Resignation a Perry Mason story
DISCLAIMER: Nope, I still don't own them and still make no profit. Just having a little fun, setting the record straight.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the third story in what I consider a little trilogy of "Early Days" with Perry and Della. The first is "An Early Late Night", the second is "First Dance". Though for me they make a little continuum of the developing relationship, each story stands on its own.
FEEDBACK: No story is complete without it. Here or via private email, either would be wonderful.
"Della?" Perry croaked out her name, an odd quality to his voice.
He had just seated himself at his desk to start the day. Though he hadn't been late, Della Street had clearly arrived a good bit earlier. On his desk were the customary three short piles: agenda for the day, less important business, priority business. She'd had time to percolate the coffee; she had set the usual tray of coffee, cups, and accouterments on the table. She had not stayed to enjoy a cup and review the day's schedule. Perry's voice had caught her with her hand on the door that led out to her office.
"Della." Perry's voice had regained some of its presence. "What…what is this?" He held up the item in question, the paper from the top of the priority pile. His face displayed genuine confusion.
She turned to look at him, considered the paper he held out, then replied. "That is notice of my resignation." Her gaze was steady, her voice calm, her gaze disclosed nothing.
Yes, he could see that damn, it, but why was it here? Why was it anywhere? His lightning mind raced over the events of recent weeks. It had been a rough case, there had been several nights of long hours, but no indication from her that it was a problem. Had he missed something? She had seemed just like always. Last night as well, she had been in her usual good humor, had exhibited the general light heartedness enjoying the positive outcome of a difficult case. They had shared a late dinner to celebrate. Nothing unusual. Perry's quick review left him with no hint of explanation.
"Is something wrong? You haven't said anything." Surely she couldn't be serious. How did they go from their celebratory dinner to notice of resignation in less than eight hours? What had he overlooked?
Della let go of the doorknob and walked to stand in front of Perry's desk. His eyes watched her every step. He looked up at her as she stopped near, but not touching, the desk.
"Perry, how long have I worked for you?" She stood calmly in front of him and asked.
"A bit over ten months," Perry responded with out hesitation. Ten months, 2 weeks, 4 days. He didn't reveal that he knew precisely how long it had been since she had first come into the office, but he recalled clearly the hour. So very much had changed since then; the pace of the work, the burden of organization, the ease with which things happened, the opportunity for adventure, the fact that he now had someone with whom to share that adventure. Even his private life, what little time he gave to it, had changed. Perry knew full well he had not had a date in over eight months and he had not missed it. He worked to keep his puzzled gaze even with her warm brown eyes, trying to pull some meaning out of them.
"And have you had several successful cases in that time?" The tone of her voice was even, rich and warm as always. It was the apparent use of the Socratic method that was unusual.
"Of course, you know how successful we've been." Was she unhappy with him for not acknowledging her part in their success? Had he neglected to tell her how important she was to the success of their office? He tried to remember.
"Did we celebrate the most recent success last night?" Della continued with her questions. Perry had no idea what it was she was getting at.
"Yes…" He would have said more, but she continued on without waiting for him to expand upon his answer.
"Did we share dinner and drinks, a few dances?" Her voice did not change, but she clearly did not expect him to do more than give brief answers.
"We did," Perry readily acknowledged. Too few dances, he thought.
"And, have we shared similar celebrations previously, after successful cases?" Her voice might have gotten a bit more insistent.
"Yes, several times." What in heaven's name was it that she wanted him to get? Was she upset about the dinners? Had he said or done something she might consider out of line?
Perry was slightly startled when Della leaned forward, placing her palms down on his desk and leaned on her arms, lowering her face so that her eyes were level with his. He noticed that the necklace she wore swung away from her throat to gently sway, nearly hypnotizing him. He was grateful her neckline was not given to falling away in similar fashion. He was desperately aware that he needed to remain focused on what she was saying and that was a distraction he most certainly did not need at this moment.
"After dinner, did you return me to my car in the parking garage here?" Was that a note of disdain in her voice? Was she upset that he had not seen her home? He had tried in times past, suggesting a cab in the morning, had offered to follow her home, but she had been insistent that it was not necessary. He should have pushed; he had never been comfortable letting her drive off so late at night.
"Well, yes, but…"
She kept on, cutting off the rest of his words. "When we said goodnight in the parking garage, did you want to kiss me?"
He knew he did not hide his surprise. He felt his eyes widen as he sat back just a little when he heard the question. Damn it! He thought he had done a credible job of holding himself in check, he had tried so hard, had mentally prepared himself even before they reached the garage, but clearly it had not been enough. He had overstepped their relationship and now she would leave. He considered lying, but her dark eyes held his and he knew he would not lie. He swallowed and forced his voice to obey.
Slowly, his answer came, "Yes," he nodded, not breaking their gaze. "Yes, I did."
"And the times before, did you want to kiss me then?"
Again he answered truthfully, "Yes."
"And you did want to kiss me last night?" She seemed to be seeking clarification. So, this was the crux of it. Perry now knew how it felt to be cross examined. Nodding again with his affirmative answer, he began to feel defeat.
