The Case of the Persecuted Prosecutor
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! For the many years I've watched Perry Mason off and on, the thing that has intrigued me the most is the interaction between Perry and Mr. Burger. I was disappointed to not find any stories that seemed to explore that, or indeed, any that featured Mr. Burger as a main character at all. So I determined to remedy that. I can't say how quickly this story will be written, as it's partially an experiment, but I have somewhat of an outline and I am hoping that I will get all of it written.
The courtroom was nearly deathly silent when the jury filed into the room. The judge looked to them, his expression impassive. "Has the jury reached a verdict?"
A blonde woman, their spokesperson, stepped forward. "We have, Your Honor," she said. "We find the defendant, Marcus Waden, guilty of murder in the first degree."
Marcus leapt to his feet, his eyes flashing in fury and rage. "You can't do this!" he cried, even as his attorney and the bailiff rushed to try to restrain him. He fought against them, turning to glower at the prosecutor's table. "You'll regret it. All of you! You, and you, and you!" He pointed to the judge, the jury, and the district attorney in turn. "I'll get you. Every last one of you!"
The judge banged his gavel. "Order!" he yelled over the hysterical screams. "Order in the court!"
Marcus continued to struggle, his face twisted in hate. The D.A. slowly rose, looking to the frothing man with narrowed eyes. Unable to be calmed, Marcus was being dragged out of the courtroom by the bailiff. He was still shouting threats over his shoulder.
"He sounds as though he means every word."
The prosecutor turned and looked to the police lieutenant, who had stood as well. "He's going to be put away for a long time, Lieutenant Tragg," he said. "He's not going to be able to 'get' anyone."
"Not personally, true," Tragg answered with a nod. "But if he wanted to badly enough, he could see to it that someone is hired."
The district attorney turned his attention to the table, gathering his papers and his briefcase. "I'm sure you'll be looking into that, Lieutenant," he said.
"Of course," Tragg nodded. "But nevertheless, Mr. Burger, you might want to be extra careful for a while."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. I'm not worried." Mr. Burger finished collecting his belongings, glancing to the doors. Marcus Waden was still yelling out in the hall. Hopefully, Burger thought, this was the last time he would hear anything concerning the disagreeable man.
Second Death Related to Waden Case in the Past Two Weeks
Hamilton Burger deposited the newspaper onto his desk, not pleased. Three days ago, Anne Harding, a juror from Marcus Waden's trial, had been found dead in her home, badly mutilated but eventually identified. Another juror, Donald Rite, had been discovered in a similar manner three days before that.
The police had no leads on the murderer. It certainly looked as though Waden was beginning to carry out his threat. Of course, he was not talking. He sat silent and smug in his cell, obviously pleased by the deaths—judging from how he smirked when he was asked. But he refused to say whether there had been any involvement on his part, direct or indirect.
A reporter had stopped Burger on his way up to his office, inquiring as to whether he was growing concerned for his own safety. He had replied that No, he was not; he was confident that the police would catch the killer before this went any further.
What was puzzling all of them was, How could Waden have hired an assassin? Since he had made his threat, every one of his visitors was being closely monitored. Unless he had managed to secretly procure a hitman before the verdict had been reached at all, just in case he was found guilty, there did not seem to be any point in time when it could have happened.
Then there was the chance, Burger supposed, that the murders were being committed by a sick supporter of Waden who just wanted to see Waden's threats carried out. Everyone who had attended the trial was being tracked down and questioned, but that could very easily be a dead-end. The culprit could be someone who had never been at the trial at all and had instead read the report of Waden's threats in the newspaper. It had not taken long for the reporters to gleefully get hold of that scoop.
Burger pushed the paper aside, turning his attention to his schedule for the day. He would be busy in court for most of the time. By the time it was over he would be greatly looking forward to going home to relax. The next time he heard anything about the Waden case, he wanted it to be that the killer had been arrested.
The ringing of the telephone startled him out of his thoughts. He lifted the receiver.
"Sir, there's a strange person calling," his secretary Miss Miller informed him. "He won't give his name, but he's insistent on talking to you."
"About what?" Burger frowned. "I need to be in court in ten minutes."
"I don't know, sir. He says he won't tell anyone but you."
