The only monetary connection between me and the Perry Mason franchise is when I buy the books as I find them.
TCOT Impulsive Endearment
By E. Wallace
Perusing a menu already committed to memory was busy work to pass the time. She never imagined she would dine in the same restaurant so many times in so few months, or that she would ever be comfortable waiting alone.
Della Street had experienced a great many unanticipated things in the last six months.
Had a casual boyfriend inform her he was getting married then suggest she become his mistress; broke it off with the boyfriend; broke the ex-boyfriend's nose.
Interviewed for a new job, was offered the new job, accepted the new job and found a permanent replacement for the receptionist who had walked out without notice - all in one hour.
Quit working for a lecherous estate planner at a mid-sized law firm; began working for a gentleman who ran his own private practice specializing in criminal law.
Found that being asked for her opinions and observations was a heady experience; being listened to was even more so.
Confirmed her theory that criminal law was more interesting than estate planning.
Decided it was possible for a district attorney and a homicide detective to admire her boss's audacity as much as they disapproved of his courtroom tactics.
Learned that many people falsely accused of murder had a tendency towards big hearts, little common sense and - more often than not - lied to their lawyer.
Discovered that people didn't get accused of murder only during normal business hours.
Trained herself to be instantly awake when the phone rang at 2:00 am... or 3:00 am... or 4:00 am... and to keep extra shoes, stockings and earrings at the office.
Doubled her emergency cab fare reserve. Then doubled it again.
It had been the most exciting six months of her life. The future showed no signs of things slowing down either.
A shadow falling across the table brought her out of her musings, and she looked up expecting to see the waiter with her drink. That was another new experience... being a regular meant the staff knew her drink preferences. As she was being shown to the table, she had smiled and nodded at Michael, the waiter with the impish green eyes. He knew that meant a Manhattan; a smile and a shake of her head was a request for coffee only.
"Hello, Della; haven't seen you in a while."
Not Michael but Stephen Raines - ex-boyfriend with a fiancée and a well healed broken nose.
She hadn't seen him since that night. Hadn't thought about him much either, there hadn't been time. Aside from surprise at the unexpected encounter, she realized she felt...
He had been affable enough when they were dating but she hadn't loved him. Her anger over his suggested arrangement had been more about being insulted than having her heart broken and had burned off quickly. The best she could come up with now was a modicum of residual compassion for the woman who had been fool - or fooled - enough to agree to marry him.
The greeting, though perfunctory, was more polite than he had anticipated. He turned to the hovering hostess waiting to show him to his table. "I'll join the lady for a few minutes."
"No, he won't," Della contradicted, a crisp edge to her voice. Now she was feeling something, a burgeoning irritation at his intrusion. "I'm waiting for someone, Stephen."
"Mr. Drake phoned a moment ago, Miss Street. He's been delayed, but he'll be here in about ten minutes." The hostess saw Stephen's quizzical look. "It was personal so I was going to deliver the message on my way back."
"Thank you, Diane."
"Who's this Drake fellow?" Stephen asked.
Della was spared from answering by the arrival of the waiter with her drink, not that she would say a word to Stephen about Paul or anything else.
She could pinpoint to the minute when Perry had instructed Paul to look into the accident. Not immediately after hiring her because he had complete trust in his own ability to read people, but the following Saturday, after seeing the bruises on her arm, he would have insisted on knowing more. Della had always wondered whether Paul had talked to Stephen as part of his investigation, but Stephen's query about 'this Drake fellow' answered that. If he had, Stephen definitely would not need to ask who he was. The detective would have made an impression.
"Sorry about the delay, Miss Street. George beat me to the bar and he has a table of six," the young waiter said with a grin. He liked Miss Street. Whether her silent request was for coffee or a cocktail, it was always given with a smile.
"I didn't notice," she assured him. She took a sip. "Perfect as always; thank you, Michael."
"Sam, will be glad to hear it. He always appreciates a good review," Michael said, pleased for his friend the bartender and aspiring actor. "I'll be back in a couple of minutes for your order."
"Calling everyone by name, getting such personal service; one would think you're quite the regular here but I've seen that Della Street charm work on total strangers."
