The following is my first collaborative story, written with an author familiar to everyone, Michelle Wiener. We had the time of our lives writing it, but the very best thing about the story is that I now have a friendship I'll treasure forever. I haven't laughed so hard (or stayed up so late!) in a long time, and look forward to writing more stories with her as soon as we both take a little time off to recover from creating this impressive tome. Heartfelt thanks to the bestest beta ever Rachel for her quick-as-a-flash, insightful feedback. ~ D
Part 1.1 – The Trial
Perry Mason glanced one more time at the neatly typed notes in his hand and slowly got to his feet. He had conducted the first part of his cross-examination of James McKendrick seated and in a modulated tone of voice, the sheaf of notes rolled into a tube. Documents from the envelope handed to him by Paul Drake only moments ago lay on the wooden table before him. Every pair of eyes in the courtroom was riveted on his impressive physique, on the broad expanse of his back as he advanced toward the witness stand, his confident stride signaling a change in his demeanor.
"Isn't it true Mr. McKendrick , that you were in Mr. Dumont's home an hour before my client arrived?"
"No…uh no…where would you get a crazy idea like that?"
"The witness will refrain from such extraneous comments. Simply answer the question put forth by Counsel." Judge Wells chastised the witness.
James McKendrick gulped. "No. I – I told you no."
Perry Mason stood next to the witness stand, his elbow on the rail, the rolled sheaf of notes still in his hand. "I submit you were Mr. McKendrick. I submit you went to see Henry Dumont at eight o'clock, not nine o'clock as you stated earlier. You argued with Mr. Dumont about the property value and the settlement and then, knowing that my client was expected, you left." He raised his foot and placed it on the edge of the witness stand riser. "However, instead of leaving, you went around to the back of the house and waited. You waited until my client came to see Dumont. You saw Judson Pierce threaten Henry Dumont with a gun, saw Henry Dumont laugh at the threat, saw how Mr. Dumont knocked the gun from my client's hand and ordered him to leave. And after he left through the front door, you entered the house from the back, found Henry Dumont in the library, and argued with him again. You picked up the gun and fired. You killed Henry Dumont, Mr. McKendrick. You fired that gun, not Judson Pierce."
"No! No! No! It wasn't like that!"
"Then how was it, Mr. McKendrick? Tell us. Tell us that you didn't wear gloves to your meeting with Henry Dumont so that the only fingerprints on the gun were those of Judson Pierce. Tell us how you didn't make sure to leave exactly how you entered – through the back door so that Mr. Dumont's neighbor Mrs. Cline saw only Judson Pierce leave the house that night. Tell us how you didn't carefully plan it so you would wind up with the money and the property in the event of Henry Dumont's death. Tell us Mr. McKendrick. Tell us how none of those things happened."
The famous attorney's powerful voice reverberated through the courtroom, eliciting more than a few shivers up and down the spines of enthralled spectators. His testimony torn to shreds, James McKendrick broke down on the stand. "It – it was an accident. I didn't mean to kill him. I only meant to scare him. I – I just wanted to scare him, that's all…and the gun went off. It just went off by itself."
Perry Mason let out a deep breath, backed several steps away from the witness stand and looked up at Judge Wells with an unreadable expression on his face. His voice dropped to its normal timbre. "No more questions, Your Honor."
Judge Norman Wells looked at the imposing, impeccably dressed counsel for defense standing before him. Perhaps he shouldn't be surprised by the outcome of this trial, but he was. Perry Mason never ceased to amaze him. The man's talent was the stuff legends were made of, and he had done it yet again – cleared a client against whom circumstantial evidence was strong and fingered the real killer in another eleventh hour upset. Just when it looked hopeless for Judson Pierce, that detective Paul Drake had quietly entered the courtroom carrying a manila folder and handed it to Mason. Judge Wells had noticed the confident and victorious look exchanged between the two men, but he had also noticed what no one else had seen. The almost imperceptible smile Perry Mason had given his secretary and the answering glow in her eyes as she realized he was about to pull that proverbial rabbit out of a hat.
The judge turned to the jury, thanked them for their service, gave instructions to the bailiff in regard to James McKendrick, and then turned his attention back to Perry Mason.
"Mr. Mason, your client is free to go. Once again you have seen that justice was properly served to your client. Mr. Burger, as always, you did a fine job representing the People. Thank you, gentlemen. Court is adjourned." He banged his gavel emphatically and stood to make his way through the door leading to his chambers.
The courtroom exploded with a cacophonous din of excitement as reporters ran out into the hall to phone in the story to their editors and James McKendrick was taken away by officers of the court. Judson Pierce was clearly emotional as he realized he was a free man. His family was overjoyed, and after a round of congratulatory handshakes and heartfelt thanks, they left for a private celebration, their effusive invitation for Perry Mason, Paul Drake and Della Street to accompany them having been politely declined by the attorney himself. He had noticed how tired Della appeared, how wearily she had gotten to her feet when the judge dismissed the case, how vividly her dark eyes stood out from her pale face. He also noticed that look – the look that told him she wanted time alone with him, and truth be told, he wanted nothing more than to be alone with her. He continued his sidetracked reverie; visions of Della bathed in the glow of firelight, curls tousled by his own hands framing her beautiful face, lips slightly swollen from his hungry kisses.
