The Case of the Neglectful Fireman
Perry Mason arrived at the hospital at six o'clock. He took the elevator to Della's floor. She was up and dressed. Perry stood in the doorway watching her read the paper. The evening edition had just come out. The headline on the front page read, 'PERRY MASON WINS ANOTHER ONE!' Perry figured Della was reading the article that probably continued on another page. Mason leaned on the doorway, crossed his arms across his massive chest and said, "Why do you bother to read that paper when you can get it right from the horse's mouth?"
Della smiled. "Because the horse was out running around somewhere. Congratulations, counselor. I am sorry I missed it."
Perry closed the distance between them as Della got up from the chair and walked toward him. "I want you to know the judge was concerned about you."
"Really? Why is that?" Della said with a teasing look in her hazel eyes.
"Because he thought I took too long locating my paperwork. He was afraid you quit your job."
Della chuckled. She closed the remaining distance between them. "But you are not afraid I'll quit my job?"
"Nope." He put his arms around Della. Her one arm was in a sling, a painful reminder to Perry of that fire and his inability to protect her. Thank god Paul had arrived when he did. "You are too addicted to the fringe benefits."
Della looked up at her playful lawyer. "You mean the long hours, the lack of sleep, being shot at, battling forest fires and landing in the hospital."
"No, that is the adventurous part of the job. And that was not a forest fire, Smokey. No, I was talking about fringe benefits." Perry smiled, lowered his lips to hers and kissed her. "This is a fringe benefit. You don't think I extend this kind of benefits to Gertie, do you?"
Della chuckled. "You better not, not if you know what is good for you." Della took his lower lip between hers. It had the intended effect as Perry kissed her again.
A man behind them cleared his throat. Perry and Della separated. "I am sorry, I did not mean to intrude." It was the same doctor who had treated Della the night before.
"I assume I can take Miss Street home," Perry said.
"Yes, I have the discharge papers right here." He lifted his hand indicating the papers he held there. He walked over to the couple. "I am giving you a prescription for pain, Miss Street. You should take it easy for a few days. If you will sign the discharge papers, Mr. Mason can take you home. Oh, your secret is safe with me."
Della turned red but took the papers and pen from the doctor. Perry turned around, stooped down, allowing Della to use his shoulder as a surface to use to sign the discharge papers. Once she had, Della handed them back to the doctor.
"You may take her home, Mr. Mason." The doctor turned to leave and then turned back to them. "Congratulations on getting the charges against your client dropped, Mr. Mason." He left Della's room.
"Well, you wanted a handsome gentleman to take you to dinner but Paul was not available. He is running down something for me. Would you settle for a big lawyer?"
Della smiled. "I will settle for a big, handsome lawyer."
"Hmmmm... I will check and see if Hamilton is available. Wait, that won't work. Hamilton is married."
Della ran her hand down Perry's face. "Hamilton Burger is not what I consider a big, handsome lawyer. I will settle for this big, handsome lawyer."
Perry once again kissed her. "Then let's go to dinner." Perry took her elbow and led Della out of the hospital room.
"Alright, Denny. Mason was served up a killer, now what? How do we get the money?" Brad Stout asked.
"I have changed my mind, Brad. I don't think we should do anything right now. That money is too hot." Denny Boulder turned and looked into the eyes of his partner in the fires. "We have to wait and make sure Mason takes the bait. If he does then we can move forward. I just think it would be a bad time right now. If Mason doesn't believe that Monte killed Ted then he might have Drake keeping an eye on that money. We could be walking into a trap. Right now they can't tie either of us to the fires or the murders of Ted or Bert. No, we have to lay low for a while. We will go after the money when it is safe to do so."
Stout grabbed Boulder with both hands. "Are you trying to run off with all the money?"
Boulder tried to remove Stout's hands. "Let go of me, Brad. I am not trying to cheat you out of anything! The timing is wrong. We are home free. They have nothing on us. If we move too soon, we might implicate ourselves in the fires and the murders."
"You fool! Just how long do you think that money is going to be sitting there? If we don't take it, it will be moved."
"No, I don't think so. The insurance companies are going to be suing for that money and the money the other guys have in their accounts. It will be tied up in court for a while. The owners of the buildings are going to claim that they knew nothing about what we were up to. By the time everything is all sorted out, you and I will have moved the money. I just don't think we should do it right now."
"You are a fool. Don't you realize if what you say is true, we have to move that money right now before the funds are frozen," Brad insisted.
