Nooo, I haven't stopped writing …

I really feel the need to express my deep gratitude to OldEnglishD, who has been beta'ing this, while she's in the middle of writing and editing 'Ties that bind', the last brilliant story we have left of the late Michelle Weiner. A million thanks to you, OED, for your support, and for using your editing skills on this chapter. Have the Tigers rule!

Spoilers for the Case of the Maligned Mobster.

Chapter twenty

The door of the private entrance to Perry Mason's office closed behind them with a soft click.

Paul Drake Jr., Lieutenant Brock, and two officers walked past him as he locked the door and looked at the items that were placed there before the lecture began, in the corner of the small corridor. A bucket, a cloth, and two rubber gloves hanging over its rim; a mop standing against the wall. Had it only been this morning they'd joked and had made fun of each other while cleaning the office toilets? A fit of laughter had hit them both after the great Perry Mason himself had tried to take his suit jacket off wearing rubber gloves. The string of curses that had exited his mouth leaving no doubt whatsoever who he thought was the biggest 'bloody fool' on the 'bloody planet'.

And had it only been just thirty minutes ago she'd hit him? Hit him, because he'd gone way out of line. She knew why, and she also knew she could do nothing to stop him from using her emotions and her weakest spot to make sure she'd leave Denver University before the next part of the lecture.

Because he'd wanted her to.

He brought his hand to his cheek and smiled again. She was safe and sure on her way to the Los Angeles mansion of the Domenico family, in a car with Robert Domenico, who was probably doing his best now to entertain her and make her laugh. And eventually, he would be able to make her laugh. She'd be … fine, just fine.

The hands of the clock in his office showed it was half past six. They had to head back to Denver University at seven to be on time for the next part of the lecture that would take place from seven thirty until nine o' clock. If he was going to last in whatever way until nine o'clock. A sudden shiver went up and down his spine, and he remembered how Frank Halloran of all people used to explain that, metaphorically speaking, when you experience a shiver like that, someone is walking on your grave.

Perry nodded to no one in particular and walked into his office, moaning and swearing silently at the jolts of pain coming from his right knee.

" There's something, Perry … " Paul whispered, patting Perry's shoulder and motioning him away from Lieutenant Brock and the two officers. " I had a word with the technicians before we left, and they want to broadcast the second part of your lecture live on television. At first they wanted to talk to you about it, but I said it would be all right. "

" I'll be damned. " Perry smiled, and nodded slowly. " Live on television. That's even better … "

" D'you want to know who suggested this ? I really have to tell you … " Paul grinned and shook his head.

" Well ? " Perry raised his brows.

" Your friend, professor Rudolph McNama. He's apparently said the lecture was worth being broadcasted live, and he told his friends at the TV station to make arrangements for it to happen, now. They're on the way as we speak."

" His friends at the TV station ? I thought he'd only made friends at certain newspapers. " Perry snorted. " So, he's had his own short lecture from me, and now he decided it's time to give me a chance to perform live. How very thoughtful of him. And very convenient, in case Halloran does show up … "

" Yeah. That's what I thought. " Paul Drake chuckled. " So, it's all right with you? "

" Yes, of course. " Perry nodded again. " Is everything set in the office here as well? "

" Yeah. My guys have been testing their equipment a couple of times. The microphones are perfectly hidden at three locations in your office, and they should be working. Just make sure you speak up a little, and make Johnny speak up too, so we can get it all on tape loud and clear. "

" Thanks, Paul. Oh, and Paul … ? " Perry whispered, as he placed a hand on Paul's shoulder. " Where's Nardone? "

" He was picked up by one of his guys … He said he had to attend a certain uhm… important project. Don't know exactly where. Somewhere just outside Denver. " He blinked.

Perry smiled. " Good. " He coughed to hide the smile as he turned towards Brock, who approached him.

" Well, Mason, we've made sure that Sorrento is downstairs at the reception desk. I told my guys to bring him up, together with your Mr. Malansky. They'll be here any minute now. "

" Thanks, Brock … " Perry held out his hand for Ed Brock to shake it.

" And, we checked him, and he's not armed, Mason. "

" Thanks, Brock. " Perry said again. " Now, you let me talk to him. Alone. But, please … " Perry pointed at the door with his index finger. " … stay around. Outside. Close to Della's desk, so if I press the intercom, you'll hear me. "

" Comin' ? " Paul gestured to Brock and his two officers.

" Don't you want anyone in here with you, Mason ? " Ed Brock was clearly concerned.

