Brett Halliday

Dividend on Death


The girl who faced Michael Shayne in his downtown Miami apartment was beautiful, but too unblemished to interest Shayne particularly. She was young, certainly not more than twenty, with a slender niceness of figure that was curiously rigid as she sat in a chair leaning toward him. Her lips were too heavily rouged, and her cheeks were too pale.

She said, “I am Phyllis Brighton,” as though her name explained everything.

It didn’t. It didn’t mean a thing to him. He said, “Yes?” wondering why there should be that expression of self-loathing in her eyes; she was too young and too beautiful to have that look. The pupils of her eyes were contracted and cloudy beneath heavy black lashes, and they stared into his face with a fixed intensity that wasn’t quite sane.

“We’re on the Beach,” the girl told him as though that should convey a great deal. She drew herself stiffly erect in the deep chair, gloveless fingers weaving together in her lap.

Shayne said, “I see,” without seeing at all. He stopped looking into her eyes and leaned back, loose-jointed and relaxed. “You don’t use the phrase in its slang meaning, I suppose?”

“What?” The girl was beginning to loosen up a trifle in response to Shayne’s easy manner.

“You don’t mean you’re down on your luck-a beachcomber?”

A nervous smile hovered on her tight lips. Shayne had an idea there would be a dimple in her left cheek if she relaxed and really smiled. “Oh, no,” she explained. “We’re at our Miami Beach estate for the season. My-father is Rufus Brighton.”

Things began clicking in Shayne’s mind. She was that Brighton. He crossed inordinately long legs and clasped his hands about one bony knee. “Your stepfather, I believe?”

“Yes.” Phyllis Brighton’s words came with a rush. “He had a stroke in New York four months ago-only a month after he and Mother married while I was in Europe. They were sending him down here away from the cold when I arrived so I came down with him and the doctor and his son.”

“Brighton’s son?” Shayne asked. “Or, the doctor’s?”

“Mr. Brighton’s son by his first marriage. Clarence. Mother stayed in New York to attend to some business matters and she is arriving this afternoon.” Her voice grew shaky on the final words.

Shayne waited for her to go on. There was no hurry or impatience in his mind. It was quiet and comfortably cool in the apartment above the Miami River, and he had nothing urgent on hand.

Phyllis sucked her breath in sharply and faltered, “I-don’t know how to say it.”

Shayne lit a cigarette and didn’t help her out. She had something inside her that she would have to get rid of her own way.

“I mean-well-you’re a private detective, aren’t you?”

Shayne rumpled his coarse red hair with his left hand and looked at her with a fleeting grin. “That’s a nice way of saying it. I’ve frequently been called worse-with emphasis.”

She looked away from him, wet her lips. Her next question came with a rush.

“Did you ever hear of someone killing a person they loved devotedly?”

Shayne shook his head slowly. “I’m thirty-five, Miss Brighton, and I’m never sure that I know what a person means when he speaks of love. Suppose you tell me what’s on your mind.”

Tears came into Phyllis’s eyes. She flung out her hands toward him. “Oh, I have to! I just have to tell someone or I’ll go mad!”

Shayne nodded, repressing an impulse to suggest it wouldn’t be a long journey. He looked directly into her eyes and asked, “Who are you thinking about killing, and why?”

She jerked back involuntarily, and her breath came out between clenched teeth. “It’s-Mother.”

Shayne said, “U-m-m,” and looked away from her, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. The girl’s answer had startled him for a moment, accustomed as Michael Shayne was to surprising revelations from clients.

“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” The girl’s voice was almost out of control.

“We’re all slightly haywire at times.”

“I don’t mean that way. I mean really crazy. Oh, I know I am. I can feel it. It gets worse every day.”

Shayne nodded agreement, and mashed out his cigarette in a tray on the small table between them. “Haven’t you come to the wrong place? Sounds to me as though you need an alienist instead of a detective.”

“No, no!” She placed the palms of her hands flat on the table and leaned sharply forward. Full red lips were drawn away from white teeth, and her eyes were clouded with fear. “They tell me I’m going crazy. Sometimes I think they’re trying to drive me crazy. They say I may try to kill Mother. They’re making me believe it. I won’t let myself believe it but then I do. With Mother coming this afternoon-” Her voice trailed off to silence.

Shayne lit another cigarette and pushed his pack toward her. She didn’t see it. She was staring upward into his face.

“You got to help me. You’ve got to.”

“All right,” agreed Shayne soothingly. “I’ll help you. But I’m no good at guessing games.”

She said, “It’s-it’s-I can’t bear to talk about it. It’s too awful. I just can’t.”

Michael Shayne slowly unlimbered himself and stood up. He had a tall angular body that concealed a lot of solid weight, and his freckled cheeks were thin to gauntness. His rumpled hair was violently red, giving him a little- boy look curiously in contrast with the harshness of his features. When he smiled, the harshness went out of his face and he didn’t look at all like a hard-boiled private detective who had come to the top the tough way.

He smiled down at Phyllis Brighton, turned away from her, and crossed the living-room of his apartment to an open east window which let in the afternoon breeze from Biscayne Bay. Better, he figured, to give her a chance to spill the whole thing. It didn’t look like a real case, but he wanted to give her a chance.

“Take it easy.” His voice was unruffled, steadying. “You’ve got things bottled up inside of you that you need to get out into the open. I don’t think you need an alienist after all. I think you need someone to talk to. Go ahead. I’m listening.”

“Thanks.” The word was a faint whisper which barely carried to him across the stillness. “If you only knew-”

Shayne did know, sort of. He remembered reading the papers, and he could guess at other things that hadn’t been in print.

He said, “You’re not going crazy, of course. Count that off your list. You wouldn’t realize it if you were.” He paused. “About your mother-”

“She’s coming this afternoon. From New York.”

“You told me that.”

“I hear them talking about me when they think I’m not listening. I heard them last night-talking about having me watched when Mother arrives.” She shuddered. “That’s what gave me the idea of coming to you-myself.”

“You’ve said ‘they’ several times. Who are ‘they’?”

“Doctor Pedique and Monty. Mr. Montrose. He’s Mr. Brighton’s private secretary.”

Shayne turned and lounged against the window, elbows hooked on the sill.

“What basis is there for their fear? What’s it all about? Do you hate your mother?”

“No! I love her. That’s-what they say is the matter.” A rush of blood crimsoned Phyllis’s cheeks beneath Shayne’s steady gaze. She lowered her eyes.

This seemed to him to be getting them nowhere. “Suppose you tell me just what they do say.” Shayne’s voice was gently impersonal. “Don’t make any excuses or explanations. Let me sort things out for myself first.”

Phyllis Brighton clasped her hands together and began Jo speak in a glib, curiously sickening patter, as though the words had been committed to memory and she was delivering them without letting herself consider their meaning. “They say I’ve got an Electra complex and it’s driving me insane with jealousy because Mother

Вы читаете Dividend on Death
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату