As a true lover of the ESG novels, Lt. Tragg was one of my favorite peripheral characters, and I was always a tad disappointed in the casting of Ray Collins in the TV show. In my conglomerate PM universe, Tragg is a contemporary of Perry's who could have been a friend, and who grudgingly admired our hero, but at the same time harbored a bit of envy for his notoriety and lifestyle - particularly where it involved a certain lovely lady. If one person has as much fun reading the story as I had writing it, I'll be tickled to death. ~ D
A bold banner headline on the galley proof filled nearly the entire top portion of the page, referring to a certain prominent Los Angeles attorney by name. Lieutenant Arthur Tragg of Homicide read the headline, as well as a dozen sentences of the article, before looking up at District Attorney Hamilton Burger with startled eyes.
"Is any of this true?" He asked, tapping the galley proof with a forefinger.
Burger was leaning forward, hands flat on his desk, watching Tragg read. He shrugged. "We'll get around to investigating."
Tragg had returned his attention to reading the article, halted after another couple of shocking paragraphs to look up at Burger again. "How did you get it? But more importantly, why did you haul me in here to read it?"
Burger sat down behind his rather Spartan desk and indicated for Tragg to sit as well. "The article was mailed to his office with this letter." He slid a piece of linen stationery across the smooth surface of the desk toward Tragg, who read the type-written words without picking it up.
Tragg whistled. "Quarter of a million dollars."
Burger picked up a small pile of papers, all matching pieces of the linen stationery. "There's more. Each one nastier than the last, all consecutively dated beginning five days ago. Look at the one dated yesterday."
A familiar feminine name leapt out at him immediately. He took the proffered letters and read slowly, a deep frown etching his forehead. "This guy certainly knows more about Mason than we do," he commented.
Burger leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "He's obviously peeved that Mason hasn't answered his letters and every day escalates the demands."
"How did you get these?"
"From his law clerk. Mason's office is closed, but Jackson has been picking up the mail daily. He noticed the identical envelopes, and opened one out of curiosity. Scared the pants off him and he called the police."
Tragg had now read all of the threatening notes and was skimming the galley proof again. "Have detectives attempted to contact this guy?" Whoever he was, it wasn't very bright of him to put such things in writing.
Hamilton Burger gave a quick nod. "We decided to have Mason's law clerk write a letter today and post it, explaining why there hasn't been a previous response. We're hoping for enough of a delay to locate Mason."
"Why not just haul the guy in for questioning?"
Burger uncrossed his arms and regarded Tragg impassively. "Because we have no idea where the guy is. All we know right now is the letters originated here in Los Angeles, posted by the magazine."
"You've interviewed the editor?"
Burger's expression changed to one of disgust. "We have. He's a weasel. He claims not to have met Wade Baynum, that the letters arrive via a different messenger service every day, and that he's operating under instructions of the magazine's owner. This is where things get interesting: the owner is a former client of Mason's. Eva Belter is her name, accused of murdering her wealthy, older husband."
"Doesn't sound like a very grateful client."
"You're assuming he got her off," Hamilton Burger commented testily.
Tragg grinned. "According to the article, Mason has never lost a murder case."
"I wasn't D.A. at the time her case was tried. I don't know the woman. She's conveniently out of town and unreachable."
"You still haven't told me why you dragged me down here. This isn't my expertise."
Burger again regarded Tragg with a slight smile. "I need someone official who is on friendly terms with Mason. It appears that when he goes on vacation, every friend or business associate he has either goes on vacation or maintains they don't know where he is. Aside from Jackson, we've located his receptionist, a typist, a stenographer, and a couple of law school buddies. Paul Drake is on vacation, but isn't where he's supposed to be." Burger cleared his throat. "Mason isn't where he's supposed to be, either."
What Burger left unsaid was not lost on Tragg. He raised an eyebrow. "And Miss Street?"
After nearly twelve hours of searching, police still had not located Perry Mason, Paul Drake, or Della Street. An obvious trail of tickets, reservations, and cancellations under various combinations of names had been uncovered and traced, all to dead ends.
Arthur Tragg had personally interviewed Mason's receptionist Gertie, the typist, the stenographer, and Mason's associate Carl Jackson. Aside from getting the distinct impression that the typist was seriously infatuated with her boss, he emerged from his office with only one bit of useful information: the name of Della Street's aunt, Mae Kirby. However, a phone call resulted in no further useful information. She hadn't spoken to her niece in over ten days, and insisted she had no idea where Della or Perry Mason might be. Tragg had hammered home the point that threats had been made, had attempted to impart an urgency in locating Perry Mason before any of the threats could be carried out, but although everyone was alarmed, they could not provide information as to his whereabouts. He hoped for Mason's sake they really had no idea where he was and weren't just acting out of loyalty to protect his privacy.
At hour eighteen of the search, Tragg was seated at his desk, head in his hands, staring unseeingly at a map of California. Lines and circles had been drawn in red indicating the false trail laid by Perry Mason, a crisscrossing of destinations systematically ruled out with endless telephone calls and the cooperation of police departments in a dozen cities.
At just after thirty-six hours of searching, there was a break. One of Hamilton Burger's assistant D.A.'s, bored with the task of culling leads through Mason's business contacts and practices, decided to delve into the attorney's personal finances and struck pay dirt. After several telephone calls, he presented Burger with his discovery and within two hours Arthur Tragg, by virtue of being "the closest thing to a friend" Mason had in the police department or the DA's office, was in an unmarked police car headed to a remote northern California lake. In a manila envelope on the front seat were the Spicy Bits galley proof, the blackmail notes, and sketchy details of a disturbing background report involving a man named Wade Baynum, his sister Maryann, and Perry Mason himself.