First of all thank you for all your reviews and comments. I appreciate that you took your time to leave me a note!
Marti: Thank you very much that you took your time to write a review, but please consider that it were Laura's thoughts that called Della you know what. As a writer you must go into your characters heads, but it doesn't mean, the characters thoughts reflect my ideas about another character.
Here's Part 2 now. Could happen that some of you, will want to shoot me after reading it...
The Price of Love
De fumo in flammam ~ Out of the smoke into the flame
Washington, December 1964
The snowfall outside was heavy. Though Christmas was still weeks away, the cold had extended its nasty grip on the capitol and reigned it with chaotic force. The streets were crowded with stranded cars and at the airport the planes remained on the ground, covered with ice, covered with snow. Not that the weather really mattered inside Perry Mason's hotel suite right now. In there he didn't have to fear the brutal influence of the winter, what he had to fear was the powerful heat that was exploding in his chest and shaking him to the core, now that the woman he loved was again lying in his arms with her beautiful body pressed against his.
He certainly wished Della Street had never entered his hotel suite tonight. She had come to talk, to share her sorrows over her heavy argument with her fiancé. She needed a friend, but what she got was the lover who had rejected her to marry another woman.
Laura used to say, Della was his weakest spot. The only thing that could make him crumble, and she was right. Mason was falling apart. He was falling fast and hard while he couldn't stop touching her. With every kiss his lust for her grew and his obvious desire for her would have shocked him if it hadn't felt so right. He knew he was bound to regret it. He was bound to get burned and so was she, but then they had been from the very beginning, ever since they had laid eyes on each other.
The flames in the fireplace were flickering dangerously. The wood cracked while outside the wind howled. The sound scape around them seemed as surreal as the feelings of his lips on her neck. His tongue and his hot breath left traces on her skin, marked her as his. Everything about this, about him was wrong. It wasn't what she came for, though deep in her heart she had to admit it was what she wanted. It was what she had to deny herself, because he wasn't hers and he never would be hers. What did it make her that she didn't want to waste her time with the thought of Laura. Or how the woman would feel if she ever found out about her husband being all over his former lover.
How could it be that she was willingly giving herself to a married man? That her body reacted to him was natural. His touch sent shivers all over her body. She was covered with goosebumps and her skin anticipated every stroke and every kiss like an old, but solemnly missed friend. Of course, her heart reopened for him, because he had held it for so long and she knew he still treasured it, but at least her mind, the rationale should still resist, struggle and fight the traitors. Why didn't it?
Here on this couch and with her body pressed against his, she felt all right, secure and alive. His hands were warm, determined, though not as tender as she remembered them, as he opened the zip of her cocktail dress. Again he was so collected while her fingers struggled with the collar of his shirt. Maybe because she was too impatient. She needed to run her hands over his naked skin, needed the feeling of his strong body against hers.
She groaned with lust, as she felt the soft bite of his teeth against her neck, wishing it would hurt more, because the pain was what she needed to feel better. A few hours ago, Richard had called her a cheater, and he was right. She wasn't better than other women who betrayed their spouses.
In the cold of the night, the smoke of Richard Carlisle's cigarette mixed with the snow flakes and disturbed the sight of the hotel suite that was located in the 10th floor on the other side of the street. Inside of him, his gut was burning with jealousy and rage. Maybe he had it coming. Maybe it was his own fault that the woman he loved was now in another man's hotel room, but him standing there on the deserted, cold street at the end of a long day that had been foreshadowing the catastrophe.
He and Mason had coincidentally met in the same restaurant where he and Della had wanted to meet for lunch. As always when Richard and Perry ran into each other, both men tried to be as civil as possible, but after witnessing a kiss between his future wife and the other lawyer several months ago, Richard had a hard time to keep up the facade of politeness.
Then Della had entered the restaurant and it was obvious that Mason and she were genuinely shocked to cross paths again, but before the trio could get eaten up by a shameful silence Mason's lunch partner had arrived and had resolved the situation for the time being.
Richard and Della had shared a tensed meal, though Richard knew he was the one who made it difficult. Of course, it was foolish to believe the encounter was anything but a coincidence, but there were these gnawing doubts deep within him. Those doubts that always ambushed him when the name Perry Mason was mentioned.
Later, when he came to her hotel room to pick her up for a cocktail party, he heard her talking to someone on the phone and when he asked her about it in the car on their way to the party, she had denied the phone call, which caused him to burst.
The obvious lie tore him apart and he had stupidly lashed out at her. He had stopped the car, had screamed the meanest accusations at her, words she had taken with a lot of patience and grace, before she had finally left the car, telling him, if he had come back to his senses, she would gladly talk to him again.
He had run after her through the whirling snow, but she had already taken the next best taxi. He had followed her to this hotel and now he was standing here in the snow storm, ready to kick himself, because he had pushed her right where he never wanted to see her again.
He threw the cigarette in the snow at his feet and decided to go back to his own hotel. Maybe, if he was lucky, she would return to him, because she had finally realized she couldn't live her life waiting for a married man.
