By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The story began with a long description of a car salesman at a convention in Miami, missing his wife, whom he clearly loved: "...generally she'd seem to sense how he was feeling, even in her sleep, and she'd turn slowly and languidly toward him, and sometimes he thought she didn't even wake up fully even when it was all over, but he didn't mind that because she was loving and willing whenever he wanted to, and he considered that all a man should want from his wife...."
Eventually a murder takes place, and Shayne's best buddy, Tim Rourke, star reporter for the Miami News, becomes involved. For several chapters, it's Rourke who carries the weight of the plot. The multiple points of view used by Halliday were a complete departure from the previous 49 Shayne novels. As Mack saw it, Rourke was not a bad substitute. The reporter ordered his breakfast from a "big-busted and big-butted" woman with a "pleasantly bovine face" - toast with globs of butter, sausage patties, three scrambled, hash browns. Everyone in the small town of Sunray is stunned that a newspaper reporter - particularly one from Miami - would even bother to talk to them. He's like a god among ants, his authority to infiltrate crime scenes unquestioned, his demands met with awe and vigor.
When Shayne finally does appear and solves the crime, Halliday takes the opportunity to remind readers why they liked Michael Shayne enough to buy more than 70 million copies of the novels. It's the early Sixties and a colored boy is blamed for the murder. He faces lynching in the Sunray jail. The sheriff and other townfolk had seen the suspect ogling the now-dead woman. And, the sheriff says, "You know how them buck niggers get when they want a piece of white stuff real bad."
By this time Shayne has elicited a confession from the real killer, but he has more pressing information for the sheriff. Coldly, he says, "I know how a lot of damn-fool southern white men think a Negro is about a white woman, but I've never encountered it personally."
Thoroughly satisfied and nearly touched, Mack Bennett closed the book, set it on the table, and rubbed his temples. He thought about Halliday. The author had been reared in Texas, and ran away at fourteen to join the army. He served two years before his true age was discovered and he was booted out. He became a vagabond, roaming the country, working odd jobs, taking a civil-engineering certificate from a school in Indiana. The Depression eliminated opportunity in the engineering field, so Halliday turned to pulp writing. He penned Westerns, romances, and, with Mum's the Word for Murder in 1938, began his career as a mystery writer. He was married three times, each time to a writer. Dividend on Death was rejected 22 times before it was published in 1939. The publisher, Henry Holt, requested a second Shayne tale, which became The Private Practice of Michael Shayne and began the most successful Miami-based detective series of all time. Publishers would continue to reissue his books well into the Eighties.
Mack drove west along 112 toward the jai-alai fronton and another meeting with The Fixer. He was sick to death of the Pink Pussycat, but at least he knew he could get a bourbon there before breaking the bad news to his employer.
"Oh, no!" The Fixer slammed his glass on the bar and reached for the Bic in his pocket.
"Yes," Mack said dejectedly but authoritatively. "On February 4, 1977, in Montecito, California."
"So you don't even know if Halliday lived in Miami at some point? And you sure as hell can't ask him."
"Listen," Mack said, growing angry. "I didn't kill the guy. I just found out when and where he died."
Mack spent two more days reading pulp novels set in Miami, before heading back to the Pussycat. The top-heavy brunette behind the bar remembered him and immediately brought over a double Jim Beam, easy ice. "Thanks," Mack said endearingly. "Have you seen my friend, the little guy with the pen?"
"Ain't seen him, hon," Big Bust answered. "He your boyfriend?"
"Worse," Mack spat. "My client."
"Jeez, sorry to hear it."
Mack paid for his drink and handed the brunette his customary five-dollar tip. That's why she'd remembered him. "Listen, handsome," she said. "My name is Paris. If I can do anything for you that your client can't...."
"Actually, Miss France," Mack responded with a grin, "there is. Could we just talk for a little while?"
"Yeah, right." She excused herself with a jiggle to tend to a couple of state attorneys at the other end of the bar.
Mack felt he was about to burst with his newfound knowledge, and he was dying to tell someone. Where the hell was The Fixer? He'd called this meeting for 10:30 and it was five past eleven. Mack pulled on his cocktail disgustedly.
If The Fixer ever did show up, or if Paris were willing to give him an ear, he was prepared to skip the part about how Sam at the library had introduced him to Becky Smith, a friendly, freckly woman with a grand sense of humor - when she had shown Mack the boxes filled with pulp novels, she'd mentioned that some of them were "choice." Mack enjoyed hearing slang from a woman whose title was Curator of Research Materials for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.