"Mornin' to you, Mr. Mason! Congratulations are in order, I hear!" Jimmy momentarily ceased the whipping action of his cloth across the toes of the shoes he was polishing.
The lawyer nodded to the man who occupied the shoes. He smiled at the lawyer over the top of his newspaper. The headline screamed Perry Mason's latest success.
"Back to the office awfully early this morning," Jimmy observed. "No rest for the wicked?"
The lawyer chuckled. "Afraid not. And it's been a long morning already. " He held up his briefcase, indicating the scratches along one side. "I sat my briefcase down at the news stand and a bicycle messenger ran into it. Any chance you can clean it up for me?"
Jimmy glanced at the attaché case. "No problem. Those scratches don't look deep. I'll fix the brass bit, too." Mason glanced down and noticed the brass cover on one of the corners was wrenched out from the leather and hanging loosely. "Why don't you send it down once you've taken your papers out and I'll fix it for you as soon as I'm done with my morning rush?"
"Great. I really appreciate it," Mason said.
"No problem. Can't have the best lawyer in town running around with a shoddy briefcase, can we?" Jimmy grinned up at him.
Mason laughed. "I'll send it down in a bit. Have a nice day, Jimmy."
"You too, Mr. Mason!"
Perry Mason tucked the newspaper he'd bought outside under his arm and crossed the lobby of the Brent Building in long, easy strides. The large, open space bustled with businesspeople starting their day. As he reached the bank of elevators, the only available car was filling up. The operator indicated she would hold the door for him, but he shook his head. She favored the handsome lawyer with a bright smile and closed the door, sending the car upwards.
Mason stood alone for only moments before another group began to form in front of the elevators. When the operator opened the doors of the next car, he was joined by a man and woman who'd evidently arrived together. They were talking animatedly as they entered the car. Mason nodded a greeting to the operator. The young man touched his cap in return.
The doors were closing as the operator glanced out at the lobby. He opened to doors again. Quick steps brought one other rider into the elevator.
Mason was trying to find the sports headlines, holding the paper in one hand and his briefcase in the other, without success. The sports section was buried in the interior and he needed two hands to access it without dropping the paper all over the elevator floor. Giving up with an all but silent sigh of frustration, he stuffed the newspaper under his arm once more.
"I just don't care, Tommy! I insist. We are going to have the brooch appraised independently," a slim blonde in a mink stole and designer hat told her companion. She pulled the stole up a little higher on her shoulders. Her companion seemed sulky in contrast to the woman's aloof manner.
"Roger's insurance company will appraise it before they write the policy," the man said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I don't trust an insurance company to make a fair appraisal when the policy they write depends on it. Honestly, Tommy, you have no head for business." The blond tossed her peroxide locks and turned to glance at the tall, dark-eyed man in the corner behind her. He returned her gaze with level eyes. She flashed him a brilliant smile. "My brother," she said, placing slight emphasis on the relationship, "doesn't understand the value of being fully informed. I always think a girl does well to know exactly what she's got, wouldn't you say?"
Mason stared at her a moment longer, his eyes taking in her shapely, silk clad legs perched atop stylish heels. "Facts certainly are important, in my experience," he finally said. The woman smiled and patted his arm.
At that moment the elevator car lurched to an unexpected stop. The woman gave a little scream and managed to stumble, falling back against the lawyer's chest, briefly, before laughingly righting herself.
"Hey! What's going on?" Tommy demanded.
"Sorry," said the elevator operator, his attention on the control panel. "Not sure what that was, but we seem to be ok." He pushed the lever and looked expectantly at the floor indicator.
"What the-?" Tommy said, reaching out and pounding on the door.
"Just be patient," came the resonant voice from behind him. Tommy turned to look at the other man. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "Just a touch of claustrophobia."
Mason nodded. "I'm sure Eddie will have us going again in just a few moments."
"I'm not sure Mr. Mason," the operator said. "The instrument panel seems to be dead."
"Can you call for help?"
