The Case of the Burning Body-Chapter 1

Temple, Texas September 1958:

Randall White sat in his study, oblivious to all the party preparations going on
inside the house and on the grounds of the farm. His morning coffee sat
untouched on a tray along with a plate of eggs and bacon which had also lost
their appeal. His attention instead was focused on the editorial section of the
Temple Daily Telegram, specifically a letter to the editor.

Dear Sir:

I write this letter with the on-going hope that justice may finally be served
and a blight on our good community's name forever washed away. In June of 1937,
my father, a poor tenant farmer named Samuel George Carter, was wrongfully
accused of the murder of Lucas Rabroker, a prominent local landowner from whom
he rented his farmland. Although you are new to town, I know many who will
remember the case well. Witnesses claimed my father and Mr. Rabroker had a
terrible disagreement which resulted in Mr. Rabroker telling my father to pack
up and clear off his land. Later that evening, Mr. Rabroker, his wife Cleta, and
their daughter, Lauralynn were all murdered in the family home. The only
survivor, Rabroker's 5 year old son, Adam, claimed to see my father running from
the scene of the crime as he hid behind some long drapes and a piano in the
front parlor room. Based upon the child's story, my father was hunted down,
beaten, dragged through the streets of Temple while tied to the back of a
pick-up, and then lynched in the town square where his body was set afire.

While nothing can bring my father back, I write this letter today to urge the
entire State of Texas, including those in our negro communities who are sick and
tired of the injustices put upon them simply because of the color of their skin,
to stand up as one and protest the temporary appointment of Randall White to
the position of Attorney General which is being vacated by the early retirement
of Averitt Ames. How can we expect Mr. White to fairly represent us? How can we
expect him to fight for our interests? How can we expect him to uphold the
letter of the law when he has supported vigilante justice in the past? That's
right… Randall White led one of the lynch mobs who hunted down my father.
Randall White helped strip his clothes and tie him to the back of the truck that
paraded him up and down the city streets. Randall White stood by while my mother
screamed and begged for mercy for my father…while I stood by as a child and wept
as he was strung up by a rope and set afire while hanging from that tree.
Shouldn't someone as important as the Attorney General be capable of upholding
something as simple as "innocent until proven guilty?" He denied my father a
fair trial by his peers and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to
trample the rights of citizens after he takes office. I urge you all to write
the governor and ask his reconsideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Samuel George Carter Jr.

"Damn it to hell!" Randall shouted, angrily tossing the newspaper across the
table. He grabbed for his coffee cup with such force that liquid spilled over
the sides and splattered all over hit shirt. "Raylynn! Where are you?" he
shouted while trying to wipe up the spilled coffee and clean his shirt with a
linen napkin placed on the tray.

"Just a moment, darling!" he heard her call back from somewhere in the house.

"Well hurry up, will ya? And bring some more napkins!" he yelled back. He
continued to blot his shirt, but his efforts were futile. There was no saving it
nor his tie or trousers. He would have to change everything before heading into
town and then down to the airport in Austin.

"Good grief Randall! Napkins? That's what we have servants for! What's all the
hullabaloo about anyway?" she said, entering the room with an aggravated
expression and carrying a handful of similar linen napkins. "Oh dear…" she
commented upon further inspection and quickly moved to help him in his clean up
efforts.

Raylynn had been married to Randall for ten years and was also ten years his
junior. Tall, tan, and thin with coifed ash blonde hair and crystal blue eyes,
she glided rather than walked into the dining room to help him, every bit of her
country club raising and charm school lessons evident as she did so. She wore a
pale blue skirt, sleeveless white blouse, pearl necklace, pearl earrings, and
pale blue high heeled pumps. She was, in every way, the stereotypical Texas
belle. A college graduate who'd made no secret of her intent to get her M.R.S.,
she'd met Randall through a friend of a friend and, after a whirlwind romance,
they'd married and set up house on a large farm next to the family homestead he
held in trust for Adam Rabroker. After Adam's family had been murdered and with
no one else to care for him, Randall had petitioned the court and been granted
custody of the young boy whom he raised alone. No one thought oddly of this…a
twenty year old college student taking on the responsibility for raising a
child. After all, Randall was engaged to Adam's older sister, Lauralynn, at the
time of the murders and naturally felt a duty to him. Neither could stand to
live in the main house, the location of the murders, so after Randall completed
college, he bought the farm adjacent to the Rabroker homestead and they lived
there instead. Adam was already sixteen years old by the time Raylynn entered
the picture.

