Somebody owns the Perry Mason books, show and movies, but as reflected in my bank account, it isn't me.
Last One Standing
By E. Wallace
Della checked the caller ID but answered the ringing phone anyway.
"Good morning, Paul."
"Hi, Gorgeous." His father had nicknamed her 'Beautiful' but Paul Drake Jr. said he would agree with the upgrade if he had lived to see her in her silver-haired Grande Dame phase. "You've read the paper?"
At least he was getting right to the point. "Yes."
She had been over this with Ken twenty minutes ago, but all he knew was that the two women had a history and didn't get along. He was easy to persuade that his concern was unnecessary.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well..." Paul knew the details, but he would only push so hard.
"Look, I'm sorry she had cancer and I'm sorry she died, but no, I'm not broken up about it."
"Will you be attending the funeral?"
"No, and I'm sure she would prefer it that way."
"You want to come out to the house for dinner?"
He was sweet - but relentless. He got that from his father. "Paul, I'm fine, honestly. I'll see you on Saturday just like we planned."
"Okay, but you know where to find me if you need anything."
"Goodbye, Paul. Kiss the kids for me."
"Will do; bye, Gorgeous."
Della hung up and went into the kitchen to fill her mug for the third time that morning. Her bright young doctor was constantly telling her to cut back, but she figured when he got to be her age - in forty or fifty years - he would be ignoring his doctor about some things, too. She had stopped smoking a decade before she managed to convince Perry to do it; the most alcohol she drank now was an occasional glass of wine. Coffee was her last real vice and she wasn't about to give it up.
Taking the mug, she sat at the small table in the breakfast nook where she had left the newspaper folded back to an inside page.
The photo was years old, taken during a difficult time, but Della couldn't say she had seen many smiling pictures of the woman. Denver would carry the story in more depth; in Los Angeles, it was just another obituary.
Attorney Laura Robertson, Dead at 80
The headline was straightforward, the article surprisingly dry as it recounted the details both dull and lurid: her law career; the move to Denver to co-found a firm; her marriage to a wealthy, influential man; her husband's trial for murder and the mental health revelations that dashed her fledgling political aspirations; the ravaging disease that ended her life.
The murder trial.
A brief recap in the paper didn't begin to count the toll of the damage done that last day in the courtroom.
Glenn protecting Laura was understandable; the unacceptable was Laura believing she could manipulate Perry's personal feelings to the point of overriding his ethics.
It devastated Perry to force the confession that cleared his client and jailed an old friend... an old love... even though she was ultimately acquitted on a plea of self-defense. Her own actions had shattered Perry's final illusions, made him understand just how far she was willing to go to get what she wanted, no matter who it hurt.
It was the one thing Della ever truly hated Laura Robertson for.
Perry told Glenn that any good defense attorney could handle Laura's case, but if they wanted him they only had to call. The strange thing was, when Laura did call, he turned her down, claiming a prior commitment. If Perry ever spoke to Laura again after that Della didn't know because she never asked.
Sipping carefully from the steaming cup, she let her thoughts drift to other deaths, other funerals.
When Glenn died - it was nearly two years now - Della attended the funeral out of respect for the man. Her sympathy for his wife was merely the same as she felt for anyone who had lost a spouse. She dutifully expressed her condolences to Laura, the lengthy receiving line making the encounter brief enough to suit both women.
She missed Perry every day, and she hoped Glenn had gotten some of the same respect from Laura. He deserved that much.
The stroke that took Perry from her seven years ago was quick and painless. Even as Ken made the frantic call to the paramedics she knew it was too late. There on the office floor, his head cradled in her lap, she caressed his beard and watched the life leave those beautiful eyes. Della's solace was that hers was the hand he held, hers was the name on his lips when he died.
Della, Paul, Ken and their families had been the only ones to attend the private burial.
The public memorial service several days later drew the notable and the obscure, the sincere and the show boaters. Long time clients who had always benefited from his sound advice, the one-timers who owed him their lives and their freedom and prosecutors who had learned the hard lesson never to underestimate the legendary attorney.
Glenn was his usual gracious self, his compassion for Della's grief genuine. Laura was miffed to find herself excluded from the burial and lumped in with everyone else, just one of the crowd.
Despite the famous faces at the gathering, the service was simple and unpretentious, the way Perry would have wanted it.
Donna Loring, although she had retired from the concert stage the previous year due to arthritis, requested the privilege of honoring the memory of the man who had proved her innocent of a murder charge. She was one of many who had been a client first but a friend ever since, and Della's heart was touched when she played 'Fidelio'.
Monsignor Kyser eloquently eulogized the attorney, the philanthropist, the friend he had known for almost sixty years. Laura's wasn't the only gasp of surprise when he referred to Della as 'Perry's beloved wife'. Their marriage wasn't a secret, they just never publicized it and the gossips had given up looking for it.
After the service, Della chanced to overhear a conversation. There was an unmistakable smugness in Paul's voice as he replied to Laura's question about what case had kept Perry from taking hers. "Oh, there was no case. They had surprised us with the wedding and he was surprising her with a honeymoon to Italy. Nothing was going to make him disappoint Della."
It felt like a triumph at the time, but in retrospect, it was just another petty skirmish in a cold war no one could win.
"Perry then Glenn and now Laura," Della thought with a sigh. So, this was it - she was the last surviving member of their odd little quadrangle. Telling Paul she wasn't broken up about Laura's death was the truth, but that didn't mean she wasn't affected.
"Rest in peace, Laura," she murmured, letting go of the last bit of angst she hadn't realized she had been carrying.
The sound of the wind chime by the open kitchen window drew her out of her dismal thoughts. It was too beautiful a day to spend rehashing ancient history. Folding the newspaper, Della tossed it in the recycle bin and grabbed her gloves from their cubby hole in the mud room on her way outside. She followed a butterfly in its meandering flight across the yard toward the back of the garden.
The small greenhouse smelled of warm soil and exotic flowers and began to soothe her immediately. She could sense Perry's presence here the way she always had at the office; could imagine his voice instructing her as she tended his precious orchids. She needed to be close to Perry and to life right now.
I massaged some real life details to make the story work the way I wanted it to. Raymond Burr died in September of 1993, Gene Barry in December of 2009, Jean Simmons in January of 2010.
Barbara Hale will be 88 in April and is as beautiful as ever.
Other borrowed characters
Donna Loring, portrayed by Kathie Browne, appeared in 'The Case of the Provocative Protégé', season 4, episode 8, playing 'Fidelio' by Beethoven. I saw the episode the week I started writing this which is pretty much how she ended up in the story.
Monsignor Kyser, portrayed by Gerald S. O'Loughlin, appeared in the second TV movie 'The Case of the Notorious Nun'. He's here in the oldest friend role because Paul Drake, Sr. couldn't be.