It’s the end of summer and Miami is as quiet as the grave. To Mike Shayne, the city’s most notorious private detective, it seems as though he’ll never have another case like the ones that made his reputation: matters of life and death that can only be solved by quick thinking, fast fists, and an itchy trigger finger. And then comes the letter from Los Angeles. It holds a plane ticket, half a $1,000 bill, and a desperate appeal. Come to L.A., begs the woman who penned the letter, or it will be my death sentence.
Before he even lands in L.A., Shayne is enmeshed in a plot straight out of Hollywood. And when his mysterious client proves impossible to find, the detective worries he’s been lured into a deadly trap.
Never Kill a Client is the 43rd book in the Mike Shayne Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Never Kill a Client
A Mike Shayne Mystery
By Brett Halliday
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1962 Brett Halliday
All rights reserved.
Michael Shayne was in a cheery frame of mind when he entered his office shortly after eleven o'clock that morning. He was clear-eyed and smiling, and Lucy Hamilton studied him with approval from the other side of the low railing separating her secretarial desk from the rest of the small anteroom.
She wrinkled her nice nose at him and made a production of consulting the watch on her wrist. "You don't have any appointment until eleven-thirty. What brings you out at the crack of dawn?"
"Sheer zest of life, Angel." He tossed his Panama on a hook near the door and rumpled coarse red hair with a big-knuckled hand. "It's almost summer and the tourists are going home in droves, and crime is quiescent in Miami, and I've got a hunch the fish are biting down on the Keys. I just dropped by to tell you ... hey! What do I think I heard you say about an eleven-thirty appointment?"
"Exactly what you think you heard. I told you yesterday afternoon, Michael, but you were sopping up cognac and probably didn't listen." She glanced down at an appointment pad beside her typewriter and read from it: "Mr. Reginald Dawes Rexforth, Third. Very important. Practically a matter of life and death if the third Mr. Reginald Dawes Rexforth can be believed."
"Which he can't, of course," snorted Shayne. "You know what, Angel? There just isn't any more life and death stuff in Miami any more. The old town is slowed down to a standstill. I'll bet you ten to one either Reggie has been cheating and he wants me to buy off some gold-digger, or else he suspects that Mrs. Rexforth Third has been cheating and he hopes to throw the hooks to her. When he comes in, you inform him very sweetly and regretfully that your boss has been called out of town on an extremely important case ... and refer him to one of my grubby competitors who handle such marital mishaps."
"I'll do no such thing, Michael," she warned him as he swung away from her to the closed door of his private office. "I'll tell him you've gone fishing, darn it, and then I'll probably close up the office and go fishing myself."
"That's a wonderful idea." Michael Shayne paused with a hand on the knob of his door and grinned over his shoulder at her happily. "We'll leave a sign on the door: 'Gone fishing' and you take off with me. You could stand a little fresh air and sunshine. Get that prison pallor off your face. You make up a sign while I call Luigi down at the wharf and see if his boat's free."
Before Lucy could frame a disapproving refusal, there was a tap on the outer door, and then it opened. Shayne heard it and stopped with one foot over the threshold, still glancing back over his shoulder. He was relieved to see that it wasn't a client barging in so early, but only a mailman with a Special Delivery letter.
He crossed to Lucy, holding it out and intoning, "Special for Michael Shayne."
Lucy nodded and took the square white envelope, signed for it and glanced down dubiously at the airmail and special delivery stamps on the front of it.
Shayne said hastily, "I never got it, Angel. Why bother to open it? Go ahead and fix that sign while I make a phone call."
He went inside and closed the door firmly behind him, wincing as he did so at the sound of Lucy's paper-knife slitting the envelope open.
She was too damned efficient, he told himself glumly as he crossed the office to peer out one of the wide windows down at the bright sunshine on the leisurely traffic flowing along Flagler Street. And downright insubordinate, too. That was a direct order he had given her about closing up the office to go fishing. But no woman, he knew sourly, could resist opening a special delivery envelope.
He kept his back stubbornly turned when he heard the door open behind him, and then Lucy's voice told him sweetly, "You'll have to move fast, Michael, if I'm to tell Mr. Rexforth the truth about your being called out of town unexpectedly."
He turned away from the window, slowly and unwillingly, and saw her laying out a number of objects in a row on the flat top of his desk.
"One envelope," she said briskly, "addressed to Mr. Michael Shayne in a flowing, feminine hand. Postmarked Los Angeles, California, at four-fifteen yesterday afternoon ... no return address. One sheet of heavy and fairly expensive notepaper containing an anguished appeal in the same flowing handwriting and liberally doused with an exotic scent unfamiliar to these plebeian nostrils. This is an honest-to-God life and death appeal, Michael, with two intriguing enclosures." She held them up, one after the other, between thumb and forefinger. "The torn half of a thousand dollar bill. And a round-trip, first-class airplane ticket from Miami to Los Angeles. You also have a confirmed reservation on United non-stop jet flight number. ..." She paused to glance at the sheet of notepaper. "Two-sixteen," she read briskly, "which leaves the airport here at twelve twenty-seven. That's in exactly one hour and six minutes, Michael, unless you'd still rather go fishing."