Raylynn dabbed up spilled coffee from the tray while Randall continued to curse
under his breath. Her eyes stole a glance at the discarded newspaper. "I see you
read the editorial section," she said carefully.

"I most certainly did!" he shouted. "What in the hell does he want from me? My
hide? I've apologized to him and his mother. I've told them I was wrong to tell
the others what Adam saw that night…that I was caught up in the heat of the
moment…that I was crazy with grief, but I did not put my hands on Sam Sr. I did
not do any of those things that boy just accused me of. My God… I bought them a
house. I paid for Sam Jr.'s education. Why can't they just bury the hatchet and
move on?" Randall began loosening his tie.

"Apparently, the only place he wants to bury the hatchet, my dear, is in your
back. Adam and I have already taken a dozen phone calls this morning from
various reporters around the state, all wanting a response from you. Sam Jr.
sent a copy of that letter to every major newspaper in the state. What I can't
understand is why the Telegram ran it without contacting you first." She piled
the soiled napkins on the tray, then reached out to take his discarded tie.

"I'll tell you why," he stated vehemently. "It's that damn Yankee editor. He
doesn't like me and doesn't understand how we do things down here. I oughtta go
over there and hair lip him…see how he likes that."

"The only thing you're going to do," Raylynn said as she dropped the tie on the
tray with the napkins and stepped closer to him, "is go upstairs, change your
clothes, and head to the office to check on payroll. It's Friday and we got a
lot of people down there counting on their paychecks being on time. Then, you'll
head down to Austin." She patted his arm and kissed his cheek. "Please darling,
just go upstairs and get changed. By the time you get back from Austin, Adam
will have already done quite a bit of damage control. Why he's on his way over
to Sam Jr.'s right not to talk about this letter."

Randall flashed a wild look at her. "Adam's going over to talk to Sam Jr.? What
the hell good is that gonna do? The damage has already been done."

"You know yourself why? Do I have to remind you Sam Jr.'s momma worked as a
house maid for the Rabrokers and that she brought him with her to work every
day? Why, you know as well as I do, Sam Jr. and Adam grew up playing together.
You used to take both those boys fishing."

"That's what makes it worse, Raylynn. I did care for Sam Jr. He was a good boy.
You think I'm proud of what happened to his father…proud that my crazy rantings
about what Adam said he witnessed got out to the public and that I allowed
myself to get worked into this grief stricken frenzy and stand by while he was
killed? Even if he was guilty. Damn it…the proof was right there in the ashes,
Raylynn. He was guilty. He killed Lauralynn…." Randall's voice trailed off.
Raylynn's tanned face lost its color and she stared at the floor as he looked
away from her. She loved him more than her own life and felt he did love her in
his own way. She knew he kept a picture of him and Lauralynn in his dresser
drawer. She'd caught him staring at it on more than one occasion, but had never
confronted him on it.

"Don't forget," she stated quietly as she moved to the table, picked up the
tray, and headed out of the room. "Make sure the payroll is taken care of before
you leave for Austin."

"Perry and Della are scheduled to land at 2 P.M. We should be back in plenty of
time for them to rest and change for the dinner party. Are their rooms ready?"
he asked absentmindedly. He had that far off look in his eyes that told Raylynn
he was headed to a place far back in time, hidden away in his own mind.

"Yes…everything's ready," Raylynn replied, turning to look at him one last time
before exiting the room, but he didn't hear her. As she bumped the door with her
bottom to push it closed, she let out a long sigh and her eyes filled with
tears. She'd spent her entire married life competing with the ghost of another
woman and sometimes the strain was simply too much to bare. Slowly, she walked
down the hallway towards the kitchen. She passed their butler, Kipsey, who said,
"You shouldn't be doing that, Ms. Raylynn. I'll take it."

Handing the tray off to Kipsey, Raylynn smiled a silent thank you. She wiped
away her tears as he turned away and then she called after him, "Oh Kipsey?"

"Yes m'am, Ms. Raylynn?"

