Morning sun streamed through the windows of Perry Mason’s office. He sat at his desk, his eyes blood-shot from lack of sleep, looking across at Paul Drake.
“Well,” said Paul Drake, “I got the low-down on it.”
“Shoot,” Perry Mason told him.
“He caved in about six o’clock this morning,” the detective said. “They worked on him all night. Norma Veitch tried to go back on her story when she saw that he was going to sit tight. It was the housekeeper that broke him down. She’s peculiar. She would have hung out until the end of the world if her daughter hadn’t cracked and spilled the beans.”
“So she worked against Griffin finally, eh?” asked the lawyer.
“Yes, that’s the funny part of it. She is all wrapped up in the daughter. When she thought there was a chance to make a good alliance for the daughter, she did it. Then, when she realized that Griffin was in a trap and that there was nothing to be gained by sticking up for him, and that the daughter might go to jail as an accessory if she kept on lying, the woman turned her testimony against Griffin. After all, she was the one that knew the facts.”
“How about Eva Belter?” asked Mason. “I’ve got a writ of habeas corpus out for her.”
“You won’t need it. I think they turned her loose about seven o’clock. Do you suppose she’ll come here?”
Mason shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps she’ll be grateful,” he said, “perhaps not. The last time I saw her she was cursing me.”
The door in the outer office made a sound as it opened, then clicked back into place.
“Thought that door was locked,” said Paul Drake.
“Maybe it’s the janitor,” said Mason.
Drake got to his feet, gained the door of the private office in three swift strides, jerked the door open, looked out, and grinned. “Hello, Miss Street,” he said.
Della Street’s voice came through from the outer office. “Good morning, Mr. Drake. Is Mr. Mason in there?”
“Yes,” said Drake, and closed the door.
He looked at his wristwatch and then at the lawyer. “Your secretary comes to work early,” he said.
“What time is it?”
“Not eight o’clock yet.”
“She’s not due until nine,” Mason said. “I didn’t want to bother her. She’s had so much work piled on her in this case. So I worked out the application for a writ of habeas corpus on the typewriter myself. I got a judge to sign it about midnight, and had it served.”
“Well, they turned her loose,” the detective said. “You wouldn’t have needed the writ.”
“It’s better to have them when you don’t need them than to need them when you haven’t got them,” Perry Mason said grimly.
Once more the outer door opened and closed. In the quiet of the building the sound came through to the inner office. They heard a masculine voice; then the telephone on Mason’s desk rang. Mason scooped the receiver to his ear, and Della Street’s voice said, “Mr. Harrison Burke is out here and wants to see you at once. He says it’s important.”
The business street below the office had not yet taken on its rumble of sounds, and the words were audible to the detective. He got to his feet. “I’m on my way, Perry,” he said. “Just dropped in to tell you that Griffin has confessed and that they’ve turned your client loose.”
“Thanks for the information, Paul,” the lawyer remarked, then indicated a door which led to the corridor. “You can go out that way, Paul.”
The detective went through the door as Perry Mason said to the telephone, “Send him in, Della. Drake is leaving.”
A moment after Mason had hung up the telephone the door opened, and Harrison Burke came into the room. His face was wreathed in smiles.
“Wonderful detective work, Mr. Mason,” he said. “Simply wonderful. The papers are full of it. They predicted that Griffin would confess before noon today.”
“He confessed early this morning,” Mason said. “Sit down.”
Harrison Burke fidgeted, moved over to a chair, and sat down.
“The District Attorney,” he said, “is very friendly to me. My name is not being released to the press. The only newspaper which knows the facts is that scandal sheet.”
“You mean Spicy Bits?” asked Mason.
“All right, what about it?”
“I want you to be sure that my name is kept out of that paper.”
“You’d better see Eva Belter,” the lawyer told him. “She’s going to be handling the estate.”
“How about the will?”
“The will doesn’t make any difference. Under the laws of this state a person can’t inherit, under a will or otherwise, from one who has been murdered by his own hand. Eva Belter might not have been able to make her claim to the estate stand up. She was disinherited under George Belter’s will. But because Griffin can’t take under that will, the property will be returned to the estate, and Eva Belter will take, not under the will, but as a wife, being the sole surviving heir at law.”
