"Don't tell me you haven't seen these." Perry Mason dropped the L. A. Times' latest issue on the D. A.'s desk. "He's been running them after every case of ours for six months now."
The paper was open to a half-page ad proclaiming in bold letters 'Elect a Winner!' Above the words grinned William Keyes, attorney-at-law, holding up a six-month-old copy of the Times' front page which proclaimed in equally bold type 'Landmark victory! Keyes triumphs, Mason trumped!' Not coincidentally, the front page of the current Times featured a headline screaming Mason's latest addition to his winning streak over Hamilton Burger.
"Of course I've seen them. It's a good campaign." Burger looked up at the defense attorney with some confusion. "What about it?"
"The election is three months away, Hamilton. Aren't you worried?"
"Me? Worry?" The D. A. managed a mostly-sincere smile. "With all the free publicity I get by losing to you?"
"That sounds an awful lot like giving up." Mason frowned at him.
"I'm not giving up, Perry." Very patient.
"You're not fighting it, what's the difference?"
"I'm doing my best." Not quite so patient.
"By not worrying about it? What kind of strategy is that?"
"Look, Perry, I'm sure we both have a great deal of work to do today ..."
Mason ignored the not-so-subtle brush-off and kept prodding, trying to get through his friend's polished exterior. "You've done nothing, Hamilton. Do you want Bill Keyes in this office? His courtroom theatrics? His publicity stunts? His fingers in all of your projects? Because it sounds like that's exactly what you want. In fact it sounds like the only thing you don't want is to be here."
"PERRY." Burger tended to get loud when upset. He brought himself up short, though, and continued in a more level voice. "Perry, you know very well I don't want any of that. But I'm up against a wall. For every case we get resolved – or thrown out," a pointed look at Mason, "two more come up. That's on top of dealing with the new branches, fielding ideas about reorganization ..." He gestured despairingly at the mounds of paper on his desk. "I have no time, Perry. If I tried to run a full-on campaign I'd have to compromise here. I just won't do that. I would love four more years … I would love twenty more years, but …" He sighed. "Eight years isn't a bad run. If that's all I get, it was enough."
"But Keyes," Mason groaned. "Keyes by himself is bad enough. Can you imagine if the state was behind him?"
"I'd rather not. However, unless you know a brilliant campaign manager who's willing to work cheap … or unless you're willing to throw a case or two my way ..." The D. A.'s eyes twinkled impishly.
"Sorry. I only throw cases for governors and above," Mason replied with a wry grin.
"Worth a shot. It all comes down to politics, Perry. I may be a better lawyer, but Keyes has more money, more time … and right now," he added, handing the newspaper back, "better press."
Not many weeks later, as evening fell softly across the Los Angeles skyline, Mason sat in his own office reviewing the contents of a manilla folder.
"Good work, Paul. I think this will clear things up for us very nicely."
"The Drake detective agency never fails. Well, almost never." The pale-haired private eye grinned and settled himself on the edge of Mason's desk. "So it'll all be over tomorrow?"
"All over. Violet Jameson will be free and Andy will have the real murderer under lock and key. I hope."
"Sounds like business as usual." Drake regarded his employer with a keen eye. "Except you don't seem quite as happy about it as you should be. What's the trouble?"
"No trouble. I'm just not looking forward to tomorrow's headlines - or, rather, the Times ad page immediately following."
"Oh. Keyes." Drake's keen look became rather puzzled. "I don't get it, Perry, what's your beef with that guy? As far as I know he's not so bad. Maybe he skirts the edges of proper legal procedure sometimes, but, uh ..." He quirked an eyebrow knowingly across the desk. Mason had no trouble picking up the implication and smiled at it.
"Yes, I know. In fact many of the complaints I might make about Keyes have been leveled at me as well - with very little justification." His companion snorted and was ignored. "I just think he takes things too far, too often. Most importantly, I don't see him changing his methods if he's elected. The district attorney needs to hold himself to a higher standard than the defense counsel. Hamilton knows it and tries his best to meet that standard. I don't think Keyes will."
Drake shook his head. "Seems to me you're drawing some pretty fine lines. Also seems like there may be some sour grapes left over from that lawsuit."
"Touché," Mason said with a grin. "I won't deny that I don't enjoy the reminders. However, my opinion of our friend was firmly in place well before that little encounter."
"I still think you're overreacting. Anyway, the D. A. is as much a bureaucrat as anything else. Keyes'll probably handle an occasional case, just for the publicity, and spend the rest of his time on other things. Like planning a run for Congress."
"Some men can't be trusted with power, Paul. He's one of them."
The detective shrugged. "Maybe so. But let's face it, Perry - politics is a popularity contest. And outside this office, Bill Keyes is awfully popular."
The next day unfolded much as Perry Mason had predicted. The trial went off without a hitch - from the defense's point of view - and another satisfied client was being released from detention as Della Street preceded her boss out the courthouse doors. She stopped almost immediately and, when he joined her, nodded her dark head toward a crowd just visible down the steps.
"Sounds like they have Hamilton already. Should we escape out the back?"
He hesitated a moment. "No, Della. I think it's just what I want." He looked at her. "This might be interesting."
"It usually is." She gave him a sparkling glance and they moved on.
The reporters and photographers found Mason's appearance very interesting indeed. Heads, flashbulbs, notepads and microphones all turned towards him almost in unison as he descended, followed immediately by a familiar confusion of shouted questions. Burger watched it all with a touch of weariness. He was contemplating a quick escape until Mason walked down to his side and shot him a look which said "Oh no you don't, you'll want to stay and hear this."
"Gentlemen," the defense attorney began, turning to his larger audience. "I heard at least one of you ask what my next case will be. I believe I've also been asked my opinion on a certain advertising campaign currently being waged by the challenger for the office of district attorney. Let me answer the second question first." He paused to ensure his words were having the desired effect. All was quiet. He continued.
"As you may know, lawyers are rather fond of hypothetical questions. I would like to pose one to you now. Suppose, hypothetically, that one of you fine gentlemen were to be arrested for a crime which he did not commit. Being a wise man of letters he would naturally attempt to secure the best counsel available. Which would be me." A chuckle from the spectators. "Place yourself in this man's shoes as he enters the place where his trial is to be held. You have committed no crime. The case may seem hopeless. Your freedom – perhaps even your life – may depend on what happens in that room in the next few hours. As you sit at the defendant's table you glance first at me, your only defense, and then across the courtroom to the table occupied by the prosecutor. Here, gentlemen, you must make your … hypothetical choice." Silence for a quick moment, scarcely the length of an in-drawn breath. "Who would you rather see at that table? A man elected on promises of obstructing and badgering your defense attorney at every opportunity – and kept his promises? Or one who promised justice, for the innocent and the guilty, at every opportunity – and kept his promise?" Another beat. "I pose this question both to you and to your readers, gentlemen. Within a few weeks it may not be quite so hypothetical. I hope you all choose your answer wisely."
After another moment of silence there arose a sudden roar of flashbulbs and pencils moving over notepaper. Burger had somehow managed to keep his mouth from hanging open but hadn't quite recovered the power of speech. Mason's eyes twinkled at him for a moment before the larger man spoke up again.
"As for the first question, what my next case will be – I happen to know a local politician who is looking for a brilliant campaign manager willing to work cheap. I'm always willing to volunteer in a worthy cause. True, I've never dabbled in politics, but I think I'll enjoy it. I might even be good at it. What do you think, Mr. Burger?"
"I think, Mr. Mason, that for once we've found something on which we can entirely agree."