A/N Apologies to the real Park Street for the heinous misuse of his name here. The name just works well here. I hope. I'm making no money from it and certainly don't own these characters.
This story is for just my entertainment and hopefully yours as well. Leave me a note and let me know what you think! Thanks!
"This just isn't right. You know that, don't you?" Della Street asked, not looking up from the task on her desk.
"Hmm?" was Perry Mason's distracted reply from his desk in the next room. He looked up from the contract he'd been reading and regarded his secretary through the open door to her office.
"You heard me," she said, setting aside one document and picking up the next. She regarded the tip of her pen momentarily, then sent it skimming across the paper once more.
Glad for the distraction, Mason laid the contract on his desk and stretched his long arms before coming to stand in the doorway. Della completed yet another document, laid it aside and picked up the third. Mason moved to stand just over her shoulder. He looked down at the signature she'd just finished blotting.
"I don't know what the problem is. You do that better than I do," he said.
She finally looked up at him. "There is something downright criminal about signing your name to my own paycheck. Not to mention everyone else's."
He chuckled and picked up the check. "Nothing criminal about it when I have full knowledge and have instructed you to do so." He set the slip of paper back down on her desk. "You should put a 'Mrs.' in front of that and see how it looks."
"It would look awful," she muttered.
"Thanks a lot!" he said, trying to sound hurt. "What's so wrong with it?"
"I have no desire to sign 'Mrs. Perry Mason' on your new secretary's check," she said, leaning back in her chair. He perched a hip on the corner of her desk and looked down at her, arms crossed over his chest.
"How about if I promise to hire an ugly old fuddy-duddy? No blonde bombshells."
She grinned at him. "Hire all the bombshells you want. I don't care. It's just the fact that you'd be out having adventures with your new secretary – ugly or not – that's so bad." She crossed her arms, matching his pose and looking at him with a challenging gleam in her eye. "I don't want to be stuck in a big house somewhere wearing a fur coat, dripping in huge diamonds with only a little dog for company."
Perry threw his head back and laughed. "Any chance you'd wear the coat and the diamonds and nothing else? That could be fun."
"Mr. Mason!" She tried, successfully, to sound shocked.
He leaned forward and grasped her chin lightly in his hand and smiled down at her. "Why not, Della?" he asked softly. "Why the hell not?" His thumb brushed across her lower lip. She reached up and placed her hand over his, ever so slowly pushing his hand away.
"You know why not," she said, a note of frustration creeping into her voice. She took a deep breath. "I've told you before – I'd rather share your life than your bankroll."
"Why not share both?" he asked, twisting his hand so that his fingers circled her wrist. He stood and pulled her to her feet. She moved almost reluctantly into the circle of his arms.
"It just wouldn't work," she said softly, fingers toying with his necktie.
Perry regarded the top of her head, his expression somewhat perplexed. "That's what you always say, Miss Street." He tucked a finger under her chin and gently tipped her face up to his. "But you've never given me any real reason to believe you."
Her eyes darkened and she fought to meet his gaze. "You just have to trust me, Perry. I'm right about this."
He didn't answer; instead he dipped his head and tasted her lips very gently.
She was smiling when he pulled away. He tapped a finger on the end of her nose. "One of these days, I'm going to figure out the real reason behind your refusals, my dear."
Before she could reply the phone rang and she grabbed for it – almost guiltily. Perry stood watching her for a few moments longer as she spoke to the party on the other end of the line, then wandered back into his office.
He sat down behind his desk and reluctantly picked up the contract he'd been reading earlier. Rather than focus on the page, his eyes shifted back to Della's office. Her head was bent over her task once again. "I'd trust you about anything, Della," he murmured to himself. "Anything but this."
Perry Mason drew in a deep breath as he entered the air conditioned lobby of the Brentwood Building. His lunch meeting with a group of attorneys representing the Marquessi family had been long and tedious. Mason's client was Ed Morgan, a small businessman who'd been ruined by the reputed crime family's strong arm tactics. Feeling he had nothing left to lose, Morgan sought out Mason for help with civil action against the group. The crooks were too slick for the District Attorney to do anything about them, but they were open to civil suits where the burden of proof was somewhat different.
