Della Street was in the office when Perry Mason arrived the next morning. "And what's new?" he asked, tossing his hat on the top of the desk and grinning at the pile of mail.
"I presume you knew," she said, "that Julia Branner was arrested for the murder of Renwold Brownley?"
Mason widened his eyes in a look of simulated surprise and said, "No, I hadn't heard of it."
"The newspapers got out extras," she remarked. "Julia Branner says you're going to defend her, so you should know about it."
"No," Mason said, "this is a great surprise to me."
Della Street leveled a rigid forefinger at him, after the manner of a cross-examining attorney, and said, "Chief, where were you about daylight this morning?"
He grinned and said, "I can't tell a lie. I beat it from the Beechwood address about sixty seconds before the cops got there."
She sighed and said, "Some day you're not going to be so fortunate."
"It wouldn't have hurt," he said, "if they'd caught me there. I certainly had a right to interview my client."
"The newspaper also says that Julia Branner refuses to make any statement, but that a Stella Kenwood, who shared the apartment, while at first refusing to answer questions, has finally made a complete statement."
"Yes," Mason said, "she would."
The secretary's voice held a note of concern. "Can she tell them anything which would implicate you, Chief?"
"I don't think so," he said. "I don't think she can implicate anybody. What else is new?"
"Paul Drake wants to see you, says he has some news for you. The wireless you sent to Bishop Mallory aboard the Monterey was not delivered because the Monterey has no William Mallory aboard." Mason gave a low whistle of surprise. Della Street consulted her notebook and said, "So I took the responsibility of sending a radiogram addressed to the Captain of the Steamship Monterey asking if Bishop William Mallory had sailed from Sydney on the northbound voyage and if so to ascertain definitely whether that same person was now aboard the ship either under that or some other name, first or second class."
Mason said, "Good girl. I'll have to think that over a bit. In the meantime, get Paul Drake on the line and tell him I want him to come in and bring Harry with him. What else is new, anything?"
"C. Woodward Warren wants an appointment with you. He talked with me and said he'd pay up to a hundred thousand dollars if you could save his son's life." Mason shook his head. "That's a lot of money," Della Street remarked.
"I know it's a lot of money," Mason said bitterly, "and I'm going to turn it down. That kid's nothing but the spoiled, pampered child of a millionaire. He's dished it out all of his life and never learned to take it. So when he ran up against the first real setback he'd ever had, he grabbed a gun and started shooting. Now he says he's sorry, and thinks everything should be smoothed out for him."
"You," Della Street said, "could get him off with a life sentence. That's all Mr. Warren can hope for. You'll defend this Branner woman and may not get a cent out of it, yet you're turning down a fee that's almost a fortune."
Mason said, "This Branner case has an element of mystery, a hint of poetic justice. There are all of the elements of a gripping human drama. I'm not definitely committing myself to go all the way in it. I'm going to use such talents as I may possess to see that justice is done. But, if I took that Warren case, I'd be using my talents and education to justify the sordid crime of the spoiled, pampered son of a foolish and indulgent father. Don't forget, this isn't the first scrape the kid's been in. He killed a woman with his car last year. The old man hushed it up and bought the kid free. Now he wants to bribe some lawyer to find some method by which the boy can cheat the gallows. To hell with 'em both! Get Paul Drake on the line and tell him to come in."
While she was putting through the call, Mason paced the floor, thumbs hooked in the armholes of his vest, head sunk forward in thought. He frowned at Della Street after a few seconds and said, "Shucks, Della, it's just down the corridor. You could run down there quicker than you could put through that call. What's the trouble?"
"The switchboard operator," she said, "was just giving me a wireless message which had been received from the Monterey. Just a moment and I'll read it." She said into the transmitter, "Get the Drake Detective Agency and tell Mr. Drake the Chief is waiting for him." Then she hung up the telephone and translated her shorthand: "BISHOP WILLIAM MALLORY WAS PASSENGER NORTHBOUND TRIP FROM SYDNEY SAT AT MY TABLE IS ABOUT FIFTY-FIVE IS FIVE FEET SIX OR SEVEN WEIGHT HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIVE OR EIGHTY IS DEFINITELY NOT ON SHIP NOW HAVE CHECKED ALL PASSENGERS. The message is signed CAPTAIN E. R. JOHANSON."
Mason nodded and said, "And I'll bet he did, too. He evidently realized it was something important."
"Perhaps the bishop stowed away somewhere," Della Street suggested.
Mason shook his head and said, "No, I'm betting on Captain Johanson. When he says a man is not aboard his ship, he means it."
"Then Drake must have been mistaken in thinking they saw him board the Monterey and not get off."
