18

Title: "The Interview-Della" The interview that changed her life forever.

Author: Bibliophile tropicale

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of Perry Mason and Della Street. My reward is not monetary. The only reward is the pleasure of bringing these characters to life in story form.

Rating: PG

Summary: What were Perry and Della thinking when they meet for the first time? What events brought them to this fateful encounter?

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my beta reader for her time, patience, critiquing, correcting and encouragement. She has been a most gracious teacher!

Feedback is welcome!

Perry Mason & Della Street

"The Interview"

Della

Katherine Graham's slender fingers rhythmically struck the typewriter's keys. Instinctively, her left hand slid the carriage return, ratcheted down three spaces, typed Yours truly, ratcheted three more spaces, typed Perry Mason. Her eyes moved over her work proofing for spelling, punctuation and typographical errors. A smile pulled at her lips. Perfect. Effortlessly she turned the platen, removed the paper from the roller and placed the letter with the others needing the lawyer's signature.

She sighed, ignoring the ache in her back and feet. How long had she been a legal secretary? Her tired feet and back answered the question, too many years to contemplate and too many years to continue at the current pace.

Katherine's eyes moved to the mirror poised on a shelf at eye level; it gave a nice view of the office behind her. From this angle, she could manage her own appearance, observe persons entering the office, and study and size up potential clients. Her gaze focused in the mirror at the young woman seated across the room. She smiled wistfully to herself, remembering how it was to be that young, to have a lifetime yet to be lived, to look for adventures and dreams to be fulfilled.

Why had she continued to work?

Most of her friends at the courthouse had moved on. The judges she knew were now retired, secretary friends from other law firms busy with grandchildren. Was it the desire for one last adventure? She smiled again, but allowed this one to touch her lips.

Another sheet of paper was fed into the typewriter. Katherine's eyes swept to the mirror again, watching the young woman behind her nervously tugging on the hem of her skirt and then toying with the clasp to her purse. She liked this applicant's skills and experience. Her voice and demeanor were cool and professional. The navy double-breasted suit with contrasting white collar was stylish but not overstated. The pearl necklace and earrings were a nice touch, conservative and business-like with an added touch of simple elegance. The heels were Aigner, navy blue leather, not new, but well maintained.

Katherine's eyebrows knitted together in thought. There was something about…she checked the name again, Della Street,….. she couldn't quite put her finger on…. something beneath the veneer of cool competency, a spark of élan.

During the past weeks she had gleaned the applicants for her position. Juggling her responsibilities and the stack of resumes', she had managed to narrow the field. Over the last few days, she had worked interviews in between court appearances and clients without a successful outcome.

"Mr. Mason." "Perry." She'd give him the look. He'd wave his hand at her while thumbing through the pages of a law journal. "I know, Katherine. I'll tell you when I've decided. Keep looking." Running his hand through his hair,he'd glanced up. "It'll be soon."

Katherine's finger's poised above the keys to the typewriter, her eyes reading through her shorthand. She stretched her tired back. One last adventure, she chuckled to herself; hardly, her body told her otherwise. The long hours, hectic workload and the intense nature of criminal law were taking its toll. She needed to find a younger version of herself. Returning to her work, Katherine's fingers created a staccato rhythm on the keys like falling rain.

Della Street sighed and checked her watch, almost 5 o'clock. The snap of typewriter keys lulled her mind, drifting, recalling happier days when she was a young girl visiting her father's office.

After school she would convince her driver to stop by her father's office. Threading her way through the hallway passing the receptionist and other secretaries, she would slip quietly through the side door to her father's waiting room. Along one wall stretched a 55-gallon salt-water tank filled with a myriad of reef fish, brilliant anemones, ornate corals and banded cleaner shrimp. She would observe the underwater drama before slipping into the office of her father's executive secretary, Evelyn Lanigan.

There she would marvel at the speed and skill of Evelyn's fingers on the typewriter and the marvelous hieroglyphics on her notepad. How could she type like that; how could she write so quickly and read such strange symbols? Della stared enviously at Evelyn's simple yet elegant tailored suit, the red silken scarf, the small flash of jewelry and the way her butterscotch colored hair swept into a French twist. She wanted so much to be like Evelyn Lanigan.

