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.
He blinked unseeingly for a moment, stabbing nausea draining all strength from his body. And then his vision cleared, and he scowled in quick puzzlement.
He was lying on his right side, his hand clutching the slim leg of a white-painted table. By moving his head a trifle, he allowed his gaze to wander about the room, and he saw that, somehow, he was in the consultation room of a surgeon’s office.
“Dear me!” said Mr. Bingler bewilderedly, rolling to a sitting position.
His eyes centered upon a door, from behind which came the steady rattle of a typewriter. Coming to his feet, his head swimming from the effect of the knockout blow, he took a short step toward the door.
“Oh, dear!” said Mr. Bingler horrifiedly, and his returning strength deserted him completely, his legs crumpling until he sat again on the spotless linoleum.
For it was then for the first time that Mr. Bingler saw the dead man in the white surgeon’s coat … with Mr. Bingler’s sword-umbrella thrust through his chest, the stained point projecting a full eight inches from his back.
Terror, like a super-gravity, clamped the little man rigidly to the floor, stopping his breath, blanching his rabbity features. He knew then — as though he needed additional proof — that he had shoved his twitching nose into something too big for him to handle.
And then that bright indefinable something, that undefeatable thing in the character of humankind that lifted some men above the level of their fellow men, reared itself in all its awful strength.
Mr. Bingler scowled bleakly, feeling the first touch of the spur that drove him onward. He came cautiously to his feet, circled the dead man like a coonhound around its quarry, his myopic eyes searching with an intent clarity. He ranged the floor, stopping before the open window, leaned outward, and peered at the shadowy ground but a few feet below.
He nodded to himself, popped three peppermints into his mouth. Then he returned to the corpse, put out a tentative hand, tugged experimentally at the gory handle of the umbrella-sword. His small body winced instinctively at the strength it took to draw the sword from its human sheath. He stood there for a moment, the crimsoned weapon in his small hand, knowing that safety lay only in flight. And the office nurse opened the connecting door.
Mr. Bingler watched her face automatically, scrutinizing every emotion on her features with the impersonality of a research worker. He gestured with the bloody sword to the corpse.
“I — er, he’s dead!” Mr. Bingler said inanely, stupidly.
He smiled benignly — like some maniacal, murderous fiend.
It took but a mere second for the nurse’s scream to reach the ear-splitting crescendo of a police siren.
“Eeeoouw!” she screamed in terror, “Help! Murder! Polleeece!”
* * * * *
Mr. Bingler paused not upon the order of his going; he went from that room in a hurry, crossed the waiting room in two gigantic leaps, batted open a swinging door. He scuttled down the dim length of a corridor, still waving the crimsoned sword, giving two nurses and an interne a shock that lopped ten years from their prospective life span.
But Mr. Bingler was not concerned with anyone but himself at the moment. Blind instinct told his flashing feet what to do when his reason failed him for the time. He bounced through an outer door, its swinging bulk knocking the sword from his nerveless hand, and was too frightened to retrieve it.
He almost fell on the short flight of steps, spun right like a racing hare, went down the street with a speed that was incredible for a little man with legs as short as his.
He ducked into an alleyway, his breath sobbing in his throat, a pain blossoming in his side.
“Oh, dear!” he whimpered again and again as he pounded along the paving.
He whirled around a corner, crushed into a stooping man, caromed into a wall, ended up in a gasping heap against a garbage can. Glass crashed and milk flew, and there was a dull “thwunk” as the head of the milkman made contact with the brick wall.
Mr. Bingler didn’t pause for coherent thinking. He got to his feet with frightened speed, saw that the man was unmoving, and blind terror set him to moving again. He headed instinctively for the milk wagon at the curb, bounded into the interior, caught up the slack reins in frantic hands.
“Git!” he yelled, lashed the horse’s rump with the rein tips.
The horse went into a dead run from a standing start, for probably the first time in its lethargic life. Mr. Bingler braced his feet, winced when he heard the muted crashing of milk bottles on the street below, knew that he was leaving a trail that anyone could follow.
He rode the bouncing wagon like a Roman Charioteer, driving the horse with an instinct that had lain dormant for years, his breathing gradually slowing, and his thought processes beginning to come in a more orderly fashion.
And out of the chaos of his mind came but one clear thought. He, Mr. J. C. Bingler, was as nicely framed for murder as any hero in a book — but unlike any fictional character, he had no trick up his sleeve with which to foil the villain.
The bitter galling truth shattered Mr. Bingler’s stunted ego, leaving it suddenly a limp grey thing barely alive.
* * * * *
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!”
· END OF part 7 ·
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