“Then she will be in control of the paper?”
“I see,” said Harrison Burke, putting his fingertips together. “Do you know what the police are doing about her? I understood she was in custody.”
“She was released almost an hour ago,” the lawyer said.
Harrison Burke looked at the telephone. “May I use your telephone, counselor?”
Mason shoved it across the desk to him.
“Just tell my secretary what number you want,” said the attorney.
Harrison Burke nodded, held the receiver with that air of calm dignity which made it seem that he was posing for a photograph. He gave Della Street a number, then waited patiently. After a moment the receiver made squawking sounds, and Harrison Burke said, “Is Mrs. Belter there?”
The receiver made noise again.
Harrison Burke’s voice was oily in its unctuous modulations. “When she comes in,” he said, “would you mind telling her that the person who was to let her know when the shoes that she ordered came in, telephoned, and said that he had her size in stock now, and that she could get them whenever she was ready.”
He smiled into the transmitter, nodded his head once or twice as though he had been addressing an invisible audience, replaced the receiver with meticulous precision, and pushed the telephone back across the desk.
“Thank you, counselor,” he said. “I am more deeply grateful to you than I can well express. My entire career was in jeopardy, and I feel that it was through your efforts that a very grave wrong was averted.”
Perry Mason grunted an inarticulate comment.
Harrison Burke stood to his full height, smoothed down his vest, and thrust out his chin.
“When one is devoting one’s life to public work,” he said in his booming voice, “one naturally makes political enemies who will stoop to any form of trickery in order to achieve their ends. Under the circumstances, any little innocent indiscretion is magnified and held up in the press in a distorted light. I have served the public well and faithfully…”
Perry Mason got to his feet so abruptly that the swivel chair was pushed back until it slammed against the wall.
“You can save that,” he said, “for somebody that wants to hear it. As far as I’m concerned Eva Belter is going to pay me five thousand dollars. I am going to suggest to her that about half of this amount should come from you.”
Harrison Burke recoiled before the grim savagery of the attorney’s tone.
“But, my dear sir,” he protested, “My dear sir! You weren’t representing me. You were merely representing her upon a murder charge, a misunderstanding which might have had the most serious consequences to her. I was involved only incidentally, and as a friend…”
“I’m just telling you,” said Perry Mason, “what my advice is going to be to my client. And, as you may remember, she is now the owner of Spicy Bits. Whatever Spicy Bits publishes or doesn’t publish is going to be up to her. I don’t think that I need to detain you any longer, Mr. Burke.”
Harrison Burke gulped uncomfortably, started to say something, thought better of it, started to hold out his right hand, caught the glint in Perry Mason’s eyes, brought the hand to his side, and said, “Oh, yes, of course. Thank you, counselor. I wanted to drop in and express my appreciation.”
“Not a bit,” said Perry Mason. “Don’t mention it, and you can get out to the corridor through that door.”
He stood still at his desk, watching the back of the politician as it passed through the door and into the corridor. Then, as the door shut, he stood grimly staring at it, his eyes coldly antagonistic.
The door from the inner office opened softly. Della Street paused in the doorway, watching his profile. Then as she saw that he did not see her, did not even know that she had entered the room, she moved silently across the carpet to his side. There were tears in her eyes as her hands touched his shoulders.
“Please,” she said, “I’m so sorry.”
He started at the sound of her voice, turned, and looked down into the moist eyes. For several seconds they looked at each other, saying nothing. Her hands clung to his shoulders frantically, as though she were clinging to something that was being pulled from her grasp.
“I should have known better, chief. I read the papers this morning, and felt so low that…”
His long arm circled her shoulders, and scooped her to him. His lips pressed down to hers.
“Forget it, kid,” he said in gruff tenderness.
“Why didn’t you explain?” she asked chokingly.
“It wasn’t that,” he said slowly, choosing the words, “it was the fact that it needed an explanation that hurt.”
“Never, never, never, so long as I live, will I ever doubt you again.”
There was a cough in the doorway. Unnoticed, Eva Belter had entered from the outer office.
“Pardon me,” she said in icy tones, “if I seem to intrude but I am very anxious to see Mr. Mason.”
