I had the idea for this story shortly before Christmas, but now I can finally post it. It belongs into the "In the Evening of Life" series. You know how the story in the universe ended, but you don't know how it all began...
Ad vitam - For Life I
Fortes fortuna adiuvat ~ Luck favors the brave
It was no secret of life that the encounters one didn't expect or imagine to be different were in the end the only ones that really mattered. In the old book of life nothing was impossible, but very often nothing made sense until a chapter was closed. The situations you didn't expect, or meant to happen, or hoped would never take place were the ones that turned one's life upside down. It was the kind of experience that was the cruelest lesson of all, the one everybody knew existed and ignored until the day came, when it knocked at the door and demanded entrance. Only that sometimes the door was already open and people are oblivious to it.
The lawyer Perry Mason was no exception to the above mentioned rule, on the contrary, his profession didn't make it easier for him to avoid the pitfalls of life. Maybe he was even more aware of them, but less able to run and hide, because sometimes luck favored the brave and encouraged the ones whose heart beat in the right place. That's why he found himself in an office in the smallest city on God's big earth, in which the shimmering heat was unbearable and made him feel claustrophobic while the suit he was wearing did its own share. Perry dried his face with his handkerchief, loosened his tie, and opened the first button of his shirt. His old mentor used to tell him that a good, trustful lawyer never lost control or his nerves, but he doubted the old man had ever been stuck in an old dusty office with over 120 degrees as the only loyal companion.
Mason hated the case. An ugly murder. A young worker in a lumber mill had suffered a painful death by ending up in one of the machines. The defendant was the boss of the young man, Jack Slaughter, who reportedly hated the idea of his daughter being the new girl friend of the murder victim, who happened to be the mayor's son. Perry got the case, because his senior partner was an old friend of Slaughter's and felt entitled to help his old friend.
Since the former occupant of the office had died over 4 weeks ago, Mason was allowed to use the office, though the empty practice was anything but a motivating place to work. It hadn't been cleaned in weeks and obviously no one felt responsible for it.
When he was told, this was his chance to establish himself as a defense lawyer, he had imagined the circumstances to be different. It was the first murder case he was handling alone and if this venture wasn't enough, he was missing out on his secretary, because Gladys Stone had left the office after announcing her engagement to another lawyer. Then there was the private investigator Perry had hired, but didn't know in person. The man's name was Paul Drake, but aside from his great references, he had seen nothing of the man so far, because he was still stuck in Los Angeles.
In addition to the mess the people in the small city eyeballed him suspiciously every time he tried to talk to them. It was obvious they didn't trust the "young, fancy lawyer from Los Angeles" who was digging around in other people's lives and defended someone who had a whole lot of reason to kill.
Mason couldn't blame them. The burden of proof was overwhelming and Perry knew the District Attorney had a strong case. Was he really ready for something like that? His senior partner told him he thought so while Mason himself wasn't so sure. Every life was precious and now he was responsible for Jack Slaughter's.
"Luck favors the brave, my dear Perry," he had said and patted Perry's shoulder, as if that small gesture of sympathy could solve a murder case.
"It also favors those who know what to do," Mason mumbled darkly and closed the file. A cloud of dust burst apart, as he threw it on top of the desk.
"Well, I certainly would like to know what you're doing in this office."
He startled a little and looked up. He hadn't heard anyone entering, but obviously he wasn't alone anymore. A young, dark haired women stood in the door frame. The first thing he noticed about her was her voice. It was smooth, dark, and seductive. A voice that alerted his senses. Then there was her beauty. She looked absolutely stunning in her red summer dress. Her long hair was bounded to a pony tail and if the heat bothered her, nothing about her appearance showed it. In the merciless heat of this town she looked like flower on a mild spring day: fresh and greedy for life.
He slowly rose from his chair, while she remained where she was. Now he noticed her dark eyes that were sparkling with anger.
"My name is Perry Mason," he introduced himself. "I'm a lawyer. I'm working on... "
"I know who you are," she said. "The whole town's talking about you. I want to know why you're here. This office has been closed."
He couldn't help but smile. She was straight and honest. He liked her. "That's a long story."
"I have time," she answered. "You know, I used to run this office and I'm curious why you're occupying it of all places."
He wrinkled his forehead. "I've been working here for the last couple of days and the owner of the building never told me, there was actually someone in charge here." Everybody who had eyes to see knew nobody was in charge.
"The owner of the building is a man who wouldn't even know where to find the lock. Makes me wonder why he offered you this place."
"He's the friend of a friend. Does he know of your high opinion of him?"
She ignored his amused question and entered the room. As she came closer, he noticed she was even younger than he thought. Maybe in her mid twenties. Her eyes were hazel brown and they reminded him of an innocent fawn while her appearance was that of a lady.
