I’m getting somewhere. See that you do tell the truth, Bronson. You’ve heard this man say he saw you coming out of Rourke’s place with a woman soon after he was shot.”

“Yes.” Walter Bronson wiped his face with a soggy handkerchief. “You’ll have to understand that my wife and I have very little in common. She’s strongly self-willed and for years we’ve more or less gone our separate ways. She likes excitement and a good time, while I’m more interested in my work.”

He paused to moisten his thick lips, then continued, “I was surprised and horrified when I found her in Rourke’s apartment that night. I assure you I had no idea-”

“Let’s get down to facts and skip your personal feelings,” Painter interrupted sharply. “You found her in Rourke’s apartment Tuesday night?”

“Yes. I stopped for a cup of coffee and a sandwich after leaving my office, then drove directly to the Blackstone. I had cleared out Rourke’s desk and had his things with his final check which I intended to deliver to him.

“There was no one in the lobby when I entered. I noticed it was ten-forty by the clock behind the desk. I had the number of Rourke’s apartment and I went up the stairs and found the door standing open. I knocked and pushed it open and-saw my wife kneeling on the floor beside Rourke’s body.

“You can imagine how I felt. I suppose I went out of my head for a moment. Muriel-my wife-was weeping and distraught. Her hands were bloody, and she had received a blow on the left temple that was already causing her eye to blacken. She seemed dazed by it. There wasn’t any weapon in sight, though I saw that Rourke had been shot.”

Walter Bronson ran his hand over his face and pressed his fingers against his eyes. “My only thought was to get Muriel away from there before she was discovered,” he went on earnestly. “She insisted that she hadn’t shot him, but didn’t know exactly what happened. It was wrong of me, but-she is my wife.

“I got hold of her and helped her out the door and she indicated the back stairway. We went down without being seen, and she was getting hold of herself by that time and insisted she was able to drive her own car. She promised to drive straight home, and I helped her in and went back to my car and followed her. I wasn’t aware that we had been trailed home. The servants were in bed, and we went up to our suite without being seen.” He paused to draw in a deep, tragic breath.

“So you didn’t carry any gun down from the apartment with you and drop it outside?” Painter barked.

“I did not. I didn’t know until we reached home that Muriel had taken my pistol with her to Rourke’s apartment-and that it was mysteriously missing from her handbag.” Bronson stopped speaking, as though from sheer exhaustion.

Painter fumed at Dilly Smith, “Then you lied about where you found the gun. You’d better come clean or-”

“Let Bronson finish,” Shayne interrupted impatiently. “I’m sure he has a lot more to tell us.”

“Naturally I demanded an explanation as soon as we were home,” Bronson resumed. “Muriel was hysterical. She admitted that she had-gone around with Rourke for months, and had gone to his apartment after I left for the office that evening. She admitted taking my pistol, claiming that she feared I might take it with me if she didn’t and do some harm to Rourke. I was exceedingly upset over the way he had disobeyed my orders that day.” His voice trembled and he paused again.

“That was when we discovered the pistol was missing,” he went on wearily. “It wasn’t in her handbag where she said she had seen it last. She said she tossed her bag with the gun in it on a chair in the living-room of Rourke’s apartment.”

“Tell us exactly what your wife told you about the whole thing,” Painter ordered.

“I will. I realize now that I should have come to you at once. She told me about finding Rourke alone and nursing some bruises he had received that afternoon in a sort of brawl. The entire place was in state of disorder, she said, as though it had recently been searched.”

Shayne drew in a sharp, audible breath at that piece of news. He muttered, “Torn up by his earlier blond visitor?”

Painter flashed a scornful look at Shayne and said, “Go on, Bronson.”

“I presume so. Muriel told me that Rourke admitted having an earlier visitor. She claimed that she, herself, cooked him some bacon and eggs because he was in no condition to go out, and that they had a few drinks after that.

“She was in the bathroom when she heard Rourke answer the door and admit someone. She stayed in the bathroom, afraid it might be me and that I’d discover her there, but she could hear nothing but very low voices in the living-room. Then she remembered her handbag and her whisky glass in plain sight and decided to brazen it out.

“The light in the hallway outside the bathroom was out, she said, and as she stepped out she was struck a stunning blow on the side of her head. It knocked her unconscious for a few minutes. She didn’t know how long. She was dazed when she came to, and she stumbled into the living-room and found Rourke sprawled out on the floor. She knelt beside him and examined his wound, and it was at that moment I arrived.”

Painter turned slightly to throw a grudgingly inquiring glance at Shayne. Shayne arched his ragged brows and grinned. Painter turned back to the Courier editor and demanded, “Did you actually believe that wild story?”

The fight was gone out of Bronson. “I don’t know,” he said heavily. “God knows I wanted to believe it. But when she told me about the missing pistol, I realized with horror that it might actually have been the gun used to shoot Rourke if her story was true. I knew if it was found it could be traced to me. I realized that my secretary could testify that I had obtained Rourke’s address from her and left the office with the intention of seeing him. When I saw the paper next morning and learned that the weapon had been identified as a thirty-two Colt automatic, I felt positive my pistol had been used.

“I realized there’d be enough questions asked without having to explain how Muriel received the blow on her head and the black eye, and, in fact, I was also worried lest she call the police and tell them everything. She was in such a state of hysteria she didn’t care what happened to her-or to me. I can’t believe she actually loved Rourke, but she’s always been one to dramatize herself.

“That’s why I insisted that she stay in her room and out of sight of the servants, and why I locked the door to keep them out. Friday morning when I received that threatening letter through the mail, I was frantic.” He stopped talking and looked at Shayne.

“You were there when the letter arrived,” he said. “You mentioned the serial number. From that hint I was positive you were taking a roundabout way of letting me know you had the pistol in your possession.”

Shayne grinned and shook his head. “You’ve got a bad habit of jumping to conclusions, Bronson. Smith wrote that letter and mailed it Thursday night. I watched him do it and got the serial number.”

“How’d you manage that?” Smith drawled. “I left you at Helen’s house. I didn’t see you anywhere around when I was writing the letter.”

Shayne grinned widely. “Maybe I have a secret power to make myself invisible.” He asked Bronson, “Why did you call Brenner to try to borrow the money from him?”

“Because I didn’t have that much money,” Bronson confessed. “Contrary to general belief, I’m not a wealthy man. My wife-” He paused gloomily and licked his lips.

“Has she been gambling with your money?” Shayne asked.

“Yes,” the editor admitted despondently. “I knew she’d been frequenting Brenner’s clubs, but I hadn’t realized how deeply she had plunged until she told me Tuesday night.”

“So you figured you had twenty-five grand coming from him?”

“I suppose so.” Bronson was quietly thoughtful for a moment. When he resumed his recital his voice grew more and more spirited. “Not only had my wife lost more than that amount at his tables,” he said, “but I felt the entire situation was his fault. He was also under a certain obligation to me for doing my best to prevent Rourke’s article from being printed. He had offered me money before, but I had refused because I felt I was only doing my duty toward the community.” He signed heavily and added, “In this dire extremity I had to turn to him.”

“And you went to him at three o’clock and told him the whole story?” Shayne asked.

“Yes. Brenner pointed out that paying blackmail was never a sure way of ending such a situation, and suggested that I conceal two of his men in the back of my car and have them take care of the extortionist for good. I-agreed. I saw no other way out. I don’t understand how you made the contact there on the Boulevard, Shayne, with a police car to protect you when it was actually this man Smith, here, who had my pistol in his

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