"Pas de deux"
"Justice Burrows, your wife is on the line," the feminine voice announced over the intercom. "Should I put through her call?
The Justice, face flushed, elicited a groan and slipped his hands from the blouse of the young woman in his embrace and pressed his finger on the intercom.
"Ms. Hunter, ask my wife to hold." Looking down at the top of his clerk's magnificent décolletage he added, "Ms. Thiery and I are fleshing out the final details of an opinion."
"Yes, Your Honor, I'll ask her to hold," his secretary replied and the intercom became silent.
Janice Thiery had slipped from his embrace and stood at his side straightening her bra and tucking the hem of her blouse in the waistband of her skirt. The Chief Justice caught her eye, winked, sat down and leaned back in his chair. His hand trailed from her slender waist to her round hips and fantasized about the next level of their relationship. He liked them hungry, ambitious, and willing to take risks. He found the prospect of advancement and power to be the greatest of all aphrodisiacs. The pleasure of their first little encounter was enhanced by the risk of discovery and the taste of the forbidden.
The Chief Justice's clerk faked a demure smile while enjoying his ministrations.
"I can't believe we're doing this in your office," she whispered nervously. "And then your wife calls. You know you should have taken her call right then!"
The Justice waved nonchalantly and shifted his body in the large leather chair as the front of his dress pants grew uncomfortable.
"You worry too much, Janice."
The young woman was aware of his lascivious proclivities and deliberately leaned over to gather the folders on the chair beside his desk. Burrows enjoyed the view as her skirt pulled tight against her hips and the hem glided up her smooth shapely thighs.
Janice enjoyed power and control. Her heart raced with excitement knowing Burrows wanted her more than anything. She had brains and sex appeal in one dynamic package-the sleek, perfectly styled hair, flawless make-up and facials, French manicures and pedicures, and the essential grooming for swimsuits and for those private moments-the all-important Brazilian wax. Beneath the shy and demure veneer ran a calculating mind. Holding the folders in her arms she flashed the jurist a naive smile and admired the bulge she had elicited.
Clerking for Erskine Burrows, having him as a mentor, would be a dream come true for any young attorney-but her aspirations were grander. Seductively she walked to the door, turned, and caught a glimpse of his captivated gaze as he spoke into the intercom to his secretary.
A few seconds later Burrows picked up his phone and began his marital charade. "Hello, darling."
Janice Thiery smiled contentedly knowing the player was being played. She had her own agenda. She would slow the pace of his seduction, manipulate and heighten his desire to the point where he couldn't continue his pathetic marital charade any longer. She knew all the right buttons to push. Opening the door, she paused and smiled. When the time was right she'd make her move. We'll make a beautiful power couple.
The large frame moved up and down on the wall as Andy, the custodian, carefully waited for the jurist's approval. Mason leaned back in his leather chair and critically watched the young man's efforts.
"A little further down." Mason instructed, checking the edges of the frame with each movement. "Perfect!"
The two men exchanged pleased smiles. Stepping back, Andy inspected his handiwork. The large painting added color and vitality to the stern and dignified atmosphere of the large chamber's dark mahogany and leather décor. Andy was pleased to have time alone with the justice. Voices outside the door in the large workroom were a constant reminder Mason's time was valuable and in a few minutes the jurist's would be needed and his time would be over.
"Splendid job, Andy."
"Thank you, Your Honor," he replied stepping back from his work and closer to the large mahogany desk.
Mason turned in his chair and watched the young man's nervous manner. The jurist relaxed manner, soothing voice and expressive eyes created an aura of approachability allowing clients to relax and bare their souls without fear of reproach.
"What is it, Andy?" Mason asked softly.
Stepping closer, the custodian slowly began to speak with emotion. "My wife and I…..we just don't know how to thank you, Your Honor. If there's anything we can do for you, anything…"
The jurist released a warm smile. The cigarettes were gone, and so was the round, decorative lighter that had always been within reach, the one he manipulated so often to release nervous energy during his legal practice. In his new life the lighter had been replaced by his fountain pen. The slender instrument glided through his fingers as he thought and recalled their encounter weeks earlier.
It had been a long difficult day on the bench. He had wearily descended to the reserved section of the garage for his own car rather than the car service. As his car circled to the exit his headlights swept over a disabled vehicle and its frustrated owner leaning against the raised hood. Immediately he stopped at the sight of a familiar face. After a brief conversation and a quick look under the hood, the problem was revealed—a dead battery. He had also learned the battery was the least of Andy's problems and the young man found a sympathetic ear.
Leaning forward, Mason looked down at the pen nervously moving in his fingertips and softly replied. "You needn't thank me, Andy. I was glad I could help."
Anxiously, the custodian looked to the side, expecting to hear a knock at any moment, and reached into his hip pocket and withdrew his wallet and opened it.
"I have a picture. I thought you might want to see her."
Mason took the wallet and the photo of an infant.
Gently, his finger moved over the photograph, admiring the child's dark wispy hair and bright sparkling eyes. "She's beautiful, Andy."
The custodian shook his head in disbelief. "The attorney you suggested, she's something else. She told me she owed you one and that she'd handle the adoption case for free."
Mason softly chuckled; eyes still looking at the photo, his mind drifting.
"For free," Andy repeated in disbelief. "We wanted this baby so bad…you know…since Holly couldn't." He watched the jurist holding his wallet, admiring his new daughter. "Do you have any children of your own, Your Honor?"