" No." Perry shook his head.

" Mason … " Brock sighed " I don't want you to talk to Sorrento on your own. I don't like the idea of having you in here alone with him. "

" No, Ed. No … I … " Perry looked from Paul to the Lieutenant and back. " No. I don't want you here. Just send Sorrento in. "

" All right. " Brock sighed and closed the door behind him.

And Perry Mason was alone.

He took a few moments to breathe deeply, straighten his back, and concentrate on the upcoming confrontation. The fierce, steely stare on his face would seriously frighten anyone who didn't know him. The people who did know him would become even more frightened, and would make sure not to approach him, unless it was really, but really necessary.

" Perry ? "

Perry just turned. The granite stare hit Ken Malansky as it indeed felt as if he had run into a concrete wall.

" Sorry. Sorrento's here. " Ken left in a hurry, leaving Johnny Sorrento alone in the office with Perry.

Only Perry's eyes moved as he watched Johnny Sorrento. The man looked much older than he actually was, his face pale and covered with wrinkles, showing fatigue and sorrow. He'd lost weight since the last time Perry had seen him. What was left of his hair was short and grey. He wore little round glasses, their rims a shining metal that reflected the artificial lights of the office.

A long silence hung between them as if Johnny had not come to talk, as if they'd only agreed to see each other shortly, and would part as if nothing happened.

Johnny was the one who broke the awkward silence. " Perry, thank you for this. " The hoarse tones of Johnny's voice resembled, if anything, sandpaper on old wood.

Perry didn't move a muscle, even when Johnny held out his hand. It dangled in the air for a short moment, before he pulled it back hesitantly and thrust it in the pocket of his trousers. He looked around, apparently indecisive if he should sit down or not.

" I know this is … this might not be not the right time maybe, in between the two parts of your lecture, so thank you for seeing me now. I really need to talk to you. "

" Yes, you do. " Perry walked to the leather chair behind his desk, and sank down on it slowly. " But, Johnny, I probably have to thank you for finally making time to see me. I've been trying to contact you for a week. Longer." He squeezed his lips together. " You made me believe you had reasons for not wanting to talk to me. You have nothing to hide, have you? "

" Like what? "

" Like what? Like black money? " Perry's fingers tapped his desk, then he looked sternly at the man still standing in front of him. " Or like who? Frank Halloran? "

" I don't know where Frank Halloran is … " Johnny's eyes moved to his right quickly. He scratched his neck.

Perry instantly knew he was lying. " Sure. Whatever you say, Johnny. But what about the black money? "

" I have not come here for any of that. "

" Then what are you doing here? "

" Perry, I … I don't know how to say this ... "

Perry struggled to stand up from his chair. " I'll tell you what I think you're doing here … " He straightened his back and directed his gaze at Sorrento. " You're here, Johnny, to waste my time … to make sure I'm looking the other way while somewhere else, something important is happening that I'm not supposed to know about. " Perry moved to press the intercom.

" No, please. I have to tell you something. " The desperate tone made Perry sit down again. " It's about the shooting last year, during the murder case of my wife. "

" Go on. "

" That night, when you were shot in front of my house last year … "

" … yes … "

" It wasn't Frank Halloran who shot you. "

Only the slight narrowing of Perry's eyes betrayed his surprise.

Johnny obviously thought it was safe to sit down now, and rubbed his hands together as he sank down at the client's chair in front of Perry's desk. " It wasn't Frank … "

" I find that hard to believe, Johnny. "

" Oh, you do, do you? You find that hard to believe? " Johnny's eyes suddenly burned into Perry's as he leaned forward onto the desk with both hands. " What d'you think Perry, if Frank Halloran had pulled the trigger himself, d'you think he'd have just hit you in your shoulder? He would have killed you right there and then, and you know it. "

" I don't know that. I don't want to know that at all. And I never thought of it that way. " Perry said pensively. " So, if it wasn't Frank, then who was it? "

" It was Jeffrey. " It came out as a soft sigh.

" Jeffrey? Your son? It was your son who shot me? "

" Yeah. Frank asked Jeffrey to do it. No, he told Jeffrey to do it. "

" Why? " Perry asked in a deep and low voice.

