A sequel to The Interview-Perry, The Interview-Della and Laura's Lost Love
PG-13 Alcohol and tobacco consumption, language and sexual situations.
Author: Bibliophile tropicale
Disclaimer: 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.
Acknowledgement: I'd like to thank my beta reader for her time, support and encouragement.
What's in your wallet? Fate brought them together….two years after Laura's Lost Love.
The Wallet—Chapter 1
Della Street rushed inside the upscale eatery, slipped into the corner booth and caught the tail end of a lewd joke. The secretary's four best friends sat laughing hysterically. Their friendships had begun in the steno pool of Sterling and Price and, despite new jobs and new schedules, the group continued to meet and share their lives and experiences as time allowed.
"Oh, Della, we're almost ready to leave," Vi exclaimed trying to catch her breath from laughing. "We thought you weren't coming."
Della knew when she left the office she was running late. Still, she'd hoped to squeeze in some time with her friends before meeting Perry for lunch at the same eatery. The lawyer was returning from a meeting in south LA and had promised to arrive at the restaurant for their lunch engagement.
"I tried to leave the office, but Jackson called from the courthouse and needed some last minute information. You know how it is!" Della confessed, exasperated.
"We know. We know!" the three other secretaries replied in unison.
Stella glanced at her watch. "We have 15 minutes, girls. Let's bring Della up to speed."
"Do you have your organizer with you?" Vi asked.
Della pulled the book from her purse and opened it immediately to the date, the pages covered with appointments, reminders, colorful tabs and directions. The three women looked at each other and smiled. "Of course she does. She's good," they declared, their heads nodding in agreement.
Della grinned. "I'm better than good."
"And modest too," Betsy added.
Vi pushed the plates aside and pulled out her planner and opened it. "We're making plans for a ski trip to Colorado over the holidays. We'll be booking our rooms in the next few days."
Betsy pulled out a brochure and placed it across Vi's planner. "This is the chalet, Della. And look, here's the fireplace and check this out….. Phillipe, Marco, and Claude will be our skiing instructors."
"You know how to ski, Betsy!" Della laughed.
The secretary brought her fingertip to her lips. "No, I don't. Not when Phillipe can put his arms around me on those slippery slopes."
The three women gave each other knowing looks, then Vi spoke, "On this trip no one knows how to ski, got it?"
"I get it," Della mused.
"This is the date." Vi pointed to the number in her calendar.
Della penciled the date into her book. Wistfully she sighed, "You know, I really don't know if I can obligate myself. Murder cases don't follow a neat schedule. They happen, and the holidays seem to bring out both the best and the worst in people."
Vi sighed as she closed her book. "What's the saying, 'death doesn't take a holiday'?"
Betsy tried to look solemn but came off as tongue in cheek. "The holidays can be murder. We've had some rough times around our house, a lot of yelling and screaming. Fortunately no one died."
Stella folded her arms. "Well this is certainly cheerful. Here I am curled up next to Claude by the fireplace and you three have someone getting whacked."
"Well, it's what she does," Vi interceded. "Since Betsy and I are in corporate law and your office handles family and civil cases, we can pretty much follow a schedule."
She looked over at Della and shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry. We forget this criminal law stuff is so different.… and," she grinned, "probably far more interesting."
Vi reached over and patted her friend's hand. "Just do the best you can. It won't be the same without you. Can't you convince Perry to hold off on taking any cases over the holiday and that you two need this time away from it all? Bring him along; there are only three ski instructors and we're not sharing." Then she winked. "Not that you'd be interested anyway."
Della smiled sweetly. "I'll see what I can do."
Stella checked her watch again. "That's it ladies, duty calls."
One by one they slid from the booth, gathering their purses and headed across the floor of the restaurant as a bus boy scurried to clear away their dishes. As they reassembled near the door, they noticed three men waiting at the entrance for their table.
"Isn't that Morgan Pierce, CEO of Radco Electronics?" Vi whispered to Betsy. "And his VP Stanley Mortison?"
Betsy's eyes narrowed as she studied the two men, her eyes moving to the taller man with them. His appearance was impressive: expensive gray suit, a gold watch chain dangling from his pocket, white hair swept back from a patrician face. "Yes, I think you're right. I've seen them around. Radco has grown very quickly. I had lunch with Phyllis Jason on Thursday and she said they've hired a lot of new people and are looking for more, especially in product development. Who's that with them?"
