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Chapter 7

Rain was beating with steady insistence against the windows of Perry Mason's apartment when he was awakened by the steady ringing of the telephone. He groped for the switch of his bed lamp, propped himself up in bed and lifted the receiver to his ear. The damp breeze which came in through the open window and whipped the lace curtains in flapping protest against the wet screens, blew cold across the lawyer's chest. He groped for his bathrobe and was pulling it up under his chin as he said, "Hello," and heard Paul Drake's voice saying, "Here's a break, Perry. It looks as though you've drawn another one." Mason rubbed sleep from his eyes and said thickly, "What's happened? What time is it?"

"It's exactly three-fifteen," Drake said. "One of my men has telephoned from Wilmington. You wanted the Brownley angle covered, so I put a shadow out at the house. About an hour ago old Brownley climbed into his coupe and started going places. It was raining hard. My man followed. He tagged along without any difficulty until Brownley got down to the harbor district. He figured Brownley was heading straight for the yacht he keeps. So my man got just a little careless. He let Brownley get too far ahead of him and lost him, figured there was nothing to it, went over to the yacht and waited. Brownley didn't show up. My man started making a swing around, trying to find the car. He'd been driving around about ten minutes when he saw a man running and waving his arms. My man stopped the car. This chap ran up to him and said that Brownley had been murdered; that some woman in a white rain coat had stepped out of the shadows, climbed onto the running board of Brownley's car, fired five or six shots, and then beat it.

"This guy was pretty rattled. He wanted to telephone headquarters right away. My operative ran him to a telephone, and they called the ambulance and the police, although this witness insisted the man was so dead there was no use getting an ambulance. After they'd telephoned, my operative went back to find the car and the body. They couldn't find it. The police showed up and they couldn't find it. I'm going down to look the situation over and I figured you might like to come along."

"It was Renwold C. Brownley?" Mason asked.

"In person."

"That," the lawyer said, "is going to make a splash."

"Are you telling me?" Drake said. "Every newspaper in the city will be getting out extras within the next two hours."

"Where are you now?"

"At my office."

"Drive down for me and I'll be dressed and standing on the sidewalk by the time you get here," Mason said.

He hung up the telephone, jumped out of bed and closed the window with his right hand while he was unbuttoning his pajamas with his left. Mason tied his necktie in the elevator, struggled into his rain coat as he crossed the lobby of the apartment house, and reached the pavement just as Drake's automobile slewed around the corner, sending the twin beams of dazzling headlights dancing through the rain, illuminating the little mushrooms of water which geysered up from the wet pavement as the big drops bulleted downward. As Drake skidded the car away from the curb, Mason settled himself against the cushions and said, "A woman did the killing Paul?"

"Yes, a woman in a white rain coat."

"What happened?"

"As nearly as I could get it over the telephone, Brownley was looking for someone. He had slowed his car almost to a stop and was crawling along the pavement when this woman stepped out from the deeper shadows. He had evidently been expecting her because he stopped his coupe and rolled down the window. She climbed up on the running board, raised an automatic, and fired a bunch of shots. Then she jumped back to the street, sprinted around the corner, and made a get-away. The witness saw the get-away car. It was a Chevrolet, but he couldn't get the license number. He took a look in the coupe and saw Brownley all in a huddle against the steering wheel. Apparently every one of the shots had taken effect. The witness started to run without any very definite objective. He said he'd run for four or five minutes when he saw the headlights of my operative's machine."

"Some chance he was confused in his directions?" Mason asked.

"Every chance on earth. It's a ten to one bet that he was."

Drake pushed the throttle down close to the floorboards and said, "Are you nervous, Perry?"

"Go to it," Mason told him. "Don't hesitate on my account. How are your tires?"

"Swell," Drake said, grinning. "According to my theory, a skid is simply an attempt on the part of the hind end to catch up with the front end. If you keep the front end going fast enough, the hind end can't catch up until you try to stop."

