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Authors: Brett Halliday

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

The Corpse That Never Was

BOOK: The Corpse That Never Was
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Brett Halliday

The Corpse That Never Was

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

A
t ten-thirty that evening, Michael Shayne was as completely and utterly relaxed as he had ever been in his life… and Shayne was a man who believed in relaxation. It was the end of June, and the hectic Miami “season” was over for the summer. He hadn’t a case on hand, and hadn’t even bothered to go into the office for the past three days.

He didn’t anticipate any cases for the next month or two or three. Native Miamians and the class of tourists who came down to take advantage of the cheaper rates during the off-season were not the sort of people who kept a private detective busy. It was a period for somnolent relaxation, for enjoying the good things of life, and Shayne had trained himself over the years to take full advantage of those few months each year.

Right now he was slouched comfortably at the end of the sofa in Lucy Hamilton’s living room with a tray on the low coffee table in front of him holding a bucket of ice cubes, an open bottle of his favorite cognac, a four-ounce glass half-full of amber fluid and a highball glass of ice water.

Lucy had cooked dinner for the two of them that evening, and now she was in the small kitchen at his right contentedly humming while she washed up the dinner dishes they had used. He listened to Lucy’s humming and to the small sounds she made in the kitchen as she did her domestic chores, and he told himself happily that he was undoubtedly one of the luckiest guys on the face of the earth.

Because Lucy was a superlative cook. She was probably a better cook than she was a secretary, he told himself indulgently. Though that was hardly true or fair. She was also a superlative secretary.

But he had an idea the world was full of superlatively efficient secretaries. You just discovered one and paid her a decent salary, and she ran your office the way you wanted it run forevermore; and that’s all there was to it.

But how many secretaries could cook the way Lucy cooked? Tonight, she had fried chicken for the two of them in her small apartment. Okay. Fried chicken is something anyone can do. Or can they? Sure. Anyone can fry a chicken. But what do you get at the end of it? Something that is edible. Sure.

But Lucy’s fried chicken! Now, that was something different. Prepared with loving care and garnished with imagination. To begin with, it had to be plump, freshly killed chicken, purchased at a particular poultry market where the proprietor knew Lucy and would sell her nothing but the best. Only drumsticks, thighs and wings, of course. No other portion of the fowl was worthy of the attention it was to receive at Lucy’s hands.

Lightly dusted with flour and with certain herbs which were Lucy’s secret (Shayne suspected she changed them each time she fried chicken, although nutmeg always remained basic) then dropped into very hot sweet butter with two whole garlic cloves floating in it, swiftly browned on all sides, the garlic removed, heat reduced to simmer and loving, careful attention for at least another hour (turning frequently) uncovered so the crispness could not go away. Then removed to a hot baking dish and put into a low oven while the gravy and the rice received proper attention.

Lucy Hamilton was from New Orleans, and she cooked rice as Michael Shayne had never known rice could be cooked. He wasn’t exactly sure how she managed it, but it had to do with a very small amount of water in a very heavy iron pan, cooked at low heat without stirring during the entire time. It was a rather wasteful way of cooking rice because it ended with a crust of hard, inedible rice in the bottom of the pan which had to be soaked out overnight before it could be cleaned… but each of the grains you scraped off the top of the burned crust was plump and juicy, stood alone, and begged to be drenched with the chicken gravy Lucy was making in the sweet butter in which the garlicked chicken had been fried.

Now, like rice, chicken gravy is something any unimaginative housewife can manage (and most of them do). But Lucy Hamilton was not unimaginative, nor was she a housewife. She was Michael Shayne’s secretary, and she devoted as much time and attention to her chicken gravy as most suburban housewives devote to the dry martinis with which they stupefy their guests to prepare them to enjoy the dry, tough, and overdone steaks which their husbands have ruined over an outdoor barbecue pit.

Let us not attempt to describe Lucy’s way with chicken gravy. Shayne knew not what she did nor how she did it. He didn’t care. He really didn’t want to know. Just ladling it over her rice and sinking his teeth into her tender, juicy, crusty chicken was enough for any man.

So, that was the sort of dinner Michael Shayne had just finished at ten o’clock that evening in his secretary’s apartment. With a vegetable, of course. Oh yes! Lucy was hell-bent on serving a vegetable with her dinners. She had long ago given up on serving Michael Shayne a salad. Try as she would and use all the imagination she possessed, he always dawdled with a salad and pushed it aside. Even when she went to the extremes of substituting brandy for vinegar in the salad dressing (which she had tried once in order to tempt him). He simply ate all the dressing off the salad greens, and left them on his plate, limp and sad.

Tonight she had given him thinly sliced radishes with chopped scallions. Gently sautéed together with sweet butter and with nutmeg added. Even non-vegetarians can be enticed by that combination and Shayne had been so enticed.

No dessert. Lucy served a light-chilled Rosé with her dinner and strong black coffee afterward.

And now she was in the kitchen contentedly humming to herself while she washed up the dishes, and her employer’s rangy frame was contentedly relaxed on the sofa of her living room with his long legs stretched out in front of him, sipping cognac and washing it down with ice water, while he told himself that he was probably the luckiest guy in the world.

At the same time, ’way down deep inside him, Shayne was vaguely conscious of guilt feelings. He’d had these twinges off and on during all the years Lucy Hamilton had been his secretary, but he’d always managed to push them aside in the past, to sublimate them, as it were.

Tonight, somehow, they came to him very forcibly as he sat with his cognac in Lucy’s living room and listened to the pleasant sounds that came from her kitchen as she cleaned up after their most excellent dinner.

Lucy Hamilton, his guilt feelings told him, was definitely a domestic type of girl. She deserved something more than a typewriter in an office and a weekly salary paid to her for services rendered.