Della Street flung herself away from Perry Mason with flaming cheeks, and surveyed Eva Belter with eyes that had lost their tenderness and flashed with rage.
Perry Mason looked at the woman steadily. He seemed not in the least disturbed.
“All right,” he told her, “come in and sit down.”
“You might,” she said, in acid tones, “wipe the lipstick off your mouth.”
Perry Mason stared steadily at her.
“That lipstick,” he said, “can stay there. What is it you want?”
Her eyes softened, and she moved toward him.
“I wanted to tell you,” she said, “how much I misunderstood you, how much it meant to me…”
Perry Mason turned to Della Street.
“Della,” he said, “open the drawers in those filing cases.”
His secretary looked at him with uncomprehending eyes.
Perry Mason pointed to the steel filing cabinets. “Pull open a couple of drawers,” he said.
The girl opened the drawers, which were packed with pasteboard jackets that, in turn, were filled with papers.
“Do you see those?” he asked Eva Belter.
Eva Belter looked at him, frowned, and nodded her head.
“All right,” said Mason. “Those are cases. Every one of them is a case, and all the other drawers are filled with cases just the same way. They represent cases that I’ve handled. Most of them are murder cases.
“When I get all done with your case you’re going to have a jacket in there, just about the same size as all of the other jackets, and it’s going to be of just about the same importance. Miss Street is going to give you a number. Then if anything comes up, and I want to look back at the case to find out what was done I’ll give her that number, and she’ll get me the jacket with the papers in it.”
Eva Belter frowned.
“What’s the matter,” she asked, “don’t you feel well? What are you trying to do? What do you want to say?”
Della Street stepped from the filing case to the door which led to the outer office. She moved out and softly closed the door. Perry Mason stared steadily at Eva Belter, and said, “I’m just telling you where you stand in this office. You’re a case and nothing but a case. There are hundreds of cases in that file, and there are going to be hundreds of other cases. You’ve paid me some money already, and you’re going to pay me five thousand dollars more. If you take my advice you’re going to get twenty-five hundred of it from Harrison Burke.”
Eva Belter’s lip quivered.
“I wanted to thank you,” she said. “Believe me, this is sincere. This comes from the heart. I’ve done play acting with you before, but this time it’s real. I feel so deeply grateful to you that I’d do anything on earth for you. You’re simply wonderful. I come up here to tell you so, and you start talking to me as though I was just a specimen that had strayed into a laboratory.”
This time there were real tears in her eyes, and she looked at him wistfully.
“There’s lots to be done yet,” he told her. “You’ve got to see that Griffin is convicted of first degree murder, in order to set that will aside. You’ve got to keep in the background in this thing, but you’ve got to keep in the battle. The only money that’s available to Griffin is money that’s in George Belter’s safe. We’ve got to see that he doesn’t get any of it. Those are some of the things that have got to be done. I’m just telling you so you won’t think you can get along without me.”
“That isn’t what I said! That isn’t what I meant. That isn’t what I thought,” she said rapidly.
“All right,” he said, “I’m just telling you.”
There was a knock at the door, which opened from the outer office.
“Yes?” called Perry Mason.
The door opened and Della Street slipped into the room.
“Can you take another case today?” she asked solicitously, looking at his bloodshot eyes.
He shook his head, as though to shake away some mental fog.
“What kind of case?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s a girl expensively dressed, good looking. Seems well bred. She’s in trouble, but she won’t open up.”
“Sulky?—Well, perhaps I’d call her sort of trapped.”
“That’s because you like her looks,” Mason grinned. “If you didn’t you’d call her sulky. What’s your hunch, Della? You usually have pretty good hunches on how the cases are going to turn out. Look at the last client.”
Della Street looked at Eva Belter, then looked hurriedly away.
“This girl,” she said slowly, “is angry inside, all torn up. She’s a lady, though, almost too much of a lady. She’s like… well, maybe she is just sulky.”
Perry Mason heaved a great sigh. The savage glint slowly faded from his eyes, and in its place came a look of thoughtful interest. He raised the back of his hand to his mouth, wiped off the lipstick, and smiled at Della Street.
“I’ll see her,” he said, “just as soon as Mrs. Belter goes out. And,” he added, “that will be in a very few minutes.”