Mr. Bingler stood paralyzed with horror as the gun roared in the killer’s hand. He couldn’t move, and his hand was tight on the tear-gas gun in his coat pocket. For a moment the tableau held, and then Reeves was only a writhing mass of flesh on the floor, crimson staining his shirtfront.
The killer, his face satanic, whirled to Mr. Bingler, lifted the gun. There was hate and fear and utter savagery in his thin face as he took a slow step forward.
“It ends this way,” ha said softly. “There can be no other. You were found by Reeves, and shot him to death. I came in just in time to kill you.”
Mr. Bingler couldn’t speak past the lump in his throat. He felt anything but heroic as he faced the master villain, and he knew instinctively that the sands of life were running out.
He gasped, jerked his clenched hand from his pocket. But in his frantic haste, he released the trigger. There was a muffled shot, and tear gas billowed from his pocket.
He heard the click of Wilson’s empty gun, went scrambling to one side. But Wilson had divined the movement, and caught him before he could round the couch. The killer was incredibly strong, and his clutching fingers brought red ribbons of pain to the smaller man’s body. But Mr. Bingler was imbued with the strength of terror, and he drove the heavier man back.
And then Wilson caught Mr. Bingler with a looping right that threw him back a dozen feet, and then followed with a brutality that was horrible. He caught Mr. Bingler by the throat, bent him backward over a chair arm, squeezed with relentless pressure.
Gas still boiled from Mr. Bingler’s raincoat pocket, and its burning fumes clouded the eyes of both antagonists with pain.
Mr. Bingler felt the blood congesting in his head, knew that his spine would snap at any moment. He beat futilely at the killer with his small hands, and even as a terrible greyness clouded his vision, he remembered the one weapon he had been too terrified to use.
His hands fumbled together beneath the straining chest of the murderer, and then he struck again and again into the man’s body. He felt the fetid breath on his face for only a brief second, then a curtain of blackness stretched over his consciousness. His arms struck feebly again and again. And then he knew no more.
And even as Mr. Bingler became unconscious, Wilson loosed his grasp, stared incredulously at the little man, took a faltering step, and crumpled to the floor beside Reeves’ body.
* * * * *
“Drink this, Mr. Bingler,” a voice said, and liquid fire seemed to sear his throat,
Mr. Bingler gasped, gagged, came instantly back to consciousness. He sat up wildly, his hands coming up for defense, then relaxed when he saw the concerned face of Captain Donovan hovering over his.
“Wilson!” Mr. Bingler said weakly. “He’s the murderer. He killed Reeves and tried to kill me. And he — !”
“Take it easy, Mr. Bingler,” the detective said gently. “He’s over there handcuffed. Reeves was still alive when we got here, and he told us the whole story.”
Mr. Bingler mopped his eyes with the wet rag the detective was holding out, swung so that the cool breeze from the window swept his face.
“How’d you get here?” he asked.
Captain Donovan shook his head. “Don’t ask me!” he said. “Things have happened so fast today and tonight, I don’t know which way is up. And you seemed to be mixed up in damn near everything. You said you were on the tracks of a murder. Then there was a call from uptown, I got there, and the doorman described you as the man he thought killed Miller. I came back to the office to question you, got there just in time to hear that you had killed a doctor. I went there to investigate, and got a call that there was gunfire here. I come here and the place looks like a slaughterhouse. For a little man, you really get around.”
Mr. Bingler’s grin was a sickly thing to see. “Sometimes,” he admitted, “I think I get around too much!”
The detective nodded sympathetically, his eyes roaming around the room. “How’d you manage to lay that Wilson out so cold?” he asked. “Hell, you surely don’t pack that big a punch!”
Mr. Bingler smiled, held cut his right hand so that the huge cameo ring was exposed. “It’s a trick ring,” he explained. “When the set is twisted at right angles to the mounting, it looses two hypodermic needles. And then every time I hit somebody, the needles inject a knockout drug.”
He sat up suddenly, his eyes wild and distended with inner excitement. He braced himself with both hands on the floor, as the detective held him back with a steady hand.
“Easy, Bingler,” Captain Donovan said, “you’ve been through an awful lot tonight!”
Mr. Bingler felt the twin bite of the hypodermic needles as he sat back on his hands, but his mind was too concerned with another problem to give it any thought.
He caught at the detective’s arm with excited fingers.
“Look,” he said rapidly, “my home Detective Course says that masks have but one use in crime — and yet I’ve found another! That means I can write a thesis, and — !”
He fell into a delightful brown study, unconscious of the detective’s puzzled gaze. And as the slow numbness crept up his thin body from his needle-punctured, meager posterior, his rabbity face beamed with the rapture of a world-conqueror.
“Mr. J. C. Bingler, MD, Master Detective!” he murmured incredulously to himself. And passed out cold.
· THE END ·