One evening as she slipped into Evelyn's dimly lit office for the fish food, she heard voices. The door to her father's office was ajar, her eyes drawn to the narrow ribbon of light. She stepped to the door and stared into her father's inner sanctum. Her eyes looked into the world of the man who would be the first love of her life.

She watched as he held the mirror in his hands trying to view the bowtie at his throat. Evelyn smoothed down the lapels of his tuxedo. She laughed and took away the mirror. "Here let me do it!"

"Evie, what would I do without you!" Her father exclaimed. Evelyn's fingers skillfully moved over the bowtie straightening it. "Stop moving so much!" She laughed as she took her open palm playfully striking his cheek. His fingers closed over her fingers and brought them to his lips, tenderly kissing them.

Evelyn sighed deeply, pulling her hand from his. "You look fine; go Eric, your family is expecting you."

"Evie…" he softly whispered.

"Go. You'll be late." Evelyn picked up the topcoat from the chair back and held it out for him. He turned and let her slide the coat over his shoulders, her fingers smoothing it out. He turned and her fingers smoothed down the lapels.

"You look quite dashing, Eric."

Della felt her breathing cease as she watched her father's fingertips reach out and gently trace the soft angle of Evie's jaw. Della could feel the touch on her own skin. Evelyn's face leaned into his hand and for a moment her eyes closed. It was the touch; the same touch her father affectionately gave her. Della watched with fascinationas time seemed to move slowly, then ceases to exist. Suddenly her father straightened, and lowered his hand. Evelyn's eyes opened and the spell was broken.

"Go!" Evie encouraged. "I'll lock up."

Della gasped for air, spun and ran for the fish tank.

Della's eyes turned to the sound of paper ratcheting from the typewriter and watched as the secretary placed another letter in the stack. Della shifted in her chair, then reached inside her purse and pulled out a copy of her resume'. Her fingers moved gently across the paper, her eyes reviewing her training, her proficiencies, her words per minute, her areas of expertise. In her own way, she'd become Evelyn Lanigan.

'Evie', as her father affectionately called her, never married. Later he told her Miss Lanigan was married to her career as an executive secretary.

Her desire to become more like Evelyn Lanigan was a constant annoyance to her mother. She didn't approve of a career and wanted Della to marry well and have a family. Her daughter should be a traditional wife, like herself, continuing the life-style in which she was raised as a proper young lady. She did, however, have to admit that the stock market upheaval had changed their financial reality and fortune thus complicating her plans for Della.

Della toyed with the ring on her finger. Marriage. She had tried that, almost.

"Oh Della," her mother exclaimed, "he makes a great income selling insurance; you can stay at home and have a family. You'll be so busy with children, the garden club, fundraisers, and of course the country club and all those social obligations."

Most of the girls from her high school graduating class sported shiny engagement rings during the summer after graduation. Bridal showers and weddings were a weekly affair.

Della was watching from a corner as young women of all ages and sizes circled the landing as the most recent bride on the stairs prepared to launch her bridle bouquet, when a hand gently moved across her arm.

"Why is the most beautiful woman here not reaching for that bouquet?"

Della blushed as she turned to face Michael Demenico, a family friend. "You flatter me!"

Michael gave an infectious, boyish grin, his dark brown eyes sparkling with mischief. "Don't tell me it isn't so Della Street; you know I'm telling the truth."

Della smiled sweetly enjoying the attention. Michael slipped his hand under her elbow and guided her from the crowded room out to a terrace where a band played.

Michael Demenico, 6'3", broad shouldered, dark wavy hair, sparkling brown eyes and a boyish grin filled any room with personality. People were drawn to him, enjoyed being around him, and his career selling insurance flourished. With an easy grace he bent and caught her eye. "Would you care to dance?"

Della was glad this was one battle her mother had won, dance lessons. That evening she slipped into his arms and into his life. Later that night, he had driven her home in his red convertible and had marked his claim with a sensuous goodnight kiss.

