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Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner

Tags: #Mason, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Mystery & Detective, #Perry (Fictitious Character), #General, #Legal, #Crime, #Fiction

The Case of the Fenced-In Woman

BOOK: The Case of the Fenced-In Woman
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Erle Stanley Gardner

The Case Of The Fenced-in

Woman

Chapter One

PERRY MASON, reading a Supreme Court decision, looked up as Della Street, his confidential secretary, entered the office.

"Della," he said, "endless complications can flow from human conduct. A lawyer never knows what's going to turn up next."

Della Street, a slight smile elevating the corners of her lips, said, "The case of Morley Eden, for instance."

"That's right," Mason said. "Take- Who did you say, Della?"

"Morley Eden."

"Eden… Eden," Mason repeated thoughtfully. "I don't remember that case. What was it, Della?"

"You haven't heard it yet," Della Street said. "He's waiting in the outer office. He seems to be in quite a predicament."

"What's his trouble?" Mason asked.

"A beautiful woman has run a five – strand barbed – wire fence through the middle of his house," Della Street said.

Mason's eyes searched her. "Is he kidding you, or are you kidding me?" he asked.

"Neither. There's a five – strand barbed – wire fence running directly through his house, with an attractive woman living on the other side of the fence. She apparently has a striking figure, takes sunbaths, but-"

Mason said, "Now that's a situation which illustrates my point. By all means, let's hear the story at firsthand."

"You have an appointment in fifteen minutes," Della Street reminded him.

"That's one client who will have to wait a few minutes," Mason said. "We must talk with Morley Eden."

Della Street vanished through the door to the outer office and in a matter of seconds was back, escorting a somewhat stocky individual in his early thirties who was grinning broadly.

"Mr. Mason, Mr. Eden," Della Street said, and moved over to her secretarial chair.

Eden shook hands. "How are you, Mr. Mason? I've heard a lot about you and made up my mind I'd come to you if I was accused of murder. Now I've gone and got myself in a real predicament."

Mason said, "I have an appointment in about fifteen minutes. Can you hit the high spots, Mr. Eden?"

"Sure can," Eden said. "Only you're going to cuss me for being so dumb and you'll be a hundred percent right. I brought it all on myself."

Eden sat down in the chair Mason indicated. "It would be funny if it weren't so damned annoying," he said.

Mason passed him a cigarette, took one himself, lit up and said, "Go ahead."

"A fellow by the name of Carson – Loring Carson – had a building site that was a natural for me. It was on two lots he'd bought on speculation for the purpose of putting up a building to sell at a profit. I had a certain type of house I'd designed and this ground had just the right contours… Now, don't ask me if I'm an architect because I'm not. I'm just a dabbler. I like to dream things up. I became interested in house designing from reading these magazines containing photographs of modern homes-gracious living and all that.

"Carson is a building contractor. He offered me a deal for immediate spot cash that was such a bargain I couldn't resist it. His agreement was to sell me the lots and construct the house to completion within ninety days.

"Now there, of course, is where you're going to start cussing me, and you can't cuss me any more than I've cussed myself. I wanted to get the house started. Loring Carson wanted cash- cash on the barrelhead. I did a quick check and found that part of the property belonged to Loring Carson and part to his wife. I figured he was acting for both of them, so I went ahead with him and he started building. I guess I went ahead too fast."

"If the Carsons owned the property free and clear," Mason said, "how does it happen that-"

Eden said, "His wife had filed suit for divorce."

"But if it was community property," Mason said, "the husband is the manager of the property, and if the consideration was adequate…"

"That's the whole trouble," Eden said. "It wasn't community property; at least, half of it wasn't. When he bought the property he'd used her separate funds to buy one of the lots and community funds to buy the other. The thing was all mixed up. The judge held one of the two lots was her separate property and the other was community property, which he awarded to Loring Carson as his separate property."

Mason said, "She made no objection when you started building?"

"That's the bad part," Eden said. "I got a letter from her- nicely perfumed stationery-telling me that I was building on her property."

"And what did you do then?"

"Well, I had things started by that time. I asked Carson what he meant by not telling me about the divorce action, and he told me that there was nothing to it, that he had her right where he wanted her, that he'd had a detective on her trail, that she had been stepping out and he had the proof. He said that when he filed his cross – complaint she'd fold up like a blown – out tire. And then he'd deliver me a good deed.

"Well, naturally I just didn't want to take his word for it. I said I wanted to talk with his detective."

"You did?" Mason asked.

"That's right. Fellow by the name of LeGrande Dayton."

"And you were reassured as a result of that conversation?" Mason asked.

"Reassured?" Eden said. "I took one look at the evidence he had and decided Carson was right as rain. I just went ahead and ignored this letter from the wife, Vivian Carson."

"And what happened?" Mason asked.

"Oh, Carson filed his cross – complaint all right, and then they started taking depositions, and then it turned out that this detective had been following the wrong woman. The plan was for Carson to point out his wife so that Dayton could start shadowing her. Carson and Dayton were in a car parked in front of a building where Loring Carson knew his wife was attending a meeting.

"It seems that the women all came out in a group, chatting and laughing. Carson said, 'That's my wife on the edge of the sidewalk, the one in green,' and then ducked down out of sight. What he didn't realize, the way Dayton tells it, is that there were two women in green. Dayton was looking at one, Carson at the other.

