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726-Erl Stanley Gardner-Perry Mason-The Case of the Sleepwalker's Neice

726-Erl Stanley Gardner-Perry Mason-The Case of the Sleepwalker's Neice

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Published by Anirvan De

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Published by: Anirvan De on Mar 23, 2010
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05/10/2013

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………
Erle Stanley Gardner 
CHAPTER IPERRY MASON paced back and forth across his office, thumbshooked through the armholes of his vest, forehead puckered into afrown. "You said two o'clock, Jackson?" he asked his law clerk."Yes, sir, and I told her to be prompt."Mason consulted his wristwatch. "Fifteen minutes late," he saidirritably.Della Street, his secretary, looking up from the page of a ledger,asked, "Why not refuse to see her?"Mason said, "Because I want to see her. A lawyer has to wade througha lot of uninteresting murders to get something exciting. This case is anatural. I want it.""Can murder ever be uninteresting?" Jackson asked."After you have had so many of them," Mason said. "Dead men arealways uninteresting. It's the live ones who count."Della Street, watching Mason with solicitous eyes, observed, "Thisisn't a murder case - yet.""It's just as fascinating," Mason said. "I don't like being called inafter the facts have crystallized. I like to deal with motives and hatreds.Murder's the supreme culmination of hatred, just as marriage is the
 
supreme culmination of love. And after all, hatred's more powerful thanlove.""More interesting?" she asked, regarding him quizzically.Without answering, he resumed pacing the floor. "Of course," heobserved, in the mechanical monotone of one thinking aloud, "the thing todo is to prevent the murder, if that's what's in the wind, but my legaltraining can't help appreciating what a wonderful case it would be if asleepwalker actually killed a man, knowing nothing about it. There'd be nomalice, no premeditation.""But," Jackson pointed out, "you'd have to convince a jury that yourclient wasn't putting on an act.""Couldn't the niece do that?" Mason inquired, pausing to plant his feetfar apart and stare belligerently at his clerk. "Can't she testify heruncle walked in his sleep, picked up a carving knife and took it to bedwith him?""That's what she could testify," the clerk said."Well, what more do you want?""Her testimony might not convince a jury.""Why not? What's wrong with her?""She's peculiar.""Pretty?""Yes, she has a stunning figure. Believe me, she dresses to show it.""How old?""Not over twenty-three or twenty-four.""Spoiled?""I'd say so."Mason flung out his hand in a dramatic gesture. "If a pretty, twenty-three-year-old girl with a swell figure can't cross her knees in thewitness box and convince a jury her uncle's a sleepwalker, I'll quit trialwork." Mason shrugged his shoulders as though dismissing the subject,turned to Della Street and said, "What else is in the office, Della?""A Mr. Johnson wanted you to handle the Fletcher murder case."
 
He shook his head. "Absolutely nothing doing. That was a cold-bloodedmurder. Fletcher has no defense.""Mr. Johnson says there's a chance you can plead the unwritten law,emotional insanity, and...""To hell with it. Suppose his wife did play around with the dead man.Fletcher's been quite a playboy himself. I've run across him in nightclubs with red-hot mammas on his arm, half a dozen times in the last year. This breaking-up-a-home business is a good cause for divorce and adamned poor excuse for murder. Anything else?""Yes, a Myrna Duchene wants you to do something with a man whobecame engaged to her and skipped out with all of her savings. She nowfinds it's a racket with him. He's a super-sheik who makes a specialty ofswindling women.""How much?" Mason asked."Five thousand dollars.""She should see the district attorney, not me," Mason remarked."The district attorney would prosecute him," Della Street pointedout, "but that wouldn't get Miss Duchene her money back. She thought you might be able to shake him down.""Thought you said he'd skipped out.""He did, but she's found where he is. He's going under the name ofGeorge Pritchard, registered at the Palace Hotel, and...""She a local girl?" Mason interrupted."No. She came here from Reno, Nevada. She followed him here."Mason squinted his eyes thoughtfully and said, "Tell you what, Della, Iwon't take any money from Miss Duchene, because there's only one thingfor her to do, and she can do that a lot better than a lawyer can. You cangive her the advice with my compliments: If this is a racket with himhe'll use the coin he got from her to make a play for bigger stakes withsome rich woman. He'll sink that five grand in clothes and atmosphere.Tell her to keep watch on him, and about the time he's sinking his hooksin some wealthy woman, show up and shake him down hard.""Won't that be blackmail?" Della Street asked.

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