The usual disclaimers apply….

The sequel to Riddles & Retrospections

The Arthur Gordon Years

Della's Dilemma

`What else could possibly go wrong?' Della felt near tears as she hung up the phone. She knew enough about cars to know the fluid streaming out from beneath her car was transmission fluid. A call to her regular mechanic had the shop's tow service on its way.

Checking her watch, she was confident Arthur had not left his home and would need to know she would be running late. She would let Carol, her lovely secretary, contact her boss at his home and avoid another confrontation with Paula Gordon. Unfortunately she had a great deal of experience dealing with pampered, manipulative princesses and the men who had the misfortune to be under their spell. Her last meeting with Paula Gordon had been extremely unpleasant, but little did she know that encounter would pale in comparison to the events that would follow.

Smoothing out the hem of her cranberry skirt, leaning back in her leather chair, Della smiled and listened to the male voice on the other end of the phone. The transponders would arrive at their facility by tomorrow evening, a full week ahead of their scheduled arrival.

Harry Benson on the end of the line laughed. "Transponders, business, and Gordon Industries, now to the important question, Della."

Gently swaying the big office chair from side to side, Della smiled, and ran her fingertips through her hair. "And what important question might that be, Harry?"

"You know," Benson prompted. "When I was in your office last you said you'd think about it."

"Oh, that question!" Della chuckled. "Are you trying to bribe me with transponders?"

"Yeah, I'll do whatever it takes for you to have dinner with me," Benson laughed.

"That's sweet, Harry. But I don't think Mr. Gordon would want me socializing with a business associate involved with our government contracts. You know those government inspectors can be very thorough."

Silence, then a weary sigh traveled over the line before Harry Benson spoke. "You're right. Damn those government contracts! I'd still like to have dinner with you sometime. Don't forget me, Della."

Leaning forward at her desk, Della doodled with her pen in her appointment book. "I'm writing your name in my little black book as we speak."

"You have a' little black book'!"

With a throaty chuckle she replied, "Of course, I have a little black book, you know how thorough I am."

"Oh, you're thorough!" He exclaimed.

She could hear him chuckling, repeating in comic disbelief, `she has little black book' over and over on the other end of the line.

"I look forward to receiving those transponders."

"I wish I could give you more, Della."

"I'll be talking with you later. Bye, Harry."

Bye, Della."

Placing the phone on the receiver she heard footsteps in Gordon's office. Smiling mischievously she couldn't wait to share her good news. They had grown accustom to calling through the open doorway that connected their offices.

"You owe me lunch, Arthur!" she called out loud enough to be heard in the next office. "I told you they would be here. Those transponders will arrive tomorrow evening—seven days ahead of schedule!" She paused waiting for his gruff response, then continued. "Not just any lunch, Arthur, I'll expect Du Pres! You know the one with the cheesecake to die for!"

Tilting her head to the side, she waited for his rebuttal and the show of his graying head through the doorway but instead was greeted with silence.

Standing, she smoothed down the front of her cranberry suit and adjusted her pearl necklace. Frowning, it wasn't like Gordon to not deliver some quick comeback. If Phyllis was in his office she would have certainly made her presence known by now. Suddenly the sound of heels and a figure stepped into the connecting doorway.

Paula Gordon stood defiantly; chin elevated, eyes blazing, smartly dressed in a pink Chanel dress with a matching silk scarf draped over her one shoulder. "How dare you!" she snarled.

Managing a cool smile, while her heart raced, Della replied politely. "Good morning, Mrs. Gordon."

"Good morning my ass! You have your nerve," Paula sneered, and stepped into the assistant's office. "Lunch at DuPres, really! You, a mere secretary, have no right to make demands of my husband. Yes, my husband. If he's having lunch with anyone he'll be having it with me."

