It was nearly three o’clock in the morning when Perry Mason got Paul Drake on the telephone.
“Paul,” he said, “I’ve got another job for you, and it’s a rush job. Have you got any more men you can put on the case?”
Paul’s voice was sleepy.
“Gee, guy,” he said, “ain’t you ever satisfied?”
“Listen,” said Mason, “wake up and snap out of it. I’ve got a job that’s got to be done in a hurry, and you’ve got to beat the police to it.”
“How the devil can I beat the police to it?” asked Paul Drake.
“You can,” Mason told him, “because I happen to know that you’ve got access to certain records. You represented the Merchants Protective Association that kept duplicate records of all firearms sold in the city. Now, I want a Colt-32 automatic placed, with number 127337. The police are going to dig into it as a matter of routine, along with a lot of fingerprint stuff, and it’ll probably be some time in the morning before they feed it through the mill. They know it’s important but they don’t figure there’s any great hurry about it. What I want you to do is to get the dope in advance of the police. I’ve simply got to beat them to it.”
“What happened with the gun?” asked Paul Drake.
“A guy got shot with it once, right through the heart,” said Perry Mason.
Drake whistled. “Is that in connection with the other stuff I’ve been looking up?”
“I don’t think so,” Mason said, “but the police may. I’ve got to be in a position to protect my client. I want you to get the information, and get it before the police do.”
“Okay,” said Drake. “Where can I call you back?”
“You can’t,” Mason said. “I’ll call you.”
“I’ll call you again in an hour.”
“I won’t have it by then,” protested Drake. “I couldn’t.”
“You’ve got to,” Mason insisted, “and I’ll call you anyway. Good-by.” And he hung up the telephone. He then called the number of Harrison Burke’s residence. There was no answer. He called Della Street’s number, and her sleepy “Hello” came over the line, almost at once.
“This is Perry Mason, Della,” he said. “Wake up and get the sleepy dirt out of your eyes. We’ve got work to do.”
“What time is it?” she asked.
“Around three o’clock, or quarter past.”
“Okay,” she said. “What is it?”
“You awake all right?”
“Of course I’m awake. What do you think I’m doing, talking in my sleep?”
“Never mind the cracks,” he told her, “this is serious. Can you get some clothes on and get down to the office right away? I’ll order a taxi to be out at the house by the time you get dressed.”
“I’m dressing right now,” she answered. “Do I take time to make myself pretty, or do I just put on some clothes?”
“Better make yourself pretty,” he answered, “but don’t take too long doing it.”
“Right now,” she said, and hung up on him.
Mason telephoned a taxi company to send a cab out to her apartment. Then he left the all night drug store, from which he had been telephoning, got in his car, and drove rapidly to his office.
He switched on the lights, pulled down the shades, and started pacing the floor.
Back and forth, back and forth he paced, his hands behind his back, his head thrust forward, and slightly bowed. There was something of the appearance of a caged tiger in his manner. He seemed impatient, and yet it was a controlled impatience. A fighter who was cornered, savage, who didn’t dare make a false move.
A key sounded in the door, and Della Street walked in.
“Morning, chief,” she said. “You sure do keep hours!”
He beckoned to her to come in and sit down. “This,” he said, “is the start of a busy day.”
“What is it?” she asked, looking at him with troubled eyes.
“We’re just representing a client?” she inquired.
“I don’t know. We may be mixed up in it.”
“Mixed up in it?”
“It’s that woman,” she said savagely.
He shook his head impatiently. “I wish you’d get over those ideas, Della.”
“That’s right just the same,” she persisted. “I knew there was something about her. I knew there was trouble that was going to follow that woman around. I never did trust her.”
“Okay,” Mason said wearily. “Now forget that, and get your instructions. I don’t know what’s going to happen here, and you may have to carry on if anything happens that I can’t keep the ball rolling.”
“What do you mean,” she asked, “that you can’t?”
“Never mind about that.”
“But I do mind,” she said, eyes wide with apprehension. “You’re in danger.”
He ignored the remark. “This woman came to us as Eva Griffin. I tried to follow her, and couldn’t make it stick. Later on, I started a fight with Spicy Bits, and tried to find out who was really back of the sheet. It turned out to be a man named Belter who lived out on Elmwood Drive. You’ll read about the place and the chap in the morning papers. I went out to see Belter and found he was a tough customer. While I was there, I ran into his wife. And she was none other than our client. Her real name is Eva Belter.”
“What was she trying to do?” asked Della Street. “Double-cross you?”
“No,” said Mason. “She was in a jam. She’d been places with a man, and her husband was on her back trail. He didn’t know who the woman was. It was the man he was after. But he was exposing the man through the scandal sheet, and eventually the identity of the woman would have come out.”
“Who is this man?” asked Della Street.
“Harrison Burke,” he said, slowly.
