Los Angeles and San Francisco, January 11th, 1985
Brutalized by another week at Gordon Industries, Della Street so hankered for a cocktail and a bath that food held negligible appeal, which was fortunate since for the first time in her life a few excess pounds were aggressively chasing her mid-section.
More than hot water or cold bourbon, however, she literally ached for Perry.
Their visits had grown increasingly sporadic these last three years, not even once every two months, although they had spent a lovely Christmas and New Year's together in Lake Tahoe.
They usually spoke several times a week but an entire week had passed since their last call. When he went missing like this, her mind always ran to another woman. As fine a man as he was, as solid as his integrity was, fidelity had not been his strong suit over the years and since his proclamation three years ago he had given himself, and her, free reign.
For Della, the problem was that despite very earnest attempts by several exceptionally suitable candidates, Della had no interest in other men. Initially she blamed the empty suits and their colorless worlds; they were not Perry Mason. No one could fill his shoes. Of course, often the man himself couldn't fill his shoes, either.
Della realized eventually that the flaw was not in the men but in she herself. For Della there simply was no other man. Even in a town like Los Angeles where "love" was wrapped in Hollywood's celluloid package of romantic perfection Perry Mason and Della Street's affair was the stuff of legend. Their grand passion, concealed by their talent, drive, dedication, which had produced wild success, had been ignited by common appetites and a primal chemistry.
The more they were together the more they seemed to crave one another. For 12, 14 hours a day they worked so intimately often their elbows were touching but that was all that touched. They never addressed one another with affectionate names; even when they were alone they maintained their formality fearing that becoming lax while alone could mean mistakes when they were not.
And they tried, valiantly even, to stick to that.
After the first few years, however, there were small moments of seduction "just to get them through the day," as Perry used to say. Della might untangle her garters placing the foot of one of those movie star legs on a chair. When a weary Perry slumped in his chair, so adept at giving him a massage was Miss Street that his lap would have to stay hidden under his desk for a good, long while.
Perry had his little pleasures, too. When Della wore the shirtwaist dresses he loved with their full skirts, he would stroke the inside of her knee all the way up to her thigh, not stopping until she was shifting uncomfortably in her chair, head buried in his chest grasping at his lapels. Della had a couple of sweaters that drove him mad; a tight black turtle neck with which she always wore her "DS" pendent and mohair sweaters in white and pale pink. Wearing these meant she would end up in the law library at some point, panting at the mercy of his hands and mouth.
After work they had cocktails, went to dinner, danced as much as was seemly, then slipped away to one of their apartments to revel in one another and release the sexual tension that had built up during the day, or just pass out from exhaustion in each other's arms.
They tried to make it home before it was necessary to remove all of their clothes but they didn't always make it and by the time they were in their mid-40s, they cared less. Perry was in such demand and they were in the office such long hours that they often had to lock the doors to satisfy their lust on one of the couches, the terrace or his desk…and then go back to work.
At times their passion was so intense that it threatened to overwhelm them prompting a dark, private joke about their folie a deux. And maybe, in some ways, their life was a bit of a fantasy they were so caught in one another's vortex and an extremely intense and glamorous work life.
Perry never thought he would find his soul mate, his ideal, his Nora Charles. In finding Della he held tight, she so exceeded the dream. Della always assumed she would marry and have a family and there were times, as she got older, that it shocked and pained her that she hadn't. But from the moment she met Perry she knew that he would be the only man she would ever love and this is how their life had evolved.
Della felt as married to Perry as a person could feel, always had and always would, even if their rings were only matching pinkie rings. So, regardless of Perry's stunning, game changing suggestion a few years back, there were no suitors for Della Street. When Perry was himself, which was rare these days, they saw one another and, of course there were work dinners with her current boss, Arthur Gordon.
Poor Arthur tried everything to win Della's affections. Accustomed to pampered women whose beauty came from spas and knives, jars and injections, Della was as bracing and sparkling as the first snow of winter.
Della gave him her opinion, whether he wanted it or not and let him know, in her sassy way, when he behaved badly. She worked until a job was done, regardless of the hour, had a natural affinity for the business world and could win over just about anyone; except his wife. Praise from Gordon was rare unless you were Della Street. Of course, she exceled at a level few could replicate, realizing the impossible with grace and stamina, beauty and elegance.