Mason turned in the direction of the voice. It belonged to the fourth passenger, the one who'd entered the car while he was trying to read the paper. This passenger glanced at her wrist watch and back at the control panel.
"No ma'am," Eddie said. "Everything seems to be out." He glanced back over his shoulder at the woman. "I'm really sorry."
She smiled at him. "It's not your fault."
Eddie's face brightened as he returned to his work.
Perry Mason's initial glance had confirmed that the voice was well suited to its package. The woman was tall, but not unusually so. Her long legs appeared to be athletic and well-shaped. The trim figure was not overtly on display, but the cut of her double-breasted business suit accentuated her form rather nicely. The body certainly didn't disappoint, and Mason was suddenly aware he hadn't looked at her face.
The woman seemed to feel Mason's eyes on her.
He raised his eyes almost sheepishly. The warm brown eyes he met showed amusement at his sudden discomfort. She cocked a perfectly shaped eyebrow at him and he grinned in return. The face, he discovered, was beautiful in an understated way. She had none of the heavy make-up of the blonde woman, but her own subtle coloring was attractively accented by the make-up she chose. Mason found the effect especially enticing in contrast to the cool presentation of her icy neighbor.
It was that neighbor that suddenly demanded his attention.
"Can't anyone do something? I simply have to get to my appointment!" She all but stamped her foot.
"You're not helping, Maryann," Tommy said, his voice flat and dull.
"Oh, I know, you're right." She smiled petulantly at the others. "It's just so important to me." She brought out a velvet box and studied its contents. "This is the first piece of real jewelry that my fiancé, Robert, has bought for me," she said, directed mostly at Mason. "I so want to make sure it is fully protected. If something were to happen to it…why, it's irreplaceable." Her eyelashes fluttered demurely as she fondled the precious stones she held in her hand.
"And yet you're insuring it, for cash, anyway?" came the wry comment from the brunette. The sarcasm appeared to be lost on Maryann, but Mason had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
Maryann handed the box to the lawyer. "Beautiful, isn't it?" she crooned, looking up at him from beneath her darkened eyelashes.
"It certainly is. Very nice, indeed. Don't you agree, Miss?" He handed the box over to the brunette. She glanced at him in surprise and took the box when he winked surreptitiously at her.
"What a nice piece…" her velvety voice trailed off. She held the box up to the light momentarily. "Well, you will certainly want to keep your appointment with your appraiser, but I wouldn't worry about making it to your insurance appointment." She held the box out to Maryann. "This is a fake."
"What?" The blonde snatched the box from the brunette. "What would you know about it?" she all but snarled.
"The ruby chips are probably real." Mason thought he heard a subtle emphasis on the word 'chip'. "But the sapphire and the diamonds are paste."
Tommy took the box from his sister and stared at the contents. "Are you sure?" he asked.
"Reasonably," was the measured reply.
The young man broke into laughter. "Isn't that a trip! Robert is smarter than I gave him credit for!"
Anger flared in Maryann's icy blue eyes as her brother continued to laugh. She whirled on the other woman, every advantage of breeding and cunning brought to bear as she drew herself up and attempted to look down her nose at her adversary. "How dare you! I don't know who you think you are, but you've no right to disparage my fiancé this way. It must take a very small, unhappy person indeed to get their kicks out of insulting the gift of another that way."
The gaze from the dark-haired woman remained steady as she met the wrath of the blonde. "I'm not making a judgment about anything other than the authenticity of the stones," she said with quiet authority. "Any other disparagements are yours alone."
Maryann opened her mouth to speak, but a raised brow from the brunette was enough to stifle any further debate on the matter. Mason watched the exchange closely, a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
Maryann took the box back from her brother's hand. "Suddenly everyone is an expert. You'll pardon me if I don't take the word of a stranger in an elevator!" Her voice dripped venom. The other woman merely smiled and returned her attention to Eddie at the elevator's controls.
"Any progress?" she inquired.