" When Frank asked you to take my case, he thought he could manipulate you and the evidence enough to make you lose. But when he found out he couldn't, when he found out you were close to winning, and when you were too close to the truth, he decided you had to die. "

" And then I didn't. "

" And then you didn't. You took the bullet and you survived. "

" So he wanted to have you in jail, he wanted you on death row, and he wanted me to lose a big case. "

" Yeah, he wanted to ruin your reputation that way, and lock me away for good. "

" Two birds, one stone hmmm ? "

" Something like that, yes. And the reason why he … "

" That would be my next question, yes, why would he want you to be locked up forever? Money? "

" No. That's the ironic part here, I suppose … You see, Perry, you and I have a few things in common. " Johnny stood up and walked through the office, brushing the carpet with his foot before standing still in front of the desk again. " You and I, we both like to walk on the edges, we like money, we like to have power, we like women. "

Perry Mason snorted loudly, and it obviously annoyed Johnny, because he hit the desk hard with his fist. " What, Mason? You're not a saint. "

" I never said I was a saint. " Perry grunted. " I'm a very good lawyer, and I do whatever I can to get my clients acquitted. So yes, I walk the edges sometimes. But we're not alike, Johnny. I resent that. "

" Yes, that's exactly it. That's exactly it. You're good, you're a winner. That's what people think, you see, it's this, this … aura you have .. "

" Aura, Johnny? " Perry leaned forward, frowning, articulating Johny's word again. " Aura? "

" Yes. People think you're great, you're the best, you're brilliant, you're intelligent. That's what agitates Frank immensely. "

" I don't understand what you mean. "

Johnny threw his hands up, and raised his voice as he sat down again. " Everybody thinks you win all your cases, and nobody talks about the ones you lost. Everybody swoons about the love you share with your devoted and beautiful secretary, but nobody talks about the times you cheated on her, or how you managed to spend eight years … eight years apart … " Johnny underlined the last words, hitting the desk with his left hand. " You, Perry Mason, are a product of public opinion, and you use that. "

" Yes. That might be so, but I don't see your point. I'm good. I am succesful, I do win most of my cases, and the love I share is genuine. " Perry Mason set his jaws.

Johnny Sorrento nodded frantically. " Sure. You're good. Genuine. You're a very intelligent man, and that is what people see and that's what they talk about. They don't see your flaws, or they just chose not to see them. You're a saint for all they care. " He inhaled deeply. " But for one, Perry, you've been messing around with other women while your …. your … "Johnny searched for the right word but couldn't find it right away " … wife, your Della Street, was looking the other way. "

Perry Mason was silent, frowning his brows.

" Well, deny it, Perry. " Johnny stood up so briskly that his chair wavered, as he leaned onto Perry's desk again. " Deny it. Say that you've never been in bed with another woman while Della Street was waiting for you, thinking that you were hers. " He paused for a few moments. " Deny it if you can … "

" I can't deny it. " Perry inhaled deeply, looked to his left side and then up to Johnny again. " You know I can't. "

Johnny snorted. " Can't you see it, Perry? Can't you see what I mean? You're as human as anyone else, I'd say you're a pathetic bastard at times, the only thing that makes things different between you and your clients is the side of the table you're on. I know all about that, remember? And Frank thinks … I can't even describe it properly. "

" Try me. "

" He says you two, you and Frank, have the same origins. You grew up together, studied law together, have the same ways, and yet you are the succesful great lawyer, master of the courtroom, and he's, he's … nothing. Nothing compared to you. "

Perry shrugged. " We made different choices, so we had different lives. "

But Johnny didn't hear him, as he spat the words out, wildly gesturing with his arms. " He hates your magnanimous attitude, and the way you use your image to get what you want and more. He hates the way you deal with charity, the way you colour your own image, and allow people to worship you. "

" Worship me? " Perry looked at Johnny incredulously.

" And he hates the way you take advantage of your beatiful steadfast and loyal secretary … Why do you do it like that, Mr. Mason? Why? "

" Are you asking me why I live my life the way I do? "

" Yes. "

" I believe that I should share my succes with other people, and use it in a way so that more people than just me benefit from it. Win-win. "

" Win-win … "

" Yes, win-win. Is that so bad? "

" Have you ever questioned your own motives? Have you ever thought about what you're doing exactly and why ? Isn't it all to the great pride and glory of the great Perry Mason ? "

" What are you saying, Johnny? That I'm an egotist? A narcissist ? "

" Yes, you are. That's exactly what I'm saying."

" I see. And is that what Frank believes ? "

" It's not just what Frank believes, Perry. It's what makes him tick in a very dangerous way, it's what made him tick from the moment he asked you to take my case to right at this very moment. "

" Really? " Perry raised his brows. " And you still don't know where he is, Johnny? "

" He's close. "

" I bet he is. " Perry grunted.

