His Last Case
His Last Case
Thoughts raced through the black gloved man’s mind as he started to carry out his plans for revenge. He opened the medium blue sedan’s door, and stepped out. His steps were mysterious as the man himself. His eyes wandered casually until they rested on apartment 4060–Della Street. He walked menacingly up the walk, and jnicjed in the door. A smooth feminine voice answered.
“Perry” it said. “You’re early, just a second.”
Light steps sounded, and the latch clicked. The door was opened eagerly. A look of puzzlement crossed Della Street’s features and then recogniition. The recognitiion, however, did not soothe her features. Instead it gesitered absolute horror in Della’s eyes. She tried to push the door shut, but she was too late. The man had already set one foot inside her apartment, and was advancing threateningly.
“Stop right there,” she said. “Stop right there, or I swear I’ll scream!”
The man continued his advance, and stopping just short of Della, he put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief.
Della was true to her word. She screamed!
It came too late. After an instant of strangled sound, the man pressed the handkerchief to her mouth, and Della Street slowly drifted into oblivion.
The gloved man dragged Della’s limp body out into the dark night, and into the sedan. After carefully pressing Della’s fingerprints to a fun, he left her in the car and ran back up the apartment door. He tacked a note on it, and smiled once maliciously before walking once again away from the door. His shoulders shook in silent mirth.
He chuckled five words, “Mason, I’ll get you tet!” Then ge grew serious once more, walked deliberately back to the sedan, and started the ignition. The car purred slowly along the urban streets of LA and onto the highway.
Perry Mason turned his key into the lock of his law office, then he opened it again, took one last looked, and sighed.
He went back in and sat down in the blue office lounge chair, and took out a small black velvet box from his overcoat pocket. He handled it nothing short of caressingly, and opened it. Inside was a ring. A ring any woman would love to get her hands on. It was obviously expensive, there was at least a full karat diamond in the pure gold setting. But, that was hardly what made it beautiful. Somehow, the jeweler had made the setting singularly charming, totally feminine, and not a bit garish or loud despite the worth.
Authoratatively, Mason got up and opened the door once more. WIth a long look, the famou criminal lawyer bid his farewell. Halfway down the hall, he turned back and took down the sign of his door which read, PERRY MASON, ATTORNEY AT LAW. Mason grinned impulseively, the same boyish grin that made him so winning, the grin so disarming to enemies, yet delightful to friends. He took out a pockjetknife, and carved the words, “RETIRED over the sign. As he got into the elevator for perhaps the last time, he toseed the sign into the waste paper basket and watched the doors close in front of his face.
Mason was as nervous as a shcoolboy, and he knew it. Yet somehow he didn’t seem to mind. He’d served the law well, but now it was time to step down to someone younger. He was past fifty now, and didn’t feel it a bit. It showed every so often on his face, thought. His hair was now a distinguished gray at the tips, and lines under his eyes were beginning to tell his long years of staying up on a case. He was still the boy ready for adventure, but now he wanted to try a different kind.
Once in his car, Mason turned his attention to the road and in fifteen minutes, he was in urbania. Suddenly he realized he was at Della’s, and the car motor had been turned off. It was an instinct now, he’d been here countless times before. Quickly he looked back on those times. The fun he and Della had had in those days. In the past few years, Mason had become a distinctive laywer, dealing less and less with the extraordinary and more with the every day. He couldn’t place exactly when the change occurred, but he unconsciously missed the excitement of a murder case. He hadn’t had a murder case in at least a year now, and the past couple of weeks as he opened the newspapers, he realized that the world was just as full of murders as before. He just wasn’t handling any cases anymore. Perhaps it was his standards, his insistence on only the truth as a defense. People didn’t do that anymore, they just sat back and punched holes on the prosecution’s case. People wanted a younger man. They thought Mason was old-fashioned, perhaps he was. He wans’t willing to change, though. So he decided to just get out of the game. Tonight was his last night. There was always Della, though, faithful as ever. Tonight he’d tell her what he’d been longing to the past few days. This was their last night out as laywer and secretary.
Mason’s hand trembled ever so slightly as he opened the Lincoln’s door. He stopped and steadied himself for a moment, and then strode up to Della Street’s apartment door. He rang the doorbell several times before noticing the note. It said, Perry, Sorry about dinner. Something urgent came up. You go ahead without me. Della.
“Ouch, that hurt,” thought Mason. “That really hurt.” Hadn’t Della felt how special this night was? She wasno mind reader, but she’d always been especially adapt to his moods. Why did this have to be the night she was immune? Oh, well, if Della said something was urgent, it was. He’d just have to take her word on this one.
He realized suddenly he wasn’t hungry anymore. “I’ll just go home and have something light,” he thought.
