Bert Jackson could have been a great reporter, if he had the patience for it. Married to a woman with expensive taste, Jackson has spent himself into the kind of debt that he’ll never pay off at $62.50 a week. He needs a big score, and he needs it tonight. Working the city hall beat, Jackson has stumbled upon the greatest corruption scandal in Miami history. If he publishes it, he could win a Pulitzer. But it’s money that he wants, and he’ll risk death to get it.
Using the information in his story, Jackson plans to blackmail a powerful local official for $10,000, and he asks Mike Shayne for help. Shayne has seen too many blackmail artists wind up dead to get involved with something like this, and he warns Jackson to stay away. When the reporter turns up dead, it’s up to Shayne to uncover his final scoop.
Framed in Blood is the 19th book in the Mike Shayne Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Framed in Blood
A Mike Shayne Mystery
By Brett Halliday
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1951 Brett Halliday
All rights reserved.
Shakedowns Are Dangerous
For some minutes Michael Shayne had been aware of the nervous regard of the young man sitting beside him at the bar. The tall redhead remained placidly impervious to the squirmings which seemed designed to attract his attention. It was not until Shayne lifted his glass to drain it that the young man said, "I guess that's cognac you're drinking."
Shayne set the glass down and turned his head slowly, lifted his bushy red brows, and said in an impersonal tone, "What business is it of yours what I'm drinking?"
The man turned on the stool and faced Shayne. His thin blond mustache was tinged with nicotine on the left side, and his round face, which should have been plump, was haggard. There were dark circles beneath bloodshot blue eyes, and an uncertain smile quivered on his lips.
He said, "You are Michael Shayne, aren't you?"
"So you must be drinking cognac." The young man looked at the empty glass in Shayne's big hand. "I'll buy one. A double?"
Shayne shrugged his wide shoulders and resumed his hunched position after shoving the glass aside. "Make it a triple if you insist," he said placidly, turning his head slightly to look at the man again. "Am I supposed to know you?"
"Sure." His smile was steady now, his tone eager and placating and hopeful at the same time. "We met a couple of years ago. I was with —"
"Wait a minute. You were with Tim Rourke. Just starting in as a reporter on the News." A frown of concentration trenched his forehead and drew his red brows together. "Bert Jackson," he continued after a moment. "Tim was throwing a party for you. You were getting married or divorced or something."
"Married," said Bert Jackson, patently pleased that the detective hadn't forgotten. "It was on the Coco-Palm Plaza roof. I've seen you around since then, and read lots of stuff about you in the papers, but I guess —"
"Still on the News?" Shayne asked idly when Jackson's voice wavered off to indecisive silence.
"No. I'm on the Tribune now." He spoke defensively, with a note of hopeful entreaty or of worried expectancy. He ordered the drinks, then appeared to be anxiously awaiting some comment, but Shayne remained silent until the bartender set an old-fashioned before Jackson and poured three ounces of Martell into a glass.
"Still married?" Shayne forced himself to ask with a show of interest when the silence became awkward. He was turning the glass absently between his blunt fingers, admiring the clean amber liquid; and thus occupied, he failed to see the look of hurt and disappointment that flashed across his companion's face.
He did notice a thinness in Jackson's monosyllabic affirmative, and waited for him to say more, but there was silence.
Shayne lifted his glass and turned toward Jackson to say, "Here's to Tim Rourke."
Jackson's upper lip drew away from his nicotined teeth and tightened, and his red-streaked eyes glinted with anger. He lowered his lids and lifted his glass with seeming effort. "Sure," he agreed listlessly. "To Tim."
Shayne sipped his cognac and wondered what was bothering his companion. Jackson had been a sort of protégé of Rourke's back there in the beginning, he recalled. The older reporter had groomed him for the job, given him a hand up by taking him along on important assignments. He frowned again, recalling that he hadn't heard Rourke mention the young reporter for a long time.
He heard the empty old-fashioned glass thump down on the bar, and Jackson's strained voice say, "How about getting out of here where we can talk privately? I've been trying to catch up with you for a couple of days."