Mason lit a cigarette and said, "Have you ever made your will, Paul?"

"Not yet."

"Well, you'd better stop in in the morning and have me draw up one for you. What did you hear about the bishop?"

Drake said, "I guess my Australian agency must have thought I was giving them a bit of leg pulling, or whatever you call it on that side of the water. They sent me back a cable in answer to my inquiry which said simply, 'Bishops seldom stutter.'"

Mason said, "Of course that doesn't answer the question. How about a description of the bishop? Did you get that?"

"Yes, in another cable."

Drake fumbled in his inside pocket, driving with one hand, pulled out a cablegram and handed it across to Mason when the lawyer yelled, "Watch that turn!"

Drake dropped the cablegram, grabbed the steering wheel and fought against the skid as the car lurched into a sickening swing. He spun the wheel hard to the left without effect. A great wave of water was thrown up by the wheels on the right-hand side of the car. Suddenly the front wheels caught. The car snapped into a turn in the opposite direction as Drake spun the steering wheel as though it had been the steering wheel of a yacht. He gave the car the gas as it careened around to the right. The turn loomed in front of the headlights. They swept into it sideways, then the wheels gathered traction. As the car shot for the side of the road, Drake fought it under control just before the front wheels hit the soft shoulder. "Where's the cablegram?" the detective asked. "You didn't drop it, did you?"

Mason sighed, relaxed his legs, which had been braced against the floorboards, and said, "No, it's down here on the seat somewhere."

The detective straightened the car out of the turn, pushed down on the foot throttle, and said, "Can you read it by the dash light?"

Mason said, "I guess so, if my hand will quit jiggling. For God's sake, Paul, don't you ever show any discretion?"

Drake said, "Sure. I was driving all right, but you distracted my attention asking about that cablegram."

Mason unfolded the cablegram and read: BISHOP WILLIAM MALLORY FIFTY-FIVE STOP FIVE FEET SIX STOP WEIGHT ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE STOP GRAY EYES STOP HABITUAL PIPESMOKER STOP TAKING SABBATICAL YEAR AND REPORTED BE SOMEWHERE IN UNITED STATES BUT IMPOSSIBLE OBTAIN ACCURATE INFORMATION AS YET STOP.

Mason folded the cablegram.

"What do you think of it?" Drake asked.

Mason lit a cigarette. "Go right ahead, Paul, and drive the car. I don't want to distract your attention again. I'll talk with you when we get to where we're going." He settled down against the cushions, pulled the collar of his coat about his neck, dropped his chin on his chest, and smoked in silence.

"The description fits him right enough, doesn't it?" Drake asked. Mason said nothing. Drake chuckled and concentrated upon driving the car. Rain lashed the windshield and drummed on the hood, ran in streams from the glass and metal, showed in driving slants against the illumination of the headlights. The windshield wiper beat monotonously back and forth, but the downpour discounted the rubber-bladed pendulum, distorting the strip of wet pavement gleaming ahead of them.

At length they saw the tail light of an automobile. The headlights of Drake's car picked up a signboard bearing the insignia of a yacht club and the words "Private, Keep Out." A man, wearing a rubber rain coat which glistened in the headlights, and from which water ran in rivulets, splashed his way over toward the car.

"You know Mason, Harry," Drake said.

Mason nodded and said, "Hello, Harry. What's new?"

The operative thrust his head through the window of the car. Water from his hat dripped into Drake's lap. Drake yelled, "Take off that hat, you big baboon! Get in the back seat if you want to talk. I don't want a shower bath until morning."

The operative climbed into the back of the car. "Now, listen," he said in a low, rumbling voice of one who is imparting an air of mystery to an important disclosure, "get this straight. It sounds nutty to me. I went out to Brownley's house like you said. It was raining to beat hell. I figured it was just a routine assignment. I couldn't see a millionaire splashing around on a night like this. So I turned up the windows in my car and made myself comfortable. About half past one o'clock a taxicab drove up. Lights went on in the house and I heard a pow-wow. Then the taxicab left, but more lights kept coming on in the house. About fifteen minutes later, lights went on in the garage. Then the garage doors opened and I saw headlights. I managed to get a look at the car as it went past. Old Brownley was driving."