"Maybe," he said, his voice distracted. He withdrew his hand from the inside of the panel where he'd been jiggling wires. "Let's see how it works now." As he spoke, he pushed the lever and his passengers braced themselves for movement.
Everyone exhaled as one and relaxed a bit.
Then the elevator dropped and lurched sickeningly to one side.
Maryann screamed as her brother fell into her, his elbow sinking into her side. Mason dropped his newspaper in an attempt to hold on to the brunette who fell against him and his briefcase. She caught her breath in an audible gasp. Mason couldn't help but feel slightly smug as he helped her back on her own feet. He, too, had found the contact rather electric.
"Everyone alright?" Eddie asked, his voice none too steady. There was a general murmur of agreement.
Mason ignored the others and looked at the woman, hoping to communicate something of his pleasure at being able to catch the falling damsel.
She wasn't looking at him.
Instead, her attention was directed to her leg and she bent forward slightly to examine it. Then Mason noticed a tear in the fabric of her skirt. The young woman pulled the skirt up a bit to reveal a torn stocking and a bleeding scrape along the outside of her knee. Evidently her gasp had been due to pain, rather than pleasure.
Mason instantly realized what had happened. The loose piece of brass on his briefcase must have caught her skirt and torn it, scratching the delicate skin underneath. The woman was pulling the torn nylon away from her skin.
"I'm so sorry!" he exclaimed. "My briefcase was damaged earlier and the brass corner is loose. Are you alright?"
"I'll live," was her distracted reply.
Mason pulled out a handkerchief, intending to give it to her, when she raised her skirt a little further to better survey the damage. The lawyer's attention was captured by the move and he simply held the cloth in his hand.
She cleared her throat significantly. His attention was immediately focused back on her face and he held the square of soft cotton out to her. "Thank you so much," was her sardonic comment as she took it from him and dabbed the blood.
"Listen folks," Eddie said. "I'm really worried about this. If you two can help me," he indicated the men, "I think we can force the doors open and get out of here. We should be close enough to floor level to climb out of here."
"Anything to get out of here!" Tommy said. "Let's do it!"
The three men threw their weight into the task and within just a few minutes they'd forced the doors enough to get through and to pull the women up to safety. They were one floor below the jewelry appraisal firm and two floors below Mason's office.
With a last look at the imposing lawyer, Maryann and her brother headed towards the stairwell and their appointment above.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Mason asked the remaining young woman.
"I'll be fine. Is there a ladies room where I could freshen up?" she asked, looking around. Mason beckoned her to follow him and led the way down the hall to the restrooms. She smiled her thanks and went inside.
Instead of leaving, Perry Mason walked a few steps back down the hall, then set his briefcase on the floor and leaned back against the wall. When the woman re-entered the hallway a few minutes later, she found him leaning there, reading the newspaper and waiting patiently. She glanced at him curiously and turned to walk in the opposite direction. "Wait!" he called to her, hastily folding the paper. He grabbed his attaché and walked rapidly in her direction. Her eyes hardened slightly and she said over her shoulder, "I'm already late for my interview. I'm sorry, but I don't have time to stop and talk."
Eyebrows raised in surprise, he fell into step alongside her. "Interview? A job interview?" His voice had a slight edge of excitement.
"Yes," she said firmly, apparently unaware of the change in his tone. "I really need to get upstairs."
"Stairs are in the other direction," he told her coming to a halt.
The woman groaned in frustration and whirled around, taking off in the other direction. Again Mason matched her stride. "I apologize for continuing to bother you, but I have to ask. How did you know?"
"About the brooch. How did you know it was a fake?"
"I don't have time to explain the particulars to you now."
Mason shook his head in frustration. "I'm being imprecise. How did you get to be such an expert in fake gems?" When it appeared she had no intention of answering, he reached out and took hold of her arm. "Please, I would really like to know."
She came to an abrupt halt, turned on him and took a belligerent step in his direction. "Do not touch me again. In fact, don't talk to me again. I am in a hurry and you've been very nice so far, but to be honest I'm not looking for any male attention right now, so I would really appreciate it if you would just leave me alone." Her hazel eyes blazed with a green fire.
