Read The Case of the Counterfeit Eye Online

Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner

Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Legal

The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (12 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Counterfeit Eye
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"When was this?"

"Just before I took Hazel down to Hartley's office."

Mason said slowly, "Look here, do you want to protect Pete Brunold or do you want to save your skin?"

"I want to protect Pete with my life."

"Don't ever forget," Mason warned her, "that you're in this thing yourself. You can't protect anyone unless you're in the clear, and unless you know and I know exactly what happened. I won't protect Brunold if he's guilty and I won't protect you if you're guilty. Now, Brunold was wandering around the house somewhere about the time the murder was committed. You say that he was looking for Overton. He might have met your husband and…"

"Look out," Paul Drake said, "just below you, Perry."

Perry Mason started polishing the window, glancing downward beneath his right armpit.

Sergeant Holcomb's frowning face was thrust out of the window directly below.

"This is the blow-off," Mason said. "Tell the police you came here for a rest, that you're ready to go back with them. If you didn't kill your husband and want to protect Brunold, refuse to answer any questions. If you want to protect yourself; tell them the God's truth. If Brunold's guilty, he'd better plead guilty. If you did kill your husband, and it wasn't justified, get another lawyer. If you're guilty of murder and you lie to me, I'll quit you cold; otherwise I'll stay with you until hell freezes."

"We're innocent," she said frantically. "Pete has been justified…"

"Hey, you, up there!" shouted Sergeant Holcomb. "Who told you to wash these windows?"

Mason mumbled an inaudible reply.

"Look around," Holcomb yelled. "I want to get a look at your face."

Mason turned around in such a manner that he kicked the bucket of water over. Sergeant Holcomb saw the water coming, but dodged too late. Some of the liquid splashed in his eyes and face as the bucket hurtled past. He jerked his head back in. Mason grabbed Paul Drake's extended hand, jumped to the adjoining sill, held himself precariously balanced for a moment, then slid down into the room.

"We can," Paul Drake said, "take the fire escape down to the second floor."

"Swell, if they aren't waiting for us at the second floor," the lawyer told him.

The two men opened the door of the room which led to the corridor. They stepped into the corridor turned to the left, and through the window which opened on the fire escape. The broad-shouldered detective, still standing in the corridor where he could watch the door of Mrs. Basset's room glowered at them thoughtfully, took three purposeful steps toward them, and then hesitated.

Perry Mason called to Paul Drake in a loud voice, "Empty the buckets, Paul. We can fill them up from a faucet on the lower floor. We've got to get the rail on this fire escape cleaned up."

Drake nodded. The two men raced down the fire escape. They had gained the second floor, when there was a shout from above them. Sergeant Holcomb appeared on the fire escape, wildly waving his hands.

"Here," Mason said, "is where we take a transfer."

He dove through the open window to the second floor corridor and raced down the corridor. At the head of the stairs he slipped off the white uniform which he had out on over his business suit. Paul Drake, fumbling with a button of the white coveralls, delayed matters somewhat. Mason reached out, ripped off the button, and helped pull the uniform off.

"We've got just one chance," Mason said. "We've got to go up."

He walked to the elevator, the white bundle under his arm, and pressed the "up" button.

"If we have luck," he said, "we can…"

A light glowed, a door slid smoothly back. Mason and Drake entered the elevator, just as an adjoining elevator, coming down from the sixth floor, stopped, and its door slid open. Sergeant Holcomb ran into the corridor.

"Floors?" asked the elevator boy, as he slid the door shut.

"Top floor," Mason said.

As the elevator shot upward, Mason said conversationally, "A roof garden, isn't there?"

"Yes, sir."

"Fine," Mason said. "We'll go out there and sit down for a while."

He left the elevator at the top floor, led the way to the roof garden, tossed the white uniforms behind a potted plant, and said, "Have you got that pass-key, Paul?"


"Get it ready," Mason said, leading the way to the room corridor.

