Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Legal
"Sure. He had his own typewriter there that he makes notes on. Sometimes he dictates stuff and sometimes he pounds it out himself."
"He doesn't have a touch system, does he – just a two-finger hunt-and-peck system?"
"But you have a touch system?"
"Did you know," Perry Mason asked, staring steadily at Harry McLane, "that the note that was found in the typewriter on Basset's desk, stating that he was going to commit suicide, was not, in fact, written on that typewriter at all, but was written on the typewriter which was in Mrs. Basset's room, and that it was written by a professional typist who used the touch system?"
Harry McLane flung himself toward the exit door.
"Come on, Bertha," he said; "let's get the hell out of here."
She got to her feet, stood staring at Perry Mason, then at her brother.
"Harry," she said, "you know Mr. Mason is trying to help you, and…"
"Aw, nuts, don't be a sucker. I only came here because you wanted me to. He's looking for a fall guy, I tell you."
Bertha McLane turned to Perry Mason and said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Mason, that Harry feels that way. I hope you'll accept my apology…"
"Apology, hell!" Harry McLane interrupted. "Don't be a sucker!"
He pushed his way over toward Mason's desk and said, "You've been asking a lot of questions. Now let me ask you some. Are you representing Brunold?"
"Yes," Mason said, "I'm representing him. I presume it amounts to that."
"And Mrs. Basset?"
"She has consulted me."
"And Dick Basset?"
"But through his mother?"
"Perhaps, yes," Mason said, his eyes narrowed to mere slits as he watched McLane's face.
"There you are," McLane said, turning triumphantly to his sister. "Are you going to sit there and let him make a goat of me? I told you we were foolish to come here in the first place."
"Mr. Mason," she said, "can't you…"
Harry McLane grabbed her by the arm and pushed her toward the door.
"You claim to care something for me," he said, "but you're putting a rope necktie around my neck if you keep on talking to this bird."
Her face showed conflicting emotions.
Mason said slowly, "Harry, you still haven't told me where you got the money that you claim you used to pay off Hartley Basset. You still haven't told me whether anyone knows you were in possession of that money. You still haven't told me where you were when Basset was murdered, and you haven't told me what was to have kept you from killing Basset, opening the file where the notes were kept and taking out those forged notes."
Harry McLane jerked open the door which led to the corridor. He paused in the doorway to say, "I know enough about legal ethics to know that you can't ever tell anyone anything that I've told you. If you tell the cops that I was out at Basset's place I'll have you disbarred and if you keep your mouth shut I won't have to tell anybody anything."
"But Mrs. Basset," Bertha McLane said, "knows, Harry, that you…"
He grabbed her arms and pushed her through the doorway.
"And Colemar knows of that shortage," Mason said, "to say nothing of Mrs. Basset. Don't forget that the police…"
"Aw, nuts to you," McLane said, and kicked the door shut.
Mason sat perfectly still, his eyes thoughtful, his fingers still making drumming noises upon the edge of the desk. The telephone rang three times before he changed his position. Then he swung abruptly about in his swivel chair, picked up the receiver and heard Paul Drake's voice saying, "My men have found her, Perry. She's at the Ambassador Hotel, registered under the name of Sylvia Lorton, and there are three police detectives watching her suite. They tailed her there last night. They've also got one of their operatives on duty at the switchboard so they can listen in on any calls that go through the switchboard."
Perry Mason squinted his eyes thoughtfully.
"I presume," he said, "that if I should go over to see her, the detectives would close in on her and make the arrest right now."
"Sure," Paul Drake said cheerfully. "All they're doing is giving her plenty of rope, hoping that she'll hang herself. They'll try to stampede her into making a break if she keeps sitting tight. But, with her son calling her and spilling information over the telephone, the cops will have her where they want her by midnight."
Perry Mason said slowly, "Paul, I've got to see that woman without the police knowing it."
"Not a chance in a million," Drake told him. "You know the game the police are playing as well as I do."
Perry Mason said slowly, "Have you made a check on the location of the fire escapes, Paul?"
"No, I haven't been out there myself. I'm taking reports from a man who's on the ground. Do you want him to do it?"
"No," Mason said. "Get your hat on, Paul, and meet me at the elevator. We're going out together."
The detective groaned and said over the telephone, "I knew you were going to get me in jail sooner or later."
"Any time I get you in," Perry Mason said grimly, "I'll get you out. Get your hat, Paul."
He slammed the receiver back into place.
"I suppose," the detective remarked lugubriously, "you had it all figured out when you arranged for the costumes."
"Had what figured out?" Mason asked.
"That I was to be the assistant, and carry the pails of water."
Mason grinned, but said nothing.
