Julia Branner stared at Perry Mason with reddish-brown eyes which matched the glint in her hair. Her face was that of a young woman in the late twenties, save for a line beneath her chin and incipient calipers which stretched from her nose to the corners of her lips when she smiled.
"It's rather unusual for me to see clients at this hour," Mason said.
"I just got in," she told him. "I saw a light in your office, so I came in. Your secretary said you might see me."
"Live here in the city?" Mason asked.
"I'm staying with a friend at 214-A West Beechwood. I'm going to share an apartment with her."
"Married or single?" Mason asked casually.
"I go by the name of Miss Branner."
"Not at present, but I've been working until recently. I have a little money."
"You've been working here in this city?"
"No, not here."
"Does that make any difference?"
"Yes," Mason told her.
"In Salt Lake City."
"And you say you're sharing an apartment with a woman here?"
"Someone you've known for some time?"
"Yes, I knew her in Salt Lake City. I've known her for years. We shared an apartment in Salt Lake."
"Yes, Gladstone eight-seven-one-nine."
"What's your occupation?"
"I'm a nurse… But wouldn't it be better for me to tell you what I want to see you about, Mr. Mason, before we go into all of these incidental matters?"
Mason shook his head slowly and said, "I always like to get the picture. How did you happen to consult me?"
"I heard you were a very fine lawyer."
"So you came on here from Salt Lake City to see me?"
"Well, not exactly."
"You came by train?"
"No, by plane."
"Precisely when did you arrive?"
"At ten o'clock this morning-if you have to know."
"Who recommended me to you?"
"A man I knew in Australia."
Mason raised his eyebrows in silent inquiry.
"Bishop Mallory. He wasn't a bishop when I knew him, but he's a bishop now."
"And he suggested you come here?"
"Then you've seen the bishop since your arrival?"
She hesitated and said slowly, "I can't see that that makes any difference, Mr. Mason."
Mason smiled and said, "Well, perhaps you're right, particularly since I don't think I'm going to be able to handle your case. You see, I'm very busy with a lot of important matters and…"
"Oh, but you must. I… you'll just have to, that's all."
"When did you see Bishop Mallory?" Mason asked.
She sighed and said, "A few hours ago."
"But you've been here since morning?"
"Why didn't you come to see me during office hours?"
She shifted her position uneasily. Resentment flared for a moment in her reddish-brown eyes. Then she took a deep breath and said slowly, "Bishop Mallory suggested I come to you. I couldn't see the bishop until a short time ago. He'd been injured and was in a hospital."
"And he suggested you come to me?"
"Yes, of course."
"Did he give you a letter to me?"
"Then," Mason said, making his tone carry an implied accusation, "you have absolutely nothing to show that you actually know Bishop Mallory, that you actually saw him, or that he suggested you come to me." She fought back resentment in her eyes and shook her head. Mason said, "Under those circumstances I'm quite certain I couldn't interest myself in your problems."
She seemed to debate with herself for a moment, then snapped open the black handbag which had been reposing in her lap. "I think," she said, "this may answer your question." Her gloved fingers fumbled around in the inside of the purse. Mason's eyes suddenly glinted with interest as the lights reflected from the blued steel barrel of an automatic which nestled within the black bag. As though sensing his scrutiny, she pivoted her body in a half-turn so that her shoulder was between Mason's eyes and the bag. Then she pulled out a yellow envelope, took from it a Western Union telegram, carefully snapped the bag shut and handed the telegram to Mason.
The telegram had been sent from San Francisco and was addressed to Julia Branner, care of The Sisters' Hospital, Salt Lake City, Utah, and read simply: MEET ME REGAL HOTEL LOS ANGELES AFTERNOON OF THE FOURTH. BRING ALL DOCUMENTS-WILLIAM MALLORY.
Mason frowned thoughtfully at the telegram and said, "You didn't meet Bishop Mallory this afternoon?"
"No. I told you he'd been injured."
"You saw him this evening, a few hours ago?"
"Did he say anything to you about his future plans?"
"Just what did he say?"
"He suggested I should see you and tell you my entire story."
Mason sat back in his swivel chair and said, "Go ahead."
"Do you," she asked, "know of Renwold C. Brownley?"
"I've heard of him," Mason said noncommittally.
"Did you know of an Oscar Brownley?"
"I've heard of him."
"I," she announced, "am Mrs. Oscar Brownley!"