She arched her eyebrows and was silent.
Mason lit a cigarette.
“What does Harrison Burke have to say about it?” she asked after a little while.
Perry Mason made a gesture with his hands.
“He was the guy that kicked through with the money in the envelope; the coin that came into the office this afternoon by messenger.”
There was silence for a minute or two. Both were thinking.
“Well,” she said at length, “go on. What am I going to read about in the papers tomorrow?”
He spoke in a monotone. “I went to bed, and Eva Belter called me sometime after midnight. Around twelve thirty, I guess it was. It was raining to beat the band. She wanted me to come out and pick her up at a drug store. She said she was in trouble. I went out, and she told me that some man had been having an argument with her husband and shot him.”
“Did she know the man?” Della Street inquired softly.
“No,” said Mason, “she didn’t. She didn’t see him. She only heard his voice.”
“Did she know the voice?”
“She thought she did.”
“Who did she think it was?”
The girl looked at him steadily, her eyes not changing their expression in the least.
“No. I was at home, in bed.”
“Can you prove it?” she asked, tonelessly.
“Good Lord,” he said, impatiently. “I don’t take an alibi to bed with me!”
“The lousy little double-crosser!” More calmly she asked, “Then what happened?”
“We went out there, and found her husband dead. A 32-Colt automatic. I got the number of it. One shot, right through the heart. He’d been taking a bath, and somebody shot him.”
Della Street’s eyes widened. “Then she got you out there before she notified the police?”
“Exactly,” said Mason. “The police don’t like that.”
The girl’s face was white. She sucked in her breath to say something, but thought better of it and remained silent.
Perry Mason went on, in his same monotone: “I had a run-in with Sergeant Hoffman. There’s a nephew out there that I don’t like. He’s too much of a gentleman. The housekeeper’s concealing something, and I think her daughter is lying. I didn’t get a chance to talk with the other servants. The police held me downstairs while they made the investigation up-stairs. But I had a chance to look around a little bit before the police got there.”
“How bad was your trouble with Sergeant Hoffman?” she asked.
“Bad enough,” he said, “the way things are.”
“You mean you have to stick up for your client?” she asked, her eyes suspiciously moist. “What’s going to happen next?”
“I don’t know. I think that the housekeeper is going to crack. They evidently haven’t gone after her very hard yet. But they will. I think she knows something. I don’t know what it is. I’m not even sure that Eva Belter gave me the full facts of the case.”
“If she did,” said Della Street, savagely, “it’s the first time since she’s been in here that she hasn’t concealed something, and lied about something else. And that business of dragging you into it! Bah! The cat! I could kill her!”
Mason waved his hand, depreciatingly. “Never mind that. I’m in this now.”
“Does Harrison Burke know about this murder business?” she asked.
“I tried to get him on the telephone. He’s out.”
“What a sweet time for him to be out!” she exclaimed.
Mason smiled wearily. “Isn’t it?”
They looked at each other.
Della Street took a quick breath, started speaking impulsively.
“Look here,” she said, “you’re letting this woman get you in a funny position. You had words with this man who was killed. You were fighting his paper, and when you fight, you don’t do it gently. That woman trapped you to get you out there. She wanted you to be there when the police came. She’s getting ready to throw you to the wolves, if it looks as though her precious hands were going to get soiled. Now are you going to let her get away with that?”
“Not if I can help it,” he said, “but I won’t go back on her until I have to.”
Della Street’s face was white, her lips drawn into a thin, firm line. “She’s a…” she said, and stopped.
“She’s a client,” insisted Perry Mason, “and she’s paying well.”
“Paying well for what? To have you represent her in a blackmail case? Or to take a rap for murder?”
There were tears in her eyes.
“Mr. Mason,” she said, “please don’t be so damned bighearted. Keep on the outside of this thing, and let them go ahead and do whatever they want to. You simply act as an attorney and come into the case as a lawyer.”
His voice was patient. “It’s pretty late for that now, isn’t it, Della?”
“No, it isn’t. You keep out of it!”
He smiled patiently. “She’s a client, Della.”
“That’s all right,” she said, “after you get to court. You can sit back and see what happens at the trial.”
He shook his head. “No, Della, the District Attorney doesn’t wait until he gets to court. His representatives are out there right now, talking with the witnesses and putting the words in Carl Griffin’s mouth that will become newspaper headlines tomorrow and damaging testimony by the time the case comes to trial.”
She recognized the futility of further argument.
“You think they’re going to arrest the woman?” she asked.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said.
“Have they found a motive?”
“No,” he said, “they haven’t found a motive. They started looking for the conventional ones, and they didn’t pan out, so that stopped them. But when they find out about this other business, they’ll have a motive already made to order.”
“Are they going to find out about it?” she asked.
“They’re bound to.”
