Disclaimer: Characters by Erle Stanley Gardner. This is nonprofit fan fiction.

Warnings: Ambiguous portrayal. Friendship or pre-slash.

Notes: The philosophy leans toward bookverse.


Starry Night

by Salysha


"...and the jane turned out not to be a jane at all."

With those words, Paul Drake's story came to a dramatic conclusion, not a moment too soon. Luckily, neither of his companions had been enjoying a drink. Della Street actually looked scandalized, but she masked her shock quickly, much to his chagrin. The expectant looks shifted to Perry Mason.

"It takes all kinds," he said.

Unfortunately, Drake had been enjoying a drink. He subdued the reaction in the nick of time and combated choking on the spot. Della hedged between patting him on the back and falling into laughter herself. Mason regarded them with cool interest, but the tilt of his lips gave him away. He looked at Drake in apology.

"Hanging in there, Paul?"

"No thanks to you," Drake said and then gulped a shot of water. He scowled at Mason, but the scowl didn't hold his sense of humor back for long.

Mason cleared his throat, carefully avoidant of Della's reproachful look, which he knew to be well-deserved. "How about some dessert?" he offered instead.

Della shook her head. "Not for me, thanks. It is past eleven. It's getting a little late for saucy tales," she said with a pointed scowl; her reward was a bright grin.

"Paul?"

"I wouldn't mind a piece of pie. Lemon meringue, if they have any."

Mason nodded. "Coffee, then?"

"I couldn't. If I have coffee this late at night, I won't sleep until the early hours of the morning. You two go ahead and enjoy your desserts for me."

Mason and Drake stood as Della rose from the table. Mason came to see her off, with instructions for Drake to order for two.

"Goodnight, gorgeous," Drake called out.

The remnant scowl fought for subsistence and then made way for a smile. "See you tomorrow."

By the time Mason returned, their order had arrived, and Drake had taken the seat Della had occupied. While the table was still bountiful, it had already elicited a mournful face.

"I should have ordered coffee," Drake said wistfully.

"Never mind. We'll have some later."

The dessert was dealt to the last bite with precise efficiency. As soon as they were done, a pack of cigarettes emerged and was passed round. Drake leaned over with a light. He covered Mason's cupped hand as he lit the cigarette. Their rings clunked together, barely audibly, as he pulled away. He lit his own quickly and leaned back to enjoy the smoke.

They smoked in silence. Mason's cigarette burned to a stub, but he didn't light up a new one. Drake took a look at him under heavy-lidded eyes and helped himself to another one. He kept on smoking, while Mason remained deep in thought.

Eventually, Mason completed the thought process and connected the loose ends. Some elaborate scheme that no one else in their current cases had thought of was formed and completed; in the brilliant mind, the scattered clues had formed a lucid construction. Mason pulled away.

"Thanks, Paul. I think I needed that," he said slowly.

Drake lit a cigarette. "The defense never rests?"

"It can't." The look in Mason's eyes was granite. "It doesn't want to."

"I know," Drake said quietly.

The placating tone took the edge off Mason. The harsh look abated, and he wavered uncomfortably. Drake eyed the room in drowsy disinterest and slouched further back in his seat. He glanced at Mason under his brow—a professional, assessing glance.

Mason laughed shortly, but the tension didn't leave him completely. "How's that coffee now? And brandy?"

They rarely indulged in spirits. Drake raised a brow, but his expression registered no surprise. "You plan to make a night out of it?"

"Unless you have somewhere to be."

Drake declined subsequent engagements, but added, "Better make it something merciful on the stomach. I'd hate to go on bicarbonate of soda after fine dining. The stomach's more used to quick hamburgers and processed candy bars."

"We'll pick something finer," Mason promised.

The waitress hastened to his side, and he made for an expert scrutiny of the drinks menu. He settled for two coffees, and cognac to accompany both. Around them, the table service was inobtrusively changed to accommodate the new menu.

Mason rescued his cognac from the table and observed thoughtfully as Drake did the like. The cool of the glass tempered into a more palatable warmth. Mason lifted his glass in a wordless toast and took a taste. The full-bodied aroma was fraught with rich oak. He twiddled his drink thoughtfully. The tulip-shaped glass caught a flicker of light from the candle and reflected a shade of auburn-golden brilliance.

"Living in Los Angeles, you almost forget what the stars look like." There was almost a wistful tone in Perry Mason's voice. "To us, the City of Angels shows a grimmer side than usual."

"I don't mind," he continued, lighting a cigarette. "I don't give a damn. I'm a lawyer, and I play the game. I do what it takes and take it just the same. In this business, you're a fream because that's the only way you play. The nature of the beast becomes second nature, and soon you don't know any other way around."

"Do you ever doubt that you're doing the right thing, Perry?"

Mason drew a long drag and stared unwaveringly in front of him. "Not one minute."

He tapped the ashtray lightly and snorted. "That's not exactly true. 'Is it worth it?' I think about it every time a client puts himself in a bind. He may play me for a patsy or put the rap on me, and that can't make a dime of difference. You put yourself on the firing line each time, and you've got to outsmart them and stay a step ahead. You can't rank a single job because if you do, the pellets fall. It's a question I don't want to stop to ask because, one day, I might find myself saying no."

Paul Drake's face was expressionless. "I don't believe you."

There was a stunned interval that begged protest, and then Mason grinned. His expression was very briefly accompanied by a rare smile from Paul Drake, and Mason laughed openly. "I don't think I believe myself."

Mason looked around. They were surrounded by empty seats, and the tables were leisurely clearing of night owls, couples dining, and friends enjoying a late night out. "I think the restaurant is closing," he said as he straightened in his chair. The waitress caught his eyes with a smile, promising to bring the check.

Judging by the speed at which the check came, they were leaving under the wire. Any disgruntlement the waitress might have felt at being delayed melted to a beaming smile when she saw the tip Mason left her. The ubiquitous cordiality carried them to collect their coats as they cleared out at last. Drake opened the street door and rested his hand on Mason's back, as he went first.

Out in the street, a light drizzle had started. Mason and Drake exited the restaurant and pulled their overcoats tighter. The promise of a downpour had made sure that all the taxi cabs were taken.

"I guess it's time to go home, Paul."

It was hard to know what Mason was thinking. Hands deep within his pockets, he observed the passing L.A. traffic almost regally—the lone king on a haunted hill. Daring rainfall, he glanced at the sky. The rain was flowing in rivulets on the pavement, but the sky betokened a storm. It could have been a starry night anywhere else.

Drake made up his mind. He ventured, "It's not that late. Do you want to go for a drink? The hotel bar isn't closed."

Sharp eyes landed on Drake. All that driven, burning intensity channeled into a look and, then, into something of a smile. Mason nodded, slowly.

"Maybe go take a nightcap or two."

THE END


Fream is someone who doesn't belong, an outsider.

The philosophy takes after the books, notably Velvet Claws, Drowsy Mosquito, and Haunted Husband. Mason does have a habit of indulging in monologues. He is, in fact, quite philosophical. The TV-series Mason is much more conversational, and more of a moral character.

Reviews appreciated very much. Thanks!

Cordial thanks to Gypsie (Gypsie Rose) for the proofreading!

Published October 15, 2011.