She paused dramatically. Mason took a cigarette from the case on his desk and said, "And you are, I believe, a fugitive from justice under an old felony warrant for manslaughter issued in Orange County."
Her jaw sagged as though he had struck her unexpectedly in the solar plexus. "How… how did you know that? The bishop wasn't to tell you that!"
Mason shrugged his shoulders and said, "I merely mentioned it so you'd realize it wouldn't be worthwhile to misrepresent matters to me. Suppose you go ahead and tell me your story and make sure you tell me all of it."
She took a deep breath and rushed headlong into an account which poured from her lips with such glib alacrity that it might have been memorized or, on the other hand, might have been the result of long brooding over wrongs. "Twenty-two years ago," she said, "I was wild-plenty wild. Renwold Brownley was in the real estate business and didn't have very much money. Oscar was the apple of his eye, but Oscar liked to step around in the white lights. I was a nurse. I met Oscar at a party. He fell in love with me, and we were married. It was one of those hectic affairs which sometimes happen.
"The old man was furious because we hadn't consulted him; but I think it would have been all right if it hadn't been for the auto accident. That was a mess. We'd had a few drinks but I wasn't drunk. An old man, whose reactions were so sluggish he shouldn't have been driving a car anyway, came around the corner on the wrong side. I tried to avoid him by swinging over sharply to the left. If he'd stayed on his left side, everything would have been all right, but he got rattled and pulled back to the right. As a result, when the accident took place I was apparently entirely in the wrong. I wasn't tight, but I'd been drinking. Oscar was good and tight. That's why I was driving the car.
"You know how they used to be in Orange County. They'd put you in jail for going thirty miles an hour. Oscar made a touch from his dad, and we skipped out. We were going on a honeymoon, anyway. We went to Australia.
"Then was when I got double-crossed and didn't know it. Oscar asked his dad to hush the thing up and make a cash settlement, but, the way it looks now, the old man did just the opposite. It was right about that time he commenced to make money-big money. Oscar was the apple of his eye. He thought that Oscar had thrown himself away on a wild, harum-scarum woman who would have given herself to him or to anyone else without marriage as easily as with marriage. We were in a strange country. I had the very devil of a time getting work. Oscar couldn't get anything. The old man evidently pulled political wires, not to hush the accident up, but to get a manslaughter warrant issued for me so I could never come back. Then he corresponded secretly with Oscar.
"I didn't know all this at the time. I came home one day and found Oscar gone. His father had cabled him money to come home. I worked for a few months after that and then couldn't work any longer until my child was born. Oscar didn't even know about her, and I swore that he never should. I hated him and hated his family and hated all they stood for. At that time I didn't know how much money Renwold Brownley was making. It wouldn't have made much difference if I had. I determined to stand on my own two feet… But I couldn't keep the child, and I was damned if I'd let him have her.
"Bishop Mallory was a rector Church of England, you know-and one of the most human ministers I've ever known. He didn't have the smug, self-righteous attitude so many preachers have. He was a man who wanted to help people-and he helped me. I confided in him, and one day he came to me and told me he had a chance to get a good home for Janice. He said the people weren't particularly wealthy but they were comfortably situated and could give Janice an education. But they insisted that I must never know who had taken her and must never try to follow her. Bishop Mallory had to promise by everything he held sacred he'd never tell me anything about her or where she was."
"He's kept that promise?" Mason asked.
"Absolutely," Julia Branner said, and there were tears in her eyes. "When we're young we're impulsive. We do things without thinking that we're bound to regret them afterwards. I got married on impulse and I released all claims on my daughter on impulse. I've regretted doing both…" Her lips quivered. She blinked rapidly and said, "Not that it makes a d-d-damned bit of difference-regrets, I mean." She tossed her head and went on, "Don't worry, Mr. Mason, I'm not going to bawl. I've fought my way through life. I've violated damn near all the conventions at one time or another, and I've paid the price. I haven't whimpered and I'm not going to whimper."
"Go on," Mason said.
