When an old friend calls begging to see him immediately, Mike Shayne is surprised to say the least. He hasn’t set eyes on Jim Lacy in ten years, and time has not been kind. Jim’s face is deeply wrinkled, and his eyes are glazed. His skin is gray—and there is blood seeping through his shirt. Jim mutters a few last words as he collapses on Shayne’s office floor. His stomach is filled with lead and he is dead before he hits the ground.
Shayne reaches into Lacy’s pocket and pulls out his wallet. Emptying it, he finds $200—enough for a retainer fee. Mike Shayne has never let a client’s murder go unpunished, and he will not rest until he catches the men who shot Jim Lacy and sent him to die. But first he will have to convince the police that he was not the man who pulled the trigger.
The Corpse Came Calling is the 6th book in the Mike Shayne Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Corpse Came Calling
A Mike Shayne Mystery
By Brett Halliday
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1942 Dodd, Mead & Co.
All rights reserved.
Phyllis Shayne had installed a typewriter desk and a steel filing cabinet in the apartment that had been her husband's bachelor quarters before they were married. Otherwise, the apartment remained the same as it had been when Michael Shayne lived there alone—with well-stocked liquor cabinet, comfortable chairs, and a day bed.
There wasn't anything for Phyllis to write on the typewriter and the files were practically empty, but they did add a businesslike touch to the apartment; and Phyllis made it decorative with her warm smile of greeting which was the first thing one saw when entering.
Michael Shayne always came to an abrupt stop and looked his young wife over approvingly when he came in, then solicitously inquired whether any new business had popped up during his absence.
For weeks he had been receiving a negative shake of his wife's dark head, but this afternoon she glanced at a memorandum pad on her clean desk and said briskly:
"A phone call for Mike Shayne about twenty minutes ago. Very mysterious—I might even say sinister. A throaty whisper over the wire, quote: 'Tell Mike it's Jim Lacy. I've got to see him right away,' unquote; and darned if he didn't hang up before I could ask him any questions or tell him you mightn't be in for hours and hours."
Phyllis Shayne paused, her eyes bright with expectancy lifted to her husband's gauntly expressionless face. "I might be mistaken, Mike. You've always warned me about letting my imagination run riot, but I think he was interrupted before he could finish. You know, I had the impression he intended to go on talking but someone or something stopped him."
Shayne nodded, taking off his hat and rumpling coarse red hair with bony fingers. "Jim Lacy? I don't ... yes, I do. I wonder if it could be ... hell, it has to be because that's the only Jim Lacy I've ever known." He tossed his hat toward a wall rack near the door and advanced upon his wife.
She wrinkled her nose at him. "You make as much sense as usual. I wish you'd stop muttering in shorthand."
Shayne grinned widely and tipped her shining head back to kiss her lips. "I keep in practice so you won't learn too many of the darker details of the private detecting business. It was your idea to move down here and spend your days waiting for the telephone to ring."
"But you needed a secretary."
"I got along for years and years without one."
She clung to the knobby fingers that touched her cheek. "Who is Jim Lacy? He sounded awfully queer over the telephone."
Shayne shook his head. "Probably isn't the bird I'm thinking of. Maybe you got the name wrong. Let's wait and see."
Phyllis wailed, "You make me so damn' mad," and Shayne said, "A drink will improve your disposition." He pulled his fingers from hers and went across the room to the liquor cabinet where he selected two wine glasses, a bottle of cognac, and a bottle of port wine.
Phyllis swiveled her chair to watch him while he set the glasses and bottles on a center table and went to the kitchenette. When his back was turned she made no attempt to hide the fact that she was hopelessly in love with her big, redheaded husband; but when he came back carrying a brimming glass of ice water, she made a face at him and said, "There you go. Getting tanked up just when an important case is about to break."
Shayne said, "One drink isn't getting tanked up, and we don't know it's a case." He filled one wine glass with cognac, the other with tawny wine. He arched a bushy eyebrow at his wife and asked, "Are you going to relax from your secretarial duties and join me, or are you going to have your refreshment while you remain militantly on duty?"
"Of course I'm going to stay at my desk. How would it look if a client came in and caught your secretary lounging on the boss's lap encouraging him to get drunk?"
"I'm afraid they'd be envious and try to hire you away from me, angel." Shayne brought her the glass of wine. He went back to the table and lifted his cognac. "Here's to a continued dearth of clients. May they avoid my office—"
A shriek from Phyllis brought Shayne whirling around, slopping liquor over the rim of his glass.
A man stood in the doorway. He was hunched forward with arms akimbo, hands thrust in the pockets of a double-breasted serge coat, hugging the garment tightly to his concave belly. His eyes were glazed and they stared straight in front of him without seeing anything. He swayed in the doorway, took a short, uncertain step, then fell to one knee as Shayne leaped forward.
He toppled sideways on the carpet before the detective reached him. A gray froth dribbled out between his lips with widely spaced words that sounded as though he had been saving them up, concentrating on them, for a long time. He said, "They ... didn't ... get ..." before he died.