He picked an inside room, knocked on the door. There was no answer. He nodded to Drake. The detective turned the key in the lock. The door opened, the two men entered, and Mason twisted the knurled brass knob which shot the bolt into position. He took a cigarette case from his pocket, tapped a cigarette on his thumb-nail, and grinned at the detective.

"Well," he said, "we're still out of jail."

"How the devil are we going to get out of this?" Drake asked, his face lugubrious.

Mason stretched out on the bed, pulled up pillows back of his head, blew smoke up toward the ceiling. His face was wreathed in a smile of serene satisfaction.

"They'll think we're playing tag in the corridors," he said. "After a half an hour or so, when they can't find us, they'll think we got down the freight elevator, or took the stairs, and gave them the slip. And, in the meantime…"

His voice trailed off into silence.

"In the meantime, what?" Drake inquired.

"I didn't get very much sleep last night," the lawyer said. He took one long, last puff of the cigarette and ground it out in the ash tray. "Call me at six o'clock," he said, "if I'm not awake by then," and closed his eyes.

The detective stared at him in open-mouthed amazement for a moment; then moved toward the couch.

"Hey, you damned hog," he said, "give me one of those pillows. I didn't sleep at all."

Chapter Ten
PERRY MASON sprawled his signature over the paper which Della Street handed him, pressed a buzzer, and, when one of his assistants entered the office, said, "Here are all the papers for habeas corpus on behalf of one Peter Brunold. Get some fast action."

"You want Brunold out?" the assistant asked.

"They won't let him go," Mason said, "but I want to force their hands and make them put a charge against him. They probably don't want to charge him with murder right now. But that's the only charge they can put against him, so we'll force their hand with a habeas corpus."

Mason turned to Della Street, as the assistant took the papers and went out. "Did you ask Drake to come in here?" he inquired.

"Yes. I told him to come directly to your private office. He should be here… That's he at the door now."

A shadow hulked on the frosted glass panel of the door. Della Street glided across the office, opened it, and Paul Drake grinned at Perry Mason.

"Got a hunch?" he asked, sliding into the big overstuffed leather chair, his knees draped across one of the arms, the small of his back propped against the other.

"Yes," Mason said. "This Fenwick woman."

"What about her?"

"One of three things happened to that woman," Mason said. "Either she was kidnapped by the murderer, or she met with some accident, or she skipped out.

"The murderer didn't know her – that is, he hadn't seen her first. If she'd met with an accident, the police would have spotted her by this time. Therefore, I think she skipped out."

"That, of course," the detective said slowly, "is acting on the assumption she told the truth about what she had seen the night of the murder. She may have skipped out because she knows something that would put Dick Basset on the spot."

Mason nodded his head moodily and said, "There's a diamond-shaped panel of plate glass in the door of Hartley Basset's entrance room. She'd been slugged and was groggy. When she got up from the couch, she staggered and slapped both of her hands against the glass in order to catch herself. She must have left ten perfectly good finger-prints on that glass.

"Now, I'm just wondering about that girl and don't want to overlook any bets. She has some powerful motive for skipping out. Either she's protecting someone, or she's concealing something she did the night of the murder, or she has a record and doesn't dare to stand police questioning. She could have gone into the room, found Hartley Basset dead, lifted a bunch of money from his pocket, then socked herself on the head with something and pretended to be out.

"She could have seen Dick Basset commit the murder and skipped out to keep from testifying.

"She could be a crook, with a criminal record. Let's investigate all the possibilities. Skip out to Basset's house, develop those latent finger-prints on the glass of the door, photograph them, and see if you can get an identification."

Drake nodded slowly. "Anything else?" he asked.

"Not right now. Let's get the low-down on this Fenwick woman."

As Paul Drake turned the knob of the door which led to the corridor, he said, with a droll smile, "There isn't any chance that the cops are right and you have this woman tucked away some place, is there, Perry?"

Mason grinned and said, "You might look under my desk, Paul."