"After several years I came back to the States. I found that Renwold Brownley was wallowing in money. Apparently Oscar didn't have anything except what Renwold wanted to give him. Naturally, I thought Oscar should do something for me. I got in touch with him. He wrote me a very short letter. So far as he was concerned, I was merely a fugitive from justice. The old man was very bitter. If I returned to California, I'd be prosecuted on that manslaughter charge… Oh, I saw the sketch, all right, but what could I do? I was a nurse working for wages. Oscar'd got a divorce on some charge or another. Renwold Brownley had millions. There was a manslaughter warrant out for me. Not that I cared particularly about coming to California. I didn't want Oscar back. I did think he might make some sort of settlement, but my hands were tied. The charge against me wasn't just one of drunken driving; it was a manslaughter charge and, with Renwold Brownley's money and political backing against me, I'd have been railroaded to the penitentiary, lost my citizenship, lost my standing as a nurse, lost my ability to earn a living… Anyway, that's the way I felt about it. I was too frightened even to consult a lawyer because I didn't dare to confide in one."
"Go on," Mason said, his voice showing interest.
"The only thing I wanted was to have my daughter get something of what was rightfully hers. So I wrote to Australia. The Reverend William Mallory had become a bishop by that time, but he couldn't give me any help. He reminded me of my promise and of his. My daughter had been taken by people who were good to her. She thought they were her own father and mother. They were so attached to her they'd have died rather than let her think differently. They didn't have any great amount of money but they were fairly well fixed. I learned the my daughter had a natural aptitude for nursing and had wanted to do that more than anything else on earth. She was in a hospital, studying. She wanted to train herself to nurse children-she would. She came by it honestly. Mr. Mason, I moved heaven and earth to find her. I'd made a promise, but what the hell's a promise when it's the case of a mother trying to find her own daughter? I spent every cent I could get, hiring detectives. They couldn't find her. Bishop Mallory had been too smart. He'd covered the trail too well, and he wouldn't talk. And then I got this wire from Bishop Mallory. I though he was going to tell me everything. My girl is of age now. There's no reason why she shouldn't know, and I think the people who adopted her have died, but the bishop wouldn't tell me anything. He only said I was to see you. But I did find out that after Oscar died, Renwold realized there was a grandchild somewhere, and he'd employed detectives to find her. He'd taken a girl named Janice in to live with him… But, Bishop Mallory tells me she isn't the real Janice. She's fraud." She paused, staring with hot, defiant eyes at the lawyer.
"What do you want me to do?" Mason asked.
"Nothing for me, but I want you to rip the mask off of the spurious granddaughter. I want you to find my daughter and see that she's recognized as a Brownley."
"That wouldn't necessarily mean anything," Mason said. "Renwold could make a will disinheriting her. I think there's another grandchild, isn't there-a grandson?"
"Yes, a Philip Brownley. But somehow I think Renwold would never disinherit Janice. I think he'd do something for her."
"And that's all?" Mason asked.
"Nothing for yourself?"
"Not a damned cent… You don't mind my cussing once in a while, do you? It makes me feel better. I've been kicked around and I've found I have to either bawl or cuss. Personally, I prefer to cuss."
Mason regarded her in slow appraisal and suddenly said, "Julia, why are you carrying that gun?"
She grabbed instinctively at the bag in her lap, pushed it to the other side of her body. Mason's eyes bored steadily into hers. "Answer me," he said.
She said slowly, "I had to go back and forth from the hospital at all hours of the night. Some of the nurses were annoyed. The police themselves suggested it would be a good thing for me to carry a gun."
"And you have a permit for it?"
"Yes, of course."
"Why are you carrying it now?"
"I don't know. I've always carried it ever since I bought it. It's become second nature, just like carrying lipstick. I swear that's the only reason, Mr. Mason."
"If," Mason said, "you have a permit to carry that gun, it means that the number is registered with the police. You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, of course."
"Did you," Mason asked, "know that Bishop Mallory sailed very suddenly and unexpectedly on the Monterey, leaving his baggage in his room at the Regal Hotel?"
She clamped her lips together in a firm line and said, "I'd prefer not to discuss Bishop Mallory. After all, the question which concerns me relates only to my daughter."
"And when do you want me to start?" Mason asked.
She got to her feet and said, "Right now. I want you to fight that cold-blooded devil until he yells for mercy. I want you to prove that he was the one responsible for getting a manslaughter warrant issued for me and keeping me out of the state so he could wreck my marriage and discriminate against my daughter. Not that I want a cent, I simply want him licked. I want you to make the old devil realize that money can't buy him immunity to do just as he d-d-damn pleases." There were no tears in her eyes now, but her mouth was writhing. Her hot eyes stared at the lawyer.
Perry Mason regarded her for several long seconds, then picked up the telephone on his desk and said to Della Street, "Call Renwold C. Brownley."