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 (17 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Counterfeit Eye
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"May we," Burger asked, "have this eye marked, for identification, as People's Exhibit B?"

"No objection," Mason said.

"Let it be marked for identification," Judge Winters ordered.

"Cross-examine," Burger said.

Mason asked casually, "Why should a person have a so-called bloodshot eye, Doctor?"

"Some people are very sensitive about their artificial eyes. They don't want it known that they have them. For that reason, they go to elaborate precautions to keep from being discovered. They have eyes made to wear in the evening; eyes to wear when they're not feeling well; eyes made to wear when their natural eye is inflamed."

"In other words, then, it is difficult to tell when a person has an artificial eye?"

"Very difficult."

"Why is it necessary to have a separate eye to wear in the evening?"

"Because the size of the pupil of a natural eye varies during the day. With the glare of bright light, the pupil contracts. At night, under artificial lights, the pupil is larger."

"Is it, then, virtually impossible to detect the wearer of a well-made artificial eye?"

"If the socket is in proper shape and the eye is properly fitted, yes."

"The wearer of such an eye has the ability to move the artificial eye?"

"Oh, yes."

"How is the artificial eye held in the socket?"

"By a vacuum. The eye is fitted in such a manner that the air between the artificial eye and the socket is virtually all removed."

"It should, then, be a difficult matter to remove such an eye."

"It is not difficult, but the lid must be pulled down in a manner to let air in back of the eye before it can be readily removed."

"That is done by the wearer of the eye?"

"Yes. The lid must be pulled, down."

"Quite far down, Doctor?"

"Quite far down."

"Then," Perry Mason said, "if a man with a well-fitted artificial eye was committing a murder and bending over the man he was murdering, it would be an impossibility for his artificial eye to drop out accidentally, would it not?" There was a gasp of surprise from the crowded courtroom, as, the spectators realized the point which Mason had been driving home.

"Yes," Doctor Bates said, "it would be virtually impossible."

"So that, if a murderer, emerging from a place where he had committed a murder, exhibited an empty eye socket, it would be because he had, himself, deliberately removed the artificial eye which was in that socket. Isn't that a fact, Doctor?"

"I would say so – yes. That is, of course, conceding that the murderer wore an eye which was properly fitted."

"Such an eye as that which was first given you by the district attorney, and which was claimed to have been found in the hand of Mr. Hartley Basset?"

"Yes."

"That eye, in your opinion, was carefully fitted?"

"Yes, sir. That eye was made by an expert."

Mason waved his hand.

"That is all, Doctor," he said. "Thank you."

Burger leaned forward in frowning attention. His eyes were puckered into a worried look.

"Your next witness," said Judge Winters.

"Mr. Jackson Selbey."

A well-tailored individual, wearing a very high, starched collar, shuffled importantly forward, held up a well-manicured right hand, took the oath, walked to the witness chair, carefully hitched up his trousers, so as to preserve the crease, crossed his knees, and smiled at Burger, after the manner of one who is accustomed to discharging his duties with dapper efficiency.

"Your name?" Burger asked.

"Jackson Selbey."

"What is your occupation, Mr. Selbey?"

"I am manager of the Downtown Optical Company."

"How long have you been employed as manager for that company?"

"Four years."

"Prior to that time where did you work?"

"For the same company, but in the position of chief clerk. I was promoted to the position of manager at the time I mentioned."

"The Downtown Optical Company keeps a stock of artificial eyes, does it, Mr. Selbey?"

"Yes, sir; a very complete stock."

"Are these eyes as well or as carefully made as eyes which are made by the more expert artisans, such as Doctor Bates mentioned in his testimony?"

"They are quite well made. They are made in various color combinations, so that any normal eye may be readily matched. They are well enough made to make a very satisfactory match for any natural eye."

"Do you, in your stock, carry a supply of what might be called bloodshot eyes – that is, eyes in which the veins over the white part of the eye are sufficiently red and pronounced to give the eye a bloodshot appearance?"

"No, sir."

"Why not?"

"Because such eyes are required only by persons who go to great lengths to prevent the detection of artificial eyes. Such persons usually employ one of the recognized experts to match their natural eyes, whereas the person who purchases artificial eyes from us does so because he wishes to save money. He usually doesn't have sufficient funds to have a complete set of eyes."

"Have you, however," Burger asked, "upon occasion, been asked to make bloodshot eyes?"