" He's close to having it the way he wants, with both you and me. "

" I have never been more scared. " Perry said very low.

" Well, I think you should be. "

" So, let's go back to the first question. Why are you here, Johnny ? Except to tell me your son isn't the best marksman in town. " Involuntarily, Perry felt the little lump on his shoulder, the silent evidence of his mortality.

" I need your help. I don't have anyone else to turn to. " Johnny sank down on his chair.

" Need my help with what!? " Perry gradually lost his patience. " Talk to me, Johnny, damn it! I can't help you unless you talk to me. "

" Jeffrey's … My son's … "

" What about Jeffrey ? "

" He's on drugs. "

" Yes, I know. I saw him about a week ago. It's bad, isn't it? He was shaking all over, his eyes were red. He was hysterical. What is it? Cocaine? "

" Yes. He's slowly killing himself and I can do nothing to stop him." Johnny swallowed and blew out a breath. " Frank provides him with his daily shots. And in return, Jeffrey does whatever Frank wants him to do. "

Finally, something started to make sense. Perry nodded. " And? "

" To buy the drugs, Frank uses the money he took out of the cellar of your house before he gave it to you. "

" So, indirectly, you are sponsoring your son's addiction. " Perry nodded slowly. " What's your son doing for Frank in return for his daily shots? "

" Uhm … " Johnny Sorrento bit his lower lip, just stared at his hands and blew out a long breath.

Mason's large hands hit his desk. " Damn it, Johnny, I don't have time for this! What is it? "

" He does things. "

" Things? Things? " Perry slowly rose from his chair, breathing heavily with anger as he leaned onto his desk with both hands. " Isn't it true, Johnny Sorrento, that your son Jeffrey found a tailor in New York to make dresses in certain communicating colours? Isn't it true that your son arranged to send them to Della Street from a PO Box in New York? Isn't it true, that your son found a way to smuggle money into prison to pay a fellow prisoner of Frank Halloran's to help him? Isn't it true that your son made arrangements for Frank to make it easy for him to escape from prison? And isn't it true, that your son, Jeffrey Sorrento, set up interviews with professor McNama about the so called communicating colours, so that Della Street would be tied to the maffia and would be portrayed as a naive maffia sweetheart, by that louses of the press ? " Perry paused, walking around the desk to stand next to Johnny. " Isn't that all true? "

" Yes, that's true, Perry. " Johnny said, flatly.

" Speak up, Sorrento! " Perry's voice boomed as if he was in a court room.

Johnny's hands hit the desk and he yelled. " Yes! Jeffrey did all that, damn it! And I knew about it! "

" And what else do you know, Sorrento? "

" Frank has this fella that works for him as well… a police officer, corrupt as hell, I don't know his name … "

" Malloy? " Perry asked as he sat down again.

" Yes, Malloy, that's his name. " Johnny looked at Perry, surprise written all over his features. " Hey, wait a minute, how do you know that? "

Perry answered in his deep voice, slowly, as he leaned on the desk on his elbows, rubbing and squeezing his hands together. " It's my magnanimous attitude, Johnny … I see things other people don't see and I take advantage of that, you know, to the great pride and glory of Perry Mason. "

Johnny shook his head. " Your irony will get you far, but it won't get you out of this mess, Mason. "

" We'll see about that. There are still a few things I don't understand. " He glanced at the man in front of him. " You see, I'm not as intelligent as people think I am. "

Johnny snorted.

" How did Frank come up with these 'communicating colours' ? Did he know about it? Was it used in the Sorrento-family? "

" Jeffrey thought of it. "

Perry looked at him, incredulously. " I'm talking about the colours of the dresses that were sent to Della Street, Johnny. The communicating colours, remember? Jeffrey came up with that idea? "

" Yes. "

" I find that even harder to believe. "

" It's not, Perry. When you think of it, it's actually very logical … "

" Why ? "

Johnny leaned forward, the rims of his glasses reflecting the lights of the lamp behind Perry. " Because his mother, my wife Maria Juliana Sorrento, was killed wearing a red dress … That was how he got the idea. " Johnny looked the other way, to his left side this time, and swallowed hard. " You do know Jeffrey was the first one to see her after she was killed. He was the one to identify her. The image of his dead mother probably never left his brain. "

" I'm sorry … " Perry said, truthfully, while he shook his head. " So, let me get this straight, Johnny. Jeffrey works for Frank Halloran. Halloran provides Jeffrey with his daily shots of cocaine, with the money out of that cellar, and you claim that money is yours. "

" I don't just claim that the money in that cellar is mine, Perry. It is mine. " Johnny said it too softly.