Stella listened to her friends and followed their gaze as the three men were led to their old table. "I don't know about the CEO or VP, but the man with them…" Stella nodded her head as she studied him from head to toe. "I'd like to take him on that ski trip."
Della watched her friends ogle over the three men in business suits and wondered what was keeping Perry. She smiled and cleared her voice. "Humm, where will you be eating next week?"
Stella glanced at her watch again. "I don't know, Della, but we have to run. We'll call and let you know, promise."
The three each gave her a hug and darted for the door. Della sighed and turned to the maitre'd. "I believe you have a reservation for Perry Mason."
The CEO and VP of Radco ordered cocktails, while the older man ordered whiskey. Nervously Morgan Pierce smoothed down his tie and looked around the restaurant for any familiar faces. He wanted to make sure their meeting was anonymous before he began. "Radco is an up and coming electronic's company. Our research and development group has been working diligently in hopes of gaining a lucrative military contract." Pierce's eyes studied the man seated across from them, found a face devoid of expression, and felt his courage waning.
Stanley Mortison stepped in. "The navy is in need of a new navigation system for their submarines and we know we can satisfy that need." He paused and was disappointed when the man across from them remained silent. He plowed on. "Mr. Robertson, we're very grateful you could meet with us today on such short notice."
The server brought out their drinks and placed them on the table. The Radco executives anxiously sipped their cocktails, watching Robertson's eyes study them and then glance in the direction of the maitre'd and the tall slender brunette.
Tom Robertson sat quietly with his hands folded in his lap and felt discomfort in his lower back. He could hear Morgan Pierce's voice droning on and saw the sweat pop out on the man's brow. With one hand, Robertson surreptitiously reached behind him for the object. Careful to keep the object below the table and out of view, he glanced down …..a smooth black oblong wallet with a sleek and elegant gold fastener.
Robertson's eyes glanced up again and saw Morgan Pierce digging in his coat pocket. His eyes immediately scanned around the restaurant, checking out the other patrons as his finger moved across the velvety leather. The maitre'd escorted the woman he had noticed across the floor to a table in the far corner. His eyes flowed over her tall, shapely form, long legs, and short wavy hair. Gracefully she slipped behind the table and looked toward the entrance. His eyes returned to the anxious men who sat across from him.
Pierce nervously held the folded paper in front of him. "Again, Mr. Robertson, we are grateful you could meet with us. Thank your for working us into your busy schedule."
Stop the damn groveling and get on with it." Robertson blankly watched the man, not revealing his impatience, as his finger gently caressed the leather wallet. His thumb slipped beneath the clasp and opened it. His eyes darted down and looked inside the wallet. The plastic sleeve revealed a driver's license photo.
VP Mortison took note of Robertson's downcast eyes and blurted out to Pierce, "It may be too late, Morgan."
Robertson looked up. The face in the photo was still in the restaurant and belonged to the young woman at the far table, the one dressed in the elegant black monogrammed sweater. Casually she would glance at the menu and then anxiously survey the entrance.
Nervously, Pierce held the folded paper across the table. "Mr. Robertson, we'd like to offer your firm a retainer to represent us if the case should arise."
Leisurely, Tom reached over and took the folded paper and opened it… a check. His eyes slowly looked up and waited.
Pierce licked his lips nervously. "Do you see enough zeroes?"
Robertson gently laid the paper on the table and spoke for the first time. "And what will my firm do for you?"
Pierce and Mortison looked at each other. Mortison replied, "Nothing."
Robertson looked down again at the wallet, his eyes noting the tiny paper inserted inside the plastic sleeve on the license, a fortune from a fortune cookie. He resisted the urge to smile. His eyes darted across the restaurant to the young woman at the far table. "A romantic. I like that."
Mortison watched Robertson's eyes divert again, turned and whispered to the CEO, "I told you it wasn't enough."
Robertson took a sip of the whiskey and watched the two men squirm. His eyes darted down again as he flipped through the plastic sleeves, noting the membership cards to several professional organizations and various photos.
