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Authors: Brett Halliday

Shoot to Kill

BOOK: Shoot to Kill
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Brett Halliday

Shoot to Kill

 

1

 

MICHAEL SHAYNE SAID, “NO,” FLATLY AND WITHOUT emphasis, but with utter finality. He rumpled his red hair with the knobby fingers of his left hand and looked almost wonderingly across the scarred table at his oldest and closest friend in Miami. “For God’s sake, Tim,” he went on in a voice that patently strove to be reasonable, “I’m not a psychiatrist or marriage counsellor.”

“I know,” said Timothy Rourke bitterly. “You’re a detective and you get paid for solving murders, so why should you be interested in preventing one? But goddamn it, Mike, I wish you’d listen to me. After Ralph spilled his guts to me last night I’m going to feel responsible if I don’t do
something.”

“You do the something,” said Shayne, keeping his voice indulgent and reasonable. “It certainly is none of my affair.” He leaned back in the booth at the rear of Joe’s Bar and lifted the sidecar in front of him and took an appreciative sip.

“It’s anybody’s affair,” argued Rourke harshly. “If you see a guy headed for the edge of a precipice you do what you can to prevent it. Even a cynical, hard-boiled, red-headed bastard such as Mike Shayne likes to pretend to be doesn’t turn his head and look the other way while the guy goes over. You at least shout out a warning to him.”

“All right,” said Shayne agreeably. “You see your friend Ralph Larson headed hell-bent for murder and you shout out a warning to him. I gather you did that last night. If he’s too stupid to pay any attention to you, what can I do about it?”

“I just got through telling you. Go see his wife and talk to her like a Dutch Uncle. She’s the key to the whole affair. She’s the stupid one. If she could just get it through her silly head that she’s driving her husband straight to murder, she’d drop the whole thing like a hot tomato. Damn it, Mike, they had a good marriage until Ralph went to work for Wesley Ames and she became involved with him. I was best man at their wedding just three years ago.”

“Then you’re the one to talk to her like a Dutch Uncle,” Shayne argued amiably. “I’m an outsider. Why should she listen to me?”

“Because you are an outsider. That would frighten her, Mike. Don’t tell her I sent you. Leave me out of it altogether. You’re well enough known here in town that just your name will scare hell out of her. Tell her anything. That Mrs. Ames has hired you to spy on her husband and to break up the affair he’s having with Dorothy. You don’t have to bring Ralph into it at all if you think it’s best not to. Just go see her and play it by ear. Convince her that all hell is going to break loose if she doesn’t quit seeing Wesley Ames.”

“You don’t know that she is seeing him. The way you just told it to me, her husband merely has these suspicions. She hasn’t admitted it to him, has she?”

“I guess not. I don’t think he’s even accused her. Ralph was pretty drunk last night and practically incoherent, but he’s absolutely convinced in his own mind that Wesley Ames is making a big play for his wife and that she’s flattered by his attentions and is reciprocating. He doesn’t know whether they’ve actually slept together or not, and that’s driving him nuts. He’s still crazy in love with Dorothy, and that makes him crazy jealous.”

Shayne said, “Nuts,” disgustedly, and emptied his sidecar glass. “You know what I think about jealous husbands who go out and kill men for making passes at their wives. No woman is worth that. Why doesn’t your friend just walk away from her and let her play her extra-marital games?”

“Because he’s young and he’s in love,” grated Rourke angrily. He lifted his highball glass with both hands and sucked at the contents greedily. “You can sit back and philosophize about the situation all you want to, Mike, but that’s not going to change the basic facts. Here are two inherently decent young people who are caught up in a mess that’s going to eventuate in murder unless something is done to prevent it. It’s that simple.” He turned his head to look over the back of the booth and catch the waiter’s eye. He held up two fingers, and turned back to light a cigarette.

“Wesley Ames is a smart operator,” he said bitterly. “He’s a dyed-in-the-wool son-of-a-bitch, but he’s suave and he’s got charm and an unlimited expense account. His gossip column is syndicated in forty newspapers, and all over the country people turn to it avidly to pick up the latest dirt on celebrities cavorting at Miami’s swanky night spots. All he has to do, reputedly, is crook his finger and half the society dames in the country are eager to crawl into bed with him. So if he crooks that same finger at a simple little reporter’s wife like Dorothy Larson, what do you think she’s going to do about it?”