Stepping around the corner of her desk, Della allowed her fingers to trail across the top of her intercom. Images began to flash through her memory, images of Laura Donaldson draped in fur and venom walking into her office at the end of a long hard day plying her coy little game of cat and mouse. Toying with her prey over dinner, Laura tried to draw blood at every opportunity. Then at the end of their meal the tables were turned. Della's Mona Lisa smile did not dull the sharp edge in her manner. `Don't underestimate or confuse my good nature with weakness.'

Walking toward the assistant, bewildered, Paula Gordon stopped and stared at Della's placid smile. For a brief moment the queen was shaken by Della Street's formidable presence.

"What do you `really' want, Mrs. Gordon?" Della asked coolly, eyes leveled with determination.

The queen stepped closer trying to intimidate the woman who stood between her and her plans for being number three hundred and fifty on Forbes Four Hundred.

Paula's critical eyes moved over the other woman's face looking for flaws and found none. Her disappointment was so profound the words she finally managed to utter were filled with guttural fury.

"I want you to go away….. forever!"

Bristling, the queen leaned closer and was shocked when the assistant leaned in to meet her.

Firmly Della replied, "I'm…. not going….. anywhere."

Paula's dark eyes blazed and sparked, her arms raised as though to rip and gouge.

"You're not going to threaten me!" Della sternly announced.

Puffing up with indignation, the queen announced. "My husband owns this company! You can't speak to me like that or tell me what to do."

Fingers firmly hovered over the intercom, Della continued. "Yes, I'm quite aware of that fact. I'm an executive officer in that company, a company that handles highly sensitive federal contracts. If you continue your threatening manner," Della authoritatively straightened, "You will be considered a security threat and I'll be forced to call our site security and have you physically removed from the premises."

Paula gasped in disbelief. "You wouldn't?"

"In a heartbeat," Della answered coolly.

Sitting at her kitchen desk, smiling slightly, she knew she didn't have the strength for another encounter like the one with Paula Gordon, not after the ballet. Dressed, ready for the office, she checked her watch, and realized the tow service would arrive any minute. Moving to the window box in the front bay window she waited for their arrival. The morning sunlight stretched across her front yard illuminating the brightly colored flowerbed. She had worked so hard to keep them growing and blooming into the new year.

Another year had passed. On occasion she still managed to visit Evie from time to time. Many of her friends, the girls from Sterling and Price, friends from the courthouse, they all had their own family obligations or had moved out of state. They had moved on with their lives. Why hadn't she?

Stoically she moved through the office instructing the movers while trying to comfort the distraught receptionist. Gertie's periodic sobbing—whether brought on by her pending divorce or the office closing, Della had no idea - it only hardened her resolve not to shed another tear.

Jackson in his quiet manner listened solemnly in the law library as Perry Mason spoke with his long-time assistant concerning another clerking position with a superior court judge. She watched them as they spoke and noticed the older man's shoulders droop at the prospect of working for anyone other than Perry Mason. He had no doubt planned on working in their office until he retired. `Poor, Jackson, even you feel the pain.'

Turning, she moved back into her own office and finished placing items from her desk in a shallow box when she felt his presence beside her. The movers moved passed them on their way to the hallway and the freight elevator. Continuing to delicately place the items in her box she purposely ignored him. They had hardly spoken during the packing and then only in a brief perfunctory manner.

Finally he spoke in his soft baritone. "Where will you go?"

Slowly straightening, she turned to eye him speculatively. "Isn't it a little late to be asking that question? After all, you've made `your' decision- `your' and `yours' alone."

Nervously his fingers moved over the edge of her box, his tie draped loosely around his neck, eyes rimmed red from lack of sleep, he asked again. "I mean where you will work?"

She felt her heart ache and for a brief instant wished he would ask her to marry him one more time. It would at least mean he still loved her as much as the first time he proposed. Of course she knew, if she couldn't work and be a part of his life she couldn't accept…..even now. Throughout her adult life, work had always brought her solace…..and work would assuredly provide the needed solace one more time.

"I'm a highly trained and qualified legal secretary with many years of experience and influential contacts. I'll work wherever I choose…..and that's `my decision'," she announced coolly.