"Have Mr. White's car brought around to the front. He'll be heading into town
soon."

"Yes m'am," Kipsey replied, turning down the hallway towards the kitchen.

Raylynn followed after him, continuing through the kitchen and out a set of
French doors which opened onto a patio and large garden. As she resumed her
duties of overseeing the setup for the following evening's dinner party and
outside dance, she made a mental note to have Adam call the office when he
returned and confirm the payroll had been completed on time.

****************************************************

"What in the Sam Hill hell were you thinking sending that letter, Sam?"

Twenty-six year old Adam Rabroker paced back and forth across the kitchen of his
childhood friend, a cigarette carelessly dangling between his fingers. He took a
long drag and then flitted the ashes towards an ashtray, but did so with such
force the hot ashes bounced back up and hit his fingers. He was so angry he
didn't even feel the burn.

"Randall has no business being Attorney General. It's just like my letter said.
How can we have an Attorney General who can't even hold up the letter of the law
himself? This isn't a new opinion of mine, Adam. You've known I hated him for
years over what he did to my father. Why the sudden anger and surprise?" Samuel
Carter Jr. sat at his kitchen table and watched as his childhood friend fought
an internal struggle between his loyalty to him, his loyalty to the man who'd
been like a father to him, and his guilt over his own role in the lynching death
of Samuel's father.

"You've had years to write a letter to the papers. You could've sent it when
Randall was running for City Council or even when he ran for District Attorney,
but no…you waited until now…and all those false accusations…he could sue you for
slander… all you've done is stir up a whole lot of things people want to
forget…it'll probably make the national circuit and…."

"I don't want to forget it! My mother and I saw him help tie my father to that
truck!" Sam Jr. shouted at him. He stood and rounded the table to square off
with Adam. "I wasn't old enough for anyone to listen to me when Randall ran for
those other offices. I'm old enough now…"

"And what the hell about me!?" Adam shouted back at him. "We're friends! Did you
ever think about what this has done to me? What I'm gonna go through when
out-of- state reporters start nosing around, asking questions, and, believe me,
they will descend on this place like a starved man on a Christmas ham! What
about me, Sam? Isn't it partially my fault? I can't help what I saw that night
and it was your father running away from the house!"

"But you didn't actually see my father kill anyone, did you?" asked Sam Jr. as
if the wind had been knocked out of him. Adam shook his head `no.'

"You were hiding behind the drapes near the piano. You didn't see my father
actually in the house." Adam felt a wave of nausea overtake him. It happened
whenever memories of his parents' and sister's murders flooded his mind and he
sat down abruptly at the kitchen table. "I hid because Lauralynn pulled me out
of bed and screamed for me to run away just before she went to try and help my
parents. I didn't know where to go or what to do," Adam whimpered, tears choking
his voice. "So, I hid. It was the same place I was hiding when our fathers had
their argument earlier in the day."

"You never saw my father in the house after that?"

"Well, no, but he was the only one there fleeing the scene. And your momma
admitted he returned to the house that night with the intention of speaking to
my father after supper. I'm only telling you what we've gone over a million
times before. We keep talking and talking in circles and it never gets us
anywhere. Our fathers argued earlier in the day. I overheard them from behind
the curtains and piano. Your father told mine he'd be sorry for ruining him. The
next thing I know, all hell is breaking loose. Lauralynn's pulling me out of bed
and telling me to run. I heard gunshots and my mother screaming… then another
gunshot and I heard Lauralynn scream... I heard fighting and furniture crashing.
I heard this thud, thud, thud over and over as the killer pulled Lauralynn's
body down the stairs. She was crying and making this choking sound. She screamed
out, "No" one final time and then everything went quiet…not one sound… even the
crickets who always got into the house weren't making their usual racket. I
heard the front door open, heard footsteps run across the porch … down the
wooden steps. I forced myself to look out the window and I saw you're father
running away."

Adam placed his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands. Sam Jr.
pulled up a chair next to him. "How the hell did we stay friends through all of
this," he stated more than asked as he leaned back in the chair and looked up at
the ceiling. Adam turned his head and looked at him. Sam glanced at him and it
was like he could see straight into his soul. "Wait a second. I've heard you
tell that story a thousand times, but this time it was different."

"What do you mean?" Adam asked.

