Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Legal, #Mystery & Detective, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #General, #Crime, #Fiction
Erle Stanley Gardner
The Case Of The Lazy Lover
There was usually a big pile of mail on Monday morning. Della Street, Perry Mason's confidential secretary, having arrived a full half hour before the office was scheduled to open, deftly inserted the paper knife under the flaps of the envelopes, cut them open with one swift wrist motion, read the letters and sorted them into three piles.
First, there was the pile that Perry Mason must read and answer. The second pile didn't require an immediate answer, but called for Mason's attention. The third pile was mail which she would discuss with Mason, but which she, herself, could handle.
The last envelope she opened was the one which presented the puzzle. It was a thin envelope and might have contained merely a routine statement of accounts covering some purchases Mason had made. Actually, it held a folded oblong of tinted paper with serrated edges. The body was typewritten, the signature in heavy ink.
Della Street saw that it was a check drawn on the Farmers, Merchants & Mechanics Bank fix two thousand five hundred dollars, payable to Perry Mason and signed Lola Faxon Allred.
Della shook the envelope to make certain nothing else was in it; then, to make certain that her memory was not at fault, consulted the card index of Mason's clients.
There was no one named Allred.
It might, of course, be conscience money, so Della Street went to the big master file.
In this file, there was a record of every person with whom Perry Mason had had a business contact, witnesses in cases, persons who had served on juries in cases that Mason had tried, persons who had been in an adverse business position, defendants in civil actions, parties to contracts, hostile witnesses. There was no Allred.
Della Street was just closing the drawer when Mason came breezing into the office.
"Hi, Della. What's new? The usual assortment of mail, I see. Gosh, how I like to get letters! And how I hate to answer them!"
Della Street said, "Who's Lola Faxon Allred?"
"You've got me," Mason said, after thinking a moment. "Were you looking for her in the file?"
"Not a thing."
"Why the interest?"
Della Street said, "She sent you a check for twenty-five hundred bucks."
"She didn't say."
"And we have nothing in the files?"
Mason said, "Let's take a look at the check."
He studied it for a moment, turned it so that the light from the office window struck the check diagonally, said, "You're sure there wasn't any letter in the envelope, Della?"
"Absolutely. This is the envelope, Chief. This is just the way it came."
Mason said, "Originally, there was a letter attached to this check."
"How do you know?"
Mason said "'The way it's folded, for one thing. For another thing, the fact that there is the mark of a paper clip on the top of the check. Hold it at just this angle, Della. No, a little more that way. That's it. Now see how the faint indentation in the paper shows the outline of a paper clip?"
"That's right," Della said. "A clip was there, all right. What makes you think it was clipped to a letter?"
"The way the check is folded. If you were putting a check in an envelope, you'd fold it once. When a check is attached to a letter, you clip it to the top of the letter, then you fold the letter once from the bottom, then you fold it twice from the sides. That is, you fold it once from each side. Now notice the way this check is folded. Once from the left, once from the right."
"Then what do you suppose became of the letter?"
Mason said, "That's the question, Della. Look in the phone book."
Della Street ran her finger down the "A's" in the phone book, said, "I don't find any Lola Faxon Allred. There's a Bertrand C. Allred."
"Bertrand C.!" Mason exclaimed.
"Yes. Why? Do you know him?"
"Well, I know of him."
"What about him, Chief?"
"He's a big shot in mining circles. He's both a promoter and operator. He has the reputation of being clever and tricky. A year or so ago he promoted a mine. After he'd sold the stock there was a discovery of very rich ore. Allred used a slick legal trick to get the stock back. He made a million."
"Slick legal tricks interest me," Della said. "How did he do it?"
"He had a friendly stockholder, who was really a dummy, sue him for fraud, claim the stock was valueless and ask for his money back. Then this dummy sent out letters to all of the other stockholders, stating that the suit had been filed, that Allred had promoted the mine by fraudulent means, that if the other stockholders wanted to take concerted action, the writer felt it would be possible to salvage all of their money; but that Allred would undoubtedly try to spar for time, so that he could dissipate the company assets. Two days later, Allred wrote each and every one of the stockholders telling them that, in his opinion, the mine was fabulously rich; that new discoveries had greatly enhanced the value of the stock; that every share of stock that had bin sold was not treasury stock but Allred's private stock; that he wanted the investors to make a lot of money out of it and his advice was to sit tight and not try to make him give them their money back; that, in his opinion, the mine was even more valuable than when he had sold them the stock.
