The Case of the Memento Mori Murderer
Notes: The characters from the show are not mine. All other characters and the story are! Delighted with the response to my first Perry mystery, and armed with more ideas, I have decided to immediately begin another. I hope this one will be enjoyed too. I leave a little reminder that I've moved the time period to the present day, but I don't think it changes the feel of the story.
The judge's gavel banged on the desk to solemnize the adjournment of court for the day. Both the defense and the prosecution began gathering their papers into their respective briefcases. The defendant stood by her attorney, watching for a moment before the bailiff came to guide her away. He only glanced up for a moment before returning his attention to his belongings.
Now he gave his full attention to his secretary as she spoke. Seeing him looking to her, she went on.
"I can hardly believe she was actually guilty. She seemed so sincere and frightened in the office."
"She was frightened, Della," Perry said. "She knew she would receive the death penalty if her crime was proved." His eyes darkened. "But she was the furthest thing from sincere. She lied to us right from the start."
"Burger's probably ecstatic," Paul muttered, glancing at the district attorney's table. "It's not every day he wins his case if you're the defense."
Perry glanced over too. Mr. Burger's expression was impassive. "A young girl's been sentenced to her execution, Paul," he returned. "Mr. Burger will treat the matter with the seriousness it warrants."
Closing his briefcase, Mr. Burger stepped away from the table and approached his rival. "You made a good defense, Perry," he said. "I'm sorry it turned out this way."
"So am I, Hamilton," Perry said. "We truly believed Gladys was innocent. But the truth had to come out. You put together an excellent case to discover it."
Paul cast an unsettled look over his shoulder. "I think Gladys's boyfriend isn't about to forgive either of you," he said. "If looks could kill. . . ."
Perry and Burger both followed his gaze. Trevor Bartlett had already weaved his way to the door. He stood there, his eyes narrowed and dark as he looked to Perry. Then, with a flourish, he was out the door and gone.
"That look positively gave me the chills," Paul proclaimed.
Della looked concerned too. "Perry, he looked like he hated you," she said.
"Well, you can't blame him," Perry said. "I wasn't able to get his girlfriend off."
Hamilton frowned, watching as the door slowly closed. "Even after he learned that she really did kill both old man Carter and his wife in cold blood, it didn't change his feelings for her one bit," he remarked.
"Love is strange like that sometimes," Perry said.
"With a woman like that, it has to be blind love," Paul said, disturbed.
Perry headed for the gate. "Well, I'm sorry for him, but this is for the best. He isn't the first person to give me such a piercing glower." He looked back. "Good afternoon, Hamilton."
Mr. Burger nodded. "Goodbye, Perry," he returned. "Della, Paul."
Della and Paul bade him goodbye as well before following Perry out of the courtroom. Mr. Burger sighed, watching them go, and then moved to leave himself.
"It's cases like these that have threatened to completely jade me over the years."
He glanced over to Lieutenant Tragg, who was frowning deeply while reaching for the swinging gate.
"Sometimes I wonder if we're too quick to believe that some of Mason's clients are guilty," Tragg went on. "But we always try to be thorough in our investigations. And we turn up plenty of evidence against them."
Burger walked with him to the doors. "Yet in this case, there was hardly any evidence at all," he remarked. "And this time, the girl was guilty."
Her cold, matter-of-fact confession chilled him. She had only shown remorse and fear for the fact that she would die herself. As far as having murdered two good people, she could not care less.
"Perhaps sometimes there's too much evidence," Tragg said. "Mason's clients who are innocent often seem to have the misfortune of being deliberately framed. But no two cases are exactly alike."
"And we don't come across someone like Gladys Thorn every day," Burger said. "Thankfully." He pushed open the heavy door. "I'll buy you dinner."
Tragg looked to him. "Why thank you, Mr. Burger."
The weeks passed, bringing other clients and other cases in their midst. With many other matters to devote attention to, thoughts of Gladys Thorn were soon pushed to the back burner.
Trevor Bartlett had not been heard from at all. Though Perry had tried more than once to contact him, Bartlett refused to respond. As far as Della was concerned, that was just as well. The look Bartlett had given Perry still unsettled her. Of course Perry could take care of himself, and she was likely worrying over nothing, but it still made her feel better for Perry to not have anything more to do with him.
Then Gladys was back to the forefront once more. The day of her execution dawned with the story plastered on the front page of every local newspaper. Her case was notorious due to the sheer barbarism of her crime and her attitude towards it.
Both Perry and Mr. Burger were hounded by reporters and interviewed. Perry had refused to continue representing Gladys once the truth came out, recommending instead for her to find other representation. Her current lawyer was also interviewed. He asserted that he was seeking a stay of execution, despite the fact that having it granted did not look likely to happen.
And it was not; that night at midnight, Gladys Thorn died by lethal injection for the premeditated, heinous murders of Robert and Margaret Carter.
At 12:01 A.M., angry and hurting, Trevor Bartlett began plotting his revenge in full-force.
Della came through the open door into Perry's office. "What is it, Chief?" she greeted.
Perry was looking over a file open on his desk. "The Travis case was never solved, was it?" he said. "You remember—it was that grisly murder of a teenage boy five years ago."
"I remember," Della said in surprise. "What makes you think about that now?"
Perry frowned, leaning back in the chair. "It just occurred to me today, when I was reading in the morning paper about Gladys's execution last night. Some of the minute details of that case, and the crime scene, were noticeably similar to the Carter case. And when I took out the photograph of the Carter crime scene I noticed something else. If I can verify it with the Travis crime scene, I may have something uniquely strange enough that even Mr. Burger will see the validity of attempting to connect the cases."
Della's eyes widened. "You mean you're wondering if Gladys Thorn could have killed that boy Travis?"
Perry closed the folder. "It's a possibility, at least," he said. "Unfortunately, now it's too late to ask her."
Della glanced at the cover; it was the Carter casefile. "Do we even know if Gladys knew him?" she wondered.
"We don't," Perry said. "It's possible that she could have told someone, such as Trevor Bartlett."
Della frowned. "I don't like the thought of you trying to talk to him again," she said. "He doesn't want anything to do with you."
"I know," Perry nodded. "I'm sure he wouldn't tell me anything. I might tell my suspicions to Lieutenant Tragg and see if he'll try to question Trevor."
"Would he buy it?" Della was not sure. It was hard to say when the police would listen to one of Perry's ideas and when they would not.
Perry reached for the telephone. "There's just one way to find out."
Hamilton Burger sighed tiredly, leaning back as he let his hands drop from the keyboard in front of him. It had been very late before he had ever gone to sleep last night, as he had been interviewed again following Gladys Thorn's execution. Today he had a heavy caseload; he had been in court twice and had to go back again before the close of the workday. And now Perry Mason was raising questions about Gladys Thorn's possible involvement in an unsolved murder from five years ago.
The similarities between the crime scenes were, he had to admit, strange. It could be coincidental, or maybe even Gladys had heard about the Travis crime and had decided to craft the Carters' murders in the same vein—yet there was still the nagging issue of certain odd and unique details about both scenes that were not commonly known and managed to be strikingly harmonious. In the end, it was that element that had made him and Lieutenant Tragg curious enough to start digging deeper.
He stared blankly at the digital copy of the Ben Travis case on the monitor. The family deserved closure; they had been devastated following the gruesome murder of that boy. Still, he hated for them to be dragged into this before there was even anything concrete to show them. They had been trying to move on; now they would have to relive the horror and the pain as they were questioned at length on whether Ben Travis had known Gladys Thorn.
A sharp knock on the door brought him to attention. "What is it?" he called.
The door swung open and deputy D.A. Sampson leaned into the room. "Mr. Burger, Lieutenant Tragg's on his way over," he announced in his customary, blustering way. "I just heard it from Miss Miller. Since I was coming to see you anyway, she asked me to pass along the news."
Burger nodded. "Alright. Thank you, Sampson." He lowered the lid of the laptop computer. "What was it you wanted to see me about?"
Never hesitant, Sampson plunged right on. "Well, to be honest, Mr. Burger, I was wondering why you're going along with this idea of Mr. Mason's," he said.
Burger suddenly felt more tired than ever. "I wouldn't, except for the fact that there are unique similarities between the crime scenes," he said. "It's true that it could be coincidental, but it was strange enough to give me just a shadow of a doubt. Look." He took out two photographs from the hard copies of the Travis and Carter casefiles and set them on the desk. "These glasses on the tables in the background. At both of the crime scenes, they were arranged in a way that could loosely spell 'Fin' if looked at from a certain angle. No one investigating the Carter case remembered about the glasses in the Travis case. It was a throwaway detail long forgotten in five years. They didn't pay the glasses any heed until Mason pointed it out today."