Six months later they were engaged and her mother commenced planning the wedding of the century. Late at night she could hear her parents heatedly discussing the wedding, her mother still living in the world before the crash and her father trying to tactfully explain the reality of their monetary situation. For six months Michael lavished her with expensive dinners, jewelry, and dancing at the country club where he mixed business and pleasure. In the course of the evening between dining and dancing, with Della on his arm, Michael would circulate and collect information on everyone present, his business card discreetly slipped into pockets and hands.

Della sighed, nervously turning the birthstone ring on her finger, recalling the brilliant flash of the one-quarter carat engagement ring.

Michael Demenico was like intoxicating liquor, at first, fun, carefree, spirited, then over time morphing into a drunken stupor, dark, possessive and controlling.

Della glanced at the secretary as though her thoughts might be heard across the room. She caught Katherine Graham watching her in the mirror; their eyes connected and the older woman smiled. Della stared at the dark eyes in the mirror and felt a kinship, a kinship of professional women. She returned the smile. Katherine Graham's eyes returned to the steno pad and Della returned to her thoughts of Michael Demenico.

She stared in the mirror at the bruises on her arm and the small bruise on her face. All week long she had applied make-up to her cheek and wore a light sweater until the bruising faded, but the fear in her eyes didn't fade. Each night looking into the mirror, fearful eyes stared back and she felt trapped. The wedding date had been set and invitations would soon be mailed. Did she love Michael? For six months he had lavished her with gifts and attention. She should love him. The bruises on her arm and cheek told another story and it scared her.

Why had he blamed the loss of a sale to a potential client on her? Try as she might, she couldn't think of anything she'd done at that dinner to kill the deal, but the next day, when Mr. Justin hadn't signed on, Michael had blamed her for the lost money. Told her the clients needed to be just as impressed with her as him. But what had she done wrong? It made no sense, and she'd certainly never seen her father blame her mother for any problems in his business.

In two months she would become Mrs. Michael Demenico,and she would be totally under his control. She would be his possession to have and to hold till death do us part.

Later that evening, in the cool of the night, Della breathed deeply as she stood waiting for the door to open. She couldn't talk with her mother. Her mother would probably consider her a fool for not marrying this wonderful man. Tell her that since it had only happened one time that it was just a fluke and would try to go over the dinner step by step to figure out what her daughter had done wrong since she'd never even heard Michael even raise his voice.

She couldn't tell her father; the consequences would be physically devastating. Her father would never tolerate any man harming his daughter. She was trapped and lost.

The chain on the door allowed it to open a crack asthe woman carefully inspected her late night visitor. The door quickly closed and reopened.

"Della, what are you doing here? Come in!"

As soon as Della Street entered the apartment, she felt tears welling and flowing down her cheeks.

Evelyn Lanigan's arms circled her shoulders and guided her to the sofa and sat beside her. Even in her distress, Della noticed Miss Lanigan looked elegant even in a robe and nightgown.

"What is it, honey? Can I get you something to drink?"

Della nodded her head, and was relieved to have time to think and gather her thoughts while Evelyn disappeared into the kitchen. In a moment, she returned with a glass of water and the other glass contained an amber liquid.

Evelyn turned to face her, took a sip of the amber liquid andthen waited while Della tried to compose herself. For the next hour she listened as the younger womancried and toldher story. Finally, Della stopped, finished the glass of water and waited quietly for a response.

For a moment, Evelyn seemed to be in another world. Thenslowly her father's former secretary reached out and turned Della's cheek, looking at the dark spot hidden beneath make-up. Della watched her expression for any emotion, marveling at how time had left her face still flawless. With easy grace,Evie rose and walked to the phone. Her hand whirled over the dial, her fingers sweeping a lock of hair behind her ear.

"Hello, Eric, this is Evie."

Della's eyes widened. She wanted to stop her, but she remained seated, remained quiet.

Evelyn smiled. "Yes, I'm fine and you? Splendid. I was hoping we could have lunch sometime, perhaps tomorrow."

