Notes: And this is the end of what is probably the most convoluted and twisted Perry story you'll ever read. Thank you for putting up with me, and if you actually enjoyed this madness, I'm thrilled. I'm starting a new project tomorrow, on the community 31 Days at the Livejournal website. It will be a series of vignettes for Hamilton and Mignon, and I'd love to have you drop in if you're interested. I don't know if I'll be posting the vignette series on this website too. I may start another mystery story here. If I do, it will probably involve Perry's friend Jerry Reynolds and some of the other characters from The Misguided Missile (albeit it will take place in Los Angeles instead of on the Air Force base). If that sounds interesting, I hope you'll stick around to give it a try. Thank you again!
Hamilton closed Flo's file and placed it in his briefcase. Still on his desk was Vivalene's file, which had been there the next time he had gone into his office following the night in Mr. Vann's mansion.
Several days had passed since then. Los Angeles had been recovering from what the freak storm had done to it. The people had rallied, banding together to rebuild homes and buildings and other casualties.
Other things could not be mended so easily. There had been several fatalities. Some people were still alive, but in critical condition. Some would be a long time in recovering.
Hamilton glowered at Vivalene's file. It bothered him that he did not know how to prosecute her crew for any damage done during the storm. In order to accomplish that, he would have to prove that they had set in place the elements that had caused the upheaval. Basically, he would have to prove the existence of magic. And he was not prepared for that. The world was not prepared for that.
He stuffed Vivalene's file into his briefcase as well. Even if he could somehow get around that and pass the box off as some sort of scientific creation, he could imagine how that would go. Countless people with both good and ill intentions would clamor to get a piece of it. It was too dangerous to let its existence become common knowledge. He would have to be content with the mountains of charges the criminals were already facing and see that the box remained a secret.
The others in the know about what had really happened were getting back to their normal lives. For some, it would take a while to fully integrate. Lieutenant Tragg was still shaken by Vivalene and Flo's plot to pretend to be Maureen. But what distressed him the most was what he had done under their control. He had apologized profusely to both Steve and Hamilton, considering it his fault that they had each nearly died.
His niece Lucy had been let in on everything. Though stunned, she had believed it. Hamilton was relieved about that. She would be able to help her uncle's wounds heal.
Paul had been very scarce the last few days. Hamilton was not sure what was wrong with him, but the situation concerned him. He was almost to the point where he felt he might make an effort to seek Paul out if he did not reappear today. Hamilton had given him the space he figured was wanted. But perhaps that was not what he should have done.
And apparently those on the other side had tried to get through to their still-living loved ones. Hamilton had heard Andy mentioning something about Otto Norden attempting to contact him repeatedly through his dreams. He had heard from Otto one last time, once everything had been set back in place. Otto had congratulated Andy on his part in the battle and had expressed his relief that it was over.
Hamilton did not quite know what to make of that. It could have been a series of perfectly normal dreams, brought on by Andy's subconscious recollections of his dear friend. But even Hamilton had been forced to admit that Andy must have undergone an out-of-body experience after Vivalene had tried to kill him. There had been too much proof that Andy had witnessed everything that the others had done after his death. And he had met Otto then. So there was really no reason, Hamilton supposed, why Otto could not have subsequently contacted him in dreams.
He shook his head. His perfectly logical world had been turned completely upsidedown. And he did not like it one bit. Suddenly there was not a simple explanation for half of what went on in the world. It made him feel very vulnerable and not in control.
Hamilton looked up as the intercom buzzed. He pressed the button. "Yes? What is it, Leon?"
"Perry Mason is here to see you."
Hamilton leaned back. "Send him in," he said.
The door opened a moment later. "Hamilton." Perry stepped into the room, bearing a smile of greeting. He shut the door behind him.
Hamilton stood from his desk. "It's good to see you, Perry," he said. "What brings you here?"
Perry walked over. "Flo's trial reopens today," he said. "I didn't want to miss that."
"Yes, but that's in court, not my office," Hamilton pointed out.
"I know." Perry paused. "Is it true that Flo is pleading Guilty?"
"That's right," Hamilton said. "I don't know what's in her mind. It's certainly not the plea I would have expected from her."
"I'm sure I don't have to tell you to watch her, Hamilton," Perry said. "She was the one who wanted that box long before it was ever found or before Vivalene had an interest in it. She must surely have some devious plan now."
"I know. And I have Mr. Vann and Judge Heyes waiting in the wings." Hamilton frowned. "Somehow I doubt that they're in on that plan and will plead Guilty too."
"What did you find to charge them with?" Perry wondered.
Hamilton sighed. "Well, aside from the criminal charges Heyes was already facing, I managed to get him and Vann charged with conspiracy, theft, child endangerment, kidnapping, and group hypnosis," he said. "Flo's facing most of those, as well as fraud and impersonation. Vivalene would be charged with those as well as with another count of attempted murder, if she wasn't lying comatose in the prison hospital ward."
"I see," Perry said. "What do the doctors say about her prognosis?"
"They're completely baffled," Hamilton said. "They don't know why she's in a coma at all. And they don't know if she'll ever come out of it."
Perry nodded. "It is difficult to get through this case without mentioning black magic, isn't it," he said. "Is Judge Penner actually going for your group hypnosis charge?"
"He admitted that he knew something strange was going on," Hamilton said. "He told me in confidence that he believed in the supernatural, but of course that wouldn't fly in court. He's willing to go along with the group hypnosis idea."
"But we know it wasn't just that," Perry said, searching Hamilton's eyes as he spoke.
They flickered with discomfort. "Perry, I'll be honest," Hamilton said. "I don't know what happened. I'd rather believe in group hypnosis than a mystical box and slab. But for those few days I was forced to believe that maybe magic really is real. Maybe it is; I'll concede that much." He placed a hand over his heart. "Whatever Vivalene hit me with sure didn't feel like a hypnotic hallucination. And the bump I got is real enough."
"So is the fact that we believed you were dead," Perry said, completely sobered. "And you continued to look dead until we heard that shattering noise and our right memories were restored."
Hamilton stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I'm sorry about that," he said. "You know, I heard some of what you and the others were saying back then. I guess it's like they say about unconscious people hearing more than anyone thinks they do."
"I guess so." Perry hesitated. It was odd, how he always managed to find the right words in court but this conversation stumped him. There was so much he wanted to say, so much he felt should be said, and yet he could not seem to string any of it together.
"Hamilton," he tried now, "it was terrible enough to see you lying there before my memories came back. Once I fully knew the truth, it was almost unbearable."
Hamilton looked awkward. "Perry, it's alright," he said. "You don't have to apologize any more. You didn't have to in the first place."
"This isn't an apology, Hamilton," Perry said. "This is me telling you that I don't want to see anything like this happen again. Another time, it might not be just a trick of Vivalene's or some other enemy. It might be real. And I don't want to find myself looking upon your lifeless body, any more than I want to see the body of anyone else I deeply care about.
"We've clocked in many long years of courtroom battles and solving cases, and in the process we've discovered and cultivated something invaluable—our friendship. I want to see us both remain alive to share in it for many years to come."
Hamilton was both surprised and strongly affected by Perry's words. For a moment he was silent, taking in all that Perry had told him. Then at last he responded.
"I agree," he said. "I don't want to be thrown into a situation like this ever again. Perry, you should follow more of your own advice. You take too many chances!"
Perry chuckled. "It is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black," he remarked.
"And then some," Hamilton said. "But seriously Perry, I appreciate what you're trying to say. I'm glad you're back to normal to say it." He drew a deep breath. "Those few days, whatever was responsible for them, were the worst days I've ever had. If Vivalene wanted to torture me, she couldn't have found a better way to do it. She tried to take away everyone who's important to me, including you."
"And we still don't know why you and Paul remembered the truth at all," Perry mused. "Vivalene claimed you were both supposed to forget."