"So is that all right, pal?" Paul Drake wore a look of relief as he addressed Perry Mason in his usual affable manner.
For a minute Perry seemed not to have heard him, finally responding when he felt Paul's hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry. What did you say, Paul?"
The tall, prematurely grey-haired P.I. laughed as he answered. "Man, Perry, you're a million miles away."
"I'm sorry," he repeated, "I was lost in thought there for a minute. What do you need?"
"I'm taking off now if that's all right with you. I haven't seen Linda in days and I'd like to spend a relaxing weekend with her not thinking about murder and demanding defense attorneys who make me work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You should consider a bit of relaxation yourself now that we don't have to work over the weekend to be ready for court Monday morning." He grinned. "By the way, Perry, you were terrific as usual. I'm glad you got Pierce off. But I'm mostly glad that I'll be able to see Linda." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Perry waved him away. "I couldn't have done it without your help, Paul. You were pretty terrific yourself."
Paul slapped Perry on the back and then leaned past him to chuck Della underneath her chin. "Bye Beautiful," he said in a gently teasing tone. "Don't let this guy make you do any work over the weekend. If you're smart, which I know for a fact you are, you'll find a way to make that happen."
Perry smiled broadly. "I've already made plans that I think will meet with Miss Street's approval, Paul. Now go on and get out of here before someone else walks in and wants our services. Enjoy your weekend and say hi to Linda from us." He reached for Della's arm and was taken aback by the little grimace she made. She hadn't said a word since the Judge had banged his gavel and there was an odd glaze over her normally clear, expressive eyes. "Paul," he called after the retreating detective, "would you do one more thing? There has been so much publicity about this case and I'm sure the courthouse is crawling with reporters waiting to ambush me for a statement. I'd like to get out of here without any fanfare."
Della flashed him a wan, grateful smile as she allowed Perry to guide her from behind the defense table.
A silent look of understanding passed between the two men as they noted Della's pallor and uncharacteristic silence. During the noon recess while they were eating Cobb salads and discussing the seemingly airtight testimony of James McKendrick, Della had quietly excused herself to the ladies room. Perry and Paul had watched her walk away then the detective regarded the attorney with concern.
"Say, what's up with Della?" Paul asked, sliding his eyes back to him.
"What do you mean?"
"She really looks tired. And she's pale. She hardly touched her food and her hands shook a little. How late did you stay at the office last night after I left?"
"Actually, we left only about fifteen minutes or so after you." He ran his hands over his jaw. "You're right. I noticed how tired she looks. I asked her this morning if she felt all right and she said she was fine. But you know her. She never complains and always does what I need her to do, and much, much more. This trial seems to have taken its toll on her more so than any others. Sometimes I wish…"
"What do you wish, Perry? Something eating you?"
"Maybe this trial has taken more out of me than I thought," he laughed self-consciously, "it's just that sometimes I wish I had picked a different profession or at least a different kind of law to specialize in. Then I wouldn't have to worry if my secretary is eating properly or getting enough rest."
Paul laughed. "Perry, you know you would hate any other kind of law. It wouldn't be exciting or fast-paced enough for you. And let's face it you're not only concerned about Della because she's your secretary. You're concerned because she's much more than your secretary." He pushed away his picked-clean plate and lit a cigarette. "I have a suggestion for you. As soon as this trial is over take her somewhere – you know, someplace where the two of you can be alone without all the prying eyes in the city. Maybe Harrison Gault would let you stay at his ranch…"
Paul stopped talking because Della was approaching the table, her pace slow, her head a bit lowered. He nodded in her direction and they resumed their conversation about the trial.
As Perry thought back to that conversation, remembering the exhaustion plainly displayed on her sculpted features, he decided Paul was right. He would plan something nice for Della; something that would take her away from the stress of his practice…Paul's voice interrupted his thoughts once again.
"No problem with the reporters, Perry. I'll take care of them. Take it easy, kids, and stay out of trouble." He winked at Della and walked out of the courtroom.
Perry began gathering papers and notes and stuffed them into his briefcase so that Della wouldn't have to when he felt her soft, slender hand on his. Looking up at him through long lashes, her hazel eyes no longer dull but sparkling with pride, her cheeks flushed a becoming pink, she gave Perry her most spectacular smile.
"You really did yourself up fine, Counselor." Her voice flowed over him like warm brandy. "Once you began questioning McKendrick in earnest he didn't have a chance. I thought he'd have to be carried out of here." Her hand squeezed his. "You are quite something else, Mr. Mason. I am so proud of you I could just burst."
"I was just about to say the same about you." His eyes swept over Della with an intensity that weakened her knees. "What do you say about taking the esteemed Mr. Drake's advice and getting out of here? I have very private and personal plans for our weekend and the sooner we leave, the sooner we can be very private and personal with one another."
There was no verbal reply from Della. She answered him by handing him his briefcase, taking hold of her own and slightly shifting her eyes toward the door leading to the back hallway of the courtroom. It took only minutes for attorney and secretary to walk out of the courtroom and take the elevator down to the parking garage where Perry's car was parked.