Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Legal
"Moreover, Mrs. Basset wanted the Fenwick girl to have an uninterrupted interview with Hartley Basset. Therefore, she watched the front door until the last client had left before taking the Fenwick woman down to Hartley Basset's outer office. Yet, when this woman knocked at the door of Basset's inner office, some man was in there talking with Basset. That man must have been Colemar, unless it was someone who had entered through the back door, which wasn't very likely.
"Moreover, if a one-eyed man had been making a mask very hurriedly only for the purpose of concealing his features, he would only have torn out one eye hole. The fact that he tore out two eye holes shows that he was trying to direct attention to the empty eye socket. Now, if that had been Brunold, he'd never have advertised the fact of that empty eye socket."
"Then." Burger said, "young McLane must have been killed because he was going to talk."
"Probably," Mason said.
"But why the devil did the person who killed young McLane put a glass eye in his palm? That must have been done by Colemar. Why did he do it?"
Perry Mason, looking very innocent, said, "After all. Burger, there's only so much one can accomplish by using deductive reasoning. I'm free to confess that I'm at the end of my rope. I can't give you an answer to that."
Burger stared at him steadily. Mason, his face perfectly composed, puffed placidly at his cigarette.
Judge Winters slowly nodded his head. "Obvious," he said, "from the beginning, if a person hadn't allowed his mind to be blinded by a lot of extraneous details and had concentrated upon the obvious."
Perry Mason stretched and yawned, looked at his wrist-watch and said, "I'd certainly like to hear from Sergeant Holcomb. I hope he gets Colemar without a shooting."
Burger said slowly, "Mason, you should have been a detective instead of a lawyer."
"Thank you," Mason told him. "I'm doing very well as it is."
"How did you know I was going to fall for the Bevins woman and bring her into court?" Burger asked.
"Because," Mason told him, "I'm too old a campaigner to underestimate an adversary. I knew that you'd get her here some way. I timed the whole play so that you would just about have time to bring her in as a surprise witness and confound me with her. I figured you'd do that."
"But you didn't tell her anything of your plans?"
"No, I figured the less she knew, the less she'd have to tell. I knew that if she told you folks the truth, you'd think she was lying."
"How did you know we'd be able to get her here?"
"That is where I didn't underestimate your ability, Burger." Burger sighed, got to his feet and started pacing the floor.
"It's plain enough, now that it's pointed out," he said, "but, by God, I'd have sworn Brunold committed that murder with the connivance and assistance of Mrs. Basset, and I'd have prosecuted them and demanded the death penalty, at least for Brunold."
He dropped into a chair and fell silent.
"After all," Judge Winters said in an aggrieved voice, "you should have taken me in on the play, Counselor, so that I wouldn't have appeared so ridiculous there in the courtroom."
Mason smiled, and said, "You'll pardon me, your Honor, and understand that the remark contains nothing of disrespect, but if you hadn't appeared so ridiculous, as you term it, you wouldn't have appeared convincing."
For a moment Judge Winters' forehead came together in a frown, then the corners of his lips tilted.
"Oh, well," he said, "have it your own way."
Perry Mason pinched out his cigarette end, looked at his wrist-watch, and lit another cigarette. Burger turned to Mason and said, "How the devil am I going to square myself with the newspapers?"
Mason waved his hand in a generous gesture.
"Take it all," he said.
"All of what?"
"All of the credit. Figure that it was an act you put on with me for the purpose of trapping the real murderer."
A gleam of quick interest showed in Burger's eyes.
Abruptly the door burst open. Three newspaper men came storming into the room. They descended upon Burger with a barrage of questions.
"Wait a minute," Burger said. "What's happened?"
"Out at the airport – a shooting. Sergeant Holcomb's wounded, and Colemar killed. How did Colemar get out there? What was he doing? Why did Sergeant Holcomb go after him?"
One of the news men detached himself from the others, grabbed Mason's arm.
"What about it, Mason?" he shouted. "Give us the lowdown. It's the biggest thing you've ever pulled.
Perry Mason sighed.
"Mr. Burger," he said, "will make the statement to the press in our joint behalf. In the meantime, gentlemen, if you'll pardon me, I've got to go to my office."
"Good for Sergeant Holcomb," he said. "I always knew he had the stuff in him."
"I thought you hated him," Della Street remarked.
"His stupidity is irritating at times," Mason agreed, "but it's only because of his zeal that he gets himself into those situations. So Colemar pulled a gun and tried to smoke his way out when he saw he was cornered?"
She nodded slowly.
"In many ways," Mason said, "that last situation is typical of the pair of them. Sergeant Holcomb came roaring up to the airport with his sirens screaming."
"But he had to use his siren to make the time he did through traffic," Della Street pointed out.
