The Case of the Denying Detective
Notes: The characters from the show are not mine. The other characters and the story are mine! This picks up my thread of Perry mysteries, but I don't think any of the others really need to have been read first. Although it might perhaps be useful to be aware of the previous two. And I'll be trying something different for this fic—I'll be telling the story alternately through flashbacks as well as the present as I try to tie everything together. If things start out confusing, that's largely intentional. And guys, I promise that I'll do my best to keep the plot from turning heavily supernatural or sci-fi. Right now I have no intentions of either, unlike the two previous mysteries. References to the events of those mysteries are planned, out of necessity, but nothing more.
Los Angeles Detective Still Missing After Three Months
Perry Mason tossed the day's newspaper onto his desk with a frustrated and discouraged swing of his wrist. Della Street, standing near the balcony doors as she wrote in her notepad, jumped a mile. She turned, her lips parting as she was about to ask what Perry was up to. When she saw his scowl and the newspaper, however, understanding and sadness dawned in her eyes.
"I couldn't even bring myself to read that story," she said quietly.
Perry gripped his fist with his other hand. "I just don't understand it. Paul hasn't been seen or heard from in three months. Three months! Where in Heaven's name could he be?"
Della swallowed hard. "I ask that question every day." She came over to the desk, setting her notepad aside as she pulled the paper closer to her. It did not say anything they did not already know. Not that she had really expected anything different. She sighed, pushing it away again. "Something terrible must have happened to him. He would have tried to call if he was alright!"
"Something terrible did happen to him, Della." Perry's frown deepened. "He attacked Hamilton for no apparent reason and then fled."
"And we still don't know why that happened, either," Della said with deep regret. "It doesn't look like it could have been Dr. Portman's work. But surely Paul couldn't have done it on purpose." She stared at the paper without really seeing it. "Maybe he's staying away because he feels so terrible about it."
"But for three months?" Perry shook his head. "He would come back and face it long before now."
Della sighed. "You're right. I didn't really mean that; I'm just so worried."
"I know." Perry clasped his hands. "I've been doing the same thing—running each and every possibility over and over in my mind, discarding it, and coming back to it later when something else fails. Sometimes something starts to make sense, but it doesn't go anywhere beyond the thinking stage and it doesn't help figure out where Paul is now, so I set it aside again. It's an endless cycle."
"It's all so agonizing." Della hesitated. "Perry?"
He glanced up. "Hmm?"
"Why do you think Paul attacked Hamilton?"
Perry heaved a sigh. "I don't know, Della. I agree with you that he wouldn't have done it of his own volition. Even if Hamilton had done something to anger Paul, I can't feature Paul doing anything more than delivering one lone punch."
"And he did a lot more than that." Della idly looked at the papers on Perry's desk. "I feel sorry for both of them. Hamilton looked so shocked when Paul came at him that way. I'll never be able to forget that. And you said he was sore for quite a few days afterwards."
"He was. But he hasn't held it against Paul," Perry noted. "He's been as worried and confused as we've been."
"I know." Della had long ago softened towards Hamilton and thought of him as a friend, but his handling of this catastrophe had elevated him in her respect even further.
"The police have mostly given up the search," she sadly said now. "Even Steve doesn't know what else to do."
"We won't give up, though," Perry vowed. "Even though we don't know what else to do either. Somehow, someway, he'll turn up."
Della prayed that when he did he would be alive.
And back to his old self.
An hour or two later, the telephone rang. Without waiting for Della, Perry snatched it up. "Hello?"
The information the caller had to bring sent him turning sheet-white. "We'll be right there," he declared. Hanging up, he grabbed his hat and coat and headed for the door.
In her office, Della looked up in surprise when Perry barreled out. "Perry, what is it?" she gasped.
"Hamilton," Perry said. "He said he just had a strange visitor—a man claiming he knows Paul is dead!"
Della leaped up from her desk in the next moment, chasing after Perry to the door. "Do you think there's anything to it?" she cried.