" What did you say? I'm a little deaf on one side … Must be my age … Could you say that again? "

Johnny Sorrento raised his voice. " Yes, it is my money in that God damn cellar … " He sighed. " Ninety million dollars … "

" Ninety million dollars … ? " Perry shook his head. " The press says it's nine hundred million, and I heard someone else say it's eight hundred and fifty. Don't you know how much it is ? "

" No, Frank used to administer it, I always assumed he was taking good care of it, for his own pension, and mine. Now that he has been taking money out to get drugs for Jeffrey, who knows what else he did with it? Who knows what he did with the money before you accepted the house as a token of regret from him. And frankly … " Johnny laughed at this word " … frankly, I don't care anymore. "

" You don't care if it's nine hundred million, or ninety million? "

" No. " Johnny Sorrento said it softly. " I can't be bothered anymore. "

" That's good to know. " Mason whispered.

" What's that? "

" Nothing important. I was just wondering how it's possible that you don't know how much it is. "

" What? If it's that important to you, go count it yourself, Mason, it's your house now. It's your God damn cellar. "

" For all I know, there's no money there at all, Johnny. I didn't see it when I was there. "

" Ha! Yeah, that's right. You were too busy doing other things, weren't you ? " Johnny leaned back and shook his head, laughing devilishly. " Sex on a terrace. At your age. Unbelievable … I hope I'll be as lascivious and … uhm capable like that when I'm your age. You two are quite something, Mason. "

" Well … " Perry started to rise, but stopped halfway in his movement. His breath caught in his throat.

Suddenly, the clock on the wall of the office stopped ticking. There was no sound at all.

How the Hell …

He narrowed his eyes as he slowly recalled Jeffrey Sorrento's words, from one week ago.

" Oh yes, there is a cellar, and there is a big safe in that cellar. But you were too … busy to even explore the house. "

How the Hell …

Perry sank down on his chair again. " How do you know that, Johnny? "

" How do I know what? "

" What I did on that terrace that is so very special at my age? " Perry's eyes pierced Sorrento's.

Johnny looked at his right side, shifting in his chair uncomfortably. " Well, I … eh assumed that uhm … knowing you and your … "

Perry shook his head, frantically. " No, no, no. You're not assuming. You know, Johnny. I can see that you know. " He paused. " Now, the million dollar question is, how do you know? Were you there? "

" No. " Johnny sighed. " I hate to bring it to you, Perry, but here are pictures of you and Della Street having sex on the terrace. And inside the house. In the bedroom. In the kitchen. " He grinned. " As I said, you are quite something, you two. "

" Someone took pictures of us ? "

" Yeah. "

" For what purpose ? "

" Just in case you were going to deny that you'd ever been in the house. To make sure we could prove that you'd been there. "

" 'We' ? Royal plural, Johnny? Who is 'we'? You and Frank? Are you still claiming that you're not in contact? That you don't know where he is ? "

" Ah, damn you, Mason …"

" Don't worry, Johnny. I knew you were lying to me the second you answered my question about Frank's whereabouts. I can read you like a book, and that is the exact reason why I took your defense last year. You're so very transparant, I could see you were innocent the first time I looked into your eyes. " Perry's stare steeled. " You don't lie very well, do you? Isn't that the reason why the late Mrs. Sorrento knew you were cheating on her? "

" Leave Maria out of this! "

" I'm sorry. "

" You're not. "

" No, you're right. I'm not. " Perry raised his voice. " So, let's get back to the first basic question. Why are you here, Johnny? "

" I need you to get Jeffrey out of this mess. "

" What do you mean ? "

" I need you to prove that it was Frank Halloran who set this all up, and that Jeffrey had nothing to do with this. I want to make sure Frank doesn't take Jeffrey with him in his fall. "

" How can I possibly have Frank take all the blame ? "

" Ah. You'll think of a way. You always do, don't you ? I'll make sure you'll be rewarded properly … " The hoarse tones of Johnny's voice suddenly annoyed Perry immensely.

" What makes you think I'd do that? "

" Because, as I said, you and I are alike. We like money, power … I'm sure I can provide you with something you want in exchange … "

" To have your son safe? While I know he's shot me? While I know he did what he did? To me, to Della Street? "

" He's on drugs Perry, he doesn't know why he's doing what he's doing. "

" Johnny … "

" I'll compensate you. I will. There must be something I can do for you. "

" My God, Johnny. You still think the world's for sale, don't you? " Perry shook his head, set his jaws and pursed his lips. He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms in front of his massive chest.

