The pair went out through a side door. Rourke sat down in a chair of blue leather and chromium near the desk. He got out cigarette papers and a sack of tobacco.

His host took the cover from a rosewood humidor and shoved it toward him. “Won’t you try one of these Havanas?”

“No, thanks.” Rourke’s lean face was blandly expressionless. He poured tobacco in the brown paper and on the carpet.

“I presume you know who I am,” said the square-jawed man.

“I presume you’re Brenner.” Rourke licked his cigarette and crimped the end.

“Correct,” Brenner told him with incisive calm. He pulled a desk lighter toward him and lit a cigar. He settled back and looked at the glowing tip with satisfaction, then said, “I’m not one to beat around the bush. You’re stirring up a lot of trouble with your newspaper stories.”

“That,” said Rourke, “was the general idea.”

Brenner sighed. “I’m a reasonable man. Live and let live is my motto.”

Rourke made no reply.

“How much do you earn on the Courier?”

Rourke grinned and crossed his thin legs. “About half what I’m worth.”

“I need a man like you to take care of public relations. I’m going to make you an offer. I’m only going to make it once. Five hundred a week.”

“For ratting on my job?”

Brenner sighed again. “You’re not a damned reformer. You know people are going to gamble. You’re not going to change anything with your newspaper stories,”

“I’ve got you worried,” Rourke told him.

“You’re beginning to cause trouble,” Brenner admitted. “If you keep that stuff up long enough I’ll lose more than five hundred a week in patronage. It’s a business proposition with me.”

“My stories have been about murder,” Rourke reminded him.

“So they have. You’ve done a lot of insinuating.” Brenner pointed the glowing tip of his cigar at him. “People who read your stuff are beginning to believe they’ll be marked for murder if they win anything at my tables.”

“Like the last three,” Rourke agreed without emphasis.

“You’re a fool if you honestly think I had any part in those killings. I don’t have to make my money that way. I know the suckers will be back the next night to drop their winnings.”

“I don’t think you engineered any of the murders, but you’re directly responsible,” Rourke said calmly. “As long as you stay in business, they’ll go on.”

“Five hundred a week,” Brenner said sharply.

“Or else?”

“Or else.”

Rourke took a final drag on his limp cigarette, crushed it out in an ash tray, and said, “I’ve got you on the run. Painter doesn’t like this setup any better than I do. Public opinion has forced him to hold his hand. But I’m changing all that, Brenner. You were a fool to let those three customers be murdered. That’s going to put you out of business.”

“I don’t think so.” Brenner drummed on the desk with long, white, spatulate fingers. “Say it was a mistake,” he went on quietly. “Say I didn’t have things well enough organized. I’ll see that it doesn’t happen again.”

“Give us the killers,” Rourke suggested. “Including the finger bitch.”

Brenner’s square jaw was set and he said, “You’ve done a lot of nosing around,” through tight lips.

“That’s the only thing that’ll take the heat off.”

After a moment’s consideration Brenner said, “Can’t be done,” almost regretfully, and added, “In the first place, I don’t know anything about it.”

“You offered to see that it doesn’t happen again,” Rourke argued reasonably.

“I can pass the word along,” said Brenner, “but we can’t change what’s already happened.”

“Neither can I change what I’ve written.”

“You’re not quite out on a limb,” Brenner reminded him. “I don’t even demand a retraction. Just drop the line you’ve been pounding on.”

“Suppose I don’t.”

“Then you’ll be out five hundred a week-and you will, anyhow. I can put pressure on your publisher.”

Rourke stood up and said, “You’re a cold-blooded bastard, Brenner. The rackets stunk bad enough before the war.”

Brenner’s smile was cold. “That old line again,” he scoffed.

Rourke’s face was taut and his eyes were murderous. He swung angrily toward the door through which he had entered. The side door opened and Bing hurried in with an early afternoon edition of the Courier in his hand. He was excited. He thrust the paper at Brenner and panted, “Look at this, Boss. It just came.”

Monk came in and got between Rourke and the outer door, his big hands doubled into fists.

Brenner spread the paper out and began reading the front page item. Rourke saw that some of the news had been crowded off to give his story a prominent spot. He had a sudden let-down feeling inside. Up to now he hadn’t thought much about personal danger. In his mind he had characterized Brenner and his ilk as rats and was contemptuous of them, but as he watched the gambler’s face, he wished to God he was out of there.

It was ominously silent in the ornate office. The only sound was Bing’s heavy breathing. Then there was the rustling of the newspaper as Brenner laid it aside. He lifted his cold blue gaze to Rourke and said, “You really spilled your guts this time.” He nodded to Monk.

Monk slugged Rourke. It didn’t appear to be a hard blow. It struck the reporter on the side of the head. He tried to roll with it, and to his surprise found himself rolling all the way to the floor.

Brenner puffed on his cigar and said with sadistic calm, “Work him over, Monk.”

Monk wheezed happily and kicked Rourke in the face. Blood trickled from one corner of his mouth, and he lay very still.

When he came to, he was in the hallway and Monk was sloshing cold water over his head. Rourke groaned and tried to sit up. Monk squatted beside him and said solicitously, “Lemme help you,” and slid a bulky arm under the reporter’s armpits and lifted him to his feet. Rourke began retching. Monk waited until the seizure passed, then dragged him back into Brenner’s office.

Brenner was still sitting behind his desk. He said, “My offer still stands. Only now you’ll have to write a retraction for some of the stuff in today’s paper.”

Rourke licked at his swollen lip and said thickly, “Nuts.”

“You’d better think it over tonight.” Brenner’s voice sounded remote in Rourke’s ears. “Take him out to the car,” the gambler directed Monk, “and drop him somewhere near his apartment.”

Bing and Monk carried him out and put him in the back seat of the sedan. They both got in the front seat and drove away. Rourke lay huddled on the seat. His strength was coming back but he couldn’t think very clearly.

They drove to within a block of the apartment and pulled up to the curb. Bing got out, whistling cheerfully, and dragged Rourke to the pavement, propped him up against the base of a palm tree, and the two men drove away.


The manager of the apartment house jumped up from behind the switchboard and exclaimed, “Good heavens, Mr. Rourke!” as the reporter stumbled into the lobby. He hurried forward, his eyes wide and solicitous. “Have you been in an accident?”

“Sort of.” Rourke tried to grin but his puffed lips didn’t work.

The manager was a slim young man with a blond mustache and a bad heart. His name was Mr. Henty. He put his hand under Rourke’s elbow and said, “Here, let me help you. How on earth did it happen?”

Rourke said, “It’s all right-I can make it to my room-I think,” and shook the manager’s hand from his arm. He started doggedly toward the stairway at the back of the lobby leading to the second floor.

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