Brett Halliday

Framed in Blood

Chapter One


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 what?”

“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 protege 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

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