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Chapter 19

The four men pushed their way up the steps of the BelterMansion.

Sergeant Hoffman frowned at Mason. Now listen, no funny business. Im trusting you on this.

Just keep your eyes and ears open, and if you think Im uncovering something, go ahead and follow up the lead. Any time you think Im trying to give you the double-cross, you can walk out.

Hoffman said, Thats fair.

Lets remember one or two things before we start, cautioned Mason. I met Mrs. Belter at the drug store down at the foot of the hill. We came up together. She didnt have her keys with her, and she didnt have her purse. Shed left the door unlocked when she came out so she could get back in. She told me that the door was unlocked. When I tried the door it was locked. The night latch was on.

Drumm said, Shes such a liar, that if she told me a door was open, Id know it was locked.

Thats all right, too, Mason said, doggedly insistent, but remember that she didnt have her keys with her, and she went out in the rain. She was bound to figure on getting back in some way.

Maybe she was too rattled, Hoffman pointed out.

Not that baby, Mason remarked.

All right, go on, said Hoffman, interested. Whats next?

When I went in, said Mason, there was an umbrella in the stand, which was wet. There was a pool of water which had drained down from it on the floor underneath. You probably noticed it when you came.

Sergeant Hoffmans eyes narrowed.

Yes, he said, come to think of it, I did notice it. What about it?

Nothing, said Mason, yet. He reached out his finger and pushed the bell button.

After a few minutes the door was opened by the butler, who stared at them.

Carl Griffin home? asked Mason.

The butler shook his head. No, sir, he said, hes out. He had a business appointment, sir.

Mrs. Veitch, the housekeepers here?

Oh, yes, sir; of course, sir.

And her daughter, Norma?

Yes, sir.

All right, said Mason, were going up to Belters study. Dont say anything to anybody about the fact that were here. Do you understand?

Yes, sir, said the butler.

Hoffman stepped inside the door, and looked searchingly at the hall stand in which the umbrella had stood the night of the murder. His eyes were very thoughtful.

Drumm was whistling nervously in a low, almost inaudible note.

They climbed up the stairs, and went into the suite where Belters body had been found. Mason switched on the lights and began a minute search of the walls.

I wish you folks would take a look, he said.

What are you looking for? asked Drumm.

A bullet hole, said Mason.

Sergeant Hoffman grunted and said, You can save your time on that. Weve gone over every inch of these rooms, and had them photographed, and mapped. A bullet couldnt have gone through here without leaving a hole wed have seen, and thered have been plaster chipped loose.

I know, said Mason. I made a search before you got here looking for the same thing, and couldnt find it. But I want to make one more search. I know what must have happened, but I cant prove it, yet.

Sergeant Hoffman, suddenly suspicious, said, Look here, Mason! Are you trying to clear that woman?

Mason turned and faced him.

Im trying to show what actually happened, he said.

Hoffman frowned. That doesnt answer my question. Are you trying to free the woman?

Yes.

That lets me out, said Hoffman.

No, it doesnt, said Mason. Im going to give you an opportunity to get your pictures all over the front pages of the papers.

Thats what Im afraid of, said Hoffman. Youre clever, Mason. Ive looked you up.

All right, if youve looked me up, you know I never go back on my friends. Sidney Drumm is a friend of mine. I got him in on this. If it had been any kind of a frame-up, Id have got somebody I didnt know.

Sergeant Hoffman admitted grudgingly, Well, Im going to stick around a little while, but dont try any funny stuff. I want to know what youre getting at.

Mason stood staring at the bathroom. There were chalk-lines on the floor, marking the position in which the body of George Belter had been found.

Suddenly Mason laughed aloud.

Ill be damned!

Whats the joke? asked Drumm.

Mason turned to Sergeant Hoffman.

Okay, Sergeant, he said, Im ready to go ahead and show you something. Will you send for Mrs. Veitch and her daughter?

Sergeant Hoffman looked dubious. What do you want with them?

Mason said, I want to ask them some questions.

Hoffman shook his head.

No, he said, I dont think I want you tonot until I know more about it.

This is on the level, Sergeant, Mason insisted. You sit and listen to the questions. Any time you think Im getting off the reservation, you can stop me. Hells fire, man! If I wanted to slip over a fast one, Id run you in front of a jury and then pull my stuff as a surprise. I certainly wouldnt go out and take the police in on the ground floor of what my defense was going to be.

Sergeant Hoffman thought a minute.

Thats logical, he said. He turned to Drumm. Go on down and round up the two women, and bring them up here, he said.