The detective looked puzzled and said, "You son-of-a-gun, if you're sending me on a run-around, I'll never trust you again."

He closed the door, and Mason turned to Della Street.

"Make a note," he said, "to look up how glass eyes are held in place, and how easily they can be jarred loose."

She finished making swift lines in her shorthand notebook, glanced up at Mason and said, "How about your finger-prints on that gun?"

Mason chuckled, and said, "I think the cops have overlooked a bet there. They finger-printed everyone in the house, but they overlooked me."

She asked thoughtfully, "Is Hamilton Burger a shrewd district attorney?"

"I don't know yet," Mason said. "It's too early to tell. This is the first murder case that's come up since he's been in office."

"Do you know him personally?"

"I've met him, that's all."

"If he thinks you're responsible for getting this Fenwick witness out of the jurisdiction of the court, won't he take some action against you?"

"He may."

"What can you do if he does?"

"Simply tell the truth, which won't be enough."

"What do you mean by that?"

"If I told any jury on God's green earth that I had taken the key witness in a murder case, spirited her away from the officers, and sent her up to my office so I could find out exactly what she knew and get a written statement before the officers got hold of her, and then tried to explain that she'd disappeared and I didn't know where she had gone, it would indicate two things to the average newspaper reader: First, that I was a liar; second, that her statement had clinched the case against my client, that I was keeping her under cover for that reason."

Della Street nodded sympathetically.

The buzzer rang the code signal which announced that she was wanted on the telephone for an important message. She glanced at Perry Mason. He nodded. She picked up the receiver and said, "Hello." Her eyes narrowed. She placed her palm over the transmitter.

"Hamilton Burger," she said, "the district attorney, is in the office and wants to see you."

"Is he alone?" Mason asked.

Della Street repeated the interrogation into the transmitter, then nodded her head.

"Bring him in," Mason said. "Stick in here, and be sure that you take down every single word that's said. Perhaps he won't deliberately misquote me, but it's one of those situations where a lot may depend on having an ace in the hole."

She nodded and moved toward the door which led to the outer office. Mason got to his feet and stood straddlelegged, his fists resting on the edge of the desk.

Della Street opened the door and stood to one side. Hamilton Burger, a broad-shouldered, thick-necked individual with a close-cropped mustache, walked into the room and said affably, "Good afternoon, Mason."

Perry Mason nodded cautiously, indicated a chair and said, "Sit down. Is this an official or a social visit?"

"I think it's going to be social," Burger said.

Mason passed him cigarettes. Burger took one, lit up and smiled at Della Street, who had taken up her position at the far end of the desk.

"It won't be necessary to take down what I'm going to say," he said.

Mason said, "It's going to be necessary to take down what I'm not going to say, and the only way you can be certain of what I didn't say is by having some record of exactly what I did say."

The district attorney sized Perry Mason up with speculative eyes and said, "Look here, Mason, I've been checking up on you."

"That's not surprising to me," Mason told him.

"I've found," Burger said, "that you've got a reputation for being tricky."

Mason said, with a trace of belligerence, "Did you come here to discuss my reputation?"

"In a way, yes."

"All right, go ahead and discuss it, but be careful what you say."

"You've got a reputation," Burger went on, "for being tricky, and I find that you are tricky, but I think they're legitimate tricks."

"I'm glad you think so," Mason told him. "Your predecessor in office didn't think so."

"I think an attorney has a right to work any legitimate trick in order to bring out the truth," Burger went on. "I notice that your tricks aren't for the purpose of confusing a witness, but for the purpose of blasting preconceived notions out of his head, so that he can tell the truth."

Mason bowed and said, "I'll thank you when you've entirely finished. Experience has taught me that words of praise like this are generally preliminary to a slap."

"No slaps this time," Burger went on. "I just want you to understand my attitude."

"If that's your attitude," Mason said, "I understand it."

"Then you'll appreciate what I'm going to say."

"Go on and say it."

