All the usual disclaimers apply.

A special thanks goes out to my special beta for the comments, corrections and humor.

I'd like to dedicate this story to CinnamonCarterfan who kindly requested another story in The Arthur Gordon Years...bibliophile tropicale

The Arthur Gordon Years

Riddles & Retrospections

Della Street stood at her desk organizing her life by levels of importance. Research and development protocols, project timelines, and defense contracts were needed for tomorrow's company meeting with members of the Nelson Institute; the rest would have to wait. The promotion to executive assistant had greatly expanded her duties and required a close working relationship with the company founder. The new connecting door between her office and Gordon's had been a life saver. Instead of communicating through the office intercom, Gordon was content to call through the open doorway to his new executive assistant.

"Della!" Gordon called from his desk.

"Yes!" she answered and stopped reviewing the reports in her hand while waiting for his reply.

"I can't find the report with those defense specs, do you have it?"

Scanning the materials on her desk she located the needed report and called out. "Yes, I have it." Rolling her eyes in frustration, it was beyond her understanding why a man in such a high tech business would prefer to yell through an open door rather than pressing the button on a modern tool of communication.

"Great!" he called, then added, "Are you rolling your eyes again, Della?"

Her lips pulled into a saucy grin and she shook her head; the man had certainly learned her habits.

There was a squeak of wheels and a thud at the connecting doorway. Still sitting in his office chair, Gordon had moved from behind his desk using his legs to propel the chair like a missile across his office to the doorway. He was watching her.

"What are…you…..doing?" She asked between moments of laughter. Gordon chuckled and grinned as he pushed across the office until he was by her side.

"Laugh all you want, I've been on my feet all day! Now, where's that report?"

Handing him the report, she chided. "You've made so much noise, Phyllis and Carol will wonder what we're doing in here."

"Humph! Phyllis and Carol be damned, I don't care what they think we're doing in here. It's my office and we'll make all the damn noise we want," he answered gruffly.

Looking at the report, Gordon jerked his head in the direction of the windows behind them. "Besides, have you looked outside?"

Della realized she had been so focused preparing for tomorrow's meeting she hadn't taken the time. Turning, she looked through the blinds and noticed the long shadows created by the sun slipping below the city skyline.

"Oh," she exclaimed, checking and shaking her watch.

Gordon gently took her forearm in his hand and stopped the examination of the watch. "There's nothing wrong with your watch, it's late…..almost eight o'clock. Phyllis and Carol have gone home."

"What is it, Della?" he asked in a soft baritone, pausing while thumbing through his notes.

"My watch," she answered sitting beside him at his desk, shaking her watch, examining it. "I think it's stopped."

Gently taking her wrist in his hand he stopped her examination. "There's nothing wrong with your watch, it's late. It's time for us to go home and call it day."

"I know," she protested, placing her steno materials in her desk while glancing at his notes on the desk, "but we still haven't finished that brief."

Retrieving their coats from the closet Mason replied, "Slave driver! It can wait till the morning."

Slipping her coat over her shoulders he felt her exasperated sigh and quickly planted a placating kiss on her cheek. Turning in his arms, she circled his neck and kissed him lightly, then with restrained passion. Still pressed in his arms, eyes dark and dusky, she smiled slyly, enjoying how she could make his heart race and his eyes dreamy.

"So you think I'm a slave driver at the office, just wait till we get home," she taunted.

"Della, are you alright?" Gordon asked, watching his assistant stare at his hand on her forearm. Sheepishly he removed it.

"It's nothing," she answered lightly, nervously running her hand through her hair. "It's been a long, busy day, that's all."

"We could have dinner," Gordon suggested. "We're both tired. We'll have time in the morning before the meeting to finish up." Picking up on her quiet manner and hesitation, he quickly added, "That is if you don't have anything planned."