He started the Lincoln up and backed out of the driveway. It was only a short drive to his own apartment, so Mason had little time to think. When he finally finished fixing a cup of coffee and a couple of sandwiches, it was almost 11:00. He sat down in front of the TV and turned on the news. “No,” he decided. “There were no less murders than before.” Every other news item was aobut terrorizing or something of the sort. No, it was him. He just had to face that truth was “old-fashioned.” No one seemed to care about truth anymore. It almost made you lose faith in manking. Then suddenly he was jerked out of his musings. Something was on the news that awoke his attention. A murder, well that was nothing new, wait amoment! Della’s name had been mentioned. What had she had to do with a murder? He turned the cahnnel, and here it was again:
“Della Street, secretary to the famous criminal trial lawyer, Perry Mason, is being questioned concerning the murder,” the announce said. “Miss Street’s fingerprints were found on the gun used int he murder of Stanley Street, her uncle. Mr. Street was found dead earlier this evenin, shot through the head, and hidden in his closet. Miss Street was his only surviving relative and was to receive the balance of the millionaire’s estate when he died. It is the police theory that Miss Street was unwilling to wait for the natural demise of her uncle and decided to help him along. Lietuenant Holcomb of the Los Angeles homicide investigation squad is personally overseeing this case, but has no comment at this time. It is rumored that Perry Mason was retiring and that Lieutenant Holcomb has seized this opportunity to take his revenge. Mason was known to embarrass him over and over again in court and was purportedly responsible for his demotion from chief investigator to underling under LIeutenant Arthur Tragg twenty years ago. Arthur Tragg, now retired, made a friendship seemingly impossible with Mason, and became quite intimate with him, despite the fence between them. Miss Street has refused to answer any questions concerning the murder. She refers all interrogators to her lawyer with the words, “No Comment!” Attempts to reach Mr. Perry Mason, her lawyer, have been futile so far, say the police–“
Mason didn’t want ot hear anymore. He turned the television off, and rushed out to his car, regardless of the phone. No longer heeding traffic laws, he ran through two red lights and never once slowed to the speed limit. He was at the police station in under 7 minutes and inside the door in 8. Lieutenant Holcomb met Mason at the door and greeted him with his usual sarcasm.
Mason wasn’t too stunned to banter with him, though. Holcomb was greeted with a biting sarcasm far surpassing his won. Then Mason got down to business.
“I demand to see my client,” Mason said.
“That’s jsut fine, Mason. Come right in. We have a room reserved just for you. I believe Miss Street is waiting for you,” replied Holcomb.
Holcomb showed Mason into a small bare room in which Mason wouldn’t have left his cat, and closed the door behind him. Della was sitting on a chair in the middle of the room. As the door opened, she turned around. Mason knew that she had been up all night eing interrogated. Her eyes were the only part of her body that showed it, though. They were haggard and red from crying, but she stuck her chin out as Mason entered and pulled herself together. It tore Mason’s heart to see her like this. Countless clients had been in this position, but nothing had touched him as she did now. He walked over to her, put his arm on her shoulder. Shelooked up and words flowed out smoothly.
“Chief, I did just what you always told all your other clients to do. I didn’t say a word.” Della tried to smile brightly.
“Good girl,” Mason said. He tore a piece of paper out of his pocket and wrote on it–
Holcomb was just a little too eager to let me see you. I think the room is bugged. Follow my lead.
Mason handed hte paper to her and then returned it to his pocket.
“Listen, Della. I don’t think they have you booked. I’m going back to the office, get Jackson out of bed, and get a writ of habeus corpus for you. Sit tight and wait for my OK to do any talking. Understand?”
Mason patted her reassuringly and walked out. Lieutenant Holcomb met him and grinned. With one swift move, he reached into Mason’s pocket and took out the piece of paper he had written Della on.
“Guess you think you’re pretty smart Mason, eh?”
Mason agreed with him.
“Well, just ot show you a little police courtesy, we’re going to sav eyou some trouble. Don’t bother getting a writ. Miss Street is being booked right now. On the charge of first degree murder of her uncle, Mr. Stanley Street. After she’s booked, perhaps you can return and speak to her. Until then, good day, Mr. Mason.”
Mason stalked out of the police station and got into his car. He slowed down to the speed limit until he got out of the downtown area. Then he stepped on the gas until he was in front of his apartment.
He hurried in and picked up the phone to dial the Drake Detective Agency. The operator told him Mr. Drake had gone home for the night, but that she would be glad to take a message to him. Mason told her no, hung up, and called Drake’s home number.
As he heard Paul Drake’s sleep voice come over the line, he began to talk like lightning.
“Paul, Perry. I don’t suppose you listened to the news tonight, but Della’s Uncle Stangley has been murdered and Della’s been charged with it. Here’s what I want you to do. Get the dope on Stanley Street, all of it. I want to know about his past, andy skeletons in his closet, etc. I want to know who was the last person to see him alive. Get me the number of the murder weapon, and anything else the police have got on the case. Have you got that?”
Paul’se voice suddenly alert, answered in the affirmative. Then it melted into concern. “You going to be OK, Perry? I mean, waht’s all this about Della murder someone she loved that Uncle of hers. Even Holcomb should know her better than that. Well, I’ll get right on it. And thanks, Perry.”
Paul Drake hung up.
Mason dropped the phone into its cradle and just thought. Della murder? Inconceivable! He was apalled at the thought of her in jail. Didn’t Holcomb know Della better than that? This was one of the many times during the past years he fervently wished Lieutenant Arthur Tragg had not retired. Tragg would know better. He awakened out of his musing by a knock at the door.
It was Tragg.
Tragg grasped Mason’s hand tightly and shook it. “Hi, Perry. I just heard about it and came right over. Can I do anything to help?”
Mason told him what he could do. “Arthur, here’s what I want you to do. You must still have some connections on the force.”