Della Street’s eyes suddenly widened. “Do you think,” she said, “it was Harrison Burke? The man who was out there when the shot was fired?”
“I’ve tried to get Harrison Burke on the telephone,” he said, “and haven’t been able to. Aside from that I’m not even thinking. Go on out and get on the telephone. Try him again. Keep trying his house at ten minute intervals until you get him, or get somebody.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Also, ring up Paul Drake. He’ll probably be at his office. If he isn’t, try him on that emergency telephone number we’ve got. He’s doing some work for me on this.”
She was once more merely a secretary. “Yes, Mr. Mason,” she said, and went into the other office.
Perry Mason resumed his pacing of the floor.
After a few minutes, his telephone rang.
He picked up the receiver.
“Paul Drake,” said Della Street’s voice.
Paul Drake’s voice said, “Hello, Perry.”
“Have you got anything?” Mason asked.
“Yes, I got a lucky break on that gun business, and I can give you the dope on it.”
“Your line’s all clear? There’s nobody listening?”
“No,” said Drake, “it’s okay.”
“All right,” Mason said, “hand it to me.”
“I don’t suppose you care anything about where the gun was jobbed or who the dealer was?” asked Drake. “What you want is the name of the purchaser.”
“All right, your gun was finally purchased by a man named Pete Mitchell, who gave his address as thirteen twenty-two West Sixty-ninth Street.”
“All right,” said Mason, “have you got any dope on the other angle of the case? About Frank Locke?”
“No, I haven’t been able to get a report from our southern agency yet. I’ve traced him back to a southern state, Georgia it was, and the trail seems to go haywire there. It looks as though that’s where he changed his name.”
“That’s fine,” Mason said. “That’s where he had his trouble. How about the rest of it? Do you get anything on him?”
“I’ve got a line on the jane at the Wheelright Hotel,” Drake said. “It’s a girl named Esther Linten. She lives there at the Wheelright, has room nine-forty-six, by the month.”
“What does she do?” asked Mason. “Did you find that out?”
“Anybody she can, I guess,” Drake told him. “We can’t get very much of a line on her as yet, but give us a little time, and let me get some sleep. A guy can’t be every place at once, and work without sleep.”
“You’ll get used to it after a while,” Mason told him, grinning, “particularly if you keep working on this case. You stay there in the office for five minutes. I’ll call you back.”
“Okay,” sighed Drake, and hung up.
Perry Mason went out to the outer office.
“Della,” he said, “do you remember when all of the political stuff was going around a couple of years ago? We made a file for some of the letters?”
“Yes,” she said, “there’s a file ‘Political Letters.’ I didn’t know what you saved them for.”
“Connections,” he said. “You’ll find a ‘Burke-for-Congress-Club’ letter some place in there. Get it for me, and make it snappy.”
She made a dive for the battery of files which lined one side of the office.
Perry Mason sat on the corner of her desk and watched her. Only his eyes showed the white-hot concentration of thought which was covering a dozen different angles of a complicated problem.
She came to him with a letter.
“That’s fine,” he said.
Printed in a column on the right hand margin was a list of vice presidents of the “Burke-for-Congress-Club.” There were more than a hundred names in fine print.
Mason squinted his eyes and read down the column. Every time he passed over a name, he checked it by moving his thumb nail down in the sheet. The fifteenth name was that of P. J. Mitchell, and the address given at the side of the name was thirteen twenty-two West Sixty-ninth Street.
Mason folded the letter abruptly, and thrust it in his pocket.
“Get me Paul Drake on the phone again,” he said, and walked into his inner office and slammed the door shut behind him.
When Paul Drake came on the line, he said, “Listen Paul, I want you to do something for me.”
“Again?” asked Drake.
“Yes,” said Mason. “You haven’t got started yet.”
“All right, shoot,” said the detective.
“Listen,” Mason said, slowly, “I want you to get in a car and go out to thirteen twenty-two West Sixty-ninth Street, and get Pete Mitchell out of bed. Now, you’ve got to handle this carefully so that you don’t get yourself in a jam, and me too. You’ve got to do it along the line of a boob detective who talks too much. Don’t ask Mitchell any questions until you give him all the information, see? Tell him that you’re a detective and that George Belter was murdered in his house tonight, and that you understand the number of the gun that did the job was the same number that was on a gun which was sold to this chap, Mitchell. Tell him that you suppose he still has the gun and that there’s some mistake in the numbers, but that you’d like to know whether or not he can account for his whereabouts at about midnight or a little later. Ask him if he has the gun, or if he remembers what he did with it. But be sure that you tell him everything before you ask him the questions.”
“Just be a big, dumb boob, eh?” asked Drake.
“Be a big, dumb boob,” Mason told him, “and cultivate a very short memory afterwards.”
“I gotcha,” said Drake. “I’ve got to handle this thing in such a way that I’m in the clear, eh?”
