Los Angeles, January 19th, 1985 1AM
Stupid tuxedo, Perry Mason thought as he tugged at the hooks on his cumber bund. Actually when he went anywhere with Della he loved wearing his tux, choosing his accessories from an array that they had had made to match the color of her gowns. No, it wasn't the tuxedo. Perry was determined to end his misplaced anger…especially at his rather defenseless clothes!
Having lit out of that ballroom for his car with his double bourbon still in his hand, he offered no polite excuses to anyone, saying good-bye only to Ken and Kay. Admonishing him for what they both knew would be the final time Kay had told him—not without a sense of humor—that he needed to go find Della Street because he was absolutely no good to any other woman. Agreeing, he kissed her hand with a modest bow and he took his leave.
Cheerfully winding his way through the crowd he spotted Ken Robertson and tapped him on the shoulder, "Ken, I need to ask a favor."
Rolling his glass in his hand, Ken replied grudgingly, "Well, I certainly owe you for all of that board work you did—shall I leave you and Laura alone in our room for a while?"
Perry ignored the comment, which he knew came from jealousy, an emotion he understood all too well. "See that Ms. Callahan gets home, will you? At least that she has a way home?"
"Hurrying out of here? What's so urgent? Laura's disappointment will be…extreme."
"Is she alright?" Ken, worried, dropped the sarcasm.
Ironically, Ken and Della had also known one another in a past life—at one of her first law firms—although not as well as Perry and Laura. When occasionally comparing notes on the Laura-Perry dynamic Ken would end the conversation by suggesting that they renew their acquaintance, too. Della just gave him a peck on the cheek and pursed her lips.
"Always," Perry said patting his arm. In an unusual burst of candor he continued, "No thanks to me I might add. But I miss her and I'm going home where I belong."
"Huh. Well, leaving aside my stake in this, I have to tell you Perry, I never could understand how anyone else," Ken allowed a pregnant pause. "Could make you take your eyes off Della for even a moment."
"Laura will never understand the value of what she has, Ken, same way with me—until she couldn't have me. Why don't you take a little…vacation?" Ken gave Perry, who took his hand in a warm shake, a surprised smile.
"Go home, Counselor. I'll make sure your date remembers where she parked her Big Wheel."
The sound of Perry's laughter followed him out of the hall.
As he turned the lock the potency of Perry's relief made his legs weak. After punching in the alarm code, he picked his way carefully around the furniture in the dark then lumbered up the stairs, shepherded by the soft glow of her nightstand lamp getting brighter as he drew closer.
Peeking around the door he found her curled around his pillow like a kitten, fast asleep. Those incredible legs were crossed at the lower shin, with one knee higher than the other and a hint of her lace panties showing, instantly reminding him of the pin up girl posters his Navy buddies coveted during the war.
Dried tear splotches on the pillowcase, an empty, crystal highball bordered with curvy, pink lip prints, and a nightstand littered with rumpled Kleenex were tangible proof of just how bad her night had been; and just how bitter, selfish, churlish and, yes, frightened, an ass he had become these last several years. But there was something else, something that reminded Perry of the depth of the love he was missing out on and it stopped his breath.
By 1967 Perry was 50 and Della was only five years behind. Even then they had to be careful about how often they were seen going in and out of each other's apartments. But having to part late at night when all that you wanted was the comfort of the person closest to you was profoundly painful. That, Paul said, was obviously why they spent so many hours at the office.
One night, deep into a difficult trial when they were both a little fragile, Perry apologized for having to leave her. "We chose this, Perry. Besides you don't have to worry about me," she stopped, tipping her chin way up. "Necessity is the mother of invention and I came up with a quite reliable substitute long ago."
Perry had looked at her more than a little irked but what she said melted his heart. "When I get really lonely I slip into your pajamas and I'm instantly in your arms—more or less." Turning on her mules she threw him her sexiest glance and disappeared inside.
Now here she was after 36 years alone in bed—as she had spent a criminal number of nights in her life—and dwarfing that little body was a man's navy silk pajama top, size XXL. In all of their years together he had never seen her to do that before and now, it just about did him in.