“I want you to call in all the favors you have saved up. Get everything on the case. From the police theory to witnesses, if there were any. Understand?”
Tragg nodded again.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Mason demanded. “Get going!”
Tragg hurried out and then returned.”You going to be OK, Perry? This whole business is preposterous. Don’t worry about it. No jury could ever convict Della.” Tragg smiled reassuringly.
“Thanks you old coot. I’m fine. Don’t worry aobut me. Della’s the one in jail. Get out of here.” Mason returned Tragg’s smile and shooed him out.
Mason got comfortable in his arm chair and tried to get some shut-eye. He knew there was nothing he could do to help Della until he got some facts. He tried to tell his mind. It wouldn’t listen. After an hour of fitful sleep, the phone rang.
“Perry, you listening OK, here it goes. Stanley Street was shot through the head with a .38 caliber automatic number 247031 between 7 and 8 o’clock. The gun was sold to him last week. The store owner says Della was in there with him, encouraging the purchase, telling him that a man in his position with his money needed a gun. The store owner claims Street was less than enthusiastic about it and gave him the impression that he’d put it in his closet and forget about it. The day after the gun was purchased, Street’s maid was cleaning and found it in the left hand drawer of his bedroom desk. She said nothing about it. The night of the murder at about 9:00 she was up cleaning and noticed it wasn’t there. She was curious and looked around until she opened the closet door and there he was, dead as a doornail. She screamed and fainted and Street’s housekeeper came up to see what was going on. The housekeeper took one look, realized what had happened, and called thepolice. The police came up, did some looking around and found the gun responsibe for Street’s death hidden in some bushes beneath his bedroom window. They rushed it to fingerpriting and found several good latents of Della’s. One on the barrel, and one on the clip, and two on the handle. An all point bulletin was put out on Della and she was picked up by a patrol car that had been giving out tickets to illegally parked cars. She never left at 3-block vicinity and when the car found her in the same place for 3 straight hours, well, you’d get suspicious, too, if a nice-looking lady were wandering the streets near the office. That’s all I could get so far there are rumors that the DA is standing in on this one personally. I believe you know him. Donaldson Scudder, right? The newspaper boys hear the case is all wrapped up, there are witnesses all over the place. I’ll keep on it, any other instructions?”
Mason hesitated a moment. “Get me the names of the housekeeper and the maid. Find out all about them. Try and find out who those witnesses are,” he said.
“Gotcha,” Drake said. “That it?’
“That’s it for now. Keep me psted.”
“OK,” Drake said and hung up.
Mason started turning facts over in his mind. His eyes lit up and those who knew him would have recognized that light. It was the light of fight and when Mason fought, he never gave up.
It was morning before Mason got any new facts to work on. Tragg called.
“Perry, Arthur. I talked with Paul and Ill try not to give you duplicate information unless I need to. Here goes: The store owner’s name is Joe Hardley. He runs Hardley Hardware down on Main Street. He identified Della in a lineup and had a very bad impression to give of her. He said that he’d known Della’s Uncle for years and that he was too naive to ever think he’d need a gun. He knew that Street certainly didn’t want a fun, that Della forced him into it. Hardley said he’d known women like Della before. So sweet, so considerate, with nothing on their minds but themselves. In short, Della gave him the impression of being a regular witch.”
“Street’s neighbor–Pearl Schmitt–is one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. She picked Della out of a lineup and identified her as being up at her uncle’s at 7:30 last night. You know the type. She’s going to give you hell when you cross examine her. She’s not going to let you get away with anything. Incidentally, the housekeeper and maid won’t say anything about Della being there. All they said was that Mrs. Schmidt was a nosy old bat and that she should mind her own business.
“The housekeeper’s name is Ruth Parker. She’s been working for Stanley Street for over six years. She is very loyal to him and knows Della personally. Miss Parker refuses to tell the police more than that she didn’t kill him
“The maid is Reida Kooms. She’s the housekeeper’s sister-in-law by Parker’s younger brother. Kooms is just a professional name she uses. Reida and Alice tolerate each other for her brother’s sake. He loves them both. F act is, Kooms thinks Alice isn’t good enough for him and vice versa. About six months ago, the brother, Leiter Abbott Sims, was hit by a truck and paralyzed from the hips down. He didn’t have very much insurance, so Ruth offered to take care of him. He’d hear nothing about it, so she got Reida the job with Street.”
“The DA has got some surprise witness under lock and key and there was no way I could get anyone to talk about that witness. This was the best I could do.”
“That’s fine,” Mason replied. “Keep your ears and eyesopen and you know where to reach me.”
“Sure, Perry. I’ll keep alert,” Tragg said.
“OK. Oh, and Arthur?” Mason asked.
“Thanks for everything.”
“OK, hang up the phone, you–” Mason got cut off before he could finish. He replaced the receiver with a grin and began to get things together. First he decided to get a shower and get back to the office. He’d get Gertie to cancel his appointments and hold his calls–and Della’s. He oculdn’t think in this apartment, it was too small. He’d found out long ago the best way for him to work was to pace. To talk to himself if necessary until he came up with something.
Mason stepped out of the elevator and walked up to his office door. He stood and stared at it. Something was wrong. He grinned. The sign on his door had “retired” carved all over it. Gertie must have found it in the elevator’s wastebasket and hung it back up. It seemed weeks since he had done that. He’d been off to get married and now he had to get Della off of a murder change before he could marry her.
