Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Legal
"Three guns," he told her, moodily.
"And you don't know yet which one actually did the killing?"
"Ten to one," he told her, "it's the gun that has my finger-prints on it… How long ago did Paul Drake leave?"
"He gave me the eyes after I'd been in the office about ten minutes. It couldn't have been over fifteen minutes ago."
"He'll be down at the Red Lion," Mason said, "having a drink with some of the newspaper chaps. See if you can get him on the telephone."
"Going to report your car as stolen?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"It'll turn up somewhere."
Della Street, who had been whirring the dial of the telephone, said, in her sweetest voice, "A client wishes to speak with Paul Drake. Is he there?"
A moment later she said, "Hello, Paul. Just a minute, the Chief wants to speak with you."
Mason took the telephone.
"Paul," he said, "take a pencil and make a note of this. Hartley Basset – Basset Auto Loan Company – a financier, money lender, and, perhaps, a fence. I want to get every bit of dope on him that you can pick up.
"He committed suicide tonight, and he left a suicide note in his typewriter. The newspaper boys will have photographs. I want prints of those photographs. I want the low-down on Mrs. Basset and her son – a fellow by the name of Dick Basset. Hartley Basset, by the way, isn't the boy's father. I want to find out why the kid didn't keep his father's name. Now, here's another one. Peter Brunold, 3902 Washington Street. In case you don't know it, he's the man who matches up with the six eyes you got. I want all the dope on him. I want the fastest work I can get. I don't care how many men you put on the job. But get them started. Burn up the wires."
Paul Drake's voice, sounding over the telephone as though he were about to chuckle, said, "I like the casual way you mention the fact that it's suicide, Perry. I'm betting five to one it's murder, and I don't even know the facts."
"Shut up," Mason told him, grinning, "and turn that searchlight mind of yours on something that's going to bring shekels into the cash register."
He dropped the receiver back into place just as the knob of the door turned. Pete Brunold pushed his way through the door. He was puffing, and his forehead was beaded with perspiration. He glanced at his wristwatch and nodded with satisfaction.
"Made a record run of it, even if the taxi driver did…"
He broke off as he stared at the assortment of eyes on the desk.
"What are those?" he asked.
"Take a look at them," Mason told him.
Brunold examined the eyes carefully.
"Pretty good," he said. "They're darn good."
"Found the original eye yet?" Mason asked casually, as though he were making preliminary conversation.
Brunold shook his head and stared at Della Street.
Della Street pulled the fur coat about her legs. "How'd you like to get your eye back?" Mason inquired.
"I'd like it."
Della Street replaced the glass eyes in the box, surreptitiously slid a notebook into position on her knee, crossed her legs, and started taking notes.
"I think I can get your eye for you," Mason said. "Or, I can tell you how you can get it."
"All you have to do," Perry Mason said, "is to take a taxicab, go to Hartley Basset's house at 9682 Franklin Street. You'll find some police there. Tell them that you think your eye is in the place and you want to identify it. They'll take you into a room. Hartley Basset will be lying on the floor with a bullet hole in his head. Something is clasped in his right hand. They'll pry the fingers apart. You'll see a bloodshot eye staring up at you from…"
Brunold recoiled momentarily, then recovered possession of himself, and picked up a cigarette from the humidor on the desk. The hand which conveyed the match to the cigarette was shaking.
"What makes you think it's my eye?"
"It looks like it."
Brunold said slowly, "That's what I was afraid of. Someone stole that eye and left a counterfeit. I wanted to get the original. I was afraid it would show up in some situation that would be like this. This is ghastly. This is simply awful!"
"Surprised?" Mason inquired.
"Of course I'm surprised… Look here, you don't think that I went out there and killed the guy and then stuck my eye in his hand? I couldn't have done it if I'd wanted to. I didn't have the eye. I told you this morning someone had stolen it and left a counterfeit in its place."
"Did you know Hartley Basset?" Mason inquired.
Brunold hesitated, then said, "No, I didn't know him. I'd never met him."
"Know his wife?"
"I've met her – that is… Yes, I know her."
"Know the boy?"
"Dick – er – Basset?"
"Well, yes, I'd seen Dick, met him, you know."
"You knew Harry McLane, who had been working for Basset."
"Where'd you meet him – out at Basset's place?"
"Out there. He was acting as assistant secretary and stenographer. I met him – once."
"Didn't he ever introduce you to Basset?"
"Did you ever see Hartley Basset?"
"No… I never saw him. I knew of him, of course."
"What do you mean by that?"
Brunold fidgeted uncomfortably.
"Look here," he said. "You're not doing this to sweat me, are you? This isn't a third degree stunt? You wouldn't kid me about Basset being dead?"
Perry Mason tapped a cigarette on his thumb-nail.
"Well," Brunold said, "I may as well tell you the truth. I knew his wife, quite well – that is, I'd seen her several times."
"How long had you known her?"
"Not very long."
"Was the friendship platonic, or otherwise?"
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"About two weeks ago, I think."
"If she thought you were drifting away from her," Mason said bluntly, "would she be above building up a case against you?"