"District attorneys have a habit of wanting to get convictions. That's natural. The police work up a case and dump it in the lap of the district attorney. It's up to him to get a conviction. In fact, the reputation of a district attorney is predicated on the percentage of convictions he gets on the number of cases tried."

Mason said in a very casual voice, "Go ahead, I'm listening."

"When I took this job," Burger said, "I wanted to be conscientious. I have a horror of prosecuting an innocent person. I have been impressed by your work. You probably won't agree with the conclusion I have reached concerning it."

"What's the conclusion?" Mason asked.

"That you're a better detective than you are a lawyer, and that isn't any disparagement of your legal ability, either. Your courtroom technique is clever, but it's all of it founded on having first reached a correct solution of the case. When you resort to unorthodox tricks as a part of your courtroom technique I'm opposed to them, but when you use those tricks to bring about a correct solution of a mystery I'm for them. My hands are tied. I can't resort to unorthodox spectacular tactics. Sometimes I wish I could, particularly when I think a witness is lying to me about the identity of a criminal."

Mason said slowly, "Since you're being frank with me, which is something no other district attorney has ever done, I'll be frank with you, which, incidentally is something I've never bothered to be with any other district attorney. I don't ask a man if he's guilty or innocent. When I start to represent him, I take his money and handle his case. Guilty or innocent, he's entitled to his day in court, but if I should find one of my clients was really guilty of murder and wasn't morally or legally justified, I'd make that client plead guilty and trust to the mercy of the Court."

Burger nodded his head heartily. "I had an idea you would, Mason."

"Remember what I said," Mason warned him, "that there was no moral or legal justification for the homicide. If a person is morally justified in killing, I'll save that person from the legal penalty if it's possible to do so."

"Well," Burger said, "I can't agree with you on that. I believe the law is the only machine of justification, but I want you to understand I'm not prejudiced against you and I would like to be friendly with you. Therefore, I want you to produce Hazel Fenwick."

"I don't know where she is."

"That may be true, and yet you may be able to produce her."

"I tell you I don't know where she is."

"You spirited her away."

"I sent her to my office."

"Your action in doing that is open to grave suspicion."

"I don't know just why," Mason said evenly. "If you'd been the first one on the scene you'd have thought nothing of sending her to your office so you could get a statement out of her."

"I'm a public official and it's my duty to investigate murder," Burger said.

"That doesn't prevent me from making an investigation on behalf of my client, does it?"

"It depends on how it's done."

"There's no secret of how it was done in this case," Mason told him. "I did what I did in the presence of witnesses."

"What happened after that?"

"Hazel Fenwick took my car and disappeared."

"I have reason to believe," Burger said, "that the woman's life is in danger."

"What makes you think so?"

"She is the only person who can positively identify the murderer."

"Not the murderer," Mason said. "The man who was seen coming out of the room."

"They're one and the same."

"You think so?"

"It stands to reason."

"Nothing stands to reason until it can be proven."

"Well, let us express it this way, then: It's a matter of opinion. You're entitled to yours and I'm entitled to mine. At least, the man may be the murderer. That man is desperate. I think that Hazel Fenwick either has met with foul play, or will meet with foul play."

"Therefore, what?"

"Therefore, I want to put her where she'll be safe."

"And you think I can tell you where she is?"

"I feel quite certain of it."

"I can't."

"Can't or won't?"


Burger got to his feet and said slowly, "I wanted you to understand my attitude. If your clients are innocent I want to know it, but, by God, if you think you can pull a stunt like the one you pulled in concealing that witness in a murder case and not get into trouble you're crazy."

Mason said slowly, "I tell you I don't know where she is."

Burger jerked open the door to the corridor and paused in the doorway to deliver an ultimatum. "You've got forty-eight hours," he said, "to change your mind. That's final." The door shut.

Della Street glanced apprehensively at the lawyer.

"Chief," she said, "you've got to do something about that woman."

BOOK: The Case of the Counterfeit Eye
12.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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