Bronson’s puffy eyelids rolled up. His heavy face was flaccid. He looked defeated and utterly weary. “About- what?”

“Your pistol,” Painter raged. “The one that shot Rourke.”

“My-pistol?” croaked Bronson.

“There’s a permit on it in your name.”

Bronson slowly settled back in his chair. “Oh, that? That little automatic I used to have-I lost it several months ago. It was stolen out of my car one day.”

“Did you report it stolen?”

“N-No. I didn’t bother. It wasn’t important.”

Shayne said, “Ask him why he put that ad in his Personal column today.”

“What ad?” Painter’s face was dangerously red.

“Just two words,” Shayne told him mildly. “‘Yes. Colt.’ And ask him why he called Hake Brenner this morning asking to borrow twenty-five grand, and came over to see Brenner this afternoon and borrowed two of his hoods instead. The two who tried to shoot me tonight.”

Painter’s voice quaked with anger. “All right-why did you do all that?”

Walter Bronson was getting hold of himself, except for an uncontrollable sweating. He got out a handkerchief and mopped his face, then pointed a fat and accusing finger at Shayne. “Ask him. I told you he was trying to blackmail me. He got hold of that gun somehow. He told me it was the one that had been used on Rourke. He threatened to turn it over to the police and I knew it could be traced to me.”

Shayne said, “I didn’t have the gun. A man named Dillingham Smith had it.”

Painter wavered for an instant, glancing swiftly from one man to the other, then said, “After you planted it on him, I suppose, and then had him picked up,” with heavy sarcasm. He barked to the officer standing in the doorway, “Bring Smith in here.”

When the man went away, Painter ranted at Shayne, “This is one time, by God, you stepped in too deep. Attempted extortion and withholding vital evidence in a murder case.”

“Four murder cases and one attempted murder,” Shayne corrected him in a mild tone.

“Gentry’s own words will convict you,” Painter went on. “He admits you gave him the dope on that death gun and arranged to have your stooge picked up with it on him.”

Shayne said, “You can’t convict me for being smarter than you are. If that were against the law, ninety-nine percent of your fellow-citizens could be jailed.”

An officer ushering Dillingham Smith in stopped the reply Painter started to make. Smith looked older, and frightened. He wet his slightly parted lips and let his oddly rounded eyes rest for an instant on Shayne, Bronson, and Painter.

Painter said, “I want the truth from you, Smith. I’ll see that you get a break if you come clean. Don’t try to protect anybody. I guess you know that rod was plenty hot. Tell us exactly how it came into your possession.”

Smith took his time about answering. Not a muscle in his stocky body moved until he turned his head slowly toward Bronson and drawled, “I found the pistol right outside the apartment where that reporter was shot on Tuesday night. I saw you drop it, Mr. Bronson, when you came out with the dame and got in your car.”

“That’s a lie.”

“Shut up, Bronson,” Painter roared.

“I knew I did wrong keeping it,” Dilly Smith went on in a slow, earnest drawl. “I was broke and figured Bronson would pay to get it back. I guess that’s against the law, but I don’t want to get mixed up in any shooting rap and I’m telling you the truth, Chief Painter.”

Painter’s face looked as though he had just bitten into a green persimmon. He gestured toward Shayne despairingly and demanded of Smith, “How does Shayne figure in it?”

“Him?” Smith rounded his eyes at Shayne. “I don’t know. He’s a private detective I met at a friend’s place the other night. That’s the only time I ever saw him.”

Bronson heaved his bulky body to his feet. “This man is obviously lying,” he said hoarsely. “His story of how he came into possession of the weapon is an absurd lie. I tell you it was stolen from-”

Dillingham Smith started toward Bronson like a man walking in a slow moving picture. His short broad hands were doubled into fists and slowly swinging at his sides.

Painter said, “Sit down, Bronson,” and motioned to the officer standing guard.

The officer got in front of Smith and shoved him back. Smith’s expression didn’t change. He continued as though the short scene had never occurred, “I picked the pistol up where Mr. Bronson dropped it Tuesday night. I didn’t know what had happened upstairs then, but when I heard about the reporter being shot next morning, about it being a thirty-two and all, I knew that must be why he was in such a hurry to get away and didn’t notice dropping it by his car.”

Painter took a few nervous paces around the room, came back to Smith and snapped, “So you decided to keep the gun and blackmail Mr. Bronson?”

“That’s right,” drawled Smith. “I recognized him and I knew he was rich and I thought I could make a good touch. I wrote him a letter Thursday night and told him to put that ad in today’s paper if he wanted to deal. Then when I started over here tonight I got picked up by a couple of Miami cops.”

A look of complete bafflement came over Bronson’s heavy face. He said, “This man is protecting Shayne for some reason. It was Shayne who wrote me that letter demanding money.”

“Have you got the letter?” Shayne asked.

“It’s at home in a safe place.”

“You can check Smith’s and my handwriting and find out soon enough,” Shayne told Painter. “Right now, it seems to me a murder charge is more important.”

“Right,” snapped Painter. He turned to Bronson. “Do you deny Smith’s story of how he came into possession of the pistol?”

“Of course I deny it. I didn’t go near Rourke’s apartment that night. His entire story is preposterous.”

Into the short, dead silence that followed, Shayne said calmly, “Why don’t we ask Mrs. Bronson about the whole thing? She was a pretty good friend of Rourke’s.”

“That’s an outrageous lie,” Bronson broke in hoarsely. “My wife scarcely knew Rourke.”

“Not only that,” Shayne went on, placidly ignoring him, “Bronson started out for Rourke’s apartment that night at nine-thirty with some personal effects in a Manila envelope. If Smith saw him coming out of there with a woman after Rourke was shot, he must have been there. What did the woman look like?” he asked Smith.

“She was a swell blonde. They came down the back stairs and Mr. Bronson got in his car and the woman got in hers. They were parked on a side street. After I picked up the pistol where he dropped it, I followed them in my car. They both drove straight up to Mr. Bronson’s house and turned in the drive.”

Shayne said, “Your wife’s a blonde, Bronson. Did she help you attack Rourke?”

“My wife is ill and has been confined to her room for days,” said Bronson stiffly. His face was gray and he mopped it constantly. “Do I have to sit here and listen to these ridiculous insults to my wife-and these preposterous accusations?”

“Go ahead and tell Painter your wife has been confined to her room only since Wednesday morning,” Shayne said harshly. “Tell him you don’t permit the servants to see her, and though you claim she’s ill with a nervous breakdown, you haven’t called a doctor.”

“Is that right?” Painter snapped at Bronson.

“She simply needed rest,” Bronson protested. “There was no need for a doctor. She’s had these attacks before and always recovers in a few days.”

“Do you always lock her in her room when she has them?” Shayne persisted.

Branson’s heavy lids closed over his eyes and he sank back. “I wanted to protect her,” he moaned. “I’ll tell you the whole truth.”

Chapter Seventeen: ONE LITTLE THING

Painter gave Shayne a swift glare of cold hatred, strutted to the swivel chair behind the desk and said, “Now

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