She remained silent for a moment, her eyes never leaving Della.

"Wonderful! I'll see you at noon. It will be nice seeing you again. Good night."

Evelyn smiled wistfully as she hung up the phone. "Your father loves you very much Della. You're the center of his world. He wants the best for you and wants you to be happy; he wants you to marry a man you love."

She returned to the sofa and took the glass in her hand. Slowly she swirled the ice and amber liquid, her mind seeming to drift to another plane. Softly she sighed. Her eyes were moist, staring into the glass; her voice was soft and filled with regret.

"It seems unfair sometimes, but we don't always get what we want. A marriage shouldn't be a trap. It should be between two people who love each other dearly."

Within the week, the engagement was discreetly called off. In her father's presence, the engagement ring was returned to Michael Demenico.

Della watched as her father placed his arm around the younger man's shoulders and escorted him to their door. Her father smiled briefly, shook Michael's hand, stood with his hands at his side, and his chin elevated. From a distance, Della watched with great interest the body language between the two men. Michael glanced back in her direction; then turned to her father and spoke, his hands and face becoming animated. She watched as her father squared his shoulders.His jaw muscles flexed, and then suddenly his finger pointed in her direction. She could see her father's lips moving rapidly and his finger pointing to her then jabbing into his own chest.

As usual, her mother had reacted very differently. "Why Della?" she had moaned. "I'll never understand you. This is so disappointing."

Later, Della had briefly spoken with Evelyn Lanigan on the phone. "What did you tell my father?"

Evelyn laughed softly on the other end of the phone line. "Only what he needed to know."

Della felt relief and gratitude. She thanked Evelyn Lanigan profusely and hung up. What had they discussed over lunch? What was their special relationship? 'A marriage shouldn't be a trap', Evie had said. 'It seems unfair sometimes, but we don't always get what we want. A marriage should be between two people who love each other dearly.'

Della suddenly became aware of the silence. Katherine Graham had slipped from the room. She checked her watch, almost 5:30.

Was she ready for this interview? Was she prepared to work for Perry Mason? She had followed his name in the paper and had read about his cases with great interest. She knew she was up to the challenge, the adventure. Her mind played mental gymnastics.

Yes, Miss Street, are you ready for the challenge? And by the way Miss Street why do you want to leave Sterling & Price?

Why Mr. Mason, you mean the monotony and dead end nature of the steno pool, the office wolves dressed as associates, or the catty women who work their way up the ladder by rubbing against those associates like cats in heat.

Should we really be this honest, Della?

"Miss Street," Katherine Graham called from the door. "Won't you come in? Mr. Mason will be with you shortly."

Della quickly stood and smoothed her jacket over her hips. She nodded as she walked through the open door. The panic didn't start until the door closed behind her.

The office was large and modern. A wide expanse of sliding doors opened out onto a balcony. A large mahogany desk and leather chair commanded the center of the room. Table and chairs were arranged near the large sliding doors and a couch lined the wall to her right.

Della tightly gripped her purse as she looked around the room for Perry Mason. She flinched slightly from surprise at the full-sized-bust near the door. Her eyebrows furrowed as she tried to place the face on the bust. She had seen a smaller version in the office of one of the associates at Sterling & Price. Blackstone, that's it, Justice Blackstone.

Smiling, she shook her head at the black fedora jauntily cocked to the side of the judge's noble brow. She couldn't help but stare. Moving to the front of the bust, she tried to position the hat in a more dignified fashion. Each time she moved it, she laughed softly as she made further adjustments.

The hat even had the aroma of the wearer's cologne. Della leaned in closer and inhaled. 'Nice.' She thought to herself.

Leaning back, she again examined the angle of the fedora and raised her hands to make further adjustments.

"Miss Street, I presume?" A commanding baritone voice from behind her inquired.

Della quickly pulled back her hands and turned, feeling a little embarrassed by her attempts. She smiled slightly at the tall, broad shouldered man standing in the center of the room. Then she squared her shoulders, trying to overcome her feelings of awkwardness.