"It was raining all the time?" Drake asked.

"Cats and dogs."

"And Brownley didn't have a chauffeur?" Mason inquired.

"No, he was all alone."

"Go ahead," Drake instructed.

"I followed Brownley, with my lights out part of the time. It was hard going. I didn't dare to crowd him too close. He was pretty much ahead of me by the time we got down here. When he got this far, I figured of course he was going to his yacht, so when he took a turn and acted as though he'd seen me and was trying to shake me off, I beat it directly to the Yacht Club. After a few minutes, when he didn't show up, I started looking around. I didn't get anywhere. I guess I must have put in five or ten minutes cussing myself and trying to pick up the trail of that car. I took all crossroads, went down by the docks, and had turned back when I saw a man running through the rain and waving his arms. I stopped, and this guy was so excited he could hardly talk."

"Did you get his name?" Drake asked.

"Yeah, sure I got his name. It was Gordon Bixler."

"He the chap who told you about the shooting?" Mason asked.

"Yes."

"What did he say?" Drake wanted to know.

"Wait a minute," Mason said. "We have the highlights on that, but what I want to know is what this chap was doing down here. That sounds fishy to me."

"He's okay," the operative said. "I checked on his story. He's a yachtsman who was coming in from Catalina. He was delayed by the storm and had telephoned for his Filipino boy to meet him with a car. The boy evidently didn't like the rain, or was playing around, because he didn't show up, and Bixler, mad as hell, was starting to walk to some place where he could either get a taxi or a telephone. I made him show me his driving license and his cards, and give me the name of his yacht. The cops also checked up on him."

"Okay," Mason said, "I just wanted to know. Go ahead and give us the dope."

"Well, Bixler said he'd seen a big coupe come crawling along slowly, as though the guy who was driving it was looking for someone. Then a jane in a white rain coat flagged the coupe and it slowed down. The jane climbed on the running board, apparently talking to the driver, giving him some directions. Then she jumped off the running board and ran back into the shadows by one of the docks. The car drove slowly on. Bixler saw the bird turn down a side street, cross over to another road, speed up, and then make a turn and come back around down the same street.

"Bixler figured this guy might give him a lift, so he stood out in the middle of the street. The car came along, still running about ten or fifteen miles an hour, and then the woman in the white rain coat ran out in front of the headlights and flagged it to a stop again. Bixler started toward the car. He said it was about fifty yards away. The woman in the rain coat stood on the running board and, all of a sudden, Bixler saw flashes and heard an automatic go Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! He can't be certain whether it was five shots or six, but he thinks it was five. The woman in the rain coat jumped down off the running board and started to sprint for a spur track where the road runs into one of the docks. Bixler waited a minute and then ran toward the coupe. Before he got to the car, he saw a light sedan-he thinks it was a Chevrolet, but he isn't certain-and he thinks the driver was the woman in the white rain coat, but he can't be too certain of that. Anyway, the car went out with a roar and the rain swallowed up the tail light in nothing flat.

"Bixler reached the coupe. The driver had slumped over against the door on the left of the car. His arm, shoulder and head were hanging out, with blood streaming down the side of the car to the running board. Bixler says it was Renwold Brownley and that he was pumped full of lead-as dead as a mackerel."

"How does he know it was Brownley?" Mason asked.

"I went into that with him, too. You see, this guy's a yachtsman, and Brownley's a yachtsman. They'd met once or twice at dinners at the Yacht Club, and Bixler had seen Brownley around the Club on half a dozen occasions. He swears there was no chance that he was mistaken; that the man was Brownley. It had been raining hard, but there was a little let-up in the rain about the time of the shooting, and a floodlight from the Yacht Club gave some illumination, and then there was the light from the dashboard in the coupe."

