Brett Halliday

Die Like a Dog


There was a quizzical smile on Lucy Hamilton’s lips and a little dancing light in her brown eyes as she opened the door to her employer’s private office and announced demurely: “There is a lady to see you, Mr. Shayne.”

It was a warm Miami morning, and Michael Shayne was slumped in a swivel chair behind his wide desk in shirt-sleeves, with collar unbuttoned and tie awry. In front of him was an open checkbook, a pile of cancelled checks and the monthly bank statement. His left hand clawed through unruly red hair and his right hand reached out automatically for a pair of nested paper cups beside the bank statement as he arched ragged brows at his secretary and growled, “A lady?” in a tone of disbelief.

Lucy nodded firmly and drew the door shut behind her. She advanced toward him, saying in an altered tone, “Ditch that brandy, Michael, before I bring her in, and for heaven’s sake, straighten your tie. You might even slip on a jacket for once.”

“Why should I ditch a drink?” Shayne lifted the twin cups and sipped from the contents.

“All right,” said Lucy in a tone of forebearance. “Down the hatch with it and get rid of the evidence. I’m very sure that Miss Henrietta Rogell is not one to approve of drinking at eleven o’clock in the morning.” She reached his side and reached down to brush a coarse lock of red hair back from his forehead.

Shayne grinned up at her and protested, “I didn’t know we were interested in Miss Henrietta Rogell’s approval or disapproval.”

“But we are, Michael. She’s the first client in two weeks.” She slid around behind his chair and put her arms around each side of his neck to button his collar and straighten his tie.

“We’re doing all right without any clients. I’ve been going over last month’s bank statement…”

“And there is less than two thousand dollars in our checking account,” Lucy interrupted him. She stepped back to survey his appearance with a nod of approval. “Miss Henrietta is John Rogell’s sister… and only living relative.”

“The millionaire who died a couple of days ago.” Shayne shrugged and tossed off the rest of his cognac. He crumpled the cups in a big fist and dropped them into a wastebasket, then closed the checkbook and shoved it aside. “All right, Miss Hamilton. Show her in.”

Shayne got to his feet behind the desk when Lucy ushered the prospective client into his office a few moments later. Miss Rogell looked to be a tough seventy. She was tall and angular, and had a seamed face that had the color and appearance of old leather. Brown hair that was liberally streaked with gray was drawn back tightly from her face into an untidy bun. She wore a gray silk suit with pleated skirt, and loose jacket that hung awkwardly from bony shoulders. Expensive white silk gloves were incongruous below brown and sinewy bare forearms. Service-weight hose accentuated thick calves, and her shoes were sturdy brown Oxfords that were probably hand- crafted.

Lucy said, “This is Miss Henrietta Rogell, Mr. Shayne,” and went out, closing the door to the private office.

Shayne blandly inclined his head and motioned to an upholstered armchair beside his desk. “Won’t you have a seat, Miss Rogell?”

She strode forward, flat-footed, and said, “Of course I’ll have a seat, young man. You don’t expect me to remain standing, do you? I expect this to be quite a lengthy interview.” Her voice matched her appearance. It was strong and deep without being harsh or masculine. She lowered herself solidly into the chair and planted both feet flat in front of her with knees together.

“Now then, before I waste any more of my time, I want to know exactly what your charges are.”

Shayne sat down in his swivel chair and leaned back comfortably. “My charges for what?”

“For whatever you do. Detecting, of course. You do call yourself a detective, I believe.”

Shayne said gravely, “I am a detective, Miss Rogell. Licensed by the state of Florida to practice that profession. Tell me your problem and we can discuss the fee later.”

She said, “Nonsense. I’m too old to buy a pig in a poke. Let’s have it understood from the beginning so there’ll be no outrageous bill for me to pay at the end. Exactly what do you consider your time worth?”

Shayne got a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and lit one. He blew out the match with a stream of smoke and said, “That depends entirely on what I am able to do for you. I think you’ve come to the wrong office, Miss Rogell,” he went on briskly before she could speak. “My secretary can give you a list of half a dozen competent detectives who will quote you a flat daily rate for their services… plus expenses… and they won’t pad the expense account too heavily. I think you’d be happier with one of them.”

Her eyes were very clear and very blue. They remained unwinkingly fixed on his face as he spoke and her leathery face showed no trace of expression.

“You have no regular rate of charges?”

Shayne blandly expelled smoke from both nostrils and shook his head. “No more so then a self-respecting attorney has.”

“What assurance do I have that you won’t accept my case and then gouge me for some fantastic amount after doing nothing to earn it?”

Shayne said, “You have no assurance at all, Miss Rogell, that I won’t do exactly that.” He put his hands flat on the desk in front of him and half rose from his chair. “My secretary will give you that list of names on your way out.”

She remained firmly seated and said, “Humph. I like plain-speaking, young man. I’m a plain-spoken person myself. I want you to prove that my brother was murdered and to see that the person or persons responsible are made to pay for the crime.”

Shayne hesitated, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully, and then sank back into his chair. “I understood from the newspapers that your brother died of a heart attack.”

“Of course. That’s what they called it. But I know John was poisoned.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I have eyes to see what’s going on, and a brain to add two and two together. If I had the proof I wouldn’t be here in your office, obviously. That’s what I’m hiring you for.”

Shayne said, “Murder is a matter for the police, Miss Rogell. Have you discussed your suspicions with them?”

“Do I look like a complete nincompoop? Of course I have. I called the police immediately after John died, and the two detectives who came just listened to me politely and promised they would investigate. Investigate?” Her upper lip curled bitterly over the word. “They asked a few questions of the very people who fed John the poison, and then went away saying they would file a report.”

“Did they?”

“I suppose they did, and I’d give a great deal to see just what sort of report they filed. I think it’s my right to see it, and I demanded a look at it from Chief Gentry just an hour ago. I’m a taxpayer, I told him, and my taxes help pay your salary and your entire force. But he beat around the bush and said the matter was closed. He refuses to order an autopsy even after I told him about the attempt on my own life last night. He thinks there must be some mistake… that I must be exaggerating. Oh, I could tell just what he was thinking while he sat there on his fat behind in that plushy office that we taxpayers support. He thinks I’m an hysterical old female with a persecution complex. But how does he explain the fact that the dog died in convulsions after eating the food that had been poisoned for my special benefit? How do you think he explains that?”

Shayne said politely, “I have no idea. I do know Will Gentry quite well, and he’s an efficient and honest police officer.”

“But none of them will listen to me,” she said grimly. “They all listen to that simpering hussy who married John for his money, and to her paramour who signed the death certificate.”

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