"Don't worry about that. If they freeze it, we can still get to it. It is a piece of cake for my man. Quit worrying." Denny continued to try to pry Brad Stout's hands from his jacket.
"I want the money now, Boulder. I cannot afford to have the police or worse, Perry Mason, looking into my past. I have to get out of Los Angeles and I have to do it now. So I will tell you what you are going to do." Stout let go of Boulder. He took a step back and pulled a gun from his waist.
"Are you crazy? What the hell is that for?" Denny cried.
"I don't trust you, Denny. I am not about to let you take that money while I am not looking."
"Come on, Brad, we have been in this together from the beginning. I have been straight with you from day one. You have no reason not to trust me."
"Money, Denny, baby. That is all the reason I need."
"Why don't you want the police checking into your background? So you were the one that killed Ted. He was blackmailing you too, wasn't he?"
"So what if he was?" Stout said. "He got what he deserved. The blackmailing little weasel."
"So what are you going to do to me?" Denny asked.
"Good grief, Denny, what kind of guy do you think I am? We worked together for a long time. We made a lot of money together. We will again. Just as soon as you get settled in a new city, we set up shop again. I have no intention of hurting you. I just want my money." Stout lowered his weapon.
Boulder relaxed. "Good god, you scared the crap out of me, buddy. Look, my friend's name is Ken Cutter. He lives in my apartment building. He is the one that is going to hack into the bank. He has done it before. How the hell do you think I got the money to go to school? We will do this just as soon as it is safe to. I promise you will get every penny of your money. And just for all the trouble I caused you I will give you ten percent of my take."
"That is very generous of you, Denny. But it is not enough." Stout raised his gun and shot Denny Boulder in the forehead. "Fool, you should not have told me who is going to hack into the bank." Stout walked out of his apartment. There was nothing he wanted in it anyway. By the time the police found Boulder's body he would be on his way out of the country.
Della looked over the table at Perry. "Didn't you have anything to eat today?"
"I had lunch across the street from the courthouse, why?"
"Because you are not eating your dinner, you are inhaling it," Della observed.
"I guess I am just hungry. Besides, I may need the energy for later on."
Perry realized that he had just made a big mistake. Della was not going to leave him alone until he told her. "Nothing you need to worry about. You are going back to my place and resting, just like the doctor ordered."
"Perry..." Della said as she sat back in her chair.
Perry looked at her. "Della, you cannot go. You are not up to it."
"That is for me to decide."
"Della, I don't normally try to restrict you when it comes to my cases but you were shot in case it has escaped your attention."
Della thought she better take another tack with Perry. She could tell he was beginning to dig in his heels. "I know you are concerned about me and I appreciate it. In fact, I love you for it but you have said many times that I am not just your secretary but your partner."
Perry knew where this was going. He shook his head. "The doctor said..."
"I know what the doctor said, Perry. I was there, remember?"
"Then you know what you should be doing is resting."
"What does resting have to do with you bringing me up to date in what you are up to?" Della asked.
Before Perry could answer her, Paul Drake approached their table. "Is this just a dinner for two?" he asked.
"Have a seat Paul," Perry said. He signaled the waiter to bring over another menu. After taking Paul's order, the waiter disappeared.
Paul took Della's hand and kissed her cheek. "You look much better than the last time I saw you, Beautiful. You will have to forgive me for not visiting you at the hospital but Perry would not leave your side so that I could come in and today he has been keeping me busy. I am happy to see you are out and about." Paul squeezed her hand.
"It is alright, Paul. Perry let me know you were there. Now maybe you can tell me what you and Perry are up too. I can't get anything out of him." Della looked directly into the private detective's eyes.
"Look, Della. If Perry said you should stay out of this, this one time, I have to agree with him. We are going to nail the real killer of Ted Jacoby."
"I want to come along," Della said.
"No!" said Paul and Perry at the same time. Della looked down. It was obvious she was not happy but she knew she could not fight both of them and Perry was her boss.
Perry watched Della. He knew what she was thinking. He was not as sure of his own actions though. Was what happened in their office clouding his judgement? Was his inability to protect Della the reason he would not allow her to come along? No, the doctor said she should rest. She had been through a trauma that had sent her into shock. He was not being overprotective, she needed to follow the doctor's orders.
Della was silent through the rest of their dinner. Paul informed Perry what he had found out. Both men glanced back at Della occasionally.
"Paul, pick me up at my apartment. I will drop Della off there." Paul left the table. Perry paid the check and left the tip on the table. He helped Della up, took her elbow and led her out of the restaurant. After opening the door of his Cadillac, Della got in. Perry went around and got behind the wheel. He started the car and pulled it into the street.