A red and gold wrecker pulled into her drive and Della grabbed her keys and hurried to meet the driver. Swiftly the young man worked the hoist and had the disabled vehicle safely rigged. Keys and invoices were exchanged and the large vehicle pulling her car lumbered out of the drive and out onto the street. Sighing with relief, Della slipped back into the house and began the wait for the car service and her long day at Gordon Industries.

Pouring a cup of coffee she returned to the window box, sipping the steaming liquid and contemplating her day. Work, it was the only thing keeping her sane and distracted these days. It was easier not to cry with the distraction of engineers and contracts. After all, she couldn't break down in front of Carol and Phyllis; even though she was sure the two wonderful women who worked in her office would gladly let her cry on their shoulder if they only knew. And Arthur…he was so confused and frightened by her sudden illness at the ballet.

Each holiday season Arthur Gordon purchased his employees tickets for the Nutcracker ballet. The gruff CEO enjoyed the family atmosphere and after-hours camaraderie. This year, however, the evening was cut short and he was left totally bewildered when his executive assistant suddenly became ill.

She remembered looking up into his ashen face and hearing him say over and over. "Please don't leave me, Della."

With Dmitri Rajkowski from engineering, they were able to help her to a waiting limousine. The two men insisted she should be taken to the emergency room. Gasping for air, she gathered her senses and firmly assured them she did not require the emergency room and ordered the driver to take her home. Turning to her two male escorts she weakly smiled and `lied'.

How could she tell them the truth? She could barely handle the truth herself. A gentle breeze stirred the bed of flowers and the sound of a purring engine drew her attention to a car gliding to a stop in her driveway. Work would always distract her mind from the truth.

Stepping out of the gunmetal gray Mercedes, Arthur Gordon, in his matching gray three-piece suit, bounded up her walkway and gently knocked at her door. Slipping away from the window box she moved to open the door for him.

Stepping inside he smiled. "So the old girl's transmission is shot."

She returned his smile and was thankful she could steady her hands around her coffee cup. "You didn't have to come all the way out here. You could have sent the car service. And yes, the old girl was leaking like crazy."

The CEO waved his hand in dismissal. "Yeah, we'll get her fixed or buy another." Gordon paused and eyed his assistant critically. "But what about you, I knew damn well I was not going to send the car service out here. After that incident at the ballet I had to check on you myself. How are you feeling?"

Walking into the kitchen with Gordon on her heels, she waved his concern away with her hand. "That incident at the ballet, it was nothing," she reassured him. "It must have been the champagne." Turning to face him, she grimaced. "You know how it is with those bubbles. It went straight to my head."

Gordon's eyes narrowed with thought, `I was there, Della. It wasn't the champagne that made you faint.'

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" she asked, hoping to deflect his attention away from her health and feelings.

Sitting at the small kitchen table he let his eyes move approvingly around the kitchen, dining area and large living room and bay window, admiring her sense of style.

"I like what you've done with your home, your interior design. The lines are clean, sleek, and artistic with a dusting of femininity. I like it."

Della's eyes grew moist as she watched him sip his coffee. "You flatter me."

Gordon smiled and acknowledged her before turning to look out over the paved patio, at the stand filled with plants shaded beneath a thick canopy of leaves. An umbrella covered table and chairs sat off to the side on herringbone patterned pavers beside a small brick grill and fireplace. In a heartbeat he would gladly switch his palatial mansion to live in her cozy home. They could drive to Gordon Industries and work together. He could be happy, very happy.

"How would you like a small greenhouse?" he asked over the rim of his coffee cup.

Della moved to join him at the table. "I don't know, I hadn't really thought about it."

Reaching across the table he gently took her hand in his and stroked her strong slender fingers. "We could find one you like and have it assembled."

Staring at his hands enclosing hers, she felt a strange mix of emotions.

"I'll think about it," she answered and softly laughed. "You know you keep me so busy at the office, I probably wouldn't have time to work in it."

