Read Bodies Are Where You Find Them Online
Authors: Brett Halliday
Tags: #detective, #mystery, #murder, #private eye, #crime, #suspense, #hardboiled
With restrained ferocity, Shayne said, “God damn it, Stallings, I’m not playing hide-and-seek for fun. I’m going to satisfy myself on one point before I leave here.” Stallings walked along behind him to the east wing without further remonstrance. He stopped at the first door of the servants’ quarters and said grimly, “The two maids sleep here, I believe.”
Shayne opened the door and switched on the light. A girl jumped up with an “E-e-k,” from one of the twin beds. She snatched the covers up about her throat and stared at him with frightened eyes. She had sharp features and straggly brown hair. The other bed was unoccupied.
Shayne turned out the light and shut the door. He said to Stallings, “I thought you had two maids.”
“I did. I forgot to mention that Mrs. Briggs discharged the girl called Lucile this evening.”
Shayne arched his eyebrows but said nothing. He nodded toward the last door in the wing. “Who’s in that room?”
“The chauffeur and his wife. She is the cook. That’s the complete staff.”
“I guess they wouldn’t have Helen in bed with them,” Shayne said, and turned away. When they reached the head of the stairs he stopped. “Lucile must be the girl I saw downstairs when I was here this afternoon. Do you know why Mrs. Briggs discharged her?”
“I didn’t inquire into the matter. Mrs. Briggs handles all such matters. I believe Lucile was very flighty and not dependable.”
Shayne rubbed his lean jaw. He muttered, “She looked like a girl who might comfort a man in his wife’s absence. I wonder if I could get her address from Mrs. Briggs?”
Stallings’s upper lip curled away from his teeth with loathing. “By heavens, Shayne, I’m beginning to believe the stories told about you. But I happen to know that Mrs. Briggs hasn’t the girl’s address—and has no idea where she may be found.”
Shayne hesitated and looked mildly disappointed. Then he said, “Okay, sorry to have been a nuisance, but that tip about Helen being here bothered me.” He descended the stairs briskly and went out.
Stalking back along the winding road to the bridge and Rourke’s car, the scowl darkened on his gaunt features. He was firmly convinced that both Mrs. Briggs and Stallings knew that Lucile had slipped out to the garden with him that evening. He wondered if they suspected why he had insisted on touring the house, or whether his story of searching for Helen had gone over. He was more than ever convinced that Lucile had important information and that she had been summarily dismissed to prevent him from seeing her again. It was damned funny about Stallings being so positive that Briggs didn’t know the girl’s address.
He stopped by the side of the sedan, struck by a sudden sinister thought. If someone had
wanted to prevent Lucile from contacting him, stronger measures than mere dismissal might have been used.
That fragment of a police broadcast which he and Rourke had caught as they left the Parkview Hotel!
“Body of unidentified young woman… body of young woman found floating in the bay.”
Stallings’s house fronted on the bay!
He jerked the door of the sedan open and slid in, gunned the motor viciously, and swung away from the bridge in a screeching turn. He sat erect and drove swiftly back to Miami, his big hands gripping the wheel in a tense grasp, his features grim and preoccupied.
Maybe this was the break. If he could identify the body as Lucile he’d have something to put the screws on with. Someone was getting panicky. That was a cinch. Murder always bred more murder. He cursed himself for not having thought about that while he talked to Lucile in the garden. He should have taken her away with him. He had been a fool not to realize the danger she would incur if they learned she had talked to him.
When he reached the mainland he drove swiftly to the Dade County morgue and parked outside. An old man with watery blue eyes was on duty in the outer office. He regretfully laid down a copy of
as the detective surged through the door. He complained, “Dag take it, Mike, they were just about to grab the ghoul of the lowlands that’s been killing babies and eating half their hearts—just half, mind you.”
Shayne said, “It’ll be all the more ghoulish for waiting a few minutes. Can I go down to the cold room, Tom?”
“Sure. I reckon so. We got in a peacherino tonight.” The old man shuffled along with Shayne. “Reckon she’s the one you’re visiting, huh?”
“Yeh. The one they pulled out of the bay.” Shayne led the way down a corridor and a short flight of concrete steps. The old man opened a heavy, insulated door, and a blast of chilled air rushed out from the cold-storage chamber. The dank air was musty with the fetor of human decay which had been accumulating for decades.
