Brett Halliday: Too Friendly, Too Dead

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Brett Halliday Too Friendly, Too Dead
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    Too Friendly, Too Dead
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    Криминальный детектив / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Brett Halliday


Too Friendly, Too Dead

1

The ringing of her bedside telephone awakened Linda Fitzgilpin as daylight was breaking on Saturday morning. She awoke confused and startled from some sort of bad dream, and was immediately conscious of a splitting headache and a foul taste in her mouth. The window was closed and heavy drapes drawn tightly over the west window of her bedroom, so the room was very dark and she had no idea what time of night it was.

She shook her head dismally as she reached for the telephone, propping herself on one elbow to put it to her ear. She said, “Hello,” and a man’s voice answered:

“Mrs. Fitzgilpin?”

She said, “Yes,” and he asked, “Is Mr. Fitzgilpin there?”

Still confused and half asleep, Linda replied, “Why… yes. Just a second,” and lowered the telephone to call, “Jerome.”

There was no reply from the twin bed across the room, and she wondered how long she had been asleep and if Jerome hadn’t come in yet. She let go of the telephone and fumbled for the light switch and turned on a shaded light. Her husband’s bed was empty and neatly made up. Fear struck at her sharply and she lifted the instrument and said, “No. No he isn’t here. Who is this and why are you calling? What time is it?”

“It’s a little after six, Mrs. Fitzgilpin.” The voice became soothing and essayed a cheery note. “It probably isn’t important, but does your husband drive a Fifty-seven Chevrolet sedan? Dark blue?”

“Yes. Who is this?” Fear was giving way to panic, and Linda sat bolt upright, staring wide-eyed across at Jerome’s unused bed. Six o’clock in the morning! He had never in his life stayed out…

“This is Sergeant Main speaking. Miami Beach Police Department. Please describe your husband, Mrs. Fitzgilpin.”

“Jerome is forty-five. Five feet seven and he weighs about a hundred and fifty pounds. Brown hair that’s getting thin in front; brown eyes and a small mustache. What… has happened?”

“Brace yourself for a shock, Mrs. Fitzgilpin.” All of the attempted cheeriness had vanished from the sergeant’s voice. “I’m afraid I have very bad news for you. When did you last see your husband?”

“Why he… he wasn’t in when I went to bed. I took a sleeping pill and… he isn’t here now. Tell me! What’s happened?”

“I’m terribly sorry to break it to you this way, Mrs. Fitzgilpin, but I’m afraid your husband is dead. A man answering your description of him was found early this morning close to his parked automobile. His wallet was missing and there was no identification on the body so we had to check out the license number.” The voice went on talking, but Linda Fitzgilpin dropped the instrument on the bed and put both hands over her face and the tears came and racking sobs shook her body.

Not Jerome! It couldn’t be Jerome. It couldn’t happen. It had happened. Because he wasn’t here in bed. He hadn’t come home. And a body answering her husband’s description had been found close to his parked car.

Gradually the racking sobs ceased. She sank back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling, and slowly became aware of noises coming from the telephone lying beside her. Listlessly she picked it up and heard the police sergeant saying sharply and anxiously, “Mrs. Fitzgilpin, are you there? Are you there, Mrs. Fitzgilpin?”

“I’m here,” she told him. “Where else would I be?”

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” she responded viciously. “Just fine and dandy. Why shouldn’t I be?” She began laughing hysterically while the tears continued to stream down her cheeks.

“Try to get hold of yourself,” the sergeant admonished her. “We’re not certain yet, you know. It may not be your husband at all. Until we have a positive identification we can’t be sure.”

“It’s Jerome all right,” she said sadly. “Don’t you understand? He didn’t come home to bed. He’s never done that before in his life. He wouldn’t stay out all night if… if…” Her voice broke again and the sergeant broke in hastily, “Would you like a doctor or a nurse? I can call the Miami police and arrange…”

“No,” she said sadly. “What could a doctor or a nurse do for me?”

“Well… have you someone…?” The sergeant paused awkwardly. “It will be necessary for you to come to the morgue to make a formal identification. We’ll be glad to send a police car over to pick you up.”

“No!” she said sharply. “Not a police car. I’ll get someone. I’ll be fine. How… soon?”

“You don’t need to hurry, Mrs. Fitzgilpin. Any time in the next hour or so will be fine. If you’re sure you’re all right now…?”

She said flatly and harshly, “I’m as all right as I’ll ever be,” and replaced the telephone on its cradle. Then she sank back and closed her eyes tightly and lay on her back, fighting for self-control.

Let’s see now. The children. Oh, God! the children. How could she tell them? How do you tell your children that they no longer have a father? A loving, kind father whom they both adored.

A long, shuddering sigh escaped her lips, and slowly she forced herself to sit up. Forced herself to look across again at the unused bed which Jerome had occupied all during the fifteen years of their married life.

It was still as empty as it had been when she first looked. She lowered her gaze to the empty highball glass on the bedside table and the uncorked whiskey bottle on the floor beside it. She knew better than to take whiskey with sleeping pills at night. Why had she done it last night? If she hadn’t knocked herself out and slept so soundly she would have realized that Jerome hadn’t come home… that something terrible must have happened. But what good would that have done?

She got up and walked across the carpeted bedroom barefooted, wearing a white nylon nightgown. She went past the empty bed without looking at it again, and out into the sitting room where the new light of morning streamed in through the east window. The door to the children’s bedroom was tightly closed.

She crossed to it and opened it silently. They were both sound asleep. Nine-year-old Ralph characteristically curled up with his knees under his chin, the covers twisted about his thin body; and Sara, sleeping peacefully and blissfully, her angelic, pouting face framed by brown ringlets of fine hair… just the color of her father’s hair.

Linda closed and latched the door softly and turned back. Let’s see now. She must think. Today was Saturday. No school for the children. She had to go over to Miami Beach. The policeman had said there was no need to hurry. But it was something she had to do.

If she could get away before the children woke up… make certain that it was Jerome lying on a cold slab in the morgue…

She shuddered and forced herself to think coherently. That nice Lucy Hamilton in the apartment one floor below. She worked for a private detective. She would know about these things.

Linda went back into the bedroom and found Lucy’s number written in the front of the telephone book and dialed it.

2

Michael Shayne’s telephone wakened him ten minutes later on that same Saturday morning. He came suddenly out of the depths of sound sleep, blinked at the early morning light streaming in his window, and let the instrument ring five times before stretching out a long arm to bring it to his ear.

He said, “Shayne,” in a gruff and non-committal voice, but came fully awake when his secretary’s voice came incisively over the wire:

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