It had taken all of Mason's mental agility and then some to avoid the pitfalls of his lunch meeting. Now, as he crossed the lobby towards the bank of elevators, he felt his body relax from its adrenaline induced state of hyper-intensity, leaving him exhausted.
Mason turned to see Paul Drake trot across the lobby to catch up to him. "How's it going?" he asked as he reached forward to push the up button that the lawyer had just pushed as well.
"Not too bad, Paul," Mason replied. "Just ready to get back to the office and call it quits for the day."
"Must be nice," Drake drawled as he stepped past Mason and into the opening doors of the elevator car. "Us working stiffs have to put in an entire day. You high dollar lawyer types can afford to knock off," he glanced at his watch, "at two o'clock."
Mason grinned. "Quit your bellyaching. It's been a long day already. I'm headed back up to the office just long enough to tell Della to close up shop. Then I'm going to put the top down on my car and drive up the coast to a little out of the way place that serves the best damn fried oysters you've ever had. A plate of oysters, some French fried potatoes and a few bottles of beer will make for one hell of a relaxing sunset out over the ocean."
Drake grinned. "And of course Della Street is going with you."
"She has to eat somewhere," Mason replied with exaggerated innocence. Drake laughed out loud.
"Why is it I can't get a secretary like that? None of my girls are half as efficient as Della and they're not nearly as much fun."
"That's because I hired my secretary because she was damn good at her job. You hire yours because they look good. After reading Della's resume and checking her recommendations, I would've hired her even if she'd been a twisted old hag," Mason laughed.
Drake rolled his eyes as they exited the elevator. He crossed the hall to his office door and paused with his hand on the knob. "Hope you have a lovely afternoon, Counselor," he said with an exaggerated grin.
"Go to hell!" Mason growled at him good-naturedly and continued down the hall. He passed the door to his own suite and continued down and around a corner to reach the hallway door to his private office. He fitted his latchkey in the lock and swung the door open, poised to greet his secretary with a big smile.
The office was empty. The connecting door to Della's office was closed. Mason took a breath. The smell of her perfume hung faintly in the air. She must have just left the room. He tossed his coat and hat on the big leather client's chair and crossed to the door to Della's office. Without breaking stride he swung open the door and was halfway across the room before coming to an abrupt halt.
Della Street's trim, tailored figure was backed up against her desk. She was leaning slightly backwards, supported by a palm placed flat on the desk's surface. Directly across from her was a tall, imposing, grey-haired man. His long, thick fingers easily circled the wrist of Della's other hand and he seemed to be pulling her towards him. He loomed over her, speaking through clenched teeth.
Two pairs of snapping brown eyes looked in Mason's direction as the door slammed behind him. "Get your hands off of her," Mason said. His voice and posture communicated quiet fury as he took a belligerent step towards the man.
The older man dropped Della's wrist and drew himself up to his full height, a couple of inches taller than the broad-shouldered lawyer. "I think you misunderstand. You must be Mr. Mason."
"I don't care whether I understand or not. If you want to leave here under your own volition, you'd better get to stepping."
"Are you threatening me?" the man asked incredulously.
"I'm just stating the facts," Mason replied.
"Chief – wait!" Della stepped between the two men.
Mason cut his eyes towards her in a quick glance. "You ok, kid?"
"I'm fine." She took a deep breath. "This is my brother, Chief."
"Yes. Perry Mason, meet Park Street. Park, this is my boss," Della stepped away from the two men and moved back around behind her desk.
Street held his hand out to the attorney with the somewhat petulant bad grace of a school boy forced to acknowledge an unwanted introduction. Mason glanced again at his secretary. Della stood with her arms crossed, eyes contemplating the surface of her desk. Her chest rose and fell as she sucked in air. Mason could see a twitch along her jaw, evidence of her clenched teeth. Finally Mason extended his hand to the other man.
After a perfunctory handshake, Street began to pull back, but Mason tightened his grip, trapping the other man's hand in his. "I don't know what's going on, but I don't like anyone harassing my staff." He glared at Della's brother. "And I don't like big boys who think they can push around women, regardless of how they're related. So why don't you go cool off for a while then call your sister later, Street? It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run." He released his grip.
Park Street opened his mouth to reply, but Della spoke first. "Just go, Park. I'll talk to you later." He pulled his eyes from Mason and looked at his sister.
"I'll leave, Della. But this discussion is far from finished." With that Park Street turned on his heel and left the office, slamming the door behind him.