"Rourke could have told you where to find me," said Shayne shortly.
"I didn't want to ask Tim Rourke."
Shayne took a big sip of cognac and washed it around in his mouth as he considered Jackson's terse reply and almost hostile tone. He took his time finishing the drink, then slid from the stool and said, "My place is just a couple of blocks away."
Jackson followed him out of the air-cooled bar and onto the sidewalk where a blast of hot, humid air struck their faces. The street was choked with late-afternoon traffic and the sun-drenched sidewalk was crowded with tanned and bareheaded tourists. The reporter was almost a head shorter than the rangy detective, and he moved his legs rapidly to keep pace as they turned the corner off Flagler toward the drawbridge over the Miami River. There were fewer pedestrians on the Avenue, and Shayne walked faster after crossing Southeast First Street. Shayne's Panama was tipped far back from his forehead, and he strode along with a look of quizzical unconcern on his rugged face. Jackson panted beside him, occasionally pushing his hat back to mop his brow, then pulling it low over his face as though to avoid recognition by passers-by.
Shayne stopped at the side entrance to an apartment hotel on the north bank of the river and opened the door for the reporter to precede him. He nodded to the stairway that by-passed the lobby and elevators and said, "Up one flight." At the top of the stairs he took the lead down the hall and unlocked a door that opened onto a large, untidy living-room with windows overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Jackson entered the room behind him, and Shayne indicated a deep armchair beside the battered oak desk that had served him through the years, until he engaged a suite of offices in a downtown office building. He tossed his hat on the rack near the door, crossed the room to part limp curtains in the hope of inducing a bay breeze into the room, then dropped down into the swivel chair behind the desk.
Jackson sat with both hands deep in his pockets, short legs stretched out, and a sullen expression on his face.
Shayne lit a cigarette, frowning at the somewhat theatrically dejected posture of his visitor. "So you've been trying to catch up with me," he began, leaning forward with both elbows propped on the desk.
"For a couple of days." Jackson's eyes were shielded by the brim of his hat, his gaze intent upon the floor.
"And you didn't want to ask Rourke to find me?" He blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling.
"That's right." Jackson paused, sucking in his lower lip, then added bitterly, "I don't see Tim much nowadays."
Shayne waited a full minute for him to say something more, but when the reporter did not look up or speak, he said crisply, "My time is worth a certain amount of money, Jackson. You've used up about the price of a triple Martell. If you're going to sit around and brood, you can just as well do it elsewhere."
Jackson pulled himself stiffly erect and lifted a worried, haggard face. "I know," he said hoarsely. "I'm a dope. I don't know where to begin."
"Try the beginning."
"How does one know where the beginning is?" Jackson spread out his hands, and he suddenly looked very young and defenseless. "Two years ago when you met me — on my wedding night? That was one beginning. A year ago when I got canned from the News? That was another beginning."
"Why did you lose your job? Rourke used to think you had the makings of a newspaperman."
"It doesn't matter." Jackson's hands fell limply in his lap. He studied them for a moment, then resumed. "Maybe it began a month ago when —"
"When what?" Shayne prompted him.
"Nothing. That was more of an ending." He laughed harshly. "To hell with all this. Could I have a drink?"
Shayne said, "No," flatly.
Jackson looked startled, then belligerent, as though he had been slapped. His gaze went past the detective to the built-in liquor cabinet with an array of glasses and bottles behind the glass doors. "Why not?" he demanded. "If I had a bracer —"
Shayne shook his head, saying, "I'm wasting my time on you, but that's no reason why I should waste good liquor, too. Have you had a fight with Tim?"
"No," muttered Jackson. "I haven't seen him for weeks."
Shayne took a final drag on his cigarette and rubbed it out in an ash tray, made an impatient gesture, and pushed his chair back.
"I don't know why I'm sitting here beating around the bush like a tongue-tied fool," Jackson burst out. "As if, by God, I'm afraid I'll shock you. A guy like you." He laughed again, harshly and derisively.
A muscle tightened in Shayne's left cheek, and his gray eyes were cold. "A guy like me," he said evenly, "is pretty hard to shock."
