Muffled as they were with the muzzle pressed closely against his clothing and body, the five small explosions sounded no louder than the popping of as many firecrackers in the hotel bedroom. The air conditioner was running in this room too, and all the windows were tightly closed, with heavy draperies drawn across them.
She took two jerky steps backward, looking down at the dead man with hatred and loathing and then slowly transferred her gaze to the lethal little gun still clenched tightly in her hand. She forced her fingers to loosen their hold, and the pistol fell to the carpeted floor with a little plop a couple of feet from his body.
She was still in a state of shocked incomprehension. She could feel nothing as she stood there in the silent bedroom looking down at her handiwork. No regret. Not even any real fear. Not yet. Only a vast flooding of relief that it was over. That she was done with him. That he no longer threatened her security and her future.
She jerked her head up suddenly like a startled animal, looking all about the confines of the room and through the open door into the sitting room, listening alertly, tensed for some sound or sign of danger.
There was no sound to be heard except the continued and comforting drone of the air conditioners. Nothing to indicate that the shots had been heard outside the four walls of the room.
It seemed to her now that she had been holding her breath ever since her finger began pulling the trigger. She exhaled slowly and evenly, drew in another deep breath and then turned away stiffly and walked past the crumpled body on the floor without looking downward.
With the bedroom door shut tightly behind her, she moved with trancelike steps to the coffee table and retrieved her glass from the edge where he had set it down hastily after pouring three fingers of straight whiskey into it.
She drank half of it and choked over the fiery stuff, and then forced herself to methodically put ice cubes on top of the remaining liquor and fill the glass to the brim with soda. She took a sip of it and sank down carefully onto the sofa and lighted a cigarette.
Her thoughts were beginning to come clearly now. She was able to appraise her situation coldly and objectively.
There was a dead man behind the closed door of the bedroom. That was Inescapable Fact Number One. Nothing could change that. He was dead and she had killed him.
When his body was discovered in her hotel suite it would mean the end of everything.
She could start running, of course. She could gain a little time that way. She could get up right now and walk out of the hotel suite and pull the door shut behind her and go down the elevator and through the lobby and get a taxi outside and…
No. No. It was useless. She was trapped. There would be an investigation and he would be identified…
She took another fierce drag on her cigarette, trying desperately to marshal her thoughts, and then stiffened in terror at the sound of a light knock on her door.
This time she didn’t leap gladly to her feet to open it. She sat immobile and stared at the door.
Who was standing in the hall? Did she dare take a chance? Could she possibly brazen it out? Was it someone looking for him? Had he been followed? Did anyone know he had come here tonight?
The knock wasn’t repeated, but in a moment she heard a small clicking sound and she watched in wide-eyed, petrified terror while the door was pushed open.
Then a hotel maid walked in calmly. She was an elderly, gray-haired woman carrying neatly folded towels over her arm. She seemed surprised to see the woman on the sofa, evidently believing the room unoccupied when her knock went unanswered, and she hesitated a moment, saying apologetically, “Pardon, Ma’m. Check your bathroom and turn down the bed?”
And she began walking toward the closed bedroom door.
Time stood still. She was approaching the door stolidly. She would turn the knob and open it…
And she could do nothing to stop her. She was absolutely paralyzed. Her vocal chords refused to answer her will. She wanted to scream at the woman… throw her glass at her… stop her before she reached that door.
She could do nothing. She sat mute and staring with a fixed smile on her face.
The maid had her hand on the knob. She was turning it. In a second it would be too late to stop her.
A high-pitched squeal of agonized protest came out of her constricted throat. The maid turned her head questioningly, holding the door slightly ajar.
She said, “No!” and the word came out throatily and strong. She suddenly found herself on her feet advancing toward the woman and making frantic gestures with her hands.
“Don’t… you mustn’t… she heard herself stammering. “The towels are all right. I can make my own bed down.” She reached firmly for the doorknob and the maid released it, stepping back, her lined face showing bewilderment and then a sudden sly understanding.
“All right, Ma’m. Just as you say, Ma’m.” The maid tilted her nose and sniffed and retreated across the room, went out the door with silent dignity and closed it with what was not quite a slam.
She stood with her back defensively against the closed bedroom door, and then began to shake with hysterical laughter. The old fool thought she had a man in her bedroom. That’s what she thought.
Well, dear God, the maid was perfectly right. She did have a man in her bedroom. A dead one, but a man for all that.
Her hysteria went away as swiftly as it had come, and the imminent danger of her position became clearer to her than before. The maid was safely routed, but who would be next? A bell-boy coming for the empty tray? A repairman who had a report that her air conditioner was not functioning properly? She couldn’t stand guard here against all of them. Suppose the hotel were to catch on fire? Suppose… suppose…?
This wouldn’t do. This wasn’t like her. She wouldn’t give way to panic.
She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t.
No. She would sit down and calmly take a drink and assess the situation. There must be something she could do. Some way out. If she could just get him out of here. Let his body be discovered somewhere else. Any place else except her hotel suite.
She sat down and drank from her glass, not too calmly, it is true, but with puckered brow and her thoughts beginning to mesh again.
How had he found her here in Miami? Did anyone else know he had come to her room, or that he had traced her to this hotel and planned to see her? What sort of identification did he have on him?
In other words, if she could discover some way to remove his body and have it found elsewhere… how likely was it that he could be traced back to this hotel suite?
She emptied her glass and set it on the table and got to her feet. Those questions needed answering, and some of the answers might be in her bedroom.
She went to the door and opened it unhesitatingly and stood on the threshold looking down at him. He lay on his side exactly as he had fallen with five. 25 caliber bullets in him. His back was toward her from where she stood, and she could see no blood in evidence.