Johnny stood up. " We're more alike then you'd ever want to admit. Think about that on your way back to the university. And please, think about my proposal. "

Perry grunted, and pressed the intercom. " Come in here and take him away from me before I do something I might regret. "

The door burst open as Lieutenant Brock fell into the office with his two officers. " Mr. Sorrento, you're under arrest. "

" What the Hell's this!? " Johnny yelled at the Lieutenant.

" Everything you just said was recorded, Mr. Sorrento. You're an accomplice to a crime. You'll be charged with possession of black money, taking part in a criminal organisation, and attempted blackmail among other things. "

" Wait a minute, you can't use what I've just been saying in this office, I didn't give permission to record it. You can't use that … "

The nasal tones of Lieutenant Brock's voice sounded peaceful and quiet, while the irony dripped from his words. " So, we'll just take you to the station and use the knowledge we have of you now to be able to interrogate you very thoroughly, Mr. Sorrento … Officer? "

" Yes, sir? "

" Read Mr. Sorrento his rights, please. "

As the officer started to speak, Johnny Sorrento turned towards Perry Mason, breathing heavily, while he spat words out. " Damn you, Perry Mason. You really can't be trusted, can you ? "

" Well, Johnny, let's say we're alike in more ways than one. You just told me so yourself, did you not? "

####

" Are you okay, Perry? " Paul Drake asked him, while steering the car through the heavy Denver traffic.

" Yes. " He answered from the back seat, feeling all right, but having trouble breathing normally. As he inhaled it felt shallow, as if he couldn't use his lungs fully. As if there wasn't enough oxygen. Maybe it was the tension that was building up now again. He knew the unconscious mind worked in mysterious ways, and he decided to let it be for a while.

Am I like Johnny Sorrento ? The question hammered through his mind. He pushed it away, to another more convenient time, another place. To a moment when he could contemplate about this in an easy way and refute it. There were more important matters to deal with now. " So, is it all on tape, Paul ? Did you get it ? "

" Yeah … loud and clear … " He chuckled. " You're brilliant at times you know that? What did you say? 'I'm a little deaf on one side … Must be my age …' "

" I'm always brilliant, Paul. "

" Whatever you say, Perry … "

His mother, my wife Maria Juliana Sorrento was killed wearing a red dress. That was how he got the idea.

Poor Jeffrey.

" Heard anything from Della yet ? " Perry asked.

Paul Drake snorted. " Yeah … now that you mention it ... "

" What ? "

" Robert Domenico contacted Ken just now. Della didn't particularly like it that Robert was taking her to the Domenico mansion, and uhm …"

" What, Paul ? "

Paul chuckled out loud, " Ken said they didn't even make it out of town … "

" Oh, God… " Perry said, in a low voice. " So, where are they ? "

" First, she insisted that they go to your house and wait there for you … "

Perry heaved a desperate sigh. " Oh, God … Della Street … " There were some characteristics she did have in common with the young Melanie Benson, but he'd never say that out loud to her. He knew that if he would, she'd display all the other character traits she had in common with Melanie Benson as well.

" And finally, they agreed on Havenhurst … "

" Hotel Havenhurst … " Perry moaned and grabbed his forehead.

" Yes, Havenhurst. So now they're in the suite you have there, your spare office … "

" Damn … "

" It's not that bad, Perry. "

" Yes, it is, Paul. It means she can see the next part of the lecture on television, right ? "

" Oh, yeah. " Paul said. " But I can still tell the technicians you haven't given permission to broadcast it live. I'm just not very sure they will listen to me. A few stations have already announced that they're changing their schedule for tonight. "

" Damn … baby … "

" Perry, she'll be at a safe distance. "

" Have her protected, Paul. "

" I already did that. Whose kid am I, Perry ? "

" Not mine … "

" Yeah. I love you too. " He looked at his spare father through the rear view mirror. " Worried ? "

" Yes, of course. " It came out more gruff than he'd intended. His mind worked overtime, trying to tie the loose ends together, a process he recognized of when the end of a trial was near. Something still wasn't right, and though a lot was finally starting to make sense, there were still too many loose ends. Those pictures for example.

There are pictures of you and Della Street having sex.