Thoughts filled Mason's mind as he took a deep breath, smiled wanly then lifted his eyes to meet those of the proud father.
"No. But I understand your reason for wanting to be a father, Andy." Handing back the wallet, he added, "And I know you will be a good father to your little girl."
The custodian nodded. "Oh, yes," he reassured and carefully slipped the wallet back into his pocket. "Don't worry, Your Honor, I'll be the best father, I promise."
Andy knew the all of the judges on his floor and had grown accustom to their personalities. Associate Justice Mason had impressed him right away. With an air of sophisticated dignity the big man had surprised him with his down to earth manner. The Associate Justice's easy smile had changed in their last exchange and an uncomfortable silence had eerily descended-his question about Mason's family had struck a nerve.
Smiling and nodding, Andy turned and collected his tools as he moved to the door. "Your Honor, I've taken enough of your time. My wife and I just wanted to express our thanks."
Hand on the knob, the custodian turned and waited.
"You're welcome." The two men exchanged warm smiles as the custodian eased out the door. Little did Andy know the depth of Mason's dedication.
Turning in his chair Mason heaved a weary sigh, closed his eyes and thought of Peggy Smith. Long ago the little girl had captured their hearts, especially Della's. The little orphan and her nine little dolls and then the baby left in their office. Della took the little boy, Leander, into her care and lovingly protected the infant. Little Peggy and baby Leander had exposed feelings and desires hidden just below the surface for both of them. Marriage. Adoption. Careers. The essence of their lifestyle...was it too late for them?
Cases and time marched on and their private desires lay hidden just below the surface-and then the unthinkable happened-the death of a friend.
How far would you go for a friend? No. How far would you go for someone you love?
Mason opened his eyes and turned his attention to the painting covering the wall of his chamber, the painting with the lock and key signature and the image of the veiled woman at Café Lacombe.
How far would you go for the woman you love? Forever wouldn't be far enough.
Resting his chin on his fist he contemplated his life and reminisced about Paris when all was right in their world.
The International Bar Association Conference in London had been stimulating and informative at the onset but as the week progressed, the conference grew predictable, and oh so conventional. With each passing day he grew more restless, yearning for novelty, mental challenges and Della Street. Then a cryptic invitation arrived.
Walking along the busy Champs Elysee he felt a sense of liberation as he enjoyed the endless summertime atmosphere of Paris, the warm breezes, the fragrant air and the streets alive with people. Nearing Café Lacombe, the flower girls in their near transparent summer dresses oozed romance and a palpable sexual energy.
At every turn the city pulsed with energy, theaters, fine restaurants, art galleries, museums, fashionable nightspots and shops displaying haute couture and anything else one could desire. The city was the ultimate escape, an enclave of unimaginable fantasy far from judging eyes. The aroma of roasted lamb, chocolate and fresh pastries wafted from the interior of the café as he found an empty table and chair on the sidewalk. He was a half hour early, enough time to relax, enjoy a glass of cognac and engage in his favorite past time-the study of human nature.
With a brief perusal of the menu he placed his order with a passing server and began to relax beneath the shade. The patrons spilling from the cafe proved an interesting study. Businessmen pouring over their newspapers, ladies idling chatting and lovers leaning close with their fingers and eyes caressing, exploring, their conversations sensuously whispered. Admiring the bright colors of the umbrellas and hanging pots of vibrant flowers an unexpected pleasure caught his attention in the far corner of the sidewalk café-an elegant woman dining alone.
He was immediately drawn to her long shapely legs crossed beneath a sleek black dress. Completing the haute couture ensemble was a small coquettish hat and a long silver pheasant feather that fluttered each time she turned her head. Unfortunately a netted veil concealed most of her face and only allowed her red ripe lips to be seen. The arrival of his glass of cognac interrupted his voyeurism. Sipping the drink, he nodded approvingly to the server and again casually scanned the café and sidewalk for Della. He returned his attention to the veiled woman who sat parallel to him. Casting sidelong glanced he was allowed the freedom to study her. He was curious, would she remain alone for long. And what type of man would satisfy the pleasure of his mystery woman? He watched with fascination.
Turning the stem of her wine glass with long slender fingers she brought the liquid to lips the color of the strawberries she enjoyed. Delicately touching the corner of her napkin to her mouth, she dipped the ripe strawberry in a dish of melted chocolate, then slowly her lips and tongue would sample the decadent confectionary.
The vision of her lips enjoying the chocolate hold him in a trance, his breathing slowed as the red juicy fruit disappeared. Again, the napkin dabbed at the corner of her mouth-and the spell was broken. With a giant sigh he turned his head and checked the time and frowned. His eyes tirelessly scanned the café and surroundings when suddenly a motion caught his attention. Eyes wide, he sat up and took notice. A man had taken the seat across from his veiled beauty. The man was brutally handsome. The light silk shirt accentuated the playboy's tanned skin acquired on the beaches of the French Riviera and the dark hair and muscular physique filled him with confidence as he boldly sat down, leaned across the table and engaged his companion in conversation. Smiling, nodding, his prediction was correct-his beauty would not be dining alone. Checking the time, he looked again for Della Street.
A knock on the door returned him to reality. Leslie Marks eased opened the door. "Excuse me, Your Honor, do you have a moment? I have a rough opinion for the Huxley case."
Mason leaned forward, flipped open his leather binder and turned to his notes and documents on the case. "I'm anxious to read your merits, Ms. Marks."
