Read Tickets for Death Online

Authors: Brett Halliday

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

Tickets for Death

BOOK: Tickets for Death
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Brett Halliday

Tickets for Death

 

 

Chapter One:
THREE CALLS FOR MICHAEL SHAYNE

 

MICHAEL SHAYNE SAT WITH HIS SHOULDERS HUNCHED over the bar at Joe’s Joint in downtown Miami, his gray eyes flickering over the crowd with morose disinterest while one big hand warmed a glass of cognac. When Timothy Rourke came toward him with a broad grin, Shayne nodded to Joe. “Set out the bottle and another glass.”

The proprietor set a bottle and a two-ounce glass on the bar. Shayne cuddled his larger glass defensively as Tim Rourke flung a long leg over the stool and sat beside him.

Rourke said, “Damned if you haven’t got a sweet graft, Mike. I’ve been trailing you from one bar to another for the last two hours.” He filled his glass and emptied it, poured himself a second.

Shayne rumpled his coarse red hair with long knobby fingers, then shoved the bottle beyond Rourke’s reach. He said, “I’m not working today,” sipping lazily from his wineglass. “What are you trailing me for?”

Rourke folded his arms and relaxed against the bar. “Just a messenger boy, believe it or not. Since you got married your dames come to me when they want to get serviced.”

“Do they?”

“Do they what?”

“Get serviced when they come to you?”

Rourke snorted. “They don’t want what I can give them. I trail you around to fix up assignations on your behalf. And Phyllis sitting at home waiting for you. Damn it, Mike, you keep me blushing with shame.” Rourke’s arm swept out and his thin fingers clutched the cognac bottle.

“If you told me anything that made sense I might buy you a pint bottle with a nipple on it,” Shayne said without rancor.

“All right.” With his glass filled to the brim for the third time, Rourke gesticulated widely. “So I’m sitting in my office after putting the rag to bed and the phone rings and it’s your wife. There’s a trusting colleen, you lug. She’s got a message for you from a dame and can I find you and deliver it? It’s business, she says, and I think monkey business but I don’t break her trusting young heart by saying so.”

“I’m waiting for the message,” Shayne growled. “A few less interpolations would get it off your chest quicker.”

Rourke finished his glass and smiled sweetly. He reached in a sagging coat pocket and drew out a slip of paper. “Lucky you married a gal who doesn’t know the addresses in this man’s town like we do. What kind of business would a doll at the Red Rose Apartments have with you?”

Shayne took the slip of paper from him and spread it out on the bar, frowning at Rourke’s penciled scribble:
Miss Mayme Martin, No. 14, Red Rose Apts.
He said, “That’s out on Second Avenue, isn’t it?”

“As if you didn’t know,” Rourke scoffed.

Shayne frowned mildly. He folded the slip of paper and put it in his pocket. “Mayme wants to see me, eh?”

“That’s the way Phyllis got it over the phone. She said the gal was panting with eagerness. Which one is Mayme? Would it be the little peroxide blonde with the hips?”

Shayne shook his red head and finished his drink. “I’m not socially acquainted with the inmates at the Red Rose.” He pushed his glass aside and nodded to Joe. “Mark that up against me.” He paused as he turned away. “Thanks, Tim. I’ll see if I can arrange an introduction for you with Mayme while I’m over there.”

He took a worn felt hat from the rack on his way out and jammed it down over his bristly hair.

Outside, the air was warm and balmy. It was late afternoon and Flagler Street was crowded with bareheaded, sports-attired visitors. Shayne glanced up at the sky and was surprised to see it overhung with heavy clouds. He hesitated for a moment, then shouldered his way to the curb, got into his shabby roadster and drove east on the one-way street to Second Avenue, where he turned north.

After a few blocks he passed out of the business district and drove through the old residential section of once imposing homes, now made over into furnished rooms and housekeeping apartments.

Beyond, there were newer stucco apartment houses lining both sides of the avenue. He parked in front of one with a rosebush struggling for sufficient sustenance from the sand and coral rock to trail over the trellis arching the entrance. A small sign in the center of the lush green lawn read
No Vacancies.

Two girls sitting in uncurtained upstairs windows leaned out to watch Shayne go up the walk. He strode into a cool entrance hall with a row of mailboxes on the left. A large lounging-room on the right was unoccupied. Most of the mailboxes had girls’ names on them, but No. 14 had no slip in the slot.