"I realize the timing is bad, but I know all about your job interview and I will make sure you aren't penalized. And I'm not trying to make a move on you. It's just that you don't fit the profile for an expert on fake gemstones. I'm a student of human nature and I'd love to know the story about how you came by those skills." He gave her his most sincere smile while stepping away from her. He could swear he felt heat radiating from her.
She studied him closely for a moment, then glanced once more at her watch. "Oh, hell." Perry couldn't help but smile. The mild profanity sounded positively sultry in her throaty voice. "I'm so late now, I guess it doesn't really matter."
"Good," Mason said, taking her arm and leading her over to a pair of chairs posted outside the elevator doors, lined up on either side of an ashtray. She sat and he pulled a chair around to face her before sitting down himself. She crossed her knees and made no move to either let her skirt travel up her thigh or to pull down the hem. Mason tore his eyes from the contours of her knee and looked expectantly at her.
"Do you always get your way?" she asked.
"Whenever possible," he replied. "Tell me about the gems."
"Alright, fine. My father was in the wholesale gemstone business. He had a quarter interest in an South African diamond mine with a partnership. He handled the imports and sold them wholesale from his office in Chicago. Believe it or not, the business was on the up and up. They were all highly ethical men. I spent a lot of time at the office with my father. Much to my mother's chagrin, I was fascinated with the business and learned a lot from watching Dad and his brokers. Eventually they gave me a part-time job in the firm doing some of the initial evaluations of the stones they received on import. I planned to go to work full-time for the firm once I finished business school."
"So how did you end up in Los Angeles, looking for secretarial work?" Mason asked.
She was silent for a moment, seemingly debating whether or not to continue her story. "Things didn't work out as we planned. Unfortunately, even though my father and his partners were honest men, many of the people they worked with were not. They got involved in some bad investments before the crash. They would have been ok and been able to pay their way out if it hadn't been for the stock market crash. They lost everything. My father was wiped out."
The lawyer listened with rapt attention. The woman reached up and brushed a curl back behind her ear. "I found my prospects suddenly shortened with the failure of my father's business. I could have stayed and been a burden on my parents until they married off to some husband who could take over my care and feeding." Her voice hardened just a bit. "I decided that wasn't what I wanted and here I am."
The lawyer's piercing blue eyes bored into her, without malice but with a full expectation of obtaining answers. "You just hopped the first train west? Or what?" He had the distinct pleasure of seeing a small smile tweak the corners of her mouth.
"Not exactly. I took a secretarial course after high school and then hopped a bus to come to Los Angeles to stay with an aunt. She helped me find a place in a decent rooming house and I got hired in the secretarial pool for an investment firm. I thought I might have a chance to move up, but," she hesitated, "I wasn't interested in their particular employee advancement plan."
Her gaze became distant for just a moment, then she was standing and holding out her hand to the attorney. "Satisfied?" she asked, arching a perfect eyebrow at him.
"Not even close, but I suppose it will have to do for now." He gripped her hand firmly.
As she began to pull away he said, "Come with me. I'll show you the way upstairs." He picked up his briefcase and took off in the direction of the stairwell. She followed him without question. When they reached their floor he held the door for her. As she slid past him she spoke. "You've managed to get me to tell you my life's story, but you've never even asked my name." It was a statement, not a question.
"I don't need to ask your name," he said with a grin and walked past her towards the end of the hall. She all but had to run to catch up to him. "Why?"
He reached for the door to an office reception room. "Because I'm Perry Mason."
She stared at him, her expression puzzled. "So?"
He opened the door and stepped back for her to enter. "And you must be Miss Williams, my nine o'clock interview."
"No, I'm not!"
"Yes, I am!"