Leaning toward him just a little more, a ploy of intimidation he knew well, she caused the pendant to sway again. She asked, "Yet, you didn't. Why?" Her eyes seemed to darken more as they bore into him with accusation.
At last, a question for which he is prepared. Sitting up a little straighter, he began to answer, to recite all of the conventional wisdom of office decorum. "Well, Della, you ARE my secretary and, as your employer, it would be unethical for me to presume such personal liberties. It would be wrong for me to put you in the position of having to determine just what you might need to do to be secure in your job." As he continued to recite the standard reasons against employer/employee relationships, he included in his own mind the additional fact that it was just too cliché.
Perry finished and was comfortable that he had acquitted himself admirably on the subject. Please, oh, please, let her understand. He knew what was right. Let her see that, though he may have 'wanted' to kiss her, he had not done so. He was sure he had done nothing that might be considered unreasonable.
"So, there is my two week notice." Della nodded her head toward the offending paper which lay between them on his desk. "You may make it shorter if you wish. Of course, I'll need a good reference." With that, Della Street turned and walked out to her office, closing the door quietly behind her.
Once he remembered to breath, Perry's initial thought was simply 'NO'. This could not be happening. He couldn't think straight. Della had given notice. He must have done something. Think! She was leaving him. Was this how men got in trouble? Did they just not see what it was they did that pressured women in their employ. What would he do if she left? How would he work? Oh, even Gertie could do filing, but it would be hard to find someone who would type and organize his work the way he liked, the way Della did, and no one would make his office, his daily life, flow as smoothly. No one else would know so well when to talk and when to stay quiet. No one else would grab her coat and fly off with him in search of clues, or offer observations that made it all click in his mind. No one else would make him so eager to get to work each day. No one else would be as easy to look at, easy to be with. No one else would make him shun dating for months on end. Not many women, secretaries, were looking for the kind of adventure on which his practice, on which he, thrived. Damn! Just when he had thought things were going so well. Okay, so he had a tough time getting to sleep some nights, after they had engaged in playful banter during the day or had a close call out rounding up evidence or, especially, after a late night dinner and a few dances. Still, it was a small price and one he had willingly paid.
Damn and damn again! It had all be going so well. Perry had been happy and, he had thought, Della had been as well. How could he have been so wrong? He made his living by reading people; he couldn't believe he had been so wrong about her. Okay, maybe he hadn't hidden his thoughts as well as he ought to, but she had never, not once, given any indication that she was uncomfortable with him. In fact, he had thought more than once that she might be entertaining thoughts very much like his own. He had led with his chin and now he had walked straight into it. As he did with all puzzles, Perry turned this one back around, then started over.
The case was successfully concluded. They had enjoyed a late dinner, some dancing. Well, he had enjoyed it. He had thought that Della had as well. They had driven back to the office garage where Della's car was parked. He had helped her from the car, walked with her to her car, waited while she worked the key in the door lock. So far, so good. He was forced to admit he had paid more attention to the straight seams of her stockings and her delightful shoes than he had the business with the lock or even the surroundings. Had Della noticed? Damn it, he just didn't know.
With the lock sprung, he had reached over and opened the door for her. It meant he had leaned in close, but not as close as they had been while on the dance floor. He was certain she had enjoyed the dancing. Perry knew he very much appreciated it. It was uncanny how well she could follow his lead, making the dance seem almost as if they had planned each step. An added benefit to being so close was that with each breath his senses were bathed in the scent of Della's delicate perfume. Under normal circumstances, distances, he rarely caught more than a hint of it. She never over did the application, but on the dance floor, holding Della in his arms, it seemed to envelope them, making the dancing seem all the more intimate.
Perry groaned and lowered his forehead into his hands. Intimate. Had he really thought that? He was suddenly assaulted with thoughts of when they first took to the dance floor. Della had given him her hand, she had moved into his embrace, but, as he now realized was true of each time they had danced, she had done so with uncharacteristic tentativeness. Was it possible she had only agreed to the dances believing it necessary to her employment? Perry still could not quite accept this as fact. He continued to worry at the problem, turning it in his mind to inspect if from every angle.
Della Street sat at her typewriter, studiously breathing, forcing a calm she did not feel. She had done it. Would he understand? Did he care the way she thought, hoped he did? Was it too late to take it back? What a fool she was! She was about to lose the best job in her field and along with it any chance of…
No, she would not think that. It was just her emotions running wild. She had thought it all out and made her plans at a time when she could look at them clearly. She reminded herself that Perry was a brilliant man with a mind capable of uncanny deductions. She had rarely seen him take any information just at face value and she would have to trust that he would examine this event with characteristic tenacity. If he didn't or if she had miscalculated…
"Oh…" Della allowed a small sound of dread to escape as doubt threatened to overwhelm her. Her fingers tightened on the edges of her typewriter and she squeezed shut her eyes in an effort to push the doubts away.
It had taken Perry a little time to examine the problem from every angle. When the key had turned, when his powerful mind had finally flashed on the truth, he had felt his face softening to a smile. Because it was critical that he not misjudge, he had forced himself to review the situation thoroughly once more before launching into action.
