Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Legal
"I'm in no particular hurry," Mason said.
"Oh, yes, you are," Sergeant Holcomb told him. "You're on your way right now. You're a busy man, Mr. Mason, and you came here just to see Mr. Basset on a matter of business. Mr. Basset is dead, so you can't see him about any business. Therefore, you've got nothing to talk to anyone about. You haven't been retained by anyone here. You didn't know Mr. Basset was murdered. You thought it was a suicide. And the young woman who was attacked isn't here any more, so there's nothing to hold you here and we're not going to interfere with your sleep. You can go on your way right now."
"I can at least wait while I telephone for a taxicab." Mason said.
Sergeant Holcomb grinned.
"Your car isn't here?"
"What happened to it?"
"I told the young woman to take it up to my office."
"What were you intending to do – about getting up to your office?"
"I was going in a taxicab."
"Well, well, well," Sergeant Holcomb said. "That's too bad. We can't have the leading trial lawyer of our city waiting around while we get taxicabs. Good Lord, no. His time's too valuable. One of you boys put him in a police car and take him up to his office. See that he gets delivered right away and without any delay and bring Mrs. Basset in here, before he goes, and we'll find out what she knows about this."
Perry Mason ground out his cigarette in an ash tray.
"For a man who gets as few real results as you do, Sergeant, you're remarkably cunning in your methods."
And the lawyer bowed his way out while Sergeant Holcomb was trying to think up an answer.
"I'm studying law, Chief," she said.
She wore a fur coat which buttoned tightly about her. A length of stockinged leg protruded through the opening in the fur coat.
"The police been here?" the lawyer asked.
"I'll say. They did a lot of wisecracking."
Mason's face clouded.
"Did they get rough with the girl?" he asked.
She let her eyes get wide.
"Why, I thought you ditched the girl some place. She didn't show up."
"She didn't show up here?" Mason inquired.
Della Street shook her head.
"What did you tell the cops?" he asked.
"They cracked wise," she told him, "and I cracked wise back at them. I figured you'd found out the police were coming here, so you'd ditched the girl. That gave me a chance to be sassy. I told them I'd just dropped in to study a little; that I did a lot of night studying because you wanted me to become a detective; that you said so many of the detectives were incompetent there should be lots of room for a real intelligent one."
"How soon did you get here?"
"The cab was at my place in about two minutes after I hung up the phone. I was down on the street waiting. I gave him a tip to make a fast run. We got here in nothing flat. I came in and switched on the lights in this room, and left the door unlocked. I also told the night watchman that a young woman was coming up to the office, and to see that she got here if she made any inquiries."
Perry Mason gave a low whistle.
"Paul Drake was looking for you," she said. "The watchman told him I was in when Paul started home. So he came back to the office and left a package for you." She indicated a pasteboard package on the table, tied with string and sealed in several places with red sealing wax.
The lawyer took out his knife, slit the string, and said, "Did you have any trouble with the officers?"
"No. I let them look through the whole place. They thought I was holding a woman up my sleeve."
"Hard to convince?" the lawyer asked, lifting the cover from the box.
"No," she said. "They were delightfully easy to convince. They figured it out that you'd told the detectives you'd sent the girl here. Therefore, they figured it was the last place on earth where she'd really be. Not finding her here was not only exactly what they expected, but gave them a chance to make their wise cracks."
Mason lifted the top layer of cotton from the box, took out six bloodshot glass eyes, which he spread on the desk, where they stared up unwinkingly.
"We've got Brunold's address?" he asked.
"Yes. It's in the file."
"Was there a telephone number?"
"I think so. I'll see."
She opened a file of card indexes and pulled out a card.
"Telephone?" he asked.
"Yes. It's here."
She looked at her wrist-watch, but Mason said impatiently, "Never mind the time. Go ahead and get him."
She plugged in a line, dialed a number, waited for almost a minute, then said, "Hello, is this Mr. Brunold?"
She glanced across the desk at the lawyer, and nodded.
"Tell him to come up here," Mason said. "No, wait a minute; I'd better tell him myself."
He took the telephone from her and said, "This is Perry Mason talking. I want you to come up to my office right away."