They rode up in the freight elevator to the sixth floor of the Ambassador Hotel. A man, lounging in the corridor, with broad shoulders, square-toed shoes, and a belligerent jaw, eyed them in silent accusation.
The pair ignored the stare, walked purposefully to the end of the corridor, and opened the fire-escape window at the end of the hallway.
"Is he looking?" Perry Mason asked, as he slid a leg out over the window sill.
"Looking in sort of a half-hearted manner," Paul Drake, standing in the corridor, reported. "You've got to work fast."
"Are you," asked Perry Mason, "telling me?"
He took a sponge from the pail, touched the window over the fire escape, and gently worked the rubber blades which cleaned the window.
"All right," he said; "now for the fast stuff."
"You're certain the room's empty?" asked Drake.
"No," Mason said, "I'm not. We've got to take a chance on that. Stand up close to the door with your back toward it. Knock on the lower panels. Don't let him see that you're knocking."
The lawyer finished putting the polish on the window with a dry rag. Drake said, "Okay. I've knocked twice and got no answer."
"Think you can get it open without too much fumbling around?"
"I think so. Let me study the lock a minute. Okay, I think I've got it. Let's go."
Drake took some keys from his pocket, selected one, inserted it in the door, twisted it into just the right position, put pressure on it, and heard the lock click back. He gave a muttered exclamation of satisfaction and the two men entered the room.
"The one next to this, on the right?" Mason asked.
"You're sure that's the woman?"
"If it isn't, we're going to be in a jam."
Drake said irritably, "We're going to be in a jam anyway, if we get caught. It's going to be something we can't explain away."
"Forget it," Mason said. "Where's that belt?"
Drake handed him a safety belt. Mason slid out of the window and hooked the belt in an eye placed for that purpose in the wall just outside the window of the adjoining room. He stood out on the window ledge, caught Drake's hand, steadied himself, and then moved across to the adjoining window, standing for a long moment with his legs spread out across six stories of space.
"Take it easy," Drake cautioned.
Mason slipped the other hook of the belt through the eye on the near side of the window.
"Okay now," he said. "Hand me the water."
Drake stretched out and handed across a pail of water. Mason started sponging the window. A moment later, he knocked on the glass. A woman, attired in underthings, threw a kimono hastily about her shoulders and came to the window, glaring angrily.
Mason made motions indicating that she was to raise the window.
Sylvia Basset flung open the window.
"Look here," she said, "what do you mean by cleaning these windows when I'm dressing? I'm going to complain to the management. You can't…"
"Lower your voice," Perry Mason said, "and take it easy."
At the sound of his voice, she started; then her eyes widened with surprise.
"You!" she said.
Perry Mason slid the bucket of water along the ledge.
"Now, listen," he said. "You haven't much time to waste. I want to get the low-down on this thing. Did you know Brunold was arrested?"
"Brunold?" she said, and frowned.
"Who is he?"
"Don't you know who he is?"
"Why did you come here under an assumed name?"
"I wanted to rest."
He nodded toward some bags that were sitting on the floor by the bed.
"Did you bring them with you last night?"
"When did you get them?"
"Dick brought them to me early this morning."
"What's in them?"
"You mean you're skipping out?"
"My nerves are all upset. I'm going away for a few days until this thing straightens out."
Mason tightened his lips and said, "You poor little fool, were you trying to take a run-out powder?"
She said, "Well, what if I was?"
"That," he told her, "is exactly what they're trying to get you to do. Flight is an indication of guilt. It's something that can be proved in a case the same as any other fact."
"They'd never catch me – not where I'm going."
"They'd catch you," he said, "before you went there, with a ticket in your pocket."
"Don't fool yourself," she said. "I'd be too smart for that – only I'm not running away. I just don't want…"
"Listen," he told her. "There's a police detective in the hall, watching the door of your room. There's another one in the lobby and one at the elevators. The police have put in a special operator at the switchboard. You've been shadowed, your son has been shadowed, and all of your telephone conversations have been overheard. Now…"
She clutched her hand to her throat.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed. "Do you suppose…?"
"Give me the low-down," he interrupted. "What happened after I left?"
"Nothing very much. They asked me a few questions. I had hysterics."
"What did you tell them?"
"I told them the truth at first – that I had wanted to see my husband about a matter of business, that I went into the outer office and found Hazel Fenwick lying on the floor; that I worked with her and brought her to consciousness, and then she told a story of a man with an empty eye socket, running from the room where my husband had his office."
"Did they ask you why you didn't call your husband?"
"I told them that I was so engrossed thinking of Hazel Fenwick, and trying to bring her to consciousness, that I'd forgotten about my husband."
Mason made a grimace of disgust.
"What's wrong with that?"
"Everything," he said. "What happened after that?"