"Yes, sir, upon one occasion."

"And how was it suggested that be done?"

"By taking an eye from stock and having an eye maker add bloodshot veins to it by using the very fine reddish vein-glass which is manufactured for such purpose."

"Was that recently?"

"Yes, sir."

"I will ask you," Burger said, "to look at the people present in this courtroom and tell us if you have seen any of these persons in your store."

"Yes, sir, I have."

"Did one of them order the bloodshot eye to which you have referred?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who was that person?"

Selbey pointed his finger at Brunold.

"The defendant, Brunold, sitting there," he said, "was the man."

The eyes of the court attaches and spectators turned toward Brunold. Brunold sat, arms folded across his chest, chin slightly sunk forward, eyes fixed. His face was absolutely without expression.

It was Sylvia Basset whose face showed the emotion which newspaper reporters like to describe in sensational articles. She bit her lip, leaned forward to stare at the witness, then sat back with an audible, tremulous sigh.

"When did he order the bloodshot eye?" Burger asked.

"At nine o'clock in the morning, on the fourteenth of this month."

"What time does the Downtown Optical Company open its doors?"

"Nine o'clock in the morning."

"He was there when the doors opened?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did he say, if anything?"

"He said that it was necessary for him to have a bloodshot eye at once. He said he wanted an eye to take the place of the one which he had lost."

"Did he say when the eye had been lost?"

"Yes, sir, the night before."

"Did he mention a time?"

"No, sir."

"Did Mr. Brunold tell you under what circumstances the eye had been lost?"

"Yes. I told him we couldn't possibly make the eye he wanted, as he wanted it and within the time limit he had fixed. So he then gave me a story by way of explanation and, apparently, in an attempt to enlist my sympathies."

"Who was present at the time of this conversation?"

"Just Mr. Brunold and myself."

"Where did the conversation take place?"

"In the consulting room of the Downtown Optical Company."

"What did Mr. Brunold say?"

"He said that he had been calling upon a former sweetheart who had since married a man who was very jealous; that on the previous evening he had been talking with this woman when one of the servants had knocked on the door. Mr. Brunold said he had wanted to face the husband and have it out with him, but that the woman, because her son had been legally adopted by the husband, had refused to leave. He said that the woman pretended to have been bathing so that she could delay the servant's entrance long enough to enable Brunold to jump out of a window and make his escape. He further said that the blood-shot eye, which he customarily carried with him in a chamois-lined pocket in his waistcoat, had dropped from his pocket when he climbed from the window; that he was afraid the husband had recovered the eye and would trace it; that if this was done the husband would uncover a lot of information which would be damaging to the woman, and work a great injustice upon her.

"He then said it was necessary for him to have an eye to take the place of the one he had lost at once, so that he could either claim he had never lost the eye or, if it appeared more to his advantage to do so, he could claim that someone had stolen his eye and substituted a counterfeit, and that he was afraid the person who had stolen the eye intended to 'plant' it where it would get him into trouble."

"And you're certain," Burger asked, "that the man who made these statements to you was none other than the defendant, Peter Brunold, who is now sitting here in court?"

"Yes, sir."

Burger smiled triumphantly at Perry Mason.

"Now, Counselor," he said, "you may cross-examine."

Perry Mason nodded, got to his feet, pounded his heels belligerently across the courtroom to the counsel able where the district attorney sat.

"Please let me have that second eye," he said, "which was marked, for identification, People's Exhibit B."

Burger handed him the eye in the stamped envelope, saying, as he did so, "Please be very careful to return the eye to that marked envelope, Counselor."

Perry Mason said, "Certainly. I am no more anxious hen you are to get these eyes confused, although, with the expert testimony you have produced, we should be able to identify them in the event such a confusion takes place."

He advanced to the witness, shook the eye out of he envelope, and said, "Calling your attention to an eye which has been marked, for identification, People's Exhibit B, I will ask you whether this was the counterfeit eye which you sold to Peter Brunold."

Selbey shook his head, and his lips twisted in a triumphant smile.

"No, sir," he said sweetly, "it was not."

"It was not?" Mason demanded triumphantly.

"No, sir. You see, we didn't sell Mr. Brunold any eye. He appeared and said that he wanted such an eye, and explained the reasons why he wanted it. But we refused to make the eye. Doubtless he was able to get some other firm to do so."