Brunold's voice was sulky.
"Listen," he said. "You haven't any business that's important enough to make me…"
"You paid me fifteen hundred dollars," the lawyer said, "because you had confidence in my ability to get you out of a mess. That was before you got in the mess. You're in it now. My best judgment is that you should come up here. If you don't follow my advice, you've made a poor guess and thrown away fifteen hundred dollars backing it. I'll be in my office for ten minutes. If you don't stop to shave, you can make it."
Perry Mason dropped the receiver back on the hook without waiting for Brunold to make any further comments.
Della Street looked at him, speculatively, and said, "Is he in a mess?"
"I'll say he is. Hartley Basset was murdered tonight. He was holding a bloodshot glass eye clutched in his hand when they found the body."
"But, does Brunold know Basset?"
"That's what I want to find out."
"He should be in the clear," she said slowly. "He complained of the loss of the eye this morning."
Mason stared at the six bloodshot eyes which glowered so redly up at him, and nodded his head slowly.
"It's a point," he said, "to take into consideration. But don't overlook this fact: Harry McLane worked for Basset. Brunold was acquainted with Harry McLane. Where did Brunold and Harry McLane get acquainted? Did the McLanes come here by accident, or did Brunold send them?"
"Whom are we representing?" she inquired.
"Brunold, for one," he said, "Miss McLane, for another, perhaps Mrs. Basset."
"How was the murder committed?" she asked.
"So it might have looked like a suicide, but it was pretty clumsy. Then Mrs. Basset complicated things by planting a gun. A quilt and a blanket had been used to muffle the sound of the shot. One gun was under them. Mrs. Basset – planted a second gun. She, said it was because she didn't see the first gun, and she wanted the thing to look like a suicide."
"Well?" Della Street asked.
"Well," Mason said, "that may have been it, or it may have been that she knew the concealed gun hadn't been the one that did the shooting, and she realized the police would check it up by comparing bullets."
"Did she leave finger-prints on the second gun?" Della Street asked.
"Yes," Mason said, "hers and mine."
"How did yours get on it?"
"I took the gun away from Dick Basset, her son."
"And then gave it to her?"
"Gee, Chief, do you suppose that was a play to get your finger-prints on the gun?"
"I can't tell, yet."
She pursed her lips and whistled silently. After a moment she said, "Can you tell me all about it?"
"I got a call about midnight to rush out to Basset's place. Mrs. Basset told me her son, Dick, was threatening to kill her husband. I stalled around for a while, but she made it sound urgent, so I went.
"When I got there, this Fenwick woman was lying on the couch, apparently unconscious. Mrs. Basset said Hartley Basset had hit her. Dick Basset had a gun. I took the gun. They said the woman was Dick's wife, but the marriage mustn't be mentioned. A redheaded woman about fifty, probably a servant, was putting wet towels on the girl's head. Dick Basset was talking big.
"I figured Mrs. Basset wanted a divorce; that her husband would deny hitting the girl, in a divorce court, but he might have a hard time withstanding the rough treatment of two detectives who wanted the facts, so I put in a call for the cops.
"Then the girl came to, and said Basset hadn't hit her but that a masked man, with an empty eye-socket, had slugged her. She'd pulled off the mask and seen the man's face, but because the room was half dark, and light was coming through the doorway, he hadn't seen hers. She said he was a stranger to her. He socked her. The mask was a piece of black carbon paper with two holes in it for eyes. It had evidently been held in place by putting a hat brim down over it. The Fenwick girl ripped the mask off. The pieces that had been torn out were in Basset's private office on the desk.
"Mrs. Basset claims she saw a man running out of the door and driving away in the Basset car. She claims it was her husband, Hartley Basset.
"Naturally, after the Fenwick girl tells her story, I explore the other room. We find Hartley Basset lying dead, like I've told you. I find a chap by the name of Colemar, a weak-kneed, mouse-like chap, who does Basset's bookkeeping, typing and secretarial work, had been in the place and Mrs. Basset had kicked him out. I thought he might be sore, so I went up to talk with him."
"Did you see him?"
"Was he sore?"