"No…no…you said, `the killer pulled Lauralynn's body down the stairs.' Every
other time you've told that story, you've said `I heard your father pull
Lauralynn down the stairs.'"

Adam looked blankly at him, trying to take in the meaning behind Sam Jr.'s
revelation.

"You don't really think my father killed your family, do you? That's it, isn't
it?" Adam started to speak, but Sam Jr. stopped him.

"That's why we've stayed friends. I never realized it until now. God, how could
I have been so blind? Don't you see? I never blamed you or turned my back on you
because you were a scared little boy who did nothin' but tell the truth. You
couldn't help that Randall and all those other men took your story and twisted
it into a conviction. But, I've always wondered why you didn't turn your back on
me … seein' as how everyone believed my father guilty." Adam felt his chest
tightening. The nausea would not release its grip on him.

Sam Jr. continued. "You didn't turn your back on me all these years because you
don't really believe my father committed the murders. Admit it, Adam! Who do
think killed them?"

"Stop it, just stop it!" Adam shouted. "I don't know who killed them! All I saw
was your father running away from the house. Everything else is like a dream. I
don't know what's real anymore. It's been too long." Adam started for the back
screen door.

"I don't believe you!" Sam Jr. grabbed him by the arm and spun him around. "Tell
me what you know Adam … have you remembered something else about that night?"

"Let me go Sam. I only came here to talk about the letters you sent out to the
papers and to tell you to drop this campaign against Randall, not to drudge up
ancient history. It's not just his career you're hurting, but mine too. I don't
care for him anymore than you do but he raised me when there was no one else to
do it and now he's going to help me open a practice and jump into politics! You
ruin him and you ruin me too."

"Ancient history?! This is our history, Adam! There's no burying it! There's no
peace! You talk about going around in circles?! Well, guess what?! One circle
just broke! No! You're not going anywhere, not until you tell me what you know
or what you think you know!" Sam Jr. now held Adam by the shoulders and was
staring into his eyes. For a split second, he thought he saw a trace of
apprehension staring back at him.

"I know something too," he whispered, "Something neither me nor momma have ever
told anyone before out of plain fear, but I'm not scared anymore Adam and I will
continue to go to the papers and tell my story until the real killer or killers
are brought to justice. I will clear my father's name. Help me, please. Let's
just put what we know altogether and see if we come to the same conclusion we've
come to so many times before or see if the circle is truly broken."

"NO," Adam hissed at him. He brought his right fist across and landed it
squarely in the side of Sam Jr.'s face, effectively breaking himself free of the
man's grasp.

"Lord Almighty, what is going on in here!?" Sam Jr.'s mother, Lottie, dropped
her basket of clean laundry on the back steps, pulled the screen door open, and
pushed past Adam as she made her way to her son.

"Go on home now, you hear Adam? Just go on home and cool off. There ain't gonna
be none of this fighting goin' on in my house. You boys are too old for this
kind of nonsense." She helped Sam Jr. off the floor, grabbed a clean cup towel,
and held it to his bleeding nose.

"You stay the hell away from me, Sam," Adam growled, "and no more letters to the
newspaper. I'd better not here another word come out of your mouth against
Randall or you'll be sorry!" With that, Adam stormed out the screen door.

*******************************************

Diana Leigh White walked out of Julianne's Beauty Shop shortly before noon. She
was starving, having skipped breakfast that morning in order to make her 8 A.M.
appointment, but the results were well worth the time and money spent as well as
her hunger pains. Julianne had trimmed, highlighted, and deeply conditioned her
hair. She'd then set it in rollers so Diana's hair emerged from the dryer with
the perfect amount of body. While under the dryer, Diana received both a
manicure and a pedicure. Finally, Julianne studied the emerald green dress Diana
planned to wear that evening at her aunt's and uncle's dinner party. She matched
Diana's nails, toes, and facial makeup so that it perfectly complimented her
outfit. She also put together a beauty pallet of lipstick, lip liner, rouge, eye
shadow, and eye liner which complimented her formal attire for the next evening
as well.

