"Quid pro quo"

Trials & Tribulations

Chapter 4

Wednesday

Beneath an island of light, Perry Mason looked up from his notes, leaned back in his chair, and took time to admire the sea of twinkling lights from his apartment's expansive window. He allowed his mind to wander as he followed the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge as they spanned the bay to Sausalito and from there the location of the lights forming the bank of windows of 15 Madrona Avenue.

What was she doing now? Painting? Photography? Or perhaps her own homework? Was she finding his life as interesting as he was finding hers? The thought was intriguing.

Looking away from the window, the lawyer smiled, and admired his own homework- rows and rows of open National Geographic magazines neatly arranged in chronological order on every available surface in the apartment. Cleaning was useless and a quick call to the service guaranteed his efforts would remain undisturbed.

Hours earlier he had arrived from the courthouse and had casually tossed his briefcase, jacket and tie on the bed, opened a bottle of wine, loosened his shirt collar, rolled up his sleeves and sat down to resume his work. Bringing the glass of wine to his lips, he paused, savored the wine's exquisite bouquet, and felt the stirrings of desire-a desire for a cigarette. It would be easy to send out for a pack, no, the wine was enough. For the moment he would settle for this-a small taste of his old life. He had a mystery to solve and the wine would do for now.

Lowering the glass, Mason slipped on his reading glasses, studied his notes and picked up the edition with the bull and matador, the magazine his fellow jurist had been reading and, as irony would have it, the edition that started it all-the artistic pairing of photographer, Valentina Bernini and the writer, Tomas Bardem. Mason glanced around the room at the row upon row of magazines, each open to stunning photographs and dramatic stories from around the world. Spread around his apartment he had a compilation of a lifetime-a lifetime of their work.

A lifetime of work-and then abruptly it ended. Mason rested his chin on his clasped hands and felt his own sense of déjà vu. He understood only too well the effort and collaboration needed for such an undertaking as a National Geographic story. Likewise, he had evidence of his own such collaborations- file cabinets packed with high profile murder cases, each with their own photos and documentation-a lifetime of their work-he and Della's. Yes, a lifetime of their work. He remembered the beginning as though it were yesterday. Strange, how some special moments remained frozen in time and so easy to relive. Mason looked off and smiled.

The houselights brightened as the brass and drums of the orchestra subsided and dancers left the floor and returned to their tables. Seated, Paul Drake watched appreciatively as the two shapely young women made their way to the powder room. Meanwhile, Perry Mason flipped open his lighter, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and reached for the remainder of his cocktail.

"Man, you have to be the luckiest man on earth, Perry," Drake exclaimed turning to his friend. Mason didn't respond, but continued to drain his glass and motioned to a passing server for a refill.

Annoyed, Drake finally asked, "Are you alright?"

Mason looked up, discharged a cloud of smoke into the air and eyed the detective speculatively and couldn't help but think, 'Was he being that obvious, or did his friend really not have a clue?'

"Why?" the lawyer finally asked.

"I don't know, because Delores' friend, your date, is a knock-out, a living doll!"

"Really?" Mason replied and looked off in the direction of the powder room. Eyes narrowed in thought, the lawyer tried to recall the woman Paul referred to as the 'knock-out'. And where was that waiter? He needed another drink to drown out the young woman's endless chatter and the constant irritation of her attempts at foreplay, the rubbing against him that caused them to constantly collide on the dance floor.

"I'm sorry, Paul, I didn't notice."

The detective's mouth dropped open in disbelief and watched as the server delivered another cocktail to his friend.

"Maybe you've had enough, Perry," the detective insisted.

Mason took a hardy drink and smiled. "No, Paul, the problem is I haven't had enough. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to check my answering service."

Drake shook his head and pulled out a cigarette as he watched his broad-shouldered friend leave for the phones.

Mason stopped in the entrance, took the last drag on his cigarette, dropped it in an ashtray, and headed for the phone banks. He paused outside an empty booth and considered his situation.

'No, he wasn't alright! The problem was his secretary.'

Mason chuckled and swirled the wine in his glass. Funny, he remembered Katherine Graham's endless parade of competent secretarial candidates. They managed to squeeze them in at every opportunity- between appointments , after court. The whole process had become routine…. predictable…..never ending. And then there was Laura Donaldson pressuring him. Leave Los Angeles, come to Denver, join Tom Robertson's firm she pleaded. Mulling over her request he had shoved the letter in an edition of the Pacific Reporter he had been perusing. No doubt the letter was still pressed between the pages.

Then late one evening after a long exhausting day in court the routine and predictable parade came to an end with the shapely brunette straightening his hat on Justice Blackstone. It was the day Della Street changed his world. The chemistry between them was instant. Oozing charisma and good looks, he was immediately fascinated, a working girl veneer covering the alluring beauty of a debutante-she was an exquisite mystery he couldn't resist. Behind sparkling dark eyes he discovered a clever and observant mind capable of Holmesian intuition. To his delight, he found she was studying him as closely as he was studying her. The deal was clinched when she stated with confidence- they could be a team. In an instant the decision was made, he wouldn't be making that trip to Denver.

During the following weeks and months he was thankful his new secretary had grown tired of the routine nature of the civil legal practice of Sterling and Price. She was a quick study, and had easily taken over the responsibility of running his office. Plus she had acquired the uncanny ability to anticipate his needs to the point of being able to finish his sentences. It didn't take long before the formal 'Mr.' and 'Miss' disappeared behind closed doors.

Mason brought the wine glass to his lips and inhaled the fragrance and remembered the evolution of their relationship.

