The ambulance that drove past them in the opposite direction, didn't draw his attention.
It was just a ten minute drive to the adress Reston had given them. Mason's heart raced, his knee ached and his eyes hurt because he had held them open almost non-stop for a few days in a row now. But that wasn't what bothered him. What bothered him was the additional information Reston had found and given him about this adress and the owners of the real estate. About Emmett Michaels, but especially about his daughter Jennifer and the fact that she had bought the premises of the clinic where Michaels worked before he lost his license. The fact this clinic was on the adress he was travelling to right now. The fact that she had also bought the house next to her father's. The fact that she had had enough money to do so.
The fact she had been accused of murder two times, but had been released because there wasn't enough evidence to have her convicted.
Reston's voice had sounded worried and restless, a state in which he wasn't often caught in. At the end of the phonecall, after he had given the adress, he had urged Perry to hurry. Not in his gentle way, but very firmly and concerned.
Mason squeezed his hand around his cane. Flings of the conversation he had had with Reston went through his tired mind.
Laura Robertson's former assistant … Jennifer Parker's real name is Jennifer Michaels … daughter … murder … bought real estate in her name … psychiatric care … as far as I'm concerned, they're both insane, Mason … find your Miss Street … and do it fast ...
Jennifer Parker. She had seemed such a nice, young and innocent woman the first time Mason had met her as Laura's assistant. He thought about her genuine nervousness when he questioned her during the Robertson's trial. She had almost been too loyal to admit Laura had left the party at a suspicious time, so she could be the killer.
Perry wondered about a lot of things, such as had Laura known that Jennifer was Emmett's daughter before she hired her to be her assistant? Was there more to it than coincidence ? And what was Jennifer's exact role in Glenn Robertson's case ?
But most important of course, what had they done to his Della? Would she be in the old clinic ? Would she be all right ? And where was Jennifer Parker now ?
Though they seemed to belong to someone else, he was sure it were his own fingers that were trembling, touching the sheets beside him. They felt cold. But tomorrow, if she would be his, the sheets would be warm of her warmth, warm of her love for him, when she finally realised he was the only right man for her. He had a hard time rolling his eyes to the closet and focussing at the other end of the room. His wedding suit hung there, white as snow.
The reason they had decided to have Della's room and everything else around her white was because she remembered them of white. Her pureness, her beauty, her class, her lovely smile to him, even if it was only in the courtroom. It had made him so weak for her, so weak he knew then that one day he would make her his wife. He had been so thrilled to find out she wasn't married, although she was so obviously Mason's and had been for so long. The fact that she was free to take, had made him watch her silently for a year now, following her around, wherever she went. He was sure about her.
Oh, of course he had seen how this Perry Mason and Della Street had been around eachother when the case of Glenn Robertson had ended. How beautiful she had looked in her white coat, waiting for Mason outside on the stairs of the courthouse. He had seen how Mason had kissed her long and lingering at the bottom of the stairs before getting into their taxi. Because of that kiss, he had forgotten about her for a while, but then, after a few years, he thought about her being so suitable.
So, he knew she belonged to someone else, but he could and would make her his wife. The fact that she hadn't become Mason's wife yet after all these years, wasn't just encouraging. It was also a strong confirmation, an actual writing on the wall. She wasn't meant to be with Mason, she was meant to be with him. She fit his description of the perfect wife and mother, her height, her sizes, her weight, her beautiful smiling hazel eyes. Nearly as perfect as Laura Robertson.
But Laura Robertson had been married, when he had tried to make her his. He had tried to change her mind. He smirked. He had indeed literally tried to change her mind with shocktreatment, and everybody had let him do it, because he was the doctor. He had treated her depression that wasn't as severe as she thought, but he had told her it was and that it was better to stay in the clinic with him for a while. She had nearly given in. But she had been too strong, and had stuck to her marriage vows in the end.
And then Jennifer had thought of the plan to leak information about the depression of Laura, and to get her husband Glenn in deathrow for murdering Luke Dickinson. Brilliantly planned, even involving Laura in a way she would suffer from depression again afterwards. Yet the plan had failed because of this damned Mason's interference. But then, luckily and ironically, the same Mason had brought him Della Street. Beautiful, lovely Della Street. He whispered her name, again and again. He licked his lips. To say her name tasted so very good, so sweet. If just saying her name tasted that sweet, than how good would she taste herself? How sweet would that lips be if she'd be finally his? Tomorrow.
But why wait until tomorrow?
Why not taste her now?
Why not have her now?
Lifting his body up, the dizziness he always felt made him fall back on the sheets. Struggling to sit, his hands sought for the bottle of pills on the other side of the bed. He took five of them, and swallowed them with brandy. Strong, burning brandy.
