All the usual disclaimers apply.
The character, Tom Robertson, is fleshed out for the first time in "Laura's Lost Love".
To appreciate this story a reader should have read "The Wallet" before reading "The Thin Red Thread".
Many years after "The Wallet"
The Arthur Gordon Years
The Thin Red Thread
"Good evening, Della," a masculine voice softly greeted through the phone.
Della Street's brow furrowed, not quite placing the voice. "Who is this?" she asked, sitting up in bed placing her reading book to the side.
"So I'm unforgettable after all," the voice chuckled. "I'm sorry, Della. This is Tom Robertson."
She smiled and remembered their meetings so many years ago. "Why, hello Tom. This is a surprise. It's been a long time."
He nodded to himself. "Too long. You know you broke my heart."
Della rolled her eyes and played along. "And how did I do that?"
"You could be flying in my jet right now, but instead…..."
"I'm at Gordon Industries," she cooed, "I'm so sorry."
She heard a resigned sigh on the line. "Somehow I don't think that is really what you are sorry about. Something tells me you still have that fortune tucked in your wallet."
Della looked off, feeling a pang of emotion at the reminder and remained silent.
"You also may remember that I'm a man who believes in fate…..destiny…..karma if you will. The Chinese believe in destiny. They believe there's an invisible red thread connecting those who are destined to meet and be together regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break. Don't you find that fascinating?"
Feeling her lashes growing moist, she pulled out tissue and wiped her eyes, forcing a smile. "Yes it is. I didn't take you for a romantic, Tom."
Softly he chuckled. "Let's just say it's our little secret. In my circles, I'm known as a tough, hardnosed competitor; I'd hate for it to get out that I have a soft romantic spot."
The secretary leaned back on her pillow and contemplated the call's origin. Was he sitting in his office, flying in his jet, or just relaxing at home by a cozy fire?
He continued. "I'd bet Mason has a fortune tucked away in his wallet as well."
Emotions churn inside at the mere mention of Perry's name. Clearing her voice, she changes the subject. "Tell me, do you still feel the need to 'acquire'?"
The abrupt change in conversational flow caused him to pause briefly before responding to her comment. "You know I do; I can't help it. It's who I am."
Eyes narrowed in thought, her nimble fingers glide through her wavy hair as she asked, "Tell me, what is compelling you to call, the desire to share your romantic words of encouragement, or is it because I'm at Gordon Industries and you need to satisfy some intense corporate need?"
He chuckled at her directness. "You are still ….very, very good. As always, you're not going to make it easy for me are you?"
"You know I never will."
"That's what I love about you, Della…smart and tenacious!" He paused, uttering a whispery sigh. "You're right; I do have a desire and need for my call. I'm afraid your Gordon Industries is on the radar. Your little company is a small fish in a big pond."
The secretary felt a knot developing inside and became business-like. "So what do you know?"
Before he could answer, she immediately asked, "I hope you're not the one doing the acquiring?"
Playfully he chuckled and replied, "Oh no, not this time!" Like a chameleon his tone transformed from playful to business in his description of the action. "If I were taking down Gordon Industries, Art would never know it was coming. I have reliable sources that tell me the merger will be quiet and altruistic. The company in question, FX Technologies, is not big enough or tenacious enough to pull off a hostile take-over. Their plan is more subtle. They'll approach Gordon Industry stockholders with an offer of a friendly merger, you know, for the good of both companies. However, the contact will be like a pick pocket's benign bump of the mark…..in this case the altruistic merger of Gordon Industries. Softly and quickly…..the wallet is picked, Gordon Industries' assets. They'll groom your largest shareholders; convincing them a merger will increase the value of their current stock holdings. FX contacts will encourage your shareholders to ask for a merger."
Again he laughed, and she heard the squeak of leather as he stretched. "Once the merger is complete, and they have access to your company's assets, they'll raid the cash like a pick pocket with a wallet and start maxing out those credit cards. Gordon Industries will be carefully dismantled and dissolved. I've studied them closely and FX Technology is a corporate raider, and they have been successful in the past."