"Then what happened?" Drake asked.

"Bixler started running, looking for a telephone or help of some kind. And I figured he was plenty rattled. He ran along the boulevard for a ways, then he went down to the car track, ran along it for a while, got mixed up on some sidings, came stumbling back, and saw my headlights. He said that must have been about five or ten minutes after the shooting. I picked him up, and he was rattled, so nervous he could hardly talk. He tried to direct me back to the place where the shooting had taken place and couldn't find it. We drove around and around, and I thought the bird was nuts. I'd have passed it all off as a pipe dream if I hadn't been trailing old Renwold Brownley myself and known that he must have been somewhere around.

"So this bird kept yelping he wanted to telephone the police, and I figured I might not be in so good with the law if I kept running around in circles, so I ran him up to a telephone and we called the cops."

"Then what happened?" Mason asked.

"The cops showed up and listened to what we had to say and…"

"You didn't tell 'em you'd been tailing Brownley, did you?" Drake interrupted.

"Not a chance," the man said scornfully as though resenting the question. "I said I was just driving along, trying to find a party who was on a yacht. I said I was working on a divorce case."

"They ask you who the party was, or anything of that sort?"

"Not yet. They will later. They were too busy then. I let on she was a blonde."

"Could the police find the car?"

"No; now this is the funny thing: They figured, and I figured, that this guy Bixler was all mixed up and confused and just hadn't pointed out the right spot, but then one of the cops, prowling around with a flashlight, saw a reddish stain in the rain water on the pavement at almost the exact spot where Bixler said he'd seen the shooting. They kept looking around, and picked up a.32 automatic cartridge. You know, one of the empty shells which had been ejected from the gun. That made things look different. It was still raining, but not as hard as it is now, and they were able to follow the little pools of red-tinted water in the surface of the road. The road's a little rough, and there was enough rain to wash blood from the running board of the car to the surface of the road, but not enough to wash away all the stains. The trail pointed in the direction of one of the docks, and they're figuring the car might have been run off the dock."

Mason said, "Where is this dock?"

"Drive on," the detective told them, "and I'll show you. I was just waiting here until you showed up, because this was the place I'd said I'd meet you. Go straight ahead until I tell you to turn."

Drake eased the car into motion, ran for several hundred yards and then the detective said, "Turn to the right here."

As soon as Drake turned, he encountered a string of parked automobiles. Several flood-lights gave a dazzling illumination. A portable searchlight had its beam focused on the water. A wrecking car, equipped with derrick and windlass, was parked at the edge of the wharf. The drums were winding slowly on a taut cable which stretched down into the darkness. From the flattened springs of the wrecking automobile, it was apparent it was lifting some heavy weight. Drake ran the car as far as he could, stopped and said to the operative, "Find a parking place, Harry. Come on, Perry."

The lawyer was already out in the rain. Together, the two men sloshed through the moisture underfoot. Sheeted rain lashed their faces. They joined a small knot of men who were clustered about a corner of the wharf, too engrossed in what they were watching to notice the two newcomers.

Mason peered over the edge. The cable, taut as a bowstring stretched down into the inky waters, the blackness of which was intensified by the glare of light which beat down through the rain-filled darkness, etching the tense faces of the spectators into a white brilliance. The power-driven winches of the huge wrecking car moved regularly. Occasionally the cable gave forth little snapping noises and sent showers of water spattering from its oily surface.

A man's voice yelled, "There she comes!"

A photographer pushed past Mason and pointed a camera downward. A flashlight puffed blinding illumination into the lawyer's eyes as the top of a coupe moved slowly upward from the rain-lashed waters. Men crowded and jostled. Someone yelled, "Don't raise it any farther until we get another hook on it! It'll weigh more when it gets out of the water. We can't afford to have it break loose."