Mason sighed and walked in. He met Gertie’s eyes, read the concern in them, dismissed it, and told her to hold all calls and cancel all appointments. He walked into his private office and paced.
He pounded the facts into his mind over and over. There was no reason for anyont to kill Stanley Street, except for money. There was no burglary, only Della. Only Dell had a reason to kill him. She hadn’t, he knew that. So who had? He stopped pacing. Maybe someone did have a reason to kill Stanley Street. He’d told Paul to get the information on Street, to find all hidden skeletons. Damn him, why the hell couldn’t he listen
Mason picked up the phone and told Gertie to get him Drake. There was a moment of waiting and then Paul’s voice came on the line.
“She said, ‘Oh, I knew it would happen. He did it. HE did it!’ She kept saying ‘He did it’ over and over again. When my man finally got her calmed down, he realized he’d hit pay dirt and called me. It seems that for some days, she has noticed a medium blue sedan parked in front of her house for the past week or two. After two days of it, she went up to the car to see what was going on. She walked up to the car and knocked on the window. The man in the car had a pair of binoculars and was watching Street’s house. Of course, when he saw her, he hid the binoculars and tried to pull his hat down over his head. She told him to get the hell of there, so he drove away. She didn’t see the car for another two days, and when she did, it was at her neighbor’s. She didn’t feel any responsibility to tell her neighbors their business, so she kept quiet. Now that she knows he’s dead, she’s going to the police with this story. My man couldn’t stop her, so he reported.”
“Fine, Paul. Fine. Now here’s what I want you to do. I want you to dig up all the dirt you can about Stanley Street. I want to know of any woman in his life, where he got his money, everything. Do you understand, Paul?”
“Sure, Perry. I already have all that stuff. You told me to get it before, remember? You didn’t think I would forget anything like that, did you, Perry?” Paul sounded hurt.
“I’m sorry, Paul, this case is personal. But if you had the information, why the hell didn’t you tell me?” Mason demanded.
“It wasn’t anything new. I thought it could wait until morning,a nd besides, I had more important stuff to think of.”
“OK, Paul. It’s morning. Give it to me now.”
“Stanley Richard Street III was born in Lansing, Michigan–“
“Paul, skip the preliminaries,” Mason said irritably.
“OK, when Street was 20, he married Mrs. Alexander Watkins, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Garten.”
“Divorced or widowed?”
“Divorced, I’m coming to that. Elizabeth Garten married Alexander Watkins in Mexico when she was nineteen. It was just an impulse on her part and after one year of marriage, she and her husband separated. He refused to give her a divorce, though, so she was stuck with him. She was twenty and very attractive. She came to California–she’d been living in Louisiana–under the assumed name of Emily Gifford. She met Stanley Street, who had moved to California to take over his dead father’s multimillion follar comapny, STREET, STEEL AND MATTHEWS and married him. He put some pressure on Alexander Watkins to procure a legal divorce and remarriage. No one knows that the pressure was or thaty aren’t telling me. Rumors were spread at the time that Street threatened to kill Watkins, but–“
“Paul,” Mason sait, irritated. “I didn’t call you up to hear rumors. You know I want facts, cold hard facts!”
“Sorry, Perry. Fact is, I just have no idea what happened. One day Watkins was holding fast to the idea that he’d never give Elizabeth Garten a divorce, and the next, he was almost eager to let her get one. We can only speculate on what happened. It was very hush, hush. Elizabeth Garten went to Reno, lived there for six weeks, and got a divorce.”
“What were the property settlements?”
“There wasn’t any property settlement. There was virtually no property and what there was of it, Elizabeth Garten let Watkins have.”
“Did she ever see Watkins again?”
“I don’t know. Even if she did, I doubt it I could fin out. I’ll try.”
“What were the feelings between Elizabeth Garten and Watkins after the divorce? Bad enough for Watkins to want revenge?”
“There were no more or less ill feelings than is usually found between a divorced couple. They hated each other’s guts, and Hey– wait a second, Perry. You aren’t thinking that Watkins was the man in the blue sedan, are you?”
“If he was the man in the sedan, you could lay a great murder charge on him.”
“It was a long itme ago. I doubt if I could make it stick, but it could make an excellent red herring to pull across the prosecution’s case. By the way, Paul, whatever did happen to Elizabeth Watkins?”
“She died three years after an almost perfect marriage to Street. He never remarried. Anything else you want to know?”
“Get me the background of STREET, STEEL AND MATTHEWS. Who are Steel and Matthews and what is the stock situation? Who’s on top now that Street is dead? Can you get that, Paul?”
“Can do Perry, anything else?”
“Trace this Alexander Watkins. I want everything on him. If I’m going to have to fight this in front of a jury, I’m going to need the facts!”
“Will do. Do you really think this will go as far as a jury?’
“I don’t know, Paul. I sure hope not, but our new DA doesn’t know Della and if he goes through with it, I’m going to.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Thanks, Paul. Get working!” Mason hung up.