Mason said, "If he'd had suitcases with him, he could have…" His voice trailed away in silence. He stood staring thoughtfully at Della Street and said, "Send another message to Captain Johanson. Ask him if he can tell us if there are any suitcases aboard or in the baggage room with Bishop Mallory's name on the labels."
"You mean that he might have carried aboard a disguise?" she asked dubiously, "and then left the ship…?"
"He went aboard in a disguise," Mason interrupted, laughing.
"What do you mean?"
"According to all accounts," Mason said, "his head was pretty much bandaged up. Now, I saw the room in the hotel right after he had been taken out in the ambulance. The counterpane was on the bed and there was an indentation in it where he'd been lying, but there wasn't any trace of blood. The man was evidently hit with a blackjack-something which usually bruises but doesn't break the skin. Now then, why should the bishop have wrapped his head in bandages which all but concealed his features?"
She stared at him with a puzzled frown and said, "But, Chief, Drake's men already knew what he looked like. It wouldn't have done any good to have concealed his features from them."
Mason grinned. "Have you ever gone down to the sailing of one of those big ships, Della?"
"Along at the last," he said, "there's a rush which jams the gangplank with a solid mass of jostling, pushing humanity. It's just a steady stream of faces marching past. Now if you were a detective and had seen a man go aboard in a black suit, with his head swathed in bandages, your mind would get just lazy enough to play tricks on you when the big rush started. In other words, you wouldn't study each face. You would subconsciously be looking for a bandaged head and a black suit. If your man walked down the gangplank wearing a tweed suit or an inconspicuous gray suit, with a felt hat pulled rather low on an unbandaged forehead, you'd unconsciously pass him up. Remember, things happen fast, and hundreds of people are funneled out of that gangplank, to disperse into a yelling mass of enthusiastic humanity."
Della Street nodded slow acquiescence and said, "Yes, I can see how something like that could have taken place. But…" She was interrupted by Paul Drake's code knock on Mason's private office.
Della Street opened the door. Paul Drake nodded to her and said in the thick accents of one who has a cold in his head, "Morning, Della. Come on in, Harry."
He and Harry Coulter entered the office, and Drake said accusingly to the lawyer, "I let you talk me out of that last drink of whiskey last night, Perry, and look what happened to me."
Mason surveyed the watering eyes, the red nose, grinned unsympathetically and said, "You took too much on that first drink, Paul. It gave you a reaction too soon. How about you, Harry, how do you feel?"
"Swell," Coulter said, "and I was splashing around for hours before the Chief got there."
Drake slid into the big leather chair, swung his feet up over the overstuffed arm and shook his head sadly at Della Street. "That's what comes of trying to give service," he said. "Work yourself sick for a lawyer and you don't get any sympathy. It's a dog's life. A detective works day and night for a measly per diem while lawyers charge fees based on the results the detectives get for him."
Mason grinned and said, "That's the worst of a cold-it gives a man such a pessimistic outlook. Think how fortunate you are to have so much business, Paul. But if it's sympathy you're looking for, Della can hold your hand while you tell us what happened."
Drake suddenly galvanized into motion, his face twisting into contortions as his right hand shot for a hip pocket. He jerked out a handkerchief but failed to get it to his nose before he had sneezed explosively. He sadly wiped his nose, and said thickly, "The Seaton woman's disappeared. She didn't show at her apartment all night. I burgled the place again this morning and took a look around. It's just the way it was the last time we saw it."
Mason frowned thoughtfully. "She couldn't be hiding some place in the building, could she, Paul-perhaps in a friend's apartment?"
"I don't think so. Her toothbrush and tooth paste were hanging in a rack by the washbowl. She couldn't have gone out to get a new toothbrush and she'd almost certainly have sneaked back to the apartment to pick up hers even if she'd forgotten it when she went out to her friend's apartment."
"Then where is she?"
Drake shrugged his shoulders, twisted his face into a grimace, and held his handkerchief beneath his nose. He held the pose for several seconds, then his features relaxed while he sighed and said, "That's another complaint I have against the whole scheme of existence. Every time I hold my handkerchief to my nose I can't sneeze. When I put it back in my pocket, I can't ever get it out in time… Here's something funny, Perry: There are two other shadows on the job."
"Covering the Seaton house."
"No, I don't think so. My men figure them for private dicks."
"How do you know it's the Seaton girl they're after?"
"I don't, but it looks like it. One of them went up snooping around on the third floor. He may have even gone into the apartment… What did you want with Harry?"
Mason turned to Harry Coulter. "Did Brownley go directly to the beach last night?" he asked.
"And you were tagging along behind?"
"Did any other cars pass you?"
Coulter thought for a minute, and then said, "Yeah. There was a big yellow coupe went past just before we got to the beach, and it was going like hell. There may have been some other cars that passed me before that, but I don't remember them. I had my hands full tagging old Brownley through the rain. But this yellow coupe was making knots per hour, and it was after we'd passed the main drag that it went past us."
