Brett Halliday

Michael Shaynes' 50th Case


It was a little after three o’clock in the afternoon and Marvin Blake sat alone in his hotel room in Miami looking forward to the evening that lay ahead of him with a certain amount of distaste. Perhaps there was a bit of dread mixed with his distaste, although that is a strong word for what Marvin was feeling.

Certainly, he wasn’t looking forward to the night with any eagerness or anticipation. Thus far, he conceded to himself, it had been a good convention. This was the final day of it and he had just come back to his room after attending the last formal meeting on the agenda.

Tonight was the night for making whoopee. The night for cutting loose from all restraints and raising hell just for the pure fun of it. The night, in fact, that most of the delegates looked forward to with enthusiastic anticipation. The reason most of them had come to the convention in the first place.

Many of the delegates, of course, had been whooping things up ever since they had been in the city. But tonight was the big one. Tomorrow they would all disperse and go back to their humdrum lives at home. Most of them would go back to small communities like Sunray Beach, which was Marvin Blake’s home-town where they were solid and respected citizens, members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Elks or the Lions, good husbands and fathers, sober and dependable taxpayers who helped to keep the National Economy in gear.

But tonight they were going to be anonymous John and Bill and Henry and Mike, according to the labels pinned to their lapels. Tonight they were going to be on the town, and they were all set to raise merry hell because they couldn’t raise hell at home without everyone in town knowing about it. Because they were just adolescents at heart and never really had grown up, and were all loaded down with frustrations and repressions and sublimations that called for some sort of outlet when the opportunity arose.

And Blake knew he would have to be “Marv” along with the rest of the boys. He would be expected to drink too much, and laugh too often and too loudly, and kiss the party girls who would be provided, and try to get some sort of erotic thrill out of the pornographic movie that would be shown in the Grand Ballroom as a fun-making climax to the four-day convention.

Marvin Blake didn’t like to drink too much, but he glumly knew that he would do so tonight. He knew he’d start out promising himself he’d have only two or three, and he’d gulp down those two or three, and then another and just another, and pretty soon he’d be snatching a glass from every loaded tray that went by and things would begin to get a little blurred… and there he’d be!

And the next morning he’d wake up (alone in his own hotel room if he was lucky) with a head as big as a balloon and an awful taste in his mouth and little men hammering on the inside of his skull with croquet mallets, and wondering why in hell he had done it, and just what had happened after he passed out.

And if he wasn’t lucky, there’d maybe be a floosie in bed with him when he woke up, or lipstick stains on the pillow and the pervasive stink of perfume and passion in the room. And then, along with the hangover there’d be a dreadful feeling of guilt and remorse that he’d carry away with him and take back home and have to learn to live with for all the years to come.

He shuddered with revulsion at his imaginings, and tried to put them away from him. Up to this point it had been a darned good convention. He was glad he had come even if the trip had turned out a little more expensive than he had anticipated. Ellie had been right when she insisted that he must attend it. A man does need to get away from home once in a while. Does him good to get together with other fellows and talk business and how the last sales campaign went, and why it didn’t go better, and what the economic outlook for the coming year is and things like that. It broadens a man’s horizons and makes him realize that all over the country other fellows face the same sort of problems he faces.

Yes, Marvin was glad he had come, all right. He told himself that Ellie had been wonderful the way she insisted he just take the money out of the savings account and go, even if he had felt he couldn’t afford it. Just thinking about Ellie made him feel warm and good. She had insisted that she could get along fine without him for just four days. My goodness! why shouldn’t she? Didn’t she get along all right every day with him away at the office?

Thinking about Ellie brought a twinge of guilt feelings to Marvin. Why had he fooled around with that redhead up in Tom Connors’ suite last night? Well, he asked himself angrily, why had he? She was common and coarse, and nothing but a damned gold-digger. Anyone could see that with half an eye. Why does a man do damn fool things like that when he has a wife like Ellie waiting for him at home? And a sweet little daughter like Sissy. Both of them believing you’re the salt of the earth and that you’re completely to be trusted away from home.

It hadn’t been much, of course. Not anything, really. He hadn’t actually kissed her, but you can’t pull away and make a scene in front of the other fellows when a pretty girl wants to kiss you. Not unless you want to get laughed at.

The redhead was part of his worry about the coming evening. The last thing she’d whispered in his ear before the party broke up at midnight was that she was looking forward to getting better acquainted tonight.

Marvin Blake didn’t want to see the redhead again. He didn’t even like her because, my goodness, how can a man like a girl like that if he’s married to someone like Ellie?

Thinking about Ellie made Marvin want to telephone her. It would be reassuring and good to hear her warm throaty voice over the telephone telling him that Sissy was perfectly wonderful although she missed her Daddy dreadfully, and that they were absolutely all right at home and hoped he was having fun in Miami.

But Ellie had made him promise not to telephone her from Miami. She said that after they had been married eight years it was just foolish to waste money on long distance calls. She had made him promise to send her a ten-word telegram the minute he arrived safely at the hotel, and then not to waste money phoning her. “You go out and spend that extra money on cocktails,” she’d told him with a laugh. “Goodness knows, you deserve an outing every year or so. You just have a real good time in Miami and don’t you worry about Sissy and me.”

So he knew he’d better not telephone her. A long distance call would just frighten her and he’d have a hard time explaining that he’d just called on an impulse because he wanted to hear her voice. She’d remind him that he was coming home the next day anyhow, and she’d wonder why he couldn’t wait one more day.

He could get out of the shindig tonight, of course. He could slip out of the hotel before five o’clock and go some place to have dinner alone and then maybe to a movie. He knew very well that no one would really miss him. Not even the redhead. He knew that well enough. She would find plenty of other men to cuddle up to. Oh, some of the fellows might wonder where Marv was, but not for long. Not after four or five drinks. And it wasn’t as though it would do him any good in a business way. He had already made all his contacts and got all the real good out of the convention that there was. Tonight was strictly for fun.

For fun! He sat disconsolately in his hotel room and shuddered as he envisioned the main event in the Grand Ballroom after the delegates had lapped up all the liquor they could hold and were ready for it.

He wondered where they got hold of movies like the one that was promised for tonight. Who makes them, and who really wants to see them? Well, he had to reluctantly admit to himself that apparently a majority of the delegates to conventions such as this one do enjoy looking at that sort of smut. He’d been to other conventions in the past and seen how they crowded in.

But why, he wondered. In the name of God, why? Taken all in all, he and his fellow delegates were a fairly representative sector of the American way of life. What sort of kick does a decent guy get out of sitting in the darkness with a lot of other men and watching that kind of stuff on a screen?

Then he wondered if he was being a bit of a prude. He didn’t think of himself as prudish. Actually, he was all for sex. He thought sex was wonderful. He was thirty-five years old and normally masculine, and he defied any man to get more pleasure out of sex than he did.

With the right woman… at the right time.

But he didn’t anticipate any sexual pleasure from sitting through the sort of display that was slated for the delegates tonight. He considered it abnormal. A perverted sort of thing. But he knew that if he dared express his

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