The prison door opened on Della’s face. She couldn’t believe this was happening! Uncle Stanley dead? Della lay down on the cot and cried. Memories came trickling through her mind unheeded. She was nineteen again. Uncle Stanley had come from Michigan to help nurse her mother. She had died before Uncle Stanley came and Della cried bitterly night after night. When Uncle Stanley came, there was someone to share her grief with. She did. She cried on Uncle Stanley’s shoulder. He understood. He cried with her, until no more tears would flow. Then Della got on with life. She could not stay in Louisiana, there were too many memories to haunt her. She couldn’t go to Michigan with Uncle Stanley. Mom wouldn’t want that. She’d want her to make it on her own. Della started a new life in California. Her meager savings got her as far as Los Angeles and she started looking for a job. IN Louisiana, Della had been a secretary. She knew shorthand and could type as fast as anyone in the country. She got a job quickly, but it was a while before she found a good boss. She began working in a young lawyer’s office. Perry Mason was his name. He was a gentleman, he was intelligent, and he was definitely handsome. She worked hard and in a couple years, he was famous and she was in love. Della knew she’d never marry him. She loved Mason. He was part of her life. He loved her because she was part of his life. Della told Mason many times that he needed a secretary, not a wife. It hurt, but it was true. She awoke. The cell doors opened once more, another prisoner was showed in. She swore, glared at Della, and sat down.
Della was uncertain how to act. She decided not to say anything.
The other prisoner broke the silence by saying, “What are you in the slammer for, pretty girl?’
Della politely answered, “Murder.” The word came out slowly. It was still strange.
“Big stuff. What’s your name, sister?”
“Della Street. And yours, Miss–“
“Ms. Leila Werner.”
“What are you in here for?”
“Murder. I killed my husband. He was cheating, though. He deserved it.”
“So, Della, who’d you kill?”
Della hesitated, then said, “I didn’t kill anyone. The police think I killed my uncle for my inheritance money.”
“Oh, you’re one of those. Well, you don’t need to worry about me. I won’t tell anyone your secret. How much money was it?”
Della found herself trying to explain, then decided it was useless. She tried to get to sleep. She dreamed of the trial–her trial–and convinction.
Perry was defending her. Witness after witness came to testify against her. Their eyes smoldered with hosility when they met Della’s. Mason cross-exmained witness after witness. He couldn’t get an inch of their testimony to shake. His eyes stared out of his head with utter hopelessness. He never spoke to Della, she knew the case was hopeless. She was going ot be killed and no one oculd help her. She got on the stand after the closing of the prosecution’s case. Her story was told. The courtroom looked at her with open hostility and then laughed. The judge laughed while banging his gavel. The jury laughed, the prosecution laughed, Gertie laughed, Paul laughed, Mason laughed. Their grim faces stuck in her mind. Hamilton Burger got up to cross-examine her. He smiled in his nicey-nice way and began to speak patronizingly.
“Now tell us again, Miss Street, where you were the night of the murder.”
“I told you, I don’t know. I told everyone I don’t know. Doesn’t anyone believe me?”
“How much money were you to receive in the event of your uncle’s death?”
“I don’t know. I told you I don’t know. I never cared. I loved Uncle Stanley. He was a second father to me.”
“Now why don’t you tell the truth? You’ve heard what the witnesses have said. The maid and the housekeeper have already testified of the conversation between you and your Uncle concerning the will. You were arguing about the inheritance money. You wanted more, didn’t you? You thought your Uncle was too generous to charities, didn’t you? You wanted all the money to yourself. Admit it, you turned around and opened your uncle’s dresser drawer, you took out the gun you knew was in there because you had bought it two days before. You took it out and held it to your uncle’s head and shot him–didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t.” Della broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. She was escorted off the witness stand and back to her cell for the noon hour recess.
Mason ended his case. The jury deliberated and Della stood to hear the jury’s verdict. She was guilty. The judge turned to her with hostile eyes and pronounced the sentence.
“Della Street you have been found guilty of the first degree murder of your Uncle Stanley Richard Street III. You will begin a stay on Death Row until the time that your death sentence will be carried out. Court adjourned.”
Della awoke with sweat breaking out on her face. She was afraid to sleep again. Her slight dozes announced grim pictures of her final moments of life. Finally, it was morning.
The matron, dressed in gray, marched up to Della’s cell, opened the door and ordered her out. Mason was there to see her.
Mason greeted Della from across a glass barrier. His voice was as cheerful as ever, but his eyes had softened with affection and concern.
“Hi, Chief!” Della said.
“Hi, Della,” answered Mason.
For the first time in a very long time, silence reigned between them. Uncomfortably, Mason broke it.
“Della, what happened last night?”
Della knew the drill. He wanted all the details, even if they seemed insignificant. Even if he already knew them. “You sent me to get ready for our dinner date at 4:30. I spent an hour and a half at the beauty shop.”
“Which shop, Della? Will they remember you?”
“Chief!” Della shouted indignantly. Now that it was her turn to be on this side, she didn’t liek it at all. Shouldn’t she be treated a little differently? Apparently not according to Mason. She was just one more case.
“I’m sorry, Della. I believe you, but a judge and jury are going to want some evidence,” said Mason, relenting.
Della took a breath. “I was at Ruth’s Hair and Nails. You know where that is?”
“Yes, I’ve picked you up there before.”
“I’m sure they’ll remember me. I called in in the morning for an appointment at 4:45 and when I came in, they said they didn’t have any appointment at that time and I argued with the receptionist until Ruth herself came in and told the receptionist I had a standing appointment with her and she’d take me herself.”