Drumm nodded and left the room.

Paul Drake stared at Mason curiously. There was not the faintest trace of expression on Masons face, nor did he say anything during the few minutes which elapsed after Drumm left the room and the time when shuffling steps were heard outside of the door. Then the door opened, and Drumm bowed the two women into the room.

Mrs. Veitch was as sombre as ever. Her dull black eyes stared incuriously at the men in the room. She walked with her peculiar, long, flat-footed stride.

Norma Veitch wore a tight fitting dress, which accentuated the curves of her figure. She seemed proudly aware of her ability to catch the masculine eye as she stared from face to face, with a half smile on her full lips.

Mason said, We wanted to ask you a few questions.

Norma Veitch said, Again?

Mrs. Veitch, do you know anything about your daughters engagement to Carl Griffin? asked Mason, ignoring Normas comment.

I know theyre engaged.

Did you know that there was any romance there? asked Mason.

Theres usually a romance when people get engaged, she said, in her husky voice.

Im not talking about that, he told her. Please answer my question, Mrs. Veitch. Was there any romance between the pair, that you know of, prior to the time that Norma came here?

The dark, sunken eyes shifted for a moment toward Norma, then came back to Masons face.

No, she said, not before they came here. They got acquainted afterwards.

Did you know your daughter had been married? asked Mason.

The eyes stared full in his face without any change of expression.

No, said the woman wearily, she hasnt been married.

Mason shifted quickly to Norma.

How about it, Miss Veitch? Were you ever married?

Not yet, she said. Im going to be. And I dont see for the life of me how thats connected with the murder of George Belter. If you folks want to ask questions about that, I presume weve got to answer them, but I dont see that that means I have to go into my private affairs.

How could you marry Carl Griffin when you were already married? Mason asked.

Im not married, Norma Veitch said, and I dont have to stand for these insulting comments.

That isnt what Harry Loring says, Mason told her.

The girls face didnt change expression by so much as the flicker of an eyelash.

Loring? she said, in a calmly inquiring tone. Never heard of the man. Did you ever hear of a man named Loring, Mumsey?

Mrs. Veitch puckered her forehead. Not that I can recall, Norma. Im not very good at remembering names, but I dont know any Loring.

Perhaps, said Mason, I can refresh your recollection. Hes a man that lived in the Belvedere Apartments. He had apartment 312.

Norma Veitch shook her head hastily, Im certain theres some mistake.

Perry Mason pulled the copy of the summons and complaint in the divorce action from his pocket. Then perhaps you can explain how it happened that you verified this complaint, in which you swore on your oath that you had gone through a marriage ceremony with Harry Loring.

Norma Veitch flashed one quick glance at the paper, then shifted her eyes to her mother. Mrs. Veitchs face was quite expressionless.

Norma spoke rapidly.

Im sorry that you found that out, but since you did, I may as well tell you. I didnt want Carl to know anything about it. I was married and had trouble with my husband and left him. I came here and took my maiden name. Carl met me, and we fell in love with each other at first sight. We didnt dare to do anything about announcing our engagement because we knew that Mr. Belter would be furious. But, after Mr. Belter died, there wasnt any reason why we should keep it secret.

I found out my husband had another wife living. Thats one of the reasons we separated. I talked to a lawyer. He said the marriage wasnt any good. He told me I could get an annulment. I was going to do it quietly. I didnt figure that anybody would know a thing about it or connect the name of Loring with that of Veitch.

That isnt what Griffin says, Mason told her.

Of course not, she said. He doesnt know anything about it.

Mason shook his head.

No, he said. You see, Griffin has confessed. Were trying to check up on his confession, trying to find out if youre criminally responsible as an accessory or if you were just the victim of circumstances.

Sergeant Hoffman moved forward. I think, he said, that right here is where Im going to stop the show, Mason.

Mason turned on him. Listen for one more minute, Sergeant, he pleaded. You can stop the show then if you want to.

Norma Veitch looked swiftly and nervously from one to the other. Mrs. Veitchs face was a mask of weary resignation.

What happened, said Mason, is that Mrs. Belter had an argument with her husband, and fired the shot at him. Then she turned and ran, without waiting to see what had happened. Woman-like, she supposed, of course, that because she had shot at a man, she had hit him. As a matter of fact, at that distance, in her excitement, the chances were very strongly against her hitting him.

She turned and ran down the stairs, grabbed a coat, and went out into the rain. You, Miss Veitch, heard the shot and you got up, dressed, and came to see what the trouble was. In the meantime Carl Griffin had driven up to the house, and had come in. It was raining and he had put his umbrella in the rack, and went upstairs to the study.