"What the devil are you talking about?" Shayne crossed the room in three long strides to stand beside her and look down at the sheet of heavy notepaper which she held spread flat for his inspection.
There was no date and no address at the top. He read wonderingly:
"Dear Michael Shayne:
You will not recognize the name signed below, and I dare not risk saying more than I do, but please, please, please believe me when I say that if you disregard this appeal it will be, literally, my death sentence.
Do I sound hysterical? I am. With fear.
The other half of the enclosed bill will await you at the Plaza Terrace Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills when you arrive between two-thirty and three o'clock in the afternoon on the non-stop United jet Flight Number Two-sixteen, leaving Miami tomorrow morning at twelve twenty-seven.
Ask for me at the hotel desk. I will be registered under the name signed below. If you refuse to help me after we meet and I explain the circumstances to you in person, you will still have a thousand dollars and a return ticket.
If you have not changed greatly from the Mike Shayne I knew ten years ago, you will knock on my door before three o'clock tomorrow afternoon.
At this point I can only pray to God that you will come.
Shayne tugged at his left earlobe with a frown and exhaled deeply as he read the name aloud. "I never heard of a woman named Elsa Cornell."
"She starts out by saying you won't recognize the name signed to this. Doesn't that indicate that it is not her real name?"
"God knows what it indicates or doesn't," growled Shayne. "The whole thing is phony from the word go. Utterly absurd."
"This isn't phony, is it?" Lucy held up the torn half of the bill in front of his eyes. "And that perfume isn't either. Sure you don't recognize that, Michael, even if the name doesn't ring a chord?"
He shook his head definitely. "After ten years, Lucy? You expect me to recognize a perfume?"
"I have an idea she hoped you would. It's the sort of thing a certain type of woman might hope."
"What type of woman?" Shayne looked at his secretary wonderingly.
"I don't think we should waste time trying to psychoanalyze her from three thousand miles away," Lucy told him briskly, looking at her watch. "You've got just an hour, Michael, to pack a bag and get to the airport."
"Good Lord, Angel! Do you expect me to hop on a plane for Los Angeles on the strength of this?" Shayne pointed down to the desk disdainfully.
"I know you will, Mr. Shayne," she replied sweetly. "Unless you've changed more in the last ten years than I think you have. Of course you're going. Wild horses couldn't keep you off that plane, and you know it as well as I do."
"But it has all the earmarks of a hoax. You said the half of the bill wasn't phony. How do we know it isn't? The whole thing smells to high heaven."
"It's a mighty expensive smell." Lucy put her fingertip on the round-trip ticket. "This looks genuine enough." She moved competently around the desk to the telephone. "I'll check that flight with United."
She dialed a number and Shayne reread the baffling appeal while she waited, trying to make some sort of sense out of it, seeking for some clue that he felt must be hidden in the wording, but which stubbornly eluded him.
He heard Lucy speaking briskly into the telephone, and lifted his head to listen to her. She was nodding, and she said, "So you are holding space on Flight Two-sixteen for Michael Shayne? Yes. He will be there to check in at twelve-fifteen at the very latest."
She replaced the telephone and said, "If it's a hoax, it's a fairly expensive one. Your reservation was made in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon."
He began striding up and down the room, shaking his head and clawing at his unruly red hair. "What about your Mr. Rexforth?" he demanded. "You were hell-bent on my keeping that appointment less than half an hour ago."
"Oh, Michael." Lucy smiled and made three lilting syllables out of his name. "You're so like a little boy sometimes. Go to the hotel and pack an overnight bag. You know I can take care of Mr. Rexforth ... even to recommending one of your grubby competitors if necessary. Telephone me as soon as you know whether you're staying or not." She had moved around the desk and was stowing the contents of the square white envelope back into it, wrinkling up her nose again at the heavy scent that arose from it.
Shayne grinned and stopped beside her to put an arm tightly about her shoulders. "Just don't get jealous while I'm gone. And when I find out what the perfume is, I'll bring you back a bottle."
"I don't care about the perfume." She turned inside the circle of his arm and pressed her face against his chest. In a nearly inaudible voice, she said, "Just bring yourself back, Michael ... all in one piece."
He laughed lightly and put a fingertip under her rounded chin to turn her face up to his. He kissed her lips and said gruffly, "I'll come back, Angel. And I'll try to phone you here at the office before five. If not, at home some time this evening." He released her with a little, affectionate shove, and strode out the door, stuffing the square envelope into his pocket.
Lucy turned and watched his rangy form disappear, blinking a mist of tears from her brown eyes. Then she followed him out, closing the door of the inner office firmly behind her.
