’s a big one, Mike,” Prideaux said.
“Yeah,” Shayne said happily, stretching.
“Bait up again. There are plenty of nice sailfish left out there. And why not use a barb this time?”
“One’s enough, Jean. Let’s go home.”
He hung the rod carefully on its brackets, then picked up the cognac bottle and kicked a canvas chair around to face the rail. Maybe he could get some sleep on the way in.
At a sound behind him he turned, to find a blonde in a black sleeveless dress watching him from the cabin doorway.
“Congratulations on your fish, Mr. Shayne,” she said.
Shayne swiveled around toward Captain Prideaux, who had suddenly become extremely busy disposing of the sail-fish.
“What’s going on here, Jean?”
The girl said quickly, “Don’t blame Captain Prideaux. It’s my fault.”
Her heel caught as she stepped out on deck. Balancing herself, she took off her high-heeled shoes. She was good-looking in a chilly, self-possessed way, with well marked cheekbones and cool gray eyes. She was in her late twenties or early thirties. The black dress, although simple enough, was far too elegant for a fishing boat. She brushed back her hair and laughed ruefully.
“I’m Trina Hitchcock. I have something to talk to you about, and Jean told me to wait till you’d caught a fish and put away a few slugs of cognac.”
“That was good advice,” the redhead snapped. “How much did you pay for it?”
Prideaux looked around angrily. “OK, so I was wrong! I disturbed the great man when he wanted to be alone. I apologize. Listen to her for a minute, will you?”
“No,” Shayne said. “And the next time I charter your boat for a morning’s fishing I’ll look in the cabin to see who you’re hiding. If there is a next time.”
“I know this is terrible,” the girl said. “I read about what happened yesterday, and you certainly deserve a day off. But I don’t know what else to do!”
“I suppose you need a detective?” Shayne said.
“I certainly do! And if you’ll just—”
“All right,” Shayne interrupted. “If you saw the papers, you know I’ve been moving steadily for two days and two nights. That includes one eight-hour session, from midnight to eight A.M., with Petey Painter, Chief of Detectives on the Beach. He’s never satisfied to be told anything once. He has to hear it a dozen times before he believes it, and after one of those nights the only way I can feel human again is to get out in the Stream, where there aren’t any narcotics hustlers or stick-up men or Painters. Just fish. Now I’m going in and have a steak and a few drinks, and sleep approximately sixteen hours. I’ll make a deal with you, Miss Hitchcock. Or is it Mrs.?”
“Miss. Or why not just Trina?”
“If you’ll sit down and keep your problems entirely to yourself, I’ll pour you a drink of good cognac and when we get in I’ll give you the phone number of a reliable man who’ll take care of you without charging you too much. If you still want to talk to me about it, call my secretary and make an appointment. I won’t be in tomorrow, but I may be in the day after that.”
“It can’t wait that long, Mr. Shayne! And it has to be you.”
“I’m sorry,” the redhead said.
Prideaux returned to the wheel, and threw it over so hard that the girl took several quick steps and banged against the rail.
“Goddamn it, will you stop playing games?” Shayne yelled.
Prideaux came all the way about and headed back toward open ocean. He looked over his shoulder.
“And if you want me to turn around again you know what you’ll have to do. You can probably take me, but if you’re as tired as you say you are, you’ll save yourself some trouble and listen to this girl. I’ve known her since she was a kid. Her daddy’s the senator, Senator Hitchcock.”
Shayne swore to himself savagely. “One of these days you’re going to lose a customer, Jean, I mean it.” He unfolded another canvas chair for the girl. “I’ll listen, Miss Hitchcock, but that’s all I’ll do. And let’s hope it isn’t anything complicated.”
She settled herself in the battered chair and called to Prideaux, “Thanks, Jean, that was noble. You can turn around now.”
“Don’t pay any attention if he growls at you,” Prideaux said. “The whole thing’s an act.”
“Like hell it is,” Shayne growled. “How’s your father?”
“He’s fine. Glowing, in fact, and that’s the trouble. Mr. Shayne, I’m dying for a cigarette. I didn’t want you to see smoke drifting out of the cabin.”