The only child of Dr. Delmar White and his wife, Lucinda, Diana was as spoiled
as she was beautiful. She had long, Lana Turner blonde hair which cascaded down
her back, green eyes, and, at 5'9, a figure that made grown men trip over their
own feet when she walked by. She'd graduated from Baylor University with a
degree in classical languages and spent much of her time traveling and partying
with friends on the West Coast. Although she was never hard pressed for the
company of men, few were capable of holding her attention for more than a couple
of months before she grew bored with them. She had no greater admirer or ardent
pursuer than Adam Rabroker, the orphaned young man raised by her father's
brother, Randall. Adam had been bewitched by Diana since she'd emerged from her
awkward pre-pubescent years and flourished into a teenage beauty queen.
Convinced they were destined to be together, Adam courted her with a ferocity
that both excited and scared her. Still, he was only two years her senior and,
while she enjoyed his attentions and their playful yet combative banter, she
felt she was destined for much more. She fancied herself married to an older,
wealthier, more established professional man who could lavish his attentions
upon her as if she were his special little pet and support her in the lifestyle
her own father had accustomed her to. It was a man like this which brought her
to Julianne's Beauty Shop so early on Friday morning. He'd caught her eye at a
bar association dinner in the spring when she was visiting friends in Los
Angeles. When she'd found out he and her uncle were old friends…that he was
flying out from California to support her uncle's appointment as State Attorney
General as well as her uncle's plans to run for his own term as Attorney General
in the next election, she felt as if fate were on her side. Perry Mason would be
in Texas approximately 5 days. Diana was utterly confidant he would be hers
before he returned home.

Taking out her scarf and sunglasses, she walked down the sidewalk towards her
red Porsche Speedster, a happy little tune of "You Belong to Me" playing quietly
in her head … her dress slung carefully over her arm. She hardly noticed the
Chevy Impala convertible which slowed as it rounded the corner and inched along
the street following her.

*****************************************
Adam Rabroker had driven around for over an hour after his confrontation with
Sam Jr. before heading back to the home of Randall and Raylynn White. He was
tired and hoped to grab a bite to eat, maybe even a little shut eye before their
guests began arriving from around the country. As a freshly graduated lawyer, he
was particularly interested in the arrival of Perry Mason. Perry and Randall
became friends after working together ten years prior on a multi-million dollar
class action lawsuit. It was Perry who'd introduced Randall to a private
detective named Paul Drake who just happened to be dating Raylynn, the beautiful
daughter of one of the partners in the law firm which employed Perry. When the
lawsuit was over six months later, Randall invited Perry out to the farm for a
fishing vacation. Perry obliged and he and Adam hit it off immediately. Paul and
Raylynn had parted ways by this time. A month after Perry's visit, Randall
eloped with Raylynn and sent Adam to stay with Perry in Los Angeles while they
honeymooned in Europe. Adam held the greatest respect for Perry and it was his
influence, not Randall's, that led him to study the law.

Unfortunately, his plans for a nap and snack were quelled as soon as he pulled
up in front of the house. Raylynn was outside directing the men delivering the
tents and awnings towards the back of the residence. When she saw Adam, she
hurried over, explained her encounter with Randall from earlier, and asked if
he'd drive to the office and make sure that payroll had been met. Adam agreed.
Twenty minutes later, it was just as Raylynn had feared. Randall had gone to the
office, returned some phone calls, called the airlines to make sure Perry's
flight was on time, and then left for Austin without signing the payroll checks
clearly left on his desk. Adam flourished a pen and quickly signed Randall's
name to the checks. He dropped them off with the secretary then headed towards
the door with lunch on his mind.

"Now, Mr. Rabroker…you know he doesn't like it when you do that," the secretary
admonished when she saw the forged signatures on the checks.

"You wanna get paid on time or not?" Adam growled at her.

"Well, yes I do, but this is gonna cause just an awful fight," she replied
wearily.

"I'll take care of it, Myra," Adam stated as he closed the office door behind
him. "It's my money anyway," he muttered under his breath.

Rounding the corner from the law office, the voluptuous figure of a woman caught
his attention. He knew only one with a saunter like that. She was just the kind
of medicine he needed after a hellish morning. He slowed his convertible to a
crawl and waited for her to take notice. When it was clear she wouldn't, he let
out a long whistle and called out to her.

"Say angel face…could I interest you in a little lunch date?"