"Are you going to talk to me?"
"What is there to say? Your mind is made up." Della looked straight out the window.
"Della, I don't know why coming along on this is so important to you. There have been many dangerous situations that I have not allowed you to come along and that was when you were at one hundred per cent. You have been in the hospital. If the situation was reversed, wouldn't you insist that I not go?"
"Yes, but you would go anyway," Della said.
Perry was silent for a moment. "I don't know what to say to that."
Della smiled. "Because I am right."
"Yes, you are but this is different. Please, Della, do as I ask. I don't think you are up to it this time." Perry reached for her hand. He had expected her to pull away from him and was surprised when she did not.
"Alright, Perry, you win. I will wait at your apartment."
"Thank you. It really is best, Della. I don't want to have to worry about you." Perry pulled into the parking garage of his apartment building. "I'll see you to my apartment."
"I know where it is. I have been there many times. In fact, I stay there more than I do my apartment," she smiled. "I can make it there by myself. Really, Perry. You go with Paul. Hurry back." She leaned over and kissed him.
"Are you sure?" Perry asked.
"I am sure. Paul is waiting." She kissed him again and got out of the car.
Perry got out of the car and walked around the vehicle. "I will feel better if I make sure you are inside the building." Della smiled and took Perry's arm. He walked her to the door, used his key to open the door, kissed her one more time and then got into Paul's sports car. Della watched as Paul drove the car out of the parking garage.
She felt something pressed into her back. "Just behave yourself, Miss Street and you will not be harmed," the fireman said. "We are going for a ride. My car is just outside."
Paul looked over at Perry in the passenger seat. "She gave you a pretty hard time, huh?"
"Actually, after we talked in the car, she was okay with it," Perry said.
Paul's car phone rang. Paul picked it up. "Drake." He listened for a moment and said, "I'll tell Perry." Drake slammed the phone. "He doubled crossed us, Perry. He ditched his tail."
"The police lost him!" Perry could not believe it. "Damn it! They should have taken him there instead of letting him go on his own."
"They did not want Stout and Boulder spotting the police. Lt. Tragg was not very happy. He will meet us at his office. He thinks you will want to call it off. Tragg doesn't think he will go anywhere near there tonight."
"I think he will, Paul. He knows we want to nail the real killer. He will meet with Boulder and Stout tonight. We are not calling it off. It is a good thing we did not tell him where this was going to take place."
"He won't be meeting with Boulder. He's dead. Tragg said someone called the police about two men who were arguing very loudly. Lt. Anderson took the call because he was in the area when the complaint came through. Turned out it was Brad Stout's apartment. He found Denny Boulder. He was dead... shot in the head."
"Stout doesn't want to share the wealth," Perry said.
"Apparently not," Paul agreed.
"Let's get to Tragg's office," Perry said.
Brad Stout knocked on the door of Ken Cutter's apartment. A moment later the door opened. "Who are you?" Cutter asked.
"Oh yeah, come in, Mr. Stout." Cutter stepped back to allow him to enter. "Where's Denny?"
"He will be along soon," Stout said.
The door opened and Bert Fielder walked in. "Hi, Brad."
Stout smiled. "Took you long enough to shake the police, Bert."
"Actually, it took no time at all. Those morons believed everything I told them just like you said they would."
"It was a good thing I was outside that back door of that paint company the night of that fire."
"And having the police discover me there was brilliant. They allowed the rest of the firemen to think I was dead. They were stupid enough to think that I would help them catch you and Denny. Mason is not so smart after all. He thinks Denny killed Ted."
Brad laughed. "Boulder thought I did it."
"We got away with it just like you said we would. So let's get this money transferred. I have a private jet waiting for us."
"Do you think they will ever figure out that you killed Ted Jacoby?" Brad asked.
"The cops are too stupid and Mason never had a clue. Some lawyer he is! He got lucky because the rest of the guys could not keep their mouths shut.
"Now, Mr. Cutter, you are going to transfer that money right now," he said pulling and pointing the gun at the man.
"Look, I don't want to get involved in murder," Cutter said.
"If you don't transfer that money right now, you will be involved in a murder... your own. Now sit down and transfer it, now!" Stout said.
Cutter sat down, hacked into the bank's site and began the transfer. When it was completed, Cutter turned around and said, "It is done. The money is in the Swiss account."
"Very good, Mr. Cutter. You will have to forgive us if we can't leave any loose ends." Brad lifted the gun and pointed it at Cutter.