His hands sought for the robe that had fallen on the floor earlier. He put it on and took a deep breath before trying to get on his feet. To be able to stand up from the bed, he had to lean against the wall and steady himself. He grinned. The pills would be working by the time he'd be in her room. Laughing nervously and cursing about his stumbling and falling, he promised himself to have just a brief taste of her, just her lips, and maybe some of her neck. The thought of him tasting her skin made him stand up straight. He moaned in anticipation. A woman like Della Street could satisfy his needs in so many ways.
Yes, just her lips and her neck. He'd savor the rest of her for his hunger tomorrow night.
The door to her room opened at once, because he had kept his promise. Earlier he and Jennifer had unlocked all doors so she could walk out any minute. The fact that she hadn't done that yet, was also a sign that she cared for him enough to stay around. This was all about confirmation, repetitive confirmation. Even her strong, stubborn character wouldn't stand the constant repetition of his statements, if performed long enough. He would change Della Street's mind. If he had to, the hard way. But after he married her. They had to get married before she was found.
His breathing stopped when she wasn't in the bed, where he had expected her to be. He gasped at the sight of the three wedding dresses on the floor. He panted going into her bathroom and walk-in closet to search for her, reaching out his hands, feeling the fabric of the clothes hanging in there, to feel if she was hiding in them. Clinging to them, touching the heels, moving infuriated, faster and faster, throwing everything out of the closet like the madman he was.
Hysterically breathing, shaking hands, eyes wide open. Yet, very, very slowly the truth of her having left, dawned to him. And then very slowly, a deep sound formed in the pit of his stomach, struggling to get out, up his throat, until he couldn't stop himself and screamed.
" No! "
Again. Again and again.
She was gone.
He swung from one side to the other, held onto a chair, the table, to the bed and stumbled to the window, and screamed again, when he recognized the man he saw walking there on the lawn. The only man that shouldn't be here now. The one he had hoped never to see again.
" No! "
Outside, on the lawn, the big dark form of Perry Mason stood still. He looked around, and walked slowly to the frontdoors of the building.
Emmett Michaels ran, to stop Mason. Stop Mason. Kill Mason. Stop Mason. Not Mason again. Kill him. If someone is in your way, kill him.
On his way out to the lawn, he felt the pistol in the pocket of his robe. He ran, the adrenaline that was pumping through his veins made him run straight without stumbling, throughout the hallway, into the hall towards the frontdoors. He yanked them open, and abruptly stood still, ten feet away from the man that had changed the course of his life on more than one occassion.
" Mason! "
The dark form just watched him.
" Mason! " it sounded like a shriek. Even in the dim light of the few lamps that lit the premises, Mason was able to see the hollow eyes of the insane man in front of him. And even while they were ten feet apart, he could smell the alcohol, the sweat.
" Where is she, Michaels? " Mason's dark voice boomed through the night.
" What? " It sounded like a shriek again.
" Where is she? "
" Where is my bride, Mason? "
" I really don't know about your bride, Michaels…. but where the hell is Della Street? What have you done to her? " Perry growled.
Emmett Michaels didn't react to the questions, but ran past him to see where Mason could possibly be hiding Della. He noticed there was a taxi standing at the end of the driveway.
" I'm sure you already have her with you…"
" She's probably in the taxi over there, and you came here to kill me. But I will shoot myself, you know that…"
" So, shoot yourself… Mason turned his attention to the building again. " But first tell me where she is … "
" I'm not kidding, Mason …"
" Neither am I, Emmett. Where the hell is she? " Mason's loud voice echoed into the night.
Perry watched the insane man run further towards the taxi, and open the door at the drivers side to pull out the terrified driver. He fell on the floor and protected his face against the kicking and hitting of the mad man.
" Where is she? What have you done to her? Where is she hiding? Where did you hide her? "
Then he suddenly stopped and grabbed the driver at his collar. " Open the trunk … " he mumbled.
" But … ? "
" Open the trunk …! "
" Do what he tells you! " Mason yelled at the driver from the other side of the lawn.
The shaking hands of the terrified driver didn't help him, while trying to open the trunk. His keys missed the keyhole a couple of times before he was finally able to unlock it. He felt that someting that could be a gun, was placed at the back of his head. " Hurry up … "
" There you go, sir. " The lid opened and the trunk was empty. Michaels' expression went from utterly curious to smiling with one blink of his eyes. He started laughing, in a sick, hysterical way. " She's not here … "
" No, she is not … " the driver confirmed softly.
" Shut up! " Michaels said it firmly, but immediately started laughing again, before shouting towards the other side of the lawn. " Mason! You really don't have her, do you? "
He ran towards Perry very fast and stopped abruptly again, just a few feet away from him. Close enough for the big lawyer to see the insanity in Michaels' very fast blinking hollow eyes, to see the shaking hands and the sudden tilting of his head, first to the left and then to the right again.
" What are you doing? " Mason growled and watched the small shiny pistol, while Michaels very slowly pointed it at his own temple. His smile was wide and evil.