You heard Griffins voice and Belters voice, and listened. Belter was telling Griffin about how his wife had shot at him, and that hed uncovered proof of her infidelity. He mentioned the mans name to his nephew and asked his nephew what should be done about it.

Griffin became curious as to the shooting, and got Belter to stand in the door of the bathroom, just as hed been standing when Mrs. Belter shot at him. When Griffin had him in that position, he raised the gun and shot Belter through the heart. Then he put the gun down, ran down the stairs, out through the front door, jumped in his car, and drove away.

He went out and got himself good and tight, so that he could put up a better front, let the air out of one tire, so as to account for his delay in getting here, and drove up, after he knew the police had arrived. He pretended that it was the first time hed returned since he went out in the afternoon. But he forgot about his umbrella which was in the hallway, and he overlooked the fact that hed found the door open when he came in, and had put the night latch on it when he went upstairs.

He shot his uncle because he knew that he was going to inherit under the will, and he realized that Eva Belter thought she had shot him. He knew that the gun could be traced to her and that the evidence was all against her. The purse in which Belter had found the incriminating evidence, which connected her with the man who was trying to keep his name out of the scandal sheet, was in Belters desk.

You and your mother talked over what you had seen, and decided that it was a fine opportunity to make Griffin pay a good price for silence. So it was agreed that he was to have his alternative of being convicted of murder, or making a marriage which would be advantageous to you.

Sergeant Hoffman scratched his head, and looked puzzled.

Norma Veitch flashed a swift glance to her mother.

Mason said slowly, This is your last chance to come clean. As a matter of fact, youre both accessories after the fact, and, as such, youre liable to prosecution, just as though you were guilty of murder. Griffin has made his statement, and we dont need your testimony. If you want to try to keep up the deception, go ahead. If you want to cooperate with the Police Department, nows your time to do it.

Sergeant Hoffman interrupted. Im just going to ask you one question, he said, and thats going to stop this business. Did you, or did you not, do what Mason says, or substantially what he said?

Norma Veitch said, in a low voice, Yes.

Mrs. Veitch, roused at last, whirled on her with fury snapping in her eyes.

Norma! she screamed. Shut up, you little fool! Its a bluff! Cant you see?

Sergeant Hoffman moved toward her. It may have been a bluff, Mrs. Veitch, he said slowly, but her statement and your comment have spilled the beans. Go ahead and tell the truth. Its the only thing left for you to do; otherwise Im going to figure youre accessories after the fact.

Mrs. Veitch ran her tongue along the line of her lips, and burst out furiously, I should have known better than to trust the little fool! She didnt know anything about it. She was asleep, as sound as a log. I was the one who heard the shot and came up here. I should have made him marry me, and never taken my daughter into my confidence. But I thought it was a break for her, and I gave it to her. Thats the gratitude I get!

Sergeant Hoffman turned and stared at Perry Mason.

This, he said, is a hell of a mess. What happened to the bullet that missed Belter?

Mason laughed. Sergeant, he said, thats what had me fooled all along. That wet umbrella in the rack, and the locked door bothered me. I kept figuring what must have happened, and then I couldnt figure out how it could have happened. Ive been over this room carefully, looking for a bullet hole. And then I realized that Carl Griffin had sense enough to know that he couldnt have pulled the crime if there had been that bullet hole. Therefore, there was only one thing which could have happened to that bullet. Dont you see?

Belter had been taking his bath. Its an enormous bath tub, and holds over two feet of water when the bath water is drawn. He was furious with his wife and was waiting for her to come in. He heard her come in when he was in his bath, and jumped up and flung on a bathrobe, yelling for her to come up.

They had their fight, and she shot at him. He was standing in the door of the bathroom, just about where the body was subsequently found. You can stand over there by the door and figure the line of fire by pointing your finger. When the bullet missed him, it went into the bath tub, and the water stopped the force of the bullet.

Then Carl Griffin came home, and Belter told him what had happened. Thats when he unwittingly signed his own death warrant. Griffin saw his opportunity. He got Belter to stand in just the position he had been when the shot was fired, and then Griffin picked up the gun in his gloved hand, pointed it at Belter, fired one shot through the heart, picked up the second empty shell, which had been ejected, put it in his pocket, dropped the gun and walked out. That was all there was to it. It was that simple.


Chapter 18 | The Case of the Velvet Claws | Chapter 20