Read Bodies Are Where You Find Them Online
Authors: Brett Halliday
Tags: #detective, #mystery, #murder, #private eye, #crime, #suspense, #hardboiled
There was that creepy feeling of revulsion under his ribs when he thought of how much depended on the impending interview with the Stallings maid, Lucile. Thus far she was the only person even remotely connected with the case who showed a tendency to talk freely. He was not sure what he hoped to learn from her, but he had an uneasy feeling that the answer to the entire riddle was, somehow, tied up with the Stallings household.
His earlier hunch had been strengthened by the discovery that Helen Stallings was secretly married and that her young husband had just arrived in Miami. What had at first appeared to be a purely political setup with a city election dependent upon the outcome was now revealed to have broader ramifications and far different potentialities—a personal complex—more the sort of thing with which he was prepared to cope.
Nine-tenths of Shayne’s cases had money at the bottom of them; he had come to regard such a will as Helen’s father had left as nothing more than an instrument of murder. Long ago he had learned not to look beyond his nose for a motive when a large sum of money was involved. No wonder he had grown cynical regarding the combination of murder and money. They were inseparable companions.
He didn’t quite see how it worked out this time, but he had a strong hunch that the motive for Helen Stallings’s murder would lie in the human relationship revolving around her rather than in the political struggle between Jim Marsh and Burt Stallings.
The political angle, he reasoned, was more of an effect than a cause, an accidental by-product of murder rather than the primary purpose.
Mrs. Stallings and thus, indirectly, Stallings himself would benefit by Helen’s death before her twenty-first birthday, Shayne mused. Still the ironical fact remained that she had already legally forfeited her inheritance by secretly marrying Whit Marlow in defiance of her father’s will. Anyone cognizant of the marriage would have known that the girl’s death was not necessary to cause her fortune to revert to her mother. That was one of the questions which desperately needed an answer. Did Stallings know about the marriage prior to her death?
Another big question was Arch Bugler’s connection with the situation. His open intimacy with Helen Stallings stunk. Bugler was a known gangster. Did the girl know? They could not have met by mere chance. To Shayne it was inconceivable that a well-bred girl would deliberately choose the mobster for a companion.
The illusive sheen of a dying moon on Biscayne Bay was like a drug. The air pouring in the open windows was cool and moist. A nostalgic mood crept over him and caught him unawares, sweeping him back to his own youth—to the time when he played a cornet in the college orchestra. For a welcome moment his mind moved in a maze of memories, forgetful of the case at hand, but he could not long escape the mental picture which was haunting him—the dazed eyes and pallid, contorted features of Helen Stallings as he first saw her.
What was she like normally? She was young and possessed, no doubt, of all the illusions of youth. A saxophone player in uniform could easily represent a knight in armor with the added attraction of sensual, melodic strains from that wailing instrument. A saxophone could express a player’s sentiments without words. Shayne had known college boys who used that method. Had Helen regretted her marriage to a slight, anemic youth and taken refuge in the arms of a mature, strong-armed man years her senior? He recalled that Rourke had said that consorting with mobsters was a fad with youngsters.
A cloud sailed over the moon and a mist from the sea swam before Shayne’s headlights, snapping him back to reality and a consciousness of his destination. He picked up his thoughts where he had left off.
Suppose Stallings and Bugler had worked out a plan together to ensnare the girl? The terms of her father’s will made Helen’s marriage before her majority worth a great deal of money to Stallings. Did he arrange with Bugler to rush her off her feet into a hasty marriage for that purpose?
Still, why would he choose a man like Bugler for that purpose? There were thousands of men more eligible and more prepossessing in Miami.
He gave the problem up with a baffled shrug and hoped that Lucile’s information would supply at least a key to the puzzle.
He was approaching the bridge leading to the Stallings estate. His headlights showed the girl wasn’t there as he cut the motor and slid up to the bridge approach. He glanced at his watch and saw that it lacked five minutes of the appointed time. He lit a cigarette and settled back to wait.
Lucile was not there when he lit his second cigarette. Complete silence enveloped the remote section of the peninsula. Darkness covered the car as he waited for the maid to keep her appointment, for the moon was lost to sight. The heavy cloud on the western horizon obscured it.