Forcing himself to turn away, he walked back to his car that was parked around the corner. Lost in his morbid thoughts, he stared at the icy pavement, felt the snow and the ice cracking under his feet. His coat was soaked by now, the socks in his shoes were wet, his shoes ready for the dumpster.
Every now and then a car was passing him slowly, sometimes he heard wheels lurching and brakes failing. Then he saw the lights of a car that was driving too fast. He raised his head, saw a car that was tailing on the slippery road, approaching him way too quickly. The lights blinded him, and he raised his arm to protect his eyes, but he didn't jump aside. Not when the driver lost control completely and the car turned on the ice and whirled around right in his direction. He heard someone screaming, maybe it was him, then he felt pain, an incredible pain that captivated every fiber of him and then there was darkness and cold...
Actually, he had stopped smoking two years ago and he only carried a box with cigarettes around to remind himself that he didn't need them anymore. But tonight was an exception. It was his third cigarette in fifteen minutes. He was inhaling deeply, trying to concentrate on the taste and the feeling of the smoke settling in his lungs. But he could try as hard as he wanted, it couldn't disturb his other senses. It couldn't blind him, couldn't turn him deaf and numb. He still felt her presence, tasted her and heard her soft voice calling out his name. She was in the bathroom now. He heard the water running, heard her moving and sometimes cursing, which was so unlike her. Did he do that do her?
He stared out of the window, down onto the street, where the chaos of the winter night was disturbed by police cars and a small crowd of people who were braving the snow. So at least, the world outside was the same messy place as his hotel suite.
"Out of the fire and into the frying pan," he mused, as he finished his cigarette. Why was he losing his way? Why didn't he think of his own wife, before he touched the fiancé of another man? He should have known, he couldn't control himself.
Behind him the door opened and he heard her muffled steps on the carpet.
"Have you seen my shoes?" she asked lowly, and he knew she had been crying in there before.
"In the living room, I think." Not that he knew for sure.
He followed her slowly, because he couldn't quite face her. He hoped she would leave so that he wouldn't have to see the tears in her eyes, but he also hoped, she wouldn't leave ever again.
She found her shoes and he watched her putting them on. "I'll call you a taxi."
"Don't... I'll catch one outside."
"Don't. Don't say you're sorry, because you aren't... and besides... nothing inerasable happened."
He sighed, defeated. He felt like dropping on the sofa to wallow in self pity, which he probably would have done, if the phone hadn't been ringing.
He picked it up, because it gave him something to do while Della searched her purse for her lipstick.
He listened closely, attentively, yet the meaning of the message took some time to be delivered. He looked at Della who had stopped meddling with the contents of her purse and returned his gaze, as if she was sensing something else had happened, aside from the mess they had almost created.
"All right. Thanks for calling. I'll tell her." He hung up, trying to figure out how to tell her.
"Did something happen?"
"Yes... it was the hospital. Della, Richard had an accident."
More than she hated the smell of a hospital, it was the atmosphere in it. And with the halls shrouded in silence and half darkness, the karma of the place was even worse. They had been waiting for hours, Della in a seat in the corner, wrapped in a coat, Perry leaning against the wall on the other side of the room.
Perry had insisted on driving her and she had agreed, because she was too shocked to fight with him about it; but they hadn't exchanged a word after they had entered the car. And time wasn't much of a companion either. It passed by incredibly slowly, forcing them to face their lives for what they were.
"I'm always in your way, am I not?" he suddenly asked, breaking the silence. She startled, but recovered quickly and answered his question, "You're not in my way, Perry... you're part of it. I can't change that and I would never want to."
"But the fact remains... I complicate your life whenever I enter it."
"I shouldn't have come to you tonight... I should have stayed away. I'm the one who made the mistake...," she broke off and sighed. "I'm the one who complicates her own life. I should have talked to Richard, but..."
Perry sensed she was trying to tell him something, but didn't quite know how to start.
"What is it, Della?" he asked, moving from his safe, distant spot closer to her chair. "What's really wrong?"
"I shouldn't bother you...," she started, but he silenced her effectively as he placed his hand on her knee.
"Della, please talk to me."
"But you deserve better than listening to my problems with another man."
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?"
"You want to be the judge, Counselor?" she asked, a hint of ironic amusement in her voice. "Then judge me... I'm pregnant. The conversation on the phone that Richard got notice of, was with my doctor... but I didn't know how to tell him."
For a moment he was lost, thrown into a nirvana, where nothing existed. He sank back in his chair, contemplating what to say.
"He'll live and you'll marry him." He reached out to take her hand and he squeezed it gently. It had to end well. What else was there left to hope for?