"It's convenient to the office," she replied with non-committal shrug. "Look, Stephen -"
"Della, please, this won't take long." Gone was the bluster of a moment ago along with the touch of arrogance that seemed to be issued to anyone who passed the bar exam.
It took only five seconds for her to make up her mind and nod her head in acquiescence.
Stephen slid into the booth opposite her and immediately looked as though he wished he had a drink to occupy his hands. "I heard you were working for Perry Mason now. He's in the Brent Building, right?"
"You're not here for small talk, Stephen; get to the point," Della said curtly. She was willing to revise her opinion of him but he was going to have to work for it.
He leaned forward with earnest sincerity. "I've already said part of it. You are a charming woman, Della, and you deserve much to be treated with far more respect than I did that night. I never thought I would ever thank someone for breaking my nose but eventually it helped me realize what a boor I had been."
"I always thought you were a good man, Stephen... up until that night."
He acknowledged the conditionality of the compliment. "I thought I was a good man, too. My own behavior seems so alien to me now that I can't even offer an excuse for it much less an explanation. The best I can do is offer an apology. I am sorry, Della."
"Are you apologizing for the proposition or the accident?"
"Yes." Stephen responded in kind when Della smiled in spite of herself. "I'm apologizing for my horrendous lapse in judgment at every point, beginning with inviting you to dinner. That night you asked me how I planned to conceal a mistress. I thought about that a lot over the next week. Everyone believed the story I told about the car accident - minus your presence, of course - but it felt wrong. I finally told Alicia the whole truth and said I would accept whatever decision she made about continuing our engagement. She took two weeks to think about it. At last, she said the wedding was on but a mistress was out of the question. I told her I had managed to come to that conclusion on my own." He gingerly touched the bridge of his nose. "Well, not entirely on my own."
"What did Alicia have to say about her father's behavior being the rationale as to why you thought you could and should have a mistress?"
"Less than a year with Perry Mason? You are a fast learner. Okay, maybe I didn't tell her one or two of the finer details. The fact is I have no direct knowledge of any extra marital activities on Alton's part, only office gossip. I decided to mind my own business. Once Alicia agreed to go ahead with the engagement, we spent a lot of time discussing what we wanted for our wedding and our life together."
There was a new maturity about Stephen that gave him a relaxed confidence, a welcome change from the smug conceit he had displayed during their last encounter.
Della raised her glass. "I wish you both the very best," she said sincerely. "When is the big day?"
"A month from Saturday. Being only the groom, I'm not as involved in the preparations, but even Alicia is saying she almost wishes we had eloped, not that her mother would have allowed it. We -" he broke off with a rueful sigh. "I stopped by to apologize and ended up blathering on about myself. What about you, Della? Is it working for Mr. Mason putting the sparkle in your eye that I saw from across the room?"
"I don't know what you mean," Della demurred. Although she was pleased to confirm Stephen's outrageous behavior had been an aberration to the decent man she knew him to be, she wasn't about to reciprocate with details about her own personal life.
"You've always been lovely, and yet there's a vibrancy about you now that wasn't there before. With most women that would mean a man, but you aren't most women. A new job... no, the right job... would fan your enthusiasm just as much."
"I never said -"
"You didn't have to. Dolt that I was at the time, even I could tell you weren't content at Murphy & Young. I'm not asking for details because you wouldn't give them, but you do prefer working for Mason, don't you?"
It wasn't the single word answer that proved his point, rather the smile that lit her face.
"Then again it could be - what's his name, Drake? Whether it's romance or work that's doing it, it's good to see you happy now." He checked his watch. "Alicia and her parents will be here in a few minutes. I'll tell her about our conversation, but I'd rather not have Alton or Charisse asking questions. Thank you for listening, Della." Stephen slid from the booth and stood. "Whoever this Drake is, I hope he knows how lucky he is and that he treats you the way you deserve."
Paul Drake took a final drag on his cigarette then flicked it away before pulling open the door of the restaurant. Perry was out of town so Paul had taken it upon himself to keep an eye on Della. She didn't need looking after, but he felt a brotherly inclination to do it anyway.