Finally Robertson grew impatient and stated, "So all of this is for nothing."
"Well, it's really more than it seems," Mortison began and watched Robertson's eyes lower again. He elbowed Pierce, his eyes urgently appealing for help.
Pierce stepped in. "We hope it's not too late. We've heard rumors from a few of our stockholders."
Tom's finger moved across the smooth black surface of the top grain cowhide. The golden bar clasp was clean and elegant, like the woman in the black sweater, her body lean and elegant like his favorite black Jaguar coupe.
Lazily he looked up at them, growing tired of their groveling.
Pierce finally worked up the courage to say it. "Will you take our retainer, Mr. Robertson?"
Tom sighed wearily, glanced down at the check and began. "If Radco becomes a client, we would be precluded from taking on another client intent on acquiring your company…. a conflict of interest. Your retainer is a means of keeping me from sitting on the other side of the table in a corporate takeover."
The Radco executives nervously watched. Then Pierce finally spoke, "With all due respect, sir, you're a formidable adversary. We want you on our side not theirs."
A slight smile pulled at the corner of his lips as he watched her across the floor. "Just like my Jaguar, fast, sleek, and elegant."
Taking the check from the table, the attorney folded and slipped it inside his jacket pocket with a sigh of relief from the men across the table.
"Thank you, Mr. Robertson!" Morgan Pierce began. "Having you on our side will give our shareholders great relief."
Tom's eyes narrowed, his finger once again lovingly caressing the soft leather of the wallet. "You're a small fish in a big pond, gentlemen. It never pays to feel relief. You're still tomorrow's meal, remember that," he warned.
The Radco executives slipped from the booth and stood, their hands extended. "Thank you, Mr. Robertson, for taking our retainer and for your words of advice."
The lawyer nodded, shook their hands, and briefly watched them hurry across the restaurant floor. His eyes moved back to the far table and noticed the brunette still sitting alone, nursing a glass of wine.
"Yes, gentlemen, tomorrow's meal." He knew the ocean well. Currently Radco was too small to be noticed by the top predators. Once they acquired that military contract and flourished, they would pop up as a worthy acquisition. By then, their status as a client would have ended and they would be ripe for the taking. He could wait.
Methodically the young woman checked the entrance and ran slender fingers across her clothes, then her hair. "Waiting for a secret lover…..perhaps?" Robertson's eyes took in every nuance and detail. "No, the table is not secluded enough. A close friend, an associate, with whom she may have both a public and a private relationship …..that's possible. A woman like you will not sit alone for long."
Slowly he pulled the wallet from his lap. Cradling it lovingly in his hands, he brought the leather to his nose and inhaled the heady perfume still clinging to it. For a moment his eyes closed, enjoying the alluring scent. "Chanel #5. How exquisite and so feminine, like cashmere, seamed stockings, and pearls."
The wallet slipped from his hand into his jacket pocket as he finished the last of the whiskey and stood and walked to the far table.
Della had ordered a glass of wine after receiving a message from the waiter that Perry was running late. Turning the stem of her wine glass, she felt a presence standing by the table.
"Pardon me, are you Della Street?" the man asked politely.
The secretary looked up and knew the routine. It was either a potential client who recalled seeing her with Perry Mason or a process server. Her eyes moved over the tall man in the gray tailored suit, his dark brown eyes sparkling, the gray hair flowing back from a handsome face. He looked neither. But the odds were in favor of a process server. Her mind raced through the possible cases as her eyes rolled.
"O.K. let's get this over with," she announced half-heartedly, extending her hand for the papers.
Tom stood passively, his voice firm. "I'm sorry, Miss Street, but I'll need some form of identification, please."
"Oh, all right," she answered wearily, reaching for her purse.
The lawyer watched her search grow more frantic. Casually he sat down in the booth with her and pulled out the wallet.
Della noticed the movement and looked up, her eyes wide with surprise. Then she sighed with relief at the sight before her. "That's my wallet!" she exclaimed. "Where did you find it?"
His head casually gestured toward the far booth. Her eyes followed. Now within touching distance, he realized she was even more beautiful. His eyes studied her delicate features and admired the flawless skin.
Feeling his eyes and physical closeness, the secretary turned and locked eyes with her visitor.
