Brett Halliday

Date with a Dead Man


With his tie off and collar loosened, Michael Shayne had just settled himself with what he expected to be the final drink of the evening when his telephone rang.

He hesitated before answering it, tightening big-knuckled fingers about the glass of cognac and lifting it deliberately to take a long swallow, rumpling his coarse red hair irritably before lifting the instrument with his left hand and growling a hello into it.

Lucy Hamilton’s voice came over the wire, eager and lilting as always, yet sounding a trifle strained as she asked, “Michael? Are you still up?”

“Just. As soon as I finish this drink…”

His secretary didn’t let him finish the sentence. “Finish it fast, Michael, and come over here. I’m across the street from my place. The Boswick Arms on the corner.”

Shayne took another long swallow of cognac and set the glass down, reaching for a tumbler of ice water beside it. “What’s up, angel?”

“It’s Mrs. Groat in number four-fourteen at the Boswick Arms. I know her slightly, Michael, and she’s terribly worried about her husband being missing. I think you should come and talk to her.”

Shayne said, “Groat?” with a frown. “Do I know him? The name sounds familiar.”

“You must have read about him in the paper, Michael. Please come over at once.”

There was no denying the urgency in Lucy’s voice. Shayne sighed and said, “Fifteen minutes.” He replaced the telephone and scowled at it, absently tugging on his left ear lobe while he tried to recall what he might have read about a Mr. Groat in the newspaper. The name seemed tantalizingly familiar, but that was all. He shrugged and tossed off the rest of the cognac, chased it with ice water and got up, buttoning his collar and going into the bedroom to pick up the discarded tie he had tossed on the back of a chair a few minutes previously.

It took him five minutes to get his car out of the apartment hotel’s garage, and another five to drive east to Biscayne Boulevard and north to the side street where Lucy’s apartment was located between the boulevard and the western shore of Biscayne Bay.

The side street was empty in front of the Boswick Arms, a modern eight-story apartment building that had been completed just two years before, and he parked in front of the canopied entrance and went in.

There was a small, well-lighted foyer with a desk and a switchboard behind it, a gray-haired woman facing the switchboard who did not turn around as Shayne strode past her to a pair of self-service elevators. One of the cages was waiting, and Shayne got in and pressed the button for 4. It rose smoothly and he stepped out into a well-carpeted and well-lit hallway leading in both directions with arrows painted on the wall in front of him indicating the direction for different numbers. A quiet, discreet and well-managed building, he thought to himself as he walked down the hall looking for 414. The impression was strengthened when his brown-haired secretary opened the door to his knock. There was a large, square, tastefully decorated sitting room with serviceable gray carpeting from wall to wall, an overstuffed sofa with comfortable matching chairs; an impersonal sort of room, yet with an air of quiet dignity that was friendly and welcoming.

Lucy wore the same tan blouse and dark skirt that she had worn to the office that day, but her brown curls were tousled and her face was washed clean of make-up. She put an impulsive hand out to Shayne’s forearm and said warmly, “Thanks for coming right over, Michael,” and turned toward a dumpy, middle-aged woman standing behind her. “Mrs. Groat, Michael Shayne. She knows I work for you, Michael, and when she began to be worried about her husband half an hour ago, she telephoned me to ask what I thought she should do.”

Wisps of graying hair escaped from what Shayne felt sure was a normally sleek coiffure, and Mrs. Groat’s blue eyes were red-rimmed and frightened behind rimless glasses. She wore a black silk dress that managed to look slightly girlish on her, and she twisted plump beringed fingers together nervously as she said, “I begged Miss Hamilton not to bother you, Mr. Shayne. A busy man like I know you are. But she insisted…”

“Of course, I insisted,” Lucy said warmly. The three of them moved into the room together and a young man got up from a deep chair at the other side. He was square-shouldered and square-faced with one of the deepest tans Shayne had ever seen on a man, and white teeth showing behind sulky lips. His eyes were gray and unsmiling with heavy black brows a straight line above them, and the redhead had an immediate and distinct impression that he was both ill at ease and not pleased by Shayne’s arrival. His cheap gray suit was obviously new, and too tight across the shoulders, the sleeves showing bony wrists with big, blunt-fingered hands dangling from them. There was a look of newness also about the light tan shoes and the heavily starched collar of a soft white shirt, and his coarse black hair was freshly barbered in a short crew-cut that left a narrow line of white skin around the back of his tanned neck where it had been shaved that day.

Mrs. Groat said, “This is Mr. Cunningham,” and with the name things clicked into place in Shayne’s memory. He crossed the rug, holding out his hand to the younger man, saying heartily, “I remember it all now. You and Jasper Groat were the only crew members rescued from the plane that was lost at sea a couple of weeks ago.”

Cunningham dropped his eyes and muttered, “That’s right. I was the steward and Mr. Groat was the copilot.” He clasped Shayne’s hand briefly and dropped it.

Shayne said, “It must have been tough. Weren’t you on a life raft all that time?”

“Nine days before we were picked up.” Cunningham retreated moodily and sank back into his chair, and Shayne turned to the sofa and sat down with Lucy, getting a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and asking, “You say your husband is missing, Mrs. Groat? Since when and what are the circumstances?”

“Missing makes it sound so formal, Mr. Shayne.” She sat down carefully in a straight chair and took off her glasses, looking bewildered and nervous. “It’s just that… this one night, you see. After all this time when I’d just about given up Mr. Groat for lost… this first night after the Lord gave him back to me…”

“You have a right to be worried about him,” Lucy said warmly. “He went out at eight o’clock, Michael, without telling Mrs. Groat where he was going. Just that he’d be back in about an hour. And he had a definite date with Mr. Cunningham, too, for dinner, and he didn’t show up for that. So she telephoned me about it and I told her she should call the police, but she hated to do that.”

“It’s just that… Jasper has been acting queer all day,” Mrs. Groat said nervously. “He sat around without talking much, worried and moody, you might say. He expected those Hawleys to telephone him after that story in the paper and all, and he wouldn’t move away from the phone. But he wouldn’t call them when I told him to. Made him angry and he said you couldn’t understand people like that.”

“The Hawleys?” Shayne turned to lift ragged red brows at Lucy sitting beside him.

“You’d know if you’d read the News carefully. The plane that crashed was bringing a load of soldiers back from Europe and Albert Hawley was the only one who got out on a life raft alive with Mr. Groat and Mr. Cunningham. He… died before they were rescued.”

“We did our best for him,” Cunningham said sullenly. “Jasper nursed him like a father. Gave him way over his share of water and emergency rations. They can’t blame us for him dying like that.” He lifted his head and stared at them defiantly as though answering a spoken accusation.

“I’m mortal sure Jasper did everything he could for the poor boy,” Mrs. Groat said heatedly. “You would think they’d have had the decency to call up and thank him and ask about their boy. He brooded about it when they didn’t.”

“The Hawleys live in Miami?” Shayne asked Lucy.

She nodded. “They’re an old pioneer family. Rich as all get-out, I guess. Refused to even see a reporter this morning after Mr. Groat and Mr. Cunningham were landed and the whole story came out about the Hawley boy dying at sea.”

“And you have no idea where your husband went this evening, Mrs. Groat?”

“Not an inkling. He acted queer, like I say, and I didn’t ask him when he went out. Bitter and withdrawn, he

Вы читаете Date with a Dead Man
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату