The girl’s voice came to him from a great distance, warm, like the glow in her eyes, and caressing. “You can have anything you want from me, Tim.”

“There’s only one thing a man would want from you,” he said thickly. He tried to raise his head but its weight was too much.

“You won’t write any more of those stories, will you, Tim?”

“No,” he murmured.

She said, “You’re sweet.”

Rourke heard her snap her purse shut, heard her get up from her chair, and come toward him. When she stood over him he saw that she was smiling and her golden eyes were bright as though with secret amusement. He asked falteringly, “How can I get in touch with you? I don’t even know your last name.”

“But I know yours. I’ll call you. Tomorrow night-if you keep your word not to write any more stories.”

“Tomorrow night’s a long ways off,” he protested. “Why don’t you stick around?”

She laughed with soft amusement. “Did you look at yourself in the mirror?”

“Yes-I wouldn’t be very good at playing post office.” His hand came up slowly and touched his split lip.

She bent down and kissed him gently and said, “Take care of yourself until tomorrow night, Tim. You won’t be sorry.”

He heard her move across the room to the door, open it, and close it as she went out.

He lay inert for a while and let his semi-conscious state have its way with him, forcing his eyes to stay open in order not to lose consciousness altogether. Thoughts of the day’s events kept swarming dully through his mind.

He turned over and pushed himself up from the couch, staggered through the archway to the bathroom. His lips burned and he rubbed the back of his hand across them roughly, breaking the Newskin and starting the blood afresh. He looked stupidly at the blood on his hand.

In the bathroom he stripped off his clothes and got into a tub of cold water. He stayed in the tub a long time, felt better after he got out and toweled his thin body. He dressed in clean clothes and kept putting Betty out of his mind.

He went to the kitchen and fixed a pitcher of ice water and drank two glasses. The water soothed his stomach. He poured another glass brimming full and took it in the living-room with him.

A great weariness came over him as he sank on the couch again. He looked around at the littered room, but was too enervated to pick up the papers. He poured another small drink and sat there wondering whether Betty had read the afternoon paper yet. He shuddered a trifle as he wondered, and staring with unfocused eyes into space, he tried to sort things out in his mind.

He didn’t realize how jumpy he was until he heard a soft rapping on the door. It had grown almost dark in the apartment, and an involuntary muscular reaction brought him to his feet in one movement, his eyes wide and staring at the door. He felt his bruised cheek twitching as the rapping was repeated, soft and insistent.

Curiosity sobered him a little. He got up, squared his shoulders determinedly, went to the door, and opened it. He said, “For God’s sake, Muriel, you shouldn’t have come here,” to the woman who slipped inside with, lithe grace and turned to face him.

“Close the door-quickly,” she breathed. Her big round eyes, as blue as spring violets, were terrified.


“I had to come, Tim.” Muriel Bronson’s voice was warm with passion and with excitement. She put both hands on his shoulders, pressed her body against him, and lifted her red lips invitingly. Rourke’s face remained grimly displeased, but he kissed her. She tightened her fingers on his shoulders, swayed back, and cried, “Your face! Darling, what happened?”

He laughed shortly and released her to turn on the lights. “I’m a little bunged up.”

Mrs. Walter Bronson gasped when she saw his face dearly in the light. “What happened, darling? Walter didn’t-he hasn’t been here?”

“Why do you ask that?” Rourke demanded.

“He was so terribly angry this afternoon-about that story you slipped past him in the first edition. It was distributed and sold on the streets before he caught it. He was still raving when he left the house a while ago and I thought-I wondered-”

“You thought he was coming here?” Rourke asked harshly. “So you hurried over to fix everything up. That was a hell of a bright idea. You promised me you wouldn’t come here again.”

“I didn’t think he was coming here, Tim. He doesn’t even know your address. Don’t you remember? I told you weeks ago about asking him casually.”

“If he doesn’t know my address what made you think he’d been here? Besides, he could find out in a hurry.” He swung around and went to a window and flung it open. The room was suddenly hot and stuffy after being closed all day. The cool evening breeze soothed his burning face, and clean air in his lungs was reviving.

“It was just my first thought when I saw you’d been fighting,” she said petulantly. “He frightened me with his raving at dinner, and I guess it was uppermost in my mind.” She went over to stand near him, carefully avoiding being seen through the window. Her big eyes were limpid with anxiety. She touched his cheek gently and murmured, “Who did it to you, sweet?”

Her childlike petulance and throaty voice had once charmed him to burning passion, qualities he believed she reserved solely for him. Outwardly, she was cold and patrician, her tall, willowy body always exquisitely groomed, her blond-gold upswept coiffure accentuating her classic features.

Now, as he looked at her, he felt only disgust that a woman of 35 should spend all her time trying to look 25, and succeeding. That she should hang onto Walter Bronson and his money while she ensnared other men with her charm and beauty and exotic perfume, or repel them with her hauteur when it pleased her.

Rourke wanted to laugh loudly and derisively at himself. In the beginning, he had thought it amusing to cuckold the overbearing managing editor whom he disliked. Later, after the first fire burned out and he learned that Muriel Bronson was a wanton at heart, incapable of faithfulness to one man, they had seen each other less frequently.

Rourke had been gazing out the window. He turned to her again and she drew back a step when she saw his eyes. “Tim-why are you looking at me like that! Why don’t you tell me who-?”

“A couple of other guys who didn’t like my story, either.” His tone was sharp.

Her violet eyes hardened and she turned away from him. “It was a silly story to write, Tim. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t like it.” She went to a chair where she had dropped her purse when she came in. Her fingers fumbled as she picked it up and it fell to the floor with a dull thud.

Rourke whirled around, frowning. He took three long strides and reached the purse before she could pick it up. “What have you got in there? A brick?” He tested the weight of the bag speculatively, studying her face intently.

She said lightly, “Don’t be a goof. Why would I be carrying a brick in my purse?”

“I wonder.” He opened the bag and took out a. 32 Colt automatic and regarded it stonily. “What is this strange power I have over women that sends them gunning for me?”

Muriel laughed and tossed her golden head. “Women?”

“Women. I just got rid of another one who pulled a gun on me.”

“Don’t be absurd. I haven’t pulled a gun on you. That happens to be Walter’s pistol.”

“What’s it doing in your bag?”

“You’re so droll, darling. I do believe you suspect I came here to force my attentions on you at gun-point. I assure you I’m not that hard pressed.”

“What’s it doing in your bag?” he demanded again.

“If you must know-to protect you.”

“From your husband?” Rourke asked derisively.

“Don’t joke about it, Tim,” she said earnestly. “Walter was dreadfully upset. I didn’t know what he might do if you happened to be back at the office tonight when he got there. I remembered that pistol being in his bureau

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