Staring at the watch on her arm, she realized it didn't matter what time it was, she didn't have any special plans for the evening. A cold nondescript chunk of casserole waited in her refrigerator for a zap in the microwave, followed by a hot bath, and a chapter or two in her current thriller/mystery, then bed. The evening was hardly glamorous.

"Won't you be missing dinner with your family?" she asked while casually placing the files in her briefcase.

Without looking up from the engineering specifications Gordon replied. "Katherine's out with her beau du jour, Lauren and Chris have their own lives, David's out hustling some risky investment I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole and my dear wife is shopping and golfing in Palm Springs. The house will be empty, except for Mrs. Jeffries. When Paula's away I'd rather eat out and the housekeeper knows it."

Gordon looked up from the specs and watched Della gracefully gathering the materials. "Maybe you're used to those warm family gatherings around the dinner table where everyone cheerfully shares their day, but my family dines together rarely and for many good reasons."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Della replied softly and closed her briefcase.

Suddenly he stood, straightened, chin elevated. "Don't feel sorry for me. I'm old enough, tough enough and surly enough to handle whatever comes my way. I didn't get to where I am by being weak and sentimental." With those words he turned, shoved his chair through the doorway and closed the door to his office with a snap.

Della ran her fingers through her hair and exhaled deeply in response to his brusque behavior and recalled their tumultuous beginning.

"I won't tolerate rudeness," Della snapped, marching out of his office with Gordon hot on her heels. Standing by her side, face flushed with rage, he retorted, "How dare you! I won't be corrected by a secretary in my own office."

Roughly shoving her steno pad and pens into the top drawer of her desk, she slammed it shut and calmly turned to face him. Cool dark eyes leveled to meet his fiery stare with equal intensity. "Well, then it's about time someone dared to correct your disrespect."

Gordon gasped at her bold behavior and found he was at a loss for words as the slender secretary gracefully turned, walked to the file cabinet and retrieved her purse. Slipping on her coat, she turned to face the flustered executive and added, "I'll stop by in the morning for the rest of my things." Calmly she walked through the office and closed the door.

Returning the next morning with a small box to collect her belongings Della noticed guarded looks and whispers as she made her way to her desk. Little did she know it was not unusual for staffers to see Gordon's secretary carrying a box to clean out her desk. The box was like a red flag and signaled another failed sacrifice to the god of thunder, Arthur Gordon.

Della noticed in her peripheral vision a group of engineers waiting till she passed before pulling out a long sheet of paper resembling a tally sheet. Some grimaced while others grinned as they elbowed and pointed at the paper. She had heard whispers and rumors of a betting pool. It was a well-known fact that Arthur Gordon was a difficult and impossible task master. Fortunes were lost and won in the CEO's secretarial betting pool known sarcastically as the Mission Impossible Pool, or MIP. The newest sacrificial offering to the god of thunder, Della Street, had been given the code name, 'Cinnamon', by the engineers in honor of the brainy and beautiful Cinnamon Carter of Mission Impossible fame. The group of all male engineers felt the name was fitting for Gordon's new secretary.

Normally the outer office would be busy with staffers talking and laughing over coffee. Instead the room was hushed and anxious. Slowly she approached the dozen antique white roses boldly placed in the center of her desk. Suspiciously she looked around the office for the source before placing her box on the desk chair. She opened the small card attached to the vase and began to read while periodically pausing to glance up and observe the office personnel who pretended to work. They were all anxious to get the final word regarding the source of the white roses and her possible termination.

She had no idea tensions were running so high. A rumor had spread like wildfire concerning her impending termination and a possible MIP payout for some lucky staff member who had selected this as her final day. Anxious eyes watched as Arthur Gordon made his way to her desk carrying two cups of coffee. In the corner of the outer office a stifled groan of disappointment escaped and was quickly masked by a cough from another part of the office.

Della made sure to remain aloof, ignoring him, while reading his handwritten note. Nervously Gordon moved to stand next to her holding the two coffee cups like a dutiful servant.

Finally, when Gordon could stand it no longer he spoke softly so only she could hear. "They were out of white flags so I had to settle for white roses."