"Then," she said, "they started getting a little nasty and I became hysterical and lied to them."
"What did you lie to them about?"
"Everything. I told them I knew my husband had gone out, and then I told them I knew he hadn't gone out. They asked me if I knew anyone who had an artificial eye, and I told them my husband had an artificial eye. I laughed and screamed, and they called a doctor and I wouldn't let him touch me. I insisted that Dick call my own physician and then when he came out, he sized up the situation and gave me a hypo and sent me to my room."
"Dick scouted around until he found a back way unguarded and then he came and got me. I was pretty groggy from the hypo, but I managed to walk, keeping an arm on his shoulder. He took me here and put me to bed. I woke up early this morning and telephoned him, using an assumed name so the police wouldn't know who it was – but, if they were listening over the switchboard – my heavens!"
"Did you make any admissions?" Mason asked.
"No. I didn't have anything to admit, except about the hysterics."
"What about the hysterics?"
"He asked me if I'd told the police anything, and I told him no, that my hysterics completely fooled them."
"I talked with him two or three times today."
"Make any admissions?"
"Well, I talked pretty freely with him, but I didn't make any damaging admissions."
"Did he?" Mason asked.
"He told me he was glad my husband was dead. Dick had hated him bitterly for some time."
"Now, listen," Mason told her. "You can't stall the police the next time they start questioning you. So you've got to get your story in order. How about the gun?"
"I'll tell them the truth, that I gave it to Dick to protect me with."
"Was that the gun that was used in the killing?"
"I don't know."
"How about Brunold?"
"I don't know any Brunold."
"You should," Mason said. "He's the father of your child."
She clutched at the edge of the table.
"What!" she exclaimed.
Mason nodded and said, "I found out that much through my own detectives. The police can find it out just as easily as I did, providing Brunold hasn't told them already. Brunold has been taken into custody."
"Even Dick doesn't know," she said.
"Does he suspect?"
"I don't think so."
"Brunold was out at the house last night?"
"Tell me the truth."
"What time did he leave?"
"Do I have to tell the police this?"
"I can't tell yet."
"He left just before I discovered Hazel Fenwick unconscious."
"What were you doing in your husband's outer office?"
"I went down there to see if Hazel had fixed things up with Hartley. She had been gone a long time and I was worried."
"Brunold was with you just before you went down?"
"Had he been with you all the time?"
"No, not all the time. I'd gone to my bedroom and left him in my sitting room. I think he stepped into the corridor for something. He wasn't there when I came back, but he came in after a few moments."
"You knew Hazel Fenwick was going down to see your husband?"
"Oh, yes. I wanted her to."
"Was it Brunold's eye your husband was holding in his hand?"
"I think it was."
"How long have you known Hazel Fenwick?"
"Not very long."
"Is there something phoney about this Fenwick woman?" Mason asked.
"I can't tell you that."
"You mean you won't. Is there something phoney about this marriage to Dick?"
"I don't know. She came to the house for the first time the night of the murder. Dick's Hartley's heir. Hartley wanted to control Dick's marriage. I knew there'd be a scene when he found out. I wanted her to tell him. I thought she'd make a good impression."
"How many at the house knew she was married to Dick?"
"None of them. Overton, the chauffeur, brought her to the house from the station. He thought she was a friend of mine. Edith Brite, the housekeeper, might have suspected, but I don't think so. Those were the only ones at the house who had seen her."
"Did you see Harry McLane last night?"
"Look here," Mason said; "every once in a while you tell me a lie. It's poor policy to lie to your lawyer. It might put you in a tough spot. Now, did you see Harry McLane last night?"
"No," she said defiantly.
"Do you know if he was out at the house?"
"He might have seen Hartley but I don't think so."
"Someone was in Hartley's office when this Fenwick woman knocked on the door. Who was that?"
"That," she said, "is something I can't understand. I wanted Hazel to have a clear field, so I watched the entrance door and waited until the last client had gone. Then I told Hazel the coast was clear and went as far as the entrance room with her. If someone was in the office with Hartley it must have been someone who came in through the back door."
"Well," Mason said, "did Harry McLane know about the back door?"
"How about Pete Brunold?"
She hesitated a moment and then said slowly, "Pete knew about it, too. That is, sometimes he'd come in my side of the house through the back door. The two back doors are right together… Now you can't say I'm not telling you the truth."
Mason stared at her grimly and said, "I'm not saying anything, but I'm doing a lot of thinking. Was Pete Brunold with you all the time he was out at the house the night of the murder?"
"Not all the time."
"Where was he?"
"He thought Overton, the chauffeur, was spying on us. He thought Overton had been snooping around my room, and he went out to try and locate Overton."
"Did he do it?"
"No, he couldn't find Overton anywhere. He said he looked all over the house."