Della Street smiled at the sound of the curse emanating from the open door of the office bathroom. Her employer stood at the mirror, attempting to negotiate the twists and turns of a bow tie. His success, or lack thereof, was measured by the volume and frequency of his cursing.
"Would you like some help?" Della asked, not looking up from the paperwork she was sorting on his desk.
The voice came from much closer than she expected and she looked up to find him standing across from her, the ends of his tie in his hands and a scowl of frustration on his face.
Della rounded the desk and took hold of his tie. "Who's the lucky lady?" she asked with a smile. "I may need to pick up some pointers from her."
"Pointers? What for?" he asked, surprised.
"Well, she's managed to get you into a tuxedo, and knowing how much you hate them, that's quite an accomplishment. I could use some pointers on how to get you to do other things you don't like." She glared up at him from the corner of her eye.
He grinned down at her. "I finished the Anderson contract!"
"Only because I all but stood over you with a ruler, ready to smack your hand if you didn't!" She finished tying the silk and stepped back to survey her work with a critical eye. "Looks perfect," she said.
"Thank you." He reached up to loosen the tie, but she slapped his hand away. "Ow!"
"Don't go messing it up – at least not until your date's seen it." She returned to his desk and her former task.
"I doubt that she'll be all that impressed," he said drily.
Della glanced at him quizzically. "I don't know why not? You look absolutely…presentable," she finished with a grin.
"Such praise, Miss Street! You'll have me blushing!"
Della laughed. "So who is this woman who refuses to be swept off her feet by you?"
"Janice Nelson. Her father is a partner in the firm where I worked right out of law school. He was a mentor and is still a good friend. Occasionally, when I need a date for some sort of event, Janice is kind enough to accompany me," he explained, his voice slightly stiff. "And occasionally when she needs an escort I am kind enough to accompany her. Tonight is the yearly awards banquet for her real estate association. I think she's getting some sort of sales prize or something."
Della grinned and perched a hip on the edge of the desk. "Such a fairy tale! Makes a working girl's heart go all a-flutter."
Perry Mason tried to scowl at his secretary, but couldn't keep from smiling. "She's a nice girl, she really is."
"She bores me to death!" He leaned back against the desk, next to her. He sighed. "I never seem to have time to get out and meet anyone. I don't know how Paul does it. He's always got some bombshell he's desperate to get back to whenever we're out on a case."
"Paul's standards are pretty low and, believe me, his definition of "bombshell" is pretty lax," Della said.
Perry cocked an eyebrow at her. "How do you know so much about it?"
"I don't," she replied, hips sliding down off the desk's surface. "I was just trying to make you feel better."
Perry threw back his head and laughed. "Thank you so much for your concern."
"No problem. This is one of the many services that I provide, which I hope you will remember the next time I ask you for a raise." She reached out and tugged the handkerchief from his breast pocket.
"You've never asked me for a raise," he said, his voice somewhat thoughtful.
Della shrugged and placed the refolded silk square back into his pocket. "You pay me pretty generously already," she said.
"You're worth it," he told her, his hand closing over hers, briefly, as she patted the handkerchief back into place. She shrugged and glanced away, a sudden shyness coming over her demeanor. She was already turning to leave when he said, quietly, "So what makes your heart 'go all a-flutter', Della?"
Della froze for a beat, not sure what she'd heard. Or what he meant. "Excuse me?"
Perry started to say something, checked himself, and then cleared his throat a little self-consciously. "What are you doing tonight? I can't imagine that you'd be spending Friday night at home alone." He grinned. "Whatever it is, I bet you'll have more fun than I will."
She studied him thoughtfully as she replied to the question. "I'm going to the movies."
"A date?" He tried not to sound too curious.
"Avoiding a date, actually."
Della sat down in the client's chair, across from where he still leaned against the desk. "One of my friends is trying to set me up with her boss. He called and I told him I already had plans, so I arranged to go to the movies with a couple of girlfriends."
"What's wrong with the guy?" Perry crossed his arms over his chest and regarded her with concern.
Her lips curved into a broad smile. "He's boring. Utterly, painfully, unendingly uninteresting. He's handsome as a prince, but there is nothing going on in his head."
Perry laughed. "I've always thought that was the worst sin of all."
"Being handsome?" Della teased.
Della nodded slowly. "You may have something there." Her fingernail traced a seemingly aimless pattern on the arm of the chair.
"Well," Perry said, after a moment's silence. Della looked up at him. There was something in her eyes that sent a twinge of anticipation up his spine. "Are you going to call and let me know if the movie is any good?"
"I might," she purred. "Just to make you jealous."
He made a face at her. "For two cents I'd call off my date and head to the movies myself. I haven't had sticky popcorn in a long time."
"Sticky popcorn? What is that?"
"It's the best! You do eat popcorn at the movies, right?"
"Well, sometimes. It depends on how badly I've cheated on my diet recently."
Perry rolled his eyes. "Get the candy. Live a little."
Della laughed. "Fine! I'll get the candy. Then what?"
"It has to be chocolate – Rasinettes or something. Pour the candy into your popcorn while it's still warm. Let it melt and mix with the butter and salt. Then dig in!"
"How do you eat it without making a mess?"
"You don't – you'll need lots of napkins, unless you'd rather just lick your fingers." He grinned at her. "But it's worth it, trust me."
She matched his grin. "It's got to be better than the chicken dinner you'll be 'enjoying' at the banquet."
"Don't remind me," he groaned, and got to his feet. "I guess we'd better get out of here, or we're both going to be late."
"Right behind you, Chief."
"Hello?" His voice was tired. Only two people had this number and a night-time call from either meant he would have to go back to work.
"Hello. Did I wake you up?"
He smiled. Of the two, this was the voice he'd definitely been hoping for. The voice that made the idea of night work a lot more pleasant.
"No, I was awake. Too bored to go to sleep, I guess."
Her soft laugh warmed him. "That doesn't sound like you had a very good time."
"I had a very tedious time. My only consolation is that she was every bit as bored as I and I don't think we'll have to repeat the performance at any point in the future."
More sultry laughter.
"You should have been an actress," he said, surprised when he spoke this thought aloud. "You have a wonderful voice for radio."
"Mmm, I don't know about that."
He could almost hear her smile.
"I just called to make you jealous," she continued, impishness coloring the sound of her words.
"The movie was good?" As he spoke, he settled down deeper into the cushioning of his arm chair; the copy of Field and Stream he'd been reading sliding off his knee and down to the floor.
"Mm-hm. I tried your idea. And it was so good. Mm-mm-mmm."
He sat up a little straighter. "The popcorn?"
"Yesss," her voice was deeper, richer. "I had a big bucket of fluffy popcorn."
"That sounds a lot better than the shoe-leather chicken I had."
"I was hot and fresh and buttery. Sooo buttery. The butter just oozed all through the kernels. Mmm, mmm, mmm."
Perry laughed. "Glad you liked it."
"Oh, I did. But then I remembered what you told me and I dropped my candy into the popcorn." She paused and dropped her voice a notch. "The piping hot popcorn."
Perry cleared his throat. "It was… really hot?"
"Positively steaming. And absolutely smothered in warm butter. And then the chocolate started to heat up, too."
Something about her voice made him think he could taste butter. He ran a hand across his brow, not surprised to find he was sweating. "And…" he hesitated, trying to get a better grip on his voice, "then what happened?"
She made a sound – a moan – that started deep in her chest. Perry felt his gut clench.
"Then I started to eat it."
He opened his mouth to reply, but no sound came out.
"It was delicious – positively heavenly!" She laughed again, a soft husky sound.
"I can just…imagine," he managed to say.
He heard a sound he couldn't quite place. "What was that?"
"I still have some chocolate on my fingers," she said slowly. "I'm licking it off."
He dropped the phone.
Scrambling to pick it up off the floor, he could hear her voice. "Perry? Are you there?"
"Y-yes! I just…um…" He took a deep breath. "Is it hard to get the chocolate off your fingers?" he asked, trying to find his footing in the conversation.
"Mmmmm-hmm," she replied, her voice like syrup. "Sometimes you have to suck really hard to get it off."
He inhaled sharply.
"Mmmmm…but it's worth it," she drawled.
"I bet!" he breathed into the phone. Her reply was another soft, low chuckle.
"Perhaps you could use some help getting the chocolate off your hands?" he asked hopefully.
"Nice of you to offer," she purred, "but I'm about to get into a steamy shower and wash all this sticky stuff down the drain."
Perry started to protest, but she cut him off. "I just thought I'd call to thank you for the idea," she said brightly. "Good night, Perry."
The disconnected phone line hummed in his ear. He smacked the receiver back into its cradle and slumped deeply into the chair once more. He groaned loudly. Now he needed a shower, too. But not a 'steamy' one.
Perry sighed and bent to retrieve his fishing magazine from where it had landed on the floor. He tried, without success, to rekindle his interest in the article on the latest fly-fishing equipment.
At last he tossed the magazine to the side, picked up the beer he'd been drinking and downed the contents in one gulp. As he stared at the empty bottle, he was sure of one thing. This was the last time he'd waste a night on a woman he didn't really enjoy. Not when there were far more interesting possibilities practically at his doorstep.
A/N Don't own these characters and no copyright infringement is intended. Does anyone remember in which book Perry tells Della that 'being uninteresting is the greatest sin of all'? I'd love to find the actual quote again, but I can't remember where to look.