I know I'm late, but what can I say? My health hasn't been cooperating in the last few weeks and it took me some time (and rest) to get back on track. But here's the next chapter. Enjoy and a big thank you goes to my beta - Gracias!
"So you base your theory on a note the police found in Gabriel's belongings?" Della asked while handing Paul a cup with fresh coffee.
"It's not just my theory," Paul said and sipped his coffee. "Perry and I discussed it and it makes a lot of sense to both of us."
Della shook her head. "Why should Gabriel sacrifice his life for me? We hadn't seen each other in years."
"For the same reason Perry and I would do it," Paul said, his voice all dark and serious now. "You mean something to us."
Della blushed and turned her face away. Her gaze fell on Perry who sat on the couch in the living room, talking to someone on the phone. He was keeping his voice down and she had the highly suspicious feeling that he was trying to keep something from her. When he arrived in the morning he had looked incredibly tired and Della knew without asking him that he hadn't slept a wink last night.
"I still don't believe Pauline blackmailed him into sacrificing himself," Della argued and forced herself to look back at Paul.
"Well, the note we found in his pocket is as evident as the holes she left in his body," Paul said and Della cringed upon his cruel description. Paul produced a small plastic bag out of the pocket of his jacket and placed it on the table.
"The police compared it to a sample of Pauline's handwriting from her time in the mental institution. It's hers. Definitely."
"It's your choice. Die and Della and the child will be safe. Live and Della and little Lilly will die."
"Gabriel Monroe died a hero, but that doesn't change the fact that Pauline is still out there and I doubt she'll give up haunting you. Whatever her plan is, it's not finished yet."
In the sanctuary of his private study Stefan Corro sank back in his chair. The call from his old friend hadn't been as cheerful as he had hoped for. Perry Mason had called him in a time of need and there was no way Stefan would deny his friend's request – as unusual as it was.
The bishop pushed himself forward, picked up the phone and dialed a number.
"This is Stefan Corro speaking. Please, get me Sister Maria Andrea on the phone. It's urgent."
A little while later Della found Perry on the porch where he smoked a cigarette. Della had wrapped herself in her warmest coat and approached him slowly.
"Care to share one?" she asked, pointing at the glowing cigarette in his hand.
"I thought you've given it up a long time ago," Perry returned surprised.
"Oh I have, but I think I can use one today."
He offered her the package and she took a cigarette. He gave her fire and for some time neither of them spoke, as they both were leaning against the pillar.
"You haven't said anything about Lilly yet," Della reminded him after a while.
"Lilly's okay. A bit shaken, but she's a strong kid."
"That's good. I want to talk to Lorraine again... if she doesn't mind." Della turned her gaze from the end of her cigarette to Perry's face.
"You have to hurry then," he said and sighed. "Lorraine and Lilly will leave as soon as possible."
"And what about you? You can't stay here forever. Neither can Paul. You've got your lives to live."
For a moment he just looked at her, then a smile appeared in his eyes and the corners of his mouth twitched. She would never change, but neither would he.
"Nice try, Miss Street," he said. "Paul and I will go nowhere unless we know you're safe."
"I don't think Lorraine will agree with you. God knows, I wouldn't if I had to walk in her shoes."
"As a matter of fact, she doesn't agree with me," Perry admitted and flipped the end of his cigarette in the snow. "She thinks my priorities lie with anything but her and Lilly."
"Anything?" Della asked.
"You. I can't deny she has a point."
Della abandoned her cigarette as well. "I just remembered why I gave it up," she commented bitterly. "Always leaves a bitter taste in your mouth." She closed her eyes, sighed and then she said,"I never wanted any of this to happen – not to her and not to us."
"Nobody blames you, Della. Not for Gabriel's death or for Lilly's abduction."
"I'm blaming myself," she returned, violently. "And I don't know how to cope with it. I feel helpless and I don't know how to fight Pauline or my own weakness."
"That's what you have me for," Perry said and reached out to touch her arm. "I have a plan."
Della laughed, a piercing laugh that was so unlike her that it cut straight through his heart. But he couldn't tell her that Pauline was succeeding in her devious plan. The woman and her actions were getting to Della's core, her very soul; the part that he loved the most about her. The one thing about her that he believed was indestructible.
"You have a plan?"
"Yes," he answered, almost tenderly and took her gloved hand. "Do you trust me?"
"You know I do."
"I mean do you trust me, no matter what I ask you to do."
"You know I will always trust you."
He squeezed her hand, grateful for her trust. There had been a time when he had believed he would never hear that from her again.
"Let's hope Mae will see it the same way."
"Mae?" Della asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes. You think she'll place her life in my hands?"
They exchanged a knowing smile and then Della said, "Maybe you'll have to work your magic on her. It usually works with old ladies."
Sister Maria Andrea sat in Bishop Corro's office and listened silently, but highly focused, to his request. Her hands were folded and her index fingers formed a triangle that rested at her chin.
"I know I have no right to ask you, but I'm afraid you're my only hope left?" Stefan said, after he had finished.
"This friend of yours...," she asked. "How long do you know him?"
"We've known each other for a long time. We met at university."
"A good man?"
"One of the best."
"You know when I decided to join the convent I swore I would never look back."
Stefan nodded. "I know, the last thing you want, is to be reminded of your old life, but we can't deny it provides you with skills that are needed right now."
"So you want to entrust me with the life of the woman your friend is in love with. That's hardly an easy task."
Stefan looked up, surprised.
"Who said he's in love with her?
Maria Andrea smiled. "Why else would he go such lengths to save her life?"
"I'm afraid their story is not that easy and certainly not quickly told."
The nun shook her head and rose from her chair. Stefan's eyes followed her as she crossed the room, graceful and collected as always.
"You don't have to. If protecting is what you ask me to do, I will help. No questions asked."
She stopped at the window and looked outside. "I know what he feels like, to know that somebody is out there, ready to kill you or even worse. When will she arrive?"
"I'll be waiting."
"Lorraine? This is Della Street speaking."
Della sat in the living room, twirling the cable of the phone nervously around her finger.
"Hello Della," Lorraine greeted her.
"Perry told me you're about to leave town."
"As quickly as possible."
Della closed her eyes and took her time, before she spoke again, "Lorraine, I'm sorry. For everything."
"Don't be. It's not that I haven't been warned. As for Lilly, she's safe and that's important."
"I wish you the best."
"Thank you and be careful."
Lorraine hung up and for some moments Della just sat there, the receiver still in her hand. Then she finally leaned back and allowed the tears she had been fighting for the last few days to find a way down her face.