Hamilton nodded. "It's funny," he said. "Before any of this started, Mignon told me that sometimes it's worse for those who don't believe in magic than for those who do. She said that magic doesn't always affect the unbelievers the same way. And let me tell you, Paul and I are two of the most skeptical people around."
"You're saying you wonder if that's why you both remembered?" Perry returned. "Because you're among the unbelievers?"
"I don't know," Hamilton sighed. "I don't even know if I'm willing to admit there really was magic." He started to pace the floor in front of his desk. "Some people might say instead that it was meant to happen that way, that it was God's way of saying that He was in charge and He wasn't going to let Vivalene's plan win out. It could have eventually destroyed the whole world, I suppose."
"So He entrusted you and Paul with the task of shattering the spell," Perry finished.
"That's the idea," Hamilton said. "Not that I know that's true, either. It sounds so arrogant and self-righteous to even suggest something like that. Maybe it was just coincidence, with no meaning behind it."
"Perhaps," Perry said. "Now that it's over, I suppose it doesn't really matter."
"No, it doesn't," agreed Hamilton.
"But you would still like to know the answer," Perry deduced.
"Wouldn't you?" Hamilton said.
Perry thought about that. "It would be nice," he said. "But I'm just grateful that you and Paul did remember, without wondering how it came about. The both of you sacrificed so much to bring us to this moment."
"And it was worth every moment of it," Hamilton declared. "I just hope Paul's alright," he added with a frown. "I thought I might've seen him around before now."
"I think he would greatly benefit from talking with you," Perry said.
"I'll see what I can do about that, then." Hamilton looked up at Perry. "I'll have to get going for court before long."
Perry nodded. "If you call on me today, I'll gladly serve as a witness for the state," he said. "But I'll be just as glad to sit as a spectator in the gallery and watch you work to convict Flo."
Hamilton straightened and grabbed his briefcase, leafing through the contents to make sure he had not forgotten anything. "I can't figure her out," he said. "I have this feeling that anything she may have done that didn't hurt us, such as not interfering when Paul and I went up to Tragg, was just so she could further a plot against her sister."
"Is that part of your case against her?" Perry asked.
"Yes, it is." Hamilton frowned. "Both of those women disturb me to no end. I'll be glad when Flo is in prison."
"So will I," Perry said.
Hamilton paused. ". . . Vivalene kissed me at the same time she was trying to kill me," he remarked. "I can't decide if she was trying to distract me, torment me one last time, or fulfill some 'woman scorned' complex."
Perry considered that. "Perhaps all three," he said. "You were the first among us whom she tried to seduce, both now and three years ago. And you always rejected her advances. She may have been bitter about that. Somehow I don't think she takes kindly to rejection."
"I'm glad Flo doesn't seem to care about that, at least," Hamilton sighed. "When she's herself and not pretending to be Vivalene, she doesn't flirt much."
The intercom buzzed again. "Mr. Burger?" Leon called. "Mignon Germaine is here."
Hamilton leaned over the desk to press the button. "Alright. Thank you, Leon. Send her in."
Leon had been absolutely bewildered when his true memories had come back. He had listened as Hamilton had tried to explain to him what had happened, using the group hypnosis theory. He was not sure he was fully sold on it, but he did not know what other possibility there could be. Hamilton was not sure he would confide in Leon about the whole truth. He supposed he might, if Leon continued to be bothered. Still, he hoped it would not come to that.
The door opened and Mignon stepped inside. "Hello, Hamilton," she greeted. "Mr. Mason."
Hamilton stood. "It's good to see you, Mignon," he said.
Perry smiled to himself. "I'll see you in court, Hamilton," he said. "Hello, Mrs. Germaine."
Mignon nodded to him.
Perry walked past and out the door, heading for the elevators.
Hamilton watched him go past before turning his attention back to Mignon. "What brings you here, Mignon?" he asked.