Pulling over her vanity stool, he laid his pajama bottoms over his lap and sat studying her lovely face; the high cheekbones sprinkled liberally with freckles, perfect, curvaceous mouth, naturally arched brows, long, silky lashes, tiny nose and angel chin. Paul Drake's voice found him from far away, repeating one of his favorite refrains.
"You know Perry, that girl could have literally any man she wanted if she ever thought about any other man. All she'd have to do is set her cap for him. I'm still not convinced you deserve her."
Quietly Perry removed his clothes donning the pajama bottom. Not entirely sure he could manage it with his knee, since he nearly went down just getting into his pajamas, he leaned over Della, slid his arms under her and gently, gently lifted her up and into his lap as he sat back on the bed.
Groggy and confused Della put a hand on his naked chest. "Are you really here… or am I dreaming again?"
"I'm here, baby," he said cupping her cheek with his hand, "Although why you would still want me is a mystery. But then you, Della Street, are the one mystery I never could solve."
"I'm a mystery? I'm a mystery," she rolled her eyes and laughed with a mordant edge.
Perry just dropped his head. Sighing Della brought her hand under his chin lifting his beautiful face, spellbound by the unexpected map of pain she found there; pain he had clearly been hiding for so long that it formed heavy creases in his brow, purple circles under his lower lids and, left those mesmerizing eyes, once like jewels, pale and lifeless.
"Oh, my love," Della began to cry for him. "Perry you have to talk to me. I haven't understood any of this. Not running away to a job you didn't want and away from me… from us. Please you must tell me what this is."
Della turned toward him, her cleavage spilling out of the over-sized shirt while he stared, transfixed, his tears dappling her breasts.
"As much as I love you and God knows I do, I can't do this anymore, Perry. I would probably die without you but if we can't find our way back… "
Perry buried his leonine head in her bosom.
"Della how could you do that? How could you throw yourself in front of that insane woman and take those bullets?" Della slid off him, pulling Perry down into her lap as he wrapped his arms tightly around her hips.
"Perry you would have done the same thing. Look, honey, I don't remember much about that day, or the days after. But I remember one thing and you tell me if I'm remembering wrong." Della's voice was solid and strong now.
"We were on the steps, and you said something to the effect that if I didn't fight to live you weren't going to live on without me."
Perry looked up at her in shock. "Did you or did you not say that."
"Do you think that I could have lived on without you? At least this way I thought maybe we could have some control, that's why I turned toward you so she wouldn't hit me anywhere …important…" Della tried to laugh.
But Perry Mason had dissolved into little more than a hurt child who could not understand his pain.
"Of course," she continued, "Who thought she would fire three times, the bitch. At such a close range once certainly would have sufficed. Twice was overkill...but three times, that's just bad manners."
In spite of himself, Perry laughed at her cursing and her unerring, inexorable humor. Quickly his laughter mutated into something else, though. Unable to stem the tide of his tears, so long in coming, Perry finally let go.
"I nearly lost you Della. You died four times! You have no idea what it was like watching you die, you...
And then Paul killed in that accident, which I never thought was an accident…Oh, Dear God, Della, it was too much."
Alarmed by the depth of his grief, grief cloaked in and by distance these nearly eight years, Della held him as tightly as she could, rocking him back and forth, cooing softly in his ear.
"So you pushed me away…."
"Because we weren't safe anymore, in general had gotten so insane because the world, but specifically because of that case. I still don't think we are."
"Then we have to do something about it, my love."
"I can't risk your life again."
"Perry, you can't put me in a bubble. Whether we work together or not we are just people and very vulnerable to the elements," Della explained gently.
"But I can cut down the risk."
"At what cost? This…this torture you've visited upon us for nearly a decade? Perry I'm not alive when I'm not with you so I may as well be dead."
"It's the truth. We can't be apart. It's killing us both. This was never meant to be and it ends now. I will not let it continue." Della's voice was adamant.
"But Della, he, she or they are still out there," said Perry propping himself up on an elbow.
"They sure are. But you and I are an unbeatable team; we always have been and we always will be."
"We are. Gonna' miss Paul, though," Perry's eyes filled with tears.
"About that my love, we owe him." Perry nodded.
"You want to call the shots for a while?" he smiled.