Della collapsed into her desk chair. She looked up at Mason. "I'm so sorry, Chief. I know that was highly unprofessional and it won't –"
"Stow the apologies. Are you all right?" Mason asked anxiously.
"Yes. He didn't intend to hurt me. I seem to bring out the worst in him," she sighed.
Mason rested his hip on the corner of her desk. He pulled out a cigarette case and offered her one. He scraped a match into flame and lighted hers and his. He smoked silently for a few seconds, giving her a chance to speak.
She remained silent. After a few minutes a single tear trembled at the end of an eyelash. "Oh, dammit!" she exclaimed, wiping the drop away furiously.
"It's been a long day," he said quietly. "I was planning to close the office early and take off for a drive up the coast. Why don't you come with me? Fried oysters on the beach at sunset?"
Della took a deep breath and managed to smile up at him. "Sounds wonderful, Chief. But I can't. I really have to talk to Park."
"Let me go with you."
She shook her head. "I can handle him. I've been doing it all my life. He just caught me off guard, that's all. No offense, but he'd be worse if you were there."
Mason waited expectantly. When it became evident that was all she had to say on the subject, he reached out and placed his hand over hers on the desk. Her fingers were cold. "You know I'm here for you if you need anything. Anything at all. All you have to do is ask."
She nodded her thanks. "If it's ok, I think I'll take the rest of the afternoon off. I really need to handle this now."
"Sure. Like I said, we're closing up for the rest of the day anyway. I'll be at home. Promise you'll call if I can do anything to help?"
She nodded again. "What about oysters at sunset?"
Mason smiled down at her. "That's an experience always better shared. I'll save it for another day."
Mason stood and stretched. Della stepped into the outer office to notify Gertie they were closing for the day. When she returned, Mason was wearing his hat and coat and held hers out for her to slip into. His hands rested on her shoulders and he held her motionless for just a moment. "Promise me you're alright?"
"Yes," she responded, not looking at him. "I promise."
"Good girl." He gave her shoulders a final squeeze and released her. Together, they left the office, and rode the elevator down in silence. When they reached the parking garage, she smiled her goodbye and headed towards her car. Mason stood next to his own vehicle, parked a few spaces away and watched her leave. Heaving a sigh, he ran a hand through his hair and got in his car. He sat motionless behind the wheel for a long moment, as if debating a course of action. Finally, he started the car and headed for his apartment.
Perry Mason spent a long evening alone in his apartment, pacing and smoking and staring at the phone. It never rang. Finally, late in the evening, he gave in to temptation and dialed Della's home number. The mechanical ring signal sounded again and again in his ear. No answer. He dropped the receiver back into the cradle and heaved a deep sigh.
After downing the three fingers of scotch that he'd poured before making the call – his second such drink of the evening – he gave up and headed for the bedroom. Quickly divesting himself of his clothing, and putting on pajamas, Perry settled into bed with a stack of law journals.
He'd barely opened the first journal when his bedside phone rang. Only two people had that number – Della and Paul. He snatched up the receiver. "Della?"
"Hello Chief," Della said. "How's tricks?"
"You tell me. Is everything all right?"
"Oh, things have been better." He could hear her drawing in a deep breath. "Listen, I called to ask you for some time off. I have to go back home with Park."
"Of course, Della. You don't have to ask – just take all the time you need."
"Thanks. I don't know when I'll be back." Her voice sounded flat and tired. Mason could hear the sound of raindrops pounding on the roof of a phone booth coming across the line.
"Listen, kiddo, why don't you let me come pick you up. I'll drive you home and you can tell me what's going on. Maybe I can help?"
"I appreciate it Perry, but there's really nothing anyone can do. I just have to handle some business with my father's estate…" her voice trailed off.
Perry swung his long legs off the bed and began to undo the belt on his robe. "Where are you Della? I can be dressed and downstairs in just a matter of minutes. It's almost midnight and I don't want you out wandering the streets alone."
She gave a short, humorless laugh. "I'm fine - really. I just need to walk a bit to clear my head."
"Be reasonable, woman!" Mason had worked his arms free of the robe and dropped it on the bed. "It's raining out there!"
"Thanks for the concern, but I just don't feel like being reasonable. Good night, Perry."
"Wait!" He yelled into the receiver. "You can either let me come get you, Della Street, or the minute you hang up this phone I will call the police and have every radio car in the city out looking for you."
She was silent for a moment.
"Alright. I'm across the street from Rita's Diner, on Locust Street. I'm going in for a cup of coffee. You can meet me there if you want."
"I want," he said and hung up the phone. Within a minute, Perry was dressed and running down the stairs to his garage. Within fifteen minutes, he was sliding into a booth across the table from Della.
Mason's eyes swept over her, assessing her appearance before he spoke. She was still wearing the grey suit she'd worn to the office that day and her head was bowed over her coffee cup, her attention evidently captured by the motion of the spoon as she stirred in an aimless pattern. The short order cook, who seemed to be the only employee on duty at this hour of the night, came around the counter to stand next to their table.
"What'll it be?" he asked.
"Coffee, black. And two pieces of lemon pie."
Della looked up at him. "I don't feel like –."
"Two," Perry told the cook, ignoring her comment. He flashed Della a grin. "I bet you haven't eaten a thing since lunch."
She smiled slightly, dropping her gaze to the coffee cup again. "Well, not really, no." She drew in a deep breath, as though she were about to say more, but stayed silent. Perry leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table and watched her play with the coffee spoon some more. Finally, feeling his stare, she raised her eyes slowly, stopping near the collar of his shirt, where a gold chain glinted in the harsh fluorescent light. She stared at his chest rather quizzically for a long moment.
"Are you wearing your pajamas?" she finally asked.
Mason chuckled. "Only the shirt. I just tucked it into my pants and threw my jacket on over it. I was in a hurry."
She couldn't help but smile. "I wasn't going to run away. You didn't have to rush over here like that."
"Yes, I did," he said. "You're in a jam."
The waiter/cook appeared with the coffee and two big slabs of pie.
Della picked up the fork and tasted a small corner of the wedge. "I can handle it," she said before taking a second bite. "I've been handling it all my life." It was the same response she'd given him earlier that day.
"Will you tell me about it?" Perry asked quietly. When she didn't answer right away, he prompted her. "You've told me your family had money, then lost it in the stock market crash and that was why you started doing secretarial work."
Della laid her fork down next to the half-eaten piece of pie and pushed the plate away, as if any appetite she'd had suddenly deserted her. "I lied, Perry. I'm sorry."
He reached across the table and captured her fidgeting hand in his. "No apologies, Della. Just tell me what is going on."
She finally met his eyes. "Do you remember that time you needed to talk to a witness who was a fortune teller at a Mexican restaurant?"
He nodded. "She told your fortune, more or less."
"She was closer to right about me than the story I've told you. I didn't start working because my family lost their money. I started because I ran away from home and had to have a way to support myself."
Mason didn't say anything; instead, he caressed the back of her hand with his thumb. Her eyes were drawn to the movement and she stared down at their hands as she spoke. Once she finally started, the story poured out in a steady stream.
"My father was a very wealthy man. He owned the town's only bank and a lot of property and some controlling interests in local manufacturing. My mother worked as a teller in the bank. She had no family and was supporting herself. My father was married to Park's mother at the time. I don't know what happened, but Park's mother died unexpectedly not long after mother had worked her way up to a position as head teller. She spent a lot of time working closely with Father, who also functioned as the bank president. Eventually, they married. I was born a year or so later. Park was 18 years old when I was born.
Mother had to quit her job, of course. He put her up in his big house on the farm just outside of town. She was isolated there – almost a prisoner. She had nothing to do except plan the dinner parties for my father's business associates or attend reciprocal parties with him. She got restless. Things began to sour between them. The servants ran the household, the grooms ran the horse farm and there was a nanny who took over most of the care for me. She begged my father to let her do more, but he had definite ideas about what he wanted in a wife and they started to argue.
That's all I remember about my early childhood – their arguments. I didn't even really know Park. He was away at college and just came home on holidays or occasionally weekends.
Mother finally had her fill and packed our bags. She left and brought me out here to Los Angeles, which was just about as far as she could get from my father. I was five years old. We lived here for another five years before she died. Carmen, the fortuneteller, was right – she died of a broken heart. I had to go back home to live with Father. He didn't even come for the funeral, just sent Park back here with a plane ticket and instructions to bring me back with him."
Here Della stopped her narration and drew a somewhat tremulous breath. Perry pushed the slice of pie back across the table towards her and released her hand. "Eat something, Della. You're shaking," he said solicitously.
She took a bite and continued her story.
"I lived on the farm with Father for a few years before he died. We were never really close, but I think he felt somewhat guilty for the way he'd treated my mother. Or maybe not, I don't know. But, for whatever reason, when he died a few years later, his fortune was split equally between Park and me. Park was the executor and my guardian. He was furious with the way the estate was entailed. I was an equal partner in all the businesses and property and my part was held in trust until I was 21. Then, I gained partial control over my half of the estate, but Park retains partial trusteeship until I marry.
I don't know what Father was thinking with that clause! He probably had some business associate's son picked out for me to marry as soon as I finished high school. Little did he know," Della said and laughed bitterly.
Perry smiled and chuckled. "So what did you do?" he asked.
"When I was 17, I hopped on a bus and came back to Los Angeles. I worked as a hat check girl while I put myself through business school. You pretty much know the rest." She sat back against the booth cushions and regarded her employer with a tentative gaze. "I don't want the money. It's certainly never been able to buy me happiness. So, I lied to you and everyone else. Park has a partial power of attorney to handle most of my affairs and we generally leave each other alone. He's always resented me, anyway."
"And now?" Perry asked.
"Now? Now there is some sort of a problem and he needs to sell some assets and reallocate some of the capital. He can't do that without my signature. So, I have to go back with him, attend a board of director's meeting at the bank and a stockholder's meeting at another firm. Then, we'll sign some papers and hopefully that will be the end of it." Her voice betrayed her weariness.
Mason regarded her thoughtfully across the table. "Why not just let him have it? If he wants the money and you don't, why not just give it to him? Be done with it?"
Della looked at him for a long moment, then diverted her eyes to the window. She shrugged her shoulders. "Why, Della?" he asked softly.
"Maybe because I hate him as much as he hates me." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "He made my life a living hell for a long time. He and our father. I don't want the money, but I feel like they owe it – as payment, I suppose."
Mason gripped her hand and smiled at her. "Good girl!"
She turned confused eyes his direction.
"Stand up for yourself. If you don't want the money, give it away to someone deserving. But never give in to a bully." Her smile was somewhat uncertain. "I'm proud of you," he continued.
"T-Thanks," she stammered. "I thought you'd be mad – I lied to you."
"I can't say I don't wish you'd trusted me with this. But I can certainly understand your reasoning."
"I've never trusted anyone with this," she said.
"Feels better, now that you have?" He raised an eyebrow at her.
She thought for a moment. "Yes, I suppose it does." Her expression brightened.
Mason grinned and leaned across the table towards her. She interpreted his move and shifted towards him as well. Just then the waiter appeared.
"Can I get anything else for you folks?"
Mason threw him a disgruntled glance and sat back. "Don't you have anything in the kitchen that you need to check on?"
"Nope. I'm the only one working tonight. Grill cooking only." He stood nonchalantly at the edge of their table.
Della eyes betrayed her amusement as she watched the scene. Perry reached into his wallet and pulled out several bills. "Here's the money for the pie. Keep the change. And trust me," he glared at the waiter, "there is something in the kitchen that's going to require your complete and undivided attention for the next several minutes."
The waiter picked up the bills and shifted his eyes between his two customers, lingering slightly on Della. "Ok, fine. I can take a hint," he said and headed towards the back.
"Ten bucks is a pretty damn big hint, if you ask me," Mason grumbled.
Della laughed out loud. She was still laughing when Perry moved around the end of the table and came to sit on the bench next to her. He reached out and wrapped a hand around the back of her neck, drawing her to him. When Della finally pulled away, Perry pouted like a school boy. "I don't think I got my ten dollars worth yet!"
Della's smile was coy as she ran her hand down his throat, taking the gold chain she saw there in her fingers. "This is nice. Do you always wear it?" Her smile changed to a grin. "Or do you just wear it to compliment your pajama shirt?"
"That's a story for another late night coffee klatch," he said, grinning back at her. "And don't make fun of my outfit. I was worried about you."
She patted his chest. "I know. Thank you." She pressed her lips swiftly to his once more. "I should leave. I'm meeting Park at the airport very early in the morning."