Struggling again for calm, Della forced herself to move. Clearly, she could not sit and concentrate on this contract. The few files on her desk were quickly dispatched to their drawers. The stray law books were returned to their appointed spots on the library shelves. She had washed her hands, sharpened her pencils, glanced over the schedule for the office staff. Minutes seemed to expand like balloons until she felt herself at the bursting point. She literally jumped when Gertie buzzed from the outer office to tell her the next client had arrived.
Della thanked Gertie. Deciding to let Perry know they were ahead of schedule, she took a deep breath, moved around the end of her desk, opened the door and stepped into Perry's office.
Della was concentrating on her breathing and had the door closed behind her before she looked up. There, only steps away, stood Perry. He turned at her sound; the paper he held in his left hand appeared to be the notice of resignation.
"Oh!" a small exclamation of surprise escaped her lips before she reminded herself to be calm, efficient, professional. "I know it's a little early, but Mr. Watson…"
"Can wait." Perry broke in as his long legs carried him closer to where she stood against the door. "This can't." She knew that he motioned with the paper between them, but the intensity of his gaze held her eyes locked to his. Even just beyond arms' reach, Della could feel the energy pulsating between them. She moistened her lips and let them part as if to speak, but she only had time to gasp a breath.
Perry easily crossed the distance between them. He stood mere inches away and Della caught the scent of his aftershave as he effectively pinned her with her back to the closed door. She felt her pulse quicken as she lost herself in the depths of his expressive blue eyes and apprehension mixed with elation as her thoughts collided: the resignation, her hopes, careful plans, her desires.
He brushed his fingers lightly across her cheek as he leaned in. Della's eyes closed as she willed her legs to hold her upright. Delicately, with exquisite softness, his lips pressed to hers, touching twice before he allowed the space between them to increase.
Opening her eyes, Della found herself once more captured in his gaze. She made little attempt to disguise her own thoughts and knew he could read them in her eyes. Hope, uncertainty, relief, desire, all finally settled behind amused seduction. A small, tempting smile played on her freshly kissed mouth.
"Does this mean you would like to shorten the period of notice of my resignation?" she asked, her voice a mirror of her smile.
Della saw Perry pause, but before doubt could tap at her thoughts, she saw his eyes darken and felt herself being drawn in. There was no feathery caress this time. His palm held her jaw, strong fingers circled over and behind her ear, and she felt the pad of his thumb slide over her cheek. Offering no resistance, she followed his lead. Perry held her face at the perfect angle. As his lips met hers once more, Della felt his left hand slip around her waist and with the inviting pressure on her lower back she allowed him to pull her in until she molded against his powerful presence. Perry deepened the exploration of the kiss, his lips seeking and finding eager response from Della's warm, supple mouth. Her hands slid up to his shoulders, one venturing behind his neck and into his dark hair to hold him to her. The power of their controlled passion was intoxicating and when they separated, it was only by inches.
"That depends." Perry answered her earlier question, his breath a little short, the twinkle in his eye unmistakable.
Della held her place; she waited, the question in her eyes.
"How was the kiss?" Perry asked, his voice was full and warm and held more suggestion than question.
Della smiled demurely, the twinkle in her eye matching his. "The first kiss was very nice."
"And the second?"
Della gave a deep chuckle, her voice huskier than usual. "The second was, um, a bit distracting." Her lovely lips played with a smile.
"Yes, a bit." Perry let his hand nearly take possession of her once more, but only allowed his fingertips to caress down her jaw line, stopping beneath her chin, his thumb kissing the edge of her lower lip. "Well, so long as we know the limits." Perry's smile beamed down at her as he used one hand to straighten the hair at the back of his head. "Can't be getting distracted during working hours."
"Of course not." Della returned his smile.
"I suppose it's time to bring Mr. Watson in. No sense making him wait until the exact moment of his scheduled appointment."
"I'll bring him in," Della agreed, but instead of opening the door, she reached out and lifted the handkerchief from Perry's jacket pocket. Perry stood very still, working to hold reign on himself. He watched her every move as she delicately wiped the evidence of lipstick from his face, refolded the handkerchief, then returned it to its place. With a last little pat, assuring all was properly folded and tucked, Della reached for the doorknob.
"I think you can dispose of this," Perry's voice caught her and she took the paper catalyst from him. "And don't add any late appoints today." A warmth of understanding passed between them before Della exited on her way to collect Mr. Watson.
Stopping at her desk, Della lifted a mirrored compact from the top drawer and confirmed that she was presentable. Replacing the compact in the drawer, she slipped the notice of resignation beneath it and the other loose items. Perhaps she wouldn't dispose of it just yet. She had experience enough to know you couldn't always predict when a piece of evidence might be needed.
Quietly closing the desk drawer and smoothing her skirt, Della glided to the outer office to greet Mr. Watson.
Perry stood watching the closed door; a smile threatened to crack his face. With determination, he pulled himself back, turned and claimed his place behind his desk. He was inordinately pleased with himself over the successful conclusion of "The Case of the First Kiss" and his smile was only partly tamed by the time Della, with her usual grace and efficiency, entered and introduced their new client.