"Yes, Your Honor." Leslie replied and recalled the arguments presented while operating the timing clock and signals for oral presentations. While the three Associate Justices retired to their conference room, she and the other clerks had quietly discussed the merits of the case and their projected outcome.
With an air of caution Leslie eased across the room, handed the document to the jurist, and sat in the chair by his desk. Mason slipped a pair of slender wire reading glasses from his breast pocket and put them on. Looking over the top of the lens, he smiled. "You look nervous, Leslie."
Hands neatly folded in her lap, the young woman faintly smiled. "I suppose I am Your Honor. I know it should be getting easier, but…." Her voice trailed off.
Mason chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. "I wish I could tell you this whole process gets easier, but I'm afraid instead, you'll only get tougher." Again he laughed. "I remember burning the midnight oil on many occasions when I started out. Why? Because my mentor, Bull Johnson, the best trial lawyer in the state of California, felt the brief was not to his standards and for the next thirty minutes he proceeded to explain its deficiencies. Yes, Leslie, you'll only get tougher."
The young woman gave a nervous laugh and patiently waited while her mentor began the inspection of what was to become their opinion. Leaning back in his big leather chair, Mason read and allowed his fingertips to run through and along his salt and pepper beard.
Slowly, Leslie began to relax and enjoy their time together. Yes, actually enjoy their time together. As always their greeting was formal, but as they sat and talked, she relished the dropped formality and the use of 'Leslie'. Would she ever have the nerve to call him 'Perry'? A small smile appeared at the thought of such intimacy. She watched him read. No, for now she would be content to enjoy the nice smell of his cologne, the way the light glistened on his hair and the miracle of how every hair managed to always be neatly in place. She liked his midnight blue suit and vest, a watch chain dangled from the vest pocket, the crisp white shirt and the burgundy tie held in place by a gold stick pen. She liked the tie pin and the gold cuff links; they were such an elegant touch. She was amazed how he could move with such surprising grace and agility for a man his size.
And then suddenly she felt his eyes looking over the lens again and tried to hide her surprise. His eyebrow shot up and a dimple appeared in his cheek as he grinned. "You've cited People vs. Jorgensen, we're pressing the envelope aren't we, Leslie!"
The young woman gave pause and studied his face carefully. 'It doesn't get any easier, "you'' only get tougher.' Lifting her chin, squaring her shoulders she allowed her eyes to coolly meet his then replied, "Yes, Your Honor, but I think if you read further, you'll see the links and commonality. I think this case strongly supports the decision to grant Mr. Huxley a new trial. And may I speak freely?"
Mason nodded and felt a sense of pride. His clerk was developing spunk, he liked that.
"Your Honor, it's in my opinion that Judge Hinton, is…" Leslie paused, searching for the correct word to diplomatically express her feelings. Mason slipped off his glasses and rubbed his lip with the plastic ear piece and patiently waited.
"Well, Your Honor, this is not the first case Judge Hinton has had reversed. I've done a little research of my own and I've found Judge Hinton has more reversals than any other judge in our district. In my opinion I would say this jurist is sloppy bordering on incompetent."
Mason nodded, glanced at the document and then back at his clerk. "Pressing the envelope and now challenging the competency of a superior court judge, my, my, my," the jurist chided. Suddenly Leslie felt she had overstepped her boundaries when he raised his hand to her.
The young woman nervously toyed with the ring on her finger and couldn't believe her ears.
Quickly he read the remaining paragraphs and looked up at her surprised face.
"You're absolutely right, Leslie. Judge Hinton is sloppy. He chooses expediency at the expense of fairness and as a result puts our judicial system and the fundamental Rule of Law in jeopardy-as well as wasting taxpayer money. There's a judicial watchdog group on his trail and we may see a change on the bench."
Leslie felt elated and fought the impulse to reach out and touch him. His words, his praise was intoxicating.
Leaning forward, placing the opinion on his blotter, Mason made numerous notations, marked through passages, made little corrections while the amazed young woman looked on. Finally, turning the last page, he looked up and handed over the document.
"As you said, it is a rough draft. Make the corrections and we'll look at it tomorrow."
Feeling breathless, she stood and smiled. "Thank you, Your Honor. I'll get right on it." The clerk moved to the door when his voice caused her to pause.
"Many years ago Bull Johnson took a young lawyer under his wing because he thought he saw promise. Today I see a young lawyer with promise. You have good instincts and a creative mind. You have the makings for a fine trial lawyer, Leslie."
The law clerk felt light-headed, gripped the door knob for support and tried not to sound breathless when she replied. "Thank you, Your Honor. I'll have this ready for you tomorrow." Nodding, and smiling she floated out the door.
As the door clicked behind Leslie Marks, Mason pushed back his chair, crossed his legs and released an easy smile.
Yes, he did like a woman with spunk.
Turning his eyes again to the painting and the veiled woman he resumed his reverie.
The dapper young man continued to woo, leaning in, smiling, and fondling between his fingertips her lacy black gloves. The veiled beauty remained aloof and uninterested. Or was this all a game to entice and seduce her young paramour? Boldly the dark haired man took a fresh strawberry from her plate, dipped it into the dark chocolate, brought the fruit to his lips and then with his tongue removed the dripping chocolate in preparation for his final overture-the kiss.