"Smooth, elegant, and beautiful," his voice growing softer, his eyes guiding hers to the wallet in his hand. "And the wallet is attractive too."
A smile pulled at her lips while she studied his intense brown eyes and rugged features.
He lifted the wallet to his nose and inhaled the perfume one last time. "Chanel # 5, I believe. My dear Coco certainly knows the fragrance of romance." He watched her cheeks flush slightly at his candid observation. "And then of course there's the treasured fortune."
Della's eyes widened in alarm and saw him smile. "Don't be concerned, Miss Street…I didn't read it…..The fact that it was there was enough," his voice reassured her as he handed her the wallet. "You see I love a romantic and I learned long ago a gentleman should never pry into a lady's belongings. Some things in this world should remain a mystery."
"Thank you…." Della responded gratefully, waiting for his name.
"Thank you, Tom. I appreciate your valor." She smiled sweetly.
He nodded, his eyes moving over the monogramed DS that graced the front of her sweater.
"I know you're waiting for someone." He began to rise. "You don't impress me as a woman who sits alone for long."
Her eyes darted over the tailored suit that enhanced his broad shoulders, the red silk tie, the Italian white dress shirt, and gold tie pin. "I could say the same for you, Tom." She watched his lips pull into a suave smile. Then she invited. "My lunch date is running late; you can stay if you like."
He eased back into his seat and became comfortable. "So I've piqued your curiosity have I?"
Sipping her wine, Della smiled coyly. "I do love a mystery."
He laughed softly. "I bet you do."
"You graciously returned my wallet. In return, I could at least give you the gift of my time. Tell me, Tom, what do you do?"
"I acquire things."
"Good looks, effusive charm, easy sexuality and mysterious manner, why do you remind me of someone so familiar?" Della pondered.
"Acquiring things can be very expensive, requiring a great deal of money." The secretary observed while gently gliding her manicured finger across her wallet, then softly added, "So what drives you to acquire….is it the money…..the power…. or both?"
Her eyes moved over him and he felt his pulse quicken, his lips pulling to the side in a boyish grin. "You are very good," he whispered seductively.
Della's gave him a sideways look. Feeling his eyes watching her with fascination, she faced him again and lowered her eye lashes. "So I've been told."
"I bet you have. The man who doesn't remind you daily of how good you are should be flogged."
"Flogged?" Her eye brow cocked upward at the comment.
"You heard me right, flogged, within inches of his life. Of course, I'm not that kind of man. I know a good thing when I see it. As I said, I acquire things, and I know what I like and what's worth having, whether it be a fine racing machine, or….."
"or….. what else?" Della asked, toying with him, enjoying the mental gymnastics.
"Anything that's worth having."
Della slipped her wallet back in her purse and asked. "Anything?"
"You're not going to be easy are you?" he laughed. "How would you like to work for me? I guarantee I won't keep you waiting, just name your price and conditions."
Suddenly a tall man with piercing blue eyes swept in, touching Della Street's elbow. "I'm sorry I'm late, Della."
Tom rose as she began the introductions. "Tom, this is my boss, Perry Mason."
The older lawyer fought to keep his composure when he heard the name.
"Perry Mason this is Tom…." Della looked up to her new acquaintance, "….. a corporate lawyer." Robertson noted her keen observation skills before reaching in his pocket and pulling out a business card and handing it to Mason.
Perry looked at the card and read it out loud. "Robertson, Stein, Moore and Whittier."
Tom gave an awkward smile and announced, "I'm Tom Robertson."
Della and Perry looked at each other, then at the tall man standing before them.
Perry Mason offered the older lawyer his hand. "Mr. Robertson, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Tom felt the strength in the lawyer's hand and the intensity of his gaze as Mason sized up the man who had been sitting with his secretary.
Mason noted a slight flushing of Della's cheeks.
"Mr. Mason, I've been enjoying the company of your delightful Miss Street."
"Perry, Tom ….. Mr. Robertson kindly returned my wallet. I guess it fell out in the booth over there."
Mason smiled urbanely. "Thank you, Mr. Robertson, for helping my secretary."
Robertson nodded. "I don't want to intrude on your lunch meeting and I'm glad I could be of service." He turned his attention to Della Street and offered her his hand.