Chapter Fifteen
PAUL DRAKE came crowding through the spectators as the courtroom buzzed with the activity of a recess. He paused just before the mahogany railing in the courtroom, waited until he had caught Perry Mason's eye, then gave him a significant wink.

Mason moved over to a corner where there was some opportunity for privacy. Paul Drake joined him.

"Well," the detective said, "I ranked the job. Have you seen the newspapers?"

"No," Mason said. "What happened?"

Drake opened a brief case, took out a newspaper still damp from the press, handed it to Perry Mason with a wry face, and said, "That tells the story – not as well as I could tell it, but it's a damn sight easier for me if you read it rather than have me tell it."

Mason didn't look at the newspaper immediately. He folded it under his arm and stared steadily at the detective.

"How'd you get back?" he asked.

"I chartered the fastest plane I could get in Reno and came back here in nothing flat. I think we averaged two hundred miles an hour or something like that."

"Even so," Mason told him, "the telegraph wires are quicker. How does it happen they're just getting out this news?"

"The smart boys in Reno tried to sew it up," Drake told him. "At least, that was the plan they were working on when I left. They wanted a complete confession and weren't going to release the news until they'd got it."

"Did they get it?"

"I don't know."

"Now then," Mason said, "who was going to confess to what?"

"Hazel Fenwick," Drake said, avoiding the lawyer's eyes.

One of the deputies entered the courtroom with half a dozen newspapers under his arm. He rushed over to the district attorney, handed him one, and Burger, frowning irritably, snapped open a paper and started reading.

Mason moved over toward a corner as the deputy vanished in the direction of the Judge's chambers.

"How bad did you rank it, Paul?" he asked.

"Plenty," the detective told him.

"Well, go ahead and tell me about it."

"I'd rather you'd read about it."

"Hell!" Mason exclaimed impatiently. "I can read about the stuff they're handing the public, but what I want to know is how it happened that you slipped up on the job."

"I don't know."

"Well, go ahead and tell me the whole thing and perhaps I'll know when you get done."

"I followed your instructions," Drake said slowly, his eyes remaining downcast, "and took a plane to Reno. I arrived there, went to the telegraph office, called for telegrams, and found the message for me from Della Street telling me where to go to make the service. I stuck the telegram in my coat pocket, went up to a hotel, got a room, took off my coat and washed up. A bell boy came in to ask me if I had all the towels I wanted, and all that sort of stuff – that is, Perry, I thought at the time he was a bell boy."

"Go on," Mason said ominously. "Then what?"

"So far as I knew at the time, nothing," Drake told him, "but afterwards, when I looked through my coat pockets for that telegram, I couldn't find it. But that wasn't until quite a bit later."

"Go on," the lawyer said impatiently; "let's have it."

"Honest to God, Perry, I'd covered my back trail just as well as I could. I didn't figure I was tailed on the plane."

"Plane was crowded?" Mason asked.

"Yes, to capacity."

"Anyone try to talk with you?"

"Yes, a couple of men had a bottle and they tried to get me started. When they didn't click, a baby doll came over. Looking back at it, I can see there was something fishy about it, but right at the time I figured it was a case of a girl making her first trip by plane and being a little frightened."

"What did she do?"

"She sort of smiled at me," Drake said, "and when she was walking past my chair the plane gave a little lurch and she took a fall into my lap… Oh, hell, you know how those things happen."

"Did you talk?" Mason asked.

"Not much on the plane. You can't hear well enough. But I bought her a drink at Sacramento."

"Did you talk then?"

"A little."

"Tell her who you were?"

"I gave her my name."

"Tell her what you were doing?"

"No."

"Didn't tell her your occupation?"

"No."

"Didn't give her a card?"

"No."

"Give her any information at all?"

"Not enough to put in your eye."

"What were you talking about?"

"I don't know, Perry. I was just handing her a line. I'll swear there wasn't anything more to it than that – you know the type of stuff you dish out to a frail who seems to be falling. I pretended I thought she was a motion picture star flying over to Reno for a divorce, kept trying to place her, swore I'd seen her on the screen some place, and knew she was one of the famous actresses, but told her I didn't go to the movies much, so I couldn't be sure which one."

"She seem to fall for that line?" Mason asked.

"She ate it up."

"She was a plant," the lawyer said.