"Alright, put him on," Burger said in weary annoyance.
There was a click as the call was put through. "Hamilton Burger?" The voice was muffled and unfamiliar.
Burger was instantly suspicious. "Yes. What do you want?"
"You've heard about Anne Harding and Don Rite. You're next."
Burger rose, gripping the phone tighter. "Who is this?" he demanded. But all he received was a click as the person hung up. He pulled the receiver away, glowering at it, and then slammed it down.
Storming across the room, he hauled open the door and looked to Miss Miller. "Call the police and see if they can trace that call," he ordered.
She looked up with concerned eyes. "Who was it?" she asked as she started to dial.
"That's what I want them to find out," Burger answered.
It was well after dark and past eight by the time Hamilton headed for home. After court he had lingered in his office for some time, going over documents for some of his cases. He had all but forgotten the threatening phone call, until Lieutenant Tragg had contacted him to let him know that they had been unable to trace it.
He still didn't know what to make of it. Had the person meant what he had said? Or was it just an unfunny prank? The caller had sounded dead serious.
He glanced in annoyance at an orange Road Closed barrier in his way. He went to the right, taking the only other path possible. There was always some kind of construction on the Los Angeles highways. It was strange, though, that they had started on this job so quickly. And he did not remember hearing that the road would be closed.
The gunshot out the window brought him to full attention. He looked over, shocked. Another car was just behind his on the left. A hand out the driver's side was holding a revolver.
A second bullet shattered the side mirror. Burger pressed on the accelerator, both panicked and angry. In all the time he had served as the Los Angeles County district attorney no one had so blatantly tried to kill him. There had been threats, but no follow-up. This situation did not fall into that category.
And it was strange, how deserted the road was. Had he been observed for some time until he was alone? Or . . . could the Road Closed sign be a fake? Had he been lured here?
The third bullet found its mark in one of the tires. Hamilton clutched at the spinning steering wheel, but to no avail. He lost control of the car as it swerved over the side of the highway and down a hill of drying grass.
Somehow he managed to slam on the brakes at the bottom. Miraculously unhurt, he flung open the door and stumbled out, shaken. The other car was at the top of the hill, stopping for its occupant to get out and peer over the side. Burger fled into the cover of night, hoping to catch a glimpse of the assassin.
From that distance, not much was distinguishable. The man who exited the car was wearing a black suit, with sunglasses to match. He leaned over the edge of the hill, his cigarette smoke floating into the autumn air.
Burger regarded him in annoyance. How cliché could he get?
The hitman started down the hill. Burger kept to the shadows, moving as quietly as possible. If he could make it back to the main road without being seen, he might be able to get hold of a taxi and go to the police station.
He glanced at his watch. 8:46.
The grass crackled behind him. A gun clicked, pressing against the back of his head.
"Sorry, Mr. Burger. I'm afraid your number is up. It's been three days, after all."
The sound of a shot cut through the night.
Back at his office in town, Perry Mason was looking over the same newspaper article that had disturbed Mr. Burger earlier that day. He frowned, concerned.
"What is it, Perry?" Della asked, seeing his grim reaction.
Perry glanced over at her. "I was just thinking, Della. If this truly is the work of someone connected with Marcus Waden, as the journalist suggests, is the killer going in a pattern? The two people dead so far were both jurors. Will the other jurors be targeted next?"
Della looked down. "Hopefully the police can figure out who was responsible and get them before anyone else dies," she said.
Perry nodded. "Waden threatened the judge and the district attorney too," he noted.
"I wonder how Mr. Burger is dealing with that," Della remarked.
"Oh, he's probably not worried," said Perry, setting the paper aside.
"Maybe not, but are you?" Della asked.
Surprise flickered in Perry's eyes. Before he could reply, a familiar knock came at the door. He looked over. "Come in, Paul," he called. He frowned, leaning back in the chair. Was it only his imagination or did the knock not sound as sprightly as it usually did?
When Paul opened the door and entered, his all-too-grim expression answered the question. Perry's eyes narrowed further in concern. "What's wrong?"
Paul sighed. "You're not going to like this," he said. "A woman called the police a few minutes ago, saying she heard sounds of a struggle in the house next-door to hers. When they showed up the house was empty, except for a body in the living room."