"I don't know," Perry said. "Neither does Hamilton. But I hope not."
Della certainly did as well. "It's strange that this person would turn up today, with the article running in all the city papers," she said.
Perry nodded. "Maybe there's some connection," he said. "On the other hand, maybe there isn't."
He was sick over the possibility of Hamilton's contact knowing the truth. He had often feared that when Paul turned up, it could be as a corpse. Both he and Della had had more than their fair share of nightmares over that possibility. And whether Hamilton Burger would admit it or not, he had as well.
He had come to Perry many times, both at the courthouse and at Perry's office, to ask if there was any news about Paul. It was a bit ironic that now he was the one to whom the news had come. He believed, as did Perry, that there had to be some mistake about its accuracy.
But only time would tell that.
Maybe it was only a fool's belief.
The garden was where Hamilton and occasionally the others had started to go when they wanted to think. It was a cemetery, really, but the long hedges and magnificent architecture gave off an air of a peaceful and meditative park—which was as its creator had intended.
Hamilton sank down on one of the stone benches, pulling his trenchcoat closer around him in the chill. It had been a long day, made only longer by the memories of old, unsolved wounds being dredged up once again. He had lost track of the time, but although he was weary he did not want to leave until he somehow found some answers. And that could take a long time more.
He turned at the sound of Mignon's voice. She sat down beside him, her dark eyes flickering with concern. "Hamilton, I know something is wrong. What is it?" She ran her hands over her black coat, spreading out the creases. "I was concerned when I called your office and your secretary was still there, but you weren't. He said he wasn't sure where you were going. I suddenly thought of this spot."
Hamilton managed a smile. "You know me too well, Mignon." He sighed. "I was thinking about Paul," he admitted. "He hasn't been seen at all since . . ." He trailed off.
"Since the night he attacked you for no reason," Mignon finished.
"Yes." Hamilton nodded, troubled. "I just found out today that he might be dead. And that he might have died still thinking he killed me."
Mignon regarded him in surprise. "He didn't even hurt you that badly."
"I know," Hamilton said, "but maybe he never knew that. This person who claimed to have seen him said that he was talking about coming to with blood all over his hands. The last thing he remembered was attacking me, so he thought maybe he'd seriously hurt me. He stayed away because he was afraid he might space out again without warning and hurt someone else. Otherwise he would have turned himself in."
"But I don't understand how he would get the idea that you're dead," Mignon said. "He could have easily read a newspaper and learned the truth."
"I don't understand it either," Hamilton said. "Maybe my contact was mistaken or even deliberately lying. But I can't get it out of my mind at any rate."
Mignon considered that. "Where did this person supposedly see Mr. Drake?"
"San Diego," Hamilton said. "I already had a man down there checking up on something, so I asked him to look for Paul while he was at it. And unless I decide to go down there too, all I can do now is sit and wait."
"That is often the most difficult thing to do." Mignon rested her hand on Hamilton's. "Do you feel that you should go?"
"I really can't," Hamilton said with obvious regret. "Not unless I drop all of my cases and reassign them to my assistants for a day or two. I guess I could, but I'd like to have some more concrete information before I'd do something like that."
"Of course." Mignon looked at her dear friend. The conflict and anguish on his features was apparent. And he really looked as though he had aged several years just in the last few hours. "Does Mr. Mason know?" she asked at last.
"Yes, I told him and Della," Hamilton said. "They're hoping to go down in the morning. They're still clinging to the hope that maybe Paul isn't dead, even if it's true that he was seen in San Diego."
"How was he supposed to have died?"
"I'm afraid I don't know," Hamilton said. "This contact claims that Paul was found lying dead on an old barge without so much as one piece of I.D. on him. And he gave me a picture, but it's so dark we haven't been able to tell whose body is in it. It's flimsy, but it's all we have. The San Diego coroner's office doesn't remember checking in a John Doe that looked like Paul, though."
"Then maybe everything will be alright," Mignon said.