Mason found their romantic charade fascinating. Swirling the cognac in his glass, he continued to glance about for his secretary who was uncharacteristically late when suddenly the scraping of metal drew everyone's attention to the corner table. The young Lochinvar had leaped from his chair, and was in the process of frantically dabbing at the spreading blossom of red wine on his white shirt. Muttering curses in French, he gestured at the veiled woman who casually gathered her purse and gloves and quickly walked away from the frantic scene while sidewalk patrons looked on.
Mason smiled with amusement and finished his glass of cognac.
Yes, he did like a woman with spunk.
Rounding the tables with swaying hips, the veiled woman glided by his table leaving a seductive trail of perfume and sensuality. Instinctively his head turned to watch her retreat and was struck by an odd and familiar feeling. And then he saw it-a black lacy glove on the pavement by his chair. Quickly he scooped up the lost item and scanned the crowded street. The black hat with its distinctive silver pheasant feather could easily be seen moving through the crowded street. Bringing the lacy glove to his face he inhaled the heady perfume and contemplated his next move.
The imagery of the painting and the illusion of sweet perfume had lulled him into a dreamy, heavy lidded state. A knock at his door caused his eyes and mind to lazily drift to the doorway. A woman, her back to the door-the woman-Della Street-her shapely hips pressed the palms of her flattened hands against the door along with a look-that particular look. The unique and singular look that was hers alone, a look like no other-a look that conveyed the message that she and she alone possessed a delectable tidbit, a tantalizing mystery.
"Now what mischief are you up to?" he asked.
"Mischief" she inquired demurely.
"Mischief," he repeated with eyes dark and dusky, enjoying their shared moment.
Della Street raised her chin provocatively, prolonging the moment as she smiled and continued to press her hands and hips against the door.
Amused and impatient, Mason's eyebrow arched, grinned and chided, "You know you're too big to spank…..and too valuable to fire." #
The door clicked shut followed by footsteps near the jurist desk that snapped Mason back to reality.
Associate Justice C. C. Caldwell eased by his desk and casually turned to face the astonished attorney who remained seated before her.
"Yes, I'm up to mischief," C.C. confided playfully.
Mason was not sure how much of his daydream had been shared and immediately started an explanation. "C. C. I'm so…"
"For that salacious look you flashed me?"
Mason exhibited a boyish grin along with flushed cheeks. Was it possible to feel twenty again?
Playfully she touched his shoulder and teased. "You don't need to explain, Perry, that look alone made me feel all of twenty."
Mason relaxed and sat back in his chair and watched her lithe figure clad in a conservative gray business suit move to inspect his new acquisition. C.C's own office had the atmosphere of the old West with Albert Bierstadt paintings and Frederic Remington statuary. Besides Bierstadt and Remington there were framed photos taken at her ranch, of favorite horses and classic photos of the late, D. C. "Sparky" Caldwell, a colorful and prominent San Joaquin district attorney. A woman of taste and talent, Mason was anxious to hear her appraisal of his acquired art.
"Very nice, Perry. I knew when you joined the court you'd bring class to the place. You're creating quite a stir as a bon vivant."
Again Mason elicited a deep chuckle and shook his head. "Bon vivant! Certainly you jest!"
Leaning closer, inspecting the brush strokes and details, C.C. announced, "I think I remember this sidewalk café in Paris. It's interesting how a painting can bring back memories as well as evoke so many emotions for so many people."
The profound nature of her own words caused her to pause and reminisce with a mixture of joy and sadness. Pulling her arms together in a comforting embrace she softly confided. "Sparky and I spent our honeymoon in Paris. Ah, what a glamorous and romantic city," she sighed. "We had the time of our lives."
Leaning to the side of his chair, his chin leisurely propped on his fist, Mason silently listened to his friend's fond memories.
"Looking back, we were newlyweds, I can't believe we didn't leave our hotel room for two whole days…..only ordering room service," C.C. confided, then giggled self-consciously, before adding, "Of course we blamed it on jet lag." Covering her lips in mock embarrassment she turned to Mason. "Now look who's being salacious!"
Shaking his head, enjoying their time together, Mason rose from his chair and moved to her side as she continued
"David Charles, D. C. Caldwell certainly earned the nickname "Sparky". He definitely had a 'spark' about him. He was the type of person who could light up a room with his mere presence. He was proud of my judgeship but felt his own calling was in the prosecutor's office. He was a victim's advocate, a tenacious hunter ferreting out the truth, bringing justice for victims of crime. You know his conviction record as a prosecutor in San Joaquin county remains unmatched…..and none of his cases were overturned. Sparky was one of a kind, some say he broke the mold."
An easy silence fell between them, an easy friendship. C.C. turned and faced her colleague. "You'll never guess how Sparky proposed?"
Mason shook his head.
"On horseback of all places. While riding late one afternoon on his ranch, Sparky wanted to show me his favorite place in the whole wide world. The sun was slipping below the horizon and the sky glowed shades of orange and red. He nudged his horse up to mine, pulled me to him and kissed me. He announced his favorite place in the world was by my side and that he loved me. He let me know that he wanted to grow old with me and would I be willing to grow old with him and I said yes." C.C.'s eyes glistened, managed a smile and added. "Sparky was definitely a man who knew what he wanted in this world. He was a straight shooter and always spoke his mind-with Sparky you always knew where you stood."
Again they were silent.
Mason's eyes traveled again to the lone woman in the corner of Café Lacombe.
How many times had he proposed?