She nodded in agreement and enjoyed his colorful street analogy. Brows furrowed in thought, she coolly asked, "So what can I do?"
"Make contact with those powerful shareholders. Reassure them Gordon Industries is the better company. Explain how a merger would only devalue their stock by merging with the cannibalistic FX. Give Gordon the heads up about his company and use that special Della Street charm and power of persuasion I so dearly love."
Through the phone she could almost feel him leaning closer, his dark eyes cool, playful and flirtatious making her blush.
"You flatter me."
Tom paused and wistfully observed. "You know there's still a seat waiting for you on my jet."
"I know," Della replied, stretching, sliding her fingertips over the soft fabric of her comforter. Many years ago she had turned down his offer.
"We could still have fun flying all over the world on business."
"You didn't answer when I asked if you still had that fortune tucked in your wallet."
Sighing, her answer came soft and slow. "Yes….. I still have it."
She could almost feel his smile. "That's my girl."
"And Della…" his voice trailed off.
"I'd bet good money, and you know I never lose. I bet Mason still has that fortune in his wallet. You should take a little trip and see him sometime. Ask about him about that fortune, casually mention my name, and ask him about a check and if he sees enough zeroes."
"And Della….." again, his voice fades.
"Yes?" she replied, drawing out the word.
"Remember the thin red thread. The thread may stretch and tangle, but it will never break."
The secretary dabbed at her eyes with her tissue and whispered, "No, I won't forget ….and thank you."
The leather squeaked loudly as he stood, thinking out loud. "Damn, you know, you and I could have had a lot of fun."
"Yes, we could have," Della replies, smiling, imagining him standing, looking out over a panoramic view of Denver, or down at the world from thirty thousand feet.
"As always," his voice was soft and conspiratorial, "it's been a pleasure, Della."
As sultry as a kiss, she replies, "Yes, it certainly has."
Gently her fingers ran across the photo of Tom Robertson on the front page of the newspaper and felt her eyes grow moist. The caption below described how a giant void had been created at Robertson, Stein, Moore and Whittier by the sudden death of well-known corporate attorney, Tom Robertson, who died this week in his Denver office of a massive heart attack.
The sound of rain pattering against the window seemed abnormally loud in the quiet building, only security and cleaning crews moved through the large facility. Darkness, wind and rain were a perfect match to her own dreary feelings.
It was hard to believe it had been only two weeks since their phone conversation and now he was gone….gone forever. Only fond memories remained…cool, clever, insightful, intense and romantic described Tom Robertson, as well as the other man who once shared her life…. Perry Mason. In retrospect, both men were the best in their areas of expertise and yet amazingly different.
Robertson fondly recalled his time with Della Street. His call had been simple. Robertson, a man who made his living studying those around him understood Della's nature and her willingness to throw her heart and soul into her work….. Gordon Industries. The merger king wanted to save Gordon Industries for her…..not Arthur Gordon.
Solemnly she folded the paper, turned at her desk and slipped it into her briefcase. Using the tissue she wiped the moisture from her eyes. You were right about FX. I can only hope you are right about the rest. Tom, without you, the world will be a less interesting place.
"Oh, good, Della, you're still here!" Arthur Gordon gruffly announced from the doorway.
Startled, Della let out a relieved gasp as she glanced up. "Oh, you frightened me. I thought you had left an hour ago to join your family."
Tall, thin, gray haired, with a handsome face worn weary by the rigors of business and family, Arthur Gordon was perennially gruff and abrasive. Glancing down at the bag in his hand he replied, "Sorry. I did leave earlier, but now I'm back. I thought I'd find you here."
Smiling sweetly, Della continued. "I thought tonight was your birthday celebration. Happy Birthday, Mr. Gordon."