"My name is Street. Della Street," she said. "I only returned to this civilized metropolis yesterday. I had no idea Mr. Miller had died until Bernice, the girl from the post office, told me about it. Unfortunately, the local bush drums didn't reach me in Oregon and now I'm here."
"I see. Well, I actually wondered why nobody had taken care of the practice after Miller had died."
"I was on vacation," Della said and blew a layer of dust off a paper weight. "And returned to a job that doesn't exist anymore."
"How long have you been working for Mr. Miller?"
"About a year. He was the friend of a friend." Her witty answer was vague, as her eyes searched the room, as if she was looking for something.
"I'm sorry, Miss Street, but if you don't mind... I have to work."
"All right. Good luck. I hope you'll get Mr. Slaughter out of this mess. He's a nice man. He wouldn't kill anyone."
Mason was surprised. Until now he had only met people who avoided the subject, much less told him they believed in Slaughter's innocence.
"You know him well?"
"I know his daughter."
"And the victim? Did you know him too?"
She hesitated. "You shouldn't ask me that."
"Because I could confirm that the victim was indeed a skirt chaser and Mr. Slaughter had enough reason to be worried about his daughter."
He nodded. It confirmed his suspicions, but the victim was the mayor's son. An untouchable.
"But you have to work," she said. "And I won't disturb you anymore. Good luck, Counselor."
She left the room with fast steps, so fast that she ran into another person who entered the formerly deserted law practice.
"Hey, hey, Beautiful. Not so fast!" The man laughed, as he grabbed her elbow to stabilize her, before she lost her balance.
"Thanks," she mumbled, as she struggled on her high heels.
"So who did I knock off her feet?" he asked with a wide smile.
"Certainly not me," she answered, looked back at Mason who was watching the scene in amusement, gave him a smile and left.
"Paul Drake," the stranger yelled after her. "Have a great life till we meet again!"
"Drake?" Mason asked.
"Yep, Sir. Are you Mason?"
"Sorry, I'm late, but traffic's been insane. Sleepy little town I have to say, but thanks to her the place here just got a whole lot more interesting. I take she's yours to keep?" He pointed at the door behind him.
"What do you think?" Perry asked.
Drake shrugged and laughed, "My old man used to say luck favors the brave."
"And mine said be careful what you wish for."
The men laughed and Drake entered the room. "So now that I found my way up here, I can tell you what I found about the victim." He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small notebook. He opened it and was about to start when he was interrupted.
"I just remembered something, Counselor." Both men turned around, surprised, Della Street was back.
"And what is it?" Mason asked, unsure what to expect.
"Did you know your victim had problems with gambling?" she asked. Mason shook his head, slowly because the information was indeed new to him.
"You know it is one of the awfully interesting things, nobody in our sleepy, little town talks about. There's some kind of gambling club in a barn used for other purposes than intended. Bernice..."
"The girl from the post office," Perry remembered.
"That one exactly. Anyway, she told me, your victim was rumored to have gambling debts. Maybe someone got impatient while waiting for his money." She underlined her suggestion with a shrug of her shoulders.
"Perfect!" Paul Drake proclaimed and closed his notebook with a firm gesture. "That's exactly what my contacts found out about the kid and his bad habits. Apparently his debts were higher than the Grand Canyon!"
"Well, Miss Street, it seems you make a better private detective than our friend here, or at least just as good," Mason joked.
"Oh no... I just had a hunch. My expertise lies somewhere else," she explained with a twinkle in her eye. Drake reacted with a rolling of his eyes.
"So I guess, my next move is to dig out the secret casino."
"Including its members," Perry added and Drake vanished.
"So," Della shrugged. "I'm going as well. Good bye, Counselor."
"Yes?" she asked and whirled around, as if she had waited for him to call her.
"Miss Street... you said you worked as legal secretary for Mr. Miller."
"I could use some help around here. Especially when the trial starts."
"You're offering me a job?" she asked, perplexed.
"You need a job, I need help, you know this town, you know the people involved. I think, you could be of big help."
"A match made in heaven," she quipped and he laughed.
"So, what do you say?"
"I say yes," she answered and he circled his desk and offered her his hand. "Do we have a deal?"
"We have a deal," Della confirmed and shook his large, warm hand.
"Why did you come back?" he asked, and didn't allow her to withdraw her hand. She first looked down to his hand that held hers and then her eyes wandered up to his face.
"Luck favors the brave. I had the feeling you might need my help."
"And you were absolutely right."
They smiled at each other and only when the day was over and Perry sat alone in his hotel room and started thinking about how strange it was that the one person he needed to solve the case, had walked through his door. He didn't believe in coincidences, but maybe there was indeed someone out there who was reading in the big old book of life while the people still tried to understand what was going on.