Tom clanged the door shut behind Shayne and went to a sheet-covered body on a porcelain slab mounted on rubber rollers. He pulled the sheet off, gesticulating proudly. “Ain’t she a beaut? Don’t see why they don’t kill off the old hags ’stead of goin’ after the young’uns.”
The body was nude except for a pair of wrinkled silk pants and a bedraggled brassiere. The head and face were brutally smashed beyond all possibility of recognition, but the straggly hair, still wet with bay water, was blond, not the black curls of Lucile. The nude body was slender and small-boned, not the stocky figure of the Stallings maid.
Shayne shook his head and turned away after one searching look.
“It’s not the one I expected to see,” he stated with finality.
The old man covered the naked body, chuckling obscenely. “I reckon you’d know, all right, even if her face is smashed up. They tell me all you got to see is a pair of legs to recognize a girl you’ve known a week.”
“Is that the reason they stripped her?” Shayne demanded. “Hoping someone would recognize her easier that way?”
“That’s jest the way they dragged her out of the bay.” Tom closed the door, and they went up the stairs. “I reckon she was in one of them what you might call orgies,” Tom continued; “stripped nekked of all but her pants. They have ’em all the time on them rich guys’ yachts anchored in the bay.”
Shayne said, “Do they?” without pausing as he passed through the office.
“I’ll say. I was readin’ just the other day in a copy of
but Shayne had gone out the door and didn’t hear the mumbled details of the old man’s explorations into the realm of fictional filth.
He drove moodily back to his apartment hotel, secretly ashamed of himself for the disappointment he felt. Of course, it had been merely a wild surmise that the body would be Lucile’s, but, by God, how he’d like to hang something like that around Stallings’s stiff neck.
It left him without a lead to work on, and it was only a few hours until dawn when Helen Stallings’s body would be found on the lawn where he had left it.
After it was found, the whole thing was bound to come crashing down around him. He would be lucky if he could stay out of jail and avoid a murder charge. And the election would be lost, along with his two thousand dollars.
His jaw tightened grimly as he parked by the side entrance to his hotel apartment. He had to locate Lucile. He would rout out Tim Rourke and make the newspaperman get to work on it with him. Lucile must be listed with some employment agency. The staffing of homes in Miami was a specialty with only two or three local agencies. If he could find the one that supplied the Stallings mansion when they moved in a short time ago—
Shayne was going down the corridor to his corner apartment. He had his key out and inserted it in the lock. When the door swung open he blinked in surprise at the bright light from a ceiling chandelier. He recalled that he had left only a shaded floor lamp burning.
Then he saw Timothy Rourke lying outstretched on the carpet near the bedroom door. The lanky reporter’s head was bathed in a pool of blood, and his thin, bare shanks were drawn up to his chest in an attitude of agonized repose.
SHAYNE LEAPED FORWARD and bent over the reporter’s unconscious body. Blood was still seeping slowly from an ugly gash on the side of Rourke’s head. He was breathing feebly, and his muscles reacted with an involuntary jerk when Shayne roughly explored the gaping cut on his head.
Shayne swore an oath that was like a prayer when he found that the bone structure was intact. The scalp was ripped loose along the line of an ugly three-inch gash. He hurried to the kitchen and dumped a quantity of salt into a boiler, filled it with hot water, and grabbed up one of Phyllis’s crisp embroidered tea towels on the way out.
Sliding a folded blanket under Rourke’s head, he squatted beside him cross-legged and doused the salt water liberally on the wound.
Rourke twisted his head and moaned when the stinging solution entered the wound. His eyelids flew open and he rolled his eyeballs crazily at Shayne, recognized him, and muttered something unintelligible.
Shayne stopped his ministrations long enough to get the depleted bottle of Scotch from the table where Rourke had left it. Easing him up gently, he tilted the bottle to the wounded man’s lips.
Rourke gulped noisily, and color came into his cheeks. He made an ineffectual grab for the bottle when Shayne removed it from his lips, but the detective set it out of reach, promising cheerily, “You’ll get another swig after I paste some adhesive on your head. Lie back and take it easy.”
“It was that Marlow fellow—from the Parkview Hotel,” Rourke told him after his wound was taped up and he had downed the promised swig. He felt of his head tenderly. “Damned if I know what he hit me with. I saw him swing at me, and that’s all I saw.”