Della fought to control a smile and allowed only an eyebrow to arch upright. She remained coolly silent.

Nervously watching her indifferent expression he continued in a whispered tone, "Uh, I ..uh…. put sugar and cream in your coffee. I think I made it the way you like it."

Slowly, the secretary turned and eyed him critically as a lady of the manor might do while inspecting an insolent and mediocre servant. Noting her silence and the silence surrounding him in the large work area, the executive straightened, regained his pride and continued as though nothing had happened between them.

Speaking loud enough for others to hear, Gordon grandly announced, "Miss Street, I will need your assistance in my office. I have an important letter to dictate."

Looking around at his silent workforce he continued softly for her ears only. "I would appreciate it if you could take the dictation and prepare the letter for me, please. I'll put your coffee in my office." He gestured with his head as he moved through the doorway.

On his departure, Della released an easy smile, placed the box on the floor and kicked it under her desk. Gracefully she bent and smelled each fragrant blossom. Glancing around the room she saw heads quickly turn, pretending to work at their desks. And for a moment she thought she heard a collective sigh…..or perhaps a groan. Taking her time she eased opened the desk drawer and retrieved her pen and steno pad. She hated rudeness, she just wouldn't tolerate it.

Della smiled at the memory and expected any moment to see Gordon's head peeking through the doorway. Arthur Gordon was a gruff, abrasive, temperamental genius. Their first year had been difficult, but they had adapted, they had survived. Retrieving her coat and purse, she opened her exterior door and abruptly stopped. Gordon was waiting for her, his head lowered.

"I'm sorry I behaved that way, I shouldn't have snapped at you." He heaved a weary sigh. "It's just that you reminded me of how things used to be with my family. My first wife, Katia, the kid's mother, well, she suffered from manic depression," he continued without looking up, staring nervously down at his shoes. "I didn't know it at the time, and the doctors didn't pick up on it right away. It was rough on the kids.

"Katherine being the oldest found it the most difficult. Lauren and David were still very young. They couldn't understand why their mommie was not like the other mommies. During those manic times Katia was a ball of creative energy, constantly on the go, rarely sleeping."

Gordon toyed with the ring on his finger as he spoke. "We meet in college. She was a talented architect bursting with creativity and intellectual talent. Bright, charming, sociable, she was all that I wanted and all that I wasn't. She completed me and I loved her. My company was starting up and I asked her to marry me. Of course I encouraged Katia to continue her career after we were married. But she insisted on starting a family right away, she wanted to be a mother.

"She was a super wife and mother despite the bouts of what I thought was fatigue that would last several weeks at a time. I insisted she stay in bed and rest and felt she worked too hard. Unfortunately she never shared what she was feeling inside or the thoughts that filled her mind. You know I'm not easy when it comes to feelings and emotions. I'm an analytical man who finds comfort in order, logic and numbers. Looking back I always wished things could have been different. I guess I still carry the guilt that I could have done more."

Gordon's voice grew raspy. "Against my better judgment, Katia would send Mrs. Jeffries home and cook for us. I remember sitting as a family eating her extraordinary meals prepared with such love. I can still hear the kids laughing at mommy's stories - it was a magical time for my family." Pausing, the executive looked up with a bittersweet smile, nervously shuffled, then looked down again at his shoes. "Yes, it was magical."

After a moment he heaved a giant sigh and continued. "Then as the kids grew older she wanted to work. She took on an architectural project, you know, working from home, trying to restart her career. I remember the project specs stayed on her drafting table for a week, she hadn't touched them. That was so unlike her.

"Another week passed and calls began to come in from the client wanting to know why they had hadn't heard from her. I felt so helpless watching her slip away from us. There were days when she never left our bedroom, windows drawn making the room as silent as a tomb. I didn't know what to do for her. I had hoped the medications would bring her back, make her whole again, but instead they killed her. She waited till she was alone and overdosed." Releasing a relieved gasp, he added, "I don't know why I'm telling you this. I shouldn't burden you with this or expect you to understand."