"In other words, you were pretty well down to the beach?"
"How many people in the car, one or two?"
"One I think. And I think the car was a Cadillac, but I can't be positive."
Mason said slowly, "Check up on the cars out at Brownley's place, Paul. See if anyone has a car that answers this description. Also, while you're about it, see if you can find out from the servants if there was any unusual activity around the house after Brownley left and…"
"Say, wait a minute," Harry interrupted, his forehead creased in a frown, "maybe I know more than I thought I did." Mason raised inquiring eyebrows. "Down by the yacht club," Coulter said, "there were some cars parked. They looked as though they'd been there for ages. You know the way those birds do when they are out on a cruise. They run their cars off to the side of the road in that parking place, lock them up and leave them. There are some garages down there but most of the fellows…"
"Yes, I know," Mason interrupted, "what about it?"
"Well," Coulter said, "when I was running around trying to pick up Brownley's trail down by the place where he keeps the yacht, there were four or five cars parked out in the rain. I was pretty sore at myself for letting Brownley get away from me and I looked 'em over-not with the idea of remembering the cars-just to see if Brownley's car was one of them. When I saw it wasn't, I kept on going. But, come to think of it, one of those cars was a big yellow coupe, a Cadillac, I think. Now that may have been the car that passed me. I couldn't have told, of course, because it was raining cats and dogs when the car went past. I saw headlights in my rear-view mirror, then there was a big wave of water, and a car went past with a rush. Then all I could see was a tail light-you know how it is when a car passes you on a rainy night."
As Mason nodded, Paul Drake sneezed again into his handkerchief and said, "That's the first sneeze I've timed right since I caught this damn cold."
"You couldn't have caught the cold down there this morning," Mason pointed out. "It wouldn't have developed that soon."
"Yeah, I know," Drake said. "Probably I haven't got any cold. You're like the guys who stroll around the decks of steamers, smoking pipes and telling the green-faced passengers there ain't any such thing as seasickness-that it's all in the imagination. Ordinarily I'd hate to do this to you, Perry, but since you've been so damned unsympathetic, it's going to be a pleasure. You can play around with all the yellow coupes you want to, but when you get done, you'll find you're no place. This is one case where the police have got your client sewed up tight, and if you ain't careful they'll have you sewed up, too."
"What do you mean?" Mason asked.
"Just what I say. The police haven't been entirely asleep at the switch, and you left something of a back-trail yourself. The police can prove Brownley told you he was going to make a will which would put your client on the skids. They can trace you to a Western Union office where you sent a wireless to the Monterey and used a pay station telephone. They can prove you called Stella Kenwood's apartment where Julia Branner was staying.
"Now, after you telephoned Julia, she got a cab driver to take a letter to old man Brownley. Brownley read the letter and made some crack about having to go to the beach to get Oscar's watch back. He was excited as the devil."
"Did the cab driver give the letter to Brownley?" Mason asked.
"Not to the old man. He gave it to the grandson, and the grandson took it up. Old Brownley was asleep."
"Philip saw him read the letter?"
"That's right, and he said something to Philip about getting a watch back from Julia. Now the police figure she lured him down to the beach, climbed on the running board and gave him the works with a.32 automatic. She dropped the gun and beat it. An accomplice who was in on the play climbed into the car and drove it down to a pier, near which he had another car parked. He put the car in low gear, stood on the running board, opened the throttle, and jumped off. The car went into the drink."
"And I believe the car was still in low gear when they pulled it up, wasn't it?" Mason asked.
Drake, wiping his nose with his handkerchief, gave a muffled "Uh huh."
"And it's her gun," Coulter said. "She was carrying it under a permit issued in Salt Lake City."
Drake, sniffling, said, "What's more, they've got her fingerprint on the car window on the left-hand side. You see, Brownley was driving with the window rolled up because it was raining. When Julia came out, he rolled the window down to talk to her, but he didn't roll it all the way down. She stood on the running board, and hooked her fingers over the window and left some perfectly swell fingerprints on the inside of the glass. The cops got the car raised up before the water had eliminated the fingerprints."
Mason frowned. "Any chance she could have left her fingerprints on the car before Brownley started for the beach?"
"Not one chance in ten million," Drake said. "Now that's the gloomy side, Perry. Here's a silver lining to the cloud: There's a darn good chance this granddaughter who's living with Brownley is a phoney."
"Have you got any facts?" Mason asked.
"Of course I've got facts," Drake said irritably. "I don't know what they amount to, but they're facts. After Oscar's death the old man wanted to locate his granddaughter, so he got Jaxon Eaves to find her-or it may have been that Eaves came to old man Brownley and claimed that he could find the girl. I can't find out which is which.
