Brett Halliday

Marked for Murder


Timothy Rourke’s tall lean body was bent forward from the waist when he loped into the city room of the Courier. His shock of black hair, showing traces of silver, was disheveled from much finger-combing. His dark eyes were narrowed and his thin nostrils flared like a bloodhound’s hot on a scent.

Striding purposefully toward his typewriter, he shed his light coat and began rolling up his shirtsleeves. He sailed his soiled Panama hat over the heads of two fellow workmen and it landed on his desk.

Minerva Higgins, prim and fortyish, a fixture in the Courier office for more than 20 years, glanced up and met Rourke’s eyes. She motioned for him to stop and said in a low voice, “Are you still prying into that mess on the Beach, Mr. Rourke?” Her pale eyes studied his face earnestly through bifocals. “Mr. Bronson wants you to lay off.”

“With three murders committed during the past week? To hell with Bronson.” Timothy Rourke swung around angrily.

Minerva caught his arm. “Don’t forget Bronson’s the boss. He thinks you’re riding Painter too hard-and unjustly.”

“This is one time, by God, when I wish Mike Shayne had never left Miami. Trouble with Painter is, he hasn’t been ridden hard for too long.”

Rourke went on to his desk, dropped his coat over the back of his chair, and slid into it. He rolled a sheet of paper into his typewriter and pulled a protective rubber finger tip over the index finger of his right hand. Lowering his gaze to the keys, he began punching them with the single finger, hitting each key methodically and hard, and with a steady speed not much less than that of an experienced touch typist. He wrote, Three men have been murdered in Miami Beach during the last week. The murders have not been solved. No arrests have been made. No arrests are anticipated by those who follow the record of the Miami Beach detective bureau under the leadership (sic) of Chief Peter Painter.

In an exclusive interview with Chief Painter this morning…

A tap on his shoulder interrupted him. He turned with his finger poised above the keys and saw Tommy, one of the copy boys, standing beside him. Tommy was round-faced and freckled. He grinned and said, “Boss wants to see you, Tim.”

“Tell him I’m busy,” Rourke growled. “Tell him-”

Still grinning, Tommy shook his head. “He saw you come in, and he wants you right now. He’s chewin’ hell out of his cigar,” the boy ended with a chuckle.

Rourke got up and went across to a closed door with the legend Managing Editor on the upper frosted-glass portion. He opened the door and went in, pulling it shut against the clatter of typewriters and the din of teletype machines.

Walter Bronson sat alone behind a big, bare oak desk, a massive man of 40, bald and heavy-featured. His thick-lidded eyes had a way of regarding his subordinates with brooding but benign severity, as though he accepted and understood their human weaknesses while he deplored them. His lips were pouched around a cigar, his jaws working slowly, ruminatively.

None of his evident perturbation showed in his bland voice when he said, “Come in, Timothy.”

Rourke leaned his shoulder blades against the frosted glass of the closed door, and said impatiently, “Let’s have it in a hurry. I’m doing a story.”

Bronson said, “I just had a call from Chief Painter.”

Rourke’s thin, wide mouth twisted in a grimace. “That’s my story.”

Bronson worked the cigar to the other side of his mouth. “You’re a competent reporter,” he said, “when you stick to reporting. But I’ve been meaning to speak to you about those stories you’ve been running the last few days.”

“Does the truth frighten you?” Rourke made a loose cigarette with brown paper and sack tobacco.

“The truth,” said Bronson sententiously, “will always be welcome in the Courier columns. But our regular staff will continue to write the editorials.”

Rourke lit his sorry cigarette and said flatly, “All right. Your regular staff will continue to write the editorials. I’ll continue to write the truth.” He turned and put his hand on the doorknob.

“Hold it, Rourke.” Bronson didn’t raise his voice but it was heavy with jarring impact. “You insulted Painter in his office this morning.”

Rourke’s eyes glinted. “That’s page-one news. I didn’t know Painter could be insulted. God knows I’ve tried often enough.”

Bronson jabbed a drooling cigar toward Rourke. “You’ve also insulted a lot of other people in the entire greater Miami area with your inflammatory stories about a crime wave; your unjustified statements that Miami is becoming a mecca for hoodlums and gangsters; your thinly veiled implications that graft and corruption are rampant in the Beach police department; your insinuations concerning the activities of a shady gambling syndicate.”

“I suppose the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t like it.” Rourke glowered at his cigarette. It had gone out. He flung it in a wastebasket.

“Precisely,” Bronson went on. “Also the Civic Betterment League and the Ministerial Association. Protests have been pouring in, Rourke, from right-thinking citizens on all sides. The wire services are picking up your stories and featuring them throughout the country. You’re giving Miami a black name just when it’s very important that we have a good press throughout the nation. Our civic leaders envision an unparalleled opportunity for Miami to build and grow as never before. A resurgence of the ’twenty-six boom, perhaps. People won’t come here if they get the impression they’re likely to be murdered while walking our streets.”

“They are.”

“Nonsense. Three murderous attacks in succession is sheer coincidence. Chief Painter assures me-”

“Chief Painter lies,” said Rourke. He moved forward and put both palms flat on Bronson’s desk. “Hiding our heads in the sand won’t solve this problem, Bronson. I can name you half a dozen gambling spots that have opened on the Beach in the last two months-all operated by the same syndicate. There’s too much loose money around.”

Bronson swiveled his chair slightly and looked away from the hot glare in Rourke’s eyes. “We’ve always had a certain amount of gambling here,” he snapped. “Miami isn’t a blue-law town. The tourists demand it.”

“But this is big-time organized stuff. With everything that goes with it. I tell you they’re moving in. It’s prohibition days all over again, except on a bigger scale. They’re buying protection, forming their own strong-arm mobs.”

“You’re having nightmares,” Bronson scoffed. “I know Chief Painter. He’s honest and incorruptible.”

“He’s honest,” Rourke agreed soberly, “but he’s in a tough spot. The civic leaders over there are putting the pressure on Painter. He’s human and he wants to keep his job. He’s trying to hold the lid on-and kid himself that it isn’t as bad as he knows it is.”

Walter Bronson took his cigar from his mouth and glared at it. A full inch of one end was a soggy, pulpy mass. “I’m afraid you’re exaggerating conditions in your own mind.”

“I was in Miami back in the ’twenties when Capone’s mob tried to take over,” Rourke said bitterly. “You weren’t.”

Bronson moved a pudgy hand in an impatient gesture. “The situation is entirely different today.”

“You bet it is. It’s worse. We’ve got to open our eyes and stamp it out before it goes any further.”

“That’s a job for the authorities,” Bronson told him.

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