Conversation in a Café
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! I wrote the bulk of this several weeks ago, as an experiment in Della and Andy interaction. It's also an experiment on why, perhaps, Andy doesn't join Perry and company in social settings and why he's so tense in season 8. Today I randomly thought of this piece again and dusted it off to read through it. And I managed to get it wrapped up. There are some references to my story The Case of the Broken Ties, but I tried to explain them for those unfamiliar with that wild adventure. And the time period is the present day, as always.
Della walked slowly into the café in the Valley and stopped, glancing about at the 1950's décor. The red-and-white checkered floor, the jukebox, and even the clocks spoke of a long-past time and place. It was a quaint eatery, one that she had learned was frequented by young and old alike. In spite of the stereotypes to the contrary, there were quite a few of the rising generation who enjoyed and were even fascinated by eras before their time.
Right now the place was mostly vacant, which was just as well. She wanted the peace and quiet to think.
She had not even been aware of the diner's existence until Vivalene's memory-warping Box had sent her and everyone else in Los Angeles County into a different world. She had been set up as a schoolteacher in the Valley, with Andy as the principal. Contrary to most of the others, their memories had been erased altogether. Perry and Tragg, by contrast, had remembered some things and people but remembered them wrong.
And then Hamilton and Paul had remembered the truth and had tried so hard to get everyone else to remember as well. Through a bizarre and heart-rending experience, they had at last succeeded in breaking Vivalene's spell and releasing everyone from the false memories that had bound them.
Della had often eaten at the '50's café during her schoolteacher days. Actually, there had only been a few such days, but because she recalled both her true memories and the pseudo memories, it seemed as though she had been there many more times.
She blinked in surprise when she caught sight of one lone patron in the corner, propping himself up on an elbow as he gazed at the sights beyond the window. Was he puzzling over the same problems as she? He looked so lost in thought. And it seemed strange, that he had turned up at the same locale. He was very rarely in the Valley, unless he was on a case.
Suddenly she wanted company. She hurried forward, her heels clicking on the tiled floor. "Andy?" she called.
He started and looked over, his eyes flickering with surprise of his own. "Della," he greeted in amazement. "What are you doing here?"
She smiled as she came to stand beside his table. "I was just going to ask you the same question."
He sighed and leaned back. "I don't know why I'm here. Maybe I'm just trying to make sense of the utterly nonsensical." He shook his head. "Can you believe what happened to us?" His voice was low now, as if to shout or even speak normally would be a grave sacrilege.
"Sometimes I hardly can," Della admitted.
Abruptly becoming aware that she was still standing there, Andy snapped to. "Oh . . . do you want to sit down?" He gestured at the other side of the booth.
"Thank you." Della slid in, looking across the table at the baffled policeman. "Well," she mused, "this is unusual for us."
". . . Yes." Andy sounded awkward now.
Della leaned back, regarding him in thoughtfulness. "You know, I don't think we ever shared a table before Vivalene sent us away, unless Lieutenant Tragg or Steve was there too."
"That's right," Andy acknowledged. "Oh, but I hope you don't think it was anything personal against you, Della."
"I wondered why you couldn't make time for lunch with us," Della said.
Andy sighed, averting his gaze as he played with the unused paper napkin on his side of the table. "I suppose the truth is that I've never been quite sure how to balance my job as a police officer while being friendly with you and Perry and Paul. I don't want to be party to any of Perry's less-than-legal antics. Nor do I like arresting friends, although I'll do it if I have to."
Della nodded, slowly. "Well, I can hardly fault you for that," she said. "I had the same problem trying to determine how to be friends with Mr. Burger."
"You seem to have found a way around it," Andy remarked.
"Oh yes. But it took a lot of thinking and soul-searching. Finally I realized I could be friends with Hamilton without compromising my loyalty to Perry."
"Perry and Mr. Burger certainly managed it," Andy said.
Della smiled at him. "But it took being sent back to school for us to try it." Andy had invited her to lunch at least twice during the real days they had been under the spell. Della had to work to separate those occasions from the falsities also swirling through her mind.
Andy chuckled weakly. "One of many strange things that happened. But probably the least strange overall."
"And now that it's over and we know where we belong . . . is it back to business as usual?" Della wondered. "No more having lunch if Tragg or Steve isn't there?"
Andy pushed the napkin away. "The two of us were isolated here in the Valley, away from the others," he said. "We were friends when we were living those untrue lives. I like to think that we carried that back with us."
"So do I," Della nodded.
"So," Andy continued with a smile, "if you want to have lunch, let's."
He leaned back and summoned the waitress. She came, taking down their orders before departing again.
Della watched her. "She was here before," she noted. "I wonder if she remembers us."
"She does," Andy said. "She's even more bewildered about what happened than we are, since she doesn't know about that Box."
Della shook her head. "It's so strange to have two sets of memories as it is. I can't imagine what it would be like to not have any idea why they were there."