Men in overalls, with grease-stained faces glistening in the searchlights, sunk a grappling hook into position. From somewhere on the wharf a donkey engine coughed into rhythmic explosions. A derrick arm swung outward. More flashlight photographs were taken. A voice yelled, "Go ahead!" Slowly, the coupe was raised, until it was entirely clear of the water. The right-hand door was jammed wide open. Water seeped out through the cracks in the floorboards, to strike the surface of the bay in splashing rivulets. The man who was in charge yelled, "We're going to raise it with this derrick and swing it inboard. Everyone look out!"

Mason was conscious of a long derrick arm which appeared in the darkness over his head. He saw rope slings being thrown under the body of the car, then winches rattled, a new cable snapped taut as it took up the strain, and the coupe was raised above his head and swung in over the wharf. Just as the car was about to be lowered, a uniformed policeman roped off a space, and the winchmen lowered the coupe within this roped enclosure.

Mason pushed against the rope, peered over the shoulder of an officer whose wet rubber rain coat rubbed against his chin. He saw policemen inspecting the interior of the car, heard one of them yell, "Here's the gun, a.32 automatic. There's still blood left on the seats." There was, Mason saw, no trace of a body.

Someone said, "Get the people off the wharf. Don't let anyone through unless he has proper credentials."

New cars had been arriving. Mason saw a uniformed man bearing down upon him. An officer's rain-spattered face grinned cheerfully as he said with firm insistence, "Go on, buddy, get back off the wharf. You can read about it in the papers." Mason permitted himself to be shoved toward the far end of the wharf. As he passed Paul Drake, he said, "Flash your badge, Paul, and try to get an earful. I'll wait in the car."

The lawyer walked through the driving rain until he found Drake's car, shook what moisture he could from his coat, and climbed into the interior, still steamy with the odors of human occupancy.

Five minutes later, Drake showed up and said, "Not a chance. They're searching for the body. It must have spilled out of the car. There's a bottle of whiskey in that side pocket, Perry."

"My God," Mason said, "never mind the body-why didn't you tell me about the whiskey sooner?" He pulled out the flask, uncorked it and passed it to Drake. "Age before beauty," he said.

Drake took three big gulps, passed the bottle back to Mason, who raised it to his lips and lowered it as Drake's operative came toward the car, the water in his shoes making an audible squish, squish with every step.

"Have a drink," Mason said, "and tell us what's new. Could you get anywhere with your badge, Paul?"

"They laughed at me," the detective said. "Then some hard-boiled dick wanted to know what my interest in the case was and whom I was representing, how long I'd been there, and what I knew about it and how I happened to be there. I figured it was a good time to beat it. How about you, Harry? What did you find out?"

The rubber-coated detective swiped the back of his hand across his lips and said, "I didn't try to force things any, but just stuck around and picked up a word here and there. I found out that it was Brownley's car, all right. The gearshift showed the car was in low gear when it went over the edge of the wharf, and the hand throttle was pulled wide open."

"The hand throttle?" Mason asked.

"That's right. They got the gun, and recovered a couple of bullets which had stuck in the cushions of the front seat. They figured one of the car doors was open when it took the plunge and the body spilled out. They're sending for divers and are going to search the bottom of the bay."

"Any better description of that woman than that she wore a white rain coat?"

"No description that's worth a damn," Harry said. "But they got the number on the gun, and they think they can tell more when they find the body. That taxicab driver evidently took some message to Brownley. Whatever was in the message made him excited as the very devil. It was urgent enough to bring him down here on the run, alone-and it would take something to do that to Renwold C. Brownley at two o'clock in the morning on a night like this."

Drake said, "I'll say so… Let's finish up that bottle of whiskey."

Mason said, "Naughty, naughty, Paul. You're driving. Harry and I will finish it."


Chapter 6 | The Case of the Stuttering Bishop | Chapter 8