of checking ownership?”

Jorgensen asked him to repeat the number, writing it down as Shayne did so. “If it was bought in Miami or a permit has been issued on it. I’ll check.” He got up and hurried out.

There was silence in the office for a time. Will Gentry chewed on his cigar and waited for Shayne to say something. Shayne was slumped in the chair, his head resting on the back, his eyes watching puffs of smoke from his cigarette float toward the ceiling.

“Are you getting anywhere at all, Mike?” Gentry asked finally.

Shayne frowned and sat up straighter, crossing one long leg over the other. “I’m getting a lot of ideas, but I can’t prove anything yet.” He rubbed his jaw and blew out another cloud of smoke. “Things are shaping up,” he went on cautiously. “I’ve got a couple of fuses burning.” He changed the subject abruptly. “Have you got a man tailing Smith now?”

Gentry nodded. “Ever since you asked me this morning.” He glanced at the clock on the wall and added, “He should have a relief and be reporting in right now. Where does Smith fit in the picture?”

“There had to be at least two of them on those gambling-house murders,” Shayne explained. “If the blonde did the actual shooting she had to have someone follow along in another car to pick her up and make a quick getaway. If you noticed, the three deserted cars were found in widely separated spots on the Beach. That means she didn’t bother to lure her victims to a hideout, so she had to have an accomplice trailing the play. We know Smith owns a car, and we know he lived high with a fancy blonde while the three murders were being committed.”

“Then you think he and the blonde were it?”

“It adds up,” Shayne agreed. “There’s also his former friendship with Madge Rankin whom he dropped suddenly. And her letter to Rourke just before she was killed offering to sell him some information. But there are a couple of other angles-” He broke off suddenly as Jorgensen re-entered the room.

“That automatic,” said the sergeant dramatically, “belongs to Walter Bronson. He brought it here from New York and applied for a permit. We don’t have any Sullivan Law here, but he evidently didn’t know that.”

“Bronson?” Gentry exclaimed incredulously. “What, about that gun, Mike? Where did you pick up the serial number?”

“By tampering with the U. S. mail,” Shayne told him with a wide grin. “If I tell you any more about it you’ll be an accessory after the fact. I’m pretty sure a ballistic test will prove it was used in one of the killings.”

“Bronson’s gun? Good God, Mike-are you positive?”

“I’m not positive of anything,” Shayne said angrily. “I will tell you this much. Mrs. Walter Bronson is said to be a plenty smoochy blonde and I’ve heard it rumored she couldn’t keep her eyes off Tim Rourke. Add to that the fact that she’s been confined to her room since Wednesday morning with what her husband claims is nervous prostration-that he locks her door when he leaves in the morning and hasn’t allowed the servants a glimpse of her. Yet he hasn’t called a doctor-that he left his office at nine-thirty Tuesday night with some of Rourke’s things and the intention of stopping by Tim’s apartment. Add all those up and you’ve got my headache.” Shayne took a final drag on his cigarette and flung it toward Gentry’s spittoon.

Chief Gentry was staring at Shayne in blank amazement and chewing steadily on his cigar. There was heavy silence between them for a while. Gentry broke it by asking, “Had you ever thought that Mrs. Rankin might be the blond accomplice of Smith? Isn’t it reasonable to suppose she might have got mad at Smith and threatened to squeal on him?”

“And squeal on herself at the same time?” Shayne asked.

“Look at it this way-she could have planned to sell her information and get the money without Rourke finding out who she was-to get even with Smith-and then take a run-out powder. Things like that have been accomplished very neatly. I’d choose her instead of Bronson’s wife.”

Shayne considered for a moment and shook his red head slowly. “Too damned many blondes mixed up in this thing,” he muttered.

Gentry chuckled and said, “Blondes were always Tim’s weakness,” and added seriously, “If Tim could only snap out of it long enough to give us a lead.”

“Yeh,” said Shayne absently.

A young plain-clothes man appeared in the doorway and saluted. “I was to report to you, Chief.”

“Come on in, Delch,” said Gentry. “This is Mike Shayne who is interested in Smith.”

The young detective looked at Shayne with bright interest and nodded. “Yes, sir. There isn’t much. Smith had just moved back to his room at the Front Hotel when I picked him up. He stayed in his room until one o’clock without making any calls. I made a deal with the girl at the switchboard.”

Delch moved over near the desk, sat down, and continued, “He came down at one o’clock and went to the Blue Crane on Miami Avenue. He had two drinks and kidded with the waitress but talked to no one else, then took a long time eating lunch and drinking three beers. He was still on his last beer when a boy came in with copies of the Courier’s Blue Flash. He called the boy back and bought one. He turned directly to the classified and studied it, finished his beer, and went to the phone booth and made a call. I couldn’t get the number. The time was exactly-” Delch paused to take out a notebook and consult it-“two-forty-six. He left the Blue Crane and went straight back to his hotel room. Raymond relieved me fifteen minutes ago and I came right in.”

Gentry glanced at Shayne with raised brows when the young detective finished his report.

“No further phone calls?” Shayne asked.

“No, sir. Only that one at two-forty-six.”

Shayne said, “Thanks, Delch. That’s just what I wanted.” Turning to Gentry he said, “Keep your man on him, Will. I may have something more for you after five o’clock.”

“What happens at five o’clock?”

“I’ve got a date.”

“With a blonde?” Gentry asked with a chuckle.

Shayne said, “Damn blondes,” explosively, and went out.

The time was four o’clock. Shayne killed some of it by trying to find a bar stocked with decent brandy. He drank his way through half a dozen places without much success, then drove to the Courier building and parked.

Employees of the paper began coming out a few minutes after five, and among them he saw Minerva’s funny little hat askew her gray knot of hair. She saw him, compressed her lips, looked cautiously around before approaching his car.

Shayne opened the door for her. “I’m surprised at you, Minerva,” he teased. “I didn’t suppose you’d be such an easy pickup.”

She got in hurriedly and sat primly erect beside him. She flashed her pale eyes at him and said, “I’ve a long hatpin if you try to get fresh with me, Mike Shayne.”

Shayne laughed and pulled out into traffic and drove swiftly to Minerva’s apartment. It was one of the older two-story houses in the city, remodeled into apartments. Minerva’s was on the second floor. Shayne went with her and she unlocked the door on a plainly furnished living-room and said, “You can come in and sit while I change to go out to dinner.” She turned away, pulling a long steel pin from her hat.

“Wait a minute,” Shayne said, “let’s have a look at your shorthand book before you get dressed. That’ll save time if I have any arrangements to make.”

She turned toward him, her face grave, and said in a troubled voice, “I don’t like spying on Mr. Bronson. If it wasn’t that he called that man, I don’t think I’d do it even for you-and Tim.”

“Brenner?” Shayne asked quietly.

“How’d you know?”

“At eleven-three this morning.”

She stared at him for a moment, then said, “I guess you are a detective.” She sat down and opened her notebook.

“Anything interesting previous to that call?”

Minerva pursed her unrouged lips and said, “No. Nothing that wasn’t strictly business. He didn’t ask me to get the number. I noticed that because he generally does, particularly if it’s to the Beach. The man on the other end of the line said, ‘Brenner.’ I knew that was the gambler Mr. Rourke had exposed.”

Shayne made himself comfortable on the couch and said, “Shoot.”

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