“Oh, Ruth is a personal friend of yours?”
“Yes, she and I were roommates in college.”
“She won’t mind coming to court, will she?”
“No, she’d do anything for me.” Della blushed.
Mason raised his eyebrows and added, “I won’t ask what that means now, but when this thing is cleared up, you’re going to explain why Ruth would do anything for you.”
“What’s Ruth’s full name and where does she live?’
“She has married tiwce, first time widowed, second divorced, but she keeps her first husband’s name–Mrs. Ruth A. Parker. She lives on 545 Anchor Street, apartment 1B.”
“Ruth Parker.” Mason repeated the name. “How well were you acquainted with your uncle’s domestic staff?”
“I never saw them. I’d always call before I’d come and he gave the servants the rest of the day off. Why do you ask?”
“It’s nothing. Do you have any idea why your Uncle gave his servants the day off?”
“Oh, he was just like that. He didn’t want ot make them stay at his house if there was nothing to do, and when I came over, I enjoyed cooking and cleaning for him. Besides, the housekeeper and the maid had families of their own to take care of.”
“Are you sure those are the only reasons?”
“Cheif, Uncle Stanley told me that was why and I never thought of it again.”
“Della, one more thing. What was Ruth Parker’s maiden name?”
“Let me think. Oh yes, it was Watkins.”
“All right. What did you do after you left Ruth’s beauty shop.”
“I went home.”
“When did you go to your Uncle Stanley’s?”
“Chief, I didn’t. I swear I never left my apartment.”
“You must have, Della. I came by about 8:30 for our date and you weren’t home. There was a note on the door that said something urgent had come up and I was to go eat without you.”
“Chief, I didn’t leave any note on my door. I went home and got dressed for our date. You never showed up. At about 10:00, I called the office and there was no answer. I thought an important case must have come up, and you just didn’t have time to call me and cancel our dinner date. I went to bed and the next thing I knew, I was being interrogated by our friendly neighbrohood Lieutenant Holcomb of Homicide.”
“You don’t remember being picked up by a patrol officer?”
“You don’t remember leaving your apartment and wandering around town?”
“della, you had to have left your apartment. A patrol car was giving out tickets to cars parked illegally, and he came back every hour. After seeing you the same 3 blocks for 3 hours, he suspected something was wrong. An all points bulletin was out on you, and when it finally dawned on the guy who you must be, he hurried back and you were still there. You don’t remember that? You don’t remember why you were wandering the streets? You don’t even remember being there?’
“No, Chief. I’m sorry. I just don’t remember anything after I went to sleep.”
“I believe you, Della. One thing, though. You are sure you were in your apartment at 8:30? I swear I came by to pick you up and there was this note on the door that said something urgent had come up and that I was to go on without you.”
“Chief, I wa sin that apartment from 7:30 to 10:00. I swear it.”
“If you say you were there, Della, I believe you, but either one of us is having delusions, which is out of the question, or someone is playing a very cruel joke on the both of us.”
“Chief, I’m sorry I’ve gotten you into such a mess. A swell client I am. I can’t even give myself an alibi. I don’t even know where I was myself at the time of the murder, let alone with someone else. All these years we;ve had clients in situations which seemed impossible and I’ve kept on telling you to drop the case. And you’ce always come through. This is one thing that I don’t think even you can get me out of. In my official secretarial capacity, I advise you to drop the case,” Della said bleakly.
“You poor kid,” he sympathized. “Listen, Della, I’m going to get you out of this if it’s the last thing I do.” And it probably will be, Mason said to himself.
“Cheer up. Aren’t you the one that always tells me how much I really love a mystery, how much I enjoy an impossible fight? This is hardly the time for me to stop. Besides, I’ve never lost a murder case yet.”
“I hate to break your record, Chief, but I’m afraid I will.”
“Nonsense. Now be a good girl and give me one of those dazzling smiles you’re famous for getting people’s minds off their troubles, and leave everything to me. Besides, how can I let Holcomb have the satisfaction of knowing that he is the only police officer ever to get a winning case against the infamous Perry Mason?”
Della laughed hollowly and forced herself to smile for Mason’s sake.
“Now that’s more like it!” Mason exclaimed and gave Della a wink as he motioned to the matron that the interview was over.
“Good Luck Chief, and Perry . . .”
“Thanks. I owe you a couple.”
Mason and Della smiled at each other as Della went back to her cell and Mason walked towards the exit.
“Poor kid,” Mason muttered under his breath again. “Gosh, I love her.”
Mason marched gloomily up to his office, opened the door and banged it shut. He slumped into his chair and stared aimlessly at his desk. After a moment he called Gertie through the intercom. Gertie hurried in and took a seat. She looked expectantly up at Mason. This was not the same Gertie that had been employed by Mason. No, this one was gorgeous. Not an ounce of her plump self remained. She was slim and beautiful and she knew it. Two years ago, Gertie had taken a 2 month vacation to a fat farm. When she came back, Mason didn’t recognize her. She had also lost her giggly, somewaht loveable nature, and had replaced it with cool professional efficiency during office hours and a very likeable spontaneity after work. She still had her hopeless romantic way of sizing up a situation, in fact, when she first met her husband waiting in Mason’s office, she had come in personally to ask Mason to see him. And after he got acquitted for his ex fiance’s murder, they announced their engagement. Mason was best man and Della bridesmaid at the ceremony. After a two week honeymoon, Gertie had come back, glowing with the beautiful relationship. She kept right on working, more efficient than ever, and Mason depended on her almost as much as Della. In this particular case, he would have to depend on her more.
