Chapter Thirteen

"Why don't you sit down," Gertrude Lade asked the P.I. from behind the desk in Mrs. Mason's office where she was sifting through the mail. "You are making me nervous."

Paul looked at her and stopped his pacing, then dropped down in the chair next to where Gertie was keeping herself busy.

"Did Della teach you that?" He quipped. "To work through a crisis?"

"This isn't a crisis," Gertie answered quietly.

"Then what are you calling it?" The private eye asked and nodded his head towards the door to Perry's office. "A house call from Rick Hamilton while Perry's still in court? Come on Gertie, don't tell me you are not concerned."

"I am," the blonde woman gave back with a reluctant sigh. "I just don't think that worrying helps Della in any way. Going through the morning mail to get her chores out of the way does."

Paul glared at her and put his hand on hers in a friendly caress. "You're a doll." He smiled.

"So you say to all of your women," Gertie replied somberly.

"I really don't." The detective searched her eyes. "Not anymore."

"Paul?" Della's voice sounded determined but weak from the inside of her husband's office.

"Right here, Beautiful," he shouted back, squeezed Gertie's hand and then got up.

"What's cooking?" He asked as he walked through the door Doctor Hamilton was holding open for him. "What can I do?"

"Would you get a few things for me from home and find a way not to scare my husband when you get back to him?" Della asked with a hint of defeat in her silky voice. "Richard is going to take me to the hospital."

"What do you want me to say?" The detective responded dutifully, aware of how hard she was trying to hold it together.

"Just tell him to come to St. Mary's instead of Richard's practice. That he's repeating some tests that were inconclusive."

"I won't lie to Perry," Paul stated calmly.

"I'm not asking you to." Still lying on the office couch, Mrs. Mason held her friend's gaze with a graceful smile. "I just don't want him to get the wrong idea."

"You don't want him to ask for an early adjournment." Paul Drake said sternly. "Just to be clear about your rationale."

"I don't want my condition to interfere with Perry's case, yes." Della's voice was calm but edgy when she sat up. "In case you didn't know, I'm running this law practice for my husband to feed our brood. I can't afford him to get distracted."

"Is it really going that bad?" The private eye asked with genuine concern.

Della averted his eyes and held her head to fight a returning headache.

"Business has been tough before," she offered meekly. "Which is another thing I don't want Perry to mull over. What I want him to do is fight for Margie Rodgers. He chose that case to get her acquitted and so he will."

Paul looked at her and tried to read what it was she didn't tell him.

"You don't think Perry asked Eva Belter to print that apology," it suddenly dawned on him as he remembered his own conversation with Perry about the tabloids from earlier that morning. If he was honest, asking for a public apology really didn't seem like the attorney's style.

"You think it's somehow connected to Margie Rodgers," he continued thoughtfully and joined Della on the couch.

The secretary nodded. "I don't know why or who'd benefit from Perry's involvement in her case, but I've had this bad feeling about it ever since he decided to take it."

"You don't think it's Margie herself who's pulling the strings?"

"No. Perry asked me in the beginning and I still trust my instincts on that: Margie's innocent. But I wonder who else might be involved," Mrs. Mason sighed. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'm just tired and feel paranoid after all this hassle with the press. I guess someone should just check my head while I'm being pricked and tested anyway."

Putting his arm around her shoulders, Paul pulled her towards him and shot the Doc Hamilton a worried look. It wasn't like Della to sound down like that.

"I'll look into it," the private detective suddenly said, causing his friend to chuckle.

"Are you a psychiatrist now?"

"No," Paul Drake was relieved she hadn't lost her sense of humor. "I'll see what I can find about that gut feeling of yours. Maybe Perry has a hunch when I tell him about Eva Belter's stunt."

Della nodded, looked up at her husband's best friend and whispered, "Tell him I loved the roses, will you?"

"Of course," Paul smiled and gently kissed her temple. "What else?"

"That I trust him to win this case."

"He already knows that," the P.I shook his head. "See what we're dealing with?" He asked Doctor Hamilton who was smiling thoughtfully at his patient.

Propping herself up from the couch with a little help from Paul Drake, Della squinted her eyes to will away the throbbing of her temples and forced herself to walk towards her husband's desk on shaky feet.

"When you're done rolling your eyes at me, gentlemen, please excuse me," she said with a friendly smile that send them packing. "I'd like to call my aunt before she hears about my sashay to St. Mary's from less reliable sources."

"Gertie," Mrs. Mason asked tiredly when she finally reached her husband's chair. "Could you please put me through to my family?"

"Already waiting for you on line one," her assistant answered faithfully and gestured the men to give Mrs. Mason some privacy.

"Thank you," Della gave her a grateful smile, then picked up the receiver and connected herself with Aunt Mae.

Behind the door in the secretary's office, Gertrude Lade stood with her hands on her hips and glared at the two men she had just maneuvered out of her boss' sight.

"All right," Gertie started matter-of-fact. "I suggest we handle the situation the way we last did when Della's water broke."

"Right," Paul agreed. "I'll brief Perry, instruct my men to work the Rodgers case, pick up the girls from school and drop them off, then get whatever Della is telling Mae to pack for her and bring it to the hospital."

"Okay," the assistant approved and turned her attention to the doctor. "Do you think she'll be hospitalized over night?"

"I'll recommend that," Doctor Hamilton replied. "I know she won't like it, but I'll ask Perry to make her if she shouldn't comply."

"So I better cancel their dinner reservation and arrange for something the boss can take to the hospital when he's going in to see his wife."

"What about our plans?" Paul asked sheepishly.

"No change there," Gertie patted his arm as she walked past him to reach her phone. "The Mason girls are ours for at least one night."