The second voice belonged to a perky red-head who'd been engaged in conversation with Gertie, the lawyer's receptionist. She stepped forward, her expression ingratiating and stuck out her hand. "I'm very pleased to meet such a famous attorney, Mr. Mason. I do so hope we can work together. I've been a great admirer."
"Attorney? Of all the…" the velvety voice was tight with anger. "I have an interview with Smith and Smith, the CPA firm."
"They're at the other end of the hall, Miss," said Gertie brightly.
"Thank you," the woman said, pointedly ignoring the dumbstruck lawyer. She turned on her heel and walked purposely down the hall. Mason called after her, but she didn't even acknowledge him.
"Mr. Mason?" Miss Williams's voice brought his attention back inside his office.
"Oh, yes, Miss…Williams. I – I'll be with you in just a moment." He smiled weakly and walked past the receptionist, towards his private office. He felt like a fool. He'd been so sure… Now the woman was gone, she was angry with him and he didn't even know her name. What did it matter, really?
He couldn't put his finger on the reasons why, but it mattered. A lot.
After depositing his coat and the banged-up briefcase in the coat closet, he surveyed his desk, strewn with papers and law books. A heavy sigh escaped his lips. He needed more than just a secretary, he needed a true assistant. Someone he could talk to, bounce ideas off of. He needed someone willing to stand up to him and point out any fallacies in his reasoning. The study of human nature was something he excelled in. There was no doubt in his mind that the beautiful brunette with the green fire in her eyes would be the perfect foil for him.
But he'd totally muffed the play. He knew better than to grandstand on such flimsy evidence. The outcome was always dangerously uncertain. But that seldom stopped him from doing it.
At that point his gaze rested on the phone. Making a decision, he crossed to his desk, picked it up and dialed the number of the direct line to Paul Drake's desk.
"I have a job for you," he said when the detective answered. "Get down to the lobby and watch for a woman."
"Just any woman?" the sleuth drawled. "Because, depending on how picky you are, I can get you a woman with a simple phone call and just save myself the trip downstairs."
"I'm serious, Paul. There is a brunette coming downstairs sometime in the next hour. She's built – legs that don't quit. Greenish eyes, short, curly hair, blue double-breasted suit. There is a tear in the skirt, down at the hem on the left side."
"Interesting. What happened to the skirt?"
"It was my fault, but it's less interesting than it sounds."
"Oh sure." Mason could all but hear the other man grin.
"Just get down there and stop her. Call me when you've got her."
"How, exactly, do you suggest I keep her once I've caught her?"
"I don't care. Tell her you're investigating the elevator accident. Tie her to the newsstand if you have to. Just don't let her leave until I get there. I've got to conduct a job interview and then I'll be down."
"Ok. You're the boss." Drake hung up the phone.
Perry Mason had Gertie send Miss Williams into his office and asked a few perfunctory questions while trying to determine the best way to politely extricate himself from the interview. For her part, the bubbly red-head became less and less enamored with the attorney she'd hoped to work for. She didn't normally face such obvious disinterest from the opposite sex.
Finally putting a merciless end to the session, Mason said, "Have you ever considered working in a CPA firm? I really think it might suit your talents and abilities just perfectly."
Miss Williams indicated that she'd never specifically considered it.
"I happen to know that the firm just down the hall is accepting applications and conducting interviews. I think you would enjoy for the job more than the tedium of filing paperwork and answering mail in this office. Shall I recommend you to them?"
"I…I suppose so." She eyed the lawyer suspiciously. "I'll put in an application there right away." She knew for a fact that she would rather work there than for Perry Mason. He would drive her crazy. She gathered her purse and shook hands and exited the office, confident that Mr. Perry Mason would have a hard time finding anyone actually willing to work for him.
Once she quitted the office, Mason sighed and checked the clock. Paul Drake had the lobby covered, so Perry decided t o go wait outside the door to the CPA firm, the spot he'd last seen the woman. He pushed a button on his intercom and called Gertie.
"Yes, Mr. Mason?"
"Call the rest of my applicants, Gertie. Let them know the position has been filled and I won't be conducting any more interviews."