Della had fit into the way Perry worked with an ease that surprised them all. She caught on fast and proved she knew how to think for herself. While long hours had been worked without complaint, she learned to nap on Perry's couch when the nights drifted into early morning. Countless times she had followed him or Perry into a dark building or alley merely because they told her to. There had been rough patches, but when Perry barked, she didn't cower - and once or twice recently had even barked back when she felt his irritation was misdirected. She handled teasing, too, giving as good as she got.
Paul didn't know how he had missed her when she worked at Murphy and Young, but once Perry hired her, she became off-limits. His personal policy had always been never to date any girl in his professional sphere, whether they worked for him or for his best friend's law firm. Perry had followed the same rule in the past, but in less than six months, Paul had observed him looking at Della in ways he had never looked at Carol Fremont in four years.
He wasn't sure if the attorney would ever relax his 'not with the staff' rule, but Della was a girl who could be worth it.
Habit made him pause in the doorway to scan the room, but he didn't have to look hard to find his dinner companion, certain Diane had given her their regular table. Seeing someone standing at the table, his curiosity turned to displeasure as he recognized the man talking to Della. Stephen Raines wasn't likely to create a scene in a restaurant, and Della had proven she could handle this loser on her own.
'Still,' Paul thought, 'it won't hurt to let Raines know Della doesn't have to handle him all on her own now.'
A familiar movement caught Della's attention, and as she looked past Stephen, her eyes lit with amusement when she saw Paul striding toward the table.
Although primarily a suit and tie man, Paul did on occasion wear one of his collection of sport coats. Della found them not quite garish, but less than subtle, and she had wondered how a private detective could be inconspicuous in those coats until she realized nobody would believe that a private detective would wear them.
Then there were times like this. Gray slacks, white shirt, navy jacket and matching tie were the perfect compliment for his towering height, broad shoulders and combed back white hair that made him dashing, not old.
He was also wearing his trademark boyish grin - a sure sign he was up to something.
"You're about to find out how he treats me," Della murmured, "and you should just go along with the way he treats you. He means well."
Ignoring Stephen, Paul kept his gaze locked with Della's. "Hi, Beautiful," he said, bracing his hand on the table and leaning down to kiss her cheek.
"Hi yourself, Handsome," she replied, already well-schooled in picking up an unscripted cue. Paul playing the lover was a deliberate ploy, calculated to get under Stephen's skin.
Della hid a smile. She had readily accepted Stephen's apology but it was always fun to see her favorite private detective in action.
"Paul Drake, this is -"
"Stephen Raines, of course," Paul finished. He didn't offer his hand, stood half a step too close for comfort, used his broad shoulders and extra four inches in height to intimidate. "Diane, I believe Mr. Raines is ready for his table now."
"Yes, Mr. Drake," the hostess agreed with a perplexed smile. While tending to her duties, Diane had kept an eye on the unusual situation at table nine. The stranger... Miss Street frowning then smiling... Mr. Drake kissing Miss Street.
That kiss was the really puzzling part. It didn't fit with what she had seen developing over the last couple of months. Part of her job was interpreting situations and Diane would have put her money on the lady and her lawyer boss even though they hadn't acknowledged the connection yet. She had no idea where this Mr. Raines fit in, but Diane knew Mr. Drake wanted the man gone and she wasn't about to argue.
Stephen, unperturbed by the dismissal and the other man, said, "It was good to see you, Della. I'm glad things are going well for you."
"This way, Mr. Raines." Stephen responded with a genial smile and followed Diane's lead.
Paul watched them go, making note of the destination... in his line of sight but behind Della.
"The kiss was an interesting touch," Della commented offhandedly as Paul took the seat opposite her.
His blue eyes flashed with a mischievous glint. "You know what they say about actions and words. He seems like a guy who might see better than he hears. So, how's Perry's trip going?"
"I talked to him just before I left the office," she replied, following his blatant redirection of the conversation. "He wrapped things up early in San Francisco, so he got to Sacramento late this afternoon. Provided everything goes as well tomorrow, he should be back the day after."
Michael appeared with Paul's customary beer and pulled out his pad. Drink orders might border on the ritualistic, but food was always a toss-up. "What can I get you folks tonight?"