The waiter brought fresh drinks and set them in front of the two men. Shayne leaned back and frowned and shook his red head in puzzlement. “On the other hand, why should he bother?”

“To crook his finger at Dorothy?”

“Yeh. If he’s got all these other dames on his string.”

“In the first place because Dorothy has got what it takes… as you’ll note for yourself when you see her. She’s a beautiful kid, and she’s stacked. On top of that there’s an aura of innocence about her that would appeal to a degenerate bastard like Ames. Besides, Ralph is obviously and helplessly in love with her. He first took on this outside job as legman for Ames in order to earn extra money to spend on Dorothy and keep her happy. That would probably be an added incentive for Ames to make a play for her. Sort of turning the screw on a poor devil who’s more or less dependent on his bounty. Who knows what motivates a man like Wesley Ames?”

“You make him sound like a guy who thoroughly deserves killing.”

“Hell, he deserves it all right. If society were properly arranged, the man who knocked off Ames would get a medal instead of the chair. But society isn’t that far advanced, and that’s why Ralph has to be stopped before this thing goes any further.”

“Why not put it straight to Ames himself?” suggested Shayne easily. “That seems a lot more sensible than approaching Mrs. Larson. After all, Ames has more to lose.”

“He’d laugh in your face,” grated Timothy Rourke. “It would probably please his ego tremendously. No. There’s only one thing to do in this situation, Mike. Make Dorothy Larson realize that she’s not playing with fire, but with an atomic explosion. You don’t know Ralph, and you didn’t listen to him raving last night. I did. And, goddamn it, I like the guy. I’d love to see Ames dead, but I don’t want Ralph to go to the chair for it. I’m putting this to you as a personal favor, Mike. Talk to Dorothy at least. Make her realize the seriousness of the situation. One of the things Ralph kept drunkenly coming back to last night is that he has a two-week vacation coming up and Dorothy wants him to go off on his own while she stays here. He’s convinced in his own mind that she wants him out of the way so she can shack up with Ames while he’s gone. Maybe she has got some such idea. I don’t know. But I don’t believe she wants both Ames and her husband dead, and I think she’d come to her senses if it were put to her that way. And you’re the guy to do it, Mike. You’ve got no axe to grind. She won’t suspect that Ralph put you up to it… the way she would if I went to her.”

Shayne shook his head morosely. “I’ll repeat what I said in the beginning. I’m not a psychiatrist or marriage counsellor. Get her minister or her priest to talk to her. It’s not my responsibility.”

“But it is, Mike,” Rourke insisted intensely. “You’re licensed as a private detective by the state of Florida and you swore an oath to uphold the due processes of the law. You’re like a cop in that respect. It’s a cop’s job to prevent crime.”

“Then let the cops do it,” snarled Shayne. “Why don’t you tell your story to Will Gentry and get him to go around and talk some sense into the lady? Or put Ralph Larson under arrest and hold him in protective custody? Or assign a bodyguard to Wesley Ames? Hell’s bells, Tim! There are a dozen better ways to handle it than the one you suggest.”

Rourke let his thin frame sink back in a slumped position against the back of the wooden bench with his head sunk down between jutting shoulder blades. He shook his head slowly and said, “You’re talking through your hat, Mike, and you know you are. This thing with Ralph has got beyond routine police procedure. None of those stopgaps you mention would be any good. The only thing that will possibly work is to throw the fear of God into Dorothy Larson and bring her back to her senses. She’s a good kid, Mike. Basically, she’s fine. I
know
her, goddamn it. She and Ralph have got off the track somehow. It isn’t for you or me to sit in judgment. You can’t just sit back and complacently wash your hands of the whole affair and say they’ve brought it on themselves. Sure, they have. Does that mean they don’t deserve help? Who the hell are you to sit back and refuse to lift a hand when it may mean life or death to a couple of intrinsically decent young people. You’re not
that
cynical, Mike.” The reporter’s deep-set eyes blazed across the barroom table at his old friend, and his voice shook with fervor.

