Sara Morton is one of the toughest reporters in Miami. She made a name for herself in the twenties when she lied her way into Al Capone’s mob to get an exclusive, and she has been making headlines—and enemies—ever since. When Morton gets a note reading, “You have three days to get out of Miami alive,” she doesn’t panic. But as the days tick by and more notes arrive, she begins to fear for her life. She attempts to hire Mike Shayne, Miami’s sharpest PI, but Shayne doesn’t come fast enough. By the time he meets Sara Morton, her throat has been slashed with a pair of scissors. The killer has delivered as promised.
Shayne never quits on his clients, even if they aren’t alive to pay their bills. Finding the murderer will be the biggest news story to hit Miami in a decade—and it’s a shame Morton won’t be there to report it.
This Is It, Michael Shayne is the 18th book in the Mike Shayne Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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This Is It, Michael Shayne
A Mike Shayne Mystery
By Brett Halliday
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1950 Brett Halliday
All rights reserved.
Michael Shayne stepped from the deep-sea fishing boat onto the wharf and walked toward his parked car with a rolling motion of his rangy body. Since early morning he had ridden the ocean swells under a clear sky, and now his face tingled with the cool night breeze on sunburned skin, and his eyes were drowsy from strain and the glare of bright sunlight on the water. He felt stretchy and yawny, luxuriously relaxed after a day of good-fellowship combined with moderate amounts of aged liquor, and a fair day's catch.
He was humming lazily when he reached the car. Getting in, he drove toward his apartment. He anticipated stripping off the damp, salt-sticky polo shirt and faded dungarees, taking a warm shower, and perhaps reading in bed a couple of hours before gratifying the urge of mind and body with a good night's sleep.
He stopped humming abruptly, remembering that Lucy knew nothing of his fishing trip and was probably worried. He had forgotten, momentarily, that in order to persuade her to resume her job as his secretary he had rented office space in a six-story building downtown after more than fifteen years of doing business in his apartment.
He scowled at the misty windshield, jerked the steering wheel around just in time to swing left at an intersection, and drove to his office. Conscientious and efficient, Lucy might be waiting even at this late hour if there was an urgent call from a client.
It was eight-thirty when he stood before the door with MICHAEL SHAYNE–PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR lettered in gold on the frosted glass. There was no light inside, but he unlocked the door and went in, switched on the overhead light, and since there was no message on Lucy's desk, he went on to another door marked PRIVATE.
Three memos, separated by penciled lines on a large pad, lay on his brand new oak desk beside a special delivery letter in a square white envelope. He read the memos first:
"9:30 A.M. Call Miss Sarah Morton at the Tidehaven hotel at once. Urgent."
"1:40 P.M. Miss Morton called."
"4:52 P.M. Get in touch with Sarah Morton no matter what time of night you get message ... but try to sober up first."
At the bottom of the page she signed Lucy Hamilton in her precise handwriting, and added: I waited till eight.
Shayne grinned at the full signature and the last personal lines, all reprimands for his unexplained absence, then picked up the letter.
The envelope was of rich, heavy paper, addressed by typewriter and with no return address. It was stamped at the main postoffice at 7:42 P.M.
Opening it carefully at the pointed flap he took out a single sheet of heavy notepaper folded once. Several enclosures fluttered to the floor, three small squares of white paper all about the same size and evidently clipped from a large sheet, and a smooth bit of green paper somewhat smaller in size. Two of the white squares appeared blank. The third fell face up and showed words in uneven print, cut from a slick magazine and pasted on to form a message:
TWO MORE DAYS
Shayne stooped and picked up the green enclosure first. It was half of a five-hundred-dollar bill, ripped across the middle. Perplexed and frowning, he gathered up the other two white squares and turned them over. He read:
YOU HAVE THREE DAYS TO GET OUT OF MIAMI ALIVE
ONE DAY LEFT
He laid them on the desk and unfolded the note. There was a printed facsimile of Sara Morton's signature in blue, but no address, and the note was undated. He read:
"Dear Mr. Shayne:
It is now six-thirty and I have given up hope that you will contact me before it is too late. I enclose the notes which my secretary will explain to you, and one-half of a retainer which I trust you will earn by bringing my murderer to justice.
The signature was in blue ink and scarcely distinguishable from the printed name. Shayne read the note through twice, rumpling his coarse red hair angrily and swearing at a woman who would calmly sit down at six-thirty to type an enigmatic note that indicated she expected a threat of murder to be carried out and giving no hint as to whom she suspected.
And one-half of a retainer.
What the devil did she mean by that? To pique his interest? Her secretary probably had the other half, with instructions to turn it over to him if she were murdered and he caught the murderer.
He put the letter down and looked up the number of the Tidehaven, dialed it, and when a feminine voice answered he said, "Miss Norton, please," and waited. He listened to the steady rings, his gray eyes bleak as he counted ... one, two, three, four, five, each one sounding flatter, more hollow, stopping abruptly on the fifth.
The hotel operator said, "Sorry. Fourteen twenty-two does not answer. Shall I connect you with fourteen-oh-eight?"
"Miss Morton's secretary is in fourteen-oh-eight."
Shayne said, "Try it." He slid the telephone to the edge of the desk nearest a green filing cabinet, stretched the cord its full length and his long arm barely reached the handle of the top compartment. He eased it out with the tips of his fingers, got hold of the neck of a half-empty fifth of Monnet and lifted it out just as the ringing at the other end stopped and the operator said:
"Sorry. Fourteen-oh-eight does not answer."
"Have Miss Morton paged." He moved back to the desk, eased one hip down on a corner and laid the receiver on its side long enough to uncork the bottle. He picked it up and took a long drink while he waited.
A low, rich voice said, "Ye-e-ss?"
"Miss Morton? Mike Shayne calling. I just came in and found your messages. ..."
"This is Miss Lally speaking," the voice interrupted. "Miss Morton's secretary. I heard her being paged." She paused, and Shayne thought he detected a faltering, uncertain quality when she asked, "Did you say you're Mr. Shayne?"
"Michael Shayne," he said impatiently. "Where is Miss Morton? I found a memo of three urgent calls from her on my desk."
"Did you try her room?"
"Of course I tried her room before having her paged. Where can I reach her?" he demanded irritably.
"Please, Mr. Shayne ... just a moment." Her voice rose to a higher pitch, with a hint of terror.
He could hear a mumbling of voices close to the phone through a hand not quite tight over the mouthpiece; then his bushy red brows shot up in surprise at hearing a familiar masculine voice say:
"Mike? Tim Rourke."
"What's doing over there, Tim?"
"You'd better come over, Mike." The reporter sounded half-tight, but deadly serious. "Do you know why Miss Morton called you this afternoon?"
"No. I've been fishing all day. I found her messages when I came in."
"Where are you now?"
"At my office."
"Good," said Rourke. "Miss Lally and I will wait in the cocktail lounge."
Shayne pressed a button to break the connection and swiftly dialed another number, setting his jaw and frowning as he waited. Timothy Rourke was an old friend, and Shayne knew he was not easily upset. What the devil was a reporter from the Daily News doing ...?
He snapped his fingers, suddenly remembering Sara Morton. Lucy's spelling of the first name had thrown him off, and he had been too absorbed with the get-out-of-town notes to identify her immediately when he saw the printed name on the message. Rourke had done a human interest story on her in the Sunday News ... her exploits in crime-reporting on the national scene. There were pictures of a slender and vitally beautiful woman ... thirty-five, perhaps, with sharp intelligent eyes and distinctive features. Sara Morton was practically a legend ... a roving reporter for a national syndicate who was feared by the underworld and criminals in high places.
Lucy Hamilton's eager voice cut his recollections short. "Hello."
"Lucy ... I just got in and I. ..."
"Michael! Where on earth were you all day?"