Perry shook his head, looking out of the car window but seeing nothing. Leaning his elbow against the car door, he held his hand over his mouth. He could think of many reasons why someone would want to have photographs of Della Street, either dressed in one of her spectacular outfits or naked, which was even more spectacular of course. He'd want to have some of them himself, for the same reasons he'd just thought of. But why would anyone, ever, want to see him naked, making love, losing control ?

To just have evidence of their presence in the house, a photograph of them arriving or leaving there would have been enough.

No, it couldn't be just to have evidence of their presence in the house. That was too simple.

" It's just too damn simple. " He said it out loud.

" What's that, Perry? What did you say? " Paul asked.

" Nothing. " Perry answered, absent mindedly.

And how were they connected? How was it that Johnny Sorrento was blackmailed by Frank Halloran? What was it about? About his son? But then why and how did Johnny know about the pictures ? He'd obviously seen them, but when ? Why ?

And what did Frank want exactly ?

" Paul ? " Perry Mason sighed, as he sought for Paul's eyes in the rear-view mirror. " Whatever happens in that lecture hall with Frank, only take him out when he's completely confessed everything that needs to be clarified. Don't kill him, just take him out. And do it when I say you have to. "

" Yes, Perry. We've gone over that a couple of times. I know what it is you want me to do. "

" Will you know? "

" Will I know what? "

" Will you know when I want you to take him out? "

" Yeah, sure. Whose kid am I ? " Paul looked back at him through the mirror.

The silence that was rising between them left room for more than enough thoughts and strong emotions, about Paul Drake Sr., love, grief. But Perry didn't have time for them now. He pushed the thoughts and emotions away as the car approached the side entrance of the University. Journalists, photographers and television crews were blocking the entrance, as police officers were clearly having trouble maintaining the situation.

In the middle of the turmoil, Paul Drake grabbed Perry's upper arm, as he climbed out of the car and took his cane. " Perry? "

" Paul? " His voice was impossibly low.

" Whatever you do, survive this … "

" You can help me with that, Paul. " Perry's voice was very soft.

" Yeah … " Paul's voice was equally soft. He swallowed visibly.

" Whose kid are you, Drake ? "

Paul Drake smiled a familiar smile that faded away very slowly during the short walk towards the lecture hall.

" Mason? " Lieutenant Brock hurried after them.

" Yes, Brock? "

" I thought you'd want to know that Halloran's inside the building, sir. My men just saw him walking in here. He used the other entrance, and they let him walk through. "

" Good. So, he's here. " Perry said sternly.

" My guys say he's armed, Mason. "

" Good. " Perry repeated. " Let's get started. "

While the students were gathering in the lecture hall, Perry glanced upward to see Judy Katz had taken the seat of Della Street, next to the double doors on the right side of the stairs. David Katz stood next to her and kissed her hair, before walking down the stairs, back to his own seat. Perry looked from David to Judy again. She was wearing the red jacket. The green jacket was draped over the chair next to her.

Perry swallowed and waited until most of his audience had found their places.

He raised his voice to obtain the silence he needed to start the next part of the lecture. " Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming back here. I hope you all had a very nice luxurious dinner … "

He smiled gently at the students, carefully eyeing each and every one of them, quickly, efficiently, to observe where every student was seated this time. The student who had been asking about defending a guilty client had not returned. What did that mean?

" … and I hope you did your best to help me raise money for the new orphanage at the Domenico's estate … And I hope you had a nice time, speaking to Mr. Nardone. Due to other obligations, he couldn't make it to this part of the lecture, but before he left, he told me, very specifically, that he'd had a very good time entertaining you. Which was exactly what I'd told him to do. "

Laughter oozed through the lecture hall.

" I'll continue now with the second part of the lecture, in which we'll be replaying a trial, maybe two, while using the knowledge of the first part of this lecture. Now, before I'm going to tell you which trial we'll replay, I want to have a few volunteers who are willing to play the roles of the defendant, the D.A., the attorney for the defense and, I need witnesses. And, if you don't mind, I'll be happy to play the part of the judge … "

" That won't be necessary … " A raw, loud voice interrupted the murmuring that started waving through the hall.

Unmistakably, it was Frank Halloran, moving in his characteristic way, slowly making his way down the stairs on the left side of the lecture hall. A short wave of surprise and shock went through the audience, when the tall, thin man with the bloodshot eyes finally stood still next to the stage on which Perry was standing still too.

Gasps were heard when Frank Halloran reached into his jacket and pulled out a small hand gun.

Perry glanced at the weapon, and felt a small tremor going through his chest. He tried to breathe calmly, but he couldn't.