The secretary smiled sweetly as she allowed his hand to slip around hers and watched in amazement as he bent and gently kissed the top of it, his eyes meeting hers. "It's been delightful, Della." For a moment she felt breathless, then laughed nervously.
Robertson rose and faced the younger attorney, whose eyes had taken on a steely gleam. "And it's been especially nice meeting you, Mr. Mason. I wonder if you'd mind meeting me later this evening for drinks at Harry's Place. I've been hearing a great deal about your cases and would enjoy your company. " Robertson paused and glanced in Della Street's direction. "That is if you don't have other obligations."
Perry's eyes narrowed, his fingers gently folding over his closed fist. A smile slowly pulled at the corners of his mouth. "Of course not, Mr. Robertson. You've shown great kindness to Miss Street. It seems only fitting that I return the favor."
"Splendid," Tom replied. "Six p.m., Harry's Place."
Mason nodded in agreement as the older man politely bowed, turned and walked to the restaurant exit.
Perry Mason slowly sat down in the booth, his eyes turning to meet Della Street's. "What was that all about?"
The secretary took a sip of her wine and sighed, "That, Counselor, is one smooth operator!"
Paul Drake's Office
Later that afternoon…..
"Hey, Perry, we could have met in your office," Paul remarked, lighting his cigarette before leaning back in his desk chair.
The lawyer paced a few steps and turned. "No, Paul, I wanted to meet here. It's Della."
"Oh, no, you're not getting me mixed up in hiding anything from Della. She has a sixth sense about these things," the detective warned, shaking his head.
The lawyer shoved his hands in his pockets as he paced the floor; his eyes narrowed in thought. "I'm not keeping secrets; she'll know soon enough. It's just…." His voice trailed off as he stopped and looked at Paul. "It involves Laura Donaldson."
"Oh!" Paul's eyebrows shot up. "Yeah, there's nothing like discussing an old lover to get another woman's blood boiling. Yep, we better discuss it down here….. out of throwing range." Paul heaved a tired sigh as he pulled out his notebook and flicked ashes into the metal tray on his desk.
Mason shook his head, his voice slow and thoughtful. "No, Della's not a thrower; she's the cool, quiet type."
Perry nodded in agreement.
"Well, I do have that information you were wanting."
Mason stopped and sat in the chair near the detective's desk, his fingers running across his lips, eyes narrowing.
"You sure know how to pick'em, Perry," Drake announced.
Mason grimaced and waved his hand for the detective to continue.
"The law firm of Robertson, Stein, Moore and Whittier is one of the largest corporate law firms in the state of Colorado with satellite offices along the west coast. They specialize in mergers and acquisitions. Which is a nice name for hostile takeovers." Paul waved his fingers around. "It's a legal thing, you know. For those of us pounding the street we call it strong-arm robbery. For you legal types in the corporate world it's a hostile takeover."
Perry motioned him to get on with it. "I know about the hostile takeovers, Paul. What about Tom Robertson?"
Drake turned the page, and glanced up at the lawyer. "Do you have a while?"
"I'm having a drink with the man in an hour. Let's just call it a hunch, but I want to know this man, what makes him tick, before we sit down together. Yeah, I have the time."
Paul pulled out a drawer, propped his legs on it, and leaned comfortably back in his chair before beginning his narrative. "Tom Robertson attended Harvard Law on a scholarship. That's right, a scholarship, no old money alumni. Top ten percent of his class, Law Review, you name it. Our guy has a fondness for beautiful women and fast cars." Paul looked up from his notes and laughed, "Don't we all."
Mason remained focused, legs stretched out, staring at the tips of his shoes.
The detective continued. "Seems our boy has a weakness for brunettes, met and married one, Margaret Sutton, a Wellesley graduate. Robertson didn't hit it off with the east coast white shoe lawyers and decided to head west. Landed in Denver and brought in some of his law school brethren who were also outcasts. You know them: Stein, Moore, and Whittier. He's charming, shrewd, and a rough and tumble player." The detective grinned, as he looked up from his notepad, "Sounds like your mirror image, Perry."
For the first time the lawyer looked up and smiled. "Well, Della certainly noticed him."