"Humph," he answered, moving closer, setting the bag on the corner of her desk. "No the date changed and this might be a tolerable birthday after all. Paula's found more places to add to her Italian itinerary and my loving children are still skiing due to some fresh powder. They won't be back until tomorrow. Promptly at six tomorrow evening my dog and pony birthday celebration will begin."
Looking on sadly, the secretary put on a sympathetic face. "Oh, certainly it can't be that bad."
Gordon pulled up a chair and sat near the corner of her desk.
"How long have you been my secretary?"
The secretary's eyes moved in thought, estimating, then answered, "Around four years the middle of next month. Why?"
Crossing his arms, he eyed her steadily. "Then you've known my wife and children long enough. Look me in the eye and tell me I don't have legitimate gripes."
Slowly her fingers smoothed out the cover on her electric typewriter and thought of how to answer his question with tact and honesty.
"They do seem to have a different set of priorities, if that's what you're getting at. Perhaps the problem lies with a lack of similar goals rather than a lack of affection," she answered tactfully.
"There's no misunderstanding on my part, Miss Street….Della! Paula and those ingrates see only dollar signs when they look at me. I'm a source of money for their next expensive and mindless excursions. They don't care about me or this company; they only want what I can provide."
Carefully she studied him and replied. "I suppose I can see your point."
A smile spread across his face. "I thought you would." From the bag he retrieved a small white box, plates, utensils, a small carafe of wine, and two plastic wine glasses and placed them on the corner of her desk.
"So tonight, I'm celebrating my birthday the way I want. I despise those god-awful, flavorless decorated cakes. They know I detest them and yet they insist on serving them."
He paused and grimaced in self-realization. "That is if you don't have any plans for the evening and wouldn't mind staying for awhile."
Surprised, Della gave an understanding but cautious nod of assent.
Breathing a barely audible sigh of relief, he broke the string, and unfolded the lid, revealing a small New York cheesecake.
Smiling, he pointed his finger at the creamy surface, and proudly explained. "It's not good unless it's heavy, the heavier the better. I like mine plain, but….." He reached into the bag and retrieved a small plastic container of strawberries covered in a thick glaze. "I thought you might like yours with fresh berries."
A warm flush spread across her cheeks at his attempted thoughtfulness and she replied with reserved softness. "I'm flattered that you want to share your birthday with me. But I…"
Gordon waved her to silence, his authoritative nature surfacing once again. "I'm not taking no for an answer," he stated gruffly. "Besides, the last ten days have been anything but pleasant and I….." He looked off for a minute trying to collect his thoughts and emotions.
"I want to thank you for your loyalty to this company…and I guess your loyalty to me."
"Mr. Gordon, I…."
Waving his hand again, he stopped her once again. "This Mr. Gordon thing has gone on long enough. Publicly it's appropriate, but between you and me, let's make it, Arthur, shall we?"
Her raised eyebrow goes unnoticed as he carefully cut the cheesecake and delicately created two pieces. Placing a forkful of cheesecake into his mouth, he growled with pleasure and used his empty fork for emphasis to point at the slice. "This is suburb! Try it."
Della poured the strawberry glaze over her piece and took a bite. "Hmmm, this is excellent," she agreed, watching him closely.
"It is excellent…..like us. We're a team, Della."
"Oh, the wine! I almost forgot. It's a marvelous sparkling white wine…..Moscato d'Asti."
Pouring the wine, he raised his glass. Della brought her glass near his and waited for the toast.
Gordon smiled and touched his glass to hers. "To us…..an unstoppable team!"
While sipping their wine, he studied her appreciatively over his glass before continuing.
"You were a big part of saving my company, Della. Each day I've been hearing from stockholders. They found your voice, your manner, so reassuring and confident. They were charmed and persuaded by your honesty and candor regarding this company. After speaking with you, they knew the merger wasn't in their best interest."