"Yes, sir. So Miss Williams is taking the job?"
"No, but I'm about to go get my new secretary and convince her to come to work. Wish me luck."
"Oh. Well, ok. Good luck, then, sir."
Thankful, not for the first time, for his receptionist's unquestioning nature, Mason broke the connection and headed for the hallway door. Hand on the knob, he stopped when the phone on his desk rang.
Jerking up the receiver, he barked a quick greeting.
" She's really beautiful when she's angry, Perry. And she's pretty angry."
"Where are you?"
"I've got her holed up in a booth in Clay's. She's not going to stick for much longer. She thinks I'm investigating the elevator accident for the building managers. But she's just about had it and is ready to be done with this place and everyone in it. You'd better get down here in a hurry."
"On my way!"
Mason jogged down the hall, digging cash out of his pocket that he planned to use to bribe the elevator operator to give him a non-stop ride to the bottom floor. He rounded a corner to the elevator lobby, only to find that all the cars were grounded until they could be inspected for safety.
The lawyer took a deep breath and opened the stairwell door. He started his eleven floor journey, thankful he was headed down and not up.
By the time he burst through the door at the ground floor, Mason was beginning to curse his busy schedule that left little time for his more physical pursuits. Vowing not to neglect his exercise in the future, he stormed across the lobby to the door of Clay's Grille.
Once inside he met the relieved eyes of Paul Drake, sitting facing him in a booth in the back corner. Motioning him over, the detective stood, said something to his companion and moved out of the booth towards the counter. Mason was cognitive of the detective seating himself on a stool within earshot as he himself slid into the now vacated seat.
His gaze met the flashing hazel-green eyes of his elevator companion.
"You! I thought -." She glanced accusingly at Paul Drake who was suddenly very interested in ordering another cup of coffee from the waitress.
"Yes, me. Listen, I apologize for keeping you here but I had to see you." He opened his mouth to continue, but she was sliding out of the booth.
"Fine. You saw me. Now you can watch me leave."
"Wait!" He reached out as if to take hold of her arm, but he pulled back without touching her. His piercing blue eyes searched her face. "Please stay. I really need to talk to you."
She locked eyes with him for a long moment, her anger slowly beginning to dissipate in the face of curiosity. She slid back into the seat. "Once again you're getting your way. How do you do it?" she asked, her voice somewhat sullen.
"Don't really know. But I know I need your help."
"I'm not interested in babysitting," she snapped.
Mason grinned. "Don't worry, I'm not looking for someone to powder my behind."
Paul Drake gave a strangled laugh at that remark and the sound drew the woman's attention. "You're still here? I thought you'd have some elevator shafts to test or something?" she said sarcastically. The detective grinned and downed a large gulp from his coffee cup.
"When a beautiful woman tells me to go take a leap, I generally try to comply. Good luck, Perry!" With that, Drake stood and made his way out.
The woman seemed to relax somewhat when the detective left. Mason used her momentary distraction to study her more closely. The stress of the day was evident in the tight set of her features, but he could also see the beginnings of laugh lines that belied her current mood. He had experienced her brilliant smile earlier in the morning. Now he hoped to bring it back.
"Things didn't go so well with the interview?" he asked quietly.
She brought her attention back to him. "It didn't go at all. I missed my appointment and they were already talking to someone else." She picked up the spoon and stirred her coffee. "They at least agreed to give me another chance, given my story about the elevator."
"Forget 'em. I want you to come to work for me."
"Why?" she demanded.
"You are intelligent and have a strong character. I need someone like that."
"You hardly know me. You've not seen my resume or anything regarding my work history. How can you be so irresponsible when it comes to your business?"
Mason looked at her and sat back a bit as the waitress set a steaming coffee cup in front of him. The lawyer smiled his thanks and returned his attention to the woman across the table from him. "I know everything I need to know about you. Well, except for your name." He raised an inquiring eyebrow. "I have to admit it seems a bit odd to be offering you a job when I don't even know your name."
