Brett Halliday: Murder by Proxy

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Brett Halliday Murder by Proxy
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    Murder by Proxy
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    Криминальный детектив / на английском языке
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Brett Halliday

Murder by Proxy


Ellen Harris stood in the center of an immaculate bedroom in an apartment in New York’s East Seventies and turned about slowly to survey the large, pleasant room and assure herself for the last time that everything was in perfect order for her leave-taking.

She was a tall, beautifully proportioned woman of thirty with smooth, burnished blond hair that curled in slightly at the nape of her neck. She had a lovely, clear complexion with regular features, large blue eyes, set well apart and fringed with long, dark lashes, a generous mouth that smiled easily, and a firmly fleshed chin.

At the moment, Ellen Harris was stark naked.

An open suitcase lay on the foot of the neatly made double bed. It was carefully and lovingly packed with all the things she would need for two weeks in Florida, and ready to be closed. On the floor was a matching overnight bag, already closed and latched. The clothing she would wear on her trip was neatly laid out on a chair near the dressing alcove.

She completed her survey of the room with a small nod of satisfaction, then drew in her breath sharply and her smoothly fleshed body tensed as she heard the sound of a key being inserted in the front door beyond the hallway leading into the front room.

She took two instinctive steps in her bare feet across the rug toward an open closet where a flowered robe hung on the inside of the door, her gaze going quickly to an electric clock on her dressing table which showed the time to be eleven-thirty.

She paused with her arm outstretched and hand on the robe, turning her head to listen intently and hearing the outer door open quietly.

“Herbert?” she called hopefully in a modulated contralto voice, “Is that you?”

“Who the hell did you expect at this time of day?” an exuberant male voice called back from the outer room, and firm footsteps hurried down the hall toward the bedroom.

Ellen smiled with happy relief at the sound of her husband’s voice. She snatched the robe off the hook and held it demurely in front of her as she turned to face him.

He stopped in the doorway to take in her loveliness, feeling a little catch in his throat at sight of her that a year of marriage to Ellen had done nothing to dissipate.

He was a tall, compact man in his mid-thirties, with friendly, brown eyes and smooth, handsome features. He was wearing a charcoal-gray, Brooks Brothers’ suit, which clung superbly to wide shoulders and tapering waist, and he narrowed his eyes across the room at his wife, leaning indolently against the door-facing and thrusting both hands into the slash pockets of his jacket with elbows akimbo.

“I assume,” he said conversationally, “that you wouldn’t have been so quick to snatch that robe up if it had been someone else.”

“Of course not,” she agreed equably, with a teasing, luminous smile. “Every other man with a key to our front door just naturally expects me to be ready… and waiting… when he barges in.”

He said in an awed voice, “My God, you’re beautiful, Ellen.” He straightened up and began to walk toward her slowly.

She said, “You look pretty good yourself, Mr. Harris. I didn’t expect you for at least half an hour.”

“I slipped away from the office early. I got to thinking… well, hell, you know what I got to thinking. It’s going to be a long time without you.”

He stopped directly in front of her and put his hands on her bare shoulders, looking down into her face hungrily and exhaling a slow, shuddering breath.

She relaxed her grip on the robe and it slithered to the floor between them. She stood straight and proud, and her blue eyes were wide and moist, staring directly into his. She said, “I love you, darling. I don’t want to leave you. Let’s cancel the trip…”

He drew her to him slowly and lowered his lips to hers, and she pressed the length of her naked body against his and her arms went about his waist fiercely and they swayed together for a long moment in a passionate embrace before turning inevitably to the waiting bed and sinking down upon it together…

Herbert Harris was in the neat, compact kitchen that connected with the living-room, through a dining alcove, when his wife called to him from the bedroom, fifteen minutes later. He had his jacket off and his sleeves rolled up and was very carefully measuring a minute quantity of vermouth into a martini pitcher already containing ice cubes and gin. He called back, “Right away, sweetie,” and walked through the living room, carrying the pitcher and stirring the contents with a glass rod.

This time his wife again stood in the center of the bedroom, but now she was wearing a brassiere and a white slip, and had her arms through the sleeves of a sheer white blouse that she planned to wear on the airplane under a suit of blue silk.

She turned her back to him as he entered the room, and smiled back at him over her shoulder. “These damn tiny buttons in the back, Herb. Will you do them for me, please?”

He set the martini pitcher down on the glass top of a chest of drawers and said, “With pleasure, my dear.” He crossed to her and started fastening the blouse from the bottom, drawing it tight at her trim waist. “What I’m wondering,” he muttered with his lips close to the curling strands of blond hair at the back of her neck, “is why you chose this blouse to wear on your trip. Who’s going to unbutton it for you when you get there?”

“I can unbutton it, silly. I can even button it up if I have to, but it’s an awful nuisance.”

“And there’ll always be someone around to do the job for you,” he suggested lightly. “After all a man doesn’t have to be a husband to do a job like this.”

She flinched as though he had struck her. “Don’t say things like that, Herb. Even if you are kidding. It just isn’t funny. You know I’d rather stay here with you. You’re the one who insists.”

“There you are.” He fastened the last button and gave her shoulder a husbandly pat. “You know that both of us swore one year ago yesterday when we got married that we weren’t going to be like other couples and start taking each other for granted. And we promised each other a solemn promise that at least once each year we’d arrange to spend two weeks apart from each other. So hurry up and get the rest of your clothes on and join me for a final martini.”

“Do we have time?”

“Plenty of time. We don’t need to leave for the airport for at least twenty minutes.”

He backed away from her and picked up the martini pitcher, strolled back into the living room and set it down on the coffee table, then got two cocktail glasses from a kitchen cabinet.

Ellen came in from the bedroom just as he finished pouring two tall-stemmed glasses full of liquid. She said composedly, “I’m all set if you’ll close my suitcase.” She sat down in an overstuffed chair beside the coffee table and lit a cigarette, then lifted one of the cocktail glasses and sipped from it appreciatively.

“You know, Herb,” she said quietly, “I meant what I said a moment ago in the bedroom. Damn this whole idea of my trip to Miami. I’m going to hate every minute of it, if I think that you’re back here in New York brooding over me. Making up all sorts of nasty things about me and other men while I’m away from you. I love you, Herb. If you don’t know that… She frowned at him across her cocktail glass.

Herbert Harris said huskily, “I do know it, Ellen darling. I’m fully aware of it every moment of every day. I still think this trip is right and is necessary. I won’t be sitting around brooding. Damn it, darling. If I didn’t know you’d be faithful to me…

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