A man was lounging against the wall opposite Shayne’s hotel door when the detective got out of the elevator and walked down the corridor. He had a thin, hatchet face, with a Panama tipped forward over it, and he was idly chewing on a toothpick. A pair of watery blue eyes watched the detective speculatively from beneath the brim of the Panama as he approached.
Shayne stopped at his door and put the key in the lock. The man straightened up and said, "Shayne?" as he opened the door. Shayne looked over his shoulder with his hand on the knob. He said, "That’s right," and pushed the door open and went in. The man sauntered across the hall and followed him inside. He said past the toothpick, "Boss wants to see yuh."
Shayne had gone over to his suitcase lying open on the bed. He lifted out a bottle of cognac and unwrapped a pajama jacket from it, threw the jacket back into the suitcase, and set the bottle on a small table by the bed. He said, "That’s fine," and went into the bathroom.
The man was still standing by the door when he returned with two water tumblers. He set one glass down and poured the other half full of cognac, then held the bottle out toward his uninvited guest, suggesting, "You’d better pour your own."
"Un-uh," the man said placidly. "Thanks jest thuh same."
Shayne nodded and set the bottle down. He moved back to a rocking chair and sat down, held the glass to his lips, and swallowed three times. He smacked his lips approvingly and said, "That hits the spot."
"Dintcha hear what I said?" the man asked in a troubled voice.
Shayne said, "Sure." He took another drink and set the glass on the floor beside his chair. He got out a pack of cigarettes and held them out. "Have one of these?"
"Un-uh." The man jerked his head. "Thanks jest thuh same."
Shayne lit a cigarette. The man took the frayed toothpick from his mouth and inspected it mournfully. He put the unchewed end back between his teeth and said, "Well, whatcha say?"
Shayne blew out a cloud of smoke and reached down for his glass. "Why don’t you sit down if you intend to stay?"
"But I ain’t gonna stay. You’re goin’ with me."
"Tuh see thuh boss," the man explained patiently.
"Who is the boss, and why doesn’t he come here if he wants to see me?"
"People allus come tuh see Manny," he was told in a tone of mild surprise.
Shayne finished his drink. He laughed shortly and got up. "All right. I wouldn’t want to upset the local routine." He went to his suitcase and fumbled in it, withdrew a .38 revolver. Without any effort at concealment, he slid the weapon into his coat pocket and went toward the door.
"Hey! Whatcha packin’ that gat for?" The man backed away from him, looking frightened.
Shayne said, "My coat hangs better with a weight in one pocket." He followed the other out and locked his door.
"I dunno, but I don’t think Manny’ll like it," the man told him lugubriously. "It ain’t friendly-like."
Shayne said, "We’ll hope Manny doesn’t feel too badly." They went to the elevator together and got in. On the sidewalk outside they walked three blocks in silence to the entrance of a small hotel which his companion indicated with a jerk of his head.
They went through a small lobby to a self-service elevator, and up to the third floor. The thin-faced man led the way down the corridor to a closed door, on which he knocked twice. It was opened almost immediately by a fat man in shirt sleeves. He had dimpled cheeks and a cleft chin and very small white teeth. He said, "I was beginning to wonder where you were, Clarence," looking past him at Shayne. His cheeks were pink and smooth and bulbous, and his eyes twinkled happily at the detective.
"I brung him, Boss," Clarence said. "But he’s packin’ a rod, Boss."
"A dangerous habit," Manny Holden told Shayne. He held out a fat, moist hand. "It was good of you to come, Mr. Shayne."
Shayne took his hand and dropped it. He walked past the fat man into the littered sitting room of a hotel suite. There were papers on the floor and highball glasses on the center table, together with a bucket of ice, a bottle of whisky, and a siphon.
Shayne said, "Hello, Cochrane," to an undersized man who got up hastily from a deep chair at the other side of the room.
Ten years hadn’t added to the attractiveness of Neil Cochrane. His head was still much too big for his body, and a shock of bushy hair made it look even more so.
He had a way of hunching his thin shoulderblades up and inclining his big head forward that gave him a vulturous appearance. His eyes were bright and ferrety and intelligent. He said, "So it’s Mike Shayne again," and for some reason he laughed. His laughter was brittle, like the sound made by two pieces of broken glass being rubbed together.
Manny Holden closed the door and told Clarence, "That’s all. You can wait in the other room."
Clarence went through an inner door and closed it, leaving the three of them in the sitting room.
Holden went past Shayne to the center table and asked cheerfully, "Will you have a highball, sir?"
Shayne shook his head and said, "Thanks." He asked Neil Cochrane, "Do you ever see Carmela Towne these days?"
Cochrane’s thin lips formed an embittered grimace. He said, "No," and sat down.
