Lt. Tragg entered the lobby of Perry's apartment building, Sgt. Brice right behind. Seeing Perry and Paul at the managers desk he hurried over.
"Is Della alright? I warned you Mason!" His voice a growl, eyes flashing.
Perry frowned at the older man. "Hello to you too, Lieutenant."
Tragg grabbed Perry's arm. "I asked you, is Della okay?"
Perry only nodded. "Yes, Arthur. She's fine and she doesn't know about this. And I don't intend to tell her. She has enough on her mind."
Tragg shoved his hat back on his head, clearly relieved. "So are you going to keep her here? Wouldn't it be safer to move her?"
Perry put his hand on the man's shoulder. "Let's go sit down."
They walked over to a bench by the elevator.
"Arthur, listen to me. I know you're not happy about her being here with me. I understand. But I promise you, moving her right now would only make matters worse on Della. And I know you don't want that."
The older man, seeing the concern on Perry's face, understood. "You're right. You know Della is my main concern right now. What can I do to help?"
Perry looked at the lieutenant, realizing just how much he thought of Della. She had that effect on many people. Perry thought what a truly special woman he had in his life.
Perry smiled. "Can you get me two or three plain clothes guys that you have complete trust in and put them here. I'd like them in the hallway of my apartment."
"Of course. I'll make the call now." Tragg again put his hand on Perry's arm. "But that doesn't seem like enough. This is a professional hit man."
"We are taking other precautions as well. Do you have your notebook?"
Tragg reached in his pocket producing a small notebook and pen.
Perry made a rough drawing. "There are only 10 apartments in this building, including mine. Because the apartments are large, there are two on each floor, one on each side of the building, with hallways in the middle. There is only one elevator for all five floors, and it opens at the end of the hallway. There is a manager and security guard on duty at all times."
Tragg smiled. "No wonder you brought her here."
Perry ignored the gentle jibe. "The manager and I have talked to all the residents and informed them of new security protocols. Within a couple hours they will all be issued identification badges that have to be presented and they will be required to sign in and out of the building."
Tragg smiled. "And just how did you get them to agree to that?"
Perry laughed. "We told them there had been a series of break-ins around the neighborhood. Plus almost all of them know me and I guess they took my assurance that it was a good idea."
Now Tragg laughed. "Sometimes Mason, you amaze even me."
Perry turned serious. "Arthur, I give you my word, I will protect Della with my life. I will not let anything happen to her."
"Mason?" At Tragg's confused look Perry bent his head, then raised it to look at the man he truly respected.
"Arthur, I love her."
Tragg stared at him for a moment, then let out a laugh. "Well, I'll be damned."
Della paced to the balcony windows to look out, then to the door and back to the balcony.
Connie occasionally glanced up from her notes to watch her. She knew Della was worried about Perry. Connie had to admit, she was too. But she also needed to get Della focused on her defense.
"Della, could you come sit down please."
Della just walked back and forth again. "Connie, it's been two hours. Something's happened to him. What if Snyder found him. What if…"
Finally Connie stood and took Della's hand and led her back to the couch.
"Now you listen to me. I've known Perry Mason for longer than I want to think about. He and my husband Joe worked together when they were both starting out. He's smart, resourceful and almost fearless. As a matter of fact, I'd pity Snyder if he came up against Perry. Add to that, he has Paul Drake with him. Now you need to settle down and…"
At that moment the door opened and Perry came in. Della launched herself from the couch and into Perry's arms, knocking him back into Paul who almost dropped the bags he was carrying.
Perry wrapped his arms around her, seeing the tears in her eyes.
He tried to make light of her obvious fear. "Well now that's the kind of welcome I could get used to."
Della used her fist to hit his shoulder. "Don't you dare make fun of me."
He kissed her gently. "I'm sorry Della."
Paul cleared his throat loudly. "I hate to break up this tender scene, but the food's getting cold and my arms are getting tired."
Perry laughed and still holding Della, moved out of Paul's way. Paul walked into the kitchen, depositing the food. "Connie, come in and grab a sandwich."
Connie stood and joined Paul in the kitchen, knowing that it was his way of giving Perry and Della some time alone.
Perry led Della to the couch, holding her hands. "Perry what's going on? You were gone for two hours. I was afraid Snyder had…"
"Della take it easy. Everything is okay. I just decided to add some extra security to the building and it took a little longer than I expected. We also had to coordinate with Tragg and you know how prickly he can be."
Della nodded. "Okay. But you're not telling me everything."
Perry leaned forward and gave her a gentle kiss. "Only that Tragg doesn't trust me to be alone with you. I think the old curmudgeon loves you."
Della looked down at their joined hands. She had no doubt that Perry had done everything in his power to protect her. But she also knew that eventually this man was going to find her. And when he did, Perry would put himself in her place because he loved her.
Perry watched her face, trying to read her thoughts. "Della?"
She smiled at him. "Thank you for telling me. Now, I'm hungry."
Perry laughed and kissed her again. "Of course you are."
Perry started to rise, but Della put her arms around his neck, kissing him deeply. When she broke the kiss, she looked into his eyes. "I love you, Perry."
Then she stood and hurried to the kitchen. Perry sat for a moment, wondering what was on her mind. Finally, deciding he might never understand her, he joined her in the kitchen.
It was midnight when Della crept from the bedroom to the living room, being careful as she tiptoed through the quiet apartment.
Connie had asked Paul to escort her home after telling Della she would see her in the morning before court. Perry had kissed her goodnight, telling her to get some sleep.
Della headed toward the kitchen, hoping she didn't bump into anything on the way. Once there, she felt along the counter until her hands found the phone. Still by touch, she dialed a number she knew by heart.
The gruff voice answered sleepily. "Hello?"
"Arthur, it's Della." Tragg was immediately awake and sitting up, searching the floor for his slippers.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?"
Della was whispering as loud as she dared. "Arthur, I need you. Can you meet me downstairs?"
Tragg was already moving. "I'll be there in 15 minutes. Don't come down before then."
Della gave a grateful sigh. "Thank you. I'll see you then."
As Della hung up and crept back to the bedroom, she hoped she was doing the right thing. To protect the man she loved.