The inky black sky of the desert revealed thousands upon thousands of stars filling the sky all the way to the horizon. By the glow of a campfire, Salty Bowers, the old prospector, laughed and suggested a marrying party-three couples instead of two. Beneath the stars, Della by his side, he expressed his desires to settle down and, yes, like Sparky Caldwell, he hoped she would grow old with him. But then he knew so well how events could change people's lives.
The thought, the idea of marriage-it was all moot now.
The silence was broken by C.C.'s gentle sigh and the need to move on, the justice casually observed. "The mysterious symbol of your artist is unique-a lock and keys-keys with initials on them."
Mason merely nodded.
Thinking out loud, C.C. continued. "I suppose a lock and key are unique to each other to the exclusion of all others. They work and function together as one, but yet not totally complete without the other. It certainly is interesting symbolism." Turning her head to the side, studying the initials on the keys she added. "Did you notice a 'V' on one key and a 'T' on the other? The artist's initials perhaps? Maybe the initials represent the initials of two people who are uniquely joined like the lock and key. Either way it's an interesting concept worth researching… you know, two people- like a lock and key."
Again, Mason nodded. "Like you and Sparky?"
C.C. sighed and looked up at the man at her side whose company and attention she enjoyed to the exclusion of all others. Yes, you're right, like my beloved Sparky. But given a chance, Perry….. you and I could be that lock and key. If only…
The thought was too much to suppress and C.C. could only manage a simple, 'Yes, I suppose so…' response to his comment before quickly changing the subject. "Looking at your painting almost made me forget the real reason I stopped by. I wanted to thank you for volunteering to be on the philharmonic executive board. Once Doctor Channing became ill and had to step down we desperately needed someone to fill his position."
Perry Mason slipped his hands into his pants pocket, shrugged his shoulders, "It's the least I could do under the circumstances. And if you will recall, you were extremely persuasive, Your Honor."
Glad to be on a new topic where they could laugh and banter, C.C. playfully laughed and confided, "Someone actually suggested Beatrice Blanding for Freddie's position…"
"The Beatrice Blanding, the well-known matriarch, philanthropist and…."
C.C. gasped before he could go on, rolled her eyes and explained, "Oh, Perry, the woman goes on and on about the most minute details. Talk about 'cruel and unusual punishment', I couldn't bear the thought of sitting through endless board meetings with her incessant chatter. You have saved us all from excruciating pain."
Amused, Mason smiled and mused at C.C.'s similarity to Della Street, the charm, the charisma, the animated banter.
"Well, I'm glad I could provide such a humanitarian service."
C.C. slender fingers reached out and touched his arm. "To express my gratitude I'd like to prepare dinner for you some evening."
"Is this also a humanitarian service, Your Honor?"
Flashing a coy smile C.C. replied, "I can promise it won't be cruel and unusual punishment. Next Thursday?"
Brows furrowed, Mason replied. "I'm sorry I have a standing commitment on Thursday. I'll have Gloria check my calendar and get back with you."
"Of course. And again, I thank you and the philharmonic thanks you. It will be so enjoyable having you at our meetings." Barely containing her enthusiasm, C.C. again placed her hand on his arm, enjoying their moment of closeness as they walked to his door. Mason's hand covered hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"It will be my pleasure, C.C."
"And mine," she replied, allowing her fingers to slip from his arm as she walked to the door and prepared to open it. Eyes narrowed in thought, C.C. looked once again at the lone woman in the painting and remembered his salacious look. Pausing, pressing her hands and hips against the door she taunted and toyed. "Perry, you know you're right."
Mason hesitated on his way to his desk, turned, his eyes moving in thought in an attempt to read C.C.'s cryptic tone and expressive manner- the pressing of her hands and hips against the door.
"You know you're right," she coyly announced, "I am too big to spank…and too valuable to fire." Eyes twinkling with mischief and a smile playing on her lips she slipped out the door.
With the click of the door behind his fellow justice Mason elicited a hearty chuckle and shook his head. "You little vixen," he muttered. C.C. Caldwell continued to amuse and amaze. Her personality and friendship had made his time on the court bearable by making even the mundane more interesting. By spending time with C.C. he was able to understand Sparky Caldwell's attraction to the feisty brunette. It was obvious, Sparky Caldwell, also enjoyed a woman with spunk. Glancing again at the painted lock and key, Mason felt an even greater appreciation of its symbolism. Slipping his hand from his pocket he ran his fingertips along the angle of his bearded jaw and recalled the image of the spitfire who left behind a flustered and frustrated French playboy and a black lacy glove.
The sleek, distinctive gray pheasant feather on the rakish black hat served as a beacon above the pedestrians on the street similar to the Eiffel Tower's elegant presence above the city of Paris. The thought of a pursuit through the shops and streets of Paris filled him with a shot of adrenaline. Any fatigue from his flight from London began to easily disappear. Clutching the lacy glove between his fingertips he knew what he had to do and was off. Passing shop after shop the pheasant feather bounced and fluttered above the sea of heads moving along the sidewalk. The congestion made his pursuit more difficult, his long legs and skill on the dance floor allowed him to maneuver around and through groups of people and yet he was only able to maintain visual contact.
Suddenly the feather darted into a shop, L'Artisan Parfumeur. Bright lights illuminated decorative alcoves filled with exotic scents from around the world. A cloud of scents enveloped him as he moved through and around patrons plying their pulse points with fragrant botanicals. The names fashionably placed on stylish and ornate decanters and aerosols throbbed with descriptions of love and passion. In the corner, near the exit, the feather fluttered then disappeared from view. On the move again, sliding through the aisles and out on the street again he glanced in both directions and homed in on the wayward feather.
The street was lined with temptations of every description. The sweet smell of chocolate filled the air and the feather disappeared again into a brightly illuminated La Maison-du-chocolat, premier chocolatiers. Moving into the shop, Mason passed two women staring covetously at the chocolate confectionaries and overheard their conversation.
"It's the food of the gods," one woman said in a heavy accent. Nodding, her friend replied, "It's better than sex." Heads nodding in agreement, they both softly laughed.
Mason gave the women a side-long glance and smiled as he walked by. One woman nudged the other, so both could take the opportunity to fully admire the handsome lawyer and returned his smile as Mason gracefully moved through the shop. Standing taller than the patrons who stooped to admire the chocolates behind the glass counters, Mason took the opportunity to scour the boutique. Frowning, the lawyer feared he had lost his veiled beauty, when he caught a glimpse of movement near a far counter and saw the feather wave before disappearing out the exit and onto the street. Moving like dancer, he tangoed down the aisle and quickly stepped out onto the street.
Mason felt his heart racing, the pursuit exhilarating as he glanced up and down the street. The sun was dipping behind the trees along the avenue and the street lights began to blink on. Suddenly there was new urgency. Tracking the illusive feather by street-light would test every skill-the challenge was intoxicating. A distant street light flickered revealing the flutter from the undulating plume. The lawyer's long legs covered the distance but only managed to keep her within sight, but not within reach. Skirting groups and couples, his eyes never left his prize. Again, light from a boutique revealed the stylish hat and its coquettish feather as it disappeared into the crowded business.
The front window of the shop was filled with life-like models draped in lace and silk. Mason's pace slowed, keeping the flirtatious feather within sight while being drawn to the models lining his path. His eyes and fingers caressed the silky material of each new design while moving through the aisles. Full figured models dressed in revealing negligees and Chantilly lace bustiers slowed his progress. His masculine eyes drawn to the laces, snaps, and hooks on the full breasted models gave his mind pause, a man of action, he contemplated the fasteners and the manual dexterity required to release the feminine virtues from their bondage. Reminded of the lacy black glove his fingers checked for its safety in his breast pocket and was reminded of his mission. A voice cleared in the crowded shop. His attention drawn to the counter, a flutter of movement, then the crimson lips below a black net pulled into a dazzling smile-a reward for his diligence or perhaps his progress. Mason grinned. In a second the smile and veiled had disappeared.
Attempting to close the distance, Mason bumped into an elderly man and a woman young enough to be his daughter. Expressing his apologizes, "Pardon. Excusez moi." The lawyer couldn't help a second look at the mismatched couple while shaking his head and running out into the street. Looking in either direction, he managed to catch sight of the shapely woman in black, feather fluttering, gesturing for a taxi.
Mason rushed down the street toward the stopped taxi. The car's door opened and the woman disappeared. In an instant the car pulled from the curb and moved down the street. Visibly flustered, Mason kept his eye on the rear of the taxi and placed its number to memory. He dashed to the curb and waved in the next taxi. The door opened. The driver grinned ,having seen the sizzling flash of shapely legs of the striking woman who had slipped into the car ahead followed on foot by the tall handsome man entering his cab. The taxi driver was happy to have the vicarious thrill
Mason's brain raced to find the proper words to express his desires to the French cabbie. Finally he blurted out, "Suivez ce taxi! Numero de 2649!"
The car lurched forward. The driver, use to maneuvering through traffic, turned to the anxious man who hung on to his back seat. In a thick French accent, he spoke his best English.
"Alas, another in pursuit of love. I will do my best to follow your cab, Mr. American!"
Mason slipped from his pocket the equivalent of fifty American dollars to the driver's hand.
The cabbie grinned. "Thank you, monsieur! You will be 'dancing' with your lady tonight, I assure you."
Hands gripping the seat, the glove safely in his breast pocket, Mason felt a surge of adrenaline and desire-a perfect pairing-a perfect gift.
The cabbie grinned and sang while he whipped the car through the busy street with Mason hanging on as the car rocked and rolled through each turn and lane change, all while maintaining cab number 2649 in sight. Famous landmarks zipped by along Champs-Elysees, the famous Arc looming in the windshield.
Whizzing out into the round-about, the cabbie turned and grinned, "As they say in show beezness, 'hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride.' And with that the cab lurched at an angle throwing Mason sideways. Grinning, the lawyer held on to the back seat and noted the name on the cab license.
"The bumpier the better, Maurice!" Mason urged. Flying around the roundabout, darting between cars, Maurice homed in on cab number 2649 like a Spitfire's sights on an escaping Zero, while the elegantly illuminated Arc de Triomphe floated by. Again, Maurice warned, "Hold on!" Mason and Maurice leaned as the car rolled into an abrupt turn shooting off and down Avenue d'lena. In the distance, lights outlined the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Mason leaned forward, catching sight of the elegant tower through the windshield as Maurice sang.
"A pretty girl is like a melody….." Looking up into the rearview mirror, the suave little driver grinned. "Don't you agree, Mr. American?"
