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, “you’ve got the wrong party. I’m 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.
“You’re moving out?” asked Drake.
“Yes,” Loring said. “I can’t keep on with the rent here.”
“Never been married, eh?”
“No, I’m a bachelor.”
“Where are you moving?”
“I’m sure I don’t know—yet.”
Loring looked from face to face with his eyes blinking.
“Are you gentlemen officers?” he asked.
“Never mind about us,” said Drake. “We’re talking about you.”
Loring said, “Yes, sir,” and lapsed into silence.
Drake flashed Mason another glance.
“Packing up rather suddenly, aren’t you?” Drake went on.
Loring shrugged. “I don’t know as it’s sudden. There isn’t much to pack.”
“Now listen,” Drake said, “there’s 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. I’m 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.”
Loring’s eyes blinked rapidly. He shifted his position on the trunk, nervously.
“I wasn’t married to her,” he said.
“How long have you known her?”
“About two weeks. She was a waitress at a restaurant.”
“I’ve 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 don’t know. She left me. I think she went away with somebody else. We had a fight.”
“What was the fight about?”
“Oh, I don’t 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. I’m 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 wasn’t the woman.”
“You haven’t even looked at the picture yet. You’d better look at it before you get too positive in your denials.”
He thrust the picture in front of Loring’s eyes. Loring took the clipping and studied the picture for some ten or fifteen seconds.
“No,” he said, “that isn’t the woman.”
“Took you quite a while this time to make up your mind, didn’t it?” Mason pointed out.
Loring said nothing.
Mason suddenly turned and nodded to Drake.
“All right,” he said to Loring, “if that’s the attitude you want to take, you’ll have to take your medicine. You can’t expect us to protect you if you’re going to lie to us.”
“I’m not lying.”
“Come on, Drake. Let’s 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?”
“He’s a rat or he’d 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 he’d been on the dodge sometime in his life, and he’s afraid of the law. He’s used to being bullied by detectives.”
“About the way I’ve 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 isn’t so very good. I wonder if we can’t get a photograph,” Drake said.
“We’re 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 didn’t get very rough with him,” Drake pointed out. “He’s the kind of a man who would cave in if we went after him, hammer and tongs.”
“Sure,” said Mason. “We’ll do that when we get back. I want to get a little more dope on him if I can. I think he’ll 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, “I’m 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 it’s all about. I understood it was a case that wasn’t going to be contested and you were expecting me.”
Mason took the papers.
“Sure,” he said, “that’s 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.
“It’s an action for an annulment instead of a divorce,” said Mason.
They read down the allegations of the complaint.
“That’s the date of the marriage, all right,” said Mason. “Let’s go back.”
They pounded on the panels of the door to the apartment.
Loring’s 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 you’d 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. “There’s 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, that’s it, is it? Why didn’t you say so? Sure, that’s 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 didn’t 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. “That’s right.”
“And you separated on this date. Is that right?” said Mason moving his forefinger down to the next date.
“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, “that’s not right, is it?”
“Yes, sir,” he said, “that’s the ground she’s getting the marriage set aside on. That’s right.”
Mason asked, “Is it true?”
“Of course it’s true.”
“Then it becomes my duty to arrest you for bigamy.”
Loring’s face blanched.
“He said there wouldn’t be any trouble,” said Loring.
“Who said that?” asked Mason.
“The lawyer that called on me. Norma’s lawyer.”
“Just stringing you along,” Mason declared, “so that they can get the marriage set aside and Norma could marry this fellow who’s heir to a couple of million dollars.”
“That’s what they said, but they said there wouldn’t be any trouble, that it was just a formality.”
“Formality be damned!” Mason told him. “Don’t you know there’s a law against bigamy?”
“But I wasn’t 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, we’ve got to ask you to go to Police Headquarters with us. I’m afraid you’ve got in serious trouble over this thing.”
Loring became nervous.
“It isn’t true,” he said, finally.
“How do you mean it isn’t true?”
“I mean that it isn’t true. I mean I was never married before. Norma knows that! The lawyer knows that! I talked with them and they said that they couldn’t 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. He’s going to file it tomorrow.”
“And then rush the annulment through, eh?” asked Mason.
“Well,” said Mason, “it doesn’t ever pay to try and lie to people who are trying to get the facts of the case. Why didn’t 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, “we’ve got to make a report on the thing. So you’d better give us a written statement to that effect, and then we can turn it in when we make our report.”
“Or else,” suggested Mason, “you can come on down to Headquarters and explain it down there.”