"I'd like to believe that." Hamilton massaged the bridge of his nose. "Right after Paul ran off and disappeared, we all looked everywhere, all over the county. I remember those days all too well."
"As do I. I know it was horrible for you. You started coming here often."
"I'd heard these strange stories that a guy was wandering through the cemeteries, looking for a specific grave. A guy who matched Paul's description." Hamilton leaned back. "I was hoping I could catch him some night. As near as I can tell, he must have been looking for my grave. I hoped that he'd learned later that I was fine. But maybe that was just how I tried to console myself. I was sure he would've come back if he'd realized."
"In losing Paul you lost a dear friend." Mignon's words were a statement, not a question.
Hamilton nodded. "We had just started to patch things up not that long before," he said. "Then three months ago he lunged at me like that and took off. I just wish I could've gone after him right then." Hamilton looked disgusted with himself. "He may have not hurt me seriously, but it was bad enough that I got the wind knocked right out of me for a few minutes."
"But the blood on his hands that he supposedly spoke of in San Diego." Mignon frowned more. "Did he hurt you so badly that you were bleeding? I don't remember that you were."
"I don't think I was," Hamilton said. "Oh, except for a scratch or two. Mostly I was bruised and sore. That judo flip he tried really did me in."
Mignon was worried now. "Then do you think he harmed someone else, perhaps far worse than he hurt you?"
"I don't want to think that," Hamilton said. "But it's crossed my mind." He sighed. "I just don't know."
"I know you'll make the right decision in the end," Mignon told him. "Somehow this will be resolved. It's been left open for far too long."
"Don't think I don't agree with that," Hamilton said. "I just wish I knew what the right decision is."
Mignon stayed with him for a while longer before getting up to leave. Hamilton lingered, the night lapsing on as he tried to sort out the problem.
There was no way to even begin to get at the truth without finding Paul. Not that Paul knew, or remembered, it anymore. But he had to be located and have his mind set at ease where Hamilton's well-being was concerned.
. . . If he was still alive.
And there was finding the person who had done this to him. Could it have been Alice Portman? She had been committed to an institution. Hamilton had asked her anyway, around the time it had first happened. But she had denied doing anything to Paul. She could not have arranged it from in there, not without the doctors noticing. That, as far as Hamilton was concerned, was debatable. However, in case she was telling the truth he needed to look elsewhere.
Of course Paul had been under the influence of something. The thought of him attacking of his own free will was completely out of the question. Even if he had still been on the rocks with Hamilton he never would have done such a thing. Perry fully concurred.
Hamilton got up, slowly walking the paths of the garden cemetery. It had been weeks since there had been any possible sign of Paul in Los Angeles. Hamilton was not sure why he had returned here tonight, upon learning that Paul might be dead. Perhaps because it was the last place he had investigated those months before. He longed for some answers and did not know where to find them.
The sudden attack on his consciousness from behind left him exclaiming in pain and surprise as he collapsed to the grass, his head throbbing.
It was the feeling of something tripping over his limp body that startled him back to his senses. He opened his eyes . . . and found to his utter shock that Paul Drake was looking down at him.
A wild-eyed, ill-rested, but very much alive Paul Drake.
"No," Paul gasped, rocking back. "No, you can't be lying here like this. You're dead and buried. I killed you. I know I killed you! Your blood . . . it was all over my hands. I couldn't get it off." He shook his head. "I'm going crazy. You're not really here."
Hamilton fought to process the confused spiel in his aching mind. As Paul shied away, Hamilton struggled and reached to snatch his wrist. "Paul, wait!" he pleaded. "I'm not dead. You didn't kill me! Somebody knocked me out and I was lying here unconscious."
Paul tore his wrist free. "Ha!" he retorted. "Ohh no, buster. I've had enough of seeing your ghost talk to me in my head. I'm not falling for it this time." He got up, turning to flee over the grass.
Hamilton stumbled but pulled himself upright to give chase. "I'm not in your head!" he retorted. "I'm real!"
"You always say that." Paul took off running.
