I come to kill you, p.1
I Come to Kill You, page 1
I Come to Kill You
St. Albans is a small, lovely island with some of the finest sand beaches and most voracious sand fleas in the Caribbean, an airstrip, a picturesque though decrepit fishing village, a booming casino.
Michael Shayne, the big, red-headed private detective, arrived on St. Albans one night in mid-February, his only luggage a dispatch case with a broken handle. He had been drinking heavily for days, and showed it.
Disembarking from the plane, he did something that would have puzzled his friends in Miami, who knew his ability to keep his quickness and coordination even after consuming improbable amounts of brandy. His shoelaces were untied. He tripped on the top step of the ramp and lurched forward against another passenger. The corner of Shayne’s dispatch case hit the man in the small of the back, slipped from Shayne’s grasp, and broke open. Shayne sawed at the air, and probably would have gone all the way down, knocking over people like dominoes, if the girl he was traveling with hadn’t grabbed his arm and pulled him into balance.
“Watch that top step,” he told her with drunken dignity. “It’s treacherous.”
He gathered his belongings, the dirty socks, shaving cream, gun, and loose ammunition, and repacked the dispatch case. Refusing further help from the girl, he continued down the ramp by himself. She was laughing at him.
“Solid ground,” she said when they reached the tarmac. “No bones broken.”
“These goddamn airlines ought to figure out a better way to get off their planes. Baby, you know what we need? We need a little kinky sex. Then we need a couple of drinks. Then we need some more sex.”
He spoke loudly, getting amused looks from some of his fellow passengers, looks of suspicious disgust from others. The girl seemed slightly embarrassed. “Michael, you’re bragging again.”
Meeting her in a bar at the International Airport in Miami, Shayne had been interested to learn that they shared the same destination. Her name was Sarah Percival, she told him, and she worked in a travel agency. Their plane had a balky engine. While the ground crew labored to fix it, Shayne and the girl had a drink together, then another, then a third. When their flight finally departed, hours later, they weren’t on it. They were in a room Shayne had rented at the airport hotel.
With careful planning and mutual encouragement, they managed to make the plane the following night, though in the last-minute rush Shayne cut himself shaving. They had passed a pleasant and busy twenty-four hours, cut off from the pressures and concerns of the outside world. But just before leaving the room to rejoin the rat race, Shayne took out his money and slowly and carefully, his lips moving, counted it to see how much he still had. It came to $1,185.
“Honey?” Sarah said, watching him. “If you’re wondering about me, don’t. Everything’s paid for. That’s the thing about the travel business. Not knowing what might happen, I reserved a room with a double bed.”
“Yeah, good,” Shayne said absently. He squared the bills and returned them to his money clip. “If I told you how much I grossed last year, you wouldn’t believe it. But it came and it went. It came and went. And now those Internal Revenue bastards…” He stood up. “The hell with it. Let’s fly.”
After the single moment’s awkwardness getting off the plane, Shayne steadied. In the taxi on the way to the hotel, he told Sarah a somewhat incredible story, which happened to be entirely true, of how Dominick De Blasio, the Mafia don in Miami, had stolen the casino from the New York group that put up the initial grease, and ousted the original British investment syndicate.
“And they’ve got a goddamn diamond mine here,” he said. “It’s the only wheel in town. They don’t do Las Vegas business, but they don’t have that Vegas nut. No entertainment budget, no tax problem, but the same house percentage. The same suckers bringing money.”
“And I was under the impression,” she said, smiling, “that you came here to gamble.”
“I came to play blackjack. And if you see me wandering off in the direction of the roulette tables, do me a favor—hit me with a bottle.”
“It’s on a short percentage. They can be taken. I’ve done it a few times… You aren’t interested in this.”
“In making money? Of course I am, Mike.”
“Blackjack. You watch the cards and count them as they come out. You don’t have to be a mathematical whiz—just click them off in the back of your head. Then when you get down near the bottom of the deck, you have a better idea where you are. It smoothes out the odds.”
“I don’t get it.”
He tried again. “Say you’re looking for a seven or under. Anything over seven will bust you. There are seventeen cards left. Eleven are over seven, six are under. So you stand. Do you follow me?”
“Maybe part of the way.”
“And the dealer’s not betting his own money, so he doesn’t have the same desire. He won’t have to go on food stamps if Mike Shayne walks away with ten or twelve grand.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
Shayne sat forward. “Driver, stop the car.”
The driver, startled, put on his brakes and swerved to a stop. Shayne had the door open. He reached out and rapped a highway post.
“Not that I’m superstitious or anything,” he said, coming back in. “Go ahead, driver. They don’t put any wood in cars. Go on, it’s all right. On top of that,” he told Sarah when they were underway again, “you know you need luck. You hit streaks in any kind of gambling. And the way you have a big night is, get your streak early, push it hard as long as it’s running, and the minute you feel the turn, get the hell out or they’ll beat you to death on the way down.”
She slid her hand inside his shirt. “We won’t let that happen tonight.”
“I need to hit big,” he said. “I think I’m beginning to get the feeling. All that nice money, lying there waiting for me.”