She deserved a husband who would appreciate her cooking, and children who would hang onto her apron strings and bask in the aura of love with which she would surround them.

Instead, she was wasting her life being an efficient secretary to Michael Shayne. He took a long and leisurely drink of cognac (emptying the glass) and his guilt feeling became stronger. It was his fault, by God. He knew Lucy was in love with him. She had never told him so, in so many words, but the fact was self-evident. She was a hell of an attractive woman. Men were always trying to date her… decent men, some of whom might even have matrimony in mind.

But Lucy remained aloof. She pretended she was satisfied with her life as it was. Shayne scowled down at the toes of his shoes stretched out in front of him and wondered for perhaps the thousandth time why he didn’t ask Lucy to marry him.

This was a hell of a way, he told himself morosely, for the two of them to go on living. He leaned forward and poured more cognac into his glass, and then lit a cigarette. He heard a sound from his right and turned his red head to see Lucy framed in the doorway from the kitchen with a dish-towel in one hand and the other hand lightly cocked on her hip, smiling at him quizzically. “Everything all right, boss?”

He looked at her soberly and studiously, letting his gaze linger on the glints of light that glanced off her smooth brown hair, basking in the warmth of her brown eyes regarding him affectionately.

He said, “I’ve just come to the conclusion that things aren’t all right at all.”

She frowned, forming three tiny vertical lines on her smooth forehead between her eyebrows, and she said, “Oh?” uncertainly.

He lifted his glass and glared down at it, and asked her angrily, “Why do you go on putting up with me, Angel?”

She moved a step forward into the living room, rounding her eyes wonderingly, and said, “Why shouldn’t I, Michael? What’s on your mind tonight?”

“This,” he told her roughly, waving a big hand around the living room of her apartment. “Everything, Angel. That dinner you just fed me. You deserve better than this, Lucy.”

“Do I?” Her eyes rounded and widened further. “I don’t think I understand you, Michael.”

He said harshly, “You should be married, Lucy. You deserve a home… and children.”

She stood very straight and still, regarding him un-blinkingly. She said tautly, “How nice of you to say so. I wasn’t aware…”

He broke in on her, turning his head with a scowl that brought his ragged eyebrows together above his nose: “You know this isn’t worth a damn, Angel. You’re not getting any younger, goddamnit.” He hesitated, shaking his head slowly, his gray eyes clouded with pain. “You know I’ll never marry again, Lucy.”

“I know,” she told him steadily. “So…?”

“So,” he said roughly, “you’re throwing away your youth on a job.”

“I’m not so young, Michael.”

“Plenty young enough to grab a husband if you’d just go looking,” he grated.

“Perhaps I don’t want to go looking.”

Michael Shayne had no answer for that simple statement. The warmth and sincerity of her tone precluded further discussion along that line. Shayne turned back and took a sip of cognac and allowed himself to enjoy it completely. He said indolently, “At the very least I could dry the dishes for you so you could come in and relax with a drink,” but he made no move to get up, and Lucy told him lightly:

“We’ll let God dry the dishes, and I will have a nightcap with you.”

She disappeared into the kitchen and returned in a moment with a highball glass a quarter full of water. She put ice cubes in it and poured cognac from the bottle, and then settled herself on the sofa companionably beside her employer.

He lit cigarettes for both of them and they smoked silently.

Into this silence the dull, muffled sound of an explosion intruded. It sounded as though it came from inside the apartment house almost directly above them, and Lucy jerked tensely erect, spilling some of her drink and looking at Shayne with wide frightened eyes.

“What was that?”

He, too, sat erect, his face drawn, listening intently. “It sounded like some sort of small bomb.” He got to his feet and moved slowly toward the door and opened it onto the hallway.

The silence held for a moment, and then they began to hear the excited babble of voices from the next floor above. Lucy was close behind him as he strode into the hall and began climbing the stairs.

Doors stood open along the next hallway, and half a dozen people were grouped in front of a closed door halfway down the hall. The men were in their shirtsleeves and two of the women wore lounging robes. They were knocking on the door and rattling the knob and talking excitedly:

“… know it came from in there.” “Why don’t they answer?” “Know they’re both in there.” “… saw him let her in about fifteen minutes ago.” “What do you suppose it
was?”

Shayne pushed into the group and asked authoritatively, “Are you sure it came from this room?”

There were nods and positive affirmatives. “The door’s locked and there’s no answer.”

Shayne dropped to one knee in front of the door and put his head down to sniff at the small crack at the bottom of the door. His gaunt features tightened as he caught the unmistakably acrid smell of gunpowder.

He got to his feet and ordered, “Stand back, all of you,” drew back against the opposite wall and lowered his right shoulder, drove his hundred and ninety pounds against the door with all the force he could get in the narrow space.

There was the protesting screech of screws being torn from wood and the door gave inward, but only a few inches where it was held by a safety chain that was fastened inside.

The acrid odor came out more strongly now, and Shayne drew himself back and hit the door a second time.

The chain gave under the impact and the door crashed open, catapulting the redhead halfway into the room where he staggered to retain his balance.

They crowded into the doorway behind him, and he backed slowly toward them, grimly taking in the death scene that confronted him.

He turned and his gaunt cheeks were deeply trenched. He said, “Stand back, all of you.” And then, “Lucy!”

“Yes, Michael?” Her voice came from the outside of the group.

“Go down to your room and call police headquarters. Report a double homicide.”

She called back, “Right away,” and her running footsteps receded down the hall.

Shayne spread both his arms out and moved toward the excited and frightened group in the doorway. “It isn’t nice to look at,” he said harshly. “Go back to your own rooms and stay there. The police will have questions to ask all of you.” He closed the door firmly in their faces, disregarding their questions and protests.

BOOK: The Corpse That Never Was
13.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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