Sampson came over and peered at the photographs. "It could mean nothing," he said. Nevertheless, the interest was sparked in his eyes.
"I know it could mean nothing," Burger said. "You have to use some imagination to even see the wording. But it's our job to investigate." He placed the pictures back in their separate folders. "Mr. Mason has some wild ideas, it's true. And I don't agree with a lot of his methods. However, you have to remember, Sampson—he's not our enemy. We're both working on the same goal of reaching the truth. When there's any reason to believe he might have something, I'm willing to listen." He shook his head. "Glasses set out to spell words aren't something you see every day."
Sampson stepped back. "I understand, sir," he said. "And it is strange, I admit that. But what connection could Gladys Thorn have possibly had with Ben Travis?"
"Maybe Lieutenant Tragg will be able to tell us that," Burger answered.
Tragg arrived several minutes later. By that point Sampson had needed to return to his office, so Mr. Burger was alone when the knock came at the door. "Come in," he called for the second time in an hour.
Tragg entered, shutting the door behind him. From his grim expression, it was hard to tell how the interview had gone.
"What happened?" Burger queried.
Tragg let out an exasperated sigh. "Something isn't right, I can tell you that. Bartlett got the oddest expression when we showed him the pictures depicting the glasses. Then he said, 'So you finally discovered them,' with a mocking sort of sneer."
"But he didn't admit that Gladys had put them there," Burger concluded.
"He certainly didn't," Tragg said. "And no amount of questioning could make him talk further. He only said 'What does it even matter now that she's dead?'" He came over and sank into a chair near the desk. "Telling him that Travis's family deserved closure meant absolutely nothing to him. Neither did telling him that I could get a warrant out for his arrest, on the grounds of withholding information in a murder."
Burger set his pen down in exasperation. "Well, I guess at least we can decide that the glasses really were spelling 'Fin'," he said in annoyance. "Since Bartlett acted like they were important."
Tragg nodded. "It must be meant as some kind of message of death," he said. "A notation on their lives being finished."
"Fin as in end," Burger mused. "You're probably right." He frowned. "Gladys Thorn had a sick sense of humor."
Tragg fully concurred.
Perry's eyes narrowed as he approached his apartment late that night. Something was not right; he could sense it. He reached for the doorknob. It turned easily in his hand; the door was already unlocked. And he had certainly not left it like that.
Before he could make a motion to let it go it flew open, sending him stumbling in shock into the room. He looked up with a start. Trevor Bartlett was glowering at him from the other side of the door. Standing near the end table was another man, one whom Perry did not recognize. He was holding a gun directly at the attorney.
"Let go of the knob and close the door," Trevor barked.
Perry straightened, angry. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. He kept his hand on the knob. If something were to happen, he hoped that the other residents of the building would hear and call the authorities.
The unknown man clicked off the safety. "Do what Trevor tells you," he growled.
"You're trespassing in my apartment," Perry said, looking from him to Trevor. "You don't have any rights here."
"That gun gives us our rights," Trevor said.
"Trevor, Gladys confessed to killing two people in cold blood," Perry said, his tone clipped. "I wasn't going to try getting her off under those circumstances. If it had been self-defense it would have been different."
"I don't care!" Trevor shot back. "I loved her and now she's dead. And you're going to pay for it."
"What are you going to do?" Perry tensed, on guard. "Is your assassin intending to kill me? That won't solve anything."
"No." Trevor shook his head, stepping away from the door. "No, it wouldn't, not like that. I don't want you to die, Mason. Not until I've completely broken you down."
"Trevor, you're making a mistake, a grave mistake."
A silent bullet sailed past Perry's ear. He turned to look as it embedded itself in the wall. The unknown man sneered, cocking his smoking gun.
A bullet from another direction tore into Perry's side. He gasped in stunned pain, clutching at the wound as he doubled over. Trevor had a gun out now as well. He smirked at Perry, keeping it leveled at him.
"You fell for the distraction, Mason," he said. "You shouldn't have done that."
Perry's eyes narrowed. Pushing back the pain he lunged, hoping to catch Trevor off-guard. They crashed to the floor, struggling over the gun. Perry snatched the younger man's wrist, wrenching the gun away from him. Trevor grimaced, tearing at Perry's clothes with his free hand.
Without warning something hard came down on Perry's head once, twice. He stiffened for only a brief moment. Then he fell forward, across Trevor.
As he went down, in his fading vision he caught sight of his coffee table.
All of his glasses had been set out in a particular formation.