"You can see the effect such a letter would have. It made the stockholders feel they could get their money back if they took concerted action. You sell a man stock in a mining company and then go and try to buy the stock back, and he wants at least ten times what he paid for it. You offer him exactly what he paid for it, and he laughs in your face; but if you tell him there's a possibility, that by taking prompt action, he can 'get his money back' those words are music to his ears. He wants his money back.
"Well, the upshot of it was that Allred bought back nearly all of the stock at exactly what he'd sold it for. Later on, when some of the stockholders claimed they'd been whipsawed, Allred simply produced the letter he'd written them stating that in his opinion the mine was fabulously rich, that there had been recent discoveries which enhanced his faith in the mine. In other words, he had written them this letter telling them the entire truth, begging them and imploring them not to ask him to refund their money. Of course, the moral effect of the letter was to make them fall all over themselves trying to get the money back, but the legal effect was that Allred had made a complete disclosure of all of the facts in the case."
"He must be clever," Della Street said.
"He's slick," Mason told her. "Are there any other Allreds?"
"No Allreds who seem to have a street address that fits in with twenty-five hundred dollar checks."
Mason said, "Just on the off-chance, Della, get Allred's residence on the wire."
"For whom shall I ask?"
Mason hesitated a moment, then said, "I'll do the talking. Dial the number for me, Della, then I'll take over."
Della Street got an outside line. Her trained fingers whirled the dial with swift precision. She nodded to Mason and said, "I've dialed."
Mason picked up his telephone, waited.
A moment later, a feminine voice said, "Hello. Mr. Allred's residence."
"Is Mrs. Allred there?" Mason asked.
"Who wishes to speak with her, please?"
"Mr. Perry Mason, the lawyer."
"Was she expecting you to call, Mr. Mason?"
Mason laughed and said, "That depends. Tell me, is her full name Lola Faxon Allred?"
"That's right," the voice at the other end of the line said.
"I think, then," Mason said, "you may say that she's expecting me to call."
"Hold the line a moment, please."
Mason held the line for some ten seconds, then a masculine voice said, "Hello, Mr. Mason."
"This is Bertrand C. Allred. You wish to talk with my wife?"
"She isn't here at the moment."
"Could you tell me what it was that-- that is, the general nature of what you wish to discuss with her? I may be able to get in touch with her a little later on."
"Nothing important," Mason said. "Just tell her I called, if you will."
"I'll do that, but if you could perhaps tell me…"
"I'm just checking up on something," Mason said. "That's all. You might convey that message to your wife, if you will, that I was checking-- just checking, and that I'd like to have her call me in connection with that check. Got that? Thanks very much."
"On what," Allred asked, "are you checking?"
"A routine matter," Mason said. "And thank you very much indeed, Mr. Allred. Good-by."
He hung up the telephone and glanced at Della Street. "I may have put my foot in it. Her husband got on the phone. He's curious. I wish I knew what was in the letter that had originally been clipped to that check."
"Did he show too much interest?" Della Street asked.
"Yes. We'll now play a waiting game for a while."
"And the check?"
"We'll just hold it and see what happens."
"And the mail?"
Mason said with a note of surrender in his voice, "Oh, all right, I suppose I'll have to wade through it. Get your notebook, Della, and let's start."
At nine-forty a special delivery letter was relayed to Della Street's desk through the hands of Gertie, the receptionist in the outer office. Della Street opened it. The thin envelope contained only a single sheet of paper, a tinted oblong of paper.
This check was folded squarely in the middle, just as Mason had said a check would have been folded if there had been no letter accompanying it, and was drawn on the First National Bank at Las Olitas. The check was payable to Perry Mason, was in an amount of twenty-five hundred dollars and was signed Lola Faxon Allred.
The letter had been postmarked early that morning.
Della Street said, "Your girl friend has a strange idea of confetti. I wonder how long this is going to keep up."
"Both checks dated Saturday?" Mason asked.
"Do we have an account at the Farmers, Merchants & Mechanics Bank ourselves?" Mason mused.
Mason said, "Go down to the bank, deposit both checks. Ask the cashier to pay particular attention to them, and when he sends the check through for collection on the First National Bank at Las Olitas, to ask the bank there to check carefully."
"Will you be under any obligation to Mrs. Allred if you accept these checks without knowing what they're for?'
I can always give her back the money, if I decide not to represent her in whatever matter it is she wants me to handle. Go down to the bank personally, Della, and put the checks through. There's something about this that I definitely don't like."
"I like it," Della said, smiling. "As the one who handles the finances of this office, I'll be only too pleased to have Mrs. Allred pelt us with checks by every mail. Why don't you like it, Chief?"
I don't know. Call it a hunch if you like, but I have an idea that when I deposit these checks, things are going to start happening-- and that that's the reason the checks are being sent. Let's co-operate and see what happens after that."