"Della Street," she said after a moment's hesitation.
"Miss Street." He smiled widely. "My business revolves around my ability to make snap judgments and to be able to read people. The fact that you are even questioning me about this proves that you are the person I need."
"Circuitous logic, Counselor," she said, looking away from him and out towards the lobby.
Mason grinned. "You've convinced me. Why are you having so much trouble convincing yourself?"
Her eyes returned to his, her expression wary. "I just want a job, Mr. Mason. I have to support myself. And I'm not the least bit interested in your 'snap judgments' or character assessments. Not if it means having to put up with a…" her voice trailed off and she bit her lip.
"This is not exactly the most conventional job offer, is it?" he asked. She looked up and almost smiled. "I promise I am not some spoiled prima donna and I'm not a wolf looking for some office decoration." She looked at him more intently, searching his face for signs of his sincerity. He continued, "I need someone to help me think. Someone who is smart, quick witted and not afraid to stand up to me. It is more than obvious," he said drily, "that you fit that description."
"You don't even know if I can type!"
"I don't care. I'll send you to typing classes if need be. Anyone can type. I need your mind." He leaned across the table and stared intently at her. "And just your mind, I promise."
She looked down at the coffee as she swirled it around the cup. She sighed heavily. "I don't know. I've never done any legal work."
"Whatever the CPAs were going to pay you, I'll pay you five thousand a year more."
She all but choked on the coffee. "Five thousand?" She sat the cup down soundly on the table and grabbed her purse. Mason froze for just a moment before he grasped what was happening. She rose from the booth in one graceful movement and was two steps towards the exit before he realized she was leaving.
"What the hell? Wait!" he called after her, scrambling to his feet. He tossed a five dollar bill on the table and rushed out the door.
The long-legged brunette was almost out the front door before he caught up to her. "Care to explain?" he asked falling into step alongside her. He made no move to stop her, but stayed at her side as she exited the office building, out onto the sidewalk.
Realizing his tenacity, she finally stopped. "You're not seriously trying to hire someone you don't know anything about for such an outrageous sum of money. Either you are insane or an idiot. I don't want to work for either, so let's just stop wasting each other's time. "
"Give me a week. Let me prove you wrong," he implored.
She sighed, and crossed her arms over her chest. "A week?"
Mason drew himself up to his full height, hand placed over his heart. "I am neither mentally incapacitated nor congenitally idiotic. Give me a week to prove it to you. You won't regret it. Ever."
She looked up into his face, eyes boring into him as if she could see his every thought written in his eyes. Other passersby on the street stared curiously at the two of them as they sidestepped the couple to make their way down the sidewalk. The towering man with the commanding presence, standing hatless in the middle of the sidewalk, arms crossed and gazing down intently at the beautiful woman who matched his pose and the intensity of his gaze, drew more than their fair share of attention.
She looked away first, her gaze landing on the stack of newspapers on the ground next to the newsstand. Mason watched the ever so slight widening of her eyes as they swept over the headlines proclaiming his prowess as a protector of the innocent. He hardly dared to breathe.
Finally she came to a decision.
"I'll give you a week."
"Wonderful! You won't regret it!"
"That remains to be seen," she muttered as they turned and walked back into the Brent building.
Ten years later…
Della Street drew in a deep breath as she leaned on the balcony railing. The office behind her was dark and quiet. The city lights twinkled around her and a crisp cool breeze stirred her hair. It had been a long day, and at long last their latest case had been settled. A very satisfied client was evidence of the effectiveness of their efforts. The work was rewarding, but she was more than ready to relax.
The baritone voice sounded next to her ear. She leaned back slightly as strong arms circled her waist from behind. She felt warm breath on her neck, followed by warm lips. A smile of contentment spread across her features as Perry Mason lavished attention on the sensitive skin of her neck.
"You…" he murmured, his voice holding none of the intimidating power that it had when booming through the courtroom earlier in the day, "taste every bit as good as you look."
