Author's note: I am really sorry for always keeping you waiting so long. I can't help it. At least, this time it wasn't work but Christmas season that kept me away from this platform. I hope you all had a good start into this new year. I am also grateful for all your lovely reviews and nudges. Thanks a million, you know who you are. I'll do my best to finish this story before long. :)

Chapter Twenty-Six

Paul Drake looked at Gertrude Lade who was ushering out his trusted operative Otto Samson through the front door of the quiet Mason home, then leaned her back against the door from the inside and glared at him with wide eyes. "What now?" She asked, her face thoughtful and pale.

"We get to work until Samson reports back to me with further details," the detective said.

"What about Perry and Della?"

"What about them?" Paul queried, his eyes betraying his uncertainty about the situation.

"Aren't you going to let them know?" Gertie crossed her arms to think rather than comment on the private eye's emotional abeyance.

"What good will it do? All I can tell Perry is that the dame is dead."

"You know his mind works differently from ours," Gertie pointed out carefully. "What's fragmentary information to us may be the missing piece of the puzzle to Perry Mason."

"It's pushing 10:30, how am I supposed to get through to him?" Paul shook his head. "You don't know the watchdog of a nurse in the emergency room. I will never get past her to the sixth floor."

"Mrs. Hamilton arranged for Della to get accommodated in a private room. She has a phone." The assistant grinned and grabbed her purse from a hanger in the nearby closet to reveal her notebook.

"Where did you get that number?" Paul asked, not unimpressed.

"My boss gave it to me," Gertie responded. "For emergencies."

"This isn't an emergency," the private eye asserted.

"An accountant comes forward to tell you about an agreement between Margie's sister and the murder victim. An agreement that may or may not have a bearing on Margie's case. We can't ask her now because she took her own life, probably minutes before Otto could serve her with a subpoena. For all we know, she likely choked on the last issue of Spicy Bits and you don't think this is something the Masons would like to hear?" Arms on her hips now, unconsciously mimicking her office superior, Gertrude Lade shook her head. She knew why he didn't want to place the call, why he hesitate beyond his usual need to deliver information. "It's not your job to protect Della, you know. Her husband is right there with her, making sure she's fine."

Holding Gertie's gaze for an uncomfortable minute, Paul Drake finally held out his hand to get the necessary number and walked into Perry's home office to use the phone on his desk. Dialing at a snail's pace, he wet his lips and cleared his throat, unsure what to say.

In Della Mason's hospital room, Perry Mason sat by the window and listened to the sound of running water in the adjoined bathroom. He had been tickled to see her loosening up only moments ago, her laughter reviving memories of simpler times when all they had to worry about had been their practice and themselves. Perry ground his teeth, his wife's words still sinking in. What if their trouble wouldn't go away? What if Della would never really be okay?!

It was the phone that cut into his gloomy mood, the kind of melancholy he typically only felt when Della deprived him of her company for an undetermined period of time. "Yes?" The attorney growled when he picked up.

"It's Paul," a familiar voice said on the other end of the line. He sounded preoccupied.

"Are the girls all right?" Perry asked without thinking, his fatherly instincts refined these days and always alert.

"What?" Paul was confused for a moment, then seemed to nod. "Oh yes, they're fine. All tucked in bed and well behaved."

"Are you sure we're talking about the same quartet? Rich brown curls, dimple smiles?"

"All four of them," the private eye assured his friend. "But you know what they say: kids are always on their best behavior when their parents are far away."

Wearing a pleased little smile, Perry grumbled, "Is that why you called, to brag how easy it is for you to put my brood to bed? What gives, Paul? Let's have it."

"The dame you were looking for, Margie's sister," Paul Drake cleared his throat, then continued without further ado. "She was found in her home today."

"What happened?" Mason was impatient to know.

"She choked on the latest issue of Spicy Bits," the detective proudly quoted Gertrude Lade. "I'm waiting for Samson to get back to me with further details."

"I'll be at the office at six," Perry said after a pensive pause. "Try to get a copy of the police report. There's a lot of work we'll have to do before we go to court."

Before her could continue, the attorney spotted his wife standing in the bathroom door. Her feet were bare, her curls pinned up and damp, a towel draped around her curves so womanly and picture-perfect.

"I gotta go," the attorney mumbled and dropped the receiver on the cradle without saying a proper good-bye.

"Are the children okay?" Della asked, her face glowing and yet a little wan.

"Just fine," Perry said and tried hard to fake a smile.

"So, there's news about the case," Mrs. Mason stated, the answer apparent in her husband's face.

"You shouldn't be barefoot like that," Perry avoided her question, got up and nudged his wife's chin with his fingers instead, raised it up and met her lips for a tender buss. When he pulled away from her again, they stood only inches apart, his fingers slowly moving to her shoulders and down to her shoulder blades. Sending goosebumps down her spine, he reached the rim of her damp little towel and tugged at it with so much caution, it seemed he was afraid she could vanish right before his eyes. When the towel dropped to the floor, revealing the familiar beauty of her nudity to him, he allowed it to form a puddle around her feet. Then he reached out in slow motion to grab another towel from the hook by the door. Starting with her shoulders and back, he began to move the cloth over her sensitive curves, caressing her dry rather than rubbing. His eyes were fixed on her lips, slightly parted to release his favorite sound. Breathing hard, her voice bordered a rich, deep moan. Her eyes had long fluttered shut while her cheeks were treating him to a darkish pink.

Aroused by his touch, Della relaxed into her husband's arms when he finally raised her up to put her to bed. Slowly undressing before her, he smiled at the contented expression on her sculptured face, her eyes still closed to hold on to the sensuality of the moment.

"I'll be right back," Perry whispered as he stole another kiss.

When he returned minutes later, his skin still drying off from a hot quick shower, his legs were clad in his favorite PJs. Holding the matching top in his hands, he sat on the bed and found his wife not really awake, nor fast asleep. Dozing like she sometimes did on their couch in his office, she moaned in appreciation when Perry pulled her bare torso towards him to cover it with her part of his nightly outfit. Enveloped by his scent, she snuggled deep into her pillow when her husband had finally buttoned her up, then mumbled his name in gratitude.

Holding Della in his arms, her back pressed against his chest, her legs entangled with his, Perry pondered over the news Paul had given him over the phone.

"What's going on," his wife suddenly asked, her arms covering his on her belly, her hands caressing his skin. "What did Paul have to say?"

"Nothing you have to worry about," Perry answered, his lips grazing the top of her head. "Try to get some sleep."

"You are thinking too loud." Della snuggled up closer to him. "You know I can't sleep a wink when you're brooding like this."

"I'm sorry, darling, but I won't tell you." Perry smiled. "I know you're only trying to help but tonight, in this bed, we are not going to work."

"You must be running a fever to say that." Della frowned.

"I am," her husband replied and pulled his arms tighter around her body. "For you, baby. And all that matters now is that you sleep."