She looked at Andy with a smile, tilting her head to the side. "And of all the occupations I could have, I never thought I'd end up working for a policeman."
"Was it so terrible?" Andy returned.
"No," Della said slowly. "It wasn't terrible at all. Of course, you didn't remember being a policeman at the time." She crossed her arms on the table. "But it still wasn't always easy to remember that we were both on the same side."
"Oh . . . the budget." Andy winced. "I am sorry about that. However, if I really was in charge of a school budget, I'm afraid I would have handled it the same way."
"I'm sure you would have," Della agreed. "It's like Vivalene said—the Box altered memories, not personalities."
The waitress arrived with their food, setting it down while remaining subdued and quiet. "I hope you enjoy it," she said at last, scarcely above a whisper. She turned to flee.
"Please, wait a minute," Della implored.
She froze. "Yes?"
"Do you remember us?" Della queried.
A quick nod. "Yes. Yes, I do."
"I'm glad," Della smiled. "It's alright; you don't have to be so nervous."
"No, Miss." The waitress started to back up. "If that's all . . ."
"That's all," Andy put in. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." The waitress vanished into the kitchen.
Della sighed. "I wonder if she'll ever get over that, poor thing."
"I wouldn't know. I'm not sure if we'll ever get over it." Andy started to eat.
Della did as well. "Did you ever get the feeling that she thought we were more than just friends?"
"Hmm?!" Andy nearly choked. He stared at Della in disbelieving amazement, his fork paused in the air.
"Well . . . I was just thinking about the time you brought me here while you were protesting my involvement with Perry," Della said. "You were worried that I was the victim of a terrible fraud."
Andy stabbed a piece of sausage with his fork. "A friend could be worried about that," he said.
"Of course," Della said. "You were. But that waitress seemed to think we were having a lover's quarrel."
"She probably hears so many of those that her mind is stuck in a rut by now," Andy grunted.
"I suppose someone working in a restaurant sees a lot of depressing things," Della mused. "People coming in after breakups, or loved ones being hurt, or deaths . . ."
"Someone working for a famous attorney also sees a lot of depressing things," Andy said. "But it doesn't have to mean you lose your faith in people. Obviously, you haven't."
"That's true," Della smiled. "And you, Lieutenant Anderson. You still believe in the human race too, don't you?"
Andy nodded. "Yes . . . yes, I do. I see crime and corruption every day. But I also see what's still right with the world. Sometimes I'm surprised by it."
"At least you still see it," Della said. "I imagine it's easy for someone in the Homicide department to be jaded."
"Even Lieutenant Drumm is quite cynical, or realistic, however you want to put it," Andy said. "The key is not to let it overtake you."
Della fell silent. She ate slowly, turning the events of the last few months over in her mind. It was true—she had seen both the best and the worst of humanity, often all at once. They seemed to come hand-in-hand. Even amid Vivalene's great evil, Hamilton and Paul had stood up to her and fought for everyone. Hamilton had nearly died. And Andy had almost been killed by Vivalene several weeks before that.
". . . What are you thinking?"
She looked up with a start at Andy's awkward question. He was regarding her with both curiosity and an honest desire to know the answer. And she wondered how to even broach the subject, if she should at all.
"Sacrifice," she said at last. "Hamilton, Paul, Perry . . . Tragg . . . you. . . . At one time or another, you've all put your lives on the line in dangerous situations."
"Don't leave yourself out," Andy said.
"Oh, I've never done anything that dangerous," Della said with a slight, uncomfortable laugh.
"You have," Andy said. "You stood up to Vivalene just as much as any of the rest of us. And you've been in other tight spots, such as when you and that witness were held hostage."
"You just want to share the credit," Della said.
"Maybe," Andy acknowledged. "But I know there's truth in what I'm saying."
He hesitated. "Della, I'm sorry if I've ever come off like I'm avoiding you. Or Perry, or Paul."
"It's alright, Andy," Della returned. "I guess . . . sometimes it's still hard to remember that we're all on the same side."
Andy nodded. "It really shouldn't be." He set his fork down. "But it would help if Perry wouldn't ever resort to legal loopholes and trickery."
"There's nothing I can do about it," Della said. "When Perry makes up his mind, that's that. And in the end, all he wants is to protect his clients."
"I know, I know. I just don't think that's any excuse. Especially for some of it." Andy leaned on the table. "It isn't the way to solve cases! Perry's a better person than to have to use cheap shyster tactics."
Suddenly a bit embarrassed, he turned red. "I'm sorry," he said with an uneasy smile. "I guess this is why it doesn't seem to work. We're each so passionate about the way we interpret the facts."
"Yes," Della nodded in agreement, "we are. So I suppose the only real way around it is to avoid those subjects altogether."