Feeling her pulling away from his grasp, Gordon leaned across the table and reassured her. "I'd make sure you had time, Della. I could help you."

"You!" Della exclaimed in disbelief, leaning back, placing her hands on the table for support.

He smiled. "Yes, me. I know I'm a gruff, tyrannical old bastard. But I have other talents….and more importantly the desire to make you happy."

Reaching out she gently squeezed his hand. "You've already made me happy by making me your assistant." Turning her wrist she checked her watch. "And speaking of work, Phyllis and Carol will start to worry about us and you know there's much to be done at the office."

Gordon reluctantly watched as she took her cup and deposited it in the kitchen.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to gather my belongings," she announced as she disappeared down the hallway to her bedroom. Partially closing the door she gathered her purse from the chair and pulled her jacket from the closet door. But the office had been cool lately, she needed a sweater. `Now where's that pink cashmere sweater? It would match this blouse and skirt perfectly, plus give my pale face color. Where could it be?' she mused.

Moving and smoothing each garment she worked her way through the closet trying to uncover the sweater between suits and blouses. Running her fingers in the far corner she touched something soft and pushed the other garments firmly forward. From the dark corner her hands folded around it and pulled. Like a wave of gray, the garment slipped from the hanger, releasing the broad shouldered topcoat from the dark corner. The length of the coat sent her stumbling back as it fell from the recess, causing the arms of the coat to fold around her in a warm embrace. The memories she tried so desperately to repress came bursting forth like water over a dam. The faint scent of `Old Spice' still clung to the fabric and wafted up to fill her mind with vivid memories.

"Oh, Perry," she moaned, and relived the moment.

The curtain descended over Clara and the Prince embracing amidst swirling snowflakes in the pine forest. The houselights brightened concluding Act One of The Nutcracker ballet. Patrons from the front and center were guided to an elegantly lit VIP gallery courtyard. Servers in black and white circulated through the growing crowd with flutes of champagne and hot and cold hors'd oeuvres.

Arthur Gordon smiled and spoke briefly with his employees and their families before they joined the flow of patrons streaming out to the gallery. Katherine and Paula Gordon were noticeably absent due to headaches leaving only two of Gordon's immediate family—daughter Lauren and her husband Chris and son David and his girlfriend Cindy in attendance. Gordon exchanged pleasantries with his children and waited for Della Street to emerge from the center aisle. The theatre was clearing as he stepped to her side and extended his arm for their walk to the gallery.

As they emerged from the corridor the gallery was alive with conversation, activity and servers hurrying through the crowd. A sea of black tuxedoes and furs of every length and description filled the gallery with the who's who of Los Angeles' elite. Gordon stopped at the edge of the crowd, his fingers gently caressing the soft fabric of Della's floral embroidered blue Pashmina silk shawl. Beneath the shawl she wore a simple but elegant cobalt blue silk dress. The din of conversation forced him to lean close to her, placing his lips near her ear to speak.

"Has anyone told you how beautiful you look tonight?"

Faintly smiling, her eyes swept to meet his. "Certainly not you," she whispered.

Gordon chuckled, shook his head and looked around. "That's my girl!"

"I suppose we should make our appearances." Della stated scanning the room for familiar faces.

The CEO took note of the abundance of furs and hesitated.

"What's wrong?" she asked, noting his hesitation.

Again his fingers gently stroked the soft silk fabric of the shawl and admired the floral print.

"Your shawl, it's very striking."

"Yes, it is. A friend of mine used to travel extensively; she presented it to me as a gift, a token of our friendship."

"A token of your friendship," he repeated, his eyes moved in contemplation. `What would you think of a Bargazine Russian sable stole as a token of `our' friendship?' he wondered, but dared not say aloud what was in his heart.

The crowd had gathered in islands with servers moving around them like ships delivering and retrieving champagne. Gordon knew only too well the importance of making and maintaining important contacts, they couldn't stay out of circulation for long.

"I suppose it's time to bite the bullet, Della."