"Now it isn't ethical for me to knock another detective agency, and it isn't nice to say anything against a man who's dead, but the story goes that old man Brownley agreed to pay twenty-five thousand dollars if Eaves could find the granddaughter. Now you figure twenty-five thousand bucks and add to it the possibility of a split on whatever inheritance the girl might get, and subtract that from Eaves' code of professional ethics, and you don't need to turn to the back of the book to find the answer. I will say this much for Eaves. He apparently tried his darnedest to locate the real granddaughter. He got as far as Australia, and then ran up against a brick wall.
"Now Eaves had a twenty-five thousand dollar bonus at stake, and that's a hell of a lot of money for a detective to pass up simply because he can't produce a granddaughter. And remember that about the only way you can prove an impostor ain't the real thing is to produce the real thing. Eaves had gone far enough with his investigation to become pretty well satisfied the real thing couldn't be produced. Now, of course the old man wanted proof before he paid over the money, but he also wanted to believe the girl was genuine. He wanted to be convinced. Eaves and the girl wanted to convince him. There wasn't anyone to take the other end of the argument. That's something like having a lawyer argue his case to the judge without having any witnesses or any lawyer on the other side."
Mason said thoughtfully, "You figure Eaves arranged with the girl to split any inheritance she'd get?"
Drake said impatiently, "Of course he did. Don't think Eaves would overlook a bet like that."
"And he's dead?"
Mason said slowly, "He wouldn't have kept this all to himself, Paul. There must have been someone else in on the deal, and now that Eaves is dead, there must be someone trailing along to get Eaves' cut out of the inheritance."
Drake nodded his head and said, "That's logical, but I can't prove anything."
"And then again someone who smells a rat might be trying to cut in, just on general principals," Mason pointed out.
"That's not so likely," Drake said. "It's a good set-up for a blackmailer, if the blackmailer knew what he was doing; but old Brownley wasn't a damned fool, and neither was Jaxon Eaves. They didn't make any splash in the newspapers when the girl moved in. She just slid quietly into the house and started living there, and Brownley casually announced she was his granddaughter, and after a while, the society editors started telling every time she went to Palm Springs and what she had on."
Mason nodded his head slowly. "Is she staying at the house now, Paul?" he asked.
"No, she left the place early this morning and went to the Santa Del Rios Hotel. You know a young kid like that didn't want to be around the house after the tragedy."
"That's what she says?" Mason asked.
"That's what she says," Paul Drake affirmed.
"Of course," Mason said, "she might have gone to the hotel so she could be more available for conferences with anyone who was interested in keeping her out of the murder mix-up."
Drake sneezed, wiped his nose and said, "I'm keeping her shadowed."
Mason started pacing the floor, his forehead puckered into a frown. Once or twice he shook his head dubiously, then paused in his pacing to stand with feet spread far apart and stare moodily at the detective. "That isn't going to get us anywhere, Paul," he said. "That's the sort of net which will catch all the small fish but let all the big ones get away."
"What do you mean?" Drake asked.
"If she's there in the hotel and some man is planning her campaign, that man will either be a detective or will be someone who was associated with Eaves when Eaves was alive. In other words, he'll know all about how detectives work and what to watch out for. He'll know darn well that we're having the girl shadowed, and he'll have some scheme figured out by which that shadowing won't do us any good, at least so far as he's concerned."
"Well," Drake said irritably, "what the hell can I do?"
Mason said slowly, "Nothing. We can't get in touch with the man we want by trying to follow his back trail." He turned to Della Street and said, "Della, could you get a henna pack that would make your hair look nice and red?"
Mason said moodily, "You could go into the Seaton girl's apartment just as though you owned the joint, finish packing up, take her trunk and suitcase and go to some new apartment."
"Wouldn't that put her in an awful spot?" Drake asked.
Mason, speaking in the moody monotone of one who is thinking out loud, said, "Breaking and entry, grand larceny and a few other things-if they could prove a criminal intent. If they couldn't prove criminal intent, there wouldn't be so much to it."
"But what would be the advantage?" Drake inquired.
"If the chaps who are watching that house," Mason said slowly, "are hired by someone who's interested in getting Eaves' cut out of the estate, they won't know anything about Janice Seaton except what they've been able to pick up from a description, and that'll mostly be a trim figure with red hair. When they see someone who answers that description checking out of the Seaton girl's apartment, they'll act on the assumption that two and two make four and won't ask her to go down to the bank to be identified."
Harry Coulter fidgeted uneasily in his chair and said, "You can't tell just what they're after, Mason. Looking at it one way…" He became silent in mid-sentence and shrugged his shoulders.
Della Street went to the closet, took out her hat and coat. "It'll take me about two hours to get that pack and get my hair dry, Chief," she said.
Mason nodded. The other two men stared at her in apprehensive silence.