"Who was it?" Perry demanded, getting out of his chair.
Paul's next words froze him in his disbelieving tracks. "Hamilton Burger."
The police were already at the house by the time Perry arrived. Several squad cars were positioned on either side of the property, their red-and-blue lights flashing and coloring the houses and garage doors. An officer at the edge of the sidewalk looked up as Perry got out of his car and approached the driveway. Recognizing him, he gestured for Perry to come over.
"What happened here?" Perry asked, forgoing all manner of greetings. "Was Mr. Burger truly the man killed?"
The officer's eyes flickered in discomfort. "Lieutenant Tragg's inside," he said. "He knows more about what's going on. I'm just here to keep people out. But you can go ahead, Mr. Mason, just for a few minutes."
Perry nodded. "Thank you."
He started up the driveway. Burger's car was parked there, the left side mirror shattered and various pieces of desert brush caught on the windshield and under the windshield wipers. Perry paused to study it a bit closer, lifting a piece of sagebrush between his fingers. What had Hamilton gotten into before coming back here?
He walked in through the open door and into the living room, grim as he took in the scene. The room was in a complete upheaval. Furniture had fallen everywhere. Amidst the toppled lamps and overturned end tables, bloodstains were visible on the carpet. The corpse was covered by a tarp near a small table.
Lieutenant Tragg was near a cabinet, writing in his notepad. At the sound of the footsteps he looked up with a start. "How did you even hear about this murder so soon?" he demanded, peering at Perry in suspicion.
"Paul Drake told me," Perry said. "He heard it from one of your men." He looked to the covering. "Is that actually Mr. Burger?"
Tragg walked away, closer to the body. "We feel quite sure this man was Mr. Burger, Perry," he said. "We'll know for certain soon enough."
Perry was not convinced. "You aren't sure now? Why?"
Tragg sighed. "The body has been very badly mutilated," he said. "But it fits the general height and weight of Mr. Burger. Not to mention it's wearing his clothes." He glanced to the doorway. "The woman next-door says she heard loud voices arguing before the physical struggle began. She identified one of them as Hamilton Burger. She's spoken to him on many occasions; we have no reason to doubt her word."
Perry's visage darkened. "Could the neighbor tell what they were arguing about?" he wondered.
"Not really," Tragg told him. "She heard them just well enough to recognize Mr. Burger's voice, but not to distinguish words. We're going to question all the other neighbors and see if they heard or saw anything."
Perry stepped over near the body as well. "May I?" he asked, reaching for the tarp even as he spoke.
"Go ahead, Perry," Tragg said in resignation. "But you won't be able to tell any better than we could."
Perry pulled back the covering. He recoiled almost instantly. Tragg was right; there was no way he could tell. The body was far too mangled and bloodied. He replaced the tarp, straightening without a word.
"Not a pretty sight, is it?" Tragg said. Anger flecked his voice as he went on, "To think, that Hamilton Burger was brought to this grotesque end."
Perry frowned at the opposite wall. "Something doesn't seem right about this," he said. But what he was unsure of was whether he was correct. Could he just be imagining that this was strange, due to how disturbed and shaken he felt over the idea that this was Hamilton Burger?
"What about Mr. Burger's car?" he spoke at last. "What happened to it?"
"We're not sure," Tragg frowned. "We asked his neighbor if she saw him come home earlier. She said she heard a car, but she couldn't say it was his."
"What time was that?"
"Around nine-forty-five," Tragg said. "And it was after ten when she heard the argument, in case you want to know." He walked past Perry. "Now, you really have overstayed your welcome. Let me get back to work."
"Of course, Lieutenant." Perry crossed back to the front door, then paused. "Do you think this is connected with the murders of the two jurors from the Marcus Waden case?"
"It seems obvious, doesn't it?" Tragg replied, his tone terse and revealing of his own reeling feelings. "We know Mr. Burger was included among the people Waden was threatening."
"Yes, that's true," agreed Perry. "Alright, Lieutenant, I'm leaving."
He stepped onto the porch, pausing again as he stared off into the night. Maybe he would start questioning the neighbors himself. He could not help it; he still believed that something was not adding up. And he was bound and determined to get to the bottom of this murder.
He owed it to his old friend, whatever had happened to him.