Loring said, “No, no. I’ll 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 that’s going to inherit the fortune.”
“That won’t get me in any trouble then?”
“That’s the only way you can keep out of trouble,” said Mason. “There’s no use of my explaining it to you, but you almost got yourself in a pretty serious mess. It’s 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. “I’m not much good at this sort of stuff.”
Mason took the statement and read it.
“That’s fine,” he said, “sign it.”
Loring signed it.
“All right,” said Mason. “Now the lawyer wanted you to get out of here, didn’t he?”
“Yes. He gave me money and told me that I mustn’t be here. He didn’t want me to be where I could be interviewed if anybody should try to find me.”
“That’s fine,” Mason told him. “Do you know where you are going?”
“Some hotel,” said Loring. “It didn’t make any difference which hotel.”
“Okay,” Drake said. “You come along with us, and we’ll get you a room. You’d better get it under some other name so that you won’t be bothered in case anybody should try to look you up. But you’ve 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.”
“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 wouldn’t have gone easy with you, once you’d 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 didn’t see Norma?”
“No, just her mother.”
“All right,” Mason told him. “You come with us, and we’ll take you to the hotel we want you to stay at, and get you a room. You’d better go under the name of Harry LeGrande.”
“How about the baggage?” asked Loring.
“We’ll take care of the baggage. We’ll send the transfer man after it. The hotel porter will take care of everything for you. All you’ve got to do is to go over there. We’ve got a car waiting, and you’d 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, “We’ll go to the Hotel Ripley, Drake. It’s 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. “Let’s see. You’re in 518, Mr. Johnson?”
“That’s right,” Mason said.
“I can give him 522.”
“That’ll be fine, and there’s some baggage to take care of. I’ll 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 don’t go out. Be where you can answer the telephone if we should give you a ring. We’ve got to make a report to Headquarters. Then it may be that they’ll want to ask you a couple more questions. But it’s going to be all right now that we’ve got your written statement. You’re in the clear.”
“That’s fine,” Loring said. “I’ll 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, “that’s not necessary, because you’ve communicated with us. Don’t communicate with anybody. Just stay right here and wait until you hear from us. You can’t do anything until after we’ve 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 Drumm’s voice on the wire.
“Drumm,” he said, “this is Mason. I’ve got another development in that Belter case, but I’ve 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 don’t know whether you gave it to me or not. I walked in on it, and you came through to save your own bacon.”
“Well, there’s 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 Belter’s house with you. I think I can show you something up there.”
“I don’t know as I can get the Sergeant. He may have left already,” Drumm protested. “It’s late.”
“If he’s left, round him up,” Mason told him. “And I want you to have Eva Belter out there.”
“Gee,” said Drumm, “that’s a big order. If we take her out now, it’ll attract attention.”
“It won’t if you sneak her out,” said Mason. “Bring along as many men as you want, only don’t make any noise about it.”
“I don’t know how the Sergeant will look at this thing,” Drumm protested, “but I don’t think there’s a chance in a million.”
“Well,” Mason said, “do the best you can. If he won’t bring Eva Belter, get him to come himself. I’d like to have her there, but I’ve got to have you two.”
“Okay,” said Drumm. “I’ll meet you at the foot of the hill, unless something goes wrong. I can get him to go if he’s here.”
“No. That won’t do. You find out first whether or not you can make the arrangements, and then wait there. I’ll call you back in about five minutes. If you can go, I’ll meet you at the foot of the hill. If you can’t there’s no use going on a wild-goose chase.”
“Okay, five minutes, then,” Drumm said, and hung up.
Drake looked at Mason. “You’re biting off a pretty big mouthful there, guy.”
“That’s all right. I can chew it.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“I think I do.”
“If you’re 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 isn’t that kind of a defense,” said Mason. “I want the police there.”
Drake shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s 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, “I’ve got Bill Hoffman sold on the idea, Mason, but he won’t take Eva Belter out there. He’s afraid you’re laying a trap for him. There are two dozen reporters hanging around the jail, and we couldn’t move her any place without having that bunch trailing along. Hoffman’s afraid you might get him out there, and pull a fast one that the newspapers could play up, and he’d be in a sweet spot. But he’s willing to go himself.”
“Okay,” Mason said, “that may work out just as well. Meet me out at the foot of Elmwood Drive. We’ll be waiting there in a Buick coupe.”
“Okay,” said Drumm. “We’re leaving in about five minutes.”
“See you later,” Mason told him, and slipped the receiver back on its hook.