Shayne pulled a straight chair around and sat down in it backward, resting his forearms across the back. He said, "Chief Dyer tells me you boys are backing Carter for mayor."
Manny Holden was putting soda in a glass on top of ice and whisky. He said, "I’ve got close to a hundred grand riding on him." He stirred his drink with a swizzle stick, and sank back into a deep chair.
"That makes the death of the soldier a lucky accident for you."
"That’s right," Holden purred agreeably. "Until that happened, I figured Towne had a better than even chance of winning."
"But you were putting up even money he wouldn’t."
"I banked on something happening to change the odds."
"Something like a soldier lying down in front of his car and getting run over?"
"Something like that," Manny Holden agreed. He set his glass down and folded his fat hands across his stomach. "And now you come in to pull one of your fast ones," he complained.
"It won’t work, Shayne," Neil Cochrane said hoarsely. "I got a jump ahead of you by being in Dyer’s office yesterday when your call came through. I don’t know what kind of stuff you’ll pull out of your hat on the autopsy, but nobody’ll believe a word of it."
Shayne didn’t look at him. He was watching the fat man. "But you’d rather stop the autopsy?" he asked him.
Holden pursed his thick lips and nodded. "Naturally I’d rather not have any trouble."
"Worth anything to you to keep it quiet that the soldier was murdered before Towne’s car ever touched him?" Shayne asked gently.
Cochrane repeated, "Murdered?" in a shrill voice, but neither of the others looked at him.
Holden blinked his eyelids and asked coolly, "Is that the angle you’re working on, shamus?"
"How do you like it?"
"I don’t like it," he sighed. "Homicide investigations always stir up a lot of dirt."
"Somebody should have thought about that before they planted a body where Towne would run over it."
Holden asked, "Can you prove that?"
Shayne shrugged his wide shoulders. "It’s a reasonable assumption—as soon as we accept the murder theory. And Doc Thompson will make a good witness."
"I don’t like it," Holden told him.
"It’s one of his damned crooked tricks!" Cochrane blazed out. "Everyone knows he pulls that kind of stuff all the time."
Shayne glanced at him and warned, "You’re not sitting too well. Your article last night sounded as though you had prior knowledge of what an autopsy might bring out."
"Nuts!" Cochrane shot back venomously. "I knew that’s the sort of thing you’d try to pull."
Shayne said, "A jury might think differently—if I can show you knew Towne was going to turn that corner just when he did." He turned his attention back to the fat man. "How do you feel about your hundred grand now?"
"Quite well." Holden was unperturbed. "I don’t think you’re going to stir up a stink, Shayne."
"I’m open to offers."
"I’m not bidding against Towne," Holden said. "I’m telling you to get out of El Paso."
"I’ve got to make a profit," Shayne told him. "With a hundred grand riding on the election, you could afford to do some bidding."
"But I’d never be sure Towne wouldn’t go higher." Manny Holden took a sip of his highball and added regretfully, "You’d better go back to New Orleans."
"How’d you like it if I twisted things around to prove that Towne killed the soldier before he ran over him?"
Holden moved his head slowly from side to side. "Things were going all right until you showed up. They’ll be all right again as soon as you get out of town."
"It’s easier to buy me off than to run me off," Shayne warned him.
"I don’t think so. This isn’t your town, Shayne. It belongs to me."
Shayne said, "All right." He stood up, his gaunt face inscrutable. "Be seeing you around," he said to Neil Cochrane and went out.
The door of his hotel room stood slightly ajar when he returned. He knew he had locked it when he went out. He walked casually past the door, glancing aside through the crack as he went by, but was unable to see anything inside.
He went on around the corner of the corridor and stopped. He took his time about lighting a cigarette, moving back to a position where he could watch the door. It stayed slightly ajar.
The incident didn’t make much sense to Shayne. If this was an ambush, the person inside his room was playing it dumb to leave the door open to warn him. On the other hand, he realized fully that he had stayed alive for a lot of precarious years by never taking anything for granted.
He tranquilly smoked his cigarette down to a short butt, then walked rapidly along the corridor, drawing his gun as he approached his door from the wrong direction.
He hit the open door with his left shoulder in a lunge that carried him well into the center of the room. A woman sat in a chair by the window. She dropped a water tumbler from which she had been helping herself to his cognac. Otherwise she remained perfectly calm.
Shayne’s alert gray eyes swiftly circled the room, returning to her face while he slowly pocketed the gun. "Carmela Towne," he said in a flat tone.
Carmela pushed herself up from the chair with both hands gripping the arms. Her black eyes searched his face and she said, "Michael," making three syllables of his name, her voice throaty and a little blurred.
"Some day you’ll get yourself shot," he said, and went toward her.
Copyright © 1945 by Dodd, Mead & Company; copyright renewed 1973 by Davis Dresser.