married Mr. Brighton and I’ll kill her before I’ll let him have her.”

“Is it true?” Shayne threw the question at her before she had time to catch her breath.

She raised her opaque eyes to his and cried out a vehement, “No!” then dropped them and added as if the words might strangle her, “I don’t know.”

Shayne said dryly, “You’d better make up your mind, if she’s due this afternoon.”

“It’s too horrible to be true. It isn’t. It can’t be. But I-everything’s mixed up. I can’t think any more. I’m afraid to let myself think. There’s something horrible inside of me. I can feel it growing. I can’t escape it. They say I can’t.”

“Isn’t that something you’d better decide for yourself rather than let them decide for you?”

“But I-can’t think straight any more. It’s all like a nightmare and I have-spells.”

She was so damned young. Michael Shayne studied her morosely from across the room. Too young to be having spells and to have lost her ability to think straight. Still, he wasn’t a nursemaid. He shook his head irritably, went to a wall liquor cabinet and took down a bottle of cognac. Facing her, he held it up and raised bushy red eyebrows.

“Have a drink?”

“No.” She was looking down at the carpet. While he poured himself one she began talking with dreary hopelessness.

“I suppose it was silly of me to come to you. No one can help me. I’m in a lonely place, Mr. Shayne. And I can’t face it alone any more. Perhaps they’re right.” Her voice sank to an awed whisper. “I do hate him. I can’t help it. I don’t see how Mother could have done it. We were so happy together. Now, it’s spoiled. What’s the use of- going on?” Her lips scarcely moved.

Shayne let the drink trickle down his throat. The girl was talking to herself, not to him. She seemed to have forgotten him, in fact, and was staring at the window with remote, glazed eyes. After a while she stood up slowly, her face twitching, and took one slow step toward the window. Abruptly she flung herself at it in one desperately swift motion.

Shayne lunged in front of her.

Then she was clawing at him, her breath coming in short gasps. Shayne’s face hardened; he smashed one big hand down on her shoulder, and shook her with an almost savage violence.

When she went limp he slipped his arm about her waist to keep her from sliding to the floor; she hung there with her head back and eyes closed, her breasts taut against the thin knit jacket of her sports outfit.

Shayne’s face lost its impersonal fierceness. He looked down at her face moodily, remarking how her lips were parted and her breath was coming unevenly. It was a hell of a note. She was just a kid, but old enough to know better than to act like one.

Abruptly, he realized he didn’t believe that stuff she had hinted about herself and her mother. He would have felt an instinctive repulsion if it was true, and she was not repellent. Far from it. He had to shake her again roughly to keep himself from kissing her.

She opened her eyes and swayed back when he shook her. “That’ll be enough of that,” he said with self- annoyance in his tone.

She sank back into a chair and regarded him gravely, catching her lower lip between sharp teeth. Her eyes were clearer. “I’m all right-now.”

Shayne stood before her with his hands on his hips. It hadn’t been an act, that hysteria of hers. None of it was an act. But it didn’t make sense. Still, he told himself, he liked things that didn’t make sense. Hadn’t he started passing up routine stuff a long time ago? That’s why he had no downtown office and no regular staff. That sort of phony front he left to the punks with whom Miami is infested during the season. Mike Shayne didn’t touch a case unless it interested him. Or unless he was dead broke. This case-if it was a case and not a case history-interested him. There was the feel of beneath-the-surface stuff that set his nerves tingling in a way that hadn’t happened to him for a long time.

He sat down in front of Phyllis Brighton and said, “What you need more than anything else right now is someone to believe in you. All right. You’ve got that. But you’ll have to start trying to believe in yourself a little bit. Is that a bargain?”

Phyllis’s eyes blinked with tears, like a small girl’s. “You’re wonderful,” she said finally. “I don’t know how I can ever pay you.”

“That is an angle,” Shayne admitted. “Haven’t you any money?”

“No. That is-not enough, I’m afraid. But-would these do?”

She lifted a beautifully matched string of pearls from a bag and held them toward him with a hesitation that was either genuine timidity or a wonderful imitation.

Shayne let the pearls dribble into his hand without change of expression. “They’ll do very nicely.” He opened a drawer of the center table and dropped them in carelessly. His manner became brisk and reassuring.

“Let’s get this straight, now, without hysterics. Your mother is coming from New York, and you’re suffering from a morbid inward fear that you may go out of your head and do her some harm. I don’t believe there’s any danger, but we’ll let that pass. The important thing is to see that nothing of the sort can happen. When is your mother expected?”

“On the six o’clock train.”

Shayne nodded. “Everything will be taken care of. You probably won’t see me, but you have to remember that it’s part of a detective’s job not to be seen. The important thing for you to keep in mind is that I’m making myself responsible for you. The matter is out of your hands and in mine. If you feel you can trust me.”

“Oh, I do!”

“That’s swell, then.” Shayne patted her hand and stood up. “I’ll be seeing you,” he promised her casually.

She got up and moved close to him impulsively. “I can’t tell you how you’ve made me feel. Everything is different. I’m glad I came.”

Shayne went to the door with her and took her hand briefly. “Keep your chin up.”

“I will.” She smiled uncertainly and went down the corridor.

Shayne stood for a moment looking after her and rubbing his chin. Then he closed the door, went back to the center table, and lifted out the string of pearls to study them with narrowed eyes. He wasn’t an expert but they certainly didn’t look phony. He dropped them back into the drawer, shaking his head. There were a lot of possible angles.

Ten minutes later, when he left his apartment, he was whistling tunelessly. At the desk downstairs he told the clerk he’d be gone half an hour-he never forgot to do that at the start of a case-and went down the street to a newspaper office, carefully read all the dope he could find on the Brightons, and went back to the hotel. This time he entered by the side door and climbed the service stairway to his second-floor apartment. His phone was ringing. It was the clerk.

“Mr. Shayne, there’s a Doctor Joel Pedique here to see you.”

Shayne frowned at the telephone and told the clerk to send Dr. Pedique up. Even after he had hung up and given the room a swift, characteristically speculative look, he was still frowning. From what Phyllis Brighton had told him, he had an instinctive feeling that he wasn’t going to like Dr. Pedique.

He didn’t. Dr. Joel Pedique was a man whom Shayne, surveying him at the doorway, would have instantly disliked if he had met him with no previous knowledge of him at all. He was small-boned and dark-skinned. His black hair was too long and it glistened with oil, combed straight back from a V where it grew low on his forehead. His lips were full and unpleasantly red. His eyes were beady and nervous, and his nostrils flared as he breathed. The rest of his appearance pleased Shayne equally little. The man’s double-breasted blue coat clung snugly to his sloping shoulders and sunken chest, and immaculate white flannels were tight about plump hips.

Shayne stood aside with his hand on the doorknob and said, “Come in, doctor.”

Dr. Pedique held out his hand. “Mr. Shayne?”

Shayne nodded, closed the door, and walked back to sit down without taking the doctor’s hand.

Dr. Pedique followed mincingly and sat down.

“You have been recommended to me, Mr. Shayne, as an efficient and discreet private detective.” Shayne nodded and waited. The doctor folded his hands in his lap and leaned forward. They were effeminate hands, soft and recently manicured. “I have an exceedingly delicate mission for you,” he went on in a voice like thin silk, his

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