"I wanted to talk with you, Hamilton," Mignon said. "There's a Christmas party this Friday, for the staff of the Club Caribe. Everyone is allowed to bring someone as his or her guest. Larry will be there, as Agnes's. I would be honored if you would be mine."
Hamilton was again surprised. "I'd be happy to come," he said.
Mignon smiled. "It starts at six-thirty."
"Should I pick you up or meet you there?" Hamilton wondered.
"I'll be there," Mignon said. "Just come to the club."
"I'll do that," Hamilton said.
"It's strange," Mignon remarked. "The normal order of things has been restored, but we still carry the memories of what happened for those few nightmarish days. So does everyone else who was involved."
"Even the rest of the staff at Howie's school?" Hamilton blinked.
Mignon nodded. "Even them. And for them it's worse than for us. They don't know why there was suddenly a temporary new principal and a new second-grade teacher. If it wasn't that they all know they remember, each one would probably think they were losing their mind."
Hamilton winced. "Do you still have the box and the pieces of the slab?"
"Yes. They should all be destroyed, but it has to be in the correct way. Otherwise it might only cause worse trouble."
Hamilton really wished it was not necessary to have this conversation. "How are you going to find out the correct way?" he exclaimed.
"There actually is a man in Oregon who may have the answers," Mignon said. "I've left a message for him to contact me."
Hamilton shook his head. "I hope he will. Oh, what are the Petersons going to do about that treasure?" he wondered.
"The coins have been claimed by the museum," Mignon said, "in return for a good-sized payment. They told Mr. Welles that the box they had called him about had been stolen and they didn't know what had happened to it. It's not a complete lie; they don't know where I've taken it now."
"That's probably for the best," Hamilton said. "I spoke with Welles shortly after he came out of the coma. He told me about the man who hit him. It's one of the men who beat up Larry."
Mignon's visage tightened. "And he works for Mr. Vann, who in turn was in the employ of Judge Heyes," she remarked.
Hamilton nodded. "I think Vann was planning to break out on his own," he said. "None of them wanted to keep working together."
"It's true, that there is no honor among thieves," Mignon sighed.
"That's what I've found time and again," Hamilton said.
Mignon nodded. "I know you're busy, Hamilton," she said. "I'll see you later today, at the courthouse."
"Alright," Hamilton answered. "Drop in again sometime. Don't be a stranger."
Mignon smiled. "I won't. I'd like to see you at the club more often, too."
"Fair enough," Hamilton said.
He sat at his desk, pondering for several moments after Mignon said goodbye and left. At last coming to a decision, he pressed the intercom button. "Leon, how long before I have to be in court?"
"An hour, Sir."
"Thank you." Hamilton got up from his desk and grabbed his hat. There was enough time. He would go find Paul and try to get to the bottom of that mystery once and for all.
He stopped short in surprise when he reached the elevators. As the doors opened, Paul stepped out. When he found himself staring at the district attorney, he froze.
"Paul, what are you doing here?" Hamilton asked. "I was going out to look for you."
Paul shifted uncomfortably. "I was coming here to talk to you," he half-mumbled.
Hamilton gestured back down the hall. "It's about time," he commented. "Let's go."
It was an hour later when Hamilton left the building and headed for his car.
He and Paul had talked most of that time. The issues Paul had brought up had surprised him. Likewise, Paul had seemed surprised by Hamilton's answers. But in the end they had parted with a much-needed understanding, as friends. It was a weight off both their minds.
Hamilton glanced at the asphalt in the parking garage as he got off the service elevator. All across the car park it was cracked and damaged from the earthquakes. Crews were planning to come and repair the jagged fissures, once the more serious calamities elsewhere in the city were taken care of.
The sound of a Christmas carol carried across the space from another car's radio. Hamilton did not pause to listen, but he took in the words as he reached his own vehicle.
Peace on earth was a long way coming. But for now, Hamilton was just grateful that relative peace had been restored to his life and the lives of his close friends.
It would be a good Christmas season.