He carefully watched his secretary as she enjoyed his dairy confection. "Honestly, I can't see keeping you on as my secretary."
Della lowered her fork, and wiped her lips. Anxiously she watched her boss look around her immaculate and orderly workspace. Nervously she placed her fork on the plate and waited.
Suddenly, Arthur Gordon, a man who rarely laughed, burst out in laughter. "Don't look so concerned! I'm not going to fire you. I want you to be my executive assistant. I don't want you out here where your talents will be wasted. You're too valuable to be answering the phone and taking dictation." His head jerked in the direction of the recently vacated office next to his own. "I want you in there, where you can work your magic. I'll have a door put in between the two offices and you will have your own secretary."
"Oh, Mr. Gordon…..Arthur…..I'm honored."
Arthur Gordon used his fork to remove the last traces of cheesecake from his plate. "You deserve it, Della. Of course, it will include a generous pay increase."
Leaning back in the chair, he nodded in the direction of her cheesecake, indicating he wished her to finish her delicacy. Relieved, Della enjoyed the remaining dessert and failed to notice the stapled papers he placed on the corner of her desk and the cheesecake returning to the bag.
The top page was in the format of a real estate listing. A photo of a single story ranch with mature trees and landscaping graced the top of the page followed by a lengthy description of features and amenities followed by the list price.
Turning the page around, he offered it to her. "What do you like about this house, Della?"
"It's beautiful," she replied, admiring it. "The flower beds are stunning and the mature trees would offer the most delightful shade for evening meals and get-togethers."
Gordon turned the page around and looked at it again. "I thought so too."
Her eyes narrowed and wondered if her employer contemplated the home for a member of his family.
"Della, I don't take Gordon Industries lightly. I built this company from scratch. I'll be damned if I'd allow it to be snatched up by shyster's intent on raiding its assets, dissolving my life's work. You were watching my back and you should be rewarded for your efforts."
Della's eyes widen with concern and Gordon shook his head, waving his hands. "It's not what you think." Thumbing his fingers through the stack he continued. "Look through these listings, find a few you like, arrange for a tour and if you find one you want let me know. I've spoken with the agent and a generous deal will be arranged. Let's just say they owe me and will provide a significant discount. I'm only facilitating the transaction. I don't want any misunderstandings, this will be your home and you will pay for it."
Staring at the photo of a beautiful house, she felt light headed and realized she had ceased to breathe. "How did you know I wanted a place of my own? I don't know what to say," she answered catching her breath.
Rubbing his fingers across his chin, Gordon's lips pulled into an easy smile. "I watch. I listen. I pay attention. The rest is up to you."
"I'll look into it," she smiled and added, "thank you!"
Pushing the pages across the desk, Gordon stood, tossed their plates in the trash can and picked up the bag.
"It's late, Della. Let's go home. Grab your stuff and I'll walk you to your car."
Slipping the real estate listing in her briefcase, Della picked up her coat and allowed him to slip it over her shoulders. Stepping back into his office, he pulled on his own coat and grabbed his umbrella.
Silently they moved along the empty corridor to the elevator and swiftly rode it to the ground floor. The security guard at the front desk cheerfully offered them a polite good evening and watched them pass through the secure front entrance. Gordon popped up the large black umbrella and held it up against the pelting rain as they slowly navigated around the deep puddles on the way to their vehicles.
Their warm breath hung like clouds in the cool air. Standing by her car, rain pouring, the edges of the umbrella dripping, she unconsciously pressed closer to him, searching her coat pocket for her car keys in the dim glow of the street light.
"I enjoyed my birthday very much," he stated softly.
The small space beneath the umbrella was warm and intimate. Looking up into a face, she was surprised to find it filled with an unexpected warmth, tenderness and vulnerability.
"Thank you for sharing it with me," he said with sincerity.
The man, who seemed larger than life, gruffly demanding and getting respect from everyone around him, appeared merely mortal in her presence.