Shayne knelt beside him and turned him on his back. He unbuttoned the blue coat and threw it back, showing a tight vest of the same material. He ripped the vest open and put his ear to the man's chest. Phyllis remained seated, hands flat on her desk, eyes wide and frightened.
Shayne lifted his head and shook it. Phyllis screamed and pointed at him. "Your face, Mike! It's covered with blood."
Michael Shayne nodded somberly. He took a handkerchief from his hip pocket and wiped the dead man's blood from his cheek. He said, "His chest is shot full of holes. God only knows how he held himself together to get here."
He stood up and heeled the door shut.
"Michael! Is it Jim Lacy? The man who phoned?"
Shayne shook his head slowly. He stared down at the dead man and the lines of his face deepened into trenches. "I guess maybe it is Lacy. I can't be sure. Haven't seen him for ten years. Ten tough years, if this is he."
The features of the corpse were flaccid; the flesh shrunken so that cheek- and jawbones stood out in harsh relief.
Phyllis asked breathlessly, "How do you suppose ...? Michael! what do you suppose?"
He said, "How in hell do I know?" without looking at her. He tugged at the lobe of his left ear with right thumb and forefinger, then shrugged and turned to the table where he poured himself a drink to replace the one he had spilled.
Phyllis went swiftly to him. She gripped his arm. "Aren't you going to do something? You can't just leave him lying there."
"Why not?" Shayne's eyes were narrowed and hard.
"It isn't decent."
Shayne said, "He's as comfortable there as he would be anywhere." He tossed off his drink, then said more gently:
"Look, angel. You'd better hike upstairs to the apartment and settle down with your knitting. I've got to figure this thing out. He said, 'They didn't get ...' before he died. Who are they? What didn't they get? Why was he killed on his way to my office?"
"Aren't you going to call a doctor?" Phyllis tightened her fingers on his arm.
"What for?" Shayne looked at her in astonishment. "He's dead. No doctor can bring him back to life."
"But the police! Shouldn't you report it? The murderer may be escaping right now."
Shayne put both his hands on her shoulders and steered her back to the day bed. "You're mighty sweet, Phyl, and sometimes you show a glimmering of intelligence, but I'm still running my end of this business. I'll call the police when I get ready, and I'll have a story all fixed to tell them. You relax and meditate on the pleasure of being married to a guy who has dead men drop in unexpectedly." He pushed her down, then patted her shoulder and turned away.
Phyllis breathed unevenly and watched with wide eyes while he went to the corpse and knelt down, began rifling the dead man's pockets.
A tuneless whistle came from the detective's lips as he made a little pile of personal belongings on the floor. Presently he squatted back on his haunches, examining and returning loose change, a key ring, and such trifles to the same pockets they had come from.
He retained a worn leather wallet which he went through carefully. He counted a sheaf of small bills, laying aside two hundred and putting a five and some ones back. He carefully examined all the papers in the wallet, refolded and replaced them, then put the wallet back in the dead man's inside coat pocket.
Shayne frowned, ruffling the sheaf of bills, then placed them inside his own wallet and said over his shoulder to Phyllis, "You can make an entry in the ledger: Two hundred dollar retainer from Jim Lacy."
A little gasp from her lips brought him around to look at her. He grinned when he saw the expression on her face.
"Don't look at me with such loathing, angel. How am I going to find out anything if I don't do some snooping?"
"It's ghoulish," she burst out, "looting a dead man's pockets."
Shayne shrugged wide shoulders. "I left the cops a few dollars to fight over. Who's going to pay my fee if Jim Lacy doesn't?"
"Then it is Jim Lacy?"
"In person. Unless someone has gone to the trouble of planting Jim Lacy's billfold on him."
"Does that make it right to steal his money?"
"Steal isn't a nice word," Shayne complained. "I told you to enter it in the ledger to make it legal."
"But how do you know there's going to be any case? Your client's already dead."
"That," Shayne told her, "is my case. I practically never let the murder of a prospective client pass unnoticed." He got up and went toward Phyllis. She stood up, her young face strained and anxious.
Shayne put his arm about her shoulders. "You insisted on playing at being my secretary, Phyl. Part of that job is not asking questions and not passing judgments. You're upset by having a dead man fall in the door. I didn't arrange it, but hell! that's the way things go in this business." He put a forefinger under his wife's firm chin and tipped her face up. "Are you going to take orders ... or would you rather resign right now?"
The look of strain went away from Phyllis's face. "I guess I am upset. I haven't even drunk my wine."
A twinkle came to Shayne's gray eyes. He released her with a push toward her desk. "Now, you're more like the gal I married. Drink your wine." He hesitated, rubbing his bony chin, then muttered, "I still don't know what they didn't get."
He studied Lacy's body a moment, then knelt beside the dead man again. He gently withdrew the right hand from its coat pocket, frowned at the empty palm and tried the other hand.
This time his eyes glistened with satisfaction. The fingers of Jim Lacy's left hand were tightly clenched in death over a small piece of white cardboard. Shayne spread the fingers out one by one. He rocked back on his heels and turned the torn fragment over and over in his hands.
Watching him curiously, Phyllis asked, "What is it, Michael?"
