Mike Shayne is just passing through the jeweler’s when Mark Dustin comes for the rubies. A big shot gambler with expensive taste, Dustin is looking for an anniversary gift for his wife, and he demands the best. For $200,000, he buys the shop’s greatest treasure: a bracelet of flawless rubies, finer than any in the country. The first time his wife puts it on her wrist, however, a gang of thieves rams into their car and snatches the bracelet.
The only person who knew about the purchase, the only man who could have organized the robbery, was Mike Shayne. The Miami police have been looking for an excuse to jail Shayne for years, and now they’ll have their chance—all for the sake of six little stones, as red as a woman’s blood.
Blood on the Stars is the 15th book in the Mike Shayne Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Read an Excerpt
Blood on the Stars
A Mike Shayne Mystery
By Brett Halliday
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1948 Brett Halliday
All rights reserved.
Celia Dustin sat before the mirrored dressing-table in an elaborate corner suite on the sixth floor of the Sunlux Hotel in Miami Beach. Subconsciously she counted the strokes as the silver-mounted brush swept through her long flaxen hair — eight, nine, ten — then changed it to her left hand and began counting toward the required hundred strokes. Her sheer coral dressing-gown fell away from her shoulders, revealing the light sun-tan on her smooth throat and taut young breasts. Long dark lashes were half closed over her blue eyes that shone with an inner delight, and her full red mouth was lifted at the corners in a smile.
Celia was scarcely aware of her reflection. Her head was tilted, and she listened to the muffled sounds in the bathroom where her husband was taking a bath. They had been married two years today, and she knew exactly the progress he was making by the sounds. He was turning on the cold water now, swearing softly and contentedly as he made it colder and colder. In a moment Mark Dustin would fling back the curtain and emerge from the shower, dripping and magnificent in his nakedness, sputtering like a half-drowned bear while he groped for a towel to rub himself down.
An indefinable shiver of pure delight traversed Celia's slender body as she transferred the brush from left to right hand for another ten strokes. Marriage was the most wonderful thing in the world. Marriage with Mark, she amended hastily to herself. She had often wondered during the past two years whether it would have been quite the same with any other man. She didn't think so. Mark wasn't anything wonderful. She often told herself that in order to keep her feet firmly on the ground, but he was right for her. She was serenely certain that of all the people in the world she and Mark were meant for each other.
She completed the hundred strokes and laid the hair brush on the dressing-table. All sound from the bathroom had ceased. Soon Mark would come out with his black silk robe carelessly belted around his lean stomach, his strong sun-bronzed face glowing with health and with happiness. He would come up behind her chair and put his hands on her bare shoulders and lay his cheek against her lustrous hair and smile at her reflection in the mirror and tell her she was the most beautiful girl in the world.
She would blush, as she always did, because his hands would creep downward to spread her dressing-gown farther apart, and she would catch her breath and demand whether he wanted his wife to be a wanton, and his lips would nibble at the lobe of her ear and he'd whisper that that was exactly what he was looking for when he picked her out two years ago — and then perhaps he'd remember and whisper something else in her ear and then the lovely, lovely Miami morning would be perfect indeed.
Straightening her shoulders, she leaned back a trifle and clasped both hands behind her head while she looked approvingly at the reflection Mark would see. Sunlight came through the east window and touched her head and shoulders caressingly. From far below there came the faint sound of the surf and the laughing voices of early bathers. It was one of those perfect days in early December when the season is just beginning. An interlude between the lethargy of summer and the hectic pace of winter; a period when early vacationers could live and move freely before the influx of the masses crowded the beaches and jammed traffic.
Celia did not move a muscle when she heard her husband come padding into the bedroom in cork-soled sandals. She watched her reflection in the mirror and saw him come up behind her and stop there as she had known he would. His black hair was tousled and he looked ten years younger than the forty he had admitted to when they were married. An unruly curl on either side of the part stood up, adding an impish look that matched the gleam in his gray eyes.
Something of her love and wonder and pride in him must have showed in her eyes as they met his in the glass, for Mark laughed, his hands on her bare shoulders, and said, "You look like a little girl on Christmas morning who has suddenly decided to believe in Santa Claus after all."
"I feel like a little girl on Christmas morning, Mark."
His fingers tightened and his head bent low until his cheek was against her hair. Her eyes still held his in the mirror and a tremor went over her body as his hands moved down and drew the sheer material farther away from her breasts.
He said, "You're the most beautiful girl in the world," and his voice was husky with passion.
She smiled happily and demanded, "Do you want your wife to look like a wanton, Mark Dustin?"
With his lips against her ear, he whispered, "Why else do you think I married you? Don't you know every man secretly desires a wanton wife — but a paragon in public, mind you," he added quickly and with mock severity. He straightened up then, and his hands drew the folds of her dressing gown together.