Mason got up from his desk and began to pace the floor. Gertie’s hand was held posied over her notebook when Mason began to speak.
“Get Paul Drake up here on the double. Get Arthur Tragg here, too, if you can. If not, get him on the phone.” Mason pased again. “Order donuts and coffee for the three of us and don’t let us be disturbed.” Gertie nodded. “Oh yes,” Mason continued. “Get a large package of chewing gum with that coffee, and a couple packages of cigarettes.”
“Yes, Mr. Mason,”Gertie noted. “Is that all?”
“Hmm,” Mason asked, his ind already racking itself for the solution to the murder. “Oh, yes. Gertie, thank you.”
“Certainly, Mr. Mason,” she said, got up gracefully and left the room as quietly as possible.
Mason continued pacing until Drake entered the room. Mason merely greeted him, motioned him to a chair, and started pacing again. By the time Tragg had arrived, so had the coffee, donuts, gum, and cigarettes, and Mason was still pacing. After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, Drake spoke.
“erry, will you stop pacing like a man on the way to the gas chamber? You’re making me nervous as a cat.”
Mason ignored him and kept pacing.
Tragg and drake looked at each other and sighed. They knewthis mood of Mason’s. It was the restless one. Usually it didn’t come until later in the case, but after all, this was an unusual case. Tragg handed Drake coffee, donuts, and cigarette, and lighted up to get comfortable enough to wait until this mood of Mason’s broke. Sometimes it took hours, but when it broke, Mason wanted action and he wanted it fast.
Half an hour passed, then an hour and two. When the clock struck noon, Mason stopped pacing and sagged into his chair. Tragg and Drake looked up to listen ot the montage of orders that should have come but didn’t.
Mason spoke slowly. “Della says she never went to Street’s. She says she never left her apartment, that she went to bed at about 10, and she doesn’t remember anything past then.”
Drake spoke next. “Uh oh, Perry!. How can you defend someone who can’t even remember being picked up by police? If Holcomb ever gets a hold of that, he’ll claim that she is just trying to get out of explaining where she was. I can just see him saying with that sickeningly sweet voice of his. ‘And she says she can’t remember. If she can’t think up any better excuse than that, well, she’s going to get into a lot or trouble.'”
“I know what Holcomb would do with her testimony!” Mason exclaimed, irritated. “So we just won’t tell him, will we? Wait, though, Paul. It gets worse.”
“I don’t believe it! How can it get any worse, Perry?”
“I went down to her apartment at 8:30 for a dinner date and rang her doorbell a couple times, waited for 5 minutes, then noticed a note on her door addressed to me. It said something urgent had come up and that I should go on without her.”
The detective whistled and Tragg tapped his cigarette thoughtfully.
“This is oen time I’m definitely not going to tell you not to defend a client,” Drake said. “Because if you didn’t, I don’t know who would. You don’t think it’s possible that she really–“
“Paul!” Mason shouted. “How can you even think that our Della could be capable of murder? You’ve worked with Della nearly every day and now you mean to tell me you suspect her of murder?”
Paul Drake sat for a moment, his eyes flashing thoughtfully. “I guess I’d forgotten who the client was in this one, Perry. To think Della a murderess is inconceivable, why she wouldn’t kill a person to save her own life.”
Mason stared at Paul for a minute, and then jumped up and laughed. “You’ve done it, Paul. You’ve got the solution!”
“You think Della murdered Street in self-defense, Perry?” Tragg asked, puzzled.
“No, no!” Mason exclaimed. “She wouldn’t kill himto save her life, but how about the life of an old, dear friend?”
“What?” asked Tragg and Drake in unison.
“Never mind now. I’ll explain later. Paul, I want you to find out everything you can about one Ruth A. Watkins, who now goes by the name of her first husband, Parker. She and Della were roommates in college, there’s something between them. Della said Ruth would do anything for her. Find out why.”
“Sure thing, Perry,” Paul Drake immediately assumed a position of attention. He jumped out of the easy chair in which he had been sitting, and hurried toward the door without waiting for a farewell.
Mason didn’t give him one. He turned to Tragg and resumed pacing. “Arthur, I want to find out if this Ruth A. Watkins has a police record or if one of her husbands has.” Mson’s eyes glowed as Tragg got up to leave. “Wait a second, Arthur. I have a hunch. See if the gun that shot Street has Mrs. Parker’s fingerprints on it.”
“What is going through that mind of yours, Perry?” Tragg sighed and then added, “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”
Mason laughed as Tagg closed the door, adding seriously, “It’s not funny, either.”
Mason finihsed the last stack of letters marked urgent and tried to relax. He had had Gertie cancel all of his appointments for the days he could work on Della’s case, but all he could do not was wait. It was the waiting that always got him. Mason couldn’t stand it! He got his hat and coat and told Gertie that he’d be back in an hour. It was a dismal gloomy day. Rain had fallen all morning, but no rainbow had brightened the sky yet. The clouds held their position, threatening to rain, but no more rain had come. It fit Mason perfectly. The weather expressed just how he felt. The rain had fallen, but the clouds had not moved. Mason had a strange foreboding that yet more rain must all on this last case before a rainbow could brighten it. He was right.
