Read The Case of the Sulky Girl Online
Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Legal, #Mason; Perry (Fictitious character)
"No," said Rayburn slowly, "he came here. Why do you ask?"
"I understand," said Mason, "he came here to secure a large sum of money in one thousand dollar bills. I am anxious to know if there was anything peculiar about his request for that money, or anything peculiar about the bills."
"Perhaps," said Rayburn significantly, "if you could be a little more explicit, I could give you the information you wanted."
"Did Mr. Norton," asked the lawyer, "say specifically for what purpose he wanted those bills?"
"Not specifically," said Rayburn, with the secretive manner of one who is determined only to answer direct questions.
Mason took a deep breath.
"Did he ask you in advance," he said, "to get for him a certain number of thousand dollar bills bearing consecutive serial numbers?"
"He did," said the vice president of the bank.
"And did he further state to you that, through your banking affiliations, he would like very much to have you make note of the numbers of those bills and ascertain when the bills were presented for deposit at any bank in the city?"
"Not exactly in those words," said Rayburn cautiously.
"Did he state that he intended to use that money to make a payment to a blackmailer, and would like to find out the identity of the person who deposited the currency?"
"Not in exactly those words," said the banker again.
"I think," said Perry Mason, smiling, "that I have all of the information I can ask you to give me, and sufficient for my purpose. Thank you, Mr. Rayburn."
He turned and walked from the bank, leaving behind him a cold-eyed individual who surveyed his back in a gaze of shrewd speculation.
Mason returned to his office and beckoned Della Street to his inner office.
"Get Drake's Detective Bureau for me," he said, "and say that I want Paul Drake, himself, to handle a matter of utmost importance. Say that I want Drake to come to my office posing as a client, and that I want him to wait in the reception room until I give him a line on what he's to do. During the time he's waiting, he is to appear merely as a client."
She looked at him with eyes that showed grave apprehension.
"Is that all?" she asked.
"That's all," he told her.
"And you don't want that Celane woman to know anything about who Paul Drake is?"
"Get this straight," Perry Mason told her. "I don't want anyone to know who Drake is. As far as anyone who comes into the office is concerned, Drake is a client who is waiting to see me."
"Okay," she said.
She paused for a few moments, watching him with eyes that made no effort to conceal their concern.
He grinned reassuringly.
"Don't worry," he said, "it's okay."
"You're not getting in trouble?" she asked.
"I don't think so."
"Is Miss Celane?"
"She's in already – up to her neck."
"Does she know it?"
"I think so."
"You won't let her drag you into it?"
He shook his head slowly.
"No," he said, "I don't think so. I can't tell just yet."
"When can you tell?" she asked.
"Not until Miss Celane tells me the truth."
"When will that be?"
"Not until she gets worse frightened than she is now."
Della Street frowned, then said, quickly: "Suppose we frighten her?"
Perry Mason shook his head and smiled.
"No," he said, slowly, "I don't think we'll have to."
Frances Celane, perched in the big black leather chair which she had occupied on her first visit to the office, regarded him with eyes that moved steadily back and forth, following the pacing of the lawyer.
"Well," she said at length, "you haven't asked me anything about why I wanted to see you."
"I don't have to," he said, "I know what's happening better than you do. What I'm trying to do is to think far enough ahead so I can find the proper place to head them off."
"I'm in an awful mess," she said.
"Of course you are," he snapped, and resumed his steady pacing of the floor.
There was a period of silence, then he paused in his walk to plant his feet far apart and stare down at her.
"Where did you get that money you gave me?" he asked.
"Just as I told you before, I got the money from my uncle," she said, in a thin, weak voice.
"Before he was murdered or afterwards?" pressed Perry Mason.
"How much before?"
"Not very much before. That is, just before Mr. Crinston came to the house."
"There was forty-eight thousand dollars," she said. "He gave it to me, and told me he was sorry he'd been holding out my regular allowance. He said he'd decided to change his mind."
"Had he accused you of being blackmailed before that?"
"And he gave you this money in cash?"
"You came to him and told him that you needed cash?"
"I told him that I simply had to have some money and have it right away."
"And he didn't say anything about you being blackmailed?"
"Were you being blackmailed?"
She bit her lip and looked down at the floor.
"Is that any of your business?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Yes," she said, "I was being blackmailed."