Leaving the office they had continued the discussion of a case over dinner. While sipping their after-dinner coffee, the orchestra in the adjoining room began a familiar syncopated rhythm-a tango. Over the lip of his cup Mason watched her agile fingers discreetly tapping out the band's rhythm on the edge of the table and suppressed a knowing smile- because beneath the table his own foot eagerly matched her rhythm.

Who rose first, he couldn't recall. It didn't matter. In a heartbeat they were on the dance floor. Gingerly he held her in his arms like a delicate porcelain doll that could easily break. With each twist and turn, he was tempted to pull her closer, tempted to feel the movement of her graceful body, tempted to discover just how well her body would fit against his.

But he didn't. He was keenly aware he was skating along on a thin treacherous line, the thin line between boss and secretary. It was part of his nature to push the limits, to play it close, and stretch the limits of that line. But this risk was different. Play it wrong and he could lose it all. If he played his cards right, the reward,well, the winner could take all. Either way, the stakes were high because there was no unringing of this bell.

Together they moved, their steps and sweeping turns were precise and measured, moving as one unit forward and backward, they were always aware of the other. Softly she whispered in his ear, a thought, a word or two, an important detail. Elegantly they swept around the dance floor and noticed other dancers seemed to part for them as though allowing them to continue their show for all to see. When the music stopped, they stood breathless, not from the dance, but from the sheer excitement of their teamwork. Moving back to their table, all eyes seemed to follow them, and then he realized, others must see what he was feeling-he was a man in love.

Slipping inside the phone booth, Mason took a hardy drink of his cocktail for fortification before setting it aside to pick up the phone. Just because she danced with him didn't mean she didn't have a life outside the office. He couldn't expect her to sit at home all alone on a Friday night? He certainly wasn't.

But more importantly why would he be calling her at home on a Friday night? What excuse could he use? Holding the receiver in his hand he gently ran his fingers across his lips as he thought of every angle. Finally making his decision he brought the receiver to his ear, spoke to the operator and waited for the connection. Holding his breath he counted the number of rings.

One….two….three…..

Maybe she was out….

...four…..five...

How could he expect her to be at home…..

...six.

He felt his heart sink. Perhaps she's dancing with another man. He had to be prepared for that possibility.

Then the phone clicked.

"Hello," a sultry voice answered.

Mason exhaled. "Hello, Della."

"Oh, hello, Perry. I'm glad you called. You know I've been thinking about Helene Taylor."

Mason leaned against the wall of the booth, and felt both relieved and pleased. "Really?"

"You know I think Helene Taylor is not telling us everything. I don't think she's a working girl at all, it's a hunch that I have."

Mason softly chuckled and marveled at her insights, insights he had grown to rely on. The lawyer smiled and swirled the ice in his drink. "O.K, tell me about your hunch, Della."

Yes, tell me about your hunches my darling, Della. Mason pleasantly recalled as he gazed over the story before stopping cold- he had found something. It was referenced at the end of the cover story on the 'Monster Snakes of Venezuela'. At the end, the magazine teased- 'Want to know more? Check out our section entitled, 'Behind the Scenes' on page 145.' Mason quickly thumbed through the pages. A photograph took up one third of the page. The writer and photographer were framed on either side by palomino cutting horses, and behind them an endless tropical grassland haloed by an azure sky.

Mason's skilled eyes skimmed through the passages. The writer, Tomas Bardem, wrote of his moral outrage concerning the smuggling of endangered species. He had been a witness to the violations of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Upon meeting their contact at the Caracas International Airport they had witnessed first-hand the atrocity of international wildlife smuggling. A suitcase had been confiscated before being loaded on an international flight out of the country. As they stood by, the suitcase had been forced opened revealing what appeared to be at first, neatly packed clothing. But on closer inspection the rows of black socks were hard and stiff. Carefully they were removed and the fabric peeled back. Inside the socks were the bound bodies of a dozen Yellow-eared Parrots, an endangered species found only in the Venezuelan cloud forests. All twelve of the endangered parrots had died from suffocation during their hours of transport. The writer declared his determination to find and bring to justice the elusive ringleader who proudly boasted of being able to deliver the most desired and endangered creatures in the world to anyone- for a price. Bardem referred to the ringleader as 'El Monstruo' or 'The Monster'.

Mason ran the edge of his fingers across his lips and contemplated the writer's resolve. He knew what it was like to be outraged and on the track of a monster, a human monster capable of doing anything. He had tracked many monsters in his career and knew the resolve it took to find justice. Looking up at the top photograph, he reached for a magnifier to take a closer look at this man, Tomas Bardem. Moving the lens around, he observed Valentina's smile playing to the camera, her hand holding the horse's reins while her arm circled loosely around her partner's waist.

Moving the lens over the bearded man, the lawyer found a different story. Bardem didn't play to the camera, but instead smiled at the woman by his side. Bringing the magnifier closer, the lawyer looked at the hand holding the reins, and the free arm that disappeared behind Valentina's waist. Where was his hand? Mason leaned forward, bringing the lens closer to the page, carefully inspecting the photograph, looking for the hand. Then he found it. The writer's hand rested along the curve of her hip. In Mason's mind a very intimate gesture. Learning back, the lawyer released a satisfied smile.

Reading Tomas Bardem's story Mason could see he was a man of deep conviction and passion. Returning the magnifier to the face of the smiling writer, Mason found it even easier to see, Tomas Bardem was a man in love.

~~~tbc~~~

For the full story of that early interview taken from Della and Perry's POV, please read "The Interview-Della" & "The Interview-Perry".

Inspiration for the 'tango', You Tube's 'The Tango Lesson'.