Late one evening, after a few vodkas he teased her, "Sugar and spice and everything nice… I didn't think women like you existed anymore, Della."
"Well," she laughed. "We're getting old, Arthur—the breed is dying out!"
"So what's wrong with this Mason anyway?" Both the question and Gordon's piercing eyes took Della by surprise. "I've always heard he was the most brilliant legal mind in the country. He doesn't seem too bright to me."
Della just shook her curls in resignation and gave him a sad, little smile. If there hadn't been a Perry Mason, and a Mrs. Gordon, it's just possible Arthur would have gotten his fondest wish.
But there was most definitely a Perry Mason. Della had been letting him believe she exercised her "freedom" as prodigiously as she imagined he was exercising his. Loathing games, though, and touched any time he tried to determine who she was seeing in an uncharacteristically artless way, she questioned deception as a strategy.
"You two idiots," she could hear Paul Drake, Sr. say in her mind. How she missed him, how they both missed him; even if he were just chiding his best friends about their relationship, which he loved to do. Tears formed in her eyes. She would give just about anything to see him walk in the door and say, "Hi, Beautiful."
The memory and deep pain of missing their best friend was the last straw and her pride, as always, would have to suffer. Damn.
"Judge Mason's office."
"Good evening Kelly how are you?"
Kelly hated when she called; hated being jealous of a 62 year-old woman still so beautiful that she turned heads any time she entered the room. Hated the cognac voice that even made her tingle when she heard it; hated how talking to the self-effacing Della Street left her feeling insecure and wasted her boss until he was totally detached and unapproachable.
Kelly had just begun making inroads with Perry Mason, too—chasing away a judge, a junior D.A. and an MD to do it. Miss Della Street's presence, although rare these last few years, was still very unwelcome.
Kelly thought about lying but knew better; Della Street probably still knew his schedule better than she did, knew that at 7PM on Friday night Perry Mason was at his desk listening to his favorite jazz show on public radio. So, she did as she had been told on her first day, "Don't ask, don't announce, just put Miss Street through to my private line immediately."
"Hi," she purred in her drawn out way.
That voice coiled around his senses making his heart skip a beat. He had been working so hard this past week that he hadn't realized how lonely for her he was until he heard her voice in his ear. There she was on the line, his beautiful girl.
"Hi, Baby… What are you doing?" He voice was deep and low.
Baby—it made her tear up. Perry almost sounded like his old self and it couldn't have happened on a night she needed it more.
"Same thing you're doing, of course."
"Remember when we saw Miles in Paris?"
"How's my girl?" Della sounded off.
If only she were still a girl, thought Della. This would all be so much easier. Maybe.
"Oh, a long, nasty day… week really."
Perry closed his eyes and breathed deeply, "You… a bottle of merlot … and a soak in our tub?"
Della was heartened at how wistful he sounded and that he called it "our" tub.
"Bourbon; in fact I may fill the tub with it and get in with a giant straw." Their laughter collapsed on each other.
"Now that's my kind of cocktail, Miss Street!" Perry was happy for the first time in a week.
"I have an extra straw," Della chuckled at the sound that elicited.
"What is it, baby? Gordon?" Perry had stopped what he was doing now, settling his large frame back in his chair.
Why did that damn word always make her feel as if he had just kissed her?
"A Gordon, yes, but the female type; I can manage Arthur just fine—as it happens, I'm a whiz with difficult men," Perry closed his eyes, imagining she was batted her lashes and pursing her beautiful lips. "Paula and her threats, however, stretch the limits of even my good humor."
"And Della Street does not frazzle easily," he tried to sound light-hearted but the idea of anyone hurting Della…of course he had a lot of room to talk.
"I suppose when you're married to a man who doesn't love you anymore and who spends his days and evenings with the most gorgeous, capable woman..."