A tall, pleasant-faced woman came out of the lounge room as Shayne turned away from the boxes. She had gray hair curled softly back from her face and she wore a sheer white dress. She smiled and asked, “Looking for someone?”

Shayne said, “There’s no name on Number Fourteen.”

“That’s a new girl—Mayme Martin. She moved in today. I believe she’s in if you wish to see her.”

“I’ll go up.” He went past the tall woman to a stairway and climbed to the second floor—No. 14 was in the rear. He knocked, and the door was opened immediately.

Bougainvillaea trellised the windows on the west and coco-palm fronds pressed close, dimming the interior of the apartment. A woman swayed before Shayne in the doorway, clutching the knob with white, convulsive fists. Her breath reeked of gin and her face was not pretty. Fear and drunkenness distorted her pale eyes and her skin was pasty-white without make-up. She wore stockings, but no shoes.

The woman waggled her head foolishly and clung to the doorknob as she stared up at Shayne. “You’ve got the wrong door, mister. I didn’t know this place was a joint when I checked in today. Try any of the other doors down the hall and you won’t get turned away.”

Shayne said, “I’m looking for Mayme Martin.”

Her lower jaw sagged open and the tip of her tongue pressed hard against her lower teeth. She threw her head back and squinted farsightedly at Shayne. Terror spread over her face, then went away swiftly as relief came to her eyes. “Are you the detective I tried to phone?”

“The name is Shayne—Michael Shayne.” He stepped into the doorway and she let go of the knob, moved aside to let him enter the disordered living-room. An expensive though marred hatbox stood open in the center of the floor. Dresses and slips hung on the chairs, and Shayne pushed a big white straw hat aside to make a place to sit down on the wicker lounge.

Mayme Martin swung the door shut and came toward him with the exaggerated care of one who is drunk and fully aware of it. “Maybe I better fix us a little drink,” she suggested thickly. “I got gin and orange juice in the icebox.”

Shayne shook his head firmly and lit a cigarette. “Not for me, and you don’t need any more right now. What did you want to see me about?”

“I’ll tell you, Mr. Shayne. I’ll tell you right straight out and no beating around the red rosebush. That’s the way I am, see? Anybody knows Mayme Martin’ll tell you that’s the way I am.” She swayed back and stumbled over a shoe on the floor, kicked it aside, and said, “Damn.”

Shayne got up, took her arm, and helped her to a seat. She giggled delightedly, “Pooped—that’s what I am. Pooped to the gills if you want to know. And what if I am? Why shouldn’t I get pooped, Mr. Shayne? Nothing like a little gin, I always say, to relax a girl when she’s all worn out from moving.”

“That’s right.” Shayne sat back on the couch and stretched long legs out in front of him.

“But it takes money to buy gin,” Mayme informed him. “Yes, sir, that’s what it takes. I got a bottle in the kitchen and if you want a drink—” She paused to squint at him hopefully.

Shayne shook his head. “Not right now.”

The woman wasn’t more than forty, he guessed, but her bloated cheeks and unhealthy pallor made her appear much older. Her hair was obviously bleached and recently marcelled, but it was straggly now and she continually pushed damp strands away from her face with wavering fingers. And yet, in her bearing there was a suggestion that under happier conditions she might have dignity and poise.

Shayne again tried to break through her gin-induced fog to learn why she wanted to see him. “Why did you call for me on the phone today? Where did you get my name?”

“I heard them talking about calling you in on the case,” she mumbled. “As soon as I heard them talking about you I said to myself, I said, ‘Mayme Martin, here’s your chance to pick up some easy money for yourself.’ Yes, sir, I said, ‘You’ve been a fool long enough. All your life you’ve been giving away what you might as well get paid for, and this is one time when you’re going to cash in while the getting is good.’ So I packed up and came right down here to see you, Mr. Shayne.”

“All right,” Shayne said. “So you’re determined to cash in. On what? What have you got to sell me?”

“Not what you think, mister.” She opened her eyes wide and smiled cunningly. “I’ve been around long enough to know there’s younger and prettier girls than me on the make. Though there was a time… I’m telling you there was a time—”

“I don’t doubt that,” Shayne broke in. “But what are you selling today?”

“Information, mister. The old inside info. I’ve got it on tap, see? But it’s for sale. I’m not giving anything away. No, sir. I’ve learned my lesson. What does it get you? Tell me that? What does it get a girl?”