“Then why don’t you kiss me?”
He was knocking his fist against one knee, staring ahead. After a moment he took a deep breath, threw his arm across her body, and kissed her hard enough to hurt her mouth. She responded by pulling him closer. The long, deep kiss drained off some of the tension that had built up during their talk about percentages.
The lobby was empty except for several broad-beamed American ladies feeding the half-dollar slots, and they were part of the furniture of such places. Shayne let Sarah walk ahead to the desk. She was a girl who liked to move quickly, with a pleasant swing. She was tall and lean-shanked, with long blonde hair that was crinkly to the touch. Her clothes and luggage were expensive, and she wore a square-cut diamond she couldn’t have bought with what she earned at a travel agency. She had exceptional legs, exceptional skin, and considerable style. Naked, she was a little too thin for Shayne’s liking, but she made up for that with agility and inventiveness in bed.
Becoming impatient quickly, he joined her at the desk. She was signing the registration card. He put his hand on her buttocks, and her muscles tightened. The pen put a jagged squiggle on the card.
“Michael,” she murmured.
“Testing your reflexes,” he said. “They seem to be O.K.”
“Do you have a reservation, sir?” the clerk asked. “I hope so, because everything’s taken.”
“My motto is,” Shayne said, his hand still on Sarah, “the Lord will provide.”
She had been assigned a room in a poolside bungalow. Shayne tipped the bellman and sent him away. She looked around with little enthusiasm.
“Crummy, isn’t it?”
He tossed his dispatch case on the bed. “All they care about is the cash flow in the casino. These are casino people, not hotel people.”
She gave him a quick hug. “We’re going to play it the way you want, Michael. I’m just somebody you met at the Miami airport. Get started. I’ll find you.”
He moved restlessly. “It doesn’t feel right yet. Pick me up in the bar.”
Outside, he tested his luck by walking along the extreme edge of the pool, where the slightest wavering would have sent him into the water with his clothes on. He went in through the hotel lobby, hesitated for an instant outside the darkened bar, and then walked into the wall of noise coming from the casino.
It was as crowded as a supermarket on Friday night. He bought three fifty-dollar chips, counting out the bills like a miser, and took them to the dice tables. He saw several people he knew from Miami, but didn’t stop to exchange hellos.
He watched the play at one table. A fat man, perspiring with anxiety, was chafing and exhorting the dice. They spilled out of his hand and bounced: seven. When the time seemed right to Shayne, he bet his three chips against the shooter. He won.
Pocketing his winnings, he returned to the bar. He drank his first cognac standing, in one long pull. He took his second more slowly, and looked around to see what the room had to offer.
There was only one woman without a companion. She was short and dark, in a tight dress, with her hair pulled back so hard that her forehead seemed stretched. She looked fresh and appealing in the dim light. Shayne knocked his glass on the bar.
She turned slowly and met his eyes with one eyebrow lifted. He moved down beside her, and added eight years to her age. That was all right; it was what he was looking for.
“I’m hoping to change my luck,” he said. “What are you drinking?”
“Black velvets,” she said, with a slight Spanish accent, and pushed her glass toward the bartender. “I’m Mercedes. I think good luck is sometimes hard thing to find.”
“You know it,” Shayne agreed. “But if you worry too much about it, that can be bad, too. I remember one time when everything worked. Everything broke right for me. And then all of a sudden—”
The bartender brought her new drink, and Shayne lit her cigarette.
“What are you, Cuban?”
“From Colombia, a long time ago. I am a dancer, you see. I had an engagement last month in San Juan, very pleasant. I meet an American booking agent here in two days’ time, and perhaps he will find me an engagement in your country.”
She was looking at him seriously, her eyes large, black, and liquid. Her full breasts strained against the tight dress. He brushed the back of his hand against one nipple.
“Don’t do that.” She peered at him through the smoke. “But why do you say things are bad for you? You are one of the lucky ones.”
“I wish I could believe you,” he said gloomily. “But it’s hard to argue with facts.”
“No, no,” she insisted. “You are trying to fool me for some reason. I am never wrong about such things.”
“You don’t happen to be serious, by any chance?” Shayne said slowly.
“I am definitely serious. My mother could read the stars. I do it with nothing, I look in the eyes and see the soul. I see clearly that you are a man who wins. You have told yourself a lie. Your good fortune is gone? No, no. It is still with you.” She placed her fingertips against his chest. “I feel it beating there, strongly.”
“You’re kidding me.”
She shook her head. “Look here, I will prove it to you.” She took two chips out of her handbag and pressed them into his hand. “Play these for me at the roulette table.”
“I’m allergic to roulette.”
“Ordinarily, but not tonight. Please, for me. On a color.”
He scraped his chin with the edge of one chip. Then he shrugged. “What can I lose?”
He dropped a bill on the bar and took the girl into the roulette room, where he bet her chips on red. The ball danced around the wheel, hesitated, and came in on red. Shayne hooted.
“You see,” Mercedes said quietly. “I could feel the luck.”
