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Authors: Brett Halliday

Tags: #detective, #mystery, #murder, #private eye, #crime, #suspense, #hardboiled

Pay-Off in Blood

BOOK: Pay-Off in Blood
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Brett
Halliday

Pay-Off in Blood

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Michael Shayne was sweaty, irritable, and dog-tired when he let himself into his hotel apartment at eight o’clock that evening. It had been a long, frustrating day, and the preceding night had been a long night. He tossed his Panama on a rack near the door as he closed it firmly, and rubbed his hand over
a stubble
of red beard, letting his broad shoulders slump while he headed for the small kitchen at the rear.

He opened the refrigerator and checked first to be certain there was a cellophane-wrapped package of ground chuck on the top shelf, then took out a tray of ice cubes and carried it to the sink. He had run warm water over the tray and dropped two of them into a tall glass when the telephone rang in his living room.

He filled the tall glass with cold water and carried it in to the square table in the center of the living room and set it down beside the telephone which kept on ringing.

He glared at the instrument with impersonal hatred, and turned aside to a wall liquor cabinet where he got a bottle of cognac and a four-ounce wineglass. The phone was still ringing when he went back to the table and settled himself in a comfortable chair and filled the glass to the brim. He drank about an ounce, slowly, savoring the taste; washed it down with a sip of ice water and lighted a cigarette before lifting the telephone which had, by that time, rung about twenty times.

He said, “Shayne,” and Timothy
Rourke’s
voice came over the wire aggrievedly, “Why don’t you answer your telephone?”

Shayne said, “Anybody else but you would have given up five minutes ago.”

“Pete told me you had just come in.” Pete was the desk clerk and switchboard operator who had been on the job all the years that the redheaded detective had lived in the hotel. Sometimes Pete took a little too much on himself, but he did know, of course, that
Rourke
was Shayne’s closest friend.

Shayne said, “All right. I’m in.”

“Going to be there for awhile?”

“All evening,” said Shayne flatly.
“All night.
I’m going to have three or maybe four more big drinks, and I’m going to broil a pound of hamburger, and then I’m going to bed.”

“Sounds like good, clean fun,” the reporter commented lightly. “And that’s just fine, Mike. I’m sending a guy up to see you.”

Shayne said, “I don’t want to see any guy. I’ve seen too many guys today. Good night.”

He replaced the telephone on its prongs and picked up the glass of cognac lovingly. The second long and lingering swallow tasted better than the first.

The telephone rang again. He quirked a ragged, red eyebrow at it, then sighed and lifted it on the third ring.

“Go away, Tim. Honest to God, I’m pooped.”

“This guy’s in trouble, Mike.”

“Most of your friends are mostly in trouble.”

“I owe him a favor, Mike. He saved my life once.”

“Which was a mistake,” grunted Shayne sourly. “Except for that, I’d be sitting here enjoying my drink in peace.”

“It’s Doctor Ambrose,” said
Rourke
quietly. “Remember that time I got shot up…?”

Shayne remembered vividly enough. But it had been many years ago and he didn’t remember the doctor or his name or what he looked like.

He sighed and asked, “What sort of trouble?”

“I’d rather he told you, Mike. Just listen to him, huh? You don’t have to interrupt your drinking routine for that.”

Shayne said, “Okay. I’ll listen. But if I’m in bed before he gets here…”

“Not more than twenty minutes. He’s on his way right now.” Timothy
Rourke
hung up fast before Shayne could change his mind.

Shayne grinned wryly and tugged at his left ear-lobe as he put down the telephone. He settled back comfortably in his chair and took a deep drag on his cigarette and a smaller swallow of cognac than the previous two. It had been nip and tuck with
Rourke
that time when he got shot on the Beach while Shayne was in New Orleans. He vaguely recalled something about a certain doctor whom
Rourke
insisted had pulled him through after the others had given him up.

He lifted the telephone and told Pete, “If a Doctor Ambrose asks for me, send him up.”

“You bet, Mr. Shayne. I guess you
musta
been taking a shower when Mr.
Rourke
first called, huh?”

Shayne said, “I was taking a drink, Pete. No more calls tonight.” He was working on his second drink and already in a much more agreeable mood when a knock sounded on his door about twenty minutes later.