Della turned to face him. She reached up and took his face in her hands. "You don't have to sweet talk me, Chief," she said with a sly grin. "I already agreed to go home with you."
Mason laughed deep in his chest. "I know, but I still find it hard to believe. Even after all these years." He kissed her deeply then pulled back slightly. "And you really DO taste good," he said with a grin.
Della didn't answer, but pulled his head down to hers. The kiss lingered for several long moments. When they finally pulled apart, he took hold of her hands. "Ready to go?"
"Almost," she replied and turned to take another look at the skyline. "It's so beautiful up here at night. I never get tired of this view."
"Me neither," he said, standing next to her at the railing, an arm draped around her waist. "And I can't think of anyone I'd rather share it with." Della smiled and moved closer, leaning her head against his shoulder.
"It never gets old," she agreed. "One of the best parts of the job."
The stood silently, taking in the scene. Eventually the quietness was broken by Perry's voice. "You know, you never told me whether or not you were staying."
"Yes I did. I told you I didn't have any plans and we can spend the whole weekend together if you want." She looked at him quizzically.
He shook his head and grinned down at her. "You never told me if you were staying after that first week on the job."
The look of confusion on her face dissolved into amusement. "Maybe I haven't made up my mind yet."
"Yes, you do seem to have problems with indecision when it comes to your future," he said ruefully.
She eyed him from underneath lowered lashes and treated him to a taste of her throaty laughter. "And to think I would have missed out on so much if I hadn't taken this job. Long hours, seedy witnesses, murder, mayhem, not to mention all the times I've almost been arrested."
Perry cocked an eyebrow at her and leaned in close. When he spoke his breath tickled the sensitive skin below her earlobe. "That's it? How about the dinners, the dancing and the occasional trip out of town with the boss? Strictly business, of course."
Della licked her lips as Perry kissed his way down her neckline, his fingers skimming just below the collar of her blouse. "Strictly business," she purred. "Of course. Just like the midnight conferences and the weekend work sessions?"
"Of course," Perry replied, his fingers beginning to work at opening the buttons of her blouse. Paying ample attention to the hollow of her throat and top of her chest as it was freed to his access; he punctuated his kisses with words. "I am…strictly business…baby."
She moaned softly and held him close, one arm draped over his broad shoulder, the other holding the back of his head, demanding more from him. Their bodies melded together and the desire of each for the other increasing to almost unmanageable levels.
"P-Perry," Della gasped. "We can't do this…here…now."
Reluctantly pulling back, Perry glanced at his wrist watch. "Damn! The cleaning crew will be here any minute!"
Della stepped away and quickly re-buttoned her blouse. "It won't take me long to run home and pack a bag. I can be at your apartment in an hour."
She glanced up in surprise, just as he descended on her, kissing her hungrily, gripping her body tightly and holding it to his.
"I need you, Della. You've got clothes are my place. We're leaving your car here and you're coming home with me." As he spoke, they heard the sound of a door being unlocked and then the lights in the waiting room snapped on.
"Oh, hell! I'm in no shape to meet the cleaning crew," the lawyer said. He pulled Della back into the office and they grabbed their coats. Mason held the hallway door for her as she gathered her purse and then they were headed down the corridor to the elevators.
Safely inside, Mason pushed the button for the parking garage as Della used the mirrored wall to help her smooth her rumpled hair. The cables pulled taut and the car started its descent. Della suddenly laughed softly.
"What?" Mason asked.
"I was just thinking about the first time we were in this elevator together." Their eyes met and he smiled in understanding.
"Just in case you were still wondering, I think the week went pretty well."
"So, you're going to keep the job?"
Their eyes met for a long moment. Then Mason reached for the control panel and pushed the stop button with one hand, while reaching for Della with the other.
"Thank God for the automatic elevator – no need for an operator," he muttered.
"I've never missed Eddie less," Della agreed in a whisper.
The lawyer and secretary then proceeded to celebrate the newfound permanence of their relationship -working or otherwise.