Before Mason could reply, Maurice had slammed on the brakes, throwing them forward and then to the side as he adroitly maneuvered the vehicle around a car that had suddenly stopped in front of them. The tower and bridge loomed ahead. Crossing Pont d'lena, Mason turned and caught sight of the beautiful Trocadero Palace and Gardens from the rear of the taxi. Slowly releasing his breath, Mason turned his attention again to cab 2649 and found it two cars ahead.
Reaching the park surrounding the tower, the cars slowed and cab 2649 slipped to the curb. Quickly Mason removed his wallet and removed fare plus a generous tip. Ahead the door opened in the beam of the headlight. Arms laden with boutique treasures, a pair of shapely legs made their appearance, then bounded to the pavement and strutted away.
Grinning, Maurice watched his excited passenger scramble for the door. Calling through the open passenger window, he shouted words of encouragement.
"Hurry! Hurry! You will be 'dancing' with your lady tonight!" Waving his hand, voice softer, "Don't let love slip through your fingers, Mr. American!"
The lawyer waved his hand, his long legs covering the distance to the tower elevators in record time. Slipping through the crowd gathered at the base, he watched in amazement as the elevator to the fashionable Eiffel restaurant closed and began its ascent. Too late. Catching his breath, he waited as another car slowly descended and stepped into line.
Suddenly a touch and a voice pulled him back to reality.
"Perry," Gloria Steiner's deep, well-modulated voice called his name. "Are you alright?"
Taking in a deep breath, Mason looked up at his secretary's face. "Of course, Gloria, I'm fine." Taking note of Gloria's penetrating gaze he added, "I was just thinking about the Huxley opinion that's all."
The stately brunette clutched her larger organizer in her arms, and studied the jurist. Gloria prided herself in being a professional. She was good at what she did having spent her entire life in the legal profession. The court was her life. And this man, Perry Mason, Associate Justice on the Court of Appeals had become part of her life when he joined the court. She had made a point to study his habits, needs, and generally what made him tick, in order to make sure he was successful in his duties. Entering Mason's chambers she found the jurist totally absorbed…..or was it daydreaming.
Letting the moment pass, Gloria smiled, knowing she had caught him in the act. Did he really think he could fool her? She glanced down at her organizer and stated. "Perry, it's time to grease the wheels of justice."
Mason shook his head and laughed. "You're a relentless, Gloria."
"I get paid extra for 'relentless'," his secretary replied.
The lawyer moved to pick up his leather organizer, turned his knee and winced with pain.
Gloria noticed right away. "Knee again?"
Mason massaged the aching joint and cursed under his breath.
Moving to their work table, Gloria pulled out their chairs, moved the folders, books and binders so they could work side by side and called over her shoulder. "Did you take your meds at noon?"
He nodded, picked up his leather binder and limped to the work table to sit next to her. Shoulder to shoulder they opened their agendas and began to coordinate the jurist's schedule, starting with cases, meetings, outside obligations while working around Mason's private schedule. The banter was lively, the process give and take as they coordinated times and dates, like dancers on the dance floor, they moved with an elegant efficiency- a practiced dance for two.
Sitting beneath the glow of the overhead light, the shadows deepening, Gloria penciled in an appointment, looked at her watch and shook it. Without thinking, Mason reacted and gently took her wrist in his fingers and stopped her motion.
"You're watch is not broken, Della." Still looking at her watch, his fingers gently caressed her wrist and added. "Yes, it's late and I think we should call it a day."
Gloria's eyes warmed and made a mental note-only twenty Della's today. I wonder….where is your Della? Is she in an office somewhere? Is she working late? Glancing at the Parisian painting, Gloria knew only too well how a man and woman could drift apart. How they still might be in each other's thoughts- and dreams? And maybe it was even possible they could still love each other?
"Yes, it is late," she agreed and watched his fingers slip from her wrist, aware he had overstepped his boundaries. They both began to speak then stopped. Searching the other's face they simultaneously released nervous smiles. Gloria broke the silence.
"Perry, I think we know each other very well by now. We're both rough and tumble veterans who have been around the block more than a few times. I would hope by now you would know you don't have to explain or pretend with me."
Mason smiled and explored her dark brown eyes. "I know... and thank you."
"You know you're always welcome."
Nodding, he replied, "I know."
Gloria stood, pushed in her chair, smoothed down the front of her tailored gray suit, and carefully closed her agenda. Knowing the complex nature of her dance partner, she easily resumed the rhythm of their relationship.
"I do have one item needing your signature before you leave….… a little unfinished business."
Mason nodded and watched her disappear through the door.
Unfinished business, he mused.
The crowded elevator rose above the city. The lights of the tower illuminated the shape of the dark steel structure. All around the city lights fanned out revealing a complicated network of streets, and illuminated landmarks. The elevator slowed, then stopped at the level of the restaurant. The transparent doors opened and patrons flowed into the lobby. Immediately his eyes began the search. Was it possible she was already seated?
The maitre'd checked his book for reservations and the small crowd slowly began to disappear. The tall well-dressed man caught his attention and he inquired, "Puis-je t'aider? Vous cherchez quelqu'un?"
Mason stepped closer, eyes moving in thought, trying to recall the most basic French from his service years. "Qui. Je suis a la recherché."
Yes, he thought, you can help me. I am looking for someone. A woman. Again, he drew on his experience in Europe after the war.
Slipping a bill from his pocket, he discreetly placed it in the man's hand before he continued. "Une femme. Une femme en partiulier."
The man smiled, nodded, and watched the dark haired man pull a single lacy glove from his breast pocket. The maître'd's eyes brightened.
Mason felt the adrenaline pumping, enjoying the chase and the challenge. The woman has lost a glove, he wanted to say. "Un femme." Moving the lonely glove back and forth, he added. "Une femme. Elle a perdue un gant."
Mason grinned, and swayed the single glove back and forth. Good, he thought. The woman has lost a glove. Pursing his lips he tried desperately to find the proper words. Taking his hands, he moved them to show seductive curves.
"Ahh," the maitre'd groaned and imitated the lawyer's actions. Together they nodded. The hat, the feather, what's the word for feather? He used his hands to show a hat and then the shape of the exotic feather. "Une plume!" he finally blurted.
"Qui, un plume…..ahhh…..de Faison!'
"Ahhh.. qui…..un femme….une plume de Faison argente."
"Qui!" Mason grinned broadly at their success.
The little man bowed, and smiled. "Suis-moi, monsieur."
Together they moved through the dimly lit restaurant. Circular in shape, the exterior walls were glass from ceiling to floor. The exclusive tables on the periphery seemed to be floating in a sea of lights-a sea of stars. The little man paused, and gestured with his head to a table. Seated at a table for two, his mystery woman sat with her back to him, the flagrant feather beckoning.
Mason released a sigh. "Qui! Bein jouer! Merci beaucoup!"
The maitre'd shrugged his shoulders as if to say it was nothing, then waved his hand. "De rien," he called over his shoulder as he returned to his station, only taking a moment to pause and check the progress of his lovers. Taking a deep vicarious breath he sighed. ".….ahhhh la magie de le coup de foudre!"
The magic of love at first sight, he thought of the words of the maitre'd. Yes, it certainly was love at first sight many years ago-it was true-he was smitten by the dark haired beauty adjusting the hat on Justice Blackstone.
The flame from the small votive candle swayed, illuminating the stylish black dress elegantly trimmed with a hint of silver -the same silver of the pheasant feather and its neat rows of black bars. A long, shapely leg peeked from beneath the white damask table cloth. Easing closer, his hands tentatively touched the back of the chair across from her causing her to face him. The black netting had been elegantly swept to the side and a pair of knowing eyes studied him. The lips-red, ripe and seductive were slightly parted. Slowly he pulled the chair from the table and eased into it, moved it closer, then dropped to one knee to be near her.
With a sweeping motion of her right hand a lacy glove glided along the angle of her jaw, accentuating her slender neck and seductive décolletage.
The mate to the black lacy glove slowly emerged from the lawyer's breast pocket. Eyes sparkling, her lips formed a circle and displayed the bare skin of her left hand on the table. Wordlessly, they watched as his finger trailed from her wrist along the palm of her outstretched hand. The touch was soft and the feminine sigh barely audible. Taking her hand in his, he brought the back of her hand to his lips and stared into her eyes.
"Your feminine charms are never more bewitching as when you are up to skullduggery."
A pair of thick lashes were lowered then demurely raised as the tip of her tongue moistened her lip.
Gently his lips caressed before kissing the bare skin of her hand, then turning it palm up to kiss it again. The errant lacey black glove had been placed on the white table cloth-unnoticed.
Leaning, closer, his woman of mystery whispered, "I've been waiting for my prince charming."
The lawyer leaned closer. "To return your glove?"
"And….." she whispered, and moistened her lips again.
"To pursue you through every boutique in Paris," he whispered.
"And…" she softly sighed, enjoying the touch of his lips on her hand.
"To show me what lies ahead?"
"And…" she softly cooed.
"To show you you're the only woman I could ever love."
Suddenly the light from the candle produced a shower of brilliant flashes. A ring-an amethyst ring circled with diamonds. Slowly he slipped the ring on her finger.
Again, a voice, the sound of paper on his desk and Gloria Steiner's sigh of exasperation plus an annoyed glance at the Parisian painting.
"Your signature," she coached.
Mason leaned over his desk, and rubbed his aching knee. "What am I signing, Gloria?"
Hand on her hip, lips pursed, she replied. "The letter you asked me to type. The one you said needed to be sent out tonight."
Gloria gave a throaty chuckle, gathered the signed letter, folded it and slipped it into the addressed envelope. "Honestly, Perry! You'd think I was having you sign away a kidney!"
Mason looked up and grinned. "You know lawyers, we're a suspicious lot!"
Walking to the door, Gloria half-turned, and replied. "Yeah, and their secretaries should all be up for sainthood!"
Chuckling as he spoke, Mason nodded while picking up his agenda. "I like the sound of that already…..Saint Gloria!"
"'Relentless' Saint Gloria to you," the secretary fired back, leaning against the doorframe connecting their rooms.
Chuckling, rubbing his sore knee, the lawyer rose from his desk and finished placing materials in his briefcase.
Gloria's eyes softened as she watched him nurse the painful joint. "You know it's Thursday. Do you want your usual from Gilberto's delivered?"
Mason closed his briefcase and paused. "Yes, Saint Gloria, that's an excellent suggestion."
The secretary prepared to step into her office, when the lawyer spoke to her. "Gloria, make that Gilberto's order for two."
The Thursday evening routine had changed, Gloria's eyebrows rose with surprise. "Two?" she asked.
The jurist eased to the wardrobe, removed his coat and placed it over his arm on his way out the door.
As he passed Gloria, he winked. "Qui, deux, si vous plais."
~~~Fini, for now~~~