He spun one of the chips in the air and caught it as it came down. “Kid, you’re just what I need. You’ve convinced me.”
He took her hand and pulled her along. She went with him obediently, holding back only when he started to leave the gambling area.
“Not the slot machines. Nobody wins there.”
“We’re coming back, and I’m going to give these guys a pasting they won’t ever forget. But we’ve got to nurse it along. It can go sour on you if you try to hurry it.”
He bought a bottle of Martell’s and a bottle of Scotch in the bar and asked for a bucket of ice. The girl was shaking her head.
“No. This is not what I intended. Though I like to be with people who have luck, and afterward, possibly…”
“Afterward, hell. I’ll be too high or too low. I’m jangling, can’t you feel that? I can’t play blackjack this way. I couldn’t follow the cards.”
The bartender handed the ice across the bar. Shayne put a bottle in each side pocket, and took the ice in one hand and the girl’s elbow in the other. He explained as they went. He was sure she was right, he was about to break out of his long slump. But a lot was riding on this evening, more than she realized. He needed a quiet drink, some quiet conversation, a little human contact.
“But you see,” she said, “it is undignified, it is not correct. Really and truly, my dear. No. I could not do such a thing, so suddenly.”
Outside Sarah’s room, he shifted his grip and guided her in against him. Her quick movements had released her perfume, which was heavy and musky. She turned her face up after a moment. A moment later he felt her tongue.
“Damn you,” she said. “Believe me, I have never—” The door was unlocked. He got her inside and was able to lock the door, pocketing the key, before the two girls were aware of each other.
Sarah had finished working on her eyes. She glanced around and started a word, but didn’t complete it. She had dressed with care, in a striking white dress, low at the neck.
“This is Mercedes,” Shayne said. “She asked me to bet a hundred bucks for her on red. If I lost, too bad. Maybe I’d pay her back and maybe I wouldn’t. If I won, the chances were good that I’d keep playing with my own money and cut her in. A hustle, in a way, but never mind. I want the three of us to have a drink together.”
“You can use the room,” Sarah said, giving the other girl a second chilly glance. “I’ll run into you in the casino later. May I have the key?”
He grinned. “Not unless you can take it away from me. Those are nice emeralds. It’s my favorite color.”
Her hand went to her necklace. “I can’t quite fathom you, Mike. Are you really that drunk?”
“What have we got in the way of glasses?”
Sarah glanced at the phone, then back at Shayne. She remained cool and lovely. She gave the other girl a closer inspection. Mercedes stared back boldly, but wasn’t able to hold it.
“This was not at all my idea,” she said weakly.
There were only two glasses in the bathroom, but Shayne didn’t object to drinking from the bottle. He made drinks for the girls. Mercedes alighted nervously on the front third of a chair, picking at the hem of her skirt. When Shayne held out the drink she said something angrily in Spanish and tossed her head before taking it. Shayne kicked off his shoes and sprawled across the big double bed.
“I started to tell you my ideas about how to gamble,” he said to Sarah. “It’s not a science. You have to go on instinct. I was in Vegas once. Six or eight years ago, and the reason I remember it, I had just about the same amount of cash I have now, twelve or thirteen hundred bucks. And I was moderately smashed, not quite enough, so I didn’t have that edge you need to put pressure on a dealer. I was taking it as it came. And I ended up in bed with two babes.”
Both girls reac
“What a pile-up. But I think I can honestly say we enjoyed ourselves.”
“Mike, you’re a comedian,” Sarah said.
“No, wait a minute. Nobody was thinking about money in that bed. We were one big happy tangle. That’s what sex is supposed to do for you, but it doesn’t always happen. I went down to the casino afterward, and I could read every card in the deck. I’ve never had a run like that in my life. An hour and a half later I walked away with seventy-five thousand.”
“You’re as superstitious as a caveman,” Sarah said.
“People have been believing in magic for thousands of years,” Shayne said. “There has to be something to it.”
“Do not include me in your magic,” Mercedes said firmly.
“I’m sure Room Service can provide you with two other girls,” Sarah suggested. “You’re welcome to use the room.”
“It wouldn’t work that way,” he told her. “I gave the girls in Vegas five thousand apiece. But they didn’t do it for money, they did it because they were sure I was going to be lucky. And I know you won’t do it unless you really believe. That’s the point. Confidence is what I need. We’ve got plenty of booze, plenty of ice, plenty of time. They don’t close the tables till six in the morning.”
Sarah smiled calmly, shaking her head. “Mike, Mike.”
Mercedes’ pretty dark face was set in a sullen mask, and she remained far forward in her chair, her legs crossed. It wasn’t until the third drink that she sat back. Shayne was talking about the famous occasions when casino managements had been beaten for important sums of money. He kept moving about the room. Once he perched on the arm of the dark girl’s chair and gently helped her out of her stockings.
The two girls made friends. It was Sarah, finally, who made the decisive move, going to the bathroom and coming back a moment or two later undressed.
The lights stayed on.
Shayne moved his arm to look at his watch. He sat up and swung his legs out of bed but remained there for a time, massaging his forehead.
by Brett Halliday / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes