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Chapter 18

Harry Loring was a thin, nervous individual, with a habit of blinking his eyes rapidly, and moistening his lips nervously with the tip of his tongue. He sat on a trunk which was strapped and shook his head at Paul Drake.

No, he said, youve got the wrong party. Im not married.

Drake looked at Perry Mason. Mason gave a faint shrug to his shoulders, which Drake interpreted as a signal to him to do the talking.

Did you ever know a Norma Veitch? he asked.

Never, said Loring, darting his tongue to his lips.

Youre moving out? asked Drake.

Yes, Loring said. I cant keep on with the rent here.

Never been married, eh?

No, Im a bachelor.

Where are you moving?

Im sure I dont knowyet.

Loring looked from face to face with his eyes blinking.

Are you gentlemen officers? he asked.

Never mind about us, said Drake. Were talking about you.

Loring said, Yes, sir, and lapsed into silence.

Drake flashed Mason another glance.

Packing up rather suddenly, arent you? Drake went on.

Loring shrugged. I dont know as its sudden. There isnt much to pack.

Now listen, Drake said, theres no use for you to try to string us along, because we can check up on you and find out the facts. You say you have never been married. Is that right?

Yes, sir. Im a bachelor, just like I told you.

Okay. Now the neighbors say you were married. There was a woman here who lived in the apartment with you, as your wife, up until about a week ago.

Lorings eyes blinked rapidly. He shifted his position on the trunk, nervously.

I wasnt married to her, he said.

How long have you known her?

About two weeks. She was a waitress at a restaurant.

What restaurant?

Ive forgotten the name.

What was her name?

She went under the name of Mrs. Loring.

I know that. What was her real name?

Loring paused and darted his tongue to his lips. His eyes fidgeted uncertainly about the room.

Jones, he said, Mary Jones.

Drake laughed sarcastically.

Loring said nothing.

Where is she now? asked Drake, suddenly.

I dont know. She left me. I think she went away with somebody else. We had a fight.

What was the fight about?

Oh, I dont know. It was just a fight.

Drake looked over at Mason once more.

Mason stepped forward and took the conversational lead. Do you read the papers? he said.

Once in a while, said Loring, not very often. Sometimes I look at the headlines. Im not very much interested in newspapers.

Mason reached to his inside pocket, and took out some of the clippings from the morning newspaper. He unfolded one which showed a picture of Norma Veitch.

Is that the woman that was here with you? he asked.

Loring barely glanced at the photograph, but he shook his head emphatically.

No, he said, that wasnt the woman.

You havent even looked at the picture yet. Youd better look at it before you get too positive in your denials.

He thrust the picture in front of Lorings eyes. Loring took the clipping and studied the picture for some ten or fifteen seconds.

No, he said, that isnt the woman.

Took you quite a while this time to make up your mind, didnt it? Mason pointed out.

Loring said nothing.

Mason suddenly turned and nodded to Drake.

All right, he said to Loring, if thats the attitude you want to take, youll have to take your medicine. You cant expect us to protect you if youre going to lie to us.

Im not lying.

Come on, Drake. Lets go, Mason said, grimly.

The two men walked from the apartment, and closed the door behind them. In the corridor, Drake said: What do you make of him?

Hes a rat or hed have tried the stunt of becoming indignant, and asking us what the hell we meant by inquiring into his business. He looked to me as though hed been on the dodge sometime in his life, and hes afraid of the law. Hes used to being bullied by detectives.

About the way Ive got him sized up, said Drake. What are we going to do?

Well, said Mason, we can take this picture and see if we can find some of the neighbors in the apartment who can identify her.

The newspaper picture isnt so very good. I wonder if we cant get a photograph, Drake said.

Were working against time, Mason reminded him. Something may break in this thing almost any minute, and I want to keep ahead of the game.

We didnt get very rough with him, Drake pointed out. Hes the kind of a man who would cave in if we went after him, hammer and tongs.

Sure, said Mason. Well do that when we get back. I want to get a little more dope on him if I can. I think hell turn yellow as soon as we put a little pressure on him.

Steps sounded on the stairs.

Wait a minute, said Drake, this looks like somebody coming.

A thick-set man, with heavy shoulders, plodded patiently up the stairs and into the corridor. His clothes were shiny, and his cuffs were frayed. Yet there was an air of determination about him.

Process server, whispered Mason to Drake.

The man came toward them. His manner was that of one who had, at one time, been a peace officer, and still retained something of the bearing of an officer.

He looked at the two men and said, Are either of you Harry Loring?

Mason promptly stepped forward.

Yes, he said, Im Loring.

The man reached in his pocket.

I guess, he said, you know what this is about. I have here a summons and a copy of a complaint, and copy of summons in the case of Norma Loring versus Harry Loring. I hereby show you the original summons, and deliver to you a copy of the summons and the complaint.

He smiled wanly.

I guess you know what its all about. I understood it was a case that wasnt going to be contested and you were expecting me.

Mason took the papers.

Sure, he said, thats all right.

No hard feelings, said the process server.

No hard feelings, said Mason.

The process server turned, made a notation on the back of the original summons in pencil, and walked slowly and methodically to the stairs. As he went down, Mason turned to Drake and grinned.

A break, he said.

The two men unfolded the copy of the complaint.

Its an action for an annulment instead of a divorce, said Mason.

They read down the allegations of the complaint.

Thats the date of the marriage, all right, said Mason. Lets go back.

They pounded on the panels of the door to the apartment.

Lorings voice sounded from the inside.

Who is it? he asked.

Papers to be served on you, said Mason.

Loring opened the door and recoiled as he saw the two men standing there.

You! he exclaimed. I thought youd gone.

Mason pushed his shoulder against the door, and walked into the apartment. Drake followed him.

Mason held out the papers which he had taken from the process server.

Listen, he said. Theres something funny. We had these papers to serve on you, and understood that you knew all about it. But before we could serve them, we had to make certain that we were serving the right party, so we asked you the questions about your marriage, and

Loring said, eagerly, Oh, thats it, is it? Why didnt you say so? Sure, thats what I was waiting for. They told me to wait here until the papers came, and then to get out just as soon as they were served on me.

Mason gave an exclamation of disgust. Well, why the hell didnt you say so instead of putting us to all this trouble? Your name is Harry Loring, and you married Norma Veitch on the date mentioned in this complaint. Is that right?

Loring leaned forward to look at the date mentioned in the complaint.

Mason indicated it with his right forefinger.

Loring nodded his head. Thats right.

And you separated on this date. Is that right? said Mason moving his forefinger down to the next date.

Thats right.

All right, said Mason, this complaint says that at the time you were married, you had another wife living, from whom you had not been divorced, and that therefore the marriage was illegal, and that the plaintiff wants to have the marriage annulled.

Again Loring nodded.

Now listen, said Mason, thats not right, is it?

Loring nodded.

Yes, sir, he said, thats the ground shes getting the marriage set aside on. Thats right.

Mason asked, Is it true?

Of course its true.

Then it becomes my duty to arrest you for bigamy.

Lorings face blanched.

He said there wouldnt be any trouble, said Loring.

Who said that? asked Mason.

The lawyer that called on me. Normas lawyer.

Just stringing you along, Mason declared, so that they can get the marriage set aside and Norma could marry this fellow whos heir to a couple of million dollars.

Thats what they said, but they said there wouldnt be any trouble, that it was just a formality.

Formality be damned! Mason told him. Dont you know theres a law against bigamy?

But I wasnt guilty of bigamy! protested Loring.

Oh, yes, you were, said Mason. Here it is set forth in black and white, over the signature of the lawyer, and the oath of Norma. It says right here that you had another wife living at the time of the marriage, and that you were never divorced from her. Therefore, weve got to ask you to go to Police Headquarters with us. Im afraid youve got in serious trouble over this thing.

Loring became nervous.

It isnt true, he said, finally.

How do you mean it isnt true?

I mean that it isnt true. I mean I was never married before. Norma knows that! The lawyer knows that! I talked with them and they said that they couldnt wait to get a divorce, because that would take a long time, but that Norma had a chance to marry this man and that I would get a piece of change out of it if I let Norma go ahead and file this action. Then I was to file some kind of an answer in which I admitted that I had had another wife living, but claimed that I thought that I was divorced at the time of the marriage. They said that that would keep me in the clear, but it would fix things so she could get the marriage annulled. The lawyer had an answer of that kind already fixed up, and I signed it. Hes going to file it tomorrow.

And then rush the annulment through, eh? asked Mason.

Loring nodded.

Well, said Mason, it doesnt ever pay to try and lie to people who are trying to get the facts of the case. Why didnt you tell me that in the first place and save all this trouble?

The lawyer told me not to, said Loring.

Well, he was crazy, Mason said, weve got to make a report on the thing. So youd better give us a written statement to that effect, and then we can turn it in when we make our report.

Loring hesitated.

Or else, suggested Mason, you can come on down to Headquarters and explain it down there.

Loring said, No, no. Ill give you the statement.

Okay, Mason said, and took a notebook and fountain pen from his pocket. Sit down there on the trunk, he said, and write out the statement. Make it complete all the way along the line. Say that you never had another wife, that the lawyer explained to you that he wanted Norma to get a quick annulment, and that he fixed it up that you were to say you had another wife living so that Norma could marry this chap thats going to inherit the fortune.

That wont get me in any trouble then?

Thats the only way you can keep out of trouble, said Mason. Theres no use of my explaining it to you, but you almost got yourself in a pretty serious mess. Its a good thing you came clean with us. We were just planning to take you down to Headquarters.

Loring sighed. All right, he said, and took the fountain pen. He sat down and began a laborious scrawl. Mason stood and watched him, feet planted wide apart, eyes steady and patient. Drake grinned and lit a cigarette.

It took Loring five minutes to make the statement. Then he passed it over to Mason. Will this do all right? he asked. Im not much good at this sort of stuff.

Mason took the statement and read it.

Thats fine, he said, sign it.

Loring signed it.

All right, said Mason. Now the lawyer wanted you to get out of here, didnt he?

Yes. He gave me money and told me that I mustnt be here. He didnt want me to be where I could be interviewed if anybody should try to find me.

Thats fine, Mason told him. Do you know where you are going?

Some hotel, said Loring. It didnt make any difference which hotel.

Okay, Drake said. You come along with us, and well get you a room. Youd better get it under some other name so that you wont be bothered in case anybody should try to look you up. But youve got to keep in touch with us. Otherwise there might be some trouble. We may have to ask you to verify this written statement in the presence of some witness.

Loring nodded.

The lawyer should have told me about you fellows, he said. He might have got me into an awful mess.

He certainly should have, Mason agreed. You might have been on your way to Police Headquarters by this time, and it wouldnt have gone easy with you, once youd got there.

Did Norma come up here with the lawyer? Drake asked.

No, said Loring, her mother came first. And then the lawyer came.

You didnt see Norma?

No, just her mother.

All right, Mason told him. You come with us, and well take you to the hotel we want you to stay at, and get you a room. Youd better go under the name of Harry LeGrande.

How about the baggage? asked Loring.

Well take care of the baggage. Well send the transfer man after it. The hotel porter will take care of everything for you. All youve got to do is to go over there. Weve got a car waiting, and youd better go over with us right now.

Loring wet his lips. Believe me, gentlemen, this is a relief. I was nervous, sitting there waiting for the man to come with the papers. I got to wondering afterwards if that lawyer knew everything he was doing.

He was all right, Mason commented, but he just forgot to tell you a couple of things. He probably was in a hurry, and excited.

Yes, Loring admitted, he seemed excited all right.

They took him down to the car, and Mason said, Well go to the Hotel Ripley, Drake. Its conveniently located.

Drake said, Yeah, I understand.

They drove in silence to the Hotel Ripley, where Mason was registered under the name of Johnson. He approached the clerk and said, This is Mr. LeGrande from Detroit, my home town. He wants to get a room here for a few days. I wonder if you can give him one on the same floor that I have?