"Plenty. Not so much because she kicked him out as because Basset and his wife didn't get along. He worked for Basset. Therefore, he sided with the boss. All he knew was Basset's side of it, and that's all he wanted to know.
"But when I got in his room I found this piece of paper on his dresser. It's the paper I gave Bertha McLane, with my telephone number on it."
Mason took the paper from his pocket, slowly unfolded it, and dropped it on his desk.
"He said he'd found it in the corridor in front of Mrs. Basset's bedroom."
"Then, Harry McLane must have been out there," Della Street said excitedly.
"Either Harry or Bertha," he said. "Don't forget that it was Bertha to whom I gave it. She may have given it to her brother, or someone may have given it to Mrs. Basset, or Colemar may have been lying, or everyone may have been lying. It's one of those cases."
"The blanket and quilt story sounds phoney," the girl told him.
"Hell," Mason said, impatiently, "it all sounds phoney. I picked this Fenwick girl for a key witness. I knew the cops would sew her up so I'd never see her, once they got their hands on her, so I decided to beat them to it. I figured you'd get a complete interview before the cops had a chance to coach her."
"That eye business," she said, "makes it seem like Brunold."
"It does if the girl is telling the truth," Mason said. "But if she was on the square, why didn't she come here? And the mask business sounds fishy as hell."
"Why?" she asked. "Wouldn't the murderer mask himself?"
"How could a murderer," Mason countered, "enter Basset's office, wearing a mask and holding a gun under a quilt and a blanket? How could he approach Basset, stick the quilt and blanket against Basset's head to muffle the explosion, and pull the trigger, all without Basset putting up a fight?"
"He might have tiptoed," Della Street said.
Mason shook his head moodily.
"Then he wouldn't have needed the mask. Mind you, the gun must have been concealed under the quilt and blanket. From the position of the body, it's almost certain that Basset was taken by surprise and never knew what happened, but was facing the man who fired the shot."
Della Street said slowly, "But there were lots of people in that house who could have entered Basset's office and approached him, carrying a quilt and a blanket, without exciting Basset's suspicion."
"Now," Mason said, "you're getting somewhere. Let's start naming those people."
"Mrs. Basset, for one," she said.
"Right," he told her.
"Dick Basset, for another."
"And," she said, "perhaps the girl who was lying on the couch."
Mason nodded his head. "Anyone else?"
"Not that I know of."
"Yes," the lawyer said, "there were the servants. Remember that a servant was bending over the girl on the couch. A servant could very logically carry a quilt and blanket on her arm. She might be making up a bed, stopping, perhaps, to ask Basset a question…" Mason paused for a moment's meditation, then said suddenly, "But you're overlooking the significant point in what you've been telling me."
"What is it?"
"Those persons only," he said, "could have entered Basset's office carrying the quilt and the blanket without bringing Basset to his feet, because Basset was familiar with their faces. But the person who ran from that room had his face covered with a mask. That brings us to a consideration of the mask. It had been prepared in a hurry. The carbon paper was probably right on Basset's desk. The man picked it up…"
"After the murder!" Della Street exclaimed triumphantly.
"Now you're getting it," he told her. "The mask must have been an afterthought. But the quilt and blanket to muffle the gun weren't. They show premeditated deliberation. The mask shows haste."
"Why should a murderer mask himself after he'd committed a crime?" she asked.
"To get away, of course. The Fenwick girl saw a man sitting in Basset's office. His back was toward her. Basset told her to wait. She was sitting in the reception room, waiting. The man who was with Basset knew that."
"Then he put on the mask only to enable him to escape," she said.
"Looks that way. But why didn't he go out by the back way? Then he wouldn't have needed a mask. But if the man who prepared that mask in the first place was the man who wore it out of the room, why did he tear out an eye hole for his blind eye? Why didn't he tear out just the one eye hole?"
She shook her head and said, "That's getting too deep for me. How do you know Basset didn't put up a fight?"
"From the way the body fell, for one thing," he said, "and because he had a gun suspended from a spring shoulder holster under his left armpit. He hadn't gone for that gun."
"Then that makes three guns that were in the room," she said.