Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Legal
Mason bent over her, solicitously. "All right?" he asked.
She smiled wanly. "I guess so. I got dizzy when I got up, but I'm all right now."
"This man had one eye?" Mason asked.
"Yes," she said, her voice growing stronger.
"No, no!" Sylvia Basset said, her voice almost a moan.
"Let her tell it," Dick Basset said savagely. "Everyone else keep out of it."
"Did he hit you more than once?" Mason asked.
"I think so. I don't remember."
"Do you know whether he went out this front door?"
"Did you hear him drive away?"
"I don't know, I tell you. He hit me and everything turned black."
"Let her alone, can't you?" Dick Basset said to Perry Mason. "She isn't a witness on the witness stand."
Perry Mason strode toward the door which led to the inner office. He reached his hand to the knob, then hesitated a moment, drew back his hand, and took a handkerchief from his pocket. He wrapped the handkerchief around his fingers before he turned the knob. The door swung slowly inward. The room was just as he had seen it the first time. A light in the ceiling gave a brilliant, but indirect, illumination.
Mason crossed to the door of the inner office. It, too, was closed. Once more he fitted a handkerchief in his hand and turned the knob. The room was dark.
"Anyone know where the light switch is here?" Mason asked.
"I do," Mrs. Basset said. She entered the room, and, a moment later, the lights clicked on.
Mrs. Basset gave a half scream of startled terror. Perry Mason, standing in the doorway, stiffened to immobility. Dick Basset exclaimed, "Good God! What's that?"
Hartley Basset lay face down on the floor. A blanket and a quilt, folded together, partially covered his head. His arms were outstretched. The right hand was tightly closed. A pool of red had seeped out from his head, soaked up by the blanket and quilt on the one side and the carpet on the other. A portable typewriter was on the desk in front of him, and a sheet of paper was in the machine, approximately half of it being covered by typewritten lines.
"Keep back, everyone," Perry Mason said. "Don't touch anything."
He stepped cautiously forward, keeping his hands behind his back. He bent over the corpse and read the paper which was in the typewriter.
"This," he said, "seems to be a suicide note. But it can't be suicide, because there's no gun here."
"Read it aloud," Dick Basset said in an excited voice. "Let's hear what's in the note. What reason does he give for committing suicide?"
Perry Mason read in a low monotone:
"I am going to end it all. I am a failure. I have made money, but I have lost the respect of all of my associates. I have never been able to make friends or to hold friends. Now I find that I cannot even hold the respect and love or even the friendship of my own wife. The young man who is supposed to be my son and has taken my name hates me bitterly. I have suddenly come to the realization that no matter how self-sufficient a man may think he is, he cannot stand alone. The time comes when he realizes that he must be surrounded by those who care something for him if he is going to be able to exist. I am a rich man in money, and a bankrupt in love. Recently something has happened which I do not need to put on paper, but which convinces me of the futility of trying to hold the love of the woman who is the dearest thing in the world to me. I have, therefore, decided to end it all, if I can get nerve enough to pull the trigger. If I can get nerve enough… if I can get nerve enough…"
"He's got something in his hand," Dick Basset said. Perry Mason leaned down, hesitated a moment, then pried the fingers slightly apart.
A glass eye, clutched in the dead hand, stared redly at them, unwinking, evil.
Mrs. Basset gasped.
Perry Mason whirled to her.
"What does that eye mean to you?" he asked.
"Come on. Come clean. What does it mean to you?"
Dick Basset pressed forward. "Look here," he said, "you can't talk to my mother that way."
Mason waved him away with a gesture of his hand.
"Keep out of this," he said. "What does that eye mean to you?"
"Nothing," she said, more defiantly this time.
Mason turned toward the door.
"Well," he said, "I guess there's no further need for my services."
She clutched his sleeve in frenzy.
"Please," she said. "Please! You've got to see me through this."
"Are you going to tell me the truth?"
"Yes," she said, "but not now – not here."
Dick Basset moved toward the dead man.
"I want to see," he said, "what…"
Perry Mason took his shoulder, spun him around, and pushed him out through the door.
"Turn out the lights, Mrs. Basset," he said.
She switched out the lights. "Oh, I've dropped my handkerchief'" she said. "Does it make any difference?"
"You bet it makes a difference," Perry Mason said. "Get your handkerchief and get out."
She groped around for a few moments. Perry Mason stood impatiently in the doorway. She came toward him.
"I have it," she breathed, clinging to his arm. "You must protect me, and we've both got to protect Dick. Tell me…"
He broke away from her, jerked the door closed behind them, and crossed the other office to the entrance room.
The woman who had been on the couch was now standing. Her face was dead white. Her lips made an attempt at a smile. Mason faced her.
"Do you know what's in there?" he asked.
"Is it Mr. Basset?" she half whispered.
"Yes," Perry Mason said. "You saw the man who came out of the room clearly?"
"Did he see you? Would he know your face if he saw you again?"
"I don't think so. I was in the dark here in the room. The light was coming from that other office. It streamed on his face. I had my back turned to it. My face was in the shadow."
"He wore this mask?"
"Yes. That's it. It's carbon paper, isn't it?"
"You saw one eye socket that was vacant?"