“Information about what?” Shayne asked patiently.

“Oh, you know, all right. Listen, I can crack that case wide open for you. Wide open—” she snapped her fingers feebly—“just like that.” She pursed her lips and nodded sagely. “And that’s worth money. Don’t tell me it isn’t.”

“What case?”

“Don’t try to kid me. The one you’re working on.”

“I’m not working.”

She slitted her eyes and screwed up her face in disbelief. “Don’t hand me that line. I know what you think. You think I’m drunk enough so’s you can get it out of me without paying for it. That’s where you’re wrong, mister. I’m drunk all right, but not that drunk. Not by a damn sight. I know what you’re working on, and I know what my dope is worth to you. A grand, that’s what. A pure grand. And you’re going to lay it on the line before I give.”

“What case am I working on?” Shayne tried again.

“You know damn well Albert Payson called you in today. Why, it was in the paper. The Cocopalm
Voice
had the story spread all over the front page. Try to deny
that.”

“I’m not denying anything,” Shayne said gently. He frowned at the dead cigarette butt between his fingers, tossed it toward a smoking stand in the corner. His right thumb and forefinger massaged the lobe of his left ear while he asked carefully:

“Suppose I am working on a case in Cocopalm? Why should I pay you for information concerning it?”

“Because it’s the only way in God’s world you’ll ever get the straight of it,” she assured him promptly.

“But—who pays
me?”
Shayne spread out his big hands. “A grand is a lot of money.”

“It’s not so much. Not half what it’s worth. Why, they’re bumping the track for three times that much every night. And they say you always manage to make your fee out of a case.”

Shayne shrugged his broad shoulders and stood up. “You might as well be talking Greek so far as I’m concerned. If you’ve got anything that’s worth money, tell me what it is and I’ll see you get what it’s worth. Otherwise, I’m not interested.”

“Oh, no. You don’t pull that. Not this time. I’ve heard that song and dance before. This time it’s going to be on the line before I give, and you’ll come to me. I’ll be sitting right here holding the lid on until you spread the berries out in front of me.”

Shayne said, “Okay. When I decide you’ve got something worth a grand I’ll be around. In the meantime you’d better lay off the liquid diet and take on some raw meat to soak up what you’ve already drunk.” He picked up his hat and went toward the door.

Mayme jumped up and swayed against him. She caught his arm in a surprisingly hard grip, and thrust her face close to his. Her eyes were strangely dilated. “Don’t wait too long. Maybe it’ll be too late if you wait very long. I’m warning you.” A look of cunning passed over her face. “I know I’ve stuck my neck out and I don’t care,” she went on, “but I mean to cash in just once before I kick off.”

“What do you mean it’ll be too late if I wait—too long?”

Mayme shrugged and her body went lax again. “Do I have to draw you a picture?”

“Nothing you’ve said makes sense,” Shayne said irritably. “If you’d give me a few of the pieces—”

He was facing the door and Mayme was looking past him toward the fading light coming in the rear windows. She stiffened suddenly and shrank away, throwing up a hand to shield her eyes. A moan came from between her set teeth.

Shayne whirled. Mayme was pointing a shaky finger at the window, but he could see nothing.

“There! I saw him,” the woman screamed. “Oh, my God, if he’s found me—”

Shayne strode swiftly to the window and looked out. There was a clear twenty-foot drop, with no fire escape or balcony. The frail latticework supporting the bougainvillaea beside the window would not support a small child. He shook his head and went back to Mayme, saying savagely, “There’s no one there. There hasn’t been anyone there.” He caught her shoulders and shook her. “You’d better tell me what this is all about.”

Mayme shook her blondined head stubbornly. She backed away from him and sat down. “Not till the money’s on the line. I’m not saying a word. I know it couldn’t be him. He wouldn’t look for me
here.
Not him.” Her shrill laughter pierced the shadowy corners of the room.

Shayne turned away in disgust. “Next thing you’ll be seeing pink lizards wearing top hats. Call me when you’re sober.”

“You’re not the only string to my bow. Don’t think you are. I got another little trick up my sleeve if you’re going to be that way.” She giggled drunkenly. “This case has got angles you’ll never find out about except from
me.”

Shayne said, “Shake the trick out of your sleeve.”

She nodded absently. “All right. I’ll do just that.” She staggered to her feet and went past him to the telephone.

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