Celia waited for a breathless moment, then forced herself to carry on the ritual by asking, "Do they really?"
"Every man with any sense." He turned away abruptly, now that the matutinal amenities were ended, and started for the sitting-room, saying cheerfully, "I'll order some breakfast."
"Mark." The single word halted him with his hand on the doorknob.
"Do you know why I particularly feel like a little girl on Christmas this morning?"
"This morning?" He turned slowly. "Because the sun is shining and the ponies are running this afternoon?"
Her tone was slightly impatient. "The sun has shone and the ponies have run every day since we've been here." She studied his face anxiously in the mirror.
"So they have." He grinned boyishly and added, "Must be you're in love with your husband."
"So I am, darling." When he smiled her anxiety went away. "Order English muffins and bacon for me, and lots of coffee. I've forty more strokes to go on my hair." When he went out and closed the door she picked up the brush again, but the strokes were not so even and placid as they had been before. Tears moistened her eyes and she wiped them away angrily. Mark was a darling, but damn him anyway. Why did men always have to spoil things? You'd think they could remember an important date. But all he was thinking of was food and the bets he would lay at the track. Never a thought for her and for today.
She began to grow very angry, and the brush went back and forth swiftly, glinting in the sunlight and whisking viciously through the soft strands of hair. She made a face at herself in the mirror, then decided all over again that Mark was a darling and that she was acting like a fool.
By the time she applied powder to her face and a fresh layer of rouge to her lips, Celia was humming. She got up and slid the dressing-gown from her shoulders, slid into a brassiere and panties, white slip and a powder blue sports suit.
Mark was seated on the padded window ledge, deep in the morning Herald, when she entered the big square living-room. He looked up to mumble, "Breakfast coming up. Listen, Ceil. Here's a hot one in the fourth today. Thunderhaven at twelve to one. If I can pick out a parlay —" his voice trailed off as he went back to the day's selections at Tropical Park.
"Oh, you!" she laughed, and again thought how like a young boy he was and how darned lucky she was to be Mrs. Mark Dustin.
The buzzer sounded and she went to admit the waiter with a wheeled breakfast table. She asked the man to place it in the angle between the two wide east and south windows, signed the check and tipped him, and he departed before Mark seemed aware of his presence. She peeked playfully over the top of the newspaper and said, "Sir, breakfast is served."
"So?" He sprang up and helped her pull up two chairs, and enthusiastically explained his projected three-horse parlay while they breakfasted in the sun-drenched luxury of their corner suite.
When the meal was finished, Celia sat on the window seat and idly turned the pages of the morning paper while Mark dressed. She was restless and moody. Mark hadn't mentioned any plans for the day. There would be the racetrack, of course. Mark was a reckless, inveterate, and lucky gambler. He had been like that ever since she had known him. Sometimes he lost, but always he recouped his losses a few days later. It didn't matter how he gambled, on mining stocks, in poker games, or at the racetrack, he always won. In the early days of their marriage she had worried, but not any more. There was always plenty of money and she had gradually come to share his belief that there would always be plenty.
Laying the paper aside, she gazed out the east window and wished she might go swimming before the races. Mark usually wanted to, but he hadn't mentioned it. Her spirits rose. Perhaps he had other plans. Perhaps he hadn't forgotten.
Mark was dressed in fawn-colored slacks, blue sports shirt open at the neck, and a darker blue slouch jacket when he came into the living-room. The jacket had heavily padded shoulders that gave extraordinary breadth, tapering down to a lean waist and muscled hips. He was barely six feet tall, but the way he held himself gave the impression of greater height.
It wasn't arrogance, Celia thought, just as she had a thousand times when she studied him with appraising eyes. It was self-assurance. The stance and carriage of a man who has met the world on equal terms and faced it down. From the stories he had told her of his youth, early days of prospecting for gold all over the globe, she had gained an insight into his character that fully explained his present attitude toward life. He had received no quarter from life in his youth, and now he neither asked for nor offered it. If he was ruthless in his business dealings it was because he had discovered long ago that only the ruthless survive in this modern world of rugged individualism. His movements had the smooth co-ordination of a man who keeps himself in trim, a physical sense of balance that matched his mental equilibrium.
Celia watched his approach with a swift rush of emotion that frightened her. He stopped in front of her and took a flat platinum cigarette case from his pocket, opened it and took out a cigarette, placed the cigarette between his lips, and lit it. There were three faint lines etched between his eyes as he studied the open case before returning it to his pocket.
"What would you like to do today?" There was an absent look in his gray eyes and his tone was flat.
"Whatever you'd like, Mark." She tried to speak eagerly, but his voice, his whole expression told her he had forgotten. Then she saw his frown deepen, and she remembered he didn't like to have her answer that way. He wanted her to have definite opinions and give a definite answer, but she waited hopefully.
