Read Bodies Are Where You Find Them Online
Authors: Brett Halliday
Tags: #detective, #mystery, #murder, #private eye, #crime, #suspense, #hardboiled
“I’m a wealthy man,” Stallings interrupted angrily. “My conduct as administrator of the estate is above reproach. I will welcome an investigation.”
“Sure. You’ve probably got it covered up now. You could afford to, knowing it would all come into your hands in the end. But this wealthy stuff is the bunk,” Shayne went on sharply to Painter. “That island estate cost him a fortune—and he dropped plenty gambling at Bugler’s place when it was running. That’s why Bugler helped him, probably hatched the scheme himself. Arch is holding a handful of his markers and saw himself being left out in the cold if the girl went ahead with her court action and took the estate away from Stallings. I imagine he supplied the idea and the girl, didn’t he?” Shayne turned to Stallings.
Stallings’s physique unbent to the point of straining forward from the waist and tossing his silvery hair back. He declared, “This is clearly a frame-up to defeat me at the polls tomorrow. Though Shayne knows he hasn’t a shred of evidence to bolster his insane accusations, he realizes that by making them public he will so becloud the issue in the minds of the voters that his candidate will have a chance to win. But I warn you, young man, any newspaper that prints this story will lay itself wide open for a libel suit—which I shan’t hesitate to bring.” He shook an admonishing finger at Timothy Rourke.
“That’s right, Mike,” Rourke muttered. “This is swell stuff, but—I got to have something to back it up.”
“That’s easy,” Shayne assured him. “Proving the girl isn’t Helen Stallings will be enough. Don’t you agree that will prove my story?” he asked, turning to Painter.
Painter hesitated, looking slowly from Shayne to Stallings. “If she isn’t Helen Stallings, it ought to prove something,” he muttered at last.
“How does he plan to prove this absurd contention?”
Stallings asked sharply. “Is she supposed to have a strawberry birthmark or has he got a set of her fingerprints from the Federal Bureau of Investigation?”
“I’ll produce a witness to identify her,” Shayne told Painter confidently. “One whose identification you’ll have to accept without doubt.”
“It’s another trick of his,” Stallings argued. “He has planned this in advance. He’s got someone planted who will pretend to have been acquainted with Helen in school. I tell you the whole thing is an absurd tissue of lies, and any person who states that the body of the strangled girl isn’t my stepdaughter is a malicious liar. All he’s after is to get this trumped-up story in the newspapers to defeat me at the election.”
“It’ll have to be an absolutely positive identification before I’ll accept it,” Painter warned Shayne. “Someone like—well, the girl’s mother.”
“She’s too ill,” Stallings protested hastily. “The doctor’s orders are very strict that she must have no excitement whatever.”
“All right,” Shayne agreed. “I’m not so sure about the nature of her illness. I’ve got a strong hunch Doctor Patterson has kept her shot full of dope this past month so she wouldn’t recognize the girl as an impostor and spoil your game. But let that pass. I’ve got someone who will do as well as her mother. A husband should recognize his own wife.”
“A husband?” Stallings choked over the word, shaking his head frantically. “She has no husband,” he told Painter, regaining his calm immediately and effectually. “This is just the sort of trick I expected him to attempt. Helen wasn’t married. She was practically engaged to Arch Bugler.”
“I wondered,” Shayne murmured, “whether you knew about her husband. You knew Whit Marlow was coming to visit her, didn’t you? But he was too cagey to mention the marriage in a letter addressed even to his wife. You see,” he went on to Painter, “that’s what started all the fireworks yesterday. This Marlow was due in town and they realized he’d know the girl wasn’t Helen the instant he saw her. They had to get her out of the way in a hurry. I don’t know whether he and Bugler planned to murder her or not, but it was certainly the perfect solution, as she must have realized. She got panicky and tried to get to me with her story. Then they
to put her out of the way. And the supreme irony of it was that if they’d known the truth none of their murderous scheme was necessary. Helen was already married, and the estate would have reverted to Mrs. Stallings as a natural consequence according to the will. She married a man named Whit Marlow last April.”
“That’s an outright lie,” Stallings sputtered. “It’s impossible.” His dignity was shattered.