Shayne shook out a cigarette for her and took one himself. He was trying to remember what he had read about her father recently. Emory Hitchcock, after several terms as a congressman, was now in his second term in the Senate. One of the least aggressive men in Washington, he rarely made the headlines. Shayne distrusted most politicians and kept as far away from them as he could, but he liked what he had seen of Hitchcock. The Senator had done him a favor once during an argument he was having with the FBI. Nobody wins arguments from that Bureau without important backing, and Shayne had needed help from Hitchcock to gain his point.
He snapped his lighter shut after lighting their cigarettes. “I said I’d give you a drink, but what are you going to drink it out of?”
“I can drink from the bottle. Really.”
He looked at her skeptically and held it out. She hesitated, then put it to her mouth and took a long pull. She coughed most of it over the rail.
“Goodness, it burns! I admit it’s the first time I ever tried that.”
Shayne laughed. He drank from the bottle himself, corked it, and set it on the deck between the chairs.
She said, “I really hate to do this to you, Mr. Shayne. I know you’d like to throw me overboard and make me swim home, and that’s what I deserve. Your secretary finally broke down and told me you were going fishing, and where I could intercept you. But she didn’t hold out much hope that I could talk you into doing anything. She’s nice, isn’t she?”
“Damn nice,” Shayne said.
“And after that I had quite an argument with Captain Prideaux before he’d let me aboard. Well—maybe all you can do is give me advice. God knows I can use it.”
“Go ahead, Miss Hitchcock. If you see me falling asleep poke me.”
She drew hungrily at her cigarette. “It’s about my father, of course. A perfectly awful woman has her hooks in him. And when I say she’s awful, I mean
He’s nearly sixty. Fifty-eight, to be exact, and this can’t be the first time in history someone his age has made a fool of himself over that obvious type of woman. If that was all there was to it, an older man in the clutches of a flamboyant younger woman, I don’t say I’d
it, but I’d keep my mouth shut in the hopes that it would blow over. He’s not just any fifty-eight-year-old widower, however. He’s a United States Senator. What’s happening is quite clear.”
She colored slightly. Without looking at Shayne she said quietly, “They’re trying to get a photograph of the two of them together in bed, so they can blackmail him with it.”
“Who are they?” Shayne said.
“There’s no mystery about that. The man who’s behind it is named Sam Toby. I don’t know how famous he is outside Washington, but he’s famous enough there.”
“Sam Toby?” Shayne scratched the reddish stubble on his chin. “Isn’t he some kind of lobbyist?”
“On a high level. He’s supposed to know where all the bodies in Washington are buried. He swung that big airplane contract last year—maybe you read about it.”
“Sure,” Shayne said. “That’s what I was trying to think of. I remember there was a big stink at the time. I didn’t bother with the details.”
“It was actually quite simple. Six or seven companies were after the contract, but it boiled down to two. A billion dollars is going to be spent on that airplane, and even in Washington that’s a lot of money. Sam Toby was pulling the strings for the underdog, and the underdog won. Daddy’s subcommittee is trying to find out how he worked it.”
“Tell me something about the woman.”
“Her name’s Margaret Smith. Naturally she calls herself Maggie. She’s either a widow or divorced, there’s no Mr. Smith that anybody knows about. She runs a little theatre, the kind that shows those strange offbeat plays about how hopeless life is. Well, you know what my father is like. Would you believe he could fall for a vulgar woman with a tumbled shock of artificial red hair, a bosom like the prow of the Queen Mary, a loud raucous laugh, powerful perfume, too much jewelry? And I’m only hitting a few of the high spots.”
Anger had improved her somewhat frosty good looks, Shayne thought, but the most striking thing about this description was that it was the exact opposite of Trina Hitchcock herself. In spite of the stiff offshore breeze, her blonde hair stayed under control. Her voice was carefully modulated, with an accent that indicated an expensive New England education. There was a faint network of worry-lines around her eyes. Shayne doubted if she laughed much, and certainly she wouldn’t ever be guilty of anything approaching a raucous laugh. He couldn’t smell any perfume, she wore no jewelry except a single ring, and in addition to all this, she didn’t have much of a bosom.