"All right," he said. "Was it by the housekeeper?"
She started, and raised her eyes to his with a look of alarm.
"How did you know?"
"I suspected," he said. "How much did you give her?"
"I gave her all of it," she said. "All except the ten thousand dollars that I gave you."
"Does that mean," he said, "that you haven't any of those thousand dollar bills in your possession?"
"Now listen. Let's not have any misunderstanding about this, and let's get it straight. You're in a jam, and I'm going to get you out, but it's important I know exactly what happened with that money. You haven't any of it in your possession?"
"Not a bit," she said.
Perry Mason took the ten thousand dollars which she had given him from his wallet and fingered the bills.
"You knew," he asked, "that all of these bills were numbered consecutively, and that various banking institutions in this city had been given a list of those numbers?"
"No," she said in a wan, frightened voice.
"Well," he told her, "that's a fact. Thousand dollar bills aren't so numerous but what they attract attention when they're deposited, and it's almost necessary to take them to a bank to change them. Merchants don't ordinarily carry change for a thousand dollars in their tills."
Perry Mason went to the desk, picked up a long envelope of heavy manila paper, sealed the ten thousand dollars in currency in the envelope, unscrewed the cap from a fountain pen, and addressed the envelope to Carl S. Belknap, 3298 15th Street, Denver, Colorado, and jabbed his forefinger on the button on the side of his desk, which summoned his secretary.
When Della Street opened the door, Perry Mason tossed her the envelope with a careless gesture.
"Stamp and mail this," he said. "First Class."
She looked at the address.
"I didn't know we had any correspondence with a Mr. Belknap," she said.
"We have now," he told her. "Send it registered mail."
She nodded, flashed one swiftly appraising glance at Frances Celane, then slipped back through the door to the outer office.
Perry Mason turned to Frances Celane.
"All right," he said. "That envelope will be in the mail for the next few days. Eventually it will come back to me. In the meantime, nobody is going to find that money on me. Now why didn't you tell the police about that in the first place?"
Her eyes suddenly snapped black fire.
"That's my business!" she said. "I hired you as an attorney to represent my interests. Don't think that you can stand there and tell me what I'm going to do, and what I'm not going to do…"
He took a stride toward her and said: "You're either going to control that temper, or you're going to march up the gallows and have a black bag put around your neck. Did you ever think of how you would like to be hung?"
She got to her feet and drew back her hand as though she intended to slap him.
"You've been a spoiled spitfire all your life," Perry Mason told her. "Now you're facing a situation you can't handle by yourself. Just as sure as you're standing there, you're going to be arrested within the next forty-eight hours, and the case that's going to be built up against you is going to be so black that I don't know whether I can get you out of it or not."
Sheer surprise pushed her rage to one side, and showed in her dark eyes.
"Arrested? Me, arrested?"
"Arrested," he told her, "for murder."
"Devoe was arrested for murder," she said. "He's the one that did it."
"Devoe didn't do it," said Perry Mason, "any more than I did. That is, if he did do it, no one is ever going to prove it. He's got an attorney that knows the ropes, and he's going to drag you into this."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"Because he was here in this office less than an hour ago and told me so."
She sank back in the chair and stared at him, all of the temper gone from her eyes, which were now dark and pathetic.
"What did he want?" she asked.
"Money," he said.
Her face showed a trace of relief.
"All right," she said. "We'll give it to him."
"We will not," he said.
"Because," he said, "he'd blackmail you to death. He doesn't know for sure that you are in a bad jam, but he suspects it. He wanted to make sure. If I'd talked terms with him, he'd have been sure. He's heard whispers somewhere. He wanted to verify them. If I'd given in to him on the money end of it, he'd have been sure."
"But," she asked, "what did you do?"
His voice was grim.
"I threw him out of the office," he said.
"How much does he know?" she asked.
"Not much, but he suspects a lot."
"I'm afraid of him," she said, in a voice that was almost a wail.
"You've got a right to be," he said. "Now I want to get at the bottom of this thing. Tell me exactly what happened when your uncle was murdered."
She took a deep breath and said in a low monotone, "I was in the house. I had had a quarrel with him. He had been very bitter, and I lost my temper and said things that hurt."
"You would," said the lawyer dryly.
"I did," she said, without expression.
There was a moment of silence.
"Go on," said the lawyer.