Was he going to be stood up by the girl? It was beginning to look like it. His watch indicated fifteen minutes after two when he threw away his second cigarette and yawned. He had been stood up before but never by a girl who seemed as eager for a date as Lucile.
He got out of the sedan and stretched, then walked slowly up on the arched bridge, stopped at the top of the span where he could see the upper story of the Stallings mansion.
Everything was in utter darkness. Beyond was the placid glistening expanse of Biscayne Bay, and far beyond that a few vagrant lights on the mainland.
An odd sense of unease possessed him. He wasn’t kidding himself when he knew Lucile wanted to come to him when she made the appointment.
It was two twenty-three. He watched and listened intently, holding his racing thoughts in abeyance. The only sound was the plashing of ripples against the bridge piers beneath him.
The wry grin went away from his mouth, and his features hardened into a mask of anger. All at once he realized how much he had been counting on the information he hoped to get from the girl. Perhaps she had been caught when she slipped back into the house after leaving him earlier in the evening. Stallings must have seen his car parked there, might have recognized it. The housekeeper would have told him who the visitor was.
If the girl had been forcibly prevented from meeting him it would be an indication that someone was afraid of what she might divulge.
It was exactly two-thirty when he crossed the bridge and walked cautiously toward the unlighted house on the island.
SHAYNE STRODE STEADILY along the winding road in the shadow of interlaced fronds. He came to an abrupt stop at a turn in the road that brought the estate into clear view. Every window was dark, and the island stillness was queerly magnified when the sound of his footsteps ceased. The moonlight and shadows played odd tricks on his alert perceptions as he hesitated.
An eerie atmosphere of desertion enveloped the silent mansion. The night air was humid and heavy with the scent of garden flowers. At the corner of the house he could see the spidery outline of the wrought-iron railing of the outside stairway down which Lucile had come to meet him earlier. The small balcony above was deserted, the French doors leading into the house were closed.
Shayne grinned at his indecision while he stood there. This was a hell of a time for him to start getting jumpy, just because the entire household was asleep at two-thirty in the morning, and because a girl had failed to keep her date.
He shrugged off his hesitation and went across the concrete drive to the corner stairway, climbed the stairway firmly, perversely pleased with the faint clang of iron beneath his feet.
He tried the French doors and found them locked from within. He hesitated once more, scowling at himself for the skulking method he was employing. This was not his way of doing things, but he had to find out what had happened to the maid. A man didn’t have to be a complacent ass to be positive that she would have met him at the bridge unless forces wholly beyond her control had prevented it.
He turned and went down the stairway, walked around to the front door and leaned on the electric button. He could hear the faint ringing of the bell inside. He kept his finger on the button for more than a minute, and his scowl deepened to one of anger. Stepping back a few feet he shouted, “Hello! What does it take to wake you up?”
After a brief wait lights glowed behind curtained windows upstairs. The curtains parted, and Burt Stallings’s resonant voice answered, “Who’s down there?”
“Shayne? What are you doing here at this time of night?”
“Come down and open the door.”
“I have no intention of doing that,” Stallings retorted sharply. Then, with less assurance, “What is it? Have you news of Helen?”
“I’ve got a lead. But I’m not going to stand here and shout it up to you.”
“Very well. If it’s so important I suppose I can’t refuse.” Stallings withdrew his head from the window, and the curtains fell back into place. Shayne moved forward and leaned against the threshold.
The door opened after several minutes. Stallings wore a silk dressing-gown, and his bare feet were encased in leather slippers. His silvery hair was awry and he demanded in an outraged tone, “What is it that won’t wait until morning?”
“Just this.” Shayne brushed past him into the small anteroom where he had interviewed the housekeeper. He swung about to face Stallings and in clipped accents explained, “I’ve got a hot tip that your stepdaughter Helen is right here in this house.”
“I’m not so sure of that. Your story of her disappearance could be a phony.”
“But that’s fantastic. She hasn’t been near the house since noon yesterday.”