Aspen, New Years Day 1985
Laura sat at the bar in the ski lodge and smoked a cigarette. She was alone, of course, she was alone. Ever since Perry had started practicing law again, she used to spend her holidays alone. Her husband, after all, was busy. If she had known, he wouldn't follow their plan to succeed in politics, she would never have stopped practicing law herself. She would have made a career of her own. She would have become someone. Now she was just the bored wife of a man who was bored with his life and sought his excitement somewhere else. Damn, the man couldn't even spend the holidays with her. Naturally, he had promised her beforehand, he would meet her in the lodge, and even more naturally he had called her the morning of New Years Eve, telling her he wouldn't make it. Naturally. After the call her plan had been to get drunk, but then her luck had changed and she had met someone who made sure she wasn't all on her own. And he had become a jinx in disguise, he was the drink she shouldn't have drunk.
"There you are!"
She smiled when she heard his voice behind her. It was young, fresh, so full of life. It was the sound of innocence and she was asking herself, if she had the right to listen to it.
"Hello," she greeted him, almost shyly. She couldn't quite face him, though his fresh face was a feast to look at. In a way he reminded her of Perry. He was tall, dark haired, strong. Young and yet so grown up. Innocent and serious at the same time. What on earth had made her seduce him? Last night, it seemed the most natural thing in the world, this afternoon she felt like a criminal who had stolen something very precious and rare, but it wasn't pride that she felt over her claim. It was guilt.
"Can I buy you a drink?" The young man sank onto the bar stool next to her and helped himself to one of her cigarettes.
"I think I'll stick to coffee," she answered. "How are your friends?" She asked, because she needed to talk about something casual.
"They've recovered," he laughed. "But I'll never understand why some people need to drink until they forget how to use their mother tongue..." He made a pause and attempted to caress her cheek, but she withdrew quickly.
"Please... what if people saw us?"
She had never told him, she was married. She didn't know his last name and he didn't know hers. The whole situation had the makings of a Sidney Sheldon novel and she hated it.
"I don't care," he shrugged and the smile on his face faded away. "I really like you," he admitted. "You're a wonderful woman and I want to spend more time with you."
"You don't know me," she returned and looked away. She needed to end it. She would hurt him and probably break his heart, but it was the best for him. He shouldn't get any more poisoned by her than he already was.
"I think, I know enough to see you're lonely. Well, I'm lonely, too, at times. We could spend our lonely times together."
She had to laugh about his suggestion. Life was so easy for young people and they were just living it by all means.
"I'm sorry," she said and reached out to pat his hand. "I'm going home tomorrow morning, but I appreciate the offer."
"That means there's one night left for us."
"No, there isn't." Laura grabbed her clutch from the bar and slipped from the stool, so that she ended between him and her former seat. She should have left instantly, but she wanted to take the opportunity to have one last look at him. He really reminded her of Perry. Such a fine young man, tender and loving. Maybe it wasn't his youth that attracted her, maybe it was his loving nature. He was a good boy and someone had done a very job of raising him.
"I'm sorry, Ruben, but I can't do this. Thank you for last night." She smiled at him and it felt to her, as if it was the first genuine smile in months. She wanted to reach out to touch him, but she reminded herself of the promise she made to herself and so she just watched him while he stubbed out his cigarette.
"There's nothing to thank me for," he said and returned the smile. "And if you feel lonely, you know where to find me." He had a twinkle in his eye and it almost made her rethink her decision.
"You're a special man. Perhaps I shouldn't mention it, but I think, your parents must be special to raise a fine person like you."
Ruben laughed, "They're the best. They'll arrive tomorrow night, today is their wedding day and they always spend it alone."
"So, it's a good idea for me to leave tomorrow. They would hardly appreciate me."
Ruben shook his head. "My mother appreciates everyone," he said in a loving voice. "There isn't a soul on earth she would ever loathe."
Laura thought about herself and how much she loathed herself right now. She had always known she was someone who loved to play with fire, but lately she had outdone herself and it was time to reevaluate her own rules.
"Never be too sure of anything, Darling. Never."
First there were the sobs that were stuck in her throat, then there were the tears that ran unchecked over her face. The sickness came later and it almost killed her. She threw up until her stomach was as empty as her heart.
She had heard the unbearable thunder of the avalanche, as it rolled down the mountain and the heart inside her chest had crumbled to a dead knot of veins and flesh. But refusing to believe something never actually changed anything.
The old saying that life was short usually didn't belong into her vocabulary, but from now on, it would always be connected to the young beautiful man who had lost his life in the cold snow up on the mountain she could see from the window of her suite.
The irony was that he would probably still be alive, if she had taken him with her into her room. But the bigger irony, the one fragment of the story, the detail that would hopefully always be missing in her story if someone ever dared to whisper it. So she hoped her story would stay untold once she was dead, because that way his identity was kept a secret. It was the main reason she had suddenly felt so sick, so unbelievably weak and ready to die.
Laura knew she had burned herself when she slept with a man she hadn't even known for more than a few hours and who could easily be her own son. She hadn't realized the fire could consume her, once she had learned who he was. Now she could only flee this place as quickly as possible, before the parents of that young, unfortunate man arrived. It would kill her to face them, now that their son was dead and she had become part of his tragedy.
No, there was no way, she could ever speak to Della and Richard Carlisle again.
~~End Part Two~~