"Uh oh, trouble in paradise?" Drake chuckled, then warned, "It gets more interesting. As I said, his firm specializes in hostile takeovers. He loves a good scuffle. An ordinary case bores him, leaves them to the younger associates.
He made his mark in the counting room for being both verbally and physically intimidating and was noted for his clever behind the scene maneuvering and posturing. Rumor has it that he grew up in a rough Philly neighborhood and learned to take care of himself from the local wise guys." Paul took a drag from his cigarette, flicked ashes in the tray and turned the page on his notes while Mason sat quietly, staring forward.
Drake looked over his notepad at Mason and continued. " The latest, 'acquisition', Gendyne, is one of the largest takeovers… ever… in Colorado."
Perry nodded, remembering Laura detailed account of Gendyne vs Omnicor.
Paul continued, "Seeing Robertson on the other side of the table and in the counting room is a company's worst nightmare. CEO's willingly pay large retainers to the firm to guarantee having him on their side of the table,…. they play the conflict of interest game to save their companies."
"Enemies?" Mason asked.
"I'll say, anyone who's ever crossed him. We found several who tried unearthing anything scandalous about the man. He's ruthless but seems to only stretch the established rules not break them.
As I said, he has a weakness for beautiful women, but no one has found any mistresses or affairs. Robertson and the misses appear publicly for social events and play the dutiful couple. The lawyer stays busy with the firm while the misses chairs charity balls, country club affairs, shopping, and the rest of the usual society lady stuff." Paul rolled his eyes over his notepad.
Perry glanced up at his friend and smiled. "I can see you really get into the high society life."
Paul chuckled. "Oh yeah, wondering what I'll wear for the next pirate's ball and fearing I won't see my picture in next week's society page keeps me awake on all those late night stake outs you have me do."
Mason softly chuckled and checked his watch.
"I think I mentioned Robertson's firm having satellite branches along the west coast," Drake continued. "It's no accident that the head of each branch has been acquired from another law firm. My sources tell me Robertson has headhunters that raid the pool of talented lawyers from competing firms. Offers are quietly made to the best and brightest attorneys, offers that are difficult or impossible for them to refuse. To sweeten the deal, a significant sum of money is offered to the raided firm as a form of compensation for the removal of their talent."
"Legal headhunters," Mason repeated; his eyes narrowed in thought, taking in and organizing Paul's information. The lawyer stood and smoothed down his jacket and tie.
"Now here's the clincher and yes, it involves 'you know who'."
Mason stopped his grooming and locked eyes with the detective. "Shoot."
"Tom has a lawyer son, Glen, who's also in the firm. Several years back the son's wife died of cancer and he's now remarried."
Paul paused and placed the notebook on his desk. Mason stood patiently.
"Glen's wife is Laura Donaldson, the newest Mrs. Robertson."
Paul watched the face of his long-time friend and found only his courtroom face….the one void of emotion.
Mason knew Laura had married but just now remembered the details. Sitting in the barbershop, he had glanced over the society section of the newspaper, stopping at the mention of her name. Normally he skipped over the section, but that day it was the only part of the paper not being read. He wasn't surprised Della hadn't mentioned it.
Laura's marriage bothered him in a strange way and not the obvious one. Weddings, like the one described, took months of planning so the engagement must have occurred fairly soon after her visit. Her last words to him, 'I'll always love you', made him wonder if she really loved this man, Glen, or if she'd ever truly loved him. She'd certainly moved on quickly enough.
Had she simply used sex and her courtroom skills to try and 'acquire' him? She loved money and anything that reeked of power and success. She had never accepted or tried to understand the satisfaction he got from his type of law practice but had continually tried to persuade him to her way of thinking. Had their relationship been nothing more than a challenge she needed to win?
Perry's eyes narrowed as he remembered Della's interview and how quickly the outcome had answered the question of him closing the office and moving to Denver. A decision he'd never regretted. Had he ever really loved Laura or had it simply always been an excitingly strong physical attraction to a woman who was his intellectual equal and nothing more? He shook away the melancholy thoughts. It had been fun and stimulating at the time but nothing compared to what he had now.
Paul finished his narrative. "In a nut-shell, Perry, you're drinking with Laura's father-in-law. Have fun!"