"Certainly, through traffic. But not after he had gone through the traffic. He had the whole airport in front of him, and yet he had to come up with his sirens screaming. Of course Colemar knew what that meant. He hid in the Men's Room, put his eye to the keyhole and waited to see what happened. After a while, Holcomb started for the restroom. Colemar poked his gun through the glass panel in the door and opened fire. If he hadn't been nervous, he'd have killed Holcomb with that first shot.
"So far, Holcomb had run true to form. He blundered everything he did. He alarmed his quarry by going up to the station with the siren going. He should have known, after he had searched the waiting room, that Colemar was in the Men's Room. The fact that he suspected it strongly is indicated by the fact that he strode toward the door. A more intelligent man would have moved up on the place from the side jerked the door open, leveled his gun, and ordered his prisoner to come out. But not Holcomb. He pounded up toward the door, broadside on. Then comes the side of Sergeant Holcomb that gets my respect and admiration.
"That was a.45 slug that hit him in the shoulder. And, sister, I'm here to tell you that a.45 slug, catching a man in the shoulder, takes a lot of steam out of him. Holcomb didn't even have his gun in his hand."
"Tell me," he asked, "did he stop while he was getting his gun out, or what did he do?"
"He kept right on walking," she said. "The impact of that slug turned him halfway around. He straightened himself, set his jaw, and kept walking toward that door, pulling out his gun as he walked. Colemar took one more shot, and Holcomb started shooting through the door. You could see the places where his slugs went through the wood. He made as perfect a group as though he'd been shooting at a target on the police range."
Mason nodded slowly, and said, "A damn good man. It takes guts to do that."
Mason picked up one of the newspapers. District Attorney Burger's likeness was spread over three columns on the front page. Below it, in large print, appeared:
FIGHTING DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHO CLEVERLY TRAPPED THE SLAYER OF HARTLEY BASSET INTO BETRAYING HIMSELF
To the right, and slightly below, was a picture of Sergeant Holcomb. The space in between was filled with line drawings showing Sergeant Holcomb approaching the door of the Men's Room, firing from the hip, while Colemar was crouched back of the door, emptying a.45 revolver at the officer.
"They certainly hogged plenty of credit," Della Street said resentfully, her voice betraying her feelings. "You were the one who thought it all out. You put the cards in their hands. All they had to do was to lay them down and take the tricks."
"You saw that Thelma Bevins got her money?" he asked.
"Yes. And she got a nice bonus from Pete Brunold."
"Good for Brunold. He's great stuff for the sob-sisters, isn't he?… Thelma Bevins came through splendidly."
"What would you have done, Chief, if she'd fallen down? She could have become frightened, you know, and told the whole story before she got on the witness stand."
"The nice part of it was," Mason said, "that she couldn't. If she told Burger the story of what actually had happened, Burger would have become convinced she was a clever liar and was simply trying to protect me. Using the build-up that I did, Burger hypnotized himself on her identity. And the more she denied it, the more he'd have become certain she was lying."
"But suppose something had happened?"
"I could have blasted it out of Colemar," he said slowly, "on cross-examination. But I didn't want to do it."
"Because then it would have looked as though I'd slipped one over on Burger. Burger gave me a square deal. I wanted to give him one. Burger has a horror of prosecuting an innocent man. That's a distinct asset so far as I'm concerned. Looking back on this case, his recollections are going to be very pleasant. He'll give me the breaks the next time I want him to investigate some particular piece of evidence."
"Chief," she said suddenly, "how did that glass eye get put into Harry McLane's hand? It's certain Colemar wouldn't have put it there."
Mason looked at her and smiled significantly.
The meaning of that smile dawned upon her.
"Why," she exclaimed, "you… you could have…!"
"It would," Mason said, "have been a swell break for Brunold, if Brunold had been in jail at the time the murder was committed. Unfortunately, he wasn't. I had to move fast to keep the police from suspecting."
"But you shouldn't have done that. In the first place, you had no right taking those chances. In the second place it wasn't… wasn't… I can't describe it."
"Is ethical the word you're groping for?" he asked.
"Not exactly. It's so out of keeping with your position. You do the darnedest things. You're half saint and half devil. There isn't any middle ground. You go to both extremes."
He laughed at her and said, "I hate mediocrity."
"How about Hazel Fenwick?" she asked.
"They'll pick her up one of these days," Mason told her. "Dick Basset certainly had a narrow escape. If it hadn't been for that murder, the female Bluebeard would have chalked up two more victims."
"Sure," he said. "She'd have bumped Hartley Basset first, and then Dick. Perhaps she'd have cleaned up on Sylvia Basset as well."
"How can women do things like that?"
"Just sort of a disease," he said. "It's a mental quirk."
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