AN: This story is a continuation of the book The Case of The Dubious Bridegroom by Erle Stanley Gardner. Gardner is not writing from beyond the grave under the slightly ridiculous pseudonym of Captain Weirdo. That means that I'm getting no money from this and I can claim no credit for creating these characters or the story it's based on. And since I'm in a confessional mood, I have to admit that I've mis-represented the end of the book just a bit. The book has Mason's usual courtroom scenes, doesn't actually end in the courtroom as I've indicated here.
The idea for this story came from what I thought was the odd attitude that Perry Mason shows towards Della Street in the book. There are two or three occasions where Della delivers some sharp wit and strong opinion regarding the character Frank Livesey. Perry pretty much blows her off each time. It seems really out of character for him. ESG never addresses this in the book, at least not to my satisfaction, so I thought I'd play with the idea a little bit and see what happens.
Della Street fitted her latch key into the door and glanced at her wristwatch as she stepped into her apartment. She sighed. There was barely time to change clothes before he was due to arrive.
The bags of groceries she'd stopped to pick up on the way home weighed heavily in her arms as she made her way through the apartment towards her kitchen. They'd been so busy this week that she'd not had time to pick up even the essentials, and even her liquor supply was pretty well depleted. There had been more than one late night conference at her apartment in recent weeks and, between Perry and Paul, the alcohol stash was just about gone.
Normally Della wouldn't have bothered to stop at the grocery store on a Friday afternoon, just to buy a few supplies. But since she wanted to prepare for a possible nightcap later on, she decided to grab some breakfast ingredients as well, reasoning that sleeping in would be a better way to spend Saturday morning, rather than getting dressed and going out to eat or making an early morning market run.
Della was tired. The long work week ended triumphantly with Perry securing his client's acquittal on all charges. She enjoyed seeing him play out the truth before a crowded courtroom, master of his element. But she couldn't deny being just a bit miffed by the outcome.
Frank Livesey was the key to the whole murder scheme. Of course.
Perry waxed eloquent any time he had the chance about how he relied on Della and her knowledge of human nature and her ability to judge character, based on more than just instinct. He never belittled her insights as mere feminine intuition. Until now. She had to admit that Perry hadn't really ignored her, but she'd tried without success – more than once – to warn him about Livesey.
The first time Frank Livesey came to the office, she characterized him as cruel. Obviously his unscrupulous nature freed him to do anything he thought necessary to get what he wanted. That kind of man is always dangerous. Yet each time she mentioned Livesey's sleazy character, Perry paid no attention.
As she deposited the food and bottles into cabinets and the refrigerator, she mentally searched her closet, trying to decide what to wear for the evening. Her weariness made the choice harder than usual. If she had her way, she'd soak in a hot bath, wrap up in a soft terry cloth robe and snuggle on the couch with her employer. Unfortunately, he had other plans.
Della and Perry had yet to work out the dynamics of their social relationship. The working relationship was damn near perfect. But the time they spent together outside the office was becoming more complicated. They were on the cusp of change, the relationship was either going to deepen or cool significantly. Della understood this, but knew that Perry couldn't quite put his finger on what was going on with them. That's why, for instance, their celebration would consist of dinner and dancing again, rather than spending a quiet, intimate evening on Della's couch. Being together in public was less risky. Perry, Della realized, couldn't decide how to take the next step.
Della smiled at the knowledge that she had confounded the great Perry Mason. The self-described student of humanity hadn't yet figured her out. She knew that he wanted her. Knew without a doubt. But she also realized that he didn't know how to handle everything a more intimate relationship entailed. Perry obviously didn't want to put her into the position of having to make an awkward choice if he took things in a more physical direction and she didn't want to go there.
Della knew there had been other women before her. Perry Mason was no naive choirboy. Della had given him plenty of subtle, yet unmistakable signals as to her desires. And yet something held him back - keeping him from making her just another conquest. Della thought - hoped - she knew the reason behind his hesitancy. Hopefully he considered the growing closeness of their connection something special. Perhaps just having an affair with his secretary wouldn't suffice. He'd even offered her a ring. His proposal, although spontaneous and unplanned, was evidence of how much he cared for her.
'How much he cared at that time, anyway. Have his feelings changed?' she wondered.
Della emptied the grocery bags. The last item she retrieved was a small carton of expensive vanilla ice cream. Inserting a nail under the edge of the lid, she pried it open and dipped a finger into the silky treat. She grinned as she brought the finger to her lips. 'Another advantage to living alone,' she thought as the ice cream slid over her tongue and down her throat. She deposited the carton in the freezer.
Della remembered Perry's proposal. As sincere as he no doubt was, she turned him down. That really confused him. Her smile widened. Conventional wisdom held that women would jump at the chance to sew a man as eligible and desirous as Perry Mason into a lifetime commitment. Especially the type of commitment that included access to the bank account.
Conventional wisdom would also assert that once a woman rejects your proposal of marriage, she doesn't normally follow that rejection with a sensuous, toe-curling kiss that left both parties sorely in need of relief. That night Della had left Perry a confused mass of rejection and good, old-fashioned lust. Della knew he would figure it out, sooner or later. At this rate, though, it looked like it would be later rather than sooner.
The groceries were put away, so Della slipped back through the swinging door on her way to the bedroom. She didn't see it coming. She never knew what hit her. She didn't feel a thing as her body crumpled to the floor.