“That’s what you say. Your story and that kidnap note put me on the spot. It could be a gag to put Marsh out of the running and swing votes to you.”
“But Mr. Painter was with me. He verified my story. Surely you don’t suspect him.”
“Painter was taking your word for everything. I’m not. I’m going to see for myself.”
“You’re at liberty to verify my daughter’s absence,” Stallings told him stiffly. He moved past Shayne. “I’ll take you up to her suite.”
Shayne followed him into a wide hall and up a winding stairway, then to the left along another hall to a door which he opened and gestured for Shayne to enter.
The detective lounged inside and made a pretense of investigating a luxurious suite consisting of a parlor, master bedroom, bath, and powder room. Stallings stayed back by the outer doorway, his features set in lines of grim disapproval.
When Shayne returned from his tour of inspection he asked icily, “Are you completely satisfied now?”
Shayne said, “No. I’ve only started. There are more rooms in this dump.”
He strode out the door, and Stallings followed him, fuming. “I certainly have no intention of conducting you on a tour of the whole house. This is the most outrageous demand—”
Shayne cut him short. “You don’t have to conduct the tour. I’ll find my way around. This must be the west wing.” He started along a wide hall.
Stallings stepped in front of him. He was breathing heavily. “I forbid it, Mr. Shayne. My wife has occupied this wing since her illness. She must not be disturbed.”
Shayne stared at him levelly. “Make it easy on yourself, Stallings. I can be back here in half an hour with a search warrant and I’ll turn the place inside out.”
“You wouldn’t dare go so far.”
Shayne said, “If you think I won’t, go ahead and stop me now.”
For a long moment their eyes interlocked. Stallings’s gaze dropped first. In a choked voice he said, “Very well. I have nothing to conceal. I must warn you, though, that Mrs. Stallings has not been told of Helen’s disappearance, on orders from her physician. She is critically ill, and a shock of that nature might be fatal.”
“It won’t be necessary to tell her why I’m snooping around,” Shayne told him. He followed Stallings down the hall to another upstairs living-room. The light revealed a studio lounge made into a bed with a woman asleep on it. Mrs. Briggs raised her head from the pillow and stared at them sleepily as they entered. Anger flickered in her eyes when she recognized Shayne.
Mr. Stallings cleared his throat. “Excuse us, Mrs. Briggs. Mr. Shayne insists on convincing himself that Miss Helen is not here tonight.” He explained to Shayne, “Mrs. Briggs sleeps here to attend Mrs. Stallings’s wants during the night. She has had nurse’s training and is devoted to her mistress.”
Shayne nodded casually to Mrs. Briggs. “I believe we’ve met before.” He went toward a closed door. “Is this the sickroom?”
Stallings said, “Yes; but I assure you—”
“No harm in being thorough.” Shayne opened the door of a large bedroom. He wrinkled his nose at the strong odor of disinfectants and medicine as he stepped inside. Moonlight filtered through lace curtains, faintly outlining a still form lying on a bed in the center of the room.
He hesitated just inside the doorway and felt along the wall for a light switch. Behind him, Stallings warned in a sharp undertone, “I’ll hold you responsible if she is awakened. She has a difficult time—”
Shayne found the light switch and pushed it. A ceiling fixture lighted the face of the woman. She breathed easily and did not move when light flooded the room. She had finely chiseled features, much the same as the features of the girl who had died in his office that afternoon. The woman had a look of bloodless fragility which often accompanies a long and serious illness.
She had not blinked her eyes or moved when Shayne switched off the light.
Stallings fumed. “Did you have to turn on the lights?”
Leaving the room, Shayne growled, “I’m not missing any bets. That might have been the girl in bed and I’d never have known if I hadn’t turned on the light.”
He went out of the suite followed by Stallings and by Mrs. Briggses accusing eyes.
“There’s no one else in this wing,” Stallings told him stiffly. “We’ve kept it as quiet as we could so that Mrs. Stallings would not be disturbed.”
A questioning gleam lighted Shayne’s gray eyes for a moment. He nodded and said, “All right. I’ll take a look in on the servants now.”
“They’re in the east wing. But surely you don’t think it necessary to look for Helen there?”