Mason said, wearily, “You handle it just the way I told you, just exactly that way.”
Mason slipped the phone back on the receiver. He heard the click of the doorknob, and looked up.
Della Street slipped into the office. Her face was white, and her eyes wide. She pushed the door shut behind her, and walked over to the desk.
“There’s a man out in the office that says he knows you,” she said. “His name is Drumm, and he’s a detective from Police Headquarters.”
The door pushed open behind her, and Sidney Drumm thrust a grinning face in the door. His washed-out eyes seemed utterly devoid of life, and he looked more than ever like a clerk who had just climbed down from a high stool, and was puttering about, searching for vouchers.
“Pardon the intrusion,” he said, “but I wanted to talk with you before you had time to think up a good one.”
Mason smiled. “We get used to poor manners from policemen,” he said.
“I’m not a cop,” protested Drumm. “I’m just a dick. The cops hate me. I’m a poor, underpaid dick.”
“Come in and sit down,” Mason invited.
“Wonderful office hours you guys keep,” Drumm remarked. “I was looking all over for you, and saw a light up here in the office.”
“No, you didn’t,” Mason corrected him, “I’ve got the shades drawn.”
“Oh, well,” Drumm said, still grinning, “I had a hunch you were here anyway, because I know you’re such a hard worker.”
Mason said, “All right. Never mind the kidding. I presume this is a professional call.”
“Sure it is,” said Drumm, “I’ve got curiosity. I’m a bird that makes a living by having curiosity and getting it gratified. Right now I’m curious about that telephone number. You come to me and slip me a bit of change in order to strong-arm a private number out of the telephone company. I bust out and get the number for you, and an address, and you thank me for it very politely. Then you show up at that address, sitting around with a murdered guy and a woman. The question is, is it a coincidence?”
“What’s the answer?” asked Mason.
“No,” said Drumm, “I can’t speculate. I asked the question. You have to give me the answer.”
“The answer,” Mason told him, “is that I was out there at the request of the wife.”
“Funny you’d know the man’s wife, and wouldn’t know the man,” insisted Drumm.
“Isn’t it?” said Mason sarcastically. “Of course that’s the worst part of running a law office. So many times a woman will come in and ask you about something, particularly if it happens to be a domestic problem, and won’t bring her husband along so that you can see what he looks like. In fact, I’ve even heard of two or three instances where women went to law offices and didn’t want their husbands to know anything about it. But of course that’s just a rumor and hearsay, and I wouldn’t want you to take my word for it.”
Drumm kept grinning. “Well,” he said, “would you say that this was that kind of a case?”
“I would say nothing,” Mason replied.
Drumm quit grinning, and tilted his head back, his eyes became dreamy as they looked at the ceiling.
“That gives it an interesting angle,” he said. “Wife comes to attorney who is noted for his ability to get people out of trouble. Attorney doesn’t know husband’s private telephone number. Attorney starts working on case for wife. Attorney uncovers telephone number. Attorney traces telephone number to husband, and goes out there. Wife there, husband murdered.”
Mason’s voice was impatient. “Do you think you’re getting anywhere, Sidney?”
Drumm grinned once more. “I’ll be damned if I know, Perry,” he said. “But I’m moving around.”
“Let me know as soon as you get anywhere, will you?” asked Mason.
Drumm got to his feet. “Oh,” he said, “you’ll know it fast enough.” He grinned from Mason to Della Street.
“I presume,” he said, “that last remark of yours was my cue to get out.”
“Oh, don’t be in any hurry,” Mason told him. “You know we come down to the office at three and four o’clock in the morning just to be here to receive friends who want to ask us foolish questions. We don’t really have any work to do. It’s just a habit we’ve gotten into, of getting down here early.”
Drumm paused to stare at the lawyer. “You know, Perry, if you’d come clean with me, I might be able to help you a little bit. But if you’re going to stand off and be snooty, I’ve got to go out and pry around a little bit.”
“Sure,” Mason admitted, “I understand that. That’s your business. You’ve got your profession, and I’ve got mine.”
“That means, I take it,” said Drumm, “that you’re going to be snooty.”
“That means,” said Mason, “that you’ve got to find out your facts on the outside.”
“So long, Perry.”
“So long, Sidney. Drop in again some time.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
Sidney Drumm closed the door behind him.
The girl moved impulsively toward Perry Mason.
He waved her back with a motion of his hand, and said, “Take a look in that outer office and make sure he’s gone.”
She moved toward the door, but, before her hand touched the knob, it turned, and flung open. Sidney Drumm thrust his head into the room again.
He surveyed them and grinned.
“Well,” he said, “you didn’t fall for that one. All right Perry, this time I’ll go out.”
“Okay,” said Perry Mason. “Good-by!”
Drumm closed the door, and a moment later slammed the door of the outer office.
It was then about four o’clock in the morning.