“Looks like a pair of brass knucks. Good thing he hit you in the head instead of a vulnerable spot. How’d he get in here?”
“I let him in. The buzzer kept ringing and I trotted to the door half asleep. Always the perfect host,” he ended irritably.
“And nine-tenths drunk. I told you to lay off. What did the young fool want?”
“We didn’t get that sociable. He thought I was you and started cursing me the minute I opened the door. He acted half crazy and wouldn’t listen to me. Frothing at the mouth, by God. I backed away, trying to tell him my name wasn’t Shayne, but I guess I didn’t sound convincing.”
Shayne looked around the room speculatively. The drawer of the center table was pulled out and its contents dumped on the floor. He went into the bedroom and found bureau drawers rifled, his suits pulled down from hangers and thrown to the floor.
He ruffled his red hair angrily, strode to the phone, and called the Parkview Hotel. Getting Cassidy on the wire, he talked to the house detective briefly and then went back to the living-room.
Rourke was reclining in an easy chair with the almost empty whisky bottle dangling from his fingers. Shayne retrieved it and set it aside.
“Marlow was looking for me, all right. Cassidy gave him my address. Cassidy says Marlow came barging down from his room about an hour ago shouting that he had been robbed. To keep him quiet and save his own hide, Cassidy admitted that I had gone through his stuff and taken something out of the lining of his bag.”
“I owe this to Cassidy, then.” Rourke touched his bandaged head. “If he’d kept his mouth shut—”
“Can’t blame him too much. He’s just a dumb dick with a soft job he wants to keep. He said,” Shayne ended significantly, “that Marlow hadn’t been back to the hotel. He’ll call me if and when he does.”
Rourke glanced hopefully toward the whisky bottle. Shayne shook his head decisively and set it farther away. “If you hadn’t been pie-eyed you wouldn’t have been such easy pickings for a goon like Marlow.”
“How was I to know I’d be mistaken for you?” Rourke groaned. “If you’d stayed home instead of dating a wench it wouldn’t have happened. I hope you got what you went after,” he ended in disgust.
“She stood me up.” Shayne dragged up a chair and let his long frame down into it wearily.
“Good,” Rourke murmured. “By God, I’d like to have seen that. I’ll tell Phyllis she can quit worrying about you now.”
Shayne lit a cigarette and sucked on it moodily.
After a time Rourke asked, “What’s eating on young Marlow, anyhow? Why does he set such store by that damned wedding certificate? He can always get a duplicate.”
“Hell, it’s clear enough,” Shayne growled. “It’s not the document itself he’s worried about. He’s desperately trying to keep the marriage a secret. Don’t forget the terms of his wife’s inheritance. In the event of her marriage before her twenty-first birthday the estate reverts to her mother.”
Rourke said, “I’d forgot that angle. How about another swig?”
Shayne nodded absently and passed the bottle to him. Rourke emptied it and sighed deeply.
Shayne looked at his watch. The time was three-thirty. He got up and paced back and forth the length of the room. “We’ve got to get hold of Marlow,” he burst out. “You can help me on that, Tim. Call headquarters and make a complaint. Give his name and description and get out a pickup for him.”
“I should think you’d lay off Marlow,” Rourke said. “He can come back with a burglary complaint against you.”
Shayne laughed shortly. “I’ve got worse than that to worry about. I’ve got to know what the youngster did when he arrived in town yesterday. Whom he talked to, whether he saw his wife—” He came to an abrupt stop, compressing his lips. His eyes became very bright and he tugged at the lobe of his left ear, resumed his pacing. He mused aloud. “Marlow hits town about the time Helen Stallings leaves home in a fit of temper. I’m convinced she dropped in for a cocktail at the Bugle Inn and drank a Mickey Finn. Later in the evening Marlow gets a dose of the same at the same spot. Damn it, Tim, there has to be some connection! Get on the phone and make your complaint.”
Rourke staggered to his feet with a dismal groan. “All right. But don’t forget I was with you when we broke into his hotel room. Shall I report that, too?”
“Hell, no! You’re a reporter. Tell the cops you were nosing into Marlow’s affairs in connection with a news story and he attacked you without provocation.” Shayne patted him on the shoulder and pushed him toward the telephone in the bedroom. “Lay it on thick. Dangerous character at large. Homicidal maniac. You needn’t mention the Parkview Hotel. Cassidy’ll call us if he turns up there.”