Shayne smiled thinly. He reached in his inner breast pocket and drew out the marriage certificate he had taken from Whit Marlow’s bag. “Look it over for yourself.” Painter unfolded it while Stallings leaned far forward to read it with him.
“Marlow is in the Miami jail right now.” Shayne’s voice crackled authoritatively. “Call Gentry and have him sent over to identify the body Stallings claims to be that of his stepdaughter.”
“By God, I’ll do that.” Painter shoved the certificate aside and seized the telephone. He got Miami police headquarters and spoke to Chief Gentry. After talking a few minutes he covered the mouthpiece and asked Stallings, “What mortuary has the body?”
“Gleason’s, here on the Beach. But I certainly don’t approve—”
Painter turned his attention to the telephone again. In a moment he hung up and announced, “Gentry is sending Marlow over at once. We’ll meet him at the mortuary and straighten this thing out once and for all. But don’t think that means I believe a word you’ve said,” he added to Shayne. “If that young man identifies the corpse as his wife you’re going to jail and stand trial for her murder.”
Shayne said, “That suits me,” and got up. He winked broadly at Rourke.
Stallings rode in the official car with Painter to the mortuary. Shayne and Rourke rode with two Miami Beach detectives in a patrol car.
“How sure are you about all this?” Rourke asked anxiously as they were driven northward. “God knows, every word of it was a complete surprise to me.”
“I’m as sure as any man can be without actual proof. God damn it, Tim, that’s the way it
to be. It’s the only thing that hangs together—the only theory that fits all the facts.”
“Theory,” Rourke growled. “I don’t like it, Mike. Stallings acted too damned cocky all through the interview. If you’re wrong—”
“If I’m wrong,” Shayne interposed cheerfully, “I’ll have lots of spare time to work out some more theories in Petey Painter’s jail. But I can’t be wrong. Too many queer facts dovetail perfectly.”
“When the hell did it come to you? Have you guessed all along that the girl wasn’t Helen Stallings?”
“No. I didn’t have the faintest idea. It just began unscrambling itself this morning the more I tried to make two and two equal five. It wouldn’t. No matter how hard I tried, it came out four every time. The thing that’s been nagging at me subconsciously all along,” Shayne went on in a musing tone, “was the inexplicable change that appeared to come over Helen Stallings all at once. First, she changed her mind and withdrew the suit against her stepfather; then she started running around with Bugler and his crowd. It looked as if she must have got a crack on the head—or they were two different girls.”
“Might have been duress,” Rourke argued weakly. “If Bugler had a stake in Stallings keeping control of the money he might have got hold of Helen and put the pressure on. Arch Bugler is capable of anything.”
“That’s the only other possibility that passes muster,” Shayne agreed. “But it doesn’t explain all the other strange happenings. That Doctor Patterson—I’m willing to bet he’s a phony. And he’s got some tie-up with Bugler. To hell with all this guesswork,” the detective ended philosophically as the patrol car drew up behind Painter’s automobile in front of the Gleason Mortuary. “We’ll know soon enough whether I’m out on a limb or not.”
A detective got on each side of Shayne and walked him up the steps behind Painter and Stallings. Rourke trailed along behind them, an uneasy expression in his slaty eyes.
In a small anteroom Painter explained the official nature of their call to a man wearing a frock coat and an air of deep melancholy.
“Here comes our man from Miami,” Painter ended, after glancing out the door. “We’ll all go in together.”
“The young lady, of course, is not—ah, they’re not quite through with her back
He inclined his head lugubriously toward the rear.
“That’s all right,” Painter said impatiently. “Better see her natural this way, before you birds get her all prettied up past recognition.”
A member of the Miami detective force entered the anteroom leading Whit Marlow by the arm. The young saxophone player’s face was ashen, his eyes looked sick. He glanced at Shayne, Rourke, and the others without recognition. Painter faced him and asked, “Marlow?”
“Yes. What’s this all about?” Marlow jerked his head up with a show of spirit.
“Are you the legal husband of a young lady generally known as Helen Stallings? Helen Devalon before her name was changed to Stallings?”
Marlow’s ashen features twitched. He started a denial, then his shoulders drooped dispiritedly. “All right. So it isn’t a secret any longer. But we had a right to get married. Suppose she does lose the money? Where’s Helen? That’s all I want to know. Where is she?”
Painter turned and nodded to the mortician. He led them back through the chapel to a tiled workroom that stank with the heavy odor of embalming fluids. Stallings dropped behind the Miami detective and Marlow. Rourke and Shayne came next, followed by the two Miami Beach officers.
The mortuary attendant whispered something in the ear of a tall man wearing white duck pants and a surgeon’s jacket.
Whit Marlow’s breath was coming jerkily between set teeth as his befuddled senses slowly began to catch the sinister meaning of the questions which had been thrown at him and this trip to the rear of the mortuary. An agonized look came into his young eyes and he trembled violently. The husky Miami detective supported his slight figure with a heavy arm.
The mortician went to a huge porcelain cabinet with a tier of long drawers. He touched the handle of one drawer and it slid out smoothly on oiled rollers. “We haven’t got started on her yet,” he said apologetically.
Painter stood back with a wave of his hand toward Marlow. “Do you know this woman?”
The young husband swayed forward, white-faced and shaken. He peered over the edge of the porcelain drawer and drew back with a tortured sob. “Helen! Oh, God! Helen!”
Painter and Stallings both nodded sagely and turned to Shayne, but Shayne disregarded them. He stepped forward angrily, grabbing Whit Marlow’s arm.
“Don’t be a fool,” he grated. “Take a good look at that girl’s face. Don’t let your imagination run away with you. You were convinced it was Helen before you looked. Look again.”
Stallings protested. “See here, now, you’re trying to influence him. Painter—”
Marlow shuddered, then gathering strength from Shayne’s assured words he steeled himself for a long and searching look at the waxen face of the corpse.
After a full minute he turned wildly upon Shayne. “What kind of games are you playing? Of course that’s Helen. Do you think I could be mistaken? She’s my wife. Do you hear?
He staggered back, pressing his hands against his eyeballs. The Miami officer caught him as he started to fall.
Shayne stood very still. An expression of utter disbelief contorted his gaunt features. Faintly, he heard Painter saying, “Very well. That settles it as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Stallings. Sorry to have caused you this trouble, but he won’t make any more after he’s locked up.”
Shayne whirled to see Painter and Stallings in a huddle with Rourke. The Miami Beach detectives were standing close to them, listening intently to the conversation.
Turning slowly, Shayne’s big feet glided toward an open window and stepped noiselessly to the mortuary grounds.
SHAYNE HIT THE THICK GREEN TURF, swerved sharply around a corner of the building as two shots blasted through the window. He zigzagged through clumps of shrubbery to a quiet side street, heard shouts and the sound of racing motors behind him.
A department store delivery truck was parked on the street with the back doors swinging open. Shayne sprinted toward it, saw the driver with a bundle in his hand ringing the doorbell of a house.
He stuck his head and shoulders inside the back of the truck, eased the doors forward to cover a part of his body. Leaning far inside with his rear end and long legs fully visible, he pretended to grope for a bundle.
He heard one car, then another race past him. Footsteps coming down the walk betokened the return of the driver. At the same time he heard Peter Painter cursing and panting behind him as he trotted to the sidewalk.
Shayne put his palms on the floor of the truck and lifted his body inside, crouched there in the semidarkness while the driver sauntered to the back and latched the swinging doors, then got under the wheel and the truck started forward with a lurch. It careened around the next corner and went west two blocks, stopped to make another delivery.
Shayne held himself as inconspicuously as possible against the front end while the driver swung from the seat and went to the back for another package. Luckily, he was a methodical sort and had his bundles placed in order for delivery. He reached in and took one out without looking toward the front.
When he left to make the delivery, Shayne eased the rear doors shut, went to the front of the truck and slid over the back of the seat under the wheel. The motor was purring softly. He started the vehicle and drove away at high speed with the driver’s shouts echoing through the street.
He drove on recklessly toward the bay shore, though he knew it would be insanity to attempt to cross either causeway to the mainland now. Painter wouldn’t lose any time throwing barricades across the only exits from Miami Beach, and the truck driver, too, would have officers searching for the stolen vehicle.
He stopped a few blocks from the east shore of Biscayne Bay and continued on foot, reaching the bay approximately halfway between the County and Venetian causeways, an area dotted with fishing-wharves and boathouses.