Doors on both sides of the room burst open. Lt. Tragg came out of one door followed by Hamilton Burger, Perry Mason and Paul Drake. Lt. Anderson came out the other one with two other police officers. The main door to the apartment opened and three more police officers entered the room.
"I suggest that you drop that gun, Mr. Stout. Otherwise, my men are going to shoot you. Now drop the gun," Tragg said with his own service revolver pointed at Stout.
Stout dropped the gun. Two officers went to each man and cuffed them. They brought them forward to Tragg and Burger.
"How did you figure it out?" Stout asked.
"I'll let Mr. Mason tell you since he is the one who figured it out," Tragg said. "Perry..."
"I knew one of you had to have killed Jacoby. It became a process of elimination. Donaldson could have done it but we could account for his time. He would not have had much time to get back down the hall to meet with Boulder. Monte Skinner's time was unaccounted for so he remained a suspect right up to the end. But he was eliminated when one of the cameras caught him on video. He was not close enough to the murder scene to have been able to have committed the murder. Shepherd, as we know, was just below the murder scene but he never went up those stairs. What he did do was block Nora Robertson's view of the staircase. Mr. Fielder slipped past Shepherd, went up the stairs and hit Seth Palmer over the head with the gun that he had stolen out of Palmer's house. We convinced Lt. Tragg to go to Seth's apartment and dust for prints. Mr. Fielder's prints were found where the gun had been kept. You then killed Ted Jacoby and planned his gun in his hand setting up the perfect frame or so you thought.
"Mr. Stout gave away his involvement when he convinced you, Mr. Fielder, to allow yourself to be discovered at the scene of the fire at the paint company. We found your fireman's hat in an area that the fire had destroyed. But the fire was stopped before it reached the door where Mr. Stout had dragged you out of the building. Your shoes left shoe polish on the floor. You were in the line of that fire. Boulder did not know that you had been working with Mr. Stout. Marcus Shepherd revealed to us that Monte Skinner had placed you in the path of the fire per Boulder's orders. Stout convinced you that you would be able to find out if we were on to you.
"Mr. Stout was seen and identified by the drunk that had wandered into the building. We kept it quiet that he survived the fire, at least long enough to identify Brad Stout. He was burned badly and died later.
"That told us that you two were working together. You, Mr. Fielder, knew that you were already implicated in the insurance scams because of the money that went into your account so you decided to cooperate with Stout."
"And you said Mason did not have a clue," Stout snarled.
Hamilton Burger stepped forward. "Well, that about wraps up this case. Thanks for your help in breaking this case, Perry. I promise you all of these firemen will go to trial."
Bert Fielder began laughing hysterically. "I hated you, Mason, from the first time I met you. I am just sorry that I missed you with that fire truck. It would have ended our problems immediately." He looked at Stout. "And you should have taken him out when you went into his apartment."
"Shut up, you idiot," Stout said.
"I am sure that gun will show that it fired the shots into Mr. Mason's pillow and killed Denny Boulder," Lt. Tragg said.
"What difference does it make now?" Stout complained.
Fielder began laughing again. "I get the last laugh."
"Really, Mr. Fielder," Paul Drake said. "Perry has produced enough evidence to put you away for the rest of your life."
Fielder laughed again. "But I will have the satisfaction of taking the thing that means the most to him."
"What are you talking about?" Perry demanded.
"Think about it, Mason. What means the most to you in the whole wide world?" Fielder stopped laughing. "I took it away from you." He looked at Mason with pure hatred.
Panic began to rise. Perry ran to the telephone and dialed his apartment. He waited for an answer he feared would never come... and it didn't. Mason slammed the phone down. He charged Fielder. Perry grabbed him and started shaking him. "Where is she? Where is Della, you bastard?" Mason drew back his fist. Tragg, Drake and Hamilton grabbed Mason and pulled him off Fielder.
"Calm down, Perry! This won't help find Della. We have to concentrate on locating her," Paul said.
Tragg grabbed Fielder. "Come on, you piece of garbage. You are going downtown and you are going to tell us where Della is."
"You will never find her and even if you do, it will be too late," Bert Fielder was laughing as the lieutenant dragged him out the door.
"Perry, we will find Della. You can count on it, pal," Paul said.
"Paul's right, we'll find her," Hamilton said.
Perry looked at his friends. Della, his Della, he should not have left her. Perry walked to the door.
"Where are you going, Perry?" Hamilton asked.
"I am going to find Della... even if I have to tear the entire city apart to do it. Come on, Paul."