The clerk consulted a card index. Lets see. Youre in 518, Mr. Johnson?

Thats right, Mason said.

I can give him 522.

Thatll be fine, and theres some baggage to take care of. Ill speak to the porter about it.

They went up to the room with Loring.

Okay, Mason said to Loring. Now you stay right here, and dont go out. Be where you can answer the telephone if we should give you a ring. Weve got to make a report to Headquarters. Then it may be that theyll want to ask you a couple more questions. But its going to be all right now that weve got your written statement. Youre in the clear.

Thats fine, Loring said. Ill do just what you say. The lawyer said to communicate with him as soon as I got located. Should I do that?

No, said Mason, thats not necessary, because youve communicated with us. Dont communicate with anybody. Just stay right here and wait until you hear from us. You cant do anything until after weve reported to Headquarters.

All right, agreed Loring, whatever you say.

They went out of the room and closed the door.

Drake turned to Mason and grinned.

Boy, what a break! he said. What do we do now?

Mason strode toward the elevator.

Now we pull a grandstand, he said.

Let her go, Drake told him.

Mason stopped in the lobby and called Police Headquarters. He asked for Sidney Drumm in the Detective Bureau. After a minute or two, he heard Drumms voice on the wire.

Drumm, he said, this is Mason. Ive got another development in that Belter case, but Ive got to have some cooperation on it. I gave you a break on the arrest of the woman, and I want you to give me a break now.

Drumm laughed. I dont know whether you gave it to me or not. I walked in on it, and you came through to save your own bacon.

Well, theres no use arguing about it, Mason said. I gave you the dope, and you got the credit.

Okay, said Drumm, what do you want?

Round up Sergeant Hoffman and meet me at the foot of Elmwood Drive. I want to go up to Belters house with you. I think I can show you something up there.

I dont know as I can get the Sergeant. He may have left already, Drumm protested. Its late.

If hes left, round him up, Mason told him. And I want you to have Eva Belter out there.

Gee, said Drumm, thats a big order. If we take her out now, itll attract attention.

It wont if you sneak her out, said Mason. Bring along as many men as you want, only dont make any noise about it.

I dont know how the Sergeant will look at this thing, Drumm protested, but I dont think theres a chance in a million.

Well, Mason said, do the best you can. If he wont bring Eva Belter, get him to come himself. Id like to have her there, but Ive got to have you two.

Okay, said Drumm. Ill meet you at the foot of the hill, unless something goes wrong. I can get him to go if hes here.

No. That wont do. You find out first whether or not you can make the arrangements, and then wait there. Ill call you back in about five minutes. If you can go, Ill meet you at the foot of the hill. If you cant theres no use going on a wild-goose chase.

Okay, five minutes, then, Drumm said, and hung up.

Drake looked at Mason. Youre biting off a pretty big mouthful there, guy.

Thats all right. I can chew it.

Do you know what youre doing?

I think I do.

If youre trying to work up a defense for the jane, it would be a whole lot better to work it up without the police being there so that you could spring it on them as a surprise.

This isnt that kind of a defense, said Mason. I want the police there.

Drake shrugged his shoulders.

Its your funeral, he said.

Mason nodded, walked over to the cigar counter, and bought some cigarettes. He waited five minutes, and then called Drumm.

Drumm said, Ive got Bill Hoffman sold on the idea, Mason, but he wont take Eva Belter out there. Hes afraid youre laying a trap for him. There are two dozen reporters hanging around the jail, and we couldnt move her any place without having that bunch trailing along. Hoffmans afraid you might get him out there, and pull a fast one that the newspapers could play up, and hed be in a sweet spot. But hes willing to go himself.

Okay, Mason said, that may work out just as well. Meet me out at the foot of Elmwood Drive. Well be waiting there in a Buick coupe.

Okay, said Drumm. Were leaving in about five minutes.

See you later, Mason told him, and slipped the receiver back on its hook.

Chapter 17 | The Case of the Velvet Claws | Chapter 19