" If I kill myself, you'll never find her, will you? " he laughed. " You'll never find Della Street …" His loud devillish laughter sent shivers through Mason's body. Michaels held the pistol to his head while his hand shook badly. It didn't even occur to Perry for one second to talk Emmett out of his plan to commit suicide. Emmett, the bloody fool. The dry clattering sound of the pistol told Mason noone could be killed by it. It was empty.
What really worried him, was the fact that Michaels didn't know where Della was. That could either be good news or very bad news.
" I will kill myself…! Mason! "
" Shut up, Michaels. I will find her, even if it's the last thing I do. " He turned around, to walk to the big building, that fit the description Reston had given him earlier. Big, white, one floored, with a squared center, and long wings on either side, with big windows and high ceilings.
" I'm doing it now … ! "
" Sure, Emmett …" Mason mumbled. The dry click he heard behind him, made him turn around to watch the insane man again. He watched Michaels' shocked face with disgust. His eyes were wide open and his hands were shaking even more while he watched his small pistol in disbelief. " It's not loaded … " He whispered.
" You bloody idiot. " Mason gave him a cold and darkened stare. His jaws tightened. " You can't even kill yourself. "
He left the man crying on the floor, dwelling in his grief. " It's not loaded … "
The big doors to the building were still open, and Perry limped through them, holding his cane in his hand as a weapon to hit anyone who would come near him. He tried the phone he found at what used to be a reception's desk. The line was dead.
The entrance to the wing on his left side was dark and closed up by a high fence. The wing on his right side was open and slightly illuminated. He decided to go there first. Again, not bothering to be silent, he threw the first few doors that joined the hallway open.
The fourth door on the left, gave entrance to a big room without windows. Mason sought for a lightswitch and found it, while putting one hand against his mouth and nose. The smell in the room was revolting.
In the middle of the room was a bed, on one side covered with needles and syringes, small bottles with a clear liquid in it and a bottle with pills. Empty bottles of brandy were thrown all over the floor. There was a big closet at the right wall. On it hung a white suit, with white shoes underneath it.
Mason's eyes adjusted to the light, and he gasped while looking at the walls. He steadied his posture against a chair in front of him. " My dear God…"
On the four different walls were pictures and newspaper articles about four different women. He didn't know two of them. The third, he knew just a little if at all, being Laura Robertson, and the fourth woman he had known very well and loved deeply forever.
He watched the wall with her pictures. His hands sueezed into fists. Della with him, her arm in his, leaving the courthouse in Nevada, Los Angeles and in Denver. Pictures of them leaving a restaurant, Della alone doing groceries, Della in her nightgown in front of their bedroomwindow, Della on her way to the office, Della in her car, in her rosegarden, in a restaurant with her friends, on a dancefloor with him holding her close. Copies of old newspaperarticles about their alledged relationsip in the fifties and sixties, copies of articles about her trial, and her acquittal.
In front of this wall there was a small altar with candles, pictures and some notes and poems written about her. There was a calendar, with today's date encircled in red. He realised that no matter what that meant, he had to find her. Quickly. Before this day dawned.
He glanced at the other wall, next to Della's. One particular article on that wall struck him. It was about a woman being reported missing two weeks ago.
The next wall was about what he reckoned was Emmett Michaels' wife, Jennifer's mother, Elizabeth Parker. Mason knew that Emmett Michaels had been married once, but he didn't know his wife had died, he thought they had divorced. But according to the articles, she was murdered ten years ago.
Then something he read struck him hard.
" Lord … " His hands sought behind him for the chair he knew was there somewhere. The pain in his knee stung him, while he sat down and put his head in his hands, forcing himself to breath deeply. His hands both leaning on his cane.
Elizabeth Parker was killed, and run over by a car a couple of times. She was found decapitated a few weeks after she was reported missing.
Like the body Brock had found and had asked him to identify almost two days ago.
Briskly Mason stood up from his chair and walked out of the sickening room to continue his searching.
He yelled throughout the hallway. " Della! " The first few rooms he threw open were empty, but then he opened one that made him stop breathing for a second.
" Della ! " Her scent was there. He limped to the big white bed, stumbling over a big pile of white fabric. It made him fall on the bed sidewards. He took in the scent of the sheets and the pillows. Della. Definetely.
He found a small switch next to the bed and switched on the light. The room was completely white.
Perry stood up and walked slowly to the adjoining walk-in closet. He gasped at the sight of all the clothing and shoes he saw, and recognized as possible purchases of Della. " So this is where my money went, Michaels … " he growled softly.
Then he grasped a beautiful red dress that would have suited her so very well, and swallowed hard. " Della, my baby… where the hell are you? "
His despair was quickly replaced when a strong feeling overcame him. He sensed she was closer to him than she had been in the last couple of days.
And she was.