Brett Halliday

Killers from the Keys


Michael Shayne came into his office breezily at three o’clock that afternoon. He had enjoyed a long and pleasant luncheon, and with no pressing cases on hand, he was in a buoyant and carefree mood as he tossed his hat on a hook near the door and grinned expansively at his secretary who was typing primly behind a low railing across the anteroom.

She continued typing primly without even a glance in his direction. Her profile was toward him, and there was a look of intense concentration on her face as she continued to type rapidly, although now her fingers appeared to strike the keys with more savagery than primness.

Shayne took two steps across the room toward her, his carefree expression changing to a slow frown. He stopped and sniffed the air questioningly. Then he said, “My God, angel, where’d you get that perfume?”

Lucy Hamilton stopped typing. She turned her head slowly and said, “It’s Black Sin, Michael, Im ported from Paris.” Her voice lifted impishly as she accented the first syllable. “Costs fifty dollars fer just one ounce if you’re intrested.”

Shayne sniffed the air again, ostentatiously this time, like a hound dog on the scent, pivoting his head slowly so that his uptilted nose pointed directly at the closed door marked PRIVATE.

“Black Sin, huh? Why’d you stash her away inside my office?”

“Because there’s an air-conditioner in there.” Lucy’s soft voice was a feline purr. “Don’t let her keep you too long, Michael, because you have another client coming at three-thirty and it’ll take a while to air it out.”

“Another client?” He lifted ragged red eyebrows. “I just go out for a quick lunch, and all at once…”

“You just go out for a three-hour drinking bout,” Lucy corrected him, “and suddenly we’re deluged with clients. The next one sounded nice over the telephone, and in a terrible state of nerves.” She glanced down at a pad beside her typewriter. “A Mrs. Steve Renshaw from Chicago, Illinois.”

“And the one inside? Does she bathe in Black Sin?”

“I’ve no doubt she wallows in it at least,” said Lucy, adding savagely, “or any other color that happens to be handy.”

The right side of Shayne’s mouth quirked upward. “I take it you don’t approve of her. Or is it her case you don’t approve of?”

“I know nothing about her case. She’s saving that for a personal interview. If I didn’t have definite orders never to turn away an unknown client…”

Shayne started toward the closed door, saying defensively, “Well, you never know…”

“You certainly don’t… not around this office.”

Shayne opened the door wondering what on earth could have brought that tone of vicious anger into Lucy’s normally gentle voice. He understood when he crossed the threshold, and he hastily pulled the door tightly shut behind him.

She was slouched back in his swivel chair behind his desk with her feet up on it wearing a pair of battered teen-age loafers, and she was the most brazenly provocative hunk of jailbait the redhead had ever seen. She had a half-burned cigarette in her left hand and a paper cup in her right holding a couple of inches of bourbon which she had poured from the uncorked bottle sitting on the desk beside her.

He guessed she was maybe eighteen, and she was wearing more makeup in bright daylight than he had ever seen applied to any floozie in a dim-lit night club. She wore a peasant skirt that fell away from womanly thighs above bare knees, and a flimsy blouse that left her shoulders and a goodly portion of obviously unfettered breasts completely bare. She had a wide, full-lipped mouth that was heavily and inexpertly smeared with scarlet, a lot of mascara and violet eyeshadow that failed to take your attention away from big, bold black eyes, and the entire impression was one of lusty, wanton, and youthful sexuality that gloried in its youth and the effect she knew she had on most men.

She gave him a welcoming smile as he stood rooted there, which changed from sultry sensuality to a gamin- like grin as she lifted the paper cup high in a mock salute: “Hope you don’t mind me grabbin’ a free sample. I seen this desk drawer open and the bottle sittin’ there. Some kinda foreign likker, ain’t it?” She tossed the last of it off with a practiced swig and scarcely grimaced as the full-strength slug went smoothly down her throat.

Shayne said grimly, “It’s cognac and I do mind teenage delinquents drinking out of my bottle. Put the cork back in and put it back in the drawer. Then get out of my chair.”

“Gee! You are sure enough tough, ain’t you, Mike Shayne?” She smiled happily and put the cork back in the bottle, swung her bare legs off his desk and stood up sinuously, leaning forward to replace the bottle in the bottom drawer and give him a good chance for an unobstructed view of the deep trench between her heavy breasts.

Shayne looked and then shrugged wearily as she glanced up at him from that position with sly calculation in her bold eyes. He stalked around the desk to his vacated chair, and she swung her hips provocatively to a nearby chair into which she plopped, veering her legs wide and leaning forward with elbows on knees to prop her chin in both hands with a frankly admiring look on her face.

“What’d you mean by that crack about teen-age delinquents?”

Shayne glanced at the intercom button to Lucy’s desk and saw that it was open. He asked, “How old are you?”

She giggled throatily. Coming from her youthful and red-smeared mouth, it had an obscene sound. “Plenty old enough. I been old enough,” she confided, “since I been big enough, an’ anybody down on the Keys’ll tell you the Piney girls got big fast.”

In a measured tone, Shayne told her, “You’ve got just two minutes before I throw you and your stinking perfume out of my office. What do you want?”

“You don’t like my perfume?” Chagrin mingled with anger in her voice. “I can tell you right now, Mister, that it’s Black Sin an’…”

“It’s im ported from Paris and costs fifty bucks a throw,” Shayne interrupted her. “Is your name Piney?”

“Esther Piney. Say, you are a sure-enough smart detective,” she marveled. “How’d you ever know…?”

Shayne held a big hand out and looked at his wrist-watch. “Thirty seconds gone.”

“Huh? Oh, two minutes, huh? But look, I gotta case for you, Mr. Shayne.”

“What sort of case?”

“A detectin’ case, that’s what. I want you should find a man for me.”

“I think you could manage that without any help from me.”

“Gee, Mr. Shayne.” She bridled happily at the compliment. “I mean a special man, see? He’s disappeared right here in Miami. He’s the real sweetest man I ever met and I want him back.”

“Doesn’t he know where to find you?”

“Oh, he knows that, all right. I reckon you don’t recognize me, but I’m Sloe Burn.”

Shayne blinked and said, “Come again.”

“Sloe Burn.” She seemed childishly disappointed that he didn’t react. “You spell it, S-L-O-E, see, but you pronounce it Slow. Catch on? That’s the way they bill me at the Bright Spot. You know it? Out on the Trail west of town.”

Shayne said, “I know it by reputation. You one of the strippers?”

“Well, I do a coupla strips between numbers, but I’m a dancer mostly. Me’n Ralphie, from down on the Keys. We worked up this dance together, see, an’ we got top billin’ already in two months.”

“Your dance partner has run out on you and you want me to find him?”

“Ralphie? Gawd, no. He wouldn’t run out. Why, if it wasn’t for me… No, it ain’t like that atall. There’s this fellow, see, been comin’ to the Club most every night. Us girls work the floor, you know, an’ he’s a real sport. Scads of money, an’ real sweet like I say. He went for me big right off. Poor Freddie.” Her voice softened so it was almost maternal. “He swears the only real lovin’ he ever had from a woman in his whole life is from me. And him a married

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