He seemed formal standing there holding a rather large leather-bound book, his face cool and expressionless as a poker player. Della crossed the floor and extended her hand. Looking up, she realized how much his physical presence filled the room.

"Yes, Mr. Mason, I'm Della Street."

As their eyes met, his long fingers gently enclosed Della's hand, holding it for a few seconds longer than expected. Della felt her heart rate quicken as she stared up into large blue eyes haloed by thick lashes. His face was totally passive. Only his eyes seemed to sparkle, the pupils dilating as he looked at her. Suddenly, he released her hand to gesture to the chair by his desk. He took his place in the large leather chair, and placed the book to the side.

Della slipped her resume across his desk. He merely glanced at it; his long fingers skillfully turned the paper, slipping it off to the side of the blotter.

"My secretary feels your credentials are excellent, Miss Street." His head tilted to the side and leaned forward, his elbows on his desk his fingers interlaced. "But I have some questions of my own."

For a moment Della felt her breathing stop under the intensity of his eyes and the coolness of his voice. He paused for a moment. She could feel his eyes moving over her, sizing her up, forming a mental picture. Normally she might have felt self-conscious, but instead she found it exciting and stimulating. She coolly met his gaze and waited.

"The legal department of Sterling & Price handles mainly contract disputes and civil litigation. Miss Street, I'm a trial lawyer specializing in criminal cases. Why do you want to work for a criminal law attorney, especially me?"

Della studied his face, the strong jaw, the dark wavy hair and the large expressive eyes; she saw a man of intensity, a fighter. "I think we would make a good team."

She could see no reaction, his face poker hard. Only the slightest flutter of his lashes and the widening of his pupils revealed any reaction to her words.

"Yes, Mr. Mason, a good team. When someone is charged with murder, their life is on the line. You need someone who can help keep your ideas and insights organized in a way that enables you to see the whole picture. I'm very organized and enjoy a challenge. How you defend your clients interests me. Your cases are not the usual cut and dried litigation. I like that."

In response, his voice held a certain chill, and his eyes took on a fiery intensity. "Do you understand that criminal cases are messy and raw? The details can be horrifying and brutal. Criminal law involves the most base of human nature." His voice slowed for drama and effect as though presenting a closing argument to a jury. "Criminal cases involve the lowest of human instincts lying,,,,cheating.,….stealing…..infidelity and….."

"Murder." Della added, finishing his sentence. She swore she could see a slight smile around his eyes. She leaned slightly closer as he finished his intense narrative.

"I need a secretary who can take the tumbles of a rough business. Murder is not pretty or a convenient 9 to 5 job."

Della continued. "It's 24/7."

She watched him lean back in his chair, his eyes moving from her to the bust.

"When I came in you were adjusting the hat over there." His head nodded to the bust before continuing. "Tell me. What else did you notice about your surroundings?"

Della's eyebrows rose slightly. "Well, the office is neat, organized, dignified and efficient. The furnishings are modern, functional, showing signs of a strong, forceful personality. The bust of Justice Blackstone is a tribute of respect for the legal system and the hat…" she paused for added effect. "The hat on the bust is a sign of rebellion, a sign of a nonconformist, an unconventional personality who respects the letter of the law but is more interested in justice….the spirit of the law." Della leaned forward and with a radiant smile, "and the scent of the cologne on the hat is 'Old Spice'."

Della swore she could see a slight smile pull at his lips as he rose to his full height, towering above her. The man certainly had physical presence. Again she saw the twinkle in his eye.

"When can you start, Miss Street?"

"As soon as I give Sterling & Price my notice." Della smiled, slowly rising, feeling a little light-headed. She looked up to see him standing beside her, his hand extended; she shook his hand feeling both strength and softness.

"My secretary will be in touch," Perry Mason said as he guided her to the door leaving his office. Della Street felt as though she were floating through the doorway. When he spoke, she turned and waited.

"By the way, your observations are correct I am unconventional." He smiled, his eyes twinkling. "And the cologne is 'Old Spice'."

She felt her heart race as she gave him a radiant smile.