Diana stopped and looked at him with bemused eyes. "Not with you," she replied.
She hung her dress and purse on a nearby parking meter so she could wrap her
scarf over her hair and tie it at the chin. She smiled sweetly, freed the
parking meter, and resumed her walk towards her car. Adam took his foot off the
brake and inched after her.

"Say thanks baby!" he called after her. "I sure needed that!"

She stopped just short of her car and looked at him again. "Needed what?" she
asked innocently, putting on her sunshades and digging in her purse for her
keys.

"Why that shot of cold air you just blew my way. It sure felt good on such a hot
day."

"Well there's more where that came from, you know." She unlocked the car, hung
her dress in the front seat, and started to climb in when he spoke again.

"That's a hot little number. You wearing that when I pick you up tonight?"

"Pick me up tonight?" She said with great amusement. She shut the door to her
car and walked over to him. "I don't recall me agreeing to go with you to the
dinner party tonight. I think driving around with the top down too long has
overheated your brain and you're not thinking straight." She leaned across and
placed her hand on his forehead. "Oh yes, the sun has definitely gone to your
head…why you're plum feverish."

Adam threw the car in park, grabbed her by the wrist, and pulled her over the
side of the car. "It's not the sun making me feverish, baby." She screamed
loudly, but his lips stifled the sound as he pulled her into a forceful embrace.
A car horn honked angrily behind them. Adam pulled away and looked in the
rearview mirror. Diana brought her right hand up…car keys in tow… and slapped
him across his face. The keys cut into his cheek and he let out an obscenity.
She jumped out of his car and rushed to hers, but he threw his car into drive,
and pulled in sideways into the spot in front of her, effectively blocking her
ability to pull out and make an escape. Adam jumped out of his car, not even
bothering to shut the door. He pulled her out of her car and grabbed her by the
shoulders.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Diana? What do ya mean hitting me with those
damn keys?" He shook her and she tried to push away from him.

"What the hell do you mean pulling me into your car like that? You don't own me
Adam Rabroker," she shouted. Seeing the look of fear mixed with indignation on
her face and feeling the blood running down his cheek, he immediately released
her, pulled out a handkerchief and applied pressure to the wound.

"I wouldn't take you now if you tore off your clothes and begged me naked in the
street," he spat at her as he turned to walk away.

"Naked in the street?" she shouted. She followed after him, but was caught off
guard when he turned, threw the handkerchief to the ground, and wrapped his arms
around her, pushing her down on the hood of his car. There he held her for a
brief minute before kissing her again. She didn't know what burned her skin
more…the heat of his lips on hers or the burning metal of the hood as it
penetrated through her blouse.

"Hey you two! Cut that out and get this car out of street! You can't park half
in and half out like that!" Adam looked up to see a police officer staring
menacingly at them. He released Diana, pulled her off the hood, and half
pushed/half walked her quickly to her car door.

"Sorry sir," he called over to the officer. Looking down at Diana, he said, "but
you know what they say…the course of true love never runs smoothly."

"True love?!" Diana shrieked as Adam walked back to his car and winked at the
officer who rolled his eyes in return. "I'm not in love with you Adam Rabroker.
I wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire."

"Well you certainly paint a ladylike picture of yourself, don't you?" he replied
sarcastically.

"How dare you!" She screamed loudly. She reached down to the ground, grabbed a
handful of small rocks and threw them at him as he tried to get into his car.

"Are you crazy?" Adam yelled as he jumped out, surveying any possible damage to
his car.

"Lady will you please just get in your car and leave before I have to haul you
both in for disturbing the peace," the officer hollered, wiping away the sweat
from under his cap. By this time a small crowd of eight to 10 people had now
stopped to witness the scene.

"I'll gladly leave officer as soon as you instruct Mr. Rabroker here to get this
old jalopy out of my way!" she shouted.

"Old Jalopy?! There better not be a scratch on this car Diana or so help me…."

"So help you what?! You stay away from me, you understand? Or a few rocks being
whizzed by your head will be the least of your problems!" Diana hopped in her
car and started the engine.

"Watch who you're threatening there little girl!" Adam yelled, but the officer
took him by the arm and pushed him towards his own car door.

"Just cool off and get out here," the officer instructed.

Adam slammed the car door shut, threw the car in drive, backed up hastily, and
then peeled out into the street.