Straightening, Gordon turned to face her. "Anyway, I had no right to snap at you."

Della replied earnestly, capturing his eyes, gently touching the sleeve of his coat with her hand. "I understand, Arthur, I really do. Oh, I can imagine what it's like to lose someone you love and feel the heartache. I know what it's like to watch someone you love slowly slip away and feel the hurt because you're powerless to change it. Losing the one you love from your life is never easy and you never forget." Her hand remained on his arm in quiet sympathy while she stared off for a moment.

She should have known.

"Why do you keep shoving those Stephanie Wellborn letters in my face? Are you trying to draw me in with these letters like you did with those Helen Cadmus diaries? Yes, they're interesting, yes, they're mysterious and yes, there could be a case if we looked into it. But can't you see the work is piling up and I promised Buckley Chase I'd have that land contract completed by the end of the month," he snapped and suddenly stood, paced a few steps then stopped. Anxiously she watched and waited for his words, his decision to take on the Stephanie Wellborn mystery.

Inhaling he seemed to be gathering strength for what he had to say. "Don't you understand, Della?" His eyes moved as though trying to find a better of way of expressing his feelings. "You should understand our lives have changed. Did you really think our special threesome would go on forever? Paul's gone and it will never be the same…..the magic that we had…..the magic we had in our lives….. it's gone."

The bluntness and reality of his words sucked the air from her lungs and she felt faint. Bracing herself on the edge of his desk she watched as he tossed his notes on his desk and moved to the exit door and hesitated. Could there be possibly more reality?

Turning, he met her surprised stare with eyes moist and sparkling. "By the end of the month I need everything wrapped up, no new cases."

Della could hear her heart pounding in her ears and braced herself for more.

His fingers nervously twisted the knob and gathered the strength to continue. Eyes glistening, voice raspy, he stopped and cleared his voice before continuing with his statement. "I wanted you to know I've accepted the offer to fill the vacant seat on the Appeals Court….I've accepted the Judgeship."

Before she could catch her breath and speak he had slipped out the side door and was gone. Tears welled and overflowed.

'A judgeship….you didn't even ask me what I wanted….you accepted…..and didn't even ask.' Dropping into the nearest chair, she gasped for more air and felt a spreading numbness. The smallest sounds filled her ears, Gertie's voice next door, the cars on the street below and the incessant ticking of the clock behind the desk threatened to drive her mad. Time seemed to stand still as his words endlessly passed through her mind. The office, cases, her work always brought her solace…..until now.

Couldn't she sense the change….fewer dinners and nights together? Even in the same room, he seemed a million miles away and the night she found him sitting on the edge of their bed staring ahead. He claimed it was a headache. She'd known that wasn't the truth. A tiny voice from her subconscious, a voice of feminine intuition spoke to her. 'He freely announced the judgeship, but you know there's more.' Looking on with horror at the closed door she knew from years of knowing him intimately…..she could see it in his eyes and feel it in her heart. There was a niggling feeling that the man who she had shared so much of her life wasn't telling her everything…..there was more…..he was keeping a secret from her.

Della softly sighed and slowly added, "And yet we go on. I guess we're tough, aren't we?"

Feeling her fingers on his forearm, he felt their shared pain and took note of her faraway look. Her words of comfort screamed for attention. 'Who had she lost? What loved one had slipped away? Was it a family member - no, she would have said so. A lover perhaps…..yes, the word heartache spoke volumes.' He wanted to cover her hand with his in a show of mutual understanding, but he cautiously refrained. Clearing his voice he replied, "Yeah, we're tough."

Stepping back, he reached for her coat and helped her slip on the garment allowing his hands to tenderly move across her shoulders smoothing out the fabric hoping to comfort her. "Well, Della! Where would you like to dine?"

Turning, looking up into his face, she managed a sweet smile. "You're the boss, I'll let you decide."


