Brett Halliday

Counterfeit Wife

Chapter One


Michael Shayne said good-by to Leslie and Christine Hudson outside the 36th Street air terminal at Miami. “Don’t bother to come in,” he insisted, as he got out of the Hudson car. “I’ve got only a few minutes to check in and catch that plane.”

Christine’s gray eyes were pensive when she turned them upon the tall, redheaded detective standing beside the open car window. She said, “Good-by, Michael,” and put her dark head out, her red lips puckered. Shayne bent to kiss them lightly. “And thanks again,” she added softly.

“Yes, thanks a million,” said Leslie Hudson, leaning across his wife to take Shayne’s hand in a hearty grip. “You realize, of course, how much Christine and I appreciate what you’ve done for us. Anything we can ever do for you-”

“I know.” Shayne’s left hand touched the square jewel box in his outer coat pocket and he grinned crookedly at the couple. “If I can sell a certain girl the idea that these pearls are the real thing, I may be bringing her back here for your inspection.” He turned away hastily, waving a big hand in their direction as the car slid forward.

Inside the crowded terminal, he pushed his way up to the National Airlines counter in front of a lighted sign that read Immediate Departures.

There was a brown-haired girl behind the counter who had freckles across the bridge of her nose and a nice smile. He said, “Shayne. For the midnight flight to New Orleans. I’ve a reservation, but no ticket yet.”

The girl ran her index finger down a typewritten list. “You’re the one who has been causing us so much trouble with cancellations. Michael Shayne?” She looked up for corroboration, pencil poised to check a name near the bottom of the list. “Flight Sixty-two?”

Shayne nodded. “The midnight flight to New Orleans.” He glanced at a clock above her head; the time was eleven-fifty. “The plane must be loading now.”

“It is.” She lifted a telephone and tucked it under her ear while she drew a ticket blank in front of her and began filling in the spaces. Into the mouthpiece she said, “Sixty-two. Michael Shayne. That’s right. He’s ticketing now.” She waited a moment, then replaced the receiver. “Have you any baggage, Mr. Shayne?”

“One bag. It has been checked here at the airport since yesterday noon.” He took the check from his pocket. The girl lifted her brows to a uniformed Negro porter who came forward and took it from Shayne’s hand.

“Sixty-two,” she informed the porter, and he hurried away while she continued filling out the ticket.

Shayne took out his billfold. The girl said, “That will be forty-five seventy-seven, Mr. Shayne. That is, if your bag doesn’t weigh more than forty pounds.”

“It doesn’t,” he assured her, sliding a fifty across the counter.

The porter came up with Shayne’s Gladstone while she was making change. He set it on the weighing platform beside the desk, glanced at the weight, and affixed a New Orleans tag, writing the number 62 on it.

He handed the detective the stub, grinned and said, “Thank you, boss,” when Shayne gave him a half dollar.

The girl laid his change and ticket on the counter, saying, “Gate Three. I hope you have a pleasant trip.”

“Thanks.” Shayne glanced at the clock again. There were still seven minutes before departure time. He strolled back to the men’s room, and a couple of minutes later was walking toward Gate 3 when the loud-speaker stopped him in mid-stride.

“Passenger Michael Shayne for New Orleans. A telephone call at the National ticket counter for Michael Shayne.”

He hesitated, glancing over his shoulder and frowning bleakly. It was less than five minutes before midnight. Lucy Hamilton had been stalling an impatient client in New Orleans for twenty-four hours, and he was determined not to miss this plane.

Stalking to the counter, he said, “Shayne,” to a young man who was pensively cleaning his nails with a penknife but who quickly became very businesslike and said, “Oh, yes. We just had you paged, Mr. Shayne. It’s a long-distance call. You can take it on this phone.”

Shayne picked up the receiver and said gruffly, “Shayne speaking.”


He recognized Lucy Hamilton’s voice at once, though he had never heard his secretary sound exactly like that before.

“I’ve been trying to reach you for the last half hour.”

“What for? My plane leaves in a few minutes.”

“What plane? For where?” Her voice was husky, and he didn’t know whether the huskiness came from tears or anger.

“For New Orleans, of course. Didn’t you get my last wire telling you to keep stalling Belton?”

“Oh, sure, I got your wire. I got all of them. If it’s so hard for you to tear yourself away from Miami, I thought I’d tell you you needn’t bother. I’m sure you’re having much too good a time to worry about a little thing like business.”

Shayne was positive now that the tone of Lucy’s voice indicated both tears and anger. He said, “Look, darling, I’ve just cleaned up a case here. I didn’t clear a cent on it if that pleases you; and we need the Belton retainer. Tell him-”

“I’m telling you,” Lucy Hamilton cut in sharply from New Orleans. “There isn’t any Belton case, so you needn’t rush back here. Captain Denton got a confession from the murderer an hour ago.”

“That’s all right,” Shayne soothed her. “There’ll be other cases. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“You won’t see me, Mr. Shayne.” Lucy’s voice was no longer husky. It was clipped and icy calm. “I’m quitting as of tonight. I’m tired of lying to people and stalling clients and sitting here in an empty office with nothing to do while I chew my fingernails to the bone. I’ve left the key with the building superintendent, and-”

“Wait a minute, Lucy.” Shayne’s face was gaunt as he turned his head to look at the clock. “My plane leaves for New Orleans in about two minutes. You know I’ll never go back to that office if you run out on me. It’s too late to refund my ticket. We’ll talk things over in the morning and I-Damn it, Lucy, I’m bringing you a present.” His left hand touched the jewel box in his pocket.

“I don’t want any present from you, Michael Shayne. I’m leaving town myself for a long vacation.” There was a solid and definite click at the other end of the wire.

Shayne held the instrument to his ear as though he feared to remove it, as though he feared the mere physical act of cutting the connection at his end would make the break more decisive than Lucy had already made it. There were deep trenches in his gaunt cheeks and his shaggy red brows were drawn low over his gray eyes as he gently cradled the receiver and pushed the instrument toward the young man behind the counter.

Then, as he turned away, an eager hand was laid on his arm, and he was conscious of a rush of low-spoken words in his ear.

“I couldn’t help overhearing part of your conversation, brother. I gathered you’ve a ticket on Flight Sixty-two to New Orleans and you won’t be needing it now.”

Shayne turned his red head slowly and looked down into the face of the man who had hold of his arm. It was a good-natured, doughy sort of face, as though the dough had been taken from the oven before it had begun to brown. The man was bareheaded, neatly dressed in a gray business suit and white shirt with a black bow tie. The hand on Shayne’s arm trembled with eagerness and the soft brown eyes beneath bleached brows looked at him as supplicatingly as those of a hound puppy about to be fed a scrap of meat.

But there was something more than fawning supplication in the damp eyes. There was terror and a desperate and despairing urgency.

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