"I wasn't," he said, grinning briefly. "I was on water. But never mind that now," he went on soberly. "This Sara Morton ... didn't she tell you anything about what she wanted?"
"Not a thing ... except it was terribly urgent. I kept telling her you'd be in or phone any minute and I'd have you call her ... until the last time. Then I had to confess I hadn't the faintest idea how to reach you," she said in a small, hurt voice; then went on crisply, as she had begun. "She didn't say much, but I had a feeling she was quite upset, because she insisted that you call her, no matter what time you came in. If you're going to have an office and keep a secretary you might at least. ..."
"Save it for tomorrow, angel," he interrupted. "I'm on my way to the Tidehaven right now." He replaced the receiver slowly, heard her say, "Good night, Michael," faintly, before it clicked.
His sense of drowsy relaxation had vanished, the polo shirt and faded dungarees forgotten. His gaze was cold and remote, flickering over Lucy's memos, the cut squares of paper with their threatening warnings, and, finally, the special delivery note.
A single phrase leaped out at him: I have given up hope. ... She had waited for his call until six-thirty, and. ...
He wadded the memo sheet into a ball and thrust it into a side pocket, replaced the note and enclosures in the envelope and went out and down to his car.
The Tidehaven Hotel faced Biscayne Bay and was only a short distance, but from habit he drove the three blocks and parked in the inner lane of the Boulevard opposite the marquee.
The doorman raised his brows and drew them together disapprovingly when Shayne approached, his eyes sliding from the redhead's tousled hair to the soiled canvas sandals, but he hastily opened the door and Shayne strode through without a glance at the immaculate uniform.
He slowed when he saw Rourke and Miss Lally in the cocktail lounge just off the sumptuous lobby. They sat in the center of a horse-shoe booth with leather-cushioned seats. Rourke's sharp and emaciated profile was toward Shayne as he bent close to the girl with feverish intensity.
Shayne paused a moment to study Miss Lally while the patrons observed him with expressions befitting their various stages of inebriety.
His general impression of her was one of roundness, and of white skin rarely seen in Miami. She was chubby rather than fat, and her face missed being round by a chin that was firm and slightly pointed. Her eyes were round and sooty with dark lashes and brows contrasting severely with her short blonde hair worn plain on top and curling at the ends. She wore a silvery gray skirt and a short-sleeved eton jacket, and the round blue collar of her blouse hugged her white neck girlishly. She was nibbling on an arm of her tortoise-shell glasses frame dangling in her hand as she gazed wide-eyed at Rourke, looking more like a rapt, chubby child than the secretary of crime-reporter Sara Morton.
Shayne moved on and was standing at their table before they saw him.
"Mike ... sit down," said Rourke. "We're worried about Miss Morton ... Bea and I." His tone was amorous on the last three words, but he made the introductions with precise and semi-intoxicated formality.
Shayne shook his head at a hovering waiter and sat down. "Have you found out where Sara Morton is?" he asked, glancing from one to the other when they straightened around facing the table.
"Not a word, Mr. Shayne," said Miss Lally in the low, full voice he had heard over the phone. "Did I understand you to say you had not contacted her?" She slid the arms of her tortoise-shell glasses behind her ears.
The transformation was instantaneous and shocking. She was efficient and late twenty-ish, stout instead of chubby. Trying not to stare, Shayne said:
"That's right. I've been fishing all day. What did she want?"
"There was ... it was a private matter. That's why she didn't want to call in the police. I ... don't understand. Now that she's gone out I don't know what to think." The effort to keep her voice steady was apparent and the faltering uncertainty seemed to be more from worry than fright.
"The hell of it is," Rourke interjected, "I had an appointment with la Morton here in the cocktail lounge at six. Miss Lally kept it instead. You tell him, Bea," he ended, turning his slaty, feverish eyes toward her.
A perpendicular frown came between her eyes and flitted away, leaving smooth, white skin. "I went to her room a few minutes before six to remind her she was to meet Mr. Rourke. She didn't unlock the door when I knocked. She sounded terribly upset ... or frightened. I've never known her to be afraid. She isn't the type. ..."