With its sharp, modern, and elegant lines, the interior of 'Ombien' appealed to Gordon's love of spacial order, while the Japanese, French and California cuisine catered to the executive's gourmet palate. From the moment they entered the restaurant the wait staff had been alerted and escorted the duo to Gordon's favorite table, a quiet corner with subdued lighting where a server immediately began to fill their every need.

Dispensing with the menus they enjoyed their wine, a rich, full bodied, Argento Cabernet Sauvignon. The engineer leaned back in the leather cushions and felt a sense of calm and mathematical order in the restaurant's modern interior and hushed environment. Servers in black and white bowed and whispered to the other patrons in the large yet intimate dining room.

In the opposite corner a young couple floated in their own little world, touching, exploring, their eyes never straying from the other. Gordon studied the lovers with envy then turned his attention to the woman who sat across from him. Her eyes stared off at some unknown vista, her slender fingers gingerly caressing the stem of the wine glass. What he wouldn't give to be like that young couple, to be able to touch the woman across from him and have her look into his eyes with love. Instead…

'Her eyes and mind are a million miles away in another world and time. What could she be thinking?' He had seen this look so many times as they worked together and often wondered what those beautiful dark eyes were dreaming.

Taking advantage of her distraction, he took the liberty to visually enjoy every inch of her with bold abandon. The muted light highlighting a few stray strands of gray nestled in her dark wavy hair. Simple and elegant, a single strand of pearls and matching earrings accented her smoky gray double breasted suit. In the golden glow her skin was creamy, flawless… her features … perfection. Gordon was unaware her feminine perfection stealthily concealed a shrewd and observant mind trained by a master sleuth in deductive reasoning. Little did he know what his beautiful assistant's mind was busily unraveling at that very moment.

'What's wrong with his shoes and suit?' Della thought over and over as she studied the lone man across from them who pretended to study the menu. She'd seen him arrive as the valets parked their cars, and now he was seated with a clear view of their table. 'Oh, you're letting your imagination run wild. What would Paul say?'

Standing behind Perry's desk, hands on her hips, she shook her head. "It's not possible, Paul. How did they find our client? We were so careful. We weren't being followed."

Draped across the overstuffed client chair, Drake grinned. "Alright, beautiful, it's time for a lesson from the master." Turning in the chair he leaned on the desk, playfully looked up and added. "You know if working for Perry gets old you could work for me, you'd be a great operative, you're a natural and not too bad to look at either."

The secretary flashed a saucy grin. "You're always working an angle aren't you, Paul. O.K. I'm ready for the lesson, oh master."

Silently, their servers arrived with the meal and in hushed tones catered to the diners' needs before nodding and bowing as they left their table.

"It's good to have you back," Gordon stated, watching Della rearrange the cloth napkin on her lap.

A small smile tugged at her lips. "I guess I'm not much company, I didn't realize how tired I am. It's been a long day and the wine…" Della finished the sentence with an aimlessly graceful gesture towards her glass.

Gordon sliced the waygu beef, tasted it and groaned. "Food of the gods!"

Della delicately used her fork to pull a small flake from her sesame crusted salmon, then gracefully took a bite. She did have to admit, this was far superior to the characterless casserole in the corner of her refrigerator.

"You should try the Matsusaka waygu beef, Della. It's the best in the world."

"You are certainly the gourmet carnivore," she chided.

"Extremely tender, the flavor is rich and buttery. You should try it you'll like it," he offered. Easily cutting a piece, he slid his plate across the table, encouraging her to sample it.

Taking the slice on her fork she placed it in her mouth. Gordon watched as she nodded and expressed her satisfaction with a soft feminine moan.

"I thought you'd like it." Taking another piece in his mouth, he slowly chewed and thought of her lips closing around the succulent meat with dreamy eyes and that soft moan that seemed to emanate deep beneath those silky pearls. 'My god, she oozes sensuality without even knowing it.'

Sipping the wine, Della, again noticed the man at the other table, Mr. Shoes.