"Damned if I know." His frown deepened. "It looks like ... something familiar. There's printing on it ... parts of words ... it's been torn on three sides ..." He shook his head. "The only thing I'm certain of is that it's what they didn't get from Lacy." He slipped the piece of cardboard in his pocket and stood up, reached for his hat.
"Get this straight, Phyl. Here's what you're to do: Call headquarters as soon as I go out. Get some excitement in your voice and report that a man just stumbled through the door and fell dead. You don't know where I am."
"Where will you be?"
"Out." He stepped toward the door, paused. "You'd better tell them about the phone call from Jim Lacy—the truth. They might trace it. But forget that I was here when he dropped in ... and you don't know anything about the identity of our caller."
Phyllis nodded, her lips tightly compressed. She kept her face averted from the corpse. "I understand."
Shayne grinned reassuringly. "I'll beat it. I think you'll lie more convincingly without an audience." He stepped over the dead man and started out.
The telephone on Phyllis's desk shrilled as he went through the doorway. He stopped and looked back speculatively.
Phyllis lifted the receiver and said, "Yes?" She listened a moment, widening her eyes at her husband to let him know the call was for him.
"I don't believe Mr. Shayne will be able to ..." She paused, biting her lip and listening further. She put her hand over the mouthpiece and said:
"It's the clerk downstairs. There's a girl to see you."
Shayne shook his head. "Tell her—"
"She says that Jim Lacy sent her," Phyllis interrupted.
Shayne stopped shaking his head. He said, "That's different. Have the clerk stall her a few minutes, then send her upstairs to the apartment. I'll trot up there and see what she wants. You go ahead and call the cops. Don't mention the girl. Tell them exactly what I told you to. And wash out that glass of mine and put it up."
He hurried out, leaving the door standing open, went to the end of the corridor and up one flight of stairs. He hastily unlocked a spacious corner apartment and strode in, shucking off his coat. He tossed coat and hat into the bedroom and returned to the living room, loosening his tie. Miami's late afternoon sunlight flooded the room warmly from an open west window.
He lit a cigarette as an elevator stopped and opened its doors down the hall. He swiftly stepped aside and manipulated a wall mirror so it swung about and revealed a compact assortment of liquors and glasses. He grabbed a bottle of cognac and poured a wine glass half full, carried it to a deep chair and settled back just as a knock sounded on the door.
He yelled, "Come in," and took a leisurely sip of cognac as the door opened.CHAPTER 2
A girl paused hesitantly just inside the threshold. She appeared quite young, with lustrous, smoothly waved hair that gave off an illusive sheen like the patina of old and well-rubbed silver. She wore a dress of dove-gray silk, and looked cool and poised. She had a slender, well-put-together body and nice legs.
Shayne set his glass down and went to meet her. She peeled off a white lace glove and smiled, but her blue eyes were frightened.
Shayne engulfed her hand in his and drew her into the room, shutting the door. "You wanted to see me?"
"It's ... are you really the detective ... Michael Shayne?" Her lips parted breathlessly, her eyes were wide with doubt.
Shayne ruffled his red hair and grinned his nicest grin. "Disappointed?"
"N-no. Only ..." She shrugged well-fleshed shoulders and pivoted away from him, looking around the living room with interest. "This isn't at all what I imagined a detective's office would be like." She moved to an open window, casually glancing inside the bedroom through the open door.
"My wife is out," Shayne told her equably. "We're alone here if that's what's on your mind."
She turned slowly, pressing the heels of her palms against the window sill behind her. Her hair glistened with a yellowish tinge in the tropical sunlight. She narrowed her eyes at Shayne, then parted generous lips in a slow smile. "I didn't know you were married."
"That," said Shayne, "is the reason I hastened to mention it." He went to the table and lifted his glass. "Can I get you a drink?"
"No, thank you." The smile went away from the girl's lips. She said, jerkily, "My name is— Helen Brinstead."
Shayne lifted his glass in acknowledgment. "Miss Brinstead." He sipped from the glass, his eyes holding hers over the rim. "You said a man named Jim Lacy had sent you."
She lowered long eyelashes, giving her face a demure look of youth and inexperience. "Yes."
Deliberately, Shayne said, "I knew a Jim Lacy once. Ten years ago. From what I knew of him then, I wouldn't expect a girl like you to be acquainted with him."
She kept her eyelashes down. In a low voice, she said, "It must be the same man."
"He used to be a private detective, too."
"He still is."
"Then why come to me? If you need the services of a detective."
"Mr. Lacy advised me to. He explained that he had a New York license and had no authority in Florida."
"Is Jim Lacy here—in Miami?"
"Yes. I just happened to meet him today. I—I knew him casually in New York." Helen Brinstead lifted her long eyelashes. She took a step toward him, wringing her hands. "I'm so alone here, Mr. Shayne. So frightened. You must listen to me—help me. You must! There's no one else."
Shayne nodded. "Sure, I'll listen to you. That's my job. Relax." He took her arm and steered her to a chair a couple of feet in front of him.
Excerpted from The Corpse Came Calling by Brett Halliday. Copyright © 1942 Dodd, Mead & Co.. 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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