A/N I don't own this stuff. Thank you to whatever powers that be for letting us play with these characters.
Perry Mason slammed his suitcase closed.
This wasn't how things should have turned out. He'd flown into Sacramento the day before, ready to testify at Jason Cooper's parole hearing. Most of the morning he'd spent cooling his heels in the waiting area, along with other interested parties in that morning's parade of hearings. When Cooper's session was finally called, Mason was allowed to make a brief statement on behalf of the victim, his client, Mildred Roberts. However, the fact that the victim was now deceased robbed his testimony of much of its weight.
A few short minutes and one or two witnesses later the board made its decision. Jason Cooper, model prisoner, was approved for parole on his first eligibility.
Perry picked up the folder his secretary had prepared for him and flipped it open. He sighed deeply as he contemplated the small clipping of Mildred Roberts' obituary attached to the top page of the file. The familiar picture smiled up at him – warm brown eyes and a care-worn face.
Mildred Roberts had been one of his early clients. She'd trusted him with her problem even though he was still wet behind the ears, operating out of a dingy office in a less than prime location. 'Less than prime? Less than safe is more accurate,' he mused. He shared a building with loan sharks, quack doctors and more than one bookie.
Mason smiled at the memory. Fresh out of law school and unsuited to work in the confines of a larger firm, he fought long and fought hard for every client willing to take a chance on him. Unfortunately for Mildred, that fight hadn't amounted to much in the end.
Jason Cooper had bilked her and several others out of their life's savings. He'd used his father-in-law's investment firm as a front. George Simpson, his ill-fated in-law, had taken the brunt of the legal action. Repaying the investors bankrupted the firm, but still the victims received only a small portion of what had been taken from them. Simpson and Cooper both received jail time, but Cooper cooperated with authorities first, leaving Simpson to swing in the breeze. The younger man's sentence was considerably shorter than that of his employer/father-in-law.
Now Cooper was going to be a free man, and hard work had put Mildred in an early grave. It just wasn't fair.
'Life isn't fair,' he told himself, tossing the folder onto the bed, next to his briefcase. The flimsy platitude didn't improve his mood at all. He flopped down on the bed and reached for the phone.
"Perry Mason's office. May I help you?"
"Hey," was all he said.
"That bad, huh?"
He could almost hear the smile in the rich tones of her voice. "That bad," he replied. "He's been a model prisoner. Completely reformed, no doubt. He's been granted parole."
"I'm sorry, Perry. I know this case meant a lot to you."
He nodded in reply, although she had no way of seeing. "Are you busy tonight?"
"Not especially," she replied. "I can stay if you need me. What do you want to work on?"
"I don't want to work," he said, tiredly. "I want to do something fun. Can I interest you in a steak dinner, dancing until the clubs close, followed by a drive up into the hills to watch the sun rise?"
She didn't answer immediately and when he sensed her hesitation, he added, "I'll even throw in breakfast on the way back home."
Della Street laughed. "You've got a deal. However, that means I have to close up the office for the afternoon."
"Why is that?"
"If you expect me to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed all night long, reminding you of the inherent goodness of the universe while keeping my footing on the dance floor, I'm going to need a nap!"
Mason laughed then. "Not a bad idea. I'll sleep on the plane. Pick you up at eight?"
The sky was turning grey, not even a really a color, just less dark. Perry Mason's sleek black Cadillac was facing east, its driver and his companion sitting on the hood, legs stretched out in front of them, leaned back against the windshield.
Della Street yawned prodigiously.
"I thought you took a nap," Perry said.
"That was over 12 hours ago! Give a girl a break." She yawned again. "I guess I should have known that a man who works as hard as you do would play just as hard."
Perry chuckled contentedly. "I like living at full speed. If I slow down, I might start to sink."
"You seemed pretty sunk earlier today – yesterday," she said.
"Mmm-hm." His voice was thoughtful. "The Cooper case has always been a sore spot with me. It was a hard lesson."
Della remained silent, inviting him to continue.
"It was the first case I won that didn't really make much of a difference. We did everything right, Mildred and I. Even though I managed to get the jury to award her damages and the return of the money –retirement savings – that she'd invested, she never got any cash to speak of. The only sort of justice she received was when Simpson and Cooper went to prison. And even that was tainted – Cooper was the mastermind, Simpson just got caught in the middle, but Simpson ended up doing the real time."
The lawyer sighed. "I don't like winning only to find out that I've still lost."
Had it been light enough to see, Perry Mason would have been thrilled to see the emotion shining in his secretary's eyes.
But it was dark. He didn't see and she didn't say anything. They talked of other things and nothings until the sun rise captured their full attention. Once the sun had risen, they stopped for pancakes at a diner and then went home to separate beds and separate lives and it was a long time later before the man learned that the woman felt the same for him as he felt for her.
Perry Mason cleared his throat loudly as he crossed the office to his desk. The "Good morning, Miss Street", he'd delivered with his usual tongue-in-cheek formality from the office doorway had gone unnoticed or ignored. His secretary remained bent over his desk, palms flat on the surface, reading the newspaper spread out before her.
"He's certainly got some nerve," Della Street said, straightening up from her reading.
"It was just a simple greeting," he replied, feigning chagrin.
Della smiled and shook her head. "Not you - him." She pointed to the photo on the front page of the business section. Mason came around the desk to stand next to her. He slipped his arm casually around her waist as he leaned over her shoulder to read the paper.
The photograph was of Jason Cooper. His smiling visage accompanied an article detailing his new business venture – a capital investment firm.
Della turned and slid her hip onto the edge of the desk, watching as the lawyer sank into his leather desk chair, all the while engrossed in the article. She studied his face, waiting for a reaction.
It came without warning.
"Son of a bitch!" Mason exclaimed, not lifting his eyes from the newsprint.
"Mm-hmm," Della responded, crossing her arms over her chest. He quickly skimmed the rest of the article, then tossed the paper back onto the desk.
"So. Jason Cooper, fresh from a stint in the state prison system, is the new fair-haired child of the business community," he said.
"Yes. And he wants it made clear that he harbors no ill will against those not-so-fair-haired members of the legal community whose self-serving efforts put him there." Della's sarcastic tone left no doubt as to her opinion of the article and its subject.
Mason grinned. "All I got out of trying that case was sleepless nights, big headaches and a self-funded trip to San Quentin to testify before his parole hearing. Some payoff!"
Della smiled at him, a touch of tenderness in her expression. "All that and a broken heart."
The lawyer didn't answer. He leaned back in the chair, hands clasped behind his head and a faraway look in his eyes.
"I wish I could've met her," Della continued. "I've never known you to fall for a client like that. She must've been something else."
"Oh, she was," Perry answered. "She waltzed in here off the street, found me buried under law-books and dirty ashtrays. She told me she didn't have money to pay a lawyer, but she knew how to whip an office into shape. Told me if I'd take her case she'd work for me for free to pay me back." He looked up at his secretary. "She reminded me of my aunt, the sheep rancher in Arizona."
Della met his gaze, eyes twinkling. "The aunt who practically raised you?" Mason nodded. "How long did it take Mildred to 'whip you into shape'?"
"Not long! She was definitely the take-charge type." He laughed. "I had only been in practice on my own for a couple of months. Couldn't afford a secretary. When I worked for a law firm, I didn't realize how much work the secretarial staff actually did until I struck out on my own. I was floundering. I don't know if I would have made it without her help. Mildred Roberts was my lifeline."
"And you were hers, no doubt," Della said with a smile. "Recently retired and all her money swindled away from her by Jason Cooper. I know she must have been very grateful for your help."
Mason shrugged. "I don't know that I was all that much help. Sure, we won a judgment against Cooper and I managed to interest the federal courts in prosecuting him for securities fraud, but we never saw a dime of her money. Cooper filed bankruptcy and took a plea bargain. He got a slap on the wrist but that was about it." The attorney picked up the newspaper again. "And now he's back and ready to lure a whole new crop of sheep into his wolf's den." He shook his head. "Mildred worked for me for about six months after the trial. I paid her, of course. She was worth every penny."
Della nodded sympathetically. "No doubt you were just as important to her as she was to you."
"I hope so. She certainly taught me a lot in the short time she was here – before her heart gave out on her."
Della squeezed his shoulder sympathetically and got to her feet. As she left the office, she looked back over her shoulder at her employer. He frowned at the face in the paper once more before wadding it up and tossing it into the trash. With a sigh he picked up the nearest stack of correspondence. Della quietly closed the door behind her and went back to her desk and her own stack of work.