Paul stood and began arranging items on Mason's desk while Della watched.

"O.K. the letter is Perry's vehicle traveling down the street. Now, the lighter, the pen, and the paper clip are my operatives."

Drake arranged the desk items around the letter, before, beside and behind.

"Each car has a radio and can communicate with the other drivers."

With the tip of his fingers he gestured to the objects as he narrated.

"Now, as you're driving along, these three cars will move around you like a swarm of bees. Notice how this car passes and seems to disappear while this car moves in to take its place while the other car hangs back and keeping you under surveillance."

Drake moved the items around the envelope in an elegant dance.

"The cars are constantly changing position in relationship to the traffic so your mark, in this case Perry, never catches on that he's being followed."

Della shakes her head in disbelief. "Paul, I'm impressed. You're talents do extend beyond padding expense accounts."

Drake grinned good-naturedly, and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Yeah, sometimes I even impress myself."

Laughing, she gave him a playful swat on the arm.

A Mona Lisa smile appeared as she reminisced and she turned her attention again to Mr. Shoes sitting across from them. Drinking a martini, he occasionally looked around the room, then paused in the direction of the secluded bar area just off the main dining. The bar wasn't crowded and a lone man sat on the end closest to the main dining area. He, too, would occasionally scan the dining area and pause. 'Was that a gesture? Oh, you're imagining things. But what about those shoes?'

Gordon finished his wine and immediately a server appeared from nearby, bowing graciously, refilling the glass. The engineer nodded his head and waited for the server to disappear. Again, he found satisfaction in studying his companion - the small bites elegantly taken, chewed thoroughly, a thoughtful pause, the process repeated over and over again. She had training that was obvious.

He could envision a young Della Street, the debutante, making her entrance into high society. His eyes narrowed. No, she wasn't raised as a working girl, not like the girls he knew in his neighborhood. On Friday and Saturday nights the working girls in his neighborhood would race to the dance halls and gather in flocks, laughing and complaining about their jobs and bosses. Then on Monday morning they would catch buses back to those same jobs and bosses, and do it all over again till the next week-end. 'From debutante to working girl, I know what it's like to change your life so completely. I'm a rags to riches guy myself. But I wonder what reversal of fortune changed your life so many years ago?'

Holding the glass of wine to his lips, he contemplated the silky pearl earrings and necklace that highlighted her flawless beauty. The jewelry was expensive, yet understated. He wondered, 'Did Mason find you as fascinating and as enigmatic as I do? The man would have to be blind not to,' Gordon thought. He had to know.

"You miss it don't you?"

Della stalled, replaced her silverware, and again toyed with the stem of her wine glass before asking, "What do I miss?"

"You know…. your life as Mason's secretary."

Gordon had finished his waygu steak and spring vegetables fricassee. Swirling the red wine around in his glass he watched her.

"I don't understand," she replied coyly.

A server appeared and immediately cleared his plate from the table giving her a momentary reprieve, but Gordon was persistent.

"Perry Mason," he announced. "I think I'm like everyone in the city, or even the state for that matter. We all followed his exciting and colorful career. The newspapers loved him, a defense lawyer specializing in murder; you can't get any seamier than that. And if memory serves me right, it seems the cases were never routine. They always contained the most unusual elements making them a favorite of any reporter or editor and guaranteed their placement on the front page. Wasn't the D.A. always hoping to clip the wings on the brash, legal eagle? If you were to ask anyone on the street who they would want defending them in court they would quickly reply, Mason." Gordon grinned as he swirled the wine around in his glass. "I know I remember my first encounter with Perry Mason."

Eyelashes fluttering, she managed a faint smile, and softly responded, "And how did you meet?"

