A cicada burred into life at Mr. Bingler’s elbow, and he relit started in sudden reflex, then crouched back in the shadow of the hedge. He shivered at the faint wail of a far-off siren, remembering his terrified flight from the hospital. He had abandoned the milk wagon after a ride of ten blocks, had boarded a passing bus, changed buses twice, and then walked almost a mile. And new he was crouched in the shadow of the hedge that paralleled Harvey Wilson’s lawn.
Why he was there, he could not have explained logically. He knew only that it was from this house that he had been taken for a ride that had ended with murder. He shuddered violently, recalling the fingerprints he had left on the traitorous sword.
“Why, oh why,” he wailed silently, “wasn’t I satisfied with my old life? Why couldn’t I let well enough alone!”
The cicada burred sympathetically.
Mr. Bingler tried to gain comfort from the fact that the master-villain had thought him important enough to frame, but the thought only brought a cold perspiration to his scrawny body.
He didn’t know what to do, but he knew that he had to accomplish something in order to clear himself. He tried to fit facts together in his mind, but after a moment ran into a stone wall of thinking.
Mr. Bingler stood up, took two steps around the end of the hedge. He had made up his mind that he had to face Reeves and trick him into a confession. How he, an insignificant bookkeeper, was going to bring that about, he did not know; but he had no choice in the matter — it was either catch the murderer and turn him over to the police, or burn for a crime the other had committed.
A shadow came to life, and a cone of light limned Mr. Bingler in its glow.
“Stand right where you are!” a low voice said quietly.
Mr. Bingler couldn’t have moved, in fact, he wouldn’t have budged for all the tea in China. He said as much.
“That’s fine; now trot up into the house,” the flashlight-wielder commanded, and a gun muzzle edged into the funnel of light.
Mr. Bingler trotted.
The man with the gun opened the door by the simple expedient of touching it with his shoulder, then stood aside to permit the small quaking Mr. Bingler to pass.
“Through that door on the left,” the gunman said, “and be careful.”
Mr. Bingler entered the room, shrank a bit in relief, when he saw that Harvey Wilson’s body was gone from the divan before the fireplace. His eyes swept ever the bare desk, then flicked upward into the face of the man. He saw it clearly for the first time, and he gulped in quick astonishment.
“Sit down,” the gunman ordered, “and do some explaining.”
“Well,” Mr. Bingler said, “it’s like this — “
There were solid footsteps in the hall, and John Reeves came through the door. His face went white when he saw the small man sitting on the edge of the heavy chair, and his hands clenched suddenly at his sides.
“Who?” he said, “I mean, where did he come from?”
“He was skulking outside,” the man with the gun said succinctly, “so I brought him in for a talk.”
“Well, do something; don’t just stand there! Shut him up permanently; he knows the whole setup!”
Mr. Bingler went cold, then hot, and then chill again, at the concentrated venom and hate in the beefy man’s voice. His hand tightened on the tear-gas pen in his raincoat pocket, and his eyes darted about for a way of escape.
“I — er, I — “ he began.
“Start talking!” the gunman said brittlely.
“All right!” Mr. Bingler came to his feet slowly, edged backward until his shoulder; touched the mantel. “I know the whole story. I know the two of you murdered Harvey Wilson.”
A gun bounced into Reeves’ unsteady hand, its gaping muzzle centering on Mr. Bingler’s skinny chest.
“Shut him up,” he barked desperately, “or I will!”
“Wait a minute, John,” the gunman said, “I want to hear his story.” He moved until his gun could veer easily from Reeves to Mr. Bingler. “Go on with your tale,” he finished.
“I saw Wilson’s body on the divan,” Mr. Bingler began.
“Did you now?” the gunman said, and the grating quality of his voice set Mr. Bingler’s teeth on edge.
“Harvey,” John Reeves snapped harshly, “cut out the comedy! Shoot the meddling fool: he knows too much!”
Harvey! Mr. Bingler’s heart came solidly into his Adam’s apple. He choked, saw the sardonic gleam in the gunman’s eyes, shrank even further from the gun muzzle at the rather terrible smile of the other.
“Yes,” the gunman said softly, “I’m Harvey Wilson.”
Mr. Bingler remembered the voice then for he had heard it very distinctly in the restaurant, oh, so many hours before!
“Oh, dear!” said Mr. J. C. Bingler confusedly.
* * * * *
Never, in even his most fantastic dreams of crime fighting, had Mr. Bingler visualized such a scene as this. Always he had had the whip hand, and the villains had been cringing against the cold menace of his logical condemnations. But now he knew them for the dreams they were, and realized that life is at times more astounding than fiction.
“Talk,” Harvey Wilson said, “and I mean everything you know!”
“I figured it like this,” Mr. Bingler said hurriedly, “Reeves was planning to kill you for — I mean Harvey Wilson was to be murdered — That is — !”
“Go on, please,” Wilson said softly. “I was to die for a half million dollars of insurance.
· END OF PART 8 ·
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