"He took some money from his wallet," she said. "It wasn't all of the money that was in there. There were some bills left. I don't know exactly how many, but he pushed the currency toward me and told me to take it. He said that he had intended to cut down on my allowance to bring me to my senses, but that he'd come to the conclusion I would never come to my senses. He said it was really my money and if I wanted to throw it away, that was my business."
"So you took the money," he told her.
"Yes, of course."
"Then," she said, "I gave all of it except ten thousand dollars to Mrs. Mayfield."
"Why did you do that?" he asked.
"Because she knew I had been married, and was threatening to tell my uncle about it."
"Was that before Crinston came to the house, or afterwards?"
"You mean when I gave her the money?"
"Who saw you give the money to her… anyone?"
Perry Mason whistled.
"So Gleason was there, eh?" he asked.
"Yes," she said slowly, "Gleason was there. That's why I said I wasn't there."
"All right," he said grimly, "tell me about that."
"You know that we are married," she said. "Rob drove up in his car, a Chevrolet. There's a porch which opens out from my room, and he came to that porch and I let him in. He was worried about Mrs. Mayfield and about what my uncle was going to do. I told him that I'd seen my uncle and I thought things were all right.
"While we were talking, Mrs. Mayfield came in and demanded money. She had been listening, and knew that my uncle had given me some money. She didn't know how much.
"I told her I'd give her all I had. I opened my purse and let her take it out. But, before I did that, I had ditched ten of the one thousand dollar bills, because I knew you were going to need some money, and I was saving it for you. That was all I needed money for – just you and her. I thought then that things would be all right, with you representing me, and Mrs. Mayfield keeping quiet. I thought we could work the thing out some way."
"And Crinston had arrived by that time?" asked Mason.
"Yes," she said, "he had come before that. I heard him drive up. In fact, I was leaving my uncle's office when Crinston came up."
"And Graves, the secretary, was in the outer office all the time?" asked the lawyer.
"Yes, he was there all the time, and knows pretty much what happened. He knows a lot more than he lets on. He knows a lot about my uncle's affairs, and I have an idea he knows something about what Mrs. Mayfield is doing."
"All right," said Mason, "then what happened?"
"Well," she said, "Mrs. Mayfield went out, and I went out and sat on the porch with Rob. Then there was a commotion, and I heard running steps from the front of the house, and shouts, and heard something about my uncle having been murdered. I knew that it would never do for Rob to be there, so I told Rob to get in his car and drive away."
"And you went with him?"
"Yes, I went with him."
"Why did you do that?
"Because I didn't want to be there."
"I thought that I could fix up an alibi for Rob."
"How did you get out of the grounds?"
"There's a way out through an alley in the back, to the driveway. We went out there, and nobody heard us, I guess."
"All right, then what happened?"
"Then I came back home; that is, I had Rob drive me to a place about two blocks from the house, and got out there. I sneaked into my bedroom and talked with Don Graves. I found out from him that my uncle had reported the Buick as having been stolen, and they thought that I was driving it. I figured that was a good alibi for me, and would let Rob out of it, so I said that I had been driving the Buick, and nobody questioned my word."
"All right. Then what happened?"
"You know the rest. Everybody took it for granted that I had been driving the Buick, and I thought everything was all right until you came and told me about the speedometer records not checking up. I went out to put some mileage on the Buick, and found an officer there, who grinned at me and told me that the Buick was going to be held for evidence."
"They'd sealed it up?" asked Perry Mason.
"Yes. They put a padlocked chain around the front axle and through the spokes of the wheel, and they'd also locked up the transmission."
"That," said Mason dryly, "makes it nice."
She said nothing.
After a moment Mason resumed his regular pacing of the floor, and the girl watched him with dark, anxious eyes, her head never moving, but the eyes following him back and forth as he paced rhythmically.
"You," he said, at length, "are going to have a nervous breakdown. I know a doctor I can count on. He's going to examine you and order you to a sanitarium."
"What good will that do?" she asked.
"It's going to give me a little time," he said.
"But won't that make them more suspicious when I run away?"
"They can't get any more suspicious," he told her. "The minute they sealed up that Buick, it showed they were working on this other angle of the case. I tried to slip that notebook containing the mileages into my pocket, and make it appear I was doing it casually; but the officer wasn't so dumb. He called me on it, and I had to put the notebook hack."