The Case of the Caretakers Cat

Тема

Аннотация: After his employer dies in a fire, a caretaker hires Mason to allow him to keep his cat against the wishes of the men who inherit. When the caretaker is killed, Mason defends the woman accused of his murder.

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Erle Stanley Gardner

Perry Mason — 6

Cast of Characters

Perry Mason — Who saw beyond the caretaker's cat…

Della Street — Confidential secretary to Perry Mason, and, confidentially, his bride in a mock honeymoon…

Charles Ashton — Caretaker, who has a shriveled leg, a crabby disposition, and a Persian cat… and thereby hangs a tale…

Nathaniel Shuster — A shyster with a hot temper and aircooled teeth…

Samuel C. Laxter — Grandson of the late Peter Laxter and executor of the will…

Frank Oafley — The other grandson, who went digging in the night, and is in love with the nurse…

Paul Drake — Detective, whose popeyes popped even more at Mason's deductions…

Winifred Laxter — Disinherited granddaughter, who really doesn't care. In love with Douglas Keene…

Douglas Keene — Budding architect, who is that way about Winnie, million or no million…

Watson Clammert — A character who isn't himself…

Edith DeVoe — Attractive redhead, nurse to Peter Laxter, at first afraid to tell what she knows…

Hamilton Burger — District Attorney, who is a little leery of Perry Mason's methods…

Dr. Jason — Who plays a leading role in a ghoulish scene…

Tom Glassman — Chief investigator for the D.A., who is more than a little puzzled by developments…

James Brandon — Who acts as chauffeur and butler—as well as a few other things…

Sergeant Holcomb — Who leads a flock of reporters to Perry Mason's office, but is no lamb himself…

Chapter 1

Perry Mason, criminal lawyer, frowned at Carl Jackson, one of his assistants. At the corner of the desk, knees crossed, pencil poised over an open notebook, Della Street, Perry Mason's secretary, regarded both men with level, contemplative eyes.

Mason held in his hand a typewritten memorandum.

"About a cat, eh?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Jackson said. "He insists upon seeing you personally. He's a crank. I wouldn't waste time on him, sir."

"Shriveled leg and a crutch, I believe you said," Mason observed musingly, consulting the memorandum.

"That's right. He's about sixtyfive. He said he was in an automobile accident about two years ago. His employer was driving the car. Ashton—that's the man who wants to see you about the cat—got a broken hip and some of the tendons in his right leg cut. Laxter, his employer, had his right leg broken just above the knee. Laxter wasn't a young man himself. I think he was sixtytwo at the time of his death, but his leg healed up okay. Ashton's leg didn't. He's been on crutches ever since.

"I suppose that was one of the reasons why Laxter was so careful to make provision for the caretaker in his will. He didn't leave Ashton a sum of money outright, but stipulated that the beneficiaries under his will should give Ashton a perpetual job as caretaker so long as he was able to work, and furnish a home for him when he was no longer able to work."

Perry Mason said, frowning, "That's an unusual will, Jackson."

The young lawyer nodded agreement. "I'll say it's an unusual will. This man, Laxter, was a lawyer. He left three grandchildren. One of them, a girl, was completely cut off by the will. The other two divided the property share and share alike."

"How long's he been dead?"

"About two weeks, I think."

"Laxter… Laxter… wasn't there something in the paper about him? Didn't I read something about a fire in connection with his death?"

"That's right, sir, Peter Laxter. He was said to be a miser. He certainly was eccentric. He had a mansion here in the city and wouldn't live in it. He left this man Ashton in charge as the caretaker. Laxter lived in a country house at Carmencita. The house caught fire at night, and Laxter was burned to death. The three grandchildren and several servants were in the house at the time. They all escaped. Ashton says the fire started in or near Laxter's bedroom."

"The caretaker there at the time?" Mason asked.

"No. He was in charge of the city house."

"The grandchildren living there now?"

"Two of them are—the two who inherited. Samuel C. Laxter, and Frank Oafley. The granddaughter, who was disinherited, Winifred Laxter, isn't there. No one knows where she is."

"And Ashton is waiting in the outer office?" Mason inquired, his eyes twinkling.

"Yes, sir. He won't see anyone except you."

"Specifically, what's his trouble?"

"Sam Laxter admits he's obligated, under the will, to furnish Ashton with a job as caretaker, but claims he isn't obligated to keep Ashton's cat in the house. Ashton has a big Persian cat. He's very much attached to it. Laxter's served notice that Ashton can either get rid of the cat, or it'll be poisoned. I could handle it, only Ashton insists on seeing you or no one. I wouldn't take up your time with it—only you insist upon knowing all about the clients who come to the office and won't let any of us handle their cases."

Mason nodded, and said, "Right. You can't ever tell when something seemingly trivial may develop into something big. I remember the time Fenwick was trying a murder case and a man came to the office and insisted on seeing him about a battery case. Fenwick tried to turn him over to a clerk and the man left the office in a rage. Two months after Fenwick's client had been hanged, Fenwick found out the man wanted to see him about having the prosecuting witness in the murder case arrested for assault and battery growing out of an automobile accident. If Fenwick had talked with that man he'd have found out the prosecuting witness couldn't have been where he said he was at the time the murder was committed."

Jackson had heard the story before. He nodded with courteous attention. In a tone which showed very plainly he thought the troubles of Mr. Ashton had occupied far too much of the time allotted for the morning conference, he inquired, "Shall I tell Mr. Ashton we can't handle it?"

"Has he any money?" Mason inquired.

"I don't think so. Under the will he was left a perpetual job as caretaker. That job pays him fifty dollars a month, and his board and room."

"And he's an old man?" Mason inquired.

"Reasonably so. An old crank, if you ask me."

"But he loves animals," Mason remarked.

"He's very much attached to his cat, if that's what you mean.

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