Turning to her boss, she eyed him critically and reached to straighten his bow tie and paused, her fingers hovering over the tilted tie.

`How many times had she straightened his tie or made sure his handkerchief was properly placed before court? Or the number of times she had held the mirror and watched his long slender fingers skillfully maneuver his tie into a knot? The times were too numerous to count.' Out of habit she tenderly repositioned the tie and without thinking allowed her fingertips to gently trail across his cheek and the angle of his jaw.

Bringing her fingertips to his lips, Gordon kissed them and the spell was broken. Della's face flushed and she lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to do that."

Gordon released her fingers and gave a familiar gruff response. "I'm not sorry for kissing your hand; I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But if I've made you feel in any way uncomfortable, for that I am truly sorry."

Inhaling deeply, she fought a feeling of melancholy as she listened to his words. Was this her time between heaven and hell? Missing the only man she would ever love while spending time with a man who yearned to make her happy-was this her purgatory?

"No," she stated slowly. "I'm fine…. really. Let's go."

Extending his arm they stepped out into the crowd. Moving from island to island, making their appearances for Gordon Industries, Della found the champagne helped dull her senses. Circulating around the grand gallery with beautiful tropical planters and subdued lighting she admired the beautiful furs and recalled her own stoles, the ones Perry had given her as birthday and Christmas gifts…furs she didn't have the heart to wear.

Walking slowly beside Gordon, Della's eyes were drawn across the gallery floor to a woman in an elegant blue gown wearing a brightly colored shawl stylishly draped over one shoulder. Her companion, a tall man with broad shoulders and graying hair stood at her side. The couple had their backs to her, while people gathered around them in full view, were totally enthralled with their presence. Della watched with interest how the man's hand rested on the woman's back and slender waist, his fingers gently stroking and caressing the fabric and the skin below. While Gordon stopped to talk she took the opportunity to remain at his side and continue her observation of the couple across the gallery.

`Why was she watching them? Was it the beautifully festive shawl the woman wore in a sea of furs or was it something else, like the man who stood at her side?' The man's hand again explored while he spoke with the group, the woman leaning against him, looking up with what appeared to be adoration. His fingers again caressed the fabric of her dress and drifted knowingly down across her hip. The woman's body leaned further against him and in an instant his hand moved across the curve of her hip with familiarity and swiftly returned to her waist. The motion was quick and fleeting, but witnessing it made Della gasp for air.

Della couldn't explain the feeling and stepped away from Gordon who was having a heated discussion over temperatures and semiconductors with Dmitri Rajkowski, an engineer from their company.

`Why was she feeling this way?' Carefully she maneuvered through the crowd leaving Gordon and his engineer at a distance. Clutching the silk shawl to her breast she stepped around servers and clusters of patrons. The tall man with the broad shoulders spoke and turned his head from time to time as though looking through the crowd…..but she couldn't see his face.

The lights lowered two times in quick succession indicating Act Two would be commencing shortly. Della's steps quickened, the champagne flowing through her body making each step less graceful as she circled the group for a better view. Another man in the gathering made a comment and they all laughed.

`Why did the man's knowing touch bother her so? I have to see his face!'

Slowly patrons began moving back to the corridor leading to the theatre, leaving throngs of people still conversing before the next performance. Della used the shield of the remaining clusters to hide her presence while she pretended to look in her purse. The woman in the shawl laughed and again leaned into her male companion, this time pulling him around, her hands moving to his neck to straighten his tie.

One of the men in the group laughed and loudly quipped, "Women, can't live with them, can't live without them!" The others laughed.

Della didn't hear their laughter, for her whole world had suddenly stopped. And for a split second the tall man's eyes met hers and she knew…she knew why the man's caress made her heart skip a beat…she knew why the gesture seemed so familiar….she knew because the tall man's hands had knowingly loved her body for so many years. And now those hands loved another woman. The hair was grayer and the beard was new but his penetrating blue eyes were unmistakable.