He heaved his rangy body out of the chair and went to the door and pulled it open. A somewhat short, somewhat plump man stood there. He wore a neatly pressed, light tan suit, and a neat, blue polka-dot bow tie, and neat brown shoes that had recently been polished.

He was about fifty, Shayne thought, with thinning gray hair and harassed brown eyes that blinked at the detective behind horn-rimmed glasses. He also looked worried or frightened as hell.

He said nervously, “Mr. Shayne? Mr.
Rourke
, ah…”

Shayne stepped aside holding the door open cordially. “Come in, Doctor. Ambrose, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I’m Doctor Ambrose. I’m grateful… it’s good of you to see me, Mr. Shayne. I know you’re a very busy man.”

Shayne said, “Not doing a thing but having a quiet drink. Any friend of Tim’s…”

He closed the door behind the doctor and moved past him toward the table. “What will you have?”

“Nothing for me,” said Doctor Ambrose hastily. “That is… well… perhaps a small glass of sherry if you have it.”

Shayne said, “Sure,” moving to the liquor cabinet. He paused and asked over his shoulder, “Cream or cocktail?”

“What’s that? Oh, no cocktail for me. They’re much too strong. A small glass of sherry…”

Shayne reached a long arm to the top shelf and got down a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and a tall-stemmed glass. He carried them back to the table and said gently, “Sit down, Doc. Relax. Tim tells me you’re in some sort of trouble.”

The doctor obediently sat down, but he did not relax. He sat bolt upright on the edge of a chair and laced his fingers together nervously. He blinked his eyes and swallowed hard, and then stared downward at the rug. “I don’t… know how to say it, Mr. Shayne.”

Shayne said encouragingly, “You’re a doctor. You have patients who come to you with… well, troubles… some of which they don’t like to talk about. But they have to if you’re going to diagnose the case. Look at this the same way.”

“Yes, of course. I know it’s foolish to hesitate.” Doctor Ambrose sighed deeply and unlaced his fingers to reach for the stem of his wineglass. He took a sip of the sherry and set it down. “I’m being blackmailed, Mr. Shayne.” He spoke the words as though he were confessing the murder of his grandmother.

Shayne said nothing for a moment. His gray eyes were very bright as they studied the worried face of his visitor. Then he said quietly, “Lots of people come to me who
are
being blackmailed.
Just as people come to you with venereal diseases.
Some deserve it and some don’t. How bad is it, Doctor?”

Dr. Ambrose looked up at the redhead beseechingly. “It’s very bad, Mr. Shayne. It happened a long time ago, but it would ruin me… absolutely ruin me… if it became public knowledge.”

“Which is what the blackmailer threatens?”

“Yes. He has the proof. I can’t fight it, Mr. Shayne. I have to pay what he demands. Don’t advise me not to be intimidated,” he hurried on a trifle wildly. “Timothy
Rourke
was full of good advice. It’s easy for
Rourke
or for you to sit back and say: ‘Don’t pay him a penny, Doctor.’ But it’s my reputation… my medical practice…
my
entire life that’s at stake. Can you understand that?”

Shayne said, “I can understand it, all right. At the same time,
nothing
was ever gained by paying a blackmailer. They’re never satisfied. They’ll come back for more and more; I give you my word of honor, Doctor…”

“I’m already practically bled white,” Ambrose told him despairingly.
“A thousand dollars a month for the past six months.
How long do you think I can stand such a drain?”

“It proves exactly what I just told you. Your mistake was in making the first payment. If you’d gone straight to the police…”

“No, Mr. Shayne,” Doctor Ambrose interrupted him with a queer assumption of dignity. “My mistake was made years ago.
Unintentional and innocent though it was at the time.
Now…
I must pay for my folly.”

“Who?” asked Shayne
softly.

There was a long silence. Doctor Ambrose took another sip of his cream sherry. “I don’t know, Mr. Shayne. To be frank, I don’t believe I would tell you if I did know. What earthly good would it do? You would probably want to approach him directly. I realize you are a man of action… of violence. But it could only make matters worse.”

“You claim you don’t know who is blackmailing you?” Shayne asked incredulously.