Gordon chuckled, and looked off for a moment, gathering a mental picture and began his narrative. "I remember I was down town. My driver was late, and I was rushing to the courthouse, had some darn contract thing going on down there. I was trying to hail a taxi. I remember the place was a mad house; people were swarming everywhere and were lined up along the curb trying to wave in a cab. A car swung to the curb and I thought I was in luck. When I grabbed for the handle there was a hand next to mine." He laughed again and shook his head. "I believe you know me will enough, Della. I'm not a man who backs down. Both of our hands stayed on the handle. We were neck and neck, shoulder to shoulder. I remember checking him out and thinking this guy is impressive; intense, hypnotic blue eyes, tall, broad shoulders, built like a wrestler and he's glaring at me and not backing down. Hell, we fiercely stared at each other, until the driver started yelling that the meter was running."

Della felt the Mona Lisa smile returning.

"I could tell he was a fighter. The man was tenacious, I could see it in his eyes, and I'm sure anyone on the stand could see it too. No wonder those witnesses would wilt beneath that penetrating gaze. But then the most amazing thing happened. Those intense blue eyes began to soften and a slight smile formed on his lips and suddenly he was Mr. Charisma.

"Mason asked in a smooth baritone, 'Going to the courthouse?' I merely nodded. 'Get in!' he invites. He releases the handle, I slide in, followed by Mr. Charisma and we're off to the courthouse. We exchange names and pleasantries on the way. The man oozes charm and I could feel him working his magic during our cab ride. I left him in the lobby. He was in a hurry. He said he was going upstairs, and had to meet his secretary before court began."

Gordon smiled across the table at Della. "Of course, now I know that secretary was you."

A slow flush spread across her chest, to her neck and face and Della felt an unusual elation as Gordon related their encounter.

"Tell me, Della, what was it like being Mason's secretary?"

Eyelashes fluttering, a lopsided little grin appeared and for a moment she felt light-headed. Inhaling deeply she was able to regain her composure. "Being Perry Mason's secretary….well….it was the defining moment of my life…it was magical." Della's eyes glanced down at the ring on her finger and added, "Yes, it was magical…like those dinners you had with your family."

Gordon softly gasped and without thinking reached across the table and took her hand in his and felt the strength and softness of this remarkable woman. What had he done? Paula was a self-inflicted wound. In a moment of loneliness and need he had married Paula without a prenuptial agreement, he was trapped. He stared at his hand covering hers and felt a juvenile joy that she had not pulled away from him and that her hand remained. Della felt an unusual bond and comfort in Gordon's gesture.

The gesture had not gone unnoticed by the man seated across from them. Della's quick glance caught Mr. Shoes staring at their clasped hands. The man's look set off alarms of intuition and like an all-encompassing epiphany everything became crystal clear. She would be this way forever; the way she lived, breathed, and thought….she would always be Perry Mason's secretary. Years of being with him, thinking like him and working at his side in their lifelong dance…..he would be with her always. With renewed spirit, Della locked eyes with the voyeur and drew them to the floor to his own shoes.

'You should know, a man who can afford to dine at Ombien wouldn't be caught dead in those shoes, scuffs and all,' she silently communicated.

Mr. Shoes pulled his foot beneath the booth and glanced back to see if he had lost her attention. Much to his dismay he was met with her radiant smile and a saucy wink, and to his horror her lips mouthed, "Gotcha!"

Never missing a beat, she turned her attention back to her companion and squeezed his hand, and gently slipped her fingers from his grasp. "You don't need to feel sorry for me, Arthur," she stated huskily, "I'm old enough, tough enough and surly enough to handle whatever comes my way." From the corner of her eye she watched Mr. Shoes retreating to the foyer.

Hearing his own words thrown back at him, Gordon chuckled. "Has anyone told you what a remarkable woman you are?"

"Certainly not you," Della replied, playfully challenging him.

Gordon's eyes widened slightly, enjoying the game she was playing and chuckled. "Certainly not you," he repeated her words. "Certainly not me, I like that."

Emitting a throating laugh, Della confidently leaned back in the cushions, and smiled. "I thought you would."

Meanwhile in Palm Springs…..and elsewhere…..