Drake exclaimed, with the irritation of a man who has lost much self-respect and some sleep, "Of course she was a plant. What the hell! Do you think I'm dumb enough so I don't know she was a plant? But I didn't know it at the time. You wanted to know what happened and I'm telling you."

"Okay, go ahead and tell me what happened then."

"After I'd taken a wash and a drink in the hotel," Drake said, "I went down and caught a cab. I gave the cab driver the address of the apartment house."

"You didn't look at the telegram then?"

"No, I'd read it before and I remembered the address. It was easy to remember."

"Go ahead."

"I found the joint was an apartment house. I gave the apartment a ring and she buzzed the door open without asking any questions over the speaking tube. I took an elevator and went up. It was one of those wheezy automatic elevators. You know the type."

"Yes, I know," Mason said impatiently. "Go on and tell me what happened."

"I walked down the corridor to her apartment. The corridor wasn't very well lighted. I had to use a flashlight to pick up the number easily. I tapped on the door. She opened it.

"I didn't pull the papers out of my pocket right then. I kept my voice low and turned loose the best grin I could get, as though I was some guy who had been told by her sister to look her up."

"What did you say?" Mason asked.

"I asked her if she was Hazel Fenwick. She gave me a dead pan and said, 'No.'

"I looked a little bit surprised, and asked her if she wasn't Hazel Basset.

"Her face took on just a bit of expression. She said no, she wasn't Hazel Basset, but she didn't make any move to close the door. I was sizing her up pretty closely, and she tallied okay with the description I had of the Fenwick woman, so I decided it was time to put her on the defensive. I held her with my eyes, whipped the papers out of my pocket and told her that I was there to make service of some papers on Hazel Fenwick or Hazel Basset.

"She said very slowly, as though she'd been memorizing it, 'My name is Thelma Bevins, but if you have papers to serve on Hazel Fenwick or Hazel Basset I'll accept service of the papers.'

"Well, you know how it is in this game. You don't ask too many questions. I figured that was all the break I needed. I handed her the papers and she took them. About that time, I heard someone moving at my side. The door of an adjoining apartment on the other side opened in a hurry. I took a swift look and I saw the place was filling up with men. I didn't get the sketch, but I knew damn well no one was going to keep me from serving those papers, so I pushed them into her hands, and about that time flashlights started to go off. I thought I was the center of a circus.

"Of course I knew then what had happened, but by that time it was too late. Just to make sure, I reached for the telegram. It wasn't in my coat, but I'll say one thing: Those birds had worked fast. They'd used this fake bell boy to frisk my coat while I was washing. They'd evidently known I was coming and what I was coming for. They were laying for me. Why, damn it, one of the smart boys was even parked on the fire escape right out from the girl's windows. He stuck a camera through the window and busted the glass in order to do it. He took a flashlight just as I handed her the papers."

"Newspaper men?" Mason asked.

"Newspaper men and cops. Don't make any mistake about that town, Perry. The newspaper boys stand right in with the cops – at least, they do when it's an outsider who is getting the rooking."

"What did the cops do?"

"One of them," Drake said, "took a swing at my jaw. I got pretty much out of his way, but his fist was big as the business end of a pile driver and part of it took off a little skin. The others grabbed the girl and started strong-arming her down the corridor."

"How about the papers?" Mason asked.

"Oh, it's a service all right," Drake told him, "as far as that's concerned. They rushed her down the corridor but she was still holding the papers in her right hand. I'd shoved them into her hand when I saw the place start to fill up and she'd taken them mechanically and was still hanging onto them. I think she was the most surprised woman in the world."

"Do you know what happened next?"

"Sure, I know what happened. I heard them start giving her a brow-beating third degree all the way down the corridor. They were trying to find out who had paid her expenses to Reno, why she'd gone there, who had told her to come there, and all of that stuff."

"What did she say?"

"Nothing. She said she wasn't going to talk until she saw her lawyer."

"Then what?"

Drake said, "I knew the beans were spilled all over everything as far as Reno was concerned. I figured that they'd probably try to keep her covered up until after they'd got a confession. I knew you were in the middle of this trial and I didn't want them to hang a surprise on you out of a clear sky, so I went down to the airport, hunted up the bird who had the fastest plane in the country and paid him to burn a streak through the sky."

"Did he do it?"

"I'll say he did it," Drake said fervently.

Perry Mason frowned thoughtfully, slowly opened the newspaper, and read headlines:

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