She walked around him, frowning, and crouched down in front of him. There wasn’t much blood. Just a wide, reddish stain on the front of his yellow sport shirt. If his jacket were buttoned together in front there would be nothing to show the cause of his death.
Her fingers were steady as she began checking the insides of his pockets. A pack of cigarettes and book of matches with a Hunt’s Tomato Sauce Recipe in his shirt pocket. Both outer and inner breast pockets of his jacket were empty. So was the left side pocket. There was a square of cardboard in the other side jacket pocket, and she rocked back on her heels to study it.
It was a parking ticket from the hotel parking lot. There was no time stamped on it. Just a numbered ticket for a parked car.
Thoughtfully, she replaced it in the pocket where she had found it. So he had driven a car to the hotel? Alone? Or with a friend who was waiting downstairs in the lobby or cocktail lounge? Someone who might already be getting impatient and wondering why he was taking so long.
It was impossible to tell.
His right hip pocket was empty, but there were some bills and silver in the right side pocket of his slacks. Two fives and three ones and a quarter and a dime.
She returned the money, and then had to roll him over on his back to explore the other two pockets. His body was limp and it rolled easily, seeming curiously weightless. She wondered if bodies were always so easy to roll about.
There was only a crumpled handkerchief in his left pocket, nothing in the side one. No wallet. No identification of any sort. Of course, there were laundry marks, she realized. And fingerprints. But those normally took some time to check out.
And what she needed was time.
Time to think. Time to make plans. Time to set up defenses against the possible repercussions of his death.
She glanced at the small pistol lying beside his body and decided it might as well remain there. It could not be traced to her.
Probably not, but better be sure. She picked it up in her bare hand and rubbed the smooth surfaces carefully. Not with a handkerchief as fools were always doing in books, thus making it evident that fingerprints had been removed, but with her fingers so there would be smeared prints left, but with no recognizable pattern.
Then, satisfied that there was no more to be done in the bedroom, she arose and went back to the sitting room, thinking deeply.
She poured herself another, very moderate drink, added the rest of the soda, and faced her problem.
She needed help.
She needed that corpse out of her bedroom… and fast.
And she didn’t know a single soul in Miami to whom she could turn for help.
All sorts of wild ideas went through her mind as she sat there drinking slowly, her eyes narrowed to slits while she considered the problem.
Go down to the lounge and pick up a complete stranger, make a play for him and invite him up, and then explain to him that she had a peculiar aversion to going to bed in a room with a corpse and if he’d get rid of the body she’d be happy to oblige?
You’d have to pick your guy damned carefully. Find one who had a lot of guts and not too much respect for the law, and who knew his way around Miami and had some experience in disposing of corpses.
That was a pretty big order. To just go down to the lounge and spot such a guy and entice him up.
Then an idea took hold of her. And it began to grow. And the more she considered it the less unfeasible it became.
As a city, Miami was noted for many and various things. There was its climate, the luxury hotels, the white sands of its bathing beaches, the beautiful race tracks, the tropical foliage… and there was a private detective named Michael Shayne.
She didn’t know him personally, but she knew a lot about him. Of course, everyone who watched television or read paperbacks knew a lot about him. Knew that he had plenty of guts and not too much respect for the law… that he definitely knew his way around Miami and had had a certain amount of experience in disposing of corpses.
But she had further knowledge about the kind of guy he was. What really made him tick. What kind of sob-story he’d go for, and what he wouldn’t. Personalized knowledge from years back in Hollywood.
Her narrowed eyes took on an excited glitter as she considered the situation. If she could get him on her side… she had it made.
And, by God she could!
She nodded slowly and emphatically. All it needed was the right approach.
She turned her gaze slowly aside to yesterday’s paper lying open at the society page with the picture of the happily betrothed couple looking up at her.
Vicky Andrews and State Senator-Elect William C. Greer!
Who could fail to be moved by that picture of youthful innocence and love and faith in the future? Not Michael Shayne. Not from everything she knew about him.
She began planning excitedly, glancing at her watch as she did so. It was only 11:17. God in heaven! Had so much actually happened in so few minutes?
It was probably a good time to call him at home. Before he settled in for the night or drank so muck cognac that he wouldn’t be able to handle the situation intelligently.
She had to get her story in order first. Let’s see, now. How had he found her in Miami?
She read the newspaper account of the anticipated wedding slowly again, absorbing every word of it, nodding her head slowly.
That would do it. But how convince the redheaded detective? Then it came to her. A lovely burst of inspiration. She picked up the paper and tore out the entire wedding story, including the picture of the engaged couple. She didn’t attempt to make a neat job of it, just tore it jaggedly around the four sides of the story. Then she crumpled it a little between her hands, smoothed it out and folded it two ways. She pressed the creases together tightly, then opened it again for careful scrutiny. It looked about right, she thought. Not too well-worn, because it was just yesterday’s paper after all, but as though it had been thumbed and read several times.
She refolded it and went into the bedroom, kneeled down beside the body and placed it in the jacket pocket. Then she returned to the sitting room and sat down at the desk in a corner of the room, found blank sheets of hotel stationery and a ball-point pen.
She hesitated a long moment with her pen poised over the paper, then took a deep breath and began writing swiftly, letting the words flow out of her, not worrying about correct punctuation or pausing to dot her i’s or cross more than half of the t’s.
She wrote. “Dear Mom-I don’t know how to say this-I can’t think straight-I’m scared to death and sick at my stomach. I just killed a man…”
She continued writing as fast as the pen would flow over the paper, covering three and a half pages before ending it, “Vicky.”
She sat back and carefully read what she had written, and found it good.
She then crumpled the four sheets together in a tight fist, dropped them to the desk and reached for the Miami telephone book.
When she found the number, she lifted the receiver and asked the operator to get it for her.