Della excused herself to the ladies' room after dinner, and Paul sat back, slipping into the private detective's practice of people watching. It was a quiet crowd with business going on as usual; Diane seated new guests, Michael, George and their fellow waiters delivered meals and drinks, bus boys cleared tables.
Alicia Mead and her parents had arrived some time ago to join Raines. There had been a flash of recognition in Della's eyes as Diane escorted them to the table, but nothing more. Paul was glad to know she felt no residual connection to the louse.
He spotted Stephen threading his way through the tables toward the door and turned to see where he was going. When he stopped at the cigarette machine, Paul decided he could use a walk, too. Tossing some bills on the table, he followed his quarry, his long stride swiftly closing the gap.
Stephen retrieved his cigarettes from the machine, straightened and turned to find Paul standing in the doorway.
"I can't think of any reason you would need to speak to Della in the future, can you, Raines?"
"I'm sure Della told you the whole story about the accident but -"
Paul cut him off with a smirk. "She's never said a word. I'm a private detective; I can learn plenty on my own." He took a cigarette from his own pack, lit it and took a deep drag. "I don't care what you do to yourself, but the fact that you pulled such a bone-head stunt as deliberately driving your car into a telephone pole with an innocent passenger along for the ride..."
Stephen was beginning to understand Della's directive to just take the treatment Drake was dishing out but he was a lawyer and trained to press his case. "Look, Drake, there are a few things you don't know. Della -"
"Raines, I'll tell you once," Paul's face hardened as he took that encroaching half step closer once more, backing the other man up against the cigarette machine without touching him, "you want to be very careful what you say about Della Street, to me or to anyone else. It would also be in your best interest to avoid casual encounters in the future."
"Don't you think that should be her decision?" Stephen countered.
"I think she made her position clear enough when she punched you in the nose." It was a genuine pleasure when Raines' hand moved involuntarily towards his face before he stopped it. "I'm telling you if you see her in the future, avoid her. If you can't avoid her, be polite but keep moving."
Stephen's gaze was even and unwavering, neither defiant nor acquiescent.
Paul, satisfied his message had been received, finally stepped aside and allowed Raines to head back toward his table. His self-satisfied smirk faltered when he saw Della standing at the hostess station with Diane and realized she had heard most, if not all, of the conversation.
Returning from the ladies' room in time to see Paul follow Stephen, Della had known this was a scene she did not want to miss. It was everything she could have hoped for and she just managed not to react to Stephen's wink that let her know he was okay with Drake's 'treatment'.
She almost laughed out loud at Paul's little boy, toe-in-the-dirt embarrassment at being caught doing his protective routine. She would decide later when to tell Paul that Stephen had apologized.
"Della, I -"
"I had a surrogate big brother back home." She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. "It's nice to have one here, too."
The grin was back as his large hand covered her smaller one. "Let's go, Beautiful," he said, winning an answering smile at her new nickname, "I'll drive you home."
Author's note - or why I did what I did:
Reviewers for 'TCOT Savvy Secretary' wanted the story to continue and had lots of suggestions as to how they wanted it to continue.
I didn't use most of them.
Since I had dared to do yet another how-Della-got-hired story (after many writers on this site had already done the scenario so well), I couldn't bring myself to do yet another Della's-first-day/week story (see reason above). Instead, I chose a short fast forward, glossing over how easily the trio came together as team in order to get to where Paul's flirty teasing started.
Many readers wanted Stephen to make a return appearance and get pounded by Perry which was a totally understandable opinion. Except that Della had already pounded him. I didn't want to negate the fact that she had proven herself no damsel in distress in search of a knight to rescue her.
I chose to redeem Stephen not for his sake but to reinforce Della's canon established instinct for evaluating people. There is no way she could have dated a complete jerk for six days much less six months. Stephen would, however, be excellent experience in dealing with an overall good guy who can occasionally be a jerk - AKA Perry Mason. Choose your own book, episode or movie to back that one up.
All that being said, keep those thoughts and suggestions coming. I might not take them in the directions requested but they often take me in directions I never expected.