He was jealous, as always. How could he break her heart, suggesting they see other people, and then be jealous? It was incomprehensible, even for the emotional roller coaster that Perry Mason had become these last eight years; the "Evil Eight," as Della had nicknamed them this year. (They had been preceded by the "Sinister Seven" and would be followed by the "Nightmare Nine." If there was going to be a tenth year she had already decided to skip the cute name and spend it blind drunk.)
"He's married Perry. He's a married man and even his poor choice in wives does not negate this."
There was silence at the other end for a while. "Where you're concerned, my girl, my common sense has always suffered for jealousy. You know that." His voice sounded uncharacteristically delicate; perhaps the irony wasn't lost on him after all.
Recently Della had begun to surmise that her pain was actually collateral damage. Hurting her was merely an unintended consequence of Perry Mason's main target: Perry Mason. Tonight his voice was ringed with suffering and his pain overwhelmed hers. Since she never could hurt anyone, especially Perry, she decided to take a chance, one more chance, at righting them.
"I shouldn't tell you this. You don't deserve it," Della took a moment leaning back in her pillows, tucking her long legs beneath her and contemplating the bourbon in her glass. What the Hell, it was the truth.
"I don't… avail myself of your open relationship thingy. Not that I didn't try," she added quickly. "Goose, gander you know; but my relationship is still… closed; too closed I guess as I seem to be the only one in it."
Perry's breathing was loud and measured but even the ice in her glass had a resigned sound to it. As jealous as he was of her, as often as he worried that there were other men thanks to his own fragility, stupidity and fear, what she had just admitted wasn't a surprise to him. In fact, in his heart he knew all along that no matter what he proposed and no matter what he did, Della Street would go no further than dinner with any other man.
There was a long silence, which Della chose to ride out wondering what might be on the other end.
"What are we going to do?" Perry asked her in a stern, despondent voice.
Della's heart broke at the sadness in his voice but she couldn't let him get away with it or she would never get him back.
"We, Perry? It's not 'we'—it never was. What do you suggest? Because I don't know what else to do, my love. I don't know why you've pushed me away. I don't know why you ran away to San Francisco after we had made a decision on this issue. I'm in the dark and I simply do not know what else to do."
"I know, Della," he said angrily although his anger wasn't for her. She knew it, too. Softening his voice he continued. "We need a weekend."
"We need a lot more than a weekend. We need a lot more than a roll in the hay, Counselor."
"That's roll in the hay, Your Honor, madam," he corrected.
"Not to me; never to me," Della corrected back with steel in her voice; despite the fact that the image of making love to him in chambers in his robe….Damn, she thought to herself.
"Stubborn girl. How soon can you get away, baby?"
"You're lucky I'm stubborn, Counselor," Della, drained, knew she was caving; knew that his voice when it was full of love as it was tonight even if it was rare these days, was the only voice she wanted to hear.
"I know." Perry wanted to kick himself, suddenly realizing that in his longing for her he had made a mistake that was going to hurt her….again.
"A weekend—not terribly generous with your time," she was purring again, flirting, knowing that that voice of hers drove him mad. "But I suppose if I tried hard I could make the 10PM shuttle from Burbank…"
Gentle and wise, Della always put them—him—first, proving endlessly generous with her heart and positively elastic with resilience. But Perry could tell that his fear for her and anger at the world, manifested as little more than callous selfishness at this point. The girl was stretched about as far as she could go; and, as she kept reminding him, she wasn't a "girl" anymore.
Now he had invited her up tonight without any time to actually see her. Being an appellate court judge meant an endless round of social commitments, which he had always hated, and he was booked for the next month. Every weekend was filled with events, dinners or benefits. Perry knew that Della knew that he would be escorted to these events and they both knew she could have been the escort as she had for more than 30 years.
Except that he didn't want to be seen so publicly with her; not when it compromised her safety.
All he could do was hope.
"What about Valentine's Day weekend, young lady?"
Ah, the well-known "un-invitation," as she had come to call them—five weeks away. Why did he even bother she always wondered? Della's small, tender laugh was meant to mask her pain but it was too small.
Perry knew that this one, this one was bad.
Almost inaudibly she said, "Oh, Counselor…not fair. Not fair at all. You win, my love. I give up."
"Della…" but she had hung up.