Yet this had been the plan.

This had been the plan all along from the moment he'd looked into the eyes of his muse in that monastery one week ago, and had decided he was going to be in charge again. Had decided to take a week to plan how to do that exactly. Had decided to do it by performing a lecture, in which he would lie, and state false facts to make sure Frank had to react in the exact way he was doing now.

But now that he was here and now that everything fell into place, Perry Mason felt like a director without a script. Now that it was happening, he couldn't keep up, and felt utterly lost.

In the corner of his eye, Perry saw Jack Barnett, seated on the front row, attempting to stand up. D.A. Michael Reston moved to stand up as well, but sat down immediately at Perry's short, but decisive head shake, as he mouthed 'sit down' to Michael and Jack.

Perry made quick eye contact with Paul Drake, and blinked at him, passing a message he had passed on already in the car on the way here.

Only take him out when he's completely confessed everything that needs to be clarified.

" Per - ry Ma - son. " Frank stretched the syllables. He stepped on the stage, his colourless face devoid of anything that resembled the old friendship they'd once shared.

" Frank. " Perry said softly.

" Perry, I wouldn't mind at all if you properly introduced me to these … people. " Frank gestured to the students with his left arm, while he held the hand gun in his right hand. " And, since we're all live on television, I'd say you'd have to do it nicely. Loud and clear. "

" Ladies and gentlemen. This is Frank Halloran. "

" I said, introduce me properly, Perry. "

" Meaning ? "

" Meaning that you have to introduce me to your audience as your first client, Perry. "

" Frank Halloran was my first client. " Perry said it in a flat voice, without looking at his audience. He watched Frank from aside, showing no emotion at all, while a storm was raging underneath his skin.

" And … " Frank encouraged Perry to say more.

" And what ? "

" 'I lost his case.' " Frank gestured at the audience with his hand gun. " Tell them. "

" And I lost his case … " Perry repeated Frank's words, using the same flat voice, still not looking at his audience.

Frank adressed the students, and the guests who were seated at the front row. " I don't know why you all believe he's never lost a case. He has. He's actually lost several. And that means … Miss … pay attention … " He walked to Sarah Travis Wingate, who stared at him and grabbed the hands of her husband Billy. " … that means, the great Perry Mason lied to you. To you all. "

" He probably did that for a reason, Mr. Halloran. " One of the students yelled.

Frank quickly sought the audience for the student who had said this, but didn't find him. " Oh, I wouldn't bother defending Perry Mason if I were you … He can do that himself very well. He's an advocate … a very good one, an impressive one … well, that's what he made you believe … "

" I'm here now, to add some nuances to this picture he painted here for you. I'll add some … how shall I put it ... some different colours … confusing maybe … " He snorted, laughing sarcastically at his own joke. " Ladies and gentlemen, I'll give you all a lecture now … on the real Perry Mason. " In a gesture Paul Drake Jr. would later recall as overly dramatic, Frank Halloran lifted his right arm, and placed the hand gun against the big man's head, next to one of the dark, heavily furrowed brows.

Frank continued. " And while I do exactly that, Perry Mason will do nothing but listen to me. He will shut up now, before he will shut up forever. "

A rumble went through the lecture hall and became louder with every second.

" And you will shut up too! " Frank yelled at the audience. The silence immediately returned.

Paul Drake glanced up at Ken Malansky, who had left his place next to the double doors on top of the stairs. He slowly descended, never losing eye contact with Perry.

This was not good. Not at all.

As Perry Mason felt the sharp cool edges of the barrel against his temple, he closed his eyes, and his first thoughts were of Della Street.

My blue rose.

And his second thoughts were of Della Street.

Fine, just fine.

No ice.

Eternity.

She wasn't here. He'd sent her away, because he hadn't wanted her to see this, not in this way, he hadn't wanted her to see the despair and the fear in his eyes because this was real danger. He'd wanted her to be in a car with Robert Domenico now, heading towards an orphanage to talk about the welfare of young and innocent children.

But she was in a hotel, Havenhurst of all places, in their private suite, and of course she was watching television, because the lecture was broadcasting live, and she was who she was and she had probably already found out about that. And she couldn't be stopped, stubborn in the way he knew so profoundly, because it was his own way as well.

It was because she was Della Street and he could have known she wouldn't leave town without him. But thank God she wasn't here in the hall with him, and thank God she wasn't in the same danger as he was in.

Thank God she wasn't.

But he could hear her scream for him from the other side of town.