She seemed to guess what he was thinking. “I know I wouldn’t feel so strongly if I wasn’t his daughter. But the thought of
having anything to do with that coarse woman makes me squirm. The first minute I set eyes on her I said to myself, ‘So she thinks she’s going to be the second Mrs. Emory Hitchcock, does she? Well, maybe. But if it happens, and I don’t think it will, she’ll know she’s been in a fight.’ And at the same time, you see, I felt a bit sheepish, because after all it’s my father’s own business whom he marries.
feelings don’t count. Now that I know what they’re up to I’ve stopped having qualms. Toby wants to get a weapon to make my father call off these hearings.”
“Can he do that?”
“The whole subcommittee would have to agree, but he’s been chairman for years and they usually do what he thinks is best.”
“What makes you so sure she’s working for Toby?”
“I did some detective work, Mr. Shayne. The whole thing seemed phoney to me from the word go. Daddy hasn’t
at another woman since Mother died. Naturally he’s asked out a lot. There’s a man-shortage in Washington, and he’s never been a recluse. Heavens, far from it. But he hasn’t paid attention to anybody in a romantic way. I live in the same house—I know. Then all of a sudden this. As soon as I got over being revolted, it struck me that there might be more to Maggie Smith than met the eye, even though what met the eye wasn’t at all subtle. They met at a dinner before some kind of money-raising affair for her so-called theatre. I made a point of asking the hostess, very casually, you understand, how she happened to invite my father, as I’m sure he’d never set foot in that theatre, if he knew it existed. It turned out that Sam Toby had helped her make up the guest list.”
Shayne started to speak. She said quickly, “I know that’s not much by itself, but wait. They put her next to him at dinner and he never had a chance. The poor darling hasn’t had much experience with that type of woman. She sewed him up fast: They’ve been seeing each other four or five times a week, and it’s common knowledge now that he will not accept a dinner invitation unless she’s one of the guests. It’s even been in the papers, in a guarded way. I don’t know if they’ve been sleeping together. He’s behaving like a sentimental teen-ager, and at his age I don’t think the symptoms would be that severe unless there was more to it than holding hands.”
She was looking straight ahead at the white-flecked water running beside the boat. “I think I need another drink of that brandy. This is very—distasteful. But I want to be sure you understand the situation.”
Shayne handed her the uncorked bottle. She was more careful with this mouthful, and much of it stayed down.
“I’m beginning to understand it,” he said. “I don’t understand why you think you need me.”
“I need you
She put her hand on his arm. “I’ve done everything wrong. I admit I didn’t give her any benefit of the doubt at first—I was purely and simply appalled, and I let my feelings show. I said a few things to Daddy I probably should have kept to myself. We’re still on speaking terms, but barely, and not on that particular subject. He’s got some crazy idea that I’m jealous, which is absurd. If he wants to marry again, there’s no reason he shouldn’t, so long as the relationship has some meaning and isn’t purely physical and temporary. But when a well-known lobbyist and fixer, under investigation by a senatorial subcommittee, sets up a blackmail situation involving the subcommittee chairman—well, he didn’t let me finish. He hit the ceiling. He said he wouldn’t stand for any interference in his private affairs. Interference! After all those years in Washington, he’s amazingly naive. He couldn’t see anything suspicious about that dinner invitation. I’m stymied, just when I’m on the verge of getting some concrete evidence.”
“Concrete evidence of what?”
“Of the Smith woman’s connection with Toby. She’s carried out similar assignments for him before, it seems. This comes from an investigator who used to work for Daddy’s subcommittee, a not very pleasant character named Ronald Bixler, and he’s going to want money before he supplies any details. And then what? Daddy won’t listen to one single word from me against that woman.”
“Then you’d better handle it from the other end,” Shayne said, thinking. “Show the woman your evidence and tell her to lay off your father unless she wants to get herself in some real trouble.”