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.”
“Yes,” Mr. Bingler said, “so you had a mask made of your face.”
“By Miller of the Wax Museum,” Wilson interrupted helpfully.
“Miller!” Mr. Bingler said wonderingly.
And with the precision of well-oiled machinery, Mr. Bingler’s mind whirled a bit, fitted a few integral pieces into place — and spat out the answer to all that had happened.
Mr. Bingler straightened, and he was suddenly no more a meek little man in a raincoat and derby. There was a look of incredulous shock on his hardening features, and his eyes were keen and piercing.
“Well?” Harvey Wilson said softly, insistently.
“He’s got the answers, Harvey!” Reeves said desperately.
Mr. Bingler nodded. “Yes,” he said evenly, “I think I have.” His thumb found the spring trigger of his teargas pen. “This is it,” he stated:
“A few years ago, a man named Simpson and a partner Trotter murdered a gem salesman. Trotter was caught, but Simpson got away. Simpson had the jewels and disposed of them for enough to join a man named Reeves in an importing business. Simpson had no police record, and thought he was safe from pursuit. He changed his name and became a respected citizen. He thought that his partner could never find him, because even then Simpson had not been his real name.”
“Go on,” Harvey Wilson prompted, as Mr. Bingler stopped for breath.
“Trotter served his sentence, and was to be paroled day after tomorrow,” Mr. Bingler continued, “and sent a letter to Wilson that disclosed the fact that he knew who Wilson was. Harvey Wilson knew that a drastic solution to his problem must be found, or he might go to the electric chair for the salesman’s murder. He didn’t dare murder Trotter because the crook might have left a letter telling of the crime. So he planned to kill himself!”
“You’re rather clever, did you know that?” Wilson said.
Mr. Bingler nodded, without pride, swallowed deeply. “Well,” he continued, “Harvey Wilson didn’t want to die in reality, so he thought he’d fake his death. He blackmailed his partner into helping him. He stole a body from the Medical College, making it appear as a prank of the students, then had a wax mask made of his face by Miller. He bribed a doctor to make out a fake death certificate and a cremation order. His purpose was plain. His partner, Reeves, would hold a phony service over the corpse wearing a mask of Wilson’s face, then hold an instant cremation. When Trotter showed up, there would be incontestable proof that Wilson was dead. And later on, Wilson and Reeves would split the insurance. There could be no trouble in any way, for Wilson would be undeniably dead, and the insurance would be automatically paid.”
Sweat rode high on Reeves’ forehead. “Shut him up, Harvey,” he said, “and let’s get this whole deal over with!”
“You seem rather eager, John,” Wilson said easily. “Maybe we’d better hear the finish of the story!”
“But Harvey Wilson wasn’t so smart,” Mr. Bingler said, unconscious of the interruption. “He thought he was the plotter, but his partner went him one better.”
“Pull that trigger, John,” Harvey Wilson said viciously, “and I’ll kill you! I want to hear the rest.”
Mr. Bingler edged away from the mantel, his frail legs tensing.
“Reeves,” he said slowly, “figured to double-cross Wilson. He meant to go through with the fake death, then murder Wilson after the money had been paid. But I happened to get mixed up in the whole deal. I found the mask, was robbed of it by Miller, who was not a brutal man at heart. In fact, he knew nothing of the real deal. But because he might have figured out the mummery, Reeves murdered him tonight.”
“Is that right, Reeves?” Harvey Wilson’s eyes were suddenly dark panes of glass without expression.
“It was absolutely necessary,” Reeves said, “but the man’s lying about my plans.”
“Keep talking,” Wilson said to Mr. Bingler.
“I came here,” Mr. Bingler said, “and was knocked out by Reeves. He took me to the hospital where the croaked doctor worked, called softly through the window. When the doctor looked out, Reeves thrust him through with my umbrella-sword, then shoved me through the window. He thought that I’d be accused of the murder. Later, if he were questioned about the papers I read and the body I saw, he would say it was Wilson’s. It was a perfect setup for everybody, including Wilson, who would be dead. Reaves would be richer by a half million dollars, and there could be no kick-back.”
Harvey Wilson sprang to one side, his gun centering on Reeves.
“It makes sense,” he said shortly, “so much sense, in fact, that I think we’ll discard the original plan — and I’ll take my chances with Trotter!”
“I’m getting out,” Reeves said.
“Get back!” Wilson’s gun hand lifted a trifle.
“Try to stop me and there’ll be trouble!” Reeves cried, took a backward step, his eyes wild with indecision.
Harvey Wilson emptied his gun into Reeves’ blocky body.
* * * * *
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.”
· END OF PART 9 ·
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