How could a man like Gordon be surrounded by people and family and yet feel so alone? She sensed and understood his feelings oh so well.
The rain pattered and poured over the umbrella and its edges. Feeling the tension of the moment, their breathing quickened, filling the space between them with torrid, whirling clouds. Her eyes held his in a moment of understanding, when Gordon finally spoke.
"I always thought Mason was a shrewd lawyer, but now I wonder." Searching the dark depth of her expressive eyes for an answer, he pondered why a man like Mason could so easily let her go, when he would do everything in his power to make her stay.
He leaned toward her and softly whispered, "Mason was a fool to let you go."
Feeling overwhelmed, Della inhaled deeply, turned, and unlocked her car door.
"Della," he called softly, stepping closer, following her, covering her with the umbrella as she turned from the car to face him, their eyes meeting again. Gordon slowly raised his hand near her face as though to touch her. Della's anxious eyes watched her employer. Gordon, a man who normally made complex business decisions with ease, appeared to be struggling with an emotional decision, his face alive with conflict. Slowly he lowered his hand and nervously stepped back. In a gruff voice he said, "Good night, Della. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night," she answered weakly, turning, opening the door and slipping inside.
Like a shadow he was gone from outside her window. Della paused, leaned back in her seat, and closed her eyes. The image of Gordon's hand tentatively reaching to her cheek seemed so familiar.
Was it the drone of the big engine, the delicious meal or the comforting aroma of Old Spice that lulled her to sleep? Slowly her eyes opened at the sound of his voice and the soft fabric of his coat against her cheek. Confused, wiping the sleep from her eyes, she wondered, was it gravity or attraction that caused her head to find the comfort of his shoulder? Their exhausting day at the office and in court paled in comparison to the herculean efforts required to stifle their growing emotional and physical chemistry.
Feeling self-consciousness, she joked about their after work dinners and asked whether the billing of their time should be considered 'business' or 'pleasure'. Looking into his eyes any feelings of self-consciousness rapidly disappeared. Smelling the fresh mint on his breath, she recalled his hand taking several mints from a dish as they left the restaurant in preparation…..in preparation for what…..destiny. Smiling, she watched his hand tentatively reach to touch her cheek…..
The tap on the car window was like thunder. Instinctively she pulled away from the sound. Arthur Gordon's face loomed near the water covered glass. Seeing his familiar face Della relaxed and rolled down the window. Nervously his fingers gripped the umbrella handle and looked around the interior of her car.
"I was worried about you, Della."
It was obvious the man had left the dry comfort of his car when she had delayed in starting her engine. He had struggled in the rain to reopen his umbrella and was completely soaked, water dripped from his hair and face and beads of water covered his coat. She warmly smiled at his act of kindness and patiently waited for Gordon to continue. Searching for words, feeling awkward, he finally blurted out. "I had to check on you, you know…to make sure you were alright. Well,…your car hadn't started…..I thought there might be a problem?"
"Oh, no, thank you, Arthur, I'm fine." she answered sweetly with a smile. Digging in her coat pocket in an effort to reinforce the illusion all was well, she struggled with her keys and realized they were tangled in the pocket lining. Twisting the keys she managed to work them free, placed them in the ignition, and started the engine. Gordon nodded his approval once the engine started. "Well, uh….thank you again, Della for sharing my birthday." Then with a businesslike formality he added, "I look forward to working on that new office tomorrow. Good night."
"Good night, Arthur."
Slowly Gordon straightened and stepped away from the car. Rolling up the window, she watched him sprint back to his car. Now for the tangle of thread twisted around her keys and fingertips.
"Oh, this is too much," she muttered with exasperation. She pulled on the keys in the ignition till a single long thread stretched and came loose. Running the single strand back and forth through her fingertips she brought it into the light and felt its strength and symbolism. Do you believe in fate, destiny…..karma?
Tom whispered, "An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet and be together regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch, or tangle, but it will never break."