"Yes, it was awful. The mask was black, you see, and looking through the mask that way with only one eye staring out, and the other a reddish socket! It…"
"Look, here," Perry Mason said, "the police are coming here. They're going to question you. Then they'll hold you as a material witness. You want to help Dick, don't you?"
"Yes, of course."
"All right. I want to go over this thing in detail before the police talk with you. Do you feel well enough to ride in a car?"
"Yes, I do now. I was groggy at first."
"Can you drive a car?"
He took a key from his pocket, tossed it to her and strode to the telephone.
"My coupe's out in front," he called over his shoulder. "Get in it and get started. My office is in the Central Utilities Building. I'll have my secretary there by the time you get there."
He didn't wait for a reply, but dialed a number on the telephone. He heard the ringing of the bell and, a moment later, Della Street's voice saying, in accents thick with sleep, "Yes? What is it, please?"
"Perry Mason," he told her. "Can you get dressed by the time it takes a taxicab to get to your place?"
"I can get something on that will act me past the censors," she said. "It won't be stylish."
"Never mind the style. Throw on the first thing you come to. Wrap a coat around the outside of it. I'm sending a cab. Go to the office. A woman will be there. Her name is…"
He called over his shoulder, "What's that girl's name?"
Dick Basset said, "Hazel Fenwick."
"Hazel Fenwick," Perry Mason said. "Take her in the office. See that she doesn't get hysterical. Be friendly. Pour a little whiskey into her, but don't get her drunk. Talk with her and take down what she says in shorthand. Keep her out of sight until I get there."
"When will you get there?" she asked.
"Pretty soon," he told her. "I've got to let a couple of cops ask me some questions."
"What's happened?" she asked.
"You can find out from the girl," he told her.
"Okay, Chief," she said. "You ordering the cab?"
"I'll be downstairs by the time it gets here. Tell the cab driver to pick up the girl in a fur coat who's standing on the sidewalk. I hope no one looks underneath that fur coat."
"They won't," he told her and hung up the receiver.
He called the office of a taxicab company, instructed them to rush a cab to Della Street's house, and then turned to Mrs. Basset.
"Who else knows about this?" he asked.
Mason made a sweeping indication with his arm.
"No one. You discovered it yourself. You were the first one to go near the room…"
"No, no," he said, "not about your husband – about the young woman getting a sock on the head. Are there any servants who know about it?"
"Mr. Colemar," she said.
"Is he," Mason asked, "the bald-headed chap with the spectacles who works in your husband's office?"
"How does he happen to know about it?"
"He'd been out to a movie. He saw someone running from the house and then he saw me running around here in the room. He came in to see what was the matter."
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him to go to his room and stay there."
"Did he see the young woman on the couch?"
"No, I didn't let him see her. He was curious. He kept trying to get over close to the couch to see her. He's all right, but he's a gossip and he'd do anything to injure me. My husband and I didn't get along. He sided with my husband."
"Where did he go?" Mason asked.
"To his room, I guess."
The lawyer jerked his head toward Dick Basset.
"Know where it is?"
"Okay, show me."
Dick Basset looked inquiringly at his mother. Mason grabbed him by the shoulder and said, "For God's sake, snap out of it. The police will be here any minute. Get started! Can we get through this way?"
"No," Dick Basset said, "this is a separate part of the house. You'll have to go in the, other entrance."
They stepped through the door to the porch, entered the residence part of the house, climbed a flight of stairs, walked down a corridor, and Dick Basset, who had been leading the way, stepped back and to one side as he indicated a closed door from beneath which came a ribbon of light. The lawyer gripped Dick Basset's arm just above the elbow.
"Okay," he said. "Now you go back to your mother, kick out that red-headed servant and get down to brass tacks."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. Get your stories together in every detail and account for that gun."
"The one you had, of course," Mason said.
"Will they ask me about that?"
"They may. It has been fired. What did you shoot it at?"
Dick Basset moistened his lips with his tongue and said, "Not today it hadn't. That was yesterday."
"What did you shoot at?"
"A tin can."
"How many shots?"
"Why only one?"
"Because I hit the can and I quit while my reputation was good."
"Why were you shooting at a can?"
"I was showing off."
"My wife. She was riding with me."
"You carry a gun, then, all the time?"
"Because Hartley Basset has been such a brute to my mother. I knew a show-down was coming sooner or later."
"Got a permit for that gun?"
"No one else saw you shoot at the can except your wife?"
"No, that's all. She's the only witness."
Mason jerked his thumb back down the corridor toward the door and said, "Get together with your mother. Make your stories air-tight."
He raised his hand to knock at the panels of the door, hesitated, lowered his hand to the knob, twisted it and jerked the door open. The same narrow-shouldered, bald-headed man whom he had seen in Basset's office earlier in the evening stared at him through huge tortoise-shell glasses, his face showing exasperation. It changed to amazement as he recognized Perry Mason.
"You saw me tonight in Basset's office," Mason said. "I'm Perry Mason, the lawyer. Your name's Colemar, isn't it?"
The expression of irritation returned to Colemar's face. "Don't lawyers knock?" he asked.
Mason started to say something, then checked himself as his eyes, drifting to the dresser, caught sight of the piece of paper on which he had penciled the telephone number of his residence and which he had given to Bertha McLane.