Mr. Bingler hesitated on the street, the blood of some Scottish ancestor rebelling against wasting more money on a taxi ride. He clambered aboard a passing bus, seated himself on a rear seat of the upper deck.
He knew now what he had to do; he must go to Harvey Wilson and warn him that his partner was preparing to murder him before the night was gone.
He relaxed comfortably, smiling like some aged cherub, completely satisfied with the simple solution of the problem. With Wilson knowing what was to happen, he could trap his partner, and turn the quivering wretch over to the police.
He wished, momentarily, that he had been invited to accompany the police in their investigation of a murder. With the aid of his Home Detective Course’s training, the crime would have been solved in short order.
Mr. Bingler swore petulantly, remembering how his Home Detective Course had failed him this night. He also felt a sick feeling of futility because he had not solved some horrible crime. True, he had discovered a crime was to be committed, had fallen heir to a death mask that was tied in, somehow, with a master villain, and had been slugged by some friend retrieving the mask. But, somehow, Mr. Bingler felt that he had missed the one thing that would have made the evening perfect.
He thought of that for a while, remembering the two cases he had solved in the past, thinking of the time when he would be able to put the “El” of an Expert Investigator after his name. And maybe — his breath caught in his throat with sudden longing — some day, he might be able to contribute something to crime detection and be permitted to rank himself as an “MD,” Master Detective!
Mr. Bingler sighed deeply, realizing how foolish were his wishes. For he knew only too well that he was but an insignificant mortal on a world that was harsh and unfriendly to any but masterful men.
* * * * *
And then the bus was at the corner of 80th street, and he was scrambling down the steps to the sidewalk.
He trudged slowly down the walk, strolling with what he hoped appeared to be casual nonchalance, the raincoat swishing about his skinny legs, the sword-umbrella jauntily in one hand.
His heart leaped a bit in excitement, when he came to 7964. He saw the dark car beside the house in the curving drive, and spied the reflections of two men on the drawn curtain of a second floor window.
Mr. Bingler paused in midstride, wondering if he were too late to prevent the murder. Two men were in the house, and one of them could be James Reeves, the calculating master villain. For one interminably long moment, there was only a helpless distress in his troubled mind.
Then he continued his walking, fearful of the results that might come if he gave his story to Harvey Wilson while Reeves was listening. He stopped just past the high hedge, trying to recall bits of his Home Detective Course that might give a solution to the situation confronting him.
Mr. Bingler shrugged, muttered maledictions against the course that had failed him so utterly that night, and ducked into the shadow of the hedge. He scuttled like a frightened rabbit toward the rear of the yard until he was certain he could not be seen from the window, then wormed through the hedge on hands and knees.
A dozen scurrying steps brought him against the wall of the house. He gulped in nervous excitement, filled his mouth with a dozen peppermints to stop the chattering of his teeth, then worked his way cautiously along the wall. He turned the corner, padded silently for twenty feet, then halted with a hiss of indrawn breath when his outstretched hand encountered a screen door propped open with a brick.
Mr. Bingler froze into motionlessness, his myopic eyes searching the night for a hidden watcher. He remembered all of the stories he had read in which the intrepid hero had stepped into such an innocent-looking trap.
Then he chuckled ruefully, felt extremely foolish, when he recalled the obvious fact that he was not expected. Too, in all probability, the door was securely locked!
But the door swung gently open at his touch on the knob.
Mr. Bingler slipped through, stood quaking in the darkness, a spider of apprehension crawling with hairy legs up his spine. He knew that any moment he might get a slug through his small body for housebreaking.
“Oh, dear!” said Mr. Bingler, swallowed five peppermints.
Then his courage stretched a bit and he went slowly forward. He might as well, he told himself, waste a few more minutes now that he was on the premises. He smiled smugly at his hopeful reasoning, groped his way down the dim hall toward a thread of light edging from beneath a closed door.
He listened at the panels for seconds, heard nothing, pushed the door open and slipped through. A night-light glowed dimly over a kitchen table. Another door stood invitingly open across the room, and he slipped through it with incredible stealth.
A gleaming stairway rose from the far end of the hall in which he found himself, and he drifted toward it. Dull light came from an open doorway at his right, and a quick surreptitious peering around the doorjamb convinced him that the room was empty.
He darted through, his gaze sweeping what was obviously a library. Papers littered a massive desk in one corner, and a large divan was pulled close to the fireplace. Aboriginal weapons hung in wicked splendor over the mantel, and several hunting prints made bright splotches of color on the paneled walls.
Mr. Bingler paused irresolutely, hearing the hum of voices from overhead, fearful that he might be discovered at any moment. Then his curiosity gained control of his good sense, and he moved toward the desk.
He nodded gently when he read the letterheads on the notepaper. Gathering up several sheets of paper in a clumsy sweating hand, he held them up to the light for a better look.
* * * * *
He gasped, his skinny Adam’s apple bouncing against his celluloid collar, his myopic eyes bulging at the import of the words on the paper.
“Oh, dear!” said Mr. Bingler.
For he had uncovered the final bit of evidence that he had needed to convince Harvey Wilson that he was to be murdered that night, the final evidence that proved James Reeves was a calculating killer without the slightest of scruples.
He heard the footsteps then, and the papers rustled from his terrified hand to the desk. For one interminable second he was too paralyzed with fright to move. Then he whirled, ducked around the divan, fell prone between the divan and the fireplace.
He cringed against the floor, saw the single pair of feet move to the desk. He felt an insane desire to sneeze, raised his head and laid a skinny finger along his upper lip.
He saw the dead face on the couch, smiled a bit. At least his deductions about the death mask were right; it did have something to do with the murderer’s scheme.
“Oh, dear!” said Mr. Bingler aloud.
He gagged, unconscious of the startled gasp of the man at the desk, his watery eyes fearfully scanning the white face and rigid body of the corpse on the divan.
He had been too late to help Harvey Wilson, he knew that now, for the man stretched so stiffly on the cushions was beyond mortal aid.
Mr. Bingler heard the footsteps at his back, whirled in frightened reflex. He cringed, seeing the contorted face of the man at his side, the same man he had seen paying money to another in the Wax Museum.
“Ulp!” gulped Mr. Bingler, tried to dodge the murderous fist that loomed with increasing speed in his frightened face.
His right hand automatically sought for and found the handle of his sword-umbrella. He ducked to one side, and the fist followed with an uncanny prescience. Dimly, he heard his teeth click together, and then the top of his head seemed to lift higher and higher until contact with the beamed ceiling blotted out all consciousness.
Mr. Bingler went down slowly, folding tiredly over the divan arm, then slipping quietly to the floor, out for the second time that night. His hands relaxed, and the half-drawn sword spanged musically on the hearth.
* * * * *
Mr. J. C. Bingler’s head was a great bronze bell, against whose sides a large iron clapper bonged and boomed with a sickening regularity. He retched a bit at the constant noise, rolled weakly to his side, his hands pressing feebly at the cold floor.
Then consciousness came back with a rush, and he winced fearfully lest he be struck again with that terrible fist. Nothing happened, and there was no sound, so Mr. Bingler opened his eyes.
Comets pin-wheeled in all their fiery glory before his eyes for a moment, and his skull seemed to expand and contract like a gigantic bellows.
“Oh, dear!” said Mr. Bingler, and focused his bleary eyes.
· END OF PART 6 ·
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