Della Street looked up at the tall granite building, then glanced back down at the newspaper ad clutched in her hand.
"Hard work, long hours, good pay. Contact Perry Mason, Attorney at Law"
This was the place.
She took a deep breath and headed up the steps and into the building. After a brief elevator ride, she found herself standing in front of an opaque waterglass door. Gold stenciled letter confirmed that this was the office. She quickly checked her appearance in her compact, then knocked smartly on the door. After a minute with no response, she knocked again.
Across the hall, a door opened and a young woman poked her head out and asked, "Are you looking for Mr. Mason?"
Della nodded and smiled. "Yes. I'm here about the job."
The neatly dressed blond smiled and nodded back. "He said that the temp agency was going to be sending someone over." She continued before Della could correct her. "He left a key and said to tell you to go ahead and make yourself comfortable and that he should be back shortly."
She handed over the key and started back into her own office, then turned back. "Oh, and he also said to please excuse the mess, he still hasn't completely unpacked." She grinned and added, "After all, he's only been there for six months. By the way, I'm Ellen. Just holler if you need anything," she tossed over her shoulder as she disappeared back into her office.
Della looked at the key in her hand, debating. She HAD been told to make herself comfortable.
She turned the key in the lock and entered the small waiting area. Boxes and papers were stacked precariously on every surface. She looked around for a place to sit, finally pulling out the chair from behind the desk. She lifted the one small box out of the chair and set it on the floor, then sat. A large pile of mail claimed the center of the desk surface. After a moments hesitation, she removed her gloves and began to sort the envelopes into piles: advertisements into the garbage, letters marked 'Personal and Confidential' into another, and the remainder into the largest pile. Searching for a letter opener, she opened the desk drawer to find it empty...as were all the other drawers. She glanced into the box she had set on the floor, finding it full of office supplies. Quickly and efficiently, she stocked the desk with necessary supplies, then looked around the cluttered area.
'In for a penny, in for a pound,' she decided, heading for the next box.
In short order, she had the reception area actually looking like a reception area and not like a storage room. With the emptied boxes and trash stacked over in one corner, the area was neat and organized, if not exactly welcoming. She would deal with the décor later.
That accomplished, she moved cautiously through the door into the inner office. As in the outer area, this room was also full of boxes. Many were opened, and the books stacked around them evidenced a search. She looked at the empty shelves against the walls and shook her head, wondering at how someone functioned in such a disorganized space. Mentally girding her loins, the began unpacking the boxes, carefully arranging the tomes. She found some strips of paper to mark the place in the books that were opened, then carefully stacked them on the large table against another wall.
After loading the secretarial desk with supplies, she emptied the ash trays, collected the abandoned coffee cups and near empty percolator and went into the washroom to clean them. As she replaced them on a small corner table, she heard the outer door open. The sound of two masculine voices came closer to the office door. Suddenly, they stopped.
"Perry, I think we're in the wrong office."
Hurriedly, she dusted her hands off and turned as the door opened and two men stared in curiously. While they looked around, she took a moment to study them. Both were tall, sturdy looking men, confident and comfortable in their skin. The similarities ended there. One was fair, his eyes dancing quickly around the room before coming to rest on her. An easy smile lit up his face.
"Well, well. Who do we have here?" he asked, curiosity clear on his open features.
The other man was more intense, somehow. His hair was dark, and his look around the room was longer and more studied. Finally, his gaze also came to rest on her. He didn't speak, but his raised eyebrow echoed his companion's question.
Somehow, she knew that this was Perry Mason.
She lifted her chin and matched his gaze.
"I'm Della Street. I'm Mr. Mason's new secretary."
The blond man turned to Mason, puzzled. "Perry?"
Della kept her eyes locked on his. They darkened for a moment, looked around the neatened office, then she saw a light. He had made his decision.
He smiled and nodded. "You heard the lady, Paul. This is my new secretary."
The man addressed as Paul recovered quickly, crossing the room with a smile and an outstretched hand.
"Paul Drake, Drake Detective Agency, at your service, miss." He took her hand and bowed slightly.
Della looked over at Mason. "I assume he's in the Rolodex under 'C' for 'charming'?"
"Cross referenced under 'S' for 'Smooth'," Mason added.
"That's me," Drake agreed. "I imagine we'll be seeing quite a bit of one another."
"If you'll excuse us, Paul," Perry interrupted, "I need to fill my new secretary in on a few things and you need to get started digging if you're going to have that information for me by tomorrow."
"I told you that I could have it by the end of the week," Paul corrected.
"Yes, you did...but I have no doubt that you can get it to me sooner if you put your mind to it."
Paul fixed him with a twinkle-eyed glare. "Careful, now. You don't want to scare Miss Street off with your demanding ways so early."
"On the contrary, Paul, I want her to know exactly what she's getting herself into."