"Anyhow, it seems that Dayton started shadowing a woman who was having an affair all right. Dayton got plenty of evidence and reported to Carson he had enough stuff to make winning the case a lead – pipe cinch. Carson filed a cross – complaint. I let Carson go right ahead with my house. Then when they started taking depositions it turned out Carson had got himself on the end of a limb.

"In any event, the judge who tried the case awarded one of the lots to Loring Carson, held that the other one was the separate property of Vivian Carson, his wife, and I'd built my house straddling the two lots.

"Well, of course I thought it would simply be a matter of paying through the nose. I had made a mistake and was willing to pay for it. I sent a representative to Vivian Carson. My agent told her I was sorry about the mix – up, to put a price on her lot… Evidently she thought I was all tied in with her husband. She was coldly furious. She told my representative that I could go jump in the lake.

"I felt that if I moved into the house I'd be in possession and then we could work things out some way.

"Well, it seems Vivian Carson is a fighter. She got the judge to issue a restraining order against all persons, her husband or anyone claiming under her husband, from interfering with her possession. When I was away over the weekend she got a surveyor, construction crew and a locksmith. They bored holes in the house right on her side of the boundary line between the two lots, strung barbed wire through the house and pool, and when I came back there she was, living in what she says is her part of the house on one side of the barbed – wire fence, me on the other. She handed me a certified copy of the restraining order and told me she intended to rely upon the very letter of its wording."

"Who was the judge?" Mason asked.

"Judge Hewett L. Goodwin. He's the judge who tried the divorce case."

Mason frowned. "I know Judge Goodwin very well," he said. "He's very conscientious. He tries to decide cases so that the decisions represent substantial justice as between the parties. He gets impatient with technicalities."

"Well," Eden said, "he certainly loused up the job this time."

Mason frowned thoughtfully. "You're married?"

Eden shook his head. "I was married. My wife died about three years ago."

"Why did you want to build a house of this sort to live in by yourself?"

"Darned if I know," Eden said. "I like to design things. I like to fool around with a drawing board and pencil. I started designing this house and then it became something of an obsession with me. I simply had to build it and live in it."

"What's your occupation?"

"I guess you'd call me a retired sharpshooter. I made a pretty good wad of dough buying and selling. I like to buy and sell. I'll buy anything that looks good."

"And you'd never met Mrs. Carson but had had all your dealings with her husband?"

"That's right."

"When did you first meet Mrs. Carson?"

"Yesterday," Eden said. "That was Sunday. I came back from a weekend trip and noticed the fence on the outside. I opened the front door, went in and found the barbed wire divided the house. The kitchen door was open and I could see this woman in there cooking, just as calmly and naturally as though she had built the place.

"I guess I stood there with my mouth open. She came walking over to the fence, showed me a certified copy of the restraining order, told me that since we were neighbors she trusted I'd try to cause as little inconvenience as possible and that, as a gentleman, I wouldn't intrude on her privacy. Then she told me she didn't care to have any further conversation and walked away. Neighbors!" Eden exclaimed. "I'll tell the world we're neighbors! We're living a cheek – by – jowl existence. When I went out to the swimming pool, there she was in a bikini, taking a sunbath. When I tried to sleep this morning, she was making coffee and the aroma was driving me crazy. I wanted a cup, but she had all the cooking facilities on her side of the house."

"So what happened?" Mason asked.

"Oh, I got up, and I guess she saw from the way I looked that I was dying for a cup of coffee. She asked me if I'd like a cup and I said I would, so she passed me a cup and saucer through the barbed wire and asked me if I liked cream and sugar; said it was just a little neighborly gesture while I was getting settled in my side of the house, that after I'd got settled she didn't care to carry on any further conversations."

Mason smiled and said, "Look, Eden, this is all too theatrical. She's simply laying a foundation to get a fancy price for her lot."

"That's the way I felt at first," Eden said. "But now I'm not so sure. That woman is furious. She's mad at her husband for filing that cross – complaint and, as she insists, ruining her reputation. She wants to get even with him in some way.

"I guess Loring Carson was pretty much of a rounder and she evidently had the deadwood on him. He thought he was going to get by with it because of the false lead his detective had given him."

Mason pursed his lips. "Mrs. Carson has an attorney, of course, and…"

"She says she doesn't," Eden said. "She says she had an attorney to represent her in the divorce action, but as far as her property is concerned, she's going to manage it herself."

"You made overtures about a price?"

"I made overtures and got turned down cold and hard."

"And she's a woman who can wear a bikini to advantage?" Mason asked.

"I'll say!" Eden exclaimed. "I understand she was a professional model. How a guy like Carson ever got to first base with her is more than I know. She's really class."

Mason glanced over at Della Street, who caught his eye and smiled.

Mason consulted his wristwatch somewhat ruefully. "As I told you, I have an appointment, Eden," he said. "I think I'd better take a look at the premises later on. First, however, I want to talk with Judge Goodwin. I think perhaps we can get him to modify that decree once he understands the facts. I don't suppose that you'll want to try to live there until…"

Eden's jaw set belligerently. "Now, that's where I'm going to fool Vivian Carson," he said. "She can't move into my house and dispossess me. I'm going to put in a portable electric grill in the bedroom. My side of the house has a fireplace in it. I'm getting a charcoal grill for the fireplace. I'm going to barbecue steaks, I'm going to fry onions, I'm going to do a little cooking on my own. She has to diet to keep the sort of figure she has. I'll bet the aroma of my cooking will raise hell with her calorie chart."

BOOK: The Case of the Fenced-In Woman
12.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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