Pushing back the dizziness and pain, Hamilton somehow managed to follow, albeit far behind. "Paul, it's been several months!" he called. "We've all been worried about you. Please, just stop for a few minutes and listen to me!"
Paul only increased his speed. The gap between them was widening by the second.
Hamilton had no idea where he drew the strength for that final burst of energy, when he was still aching from his experience. But he did know he was not about to let Paul vanish into the night, not when he was finally right here. He all but flew through the air, tackling Paul to the ground. Paul shouted and flailed, desperate to pull away. Hamilton held fast—which was really quite a miracle in and of itself, considering Paul's broader build.
"Now wait just a minute, for Heaven's sake!" Hamilton cried. "Paul, you've always been a rational person. Could a ghost grab your arm? Tackle you? Think about it!"
"No!" Paul yelled. "I'm sick of your mind tricks! Let me go!"
"Whose mind tricks?" Hamilton shot back.
At last Paul stiffened. Then his shoulders slumped and he sank into the grass. "I . . . don't know," he admitted.
Hamilton slowly relaxed his grip. "Paul, you didn't kill me," he said, quieter now. "I'm alive and well."
Paul started to turn onto his side. "Oh, how I wish I could believe that." He peered at Hamilton. "Maybe this is all a big illusion, like hypnosis."
"It isn't," Hamilton said. He backed off, allowing Paul his freedom and space. "If I could just convince you . . . !"
Paul frowned. "Supposing it's true, why would someone randomly knock you out? And what would you be doing in here this late anyway?"
"I don't know why they did it," Hamilton answered. "I wasn't robbed," he added as he checked for his wallet. "But I was in here because I was trying to think what to do. I'd just found out today that you might be dead. I have a man looking for you in San Diego, where you were last seen. And I was thinking about going down there to look myself. Actually, I'd just made up my mind on what to do when someone cracked me on the skull." He gingerly touched the sore spot.
"Yeah? What did you plan on doing?" Paul was still on guard, still suspicious.
"I was going to go to San Diego." Hamilton's response was firm and matter-of-fact.
"For me?" Paul said in disbelief. "Why?"
Hamilton frowned, letting his hand drop. "I thought we were past all that," he said. "Paul, I've been worried. You've been gone for months!"
Paul swallowed hard. "What I mean is, I thought you were dead. I know I attacked you; it's the last thing I clearly remember from that night. And you were still going to come after me?"
"Yes!" Hamilton looked at him pleadingly. "I had to know the truth. And if you were . . . still alive, I had to let you know the truth and see if I could get you to come back with me.
"I . . ." Paul looked away, not wanting to meet his eyes. "I've stayed away all this time because I've just been panic-stricken that I'd flip out again and hurt someone else, maybe even Perry or Della. I didn't want them to come looking and find me either, for that reason. I wanted to find out what I'd really done before I let anyone know where I was. There was blood on my hands!"
"It wasn't mine," Hamilton said. "But Paul, that's another reason you need to come back. We have to figure out what happened and if you really did hurt someone. The courts know about Portman's mind-control. If you were under the influence of that, or anything like it, they won't convict you. I'll do everything in my power to help you. Of course, Perry will too."
Paul heaved a shaking sigh. "I . . . I want to believe you," he said. "It's just that . . . well, after everything I've been through, I'm not sure that I can. It's so much to take in. I'm still not even sure this is real."
"Then . . . all I can ask is for you to give it . . . give me a chance. Will you please come back with me? Even just for a while?" Hamilton tensely waited for a reply.
At last Paul looked up. "Alright," he said. "I'll come back with you. But I can't promise I'll accept you're really here. As far as I know, I could still be having a wild hallucination. And at the first sign I might be starting to act out, I'll skip. I'm not going to risk anyone's safety."
Hamilton nodded. "Fair enough." It was more than he could have hoped for, he supposed.
But as he and Paul slowly got up and headed out of the cemetery, he could not help the melancholy ache and the sincere worry.
Would Paul ever again embrace reality?