"Yes." But Andy sighed. "Only . . . is it even possible? Even if we don't bring them up, they're always there, lurking in the background. I often feel tension in a room when Lieutenant Tragg or I enter. And, I'm sorry to say, it works vice-versa too.
"Steve knows how to be completely at ease with you and not lose his edge as a determined policeman. Even Lieutenant Tragg is quite good at it. I'm afraid I don't have that same knack. And I don't want to stir up trouble, so I don't come around much in social settings."
"You put on a very good act of having the knack," Della said. "Well . . . most of the time."
Andy knew instantly that she was referring to a point in time when Tragg had been nearly killed and Andy had been forced to take on many of his responsibilities. It had been too much for him amid the stress of worrying about his mentor and dear friend, and he had started to crumble under the strain. A lot of things had set him on edge then that had not outwardly bothered him much in the past. He had started to relax again once Tragg had healed and returned to duty.
"I'm sorry," Della said quickly, seeing Andy's uncomfortable expression. "I didn't mean . . ."
"Oh no," Andy broke in. "No, it's alright. It's true that I usually came off fairly easy-going. In the beginning I honestly felt that way."
"And yet you still didn't join us for social gatherings," Della said.
"No, I didn't," Andy nodded. "Keeping the balance between what I felt good about and what I didn't was always an issue that troubled me to some extent, even when I kept it better hidden. Later on it just seemed to mushroom."
"And now?" Della prompted.
"Now . . . well, I guess I've gone back to being troubled, but trying more actively to resolve it."
Della fell silent, mulling over her thoughts. "Andy . . . may I tell you something?" she finally said.
Andy regarded her in surprise. "Yes," he said. "Of course."
"Sometimes I worry about Perry," Della confessed. "I know why he does the things that get you and Mr. Burger and the others upset. I admire his bravery and determination to do whatever it takes to protect his clients. Usually I just go along with it and say nothing. I know that Paul will express enough concern for both of us.
"But there are times when I'm afraid Perry will bite off more than he can chew. I'm afraid he'll be so worried about protecting a client that he'll do something he maybe shouldn't and this time be caught at it. He won't have any way out of it. And I hate to think what will happen to him then."
Andy was quiet now, stunned that Della had confided in him and sobered by the gravity of the matter. "If that ever did happen, Della, I hope you realize that neither I nor Mr. Burger could grant Perry any favors," he said.
"Oh, I realize," Della nodded. "Perry wouldn't want you to, either."
"Isn't there any way you could talk to him, make him understand that he shouldn't do those things?" Andy asked. "It doesn't really help his clients; the only way to do that is by finding the truth—oddly enough, something that Perry himself often says."
"Perry never wants to hide the truth," Della said. "Sometimes he just gets so desperate for a little more time to find it."
"And that could lead to his eventual downfall," Andy said. "I'm as aware of that as you are, Della."
"As for my talking to him, yes, I could. Once or twice I tried. When Perry feels he has to do something, no one can talk him out of it." Della stared at her plate. "He's so stubborn that way."
Andy had been trained to observe people very carefully. The slightest changes in their expressions or tones could be important. He could hear the regretful sadness and worry creeping into Della's voice now.
". . . Maybe something else I've been concerned about is that if Perry ever is caught, and charged, it might irreversibly damage any friendship we try to start," Andy said. "If it feels like there's tension now, I hate to think how much more there would be in that case."
Della bit her lip. ". . . Have you ever lost friends because of your job?"
"Yes," Andy admitted. "People I've had to arrest . . . their families or friends. . . . Some of them can't understand why I won't give them a break. They hear about all the police officers who make deals with the people they know and care about and they can't understand the concept of one who can't be bargained with or bought."
". . . Sometimes that's happened to Perry, too," Della said. "A lot of people get hurt when the truth comes out. Some of them aren't willing to forgive."
"Well," Andy mused, "I guess some things are the same everywhere."
"I guess so," Della nodded.
"It's a pity everyone can't just be honest citizens," Andy said. "Although the paradox of that is that if it were true, both Perry and I wouldn't have much, if any, work. We hate injustice, we fight it every way we can, and yet we'd be out of our jobs if it didn't exist."
"It doesn't seem right," Della said.
"It isn't." Andy sighed.
Della hesitated. "Andy? . . . I can see there are some problems, and some things we'll probably never quite agree on that might cause more problems in some unforeseeable future, but I would still like for us to be better friends."
Andy regarded her in surprise. "You would?"
"Of course." Della smiled at him. "I think a lot of you."
At last Andy smiled at all. "And I you," he admitted. "Alright, it's a deal."
"And you have to have lunch or dinner with us sometimes," Della added, a twinkle in her eye. "Whether or not Lieutenant Tragg or Steve is there."
Andy chuckled. "Fine. I will."
"Then it's settled." Della reached across the table, her hand outstretched. "Friends."
Andy accepted her hand and shook it. "Friends," he agreed.