"Sara Morton is the type to play fair by giving a man-eating tiger the first two bites," Rourke interrupted grimly. "She's the gal who broke into the big-time years ago by becoming the moll of one of Capone's original mob to get an exclusive."
Shayne said, "I read your Sunday story, Tim. What did she say when you knocked on her door, Miss Lally?"
"Just that she was expecting a very important telephone call and had to wait for it if it took all night."
"From me?" Shayne asked.
"She didn't say, Mr. Shayne. At the time I didn't realize she hadn't been able to reach you today. She told me not to bother about her but to go down and tell Mr. Rourke. ..." She paused abruptly, and a pink flush washed up in her neck and face, and the tips of her ears were red.
"To tell Tim what?" Shayne prompted gravely.
Miss Lally took off her glasses and her eyes, large and round and sooty again, were lowered. "She told me to ... tell him to try ... making passes at me for a change because she didn't believe he had another ... another. ..."
"Another what?" Rourke demanded indignantly.
She caught her lower lip between her teeth, polished her glasses carefully and put them on again. "I never quote Miss Morton verbatim ... when she's vulgar." She spoke primly, and her face was white again when she resumed her low-voiced recital:
"The reason I'm so worried about her right now is because she appears to have gone out before you called her ... after telling me emphatically she was going to stay there all night if necessary."
"Maybe it wasn't my call she was waiting for," Shayne suggested.
"I think it was. You see, she hasn't received any call since I talked to her at six o'clock. I checked with the switchboard operator after I talked to you. Do you think we should ... do anything?" The frown came and stayed longer now, accentuating the worried tone in her voice.
Shayne didn't answer immediately. He stared down at the table, rolling his earlobe between thumb and forefinger, acutely conscious of the threatening messages and the note in his pocket. He didn't want to discuss them in the presence of Rourke. Not yet. Miss Lally wouldn't want to, either.
He pushed his chair back and stood up. "I think we might go up and see if she's in her room. She may have fallen asleep."
Miss Lally finished her stale drink and stood beside Shayne, the top of her head even with his shoulder, while Rourke took out his billfold and laid some money on the table. When he joined them they went into the lobby and across to a bank of elevators, and up to the fourteenth floor.
Miss Lally led the two men down a corridor, around a corner and past several doors to number 1422. With her hand on the knob she turned a strained and frightened face up to Shayne. "See," she whispered, pointing to the transom, "there's a light in her room."
Shayne reached past her and rapped sharply on the door. The corridor was quiet as a tomb and they waited without breathing, listening, hearing nothing in the silent room beyond the door.
Beatrice Lally began twisting the knob frantically, calling Miss Morton's name loudly, begging her to open the door.
"Do you have a key?" Shayne asked.
"No ... I ... but I have a key to fourteen-twenty," she stammered.
"What good will that do?" he demanded irritably.
She didn't answer, but turned toward the next door with Shayne striding behind her. Rourke lifted his spine from the wall he had relaxed against, untangled his crossed feet and followed them.
Miss Lally had the key in the lock, explaining, "There's a connecting bathroom. I do my typing in here. Miss Morton always takes two rooms with a connecting bath if she can't get a suite," she ended, pushing the door open.
One of the twin beds had been removed to make room for a typewriter desk, a metal file, and two tables that were cluttered with papers, clipped portions of manuscripts and reams of typing paper. A chromium ashstand overflowed with cigarette butts, and wadded sheets of discarded script spilt over the top of the waste basket onto the floor.
Miss Lally nodded toward an open door and said, "That's the bathroom," whispering again, her glasses dangling from her fingers, her eyes round and frightened. "She never latches the door on her side. Please ... if everything is all right, don't let her know I had anything to do ... with this. She'd be terribly angry with me."
Excerpted from This Is It, Michael Shayne by Brett Halliday. Copyright © 1950 Brett Halliday. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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