As Mason rode down the elevator, he fingered his car keys. Then decdied to walk. He wasn’t going anywhere in particular. The usually crowded sidewalks were deserted except for an occasional late shopper hurrying by. Mason tried to keep warm by snuggling into the collar of his coat and keeping his hands in his pockets, but hte comfort was little. A car drove by, too close to the sidewalk, and splashed water on Mason. He hardly noticed. Mason walked aimlessly through the Los Angeles streets until he reached the beach. He took hold of the railing on the dock and let the sea wind whip across his bare face. He thought and thought. Mostly he thought about the case, and Della. And then he too was remembering. Remembering the day Della had walked into his life.
He was back in his first office. Looking back, he laughed at it. The office itself was dusty and mildewy, but the funny part was the ever serious look on the face of the young man sitting at on old wooden desk which had bene kept level by the help of a small box underneath. Its rear left leg. The young lawyer was waiting for a case to come walking through his door. A case didn’t, but a very beautiful youngwoman did. She introduced herself as Della Street, typist and native of Louisiana. She was applying for a job. Mason’s cool steel eyes appraised her, and liked what they saw. Unfortunately, Mason hardly had the money to pay a secretary and he definitely had no need for one. He hesitated and she, seeing the dismissal in his eyes, turned away.
Then Mason made one of a thousand wuick decisions he had become famous for. “Wait a moment!” he called. “How fast can you type, Miss Street?”
Hope fluttered in her eyes. “160 words a minute, Mr. Mason.”
“Tha’s fine,” Mason said. “You’re hired.”
“Do you really mean it, Mr. Mason?” she exclaimed.
“I’ve never meant anything more,” Mason answered.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you!” she squealed with delight, and she jumped up, hugged him, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then she recovered her poise, apologized, and wiped the lipstick off his face.
“Don’t apologize,” Mason laughed. “I think I’ll have to hire more secretaries. It’s a very satisfying feeling.”
Della blushed and stamemred, “Yes, sir, Mr. Mason.”
Mason laughed again, and since no clients were in sight, he invited her to sit down and talk about herself. He never quite figure out how she did it, but she got more information out of him that he got out of her. It was then Mason realized that Miss Della Street was going to be a very valuable asset. And a very delightful dinner guest, he thought as they celebrated their first client that night at dinner.
Small fees turned into good ones, and simple cases quickly turned to messes, until Mason found his picture on the front page of a well-known newspaper for solving the case, as Bella had dubbed it, of the Velvet Claws.
It was during that very case that Mason had realized just how much Della cared for him, and he for her. It was still quite a while before he even jokingly proposed. She declined, and he knew she would. Both knew that an adventurous lawyer like Mason needed a good secretary in the office rather than a loving wife at home. And just as he was becoming not so adventurous, ready for a loving wife, she was charged with murder.
The fates must have it in for me, thought Mason wryly.
Then Mason realized that his coat was soaking wet with rain and his hat was streaming water into his eyes. He hailed a taxi and returned to his office to find Paul Drake waiting, impatiently as ever, for his return.
“What have you got, Paul?” Mason asked.
“One Ruth Ann Sims married Louis R. Parker on the third of September, 1948. He died in a car accident 2 months later. She remarried in April of 1949 our old friend Alexander Watkins. They got divorced 10 years later. Watkins wanted custody of their son, Robert. Ruth Parker contested and eventually was given custody. Then she put him up for adoption, and before Watkins could do anything to stop her, she’d let a childless couple adopt him and would not tell Watkins who the couple was.
“Watkins spent thousands of dollars on detectives, trying to find the kid. But he never did. Finally, he gave up.”
“How old would Robert be now?”
“Let’s see. He was born in 1954. That makes him 19.”
Mason let that sink in. “What about Della and Miss SIms?”
“Della Street and Ruth Ann Sims roomed together for approximately one year at Louisians Univeristy. Della was a freshman. Sims was a Junior. They roomed with two other girls, Wilma Sign and Alice Richards. About midway through the first term, Sims and Richards were caught inside a prodessor’s office, looking through files. The professor wanted the both of them thrtown out, but Della was a friend of the Dean’s and talked him into letting Ruth and Alice clean garbage cans for penance. The next year, Della had to drop out of school to work because her mother was ill. She dies within three months of cancer, and Stanley Street offered to float Della for a while, but Della would have none of it, and flew to Los Angeles where she was employed by a certain young lawyer.”
“That doesn’t fit, Paul,” Mason said.
“What? That she got a job from you?”
“No. Della’s expression was not the sort that comes form getting friends out of a couple of close calls. Besides, Sims could hardly be indebted to Della for her life. No, Paul. There’s something else. What is the difference between Della’s college days and Ruth Sim’s first marriage?”
“Let’s see, Della was in college from the fall of ’47 to the summer of ’48. Ruth Sims got married on the 3rd of September in 1948.”
“That’s got to be the connection, Paul. I want you to find out when and where Ruth Ann Sims and Louis R. Parker met and what Della had to do with it.”
“Anything you say, Perry, but don’t you think it would be a lot easier if you just asked Della about all this?”
“If she wanted to tell me, she would have. Let’s get going, Paul.”
Drake gave Mason a salute, which Mason returned, and left.