Back in Los Angeles, Perry waited patiently for the stewardess to announce
boarding for first class passengers. He was dressed comfortably in khaki slacks,
a hunter green golf shirt tucked in neatly, dark brown leather belt and matching
leather loafers. However, he was waiting impatiently for someone else and had
been looking at his watch every five minutes for the past half hour as he waited
for her arrival. `Where in the devil could she be?' he thought, looking around
at the various passengers waiting with him to board the flight to Austin, Texas.
Then, he caught sight of her walking towards him and his worry melted away. How
he loved seeing her out of her office attire. His eyes carefully took in the way
her black pants and teal blue tunic style top clung to every curve of her
figure. She carried a large print floral, oversized silk scarf across her arm.
Its lavender, teal blue, black, and white pattern added a touch of elegance to
her casual dress as did her sandals which were covered in jewels the same colors
as the scarf. Her hair, which was a little longer than she usually wore it,
almost touched her shoulders. As she reached him and smiled an apology, she
tucked her hair behind her right ear and he noticed she wore the diamond
earrings and matching bracelet he'd bought her for her birthday five months
earlier.

"Let me guess," he said quietly, trying to regain some of his earlier impatience
and feign anger with her. Della Street looked up into his eyes and he found
himself smiling at her instead of chastising her tardiness. "We're going to be
gone five days. You don't know what you'll be in the mood to wear so I'm
guessing you had to lug several pieces of luggage into the cab, out of the cab,
and then to the check in counter. Is that why you're late?"

"Not several … five," she replied with a slightly embarrassed smile.

"Five pieces of luggage, Della? You're kidding, right? What on earth could you
have possibly packed?" He'd never understand the packing habits of women. He
packed two pieces of luggage for the trip-one for toiletries and the other for
clothing.

"Well one is empty," she responded, "but you were right with what you said
before. I don't know what I'll be in the mood to wear each day. Add in shoes,
handbags, and other accessories and, before you know it, I'd packed four bags."

"And the fifth is empty because…." He drawled out questioningly.

"I've never been to Texas before and will undoubtedly want to do some
shopping…you just never know what I'll find, Perry." Her eyes were alight with
excitement as she spoke.

He laughed aloud. "Undoubtedly," he repeated. He reached over and brushed his
fingers across her cheek, but a blinding flash caught them both off-guard.

"Hey there, Mr. Mason! Ya goin' on a trip?"

It was Jimmy, the reporter from the local newspaper. He snapped another picture
of Perry and Della, then hit Perry with a fresh round of questions.

"Say, the wall there says this plane's bound for Austin, Texas. You got a case
there, Mr. Mason? Is that why Miss Street's with ya? Is it a murder case?"

At that moment, the stewardess came over the speaker and announced first class
passengers could begin boarding. Taking Della by the elbow, Perry smiled affably
at Jimmy and said, "No comment, no comment, and…no comment. Have a nice day,
Jimmy." Della smiled pleasantly at Jimmy as Perry guided her towards the
stewardess, handed over their boarding passes, and then steered her down the
tunnel towards the plane. "I've got to hand it to him, Della."

"How so?" she replied, a smile still gracing her face.

"Taking that picture just as I touched your face. You know how that's gonna look
when it hits the papers tomorrow." Perry's affable smile was gone, replaced
instead with one of annoyance.

"Oh Perry, we've had pictures like that in the papers plenty of times…." Perry
interrupted her. He released her elbow and slipped his arm around her waist.

"I know that," he whispered into her ear, "but I had to sleep alone last night …
so we could arrive at the airport separately…so no attention would be drawn to
our leaving on a trip together and…."

"And what?" she asked softly, suddenly understanding his irritation and
attempting to soothe him by allowing him to pull her closer as they approached
the plane's door.

"And you missed me?" She smiled up at him. They stopped walking and were now
waiting their turn to enter the plane.

"Yes," he replied and then added, under his breath, "among other things."

Della let out a soft, throaty laugh, her cheeks blushing slightly. She stepped
through the door ahead of him, stole a glance over her shoulder, and cooed, so
only he could hear, "Chin up Counselor…I'll remedy those `other things' for you
after the dinner party tonight. What do you say?"

Perry leaned in closely to her ear and whispered, "I say to hell with the dinner
party."