The Home Detective Course
Mr. Bingler entered the apartment that had been his home for years, racked his umbrella, hung his hat and boxed his derby, then set his gleaming rubbers beside the hall tree. Catching up the hat-box with its new derby, he went toward the bedroom, switching on the lights as he went. He scowled pleasantly as he went, his troubled mind wrestling with his problem. Placing the hatbox on the neat counterpane of his bed, he removed his clothes, hung them carefully in the single closet.
* * * * *
Clad in his birthday suit, he entered the tiny living room again, dialed a number on the phone he had had installed less than a week before. He relaxed a bit when he heard the even tone of the man he had called.
“Captain Donovan,” he said, “this is Mr. J. C. Bingler. I wondered if you would give me a little information!”
“Any I can,” Captain of Detectives Donovan said cheerily, “I haven’t forgotten the help you gave the department a short time ago.”
Mr. Bingler flushed a bit in modest pride, the red tiding down his bare and skinny body. “Thank you, Captain,” he said modestly, “I just wanted to know who a man named Trotter is; he’s to be released from prison day after tomorrow?”
A note of caution crept into the detective’s voice. “Why do you want to know that?” he asked carefully.
“Well,” Mr. Bingler said cautiously, “I heard two men discussing him this evening, and I just got interested.”
“Oh!” Captain Donovan laughed expressively, “I suppose your detecting is becoming rusty, and you thought you’d practice on him!”
“Something like that,” Mr. Bingler agreed.
“Well, you can forget him; he doesn’t amount to much. He was sent up fifteen years ago for murder. His partner got away, and he never would tell who the man was. Because of doubt as to who did the actual murder, the jury recommended leniency at the time. He’s to be released on parole.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Mr. Bingler said, “I guess I got excited over nothing.”
He pronged the receiver, went directly to the bathroom, ran hot water into the tub. He hummed softly to himself as he shaved, knowing that his excitement had a very definite basis.
For he had a prospective murder, a blackmailing convict, and two men of whom one was an ex-murderer now plotting a new one.
It was a perfect setup for a graduate of the Home Detective Course — and Mr. Bingler held the mail order rank of First Class Investigator.
* * * * *
He cleaned his straight razor, soaked for a luxurious fifteen minutes in the steamy tub. After scrubbing himself clean with soap and water, he massaged his skinny body with a huge towel, washed the tub, then reclaimed fresh underwear from the chifferobe drawer. Clad in the drop-paneled BVDs, he brushed his sparse thatch of white hair, then moved to the neat bed.
He broke the string on the hatbox, conscious of a faint excitement that always came when he bought a new derby, his mouth puckered in a soundless whistling of a tune thirty years dead, as he removed the box lid and reached in to remove the derby from its nest of tissue paper.
“Oh, dear!” said Mr. Bingler, swallowing convulsively.
His tiny fingers explored a bit, confirming what his myopic eyes were seeing. He gulped for air, his stomach gyrating beneath his ribs, heaving in an uncontrollable spasm of rending nausea.
“Oh, dear!’’ he said again very weakly, back-tracked until a chair edge caught his knees and dropped his horrified body into its depths.
He blinked desperately, hoping the thing would go away, pinched himself absently in the vague belief that this incredible scene was the main event in the nightmare.
But the hoping and pinching did no good; the object within the hat-box remained in a very real and terrible way.
It lay there in the crumpled tissues of the overturned hatbox, a faint smile on its lips, its greying hair brushed carefully back from a high forehead. The skin was a ghastly greenish-blue, except for a pinkish tinge at the lips and cheekbones and where the darkish cast of a heavy beard showed.
It was not a particularly ugly head, in fact, its owner must have been rather proud of its handsome regularity; but in Mr. Bingler’s opinion it would have been less nerve shattering had its owner still been attached.
Mr. Bingler retched miserably, regretting his excess at the evening meal. One second he sat there, while his stomach tied itself in knots, then he headed miserably for the bathroom with its friendly conveniences.
Slowly, oh, so slowly, the neat apartment came back to its usual stability. Mr. Bingler loosened his bracing clutch on the chifferobe, his stomach muscles sore and strained. His skinny body still shock a bit within his loose underwear, and his mind was a maelstrom as it tried to cope with the suddenness with which it had been confronted by the horror in the hatbox.
He absently flipped three peppermints into his mouth, savoring their biting flavor, fumbled for and lit his sixth cigarette of the day.
His hand shook a bit with terrified excitement, and for a long moment his courage wavered like a shifting blob of gelatine. And then Mr. Bingler screwed up enough will power to investigate, as prescribed in Lesson Two of the Home Detective Course. He moved to the bed, reached out a comparatively steady hand, turned the box over even more he that the head rolled onto the counterpane.
He swallowed twice, choking a bit as the peppermints dropped into his empty stomach.
“My goodness!” said Mr. Bingler shakily.
For the head, the gruesome thing had cleaned out Mr. Bingler like a stomach pump, was but a shell of wax made by some master craftsman to simulate death in a man’s face.
* * * * *
Mr. J. C. Bingler picked up the death mask, his flesh creeping a bit at the coolness of the wax. He coughed sheepishly, glanced guiltily toward the bathroom.
He examined the mask, his roily mind trying to make sense out of the things that had happened to him in the past hour. He was not in the best of condition for coherent thinking, but gradually his blood pressure eased, and his bookkeeper’s mind began grasping the fringes of the mystery.
He knew that a murder was to be committed that evening or night; who the victim was to be had been clearly stated by the villain in the restaurant booth.
· END OF PART 2 ·
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