“It is the simple truth. I received a letter six months ago… demanding that I mail a thousand dollars in cash each month to a post office box in Miami Beach. I have done so. But I realized it couldn’t continue.
A thousand a month, Mr. Shayne!”

Shayne said, “Twelve grand a year.”

“Precisely.
For the rest of my life.
Do you know what my annual income is?”

Shayne shrugged his broad shoulders. “I understand that doctors are doing very well these days. I don’t know anything about your practice, but… assuming you’re competent and moderately successful… thirty or forty thousand?”

“I’ve averaged slightly over forty thousand gross during the past few years,” the doctor told him evenly. “But I have heavy expenses. The salary of my receptionist-nurse alone is over six thousand. Office rent… supplies…” He waved both hands vaguely.
“At least another six thousand.”

“So that leaves you twenty-eight thousand net,” said Shayne patiently. “I don’t see…”

“On which I pay income tax.
About eighty-five hundred dollars.
That leaves me twenty. Deduct twelve thousand from that…”

“All right,” agreed Shayne irritably. “I didn’t start this discussion with the idea of advising you to pay blackmail the rest of your life.
Exactly the opposite.
I say you should have never paid a cent.”

“And lose everything?” shuddered the doctor. “I have a pleasant home, a charming wife. Up to this point, she suspects nothing. To explain the drain on my income, I have told her…” His voice faltered and he dropped his gaze to the rug again. “I confessed to her that I have been gambling. Laura is a wonderful woman.
A fine wife and helpmeet.
Instead of upbraiding me for my supposed folly, she has been sympathetic and understanding. But… it can’t go on, Mr. Shayne.”

“No,” said Shayne grimly. “It can’t and mustn’t. So, what do you intend to do about it, Doctor? What do you expect
me
to do?”

“I have made arrangements for a final pay-off, Mr. Shayne.
Tonight.
Last month, I enclosed with my cash payment a letter pointing out the fact that I was reaching the point where I could no longer keep up the monthly payments. That it is impossible to squeeze blood from a turnip. In desperation, I offered a lump payment of twenty thousand dollars in return for the incriminating documents. By cashing in my insurance policies, taking out a second mortgage on my home, liquidating every available asset, I have gotten that sum of money into my possession.”

He paused and looked up into Shayne’s face steadily for a long moment, then reached inside the left lapel of his coat and withdrew a long, bulky white envelope. “The money is here,” he said expressionlessly. “I have only to exchange it for a similar envelope containing the evidence against me. I want you to help me make that exchange… see that it is consummated fairly.”

Shayne said sharply, “You speak of incriminating documents. What do they consist of?”

“I don’t think that matters.
To anyone except myself.”

“It matters in this way,” grated Shayne. “What
assurance have
you that they will be genuine? How do you know he hasn’t had them copied or
photostated
? Do you think a blackmailer will be satisfied with twenty grand? Good God, Doctor! Don’t you realize he’ll be back at you in a few months with further demands? It’s what
always
happens.”

“It won’t in this case. I shan’t reveal the nature of the evidence, but I assure you that
photostating
or copying would be worthless. Once I am convinced that the documents I receive in exchange for my money are genuine… then I have nothing more to fear. Take my word for that, Mr. Shayne. That is why Mr.
Rourke
suggested that I come to you tonight.”

“Why?” asked Shayne
bluntly.
“To help you make the pay-off?”

“To be present while the exchange takes place… and merely by your presence to assure that I receive what I am paying for. Your reputation in Miami is enough for that, Mr. Shayne. You are known as a dangerous man to cross… honest but implacable. I simply ask your protection so long as I have this huge sum of money in my possession. I don’t ask you to take any active part in the transaction,” the doctor went on rapidly. “Knowing that you are
there…
prepared to take a hand if anything goes wrong… should suffice, I think. Whoever the blackmailer may be, he must certainly know who and what Michael Shayne is, and will not dare try any trickery with you on hand to witness it.”

Shayne shook his red head slowly. “You’ve been listening too much to Tim
Rourke
. My reputation isn’t that good.”

“But it is, Mr. Shayne. In truth, it is I who went to Mr.
Rourke
and suggested the arrangement. I knew that you and he were close friends, and I asked him to use his influence to get your help in this matter.”

BOOK: Pay-Off in Blood
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