"Sure. That's what I've been telling myself the last few days while I've been trying to work up nerve to approach you. From everything I've heard about you, this is right up your alley." Jackson relaxed and slid back to his former position, took off his hat, tossed it on the floor, and wiped the beads of sweat from his face.
"You can hear all sorts of things about me in Miami," Shayne told him. "What do you think is right up my alley?"
"I've got a proposition." Jackson sat up again, slid forward in the chair. "Look — could I have that drink now?"
"If you're ready to say something that makes sense."
"You needn't worry about wasting the price of a drink," Jackson told him, a strange smile spreading his blond mustache. "There'll be several thousands in it for you, Shayne."
"That'll buy a lot of liquor," the redhead agreed. He got up and crossed to the cabinet, asking, "Bourbon or rye?"
"Rye. Mixed with a little plain water — if you don't mind."
"I don't mind," said Shayne, "if you want to ruin good whisky." He poured rye in a tall glass, took another empty glass into the kitchenette where he put ice cubes and water in both, and returned to pour himself a glass of cognac. He carried the rye-and-water to Jackson, and when he was settled behind the desk with ice water and cognac he said, "Let's have it."
Jackson took a long drink, settled back with the tall glass clutched in one hand, and began.
"I've got hold of something so hot it's scorching my fingers. I've been covering City Hall for the Tribune the last two months. An open assignment. Digging up any small items I could. I ran onto this thing and I've been holding it back while I covered all the angles. Now I've got it!" His tone was exultant. "Names, affidavits — everything. The biggest damned political scandal that ever hit Miami."
"Miami," said Shayne, "has had some lovely political stinks in the past."
"But nothing like this one," Jackson vowed, jerking himself erect again, squirming around in his chair. "I'll crack the present administration wide open at its rotten seams and send one V.I.P. to the penitentiary for a long stretch — if my stuff is ever published," he ended slowly and with waning enthusiasm.
Shayne took a sip of cognac and lazily washed it down with ice water while Jackson gulped a drink of rye. "If?" said the detective quietly.
"That's what I said. I've got this exclusive, see? No one else is in on it. I haven't peeped a word about it to the office. They don't even know there is such a story floating around — else they'd never have turned me loose to dig it out."
"Why are you holding it out if it's so hot?"
"I'll tell you why." Bert Jackson slammed his glass down on the arm of his chair, pounded the opposite arm with his fist, and exploded, "Because I'll be double-damned if I'm going to watch it die the way other stories like this one died. You know the sort of rag the Trib is."
"I thought it was a pretty good paper," said Shayne mildly.
Jackson's mouth twisted in a snarl. "It's nothing but a damned mouthpiece for the administration. I've watched this happen before. A story like mine hasn't got the chance of a snowflake in hell. Not a word would ever see print if I were fool enough to turn it in."
"That doesn't make sense," Shayne argued. "Newspapers live on circulation. If this story is as sensational as you claim —"
"Nuts!" the reporter interrupted violently. "I've been around for two years now, finding out what oils the wheels. The Trib is no worse than any other paper. They all distort the news to fit their private policies. Deliberately play down certain stories, and front-page other stuff that doesn't deserve more than a few lines. It's a stinking, rotten business, and I'm sick of playing sucker."
Shayne took time to light a cigarette and take a sip of cognac before saying, "I've known Timothy Rourke a lot of years, Jackson, and I never heard him complain that a story of his was killed because it didn't conform to his paper's policy. That exposé of insurance rackets a couple of years ago that won him the Pulitzer prize. I happen to know his publisher was one of the biggest stockholders in one of the companies involved, yet there was never the slightest pressure on him to stop the investigation."
"Oh, sure," agreed Bert Jackson sourly. "A guy like Tim Rourke — Pulitzer prize winner. No one dares edit his copy. That's why — I decided to get in touch with you."
"I need money."
"Most of us do these days."
"I mean money." Jackson surged to his feet with drink in hand, shaking a tight left fist at Shayne. "A lot of money. Ten grand. And I need it fast."
"That's my business," flared Jackson, the red streaks in his eyes glinting between half-closed lids.
Shayne took a long puff on his cigarette and deliberately blew smoke upward, trying to decide whether to throw the reporter out on his ear or encourage him to keep on talking.
Jackson gulped another drink, set the glass down, and began to pace up and down the room, his hands alternately clawing at his long, sandy hair and ramming deep in his pockets, his angry words flowing rapidly.
"Know what my salary is? Sixty-two fifty a week. Know what my take-home pay is? Figure it out. I'm sick of scrimping and splitting pennies to make ends meet. I'm damned fed up with taking Betty to a juke joint on Saturday night for a beer while crooked bastards like this big shot I'm talking about are drinking champagne at swell hotels.
"Betty's sick of it, too, and I don't blame her. It isn't what she expected when she married me. All that stuff Tim Rourke spread around about me being a big-shot reporter in a few years!" He choked over this, and hurried on. "I don't blame Betty for stepping out on me. Why shouldn't she have some fun?" he demanded, stopping in front of Shayne and glaring down at him.
"Now we're getting somewhere," Shayne drawled. "Your wife is stepping out on you because you don't earn enough money to take her places. Is that all that's bothering you?"
"That and a lot more," he answered with tightlipped fury. "What's it got me to play it straight these two years? I dig up a real story like this, and what happens? Do I get credit for doing a job? Nuts. If I play Little Boy Blue and turn it over to the front desk, what happens? It lays an egg. A damned rotten egg. And I go on working for peanuts. To hell with that. Why shouldn't I cash in?"
"How?" asked Shayne coldly.
"How much do you think Mr. Big would pay to have my story suppressed? What's ten thousand to him? He'll pick up four times that amount in graft in the next twelve months if he stays out of the pen. Why in hell shouldn't he split some of it with me?"
Shayne lifted one shoulder and settled deeper in his swivel chair. "Shakedowns are dangerous."
"I'm not afraid of a little danger," Jackson snorted. "All I want is my share."
"If you want my advice —" Shayne began.
"I don't want your advice," Jackson interrupted. "I've made up my mind."
"Then what the hell are you doing here?" Shayne snapped. "Frankly, I'm not interested in your personal problems. It's no concern of mine if you're married to a money-hungry female. Go ahead with your sophomoric shakedown and get your ears pinned back."
"Why should I get my ears pinned back?"
"What makes you think Mr. Big will pay off?"
"I've told you —"
"You've told me a lot of things," Shayne broke in wearily. "Among them is your conviction that your paper will suppress the story if you turn it in. Then you talk about blackmailing Mr. Big by threatening to do just that. Why in the name of God would he pay you blackmail if he knows your paper won't print the story?"
Bert Jackson dropped into his chair and took a long drink of rye, warm, now, and weakened further by melted ice cubes. "I thought about that angle," he admitted, his haggard face twitching. "That's what had me stymied until I thought about Tim Rourke."
"What about Tim?" Shayne's voice was suddenly harsh.
"You said it yourself a minute ago." Jackson tensed forward and continued eagerly. "If it were Tim's story, no one would dare suppress it. It would be front-paged just the way he wrote it — and Mr. Big knows that as well as we do."
"But it isn't Tim's story, nor the News's story."
"I could turn all my stuff over to him."
"To a rival paper?"
"Not to be printed," said Jackson quickly. "Just to put pressure on Mr. Big. He'd pay plenty to keep it quiet if he knew Timothy Rourke had the lowdown on him. A lot more than ten grand. And ten grand is all I want out of it. Rourke can have the rest. You and Rourke — to split between you."
Shayne was silent, watching his perspiring visitor through half-closed eyes to hide the rising anger in them. Jackson's damp, sandy hair lay aslant his forehead, adding a maniacal look to his grim face. "Where do I come in?" he asked after a brief period.
"You put it up to Rourke. I'll give you part of what I've got, enough to convince Tim it's the real thing."
Excerpted from Framed in Blood by Brett Halliday. Copyright © 1951 Brett Halliday. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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