Shayne dropped his gaze from Rourke’s and lifted his glass and drank from it deeply. He sat it down in front of him and turned it round and round with his fingers while he scowled deeply. Without lifting his eyes to meet Rourke’s, he muttered, “All right. I guess I’m not. Just what the hell do you want me to do?”

“Just what I said in the beginning.” Timothy Rourke was very careful not to let a tinge of triumph sound in his voice, though he could not restrain a note of relief. “Go and see Dorothy Larson. Right away. Now. After listening to Ralph rave last night, I don’t think there’s any time to spare. As I said before: Get tough with Dorothy. Scare the pants off her. Send her off on Ralph’s vacation with him next week… and I’ll go to work on Ralph tonight. He’s got to quit his goddamned job with Ames. Running around the night spots and snooping out dirt for his filthy column is no job for a self-respecting newspaperman anyhow. Tell Dorothy that pressure is being put on Ralph to quit. They don’t need that extra money. They’ve got to get out of the whole Ames’ orbit.”

“Suppose she won’t see me?” muttered Shayne. “Why should she? How can I explain…?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” exclaimed Rourke in exasperation. “You’re a detective, aren’t you? For more years than I like to remember you’ve been solving cases by barging in on people who had no desire to talk to you. Now, you ask me. Tell her any damn thing. Except that you’re a friend of her husband’s and feel sorry for him. Somehow, I don’t think that’s the right approach.”

Shayne nodded his head thoughtfully, draining the last of his cocktail from the glass. “How much am I supposed to know? That is… what sort of games
have
she and Wesley Ames been playing? If I claim to have been hired by Mrs. Ames, for instance… what sort of dope am I supposed to have gathered on the two of them?”

Rourke hesitated before replying, getting his underlip between his teeth and gnawing on it indecisively. “You’ve sort of got me there,” he confessed. “Ralph wasn’t making too much sense last night. I gather that it all started a couple of months ago when Ames suggested that Ralph take Dorothy along to a couple of night spots where Ames joined them with some other doll he had in tow. Dorothy being a sort of protective coloration in making it a foursome. Then Ames apparently asked Dorothy out on a couple of occasions while Ralph was carefully sent some other place to do errands for Ames… all perfectly innocent, perhaps, but Ralph began adding two and two together and is now convinced that Ames is using his position as boss to keep him in some other part of town while laying his wife… or trying to lay her… Ralph isn’t quite sure which it is at this point.”

“Then I don’t have any chapters or verses to quote to her,” muttered Shayne. “No specific instances to throw in her face if she denies everything and tells me to get the hell out.”

“N-no,” conceded Rourke reluctantly. “I don’t think Ralph has any real evidence of anything wrong. As I said before, you’ll just have to play it by ear and pretend you know a lot more than you do. But she must have certain guilt feelings no matter how far she has or hasn’t gone, and just having a detective show up on her doorstep at all should scare hell out of her.”

“It sounds,” said Shayne, “like a pretty lousy assignment. All right. Just where is her doorstep?”

“They have an apartment in the Northeast section.” Rourke eagerly dug into the right-hand pocket of his baggy jacket and withdrew a folded sheet of paper. “I wrote it down for you.” He unfolded it and glanced at the penciled notation, passed it across to the redhead. “Northeast Sixty-First. Right now would be a good time to walk in on her. Ralph will be tied up at the newspaper office until seven.”

Shayne frowned and looked at his watch, shaking his head. “Not tonight. I’ve got a date to pick Lucy up at her apartment in half an hour and take her to dinner at Lucio’s. Tomorrow will be soon enough for Dorothy Larson.”

“Don’t put it off, Mike,” Rourke urged him. “I swear to God I’m afraid one more night may be one too many. Go out and see her now. I’ll pick up Lucy and take her out to Lucio’s. Meet us there whenever you’re through with Dorothy. I’ll ply Lucy with drinks and keep her happy.”

“And explain that I’ve stood her up for another woman… and a well-stacked one at that?” Shayne lifted a quizzical red eyebrow at his old friend across the table.

Rourke grinned back at him and said happily, “I’ll tell Lucy the truth. That you’re mounted on your white charger and doing your Boy Scout good turn for the day. Get going, damn it. I’ll even pay for Lucy’s drinks
and
for both your dinners.”

BOOK: Shoot to Kill
9.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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