He looked at his wrist watch and said, "It's eleven-thirty. Suppose we take a ride and end up at the track in time for the first race."
"I'd like that." She kept her voice quiet and even, as though she meant exactly what she said. She got up and went past him into the bedroom to get her bag. She heard Mark call to order the roadster brought around, and he was waiting at the door when she came back.
Mark stopped at the bell captain's desk. Celia stood a little back from him, scarcely looking at him when he spoke to the captain in a low voice. She wasn't consciously listening to the conversation nor eavesdropping, but she heard the captain say, "I'd recommend Voorland, sir. On Lincoln Road near the bay."
Mark Dustin said something in return. His low, perfectly modulated voice did not carry far, but she caught the question, "... very best in town?" spoken with a stronger inflection than the first of the sentence.
The bell-captain said emphatically, "Voorland has the highest reputation of any on the Beach."
Mark thanked him and came back to Celia with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He took her arm firmly and said too heartily, "I've been asking about a new place to try for lunch." He moved her toward the door and they went out into the bright sunlight to wait for the sports roadster to be brought around from the garage.
Celia didn't believe he had been inquiring about an eating-place, for neither of them ever ate lunch after a late breakfast. Despair settled over her again, and she wondered why she didn't tell her husband what was in her heart and why men had to be such brutes.
Mark drove extremely well, as he did everything requiring muscular and mental co-ordination, his well-kept hands relaxed on the steering-wheel, handling the powerful eight-cylinder motor as deftly as Celia visioned him handling sixteen-mule teams and tons of ore in the Andes. He threaded his way easily into the stream of traffic going south on Collins Avenue, the breeze riffling the tufted curls on each side of his forehead.
Celia sat quietly beside him with her hands folded demurely in her lap. Her flaxen hair was coiled around her head in two thick braids, the sun brightening its natural luster. She was relaxed in a dreamlike acquiescence, slothfully conscious of the other sleek cars in front of them, of the rustling fronds of tall palms lining the roadway, the bright massed colors of Bougainvillaea and flamevine, the odor of tropical blossoms, and the languid sense of well being that pervades pleasure seekers who have eaten of Miami's lotus, but her inward thoughts were on other things and other days.
She didn't bother to rouse herself when Mark swung sharply westward onto the wide expanse of Lincoln Road with its ultra-modern shops bearing names famous the world over for smart fashions and extravagant prices. She wasn't interested in fashions nor in shopping. There was a dull ache in her heart, and for the first time since their marriage she allowed herself to think what life would be if Mark stopped loving her.
It was too terrible to think about. Life would be only a void, empty and awful. After two years as Mrs. Mark Dustin she couldn't go back to that other life. The intensity of her feelings frightened her and she clasped her hands together tightly to stop their trembling. She wouldn't let herself look at her husband, though she knew that even a momentary glimpse of the debonair man beside her would reassure her. She was gripped in a nightmare of unreality which made her rigid.
The roadster came to a smooth stop, and Mark's cheerful voice tore her away from the frightful vision of emptiness. He merely said, "Here we are," but it was like a reprieve from some high authority when one is ascending to the gallows.
She sat erect with a start and saw that they were parked in front of a small modernistic building with lines unbroken by corners. A chaste sign over the door said W. Voorland. That was all. The curved plateglass windows were shrouded in shimmering silken drapes of royal purple.
Celia got out of the roadster and they started up the walk toward the door. A smart doorman bowed obsequiously and held the heavy glass door wide for them. They entered a thickly carpeted, air-conditioned room with subdued indirect lighting and elaborate modernistic chairs and couches grouped around small display tables.
Celia stopped just inside the door and looked at the glittering showcases lining both sides of the room. She caught her breath in an inarticulate gasp of delight. Her fingers tightened on her husband's arm and she whispered, "You did remember, Mark. You didn't forget!"
He smiled into her white, upturned face. "Of course I didn't forget, Ceil. Let's see if they've got anything you like."CHAPTER 2
A tall, grave-faced man came across the carpeted floor toward them. He wore a dull gray suit, a wing-collar and black bow-tie, and a few strands of black hair were carefully combed across his bald scalp. He stopped before them, inclining his head deferentially, yet managing to convey a proper impression of hauteur, and murmured, "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Oh, yes," Celia breathed, her blue eyes sparkling.
The floorwalker inclined his head again and said, "If you'd care to be comfortable at one of these tables —" He led the way down the length of the room, past half a dozen couples browsing at the showcases, to a cozily curved love seat in front of a small table holding a crystal ash tray, cigarette humidor, and a large silver table lighter. He stood aside until they seated themselves, then suggested, "If you'd care to give me an idea of what you have in mind, I will be happy to assign a clerk for further consultation."
Excerpted from Blood on the Stars by Brett Halliday. Copyright © 1948 Brett Halliday. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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