Shayne parked his car at the side entrance to his apartment hotel, and hurried in and up the single flight of stairs with springy steps.
He did feel buoyant, by God. This sort of thing had been coming his way too seldom of late. For the past few years he'd been turning down more cases than he accepted, and life was becoming just too damned cut and dried. In fact, he'd been toying with the idea of closing up his office and taking a long vacation ... maybe just wander around the country to see if he couldn't find another spot to set up in business where life would have more of the old verve and impact that Miami had imparted to it in the earlier days when it was a roiling, moiling, hustling young city on the make and the majority of Shayne's cases had been a challenge and had swept him along on a wave of personal excitement.
He grinned somewhat ruefully as he unlocked the door of his small apartment and strode inside. An hour earlier he had left this room with nothing more exciting to anticipate than playing hookey from the office for a day on the water in Luigi's fishing boat. Now he had half a thousand-dollar bill and a ticket to Los Angeles in his pocket, and less than half an hour in which to pack a bag and reach the airport.
He whistled tunelessly as he went to a bedroom closet and started to get down a small suitcase, then hesitated and picked up a shabby leather briefcase from the floor instead. Some airlines were stuffy about allowing passengers to carry hand luggage onto the plane, but none of them objected to a briefcase which could be carried off the plane on arrival, thus saving a wait of fifteen or twenty minutes at the baggage counter.
He set it open on the bed, crammed in underwear, socks, pajamas, and a couple of clean shirts, got shaving things and toothbrush from the bathroom, and a full bottle of cognac from the wall cabinet in the living room.
With those essentials in the briefcase, he started to close it up, hesitated and then hurried back into the living room to open the drawer of a center table and take out a snub-nosed .38. He seldom traveled with a gun these days, but ... he couldn't disregard the note of desperation that sounded in the woman's letter. Elsa Cornell?
The name still didn't strike a chord. Ten years ago? So far as he could recall, he had never known a woman named Elsa. Still, there had been lots of women. Ten years ago? Damn it, some memory was trying to nag at him, but it wouldn't come through.
He dropped the gun in the gaping bag, latched it shut, and went out of the bedroom in long strides. He took the elevator down and went to the desk where Pete grinned at sight of the case and asked cheerfully, "You headed some place, Mr. Shayne?"
The detective looked at his watch and said, "I've got about thirty minutes to catch a plane to Los Angeles. I don't know when I'll be back, Pete, but I'll be in touch with Miss Hamilton. Any messages or mail that looks important ... call her at the office or at her home number."
"Sure. I know, Mr. Shayne. Gosh! Los Angeles, huh? Your TeeVee show coming back on the air?"
"Nothing like that, Pete," Shayne told him happily. "Matter of fact, I've got a date with a doll I haven't seen for ten years."
He turned away with a wave of his big hand to go out the side door, and heard Pete call out cheerfully behind him, "That's one thing you can bet your life I won't tell Miss Hamilton."
By fast and skillful driving, Shayne pulled into a vacant spot in the airport parking lot at just twelve minutes after noon. He reached the United check-in counter four minutes later, and slid the briefcase onto the weighing platform, saying, "That's all I have and I want to carry it on board."
He got the square white envelope from his pocket and extracted the round-trip ticket which he laid on the counter, half-expecting the clerk to refuse to accept it for passage at this last moment.
But nothing like that happened. The clerk scribbled some notations, tore part of the ticket off and placed the remainder in an envelope which he handed back to Shayne with a gate pass, said, "They are loading now at Gate Five. Have a pleasant trip, Mr. Shayne." And that was it.
As Lucy had said: Even if his half of the thousand-dollar bill did turn out to be phony, the airline ticket was genuine enough.
He found a short line of people moving through Gate Five, and followed them out to the waiting jet-liner.CHAPTER 2
Two trim and pretty stewardesses greeted him with professionally cheery smiles at the top of the steps to the forward section. One of them checked his ticket perfunctorily while the other asked, "Would you like me to take care of your briefcase, sir?"
Shayne said, "Please," and she took it and stowed it in a small compartment for first-class passengers.
The other stewardess handed him back his ticket and said, "Choose any seat you wish, Mr. Shayne. Don't hesitate to ask for anything that will make your trip more pleasant."
Shayne gravely promised her he wouldn't, and moved into the forward section reserved for first-class ticket-holders. It was less than half-filled even this close to departure time, mostly with singles who had taken window seats; well-dressed, important-appearing men, ninety percent of whom Shayne knew must be traveling on expense accounts ... or else they'd be in the cheaper rear section.
Just as he would be if he'd paid for his own ticket. He found a pair of unoccupied seats on the right near the center of the section, and settled himself comfortably in the seat by the window. He fastened his seat belt and checked his hand as it involuntarily moved toward a cigarette in his shirt pocket, glanced at his watch and saw it was only five minutes until scheduled departure time.
Excerpted from Never Kill a Client by Brett Halliday. Copyright © 1962 Brett Halliday. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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