`Did he recognize her?' She didn't want to wait to find out and abruptly turned and slipped out of sight. The room began to spin and grow dim. Arthur Gordon's face appeared and felt his arms around her. Her legs moved and her body seemed to float across the room. Were people staring? She didn't know and didn't care. As far as she was concerned, her life was over. The lights grew dimmer and dimmer until there was darkness.

"Please don't leave me, Della," a male voice pleaded over and over again gently stroking her face. Suddenly a cool blast of air struck her face and she gasped from shock and the need for oxygen. She was breathing again. Her body felt heavy and yet she felt herself floating along the sidewalk. Her head lulled from side to side and caught glimpses of Arthur Gordon and Dmitri Rajkowski on either side propelling her along to a waiting limousine.

Reliving the memory of that night she buried her face in the top coat and began to weep uncontrollably.

Arthur Gordon finished his cup of coffee and patiently waited. Looking out on the patio at the bed of flowers he relaxed and visualized a small but elegant greenhouse. A faint smile played on his lips as he realized she was keeping him waiting, but Della Street was the only woman in the world on whom he would gladly wait.

Tilting his head to the side he listened intently and heard a sound, a faint sound. Quietly standing, he walked to the hallway and listened. Again, he heard it, the muffled sounds of sobbing. He stopped breathing, and his insides tensed as he tried to stifle the feeling. Katia's suicide had filled him with guilt and for many years he tried to repress that guilt. Standing at the head of the hallway those repressed feelings returned. For months and years he tossed and turned at night, the sheets twisting around his body while images tormented his mind. The dream always began the same...with the sound of sobs….. the endless hallway to their bedroom….then tragically ending...he was always too late.

The sound of sobbing grew louder and Gordon couldn't wait, he wouldn't be late, not `this time'. Swiftly moving down the hallway, he briefly hesitated outside her bedroom door.

`Propriety be damned,' he thought as he jerked open the door and stopped as he stepped inside her bedroom.

Clutching the top coat and sobbing, Della Street looked up with glistening eyes. In three quick strides he crossed the room and drew her protectively into his arms. Slowly the coat slipped from her hands and dropped on the bed as she put her arms around him and pressed against his chest. Tears soaked through his dress shirt as she buried her face against his chest and sobbed. Gently his hands moved across her back feeling her body shiver beneath his touch. Tenderly his fingers caressed her hair and whispered softly in her ear to comfort her.

Wiping her eyes and sniffing, she ran her fingers across his moist shirt, and looked into his face and saw his concern. She didn't want him to see her this way…..to see her grieve uncontrollably. But it was too late. Yes, too late. She had to be honest with herself…..she had to accept that Perry had moved on without her. He had started a new life…..and what could or should she do?

Cupping her face with his hands Gordon lovingly kissed her forehead, paused and looked into her dark eyes for understanding. Kissing her cheek, he gingerly tilted her chin and lightly touched his lips to hers, tasted the saltiness of her tears and felt a sensation….. a sensation of an underlying intensity, a yearning…a yearning for someone to love. He knew he felt it…..the yearning for someone who truly loved him…..certainly not Paula.

His face hovered above hers, looking for answers, and whispered. "I can't bear to see you this way."

Feeling the tenderness in his touch and the love in his eyes, her eyes again welled with tears.

"But I can't forget…I can't forget him," she barely whispered.

Hearing her words, Gordon now understands. He knows the man with the hypnotic blue eyes, the man with presence and charisma who once filled her life with magic…he's the one she can't forget. But how could he ever hope to compete with his memory? Could he ever hope to make her forget? Would she ever let him love her or make love to her?

He understands her pain, feels her grief and wishes he could make it all go away by loving her and holding her in his arms. "I want to make you happy, Della. I want to love you." His voice cracks with emotion as he pleads. "All I ask is that you let me try."

"Oh, Arthur," she whispers and brings her hands to caress his cheeks.

~~~Fini~~~

My special thanks to my beta for her encouragement, support and humor.