As the two men watched, Della seated herself at the secretarial desk and pulled out a steno pad and a pencil. She looked up expectantly. "I believe you said that you needed to fill me in on a few things, Mr. Mason."
"And that is my cue to exit," Paul commented, following word with a wave and departure.
Mason crossed to his own desk and sat, frowning a moment as he gathered his thoughts.
"We met with a new client today." Leaning back in his chair, he started giving her the details of the meeting and the new case.
Her pencil scratched along the paper, keeping pace with his rumbling voice.
During a pause, she wondered to herself if the smooth, confident voice was a result of nature or if he had trained. Regardless, she thought it a perfect voice for a man of his profession.
Soon, he rose from behind the desk and began pacing the room, his dictation continuing in bursts, followed by periods of silence as his mind worked. During one such silence, she ventured a comment.
"But the alibi from his brother won't help much since he's also giving himself and alibi, will it?"
When Perry turned to look at her, she could have slapped herself. She had worked for enough lawyers to know better than to offer her own opinions. Most of the time, they weren't appreciated. She had heard that Mason could be difficult to work for and wondered if she would be the latest in a long line of secretaries who hadn't lasted out a week with him.
He nodded. "Good thought, Miss Street. We definitely need to look further at the brother as well."
They quickly settled into a comfortable, professional rhythm.
After setting up a file for their new case and updating Della on the other cases he was handling, the duo made quick work of the pile of mail she had sorted earlier. As he looked around the newly neat office, his eyes noticed the large wall clock.
"When did it get so late?" he commented.
She looked at her watch and shrugged.
"Well, at least I know you were telling the truth about the long hours and hard work," she told him with a smile.
"Is that a problem?" he asked.
She hastened to reassure him. "Oh, no. Not at all. That's why your ad caught my attention. I love challenging work and don't mind at all staying late or coming in early."
"No husband and children to get home to?"
"No husband, no children, no boyfriend, dog, cat, or goldfish," she told him.
"What about plants?" he asked. "I've heard plants can be pretty demanding."
"Plastic," she reassured his with a smile.
At her questioning glance, he added, "for me. Oh, and I was telling the truth about the pay as well."
He wrote a figure on a piece of paper and passed it to her.
She looked at it, biting her lip. "Per month?"
"Per week," he corrected.
Her eyes grew wide as she looked at the number again, then at him.
"Per week?" she squeaked.
"Is that acceptable?"
She cleared her throat, then nodded. "Yes, Mr. Mason, that would be quite...acceptable. However..."
He watched her, waiting for her to finish her thought.
"Don't you want to check my references or something?"
"Not really," he shook his head. "You'll find I much prefer to form my own opinions than to listen to those of others"
"All right. But there are probably a few things we should discuss..."
At that moment, her stomach growled loudly. She was mortified, but Perry simply laughed.
"Apparently, they should be discussed over dinner."
"That's not necessary, Mr. Mason," she stammered.
He rose decisively. "It is necessary, Miss Street. We both need to eat and apparently we need to discuss some things. Why not do both? I believe that would qualify as a business dinner."
He took the pencil from her hand and placed it on the table, placing a hand on her chair and gently pulling it back.
She nodded and rose. "Over dinner, then."
Crossing the room, he reached to open the door, then paused, looking at her face. For the first time in their brief acquaintance, he looked hesitant.
"Before we go, you might want to...umm..."
He pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and reached towards her face. He stopped a few inches short, clearing his throat.
"You have a...smudge...on..."
He drew the cloth back and mimed swiping his own cheek.
Realization dawned and she felt herself blushing. She quickly turned to duck into the small washroom.
A flick of the light switch confirmed her fears. A dark smudge of dust crossed her cheek, another on her forehead from pushing her hair back.
'Great first impression,' she thought.
After a fast cleanup, she went back to the office with her head held high. Mason smiled warmly and opened the door. She murmured a quiet 'thank you' as she picked up her purse and jacket.
The elevator ride was quiet, but not uncomfortable. Likewise, the ride to the restaurant. She noted how the staff greeted him warmly and his courtesy to everyone from the maitre d' to the coat check girl.
After they were seated and their orders taken, Mason focused his attention on her.
"Now, Miss Street, what did you want to discuss?"
She nodded. "I thought we should probably talk about experience, expectations..."
"Good idea," he interjected.
He settled back in his chair. "I was offered a position in a prestigious law firm right after college. One of my professors had been a partner in the firm and he highly recommended me to the senior partner. They specialized in corporate law and introduced me to many of the 'right' people in town. I learned a great deal there, primarily that I did not wish to make my entire career in corporate law. The firm offered me a junior partnership at the same meeting where I tendered my resignation. Another of the firm's associates wanted me to come to Denver with her to join a firm there, but besides the fact that it would be more of the same, there were too many strings attached."
"I decided to strike out on my own. My plan was practice just enough general law...corporate stuff, wills, taxes...to support myself so that I could focus on defense work. I had done just enough of that to discover that it really interested me and that I was pretty good at it as well. Fortunately for me, the senior partner of my former firm found himself facing some serious criminal charges soon after I left and he hired me to defend him. When he was cleared, he proved himself to be quite generous. In addition to paying me very handsomely, he referred a number of other clients to me as well. He also introduced me to an extremely talented investment banker who helped me decide where to put those generous payments to work. As a result, I don't have to turn down clients simply because they can't afford to pay. I also don't have to take on clients that I don't want to represent, simply because I need the money."
He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "I work long and hard, Miss Street, and my expectation is that those who work with me do the same. Sometimes, I meet clients in the middle of the night in back alleys down by the docks. I need someone that I can depend on to come with me to take statements, whether it's at the jail, at the office, or in the middle of nowhere. I'm willing to pay a good salary to the right person because I feel that the right secretary is the most important asset a good attorney can have."
She smiled. "That's what my dad always said."
"Your father is an attorney?" Perry asked.
Her smile faded. "He was."
He waited silently until she continued. "That's where I was first exposed to legal work."
"I adored my father and spent many a summer afternoon at his law office. I was fascinated by what he did, but even more fascinated by Miss Samuels, his secretary."
She smiled again as she remembered the friendly, efficient older woman..
"Dad said that he'd rather lose all the other lawyers in the practice than her. She always seemed to know everything that was going on in that office. When I was old enough, she encouraged Dad to hire me on during the summers to help in the steno pool. That was enough to convince me that I wanted to go to business school. My mother was dead set against that idea...thought I should settle down with a good man...but my Aunt Mae helped to convince her that I needed to be able to provide for myself. Mae had gone to work during the war and reminded mom about all the women who had been forced into supporting themselves and their families with very few real job skills."
Again, her smile faded. "As it turned out, I ended up desperately needing those skills."
She was interrupted by the arrival of their steak dinners. Once the waiter was reassured that everything looked satisfactory, they were once again alone.
"Dad got sick...had to take some time off...a couple of the partners decided that it was time for him to leave the practice completely. They manipulated some files to make it look like he was either incompetent or criminal. Basically, he was forced to resign, leaving everything he had worked so long to build up. It sapped him of his will to go on. When he died, there were a lot of bills to pay and my mother certainly had no way to pay them off. My brother was finishing up college, so I had to support us all for a time. He has a good job in banking now and we're both looking after mother, but we could have easily found ourselves in trouble."
Mason leaned forward. "I'm surprised that your father's partners didn't sour you on legal work."
"Absolutely not. If anything, it made me more determined to align myself with really good lawyers, to really make a difference for people, the way that my father did."
He nodded, pleased by her answer.
"And you think I'm that kind lawyer?"
"From what I've heard, you are, Mr. Mason. The fact that you put in long hours, that you meet your clients where they are...those are the sort of things that my dad used to do...the sort of behaviors that I haven't seen at the law offices I've been working at."
A comfortable silence descended as they consumed their meals. As they sipped their coffee, Mason fixed her with a penetrating gaze.
"You intrigue me, Miss Street."
Her eyebrow lifted in a question.
"The things about this job that have frightened everyone else off seem to be the very things that you say draw you to it," he told her.
She thought about that, finally nodding in agreement. "You'll find that I'm not easily frightened...unless you put me in a room full of monkeys..."
"Monkeys?" he asked.
She shrugged. "Some people don't like clowns, I don't like monkeys. Don't ask me why."
After a moment, she continued, "I suppose you intrigue me as well, Mr. Mason. Not many people would have placed an ad like yours. It was clear in your expectations, honest, and told me that you're not a person who wants to waste time. I'm at a point in my life and my career where I think I deserve that."
At that moment, the maitre d' approached their table. He bowed and murmured apologetically.
"Excuse me, Mr. Mason. I'm so sorry to interrupt, but there's a call for you. It's your answering service. They say it's urgent."
He excused himself to Della and went to take the call. When he returned, his face had lost the relaxed look he had worn during dinner.
"That was my new client," he told her, signaling for the check as he pulled his wallet from his jacket pocket. "He's gotten himself arrested again and needs me at the police station."
She took a final sip of her coffee, grabbed her handbag and jacket and rose to her feet.
"Then we'd better get going."
"I can take you home or have a taxi ordered for you," he told her as he glanced at the check and laid down some cash.
"We can decide that after we meet with our client, Mr. Mason," she replied.
He paused, fixing her with a thoughtful gaze.
"Fortunately, I have a steno pad and a fresh pencil in my purse, so I'm ready to go wherever you go."
When he didn't respond, she continued.
"Isn't that what you said you needed?"
Finally, he grinned.
"Miss Street, I think this could be the beginning of something beautiful."
She grinned back.
"I think you just may be right, Mr. Mason."