Brett Halliday: The Homicidal Virgin

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Brett Halliday The Homicidal Virgin
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    The Homicidal Virgin
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Brett Halliday

The Homicidal Virgin


It was one of those beautiful, balmy, autumnal days in Miami when the tempo of life in the Magic City slackens perceptibly; a time for relaxation between the brutally humid days of summer and the frenzied activity of a new winter season when hordes of fun-and-sun-seekers from the north would descend upon the area.

The sidewalks were uncrowded and pedestrians took time to smile courteously at one another, waiting patiently and politely at corners for the light to change, then strolling across the intersection under the unwontedly benign gaze of traffic cops.

In his office above Flagler Street, with both windows wide open to bring in the sound of sluggish traffic borne on the wings of a somnolent breeze from Biscayne Bay, Michael Shayne was relaxed in a swivel chair with his feet resting on a bare, scarred desk. He wore a short-sleeved sport shirt open at the throat, his red hair was comfortably rumpled, he sucked lazily on a cigarette and was at peace with the world. He hadn’t had an interesting case for a month, and was glad of it. Right now he didn’t care whether he ever had another case or not. Right now the only thing on his mind was the question of whether it was worth while for him to stir himself sufficiently to coyer the three blocks to Joe’s Bar, where he would find kindred souls and his favorite brand of cognac.

He yawned widely as he debated the question without a great deal of interest. It was very pleasant here in the office. Through the open door on his left came the subdued and soothing sound of Lucy Hamilton’s typewriter keys gently striking against paper. On this afternoon even Lucy’s normally crisp clatter of typing was slowed to a lethargic pace. It perfectly fitted the day and his own mood, and he contentedly decided to pass up Joe’s Bar until Lucy finished whatever she was doing and was ready to close up the office and go out with him for a cocktail.

A familiar voice impinged from the outer office. It belonged to Timothy Rourke, and it was offensively cheery: “Hi, Lucy my love. Is the great man in? Busy?”

Lucy’s typing stopped. She said, “Michael’s in and he isn’t busy.” As though it were an afterthought, though Shayne knew it wasn’t, she added severely, “He hasn’t been busy for weeks, in fact.”

Rourke said breezily, “We’ll have to do something about that,” and came through the doorway.

Shayne kept his feet placidly on the desk and his shoulder blades pressed firmly against the back of the swivel chair. He raised ragged red eyebrows a quarter of an inch to acknowledge the reporter’s presence and said, “Hi, Tim.”

Rourke was as lean as a greyhound, with cadaverous features and an inexhaustible store of bouncing vitality that gave a spring to his step and a feverish intensity to his deep-set eyes. He drew a square white envelope from the sagging side pocket of a shabby corduroy jacket and dropped it on Shayne’s desk as he passed on his way to the filing cabinet against the wall behind the detective. “Look that over, Mike, while I pour you a drink of your own good liquor.”

Shayne lazily stretched a long arm for the envelope while Rourke opened the third drawer and extracted a bottle of cognac with the ease of long practice. The typewritten address on the envelope was:

Classified Advertisement Department,

The Daily News,

Miami, Florida.

It was postmarked the preceding day at Miami Beach.

Timothy Rourke set the bottle on a corner of the desk, turned to the water cooler and nested three sets of two paper cups together, filled one with water and put a very small amount in the bottom of another set. He placed the empty pair in front of the redhead with the full cup beside it, opened the cognac bottle and made a five-to-one mixture in his own cup.

Shayne opened the envelope and pulled out a folded square of paper. Doubled inside it was a five-dollar bill. He groped aside for the bottle and absently poured cognac in his empty cup while he read the typewritten message:

Please insert the following advertisement one time in your PERSONAL COLUMN:

MAN WANTED. Adult, red-blooded American. Must be sophisticated, soldier-of-fortune type willing to do anything-repeat, anything — if the price is right. Replies addressed to Miss Jane Smith, Suite 1114, 562 Flagler Street, Miami, will be considered in strict confidence.

The enclosed bill will more than cover the cost of a single insertion. Do not bother returning change.

The signature, Jane Smith, was also typewritten.

Shayne dropped the typed sheet and the folded bill on the desk in front of him and lazily sucked cognac from the paper cup. Rourke had pulled a chair close to the desk and leaned forward eagerly, both elbows resting on the wooden surface, his feverish eyes searching the detective’s gaunt face for a clue to his reaction.

Shayne quirked one eyebrow at his old friend and said, “So?”

“What do you make of it?”

“Some hot-pantsied housewife eager to get rid of a hubby who’s standing in her way.”

“Maybe,” Rourke conceded. “Probably. But wouldn’t you like to meet Jane Smith and get the whole sordid story… and maybe save Hubby’s life?”

“Get the story to spread over the front page of the News under your by-line,” Shayne amplified. “Go out and do your own legwork.” He took another sip of cognac, washed it down with a swallow of water.

“But it’s right up your alley, Mike.” Rourke made his voice lyrically enthusiastic. “You answer the ad, see? You’d be a lead-pipe cinch to land the job. Red-blooded and adult. Sophisticated as all get-out, and a soldier-of-fortune type from hell-and-gone. I don’t fit the part.”

Shayne yawned and let a faint grin curl the corners of his wide mouth. “It’s too hot, Tim. Your Jane Smith will get hundreds of applications to choose from. All the hungry guns in town plus a few dozen bums and a scattering of romantic young fools who fancy themselves in the role.”

“Not to this ad, she won’t,” Rourke told him positively.

“I don’t think you understand the male population of Miami very well.”

“Oh, I know there are plenty that’d jump at it if they had the chance. But you don’t think the News will run that ad, do you?”

“Why not? She sent the money to pay for it.”

“A matter of public policy. Hell, you ought to see that. Look, we get maybe half a dozen crackpot ads like this every week. There’s a standing rule that they get sent up to the front office for okay before insertion. Don’t you realize we could be sued if we did insert that ad and a murder resulted from it?”

A glint of interest came into Shayne’s gray eyes. He admitted, “I hadn’t considered that angle.”

“And if it is an invitation to murder as you suggested, don’t you have a moral duty to try and prevent it?”

Shayne now grinned openly at the reporter. “Nuts, Tim. Turn it over to the police and let them do their moral duty.”

“Sure. I can do that. But because of our long-time friendship I felt you deserved a crack at it first.”

Shayne’s grin widened. “And because you know I’m more amenable than Petey Painter to passing on a front-page story to the demon newshound, Timothy Rourke. It is postmarked from the Beach, isn’t it?”

“Yeh. And that makes it Painter’s baby. You know how he’d handle a thing like this. Go bulling in and grab the poor gal who may have nothing more vicious in mind than meeting a new man. No matter how innocent her intent may be, Petey would twist it into something nasty, and blatantly proclaim another personal triumph in his crusade against crime. Don’t you want to protect her from that?”

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