Brunold nearly dropped his cigarette. "Good God," he said, "what do you mean?"
"I mean just what I said, Brunold. Suppose that you'd had a fight with Mrs. Basset. Suppose her husband committed suicide. Suppose she thought you were in love with some other woman and thought you were going to leave her. Would it be at all probable that she'd try to make it seem that her husband hadn't committed suicide, but had been murdered, and that you were implicated in the murder?"
"So as to keep you from going with some other woman."
"But there isn't any other woman."
"Did she know that?"
"Yes… That is, no… You understand, there isn't anything between us… She's nothing to me."
"I see," the lawyer said dryly. "When did you first meet Mrs. Basset?"
"About a year ago, I guess."
"And you last saw her about two weeks ago?"
"And you haven't seen her since?"
"When did you first find out your eye had been stolen?"
"Late last night."
"You don't think you left it some place?"
"Certainly not. A counterfeit was substituted. That means someone must have stolen the eye deliberately."
"Why did they steal it?"
"I don't know."
"Why do you think they stole it?"
"I can't tell you that."
"You met Harry McLane out at the Basset residence?"
"I saw him there, yes."
"Know anything about his being short in his accounts?"
Brunold hesitated perceptibly, then said, "Yes. I heard he was."
"Do you know what the exact amount was?"
"Something around four thousand dollars."
"Did you know a young woman by the name of Hazel Fenwick?"
"Know a man by the name of Arthur Colemar?"
"Ever talk with him?"
"No, but I've seen him."
"Know Basset's chauffeur?"
"I'll say I do. His name's Overton. He's tall and dark-complected. He looks as though he never smiled. What about him?"
"I just wanted to know if you knew him."
"Yes, I know him."
"Know a fat, red-headed woman about fifty, or fifty-two?"
"Yes; that's Edith Brite."
"What does she do?"
"She's sort of a general housekeeper. She's strong as an ox."
"But you've never seen Basset?"
"Not to speak to, no."
"Do these other people know you?"
"What other people?"
"The people you've been describing."
"No… That is, the chauffeur may have seen me."
"How does it happen you've seen those people and know them, but they haven't seen you and don't know you?"
"Sylvia has pointed them out to me."
Mason whirled on him suddenly and jabbed at the front of Brunold's vest with the glowing end of his cigarette.
"Dick Basset," he said, "saw you yesterday."
"At the house."
"He must have been mistaken," Brunold said.
"Then it was Colemar who saw you."
"He couldn't have seen me."
"Because I wasn't in his side of the house."
"What do you mean by that?"
"It's sort of a duplex house. Basset has fixed up one side for his office, the other side for his home. Then, when relations became strained with his wife, Basset started living entirely in his side of the house."
"So you were in Mrs. Basset's side of the house yesterday?"
"Not yesterday, it was the day before."
"Thought you hadn't seen Mrs. Basset for two weeks," Mason said.
Brunold said nothing.
"And Dick Basset had an argument with Hartley Basset about you tonight," the lawyer went on.
"After you left."
"You're mistaken about that," Brunold said positively; "that was an absolute impossibility."
"Because, before I left…"
Mason grinned at him.
Brunold moved belligerently toward the lawyer.
"Damn you!" he said. "Just what are you trying to do?"
"Trying to get the facts," Mason told him.
"Well, you can't browbeat me and trap me as though I was a common crook. You can't…"
"I'm not trying to browbeat you," Mason said, "and, as far as being trapped is concerned, you're already trapped. You started to say that before you left there tonight Basset was already dead, didn't you?"
"I didn't say I was there at all this evening."
"No," Mason said, smiling, "you didn't say it, but that's a reasonable inference from what you did say."
"You misunderstood what I did say," Brunold told him.
Perry Mason turned to Della Street.
"Have you got it all down – the questions and answers, Della?" he asked.
She looked up and nodded.
Brunold rushed toward Della Street.
"For God's sake! Has everything I've said been taken down? You can't do that. I'll…"
Perry Mason's hands clapped down on the man's shoulder.
"You'll do what?" he asked ominously.
Brunold turned to regard him.
"You try any rough stuff with that young lady," Mason said grimly; "and you'll go out of here so fast and so hard you'll skid all the way down the corridor. Now, sit down and cut out all this beating around the bush and tell me the truth."
"Why should I tell you anything?"
"Because before you get done, you're going to want someone to help you. You've got a chance to tell me the truth now. You may not have later on. You may be inside, looking out."
"They've got nothing on me."
"You think they haven't."
"No one except you knows I was out there tonight."
"Mrs. Basset knows it."
"Of course, but she isn't a fool."
"Colemar," Mason said, "saw someone running away from the house. He knows who it was. He won't tell me. Was it you?"
Brunold's jaw sagged. "Recognized him?" he said.
"That's what Colemar claims."
"But he couldn't. He was too far away, and I…"
"Then it was you Colemar saw."
"Yes, but I didn't think Colemar could see me. He was across the street. I'd swear I saw him first. I kept my head turned away so he couldn't recognize me."