"Well, you have to admit," Della slid down in the sheets facing him with her head propped on an arm, "You've been calling them for almost 40 years; might be time to share, let me have a spin now and then."
If everyone else didn't fall in love with her immediately, too, Perry would have assumed that he was just being biased. Looking at her mess of unruly, dark curls, her smile and eyes that still shone with love for him the way they did at 27, Perry could not imagine how he had gotten so lucky. Through his tears he started to smile, like the sun breaking out in the middle of a rain shower. If there was a rainbow, it was Della and her indomitable spirit.
"Well," he chuckled, "I draw the line when it comes to dancing. I still lead."
"Hmm," Della pretended to think this over and then a sly grin spread across her lips. "Okay, Counselor, okay, this is negotiable. You can have the dance floor but tonight…I'm on top." Della whispered the last two words.
"Oooo, I love when you use my full name, Daddy…"
Perry's eyes went wide and laughing so hard he started to cry again.
Another 30 minutes and four fingers of bourbon later, Della finally managed to get America's most successful and distinguished defense attorney calmed down. Snuggling down into the bed to make good on her earlier promise, Perry's hands lifted his pajama top over her head. Enfolding her nearly naked body in his arms, she tucked her head in the crook of his neck delicately kissing him there, and stroking his shoulders with her soft fingertips.
Perry's hands started looking for—and found—every inch of her, leaving fiery trails on her cool skin. As if touching her for "real" for the first time in years, he couldn't get enough of her. Della moaned against his chest, feeling the man she once loved rediscovering her.
"Della…I think that I need to come home," he whispered.
"Perry, I think that you need to come home," she whispered back, running her lips behind his ear lobe and down his neck. The fingers on her left hand stroked Perry's chest, drawing rings around the sensitive skin there, her tongue following. With her head still against his chest, Della could hear Perry's groan come from deep inside.
"It's going to take me a while to step down properly; probably take a year," he was struggling to concentrate but she had started her descent and it was making him incoherent. That beautiful heart-shaped mouth alternating soft kisses with sharp little bites down his chest, as his breath quickened and his moans got louder.
"Probably take a year…in the meantime…" Della said between nibbles.
"In the meantime we see each other…as often as…" he groaned as she went lower, his fingers tangled in the hair at the back of her neck. "As often as our schedules allow and in between we just, well I just… deal with it. Then when I come back…"
But he couldn't finish his sentence. Della was tantalizing his lower belly with fingers like flower petals while her other hand pulled at his pajama bottom, which had become far too tight she acknowledged with her own deep moan.
Once she freed him she moved her mouth lower to place strategic kisses around his thighs.
"My God, Della…"
Della Street cut her soon-to-be boss off, "Then when you come back I give poor Arthur Gordon two months' notice to replace his executive assistant."
"Never happen," his voice was raspy and ragged. "Will find someone…know that woman … irreplaceable." Della knew he was on the edge so she stopped her ministrations and moved her mouth to meet his, slithering her body against his all the way up.
"Now how hard was that… so to speak?" Hovering over him she looked up through her long lashes, pursing her lips. Perry Mason was starting to feel whole again for the first time in many years. Pushing herself up Della gently placed a leg on either side of him and sat up.
In the office, everywhere really, Della Street was so cultivated, so refined, that her total abandon in bed never failed to turn him inside out.
"My nimble nymph," Perry smiled at her, putting his hands on her thin thighs.
"No that's why I put the music on so you can't hear the creaking," she laughed at herself.
Perry was admiring her in the moonlight. When had she managed to remove her panties, he wondered?
Stroking her arms he eased her back down to his mouth and began kissing her deeply, their lips and tongues tangled, unable to part. Perry's incisive hands crossed her soft back over the deep scars that were finally fading. Trying to fend off his pain, Della pulled back, looking deep in his eyes for a few moments then kissed him sweetly.
"Don't you ever regret those, my one and only love; I don't. I'm proud of them. I thank God every single day for those scars."
Perry opened her lips wider with his own, kissing her so deeply he felt as if he had fallen into her. His fingers playing along the curve of her spine made her shiver. When he brought his hands around the swell of her small hips he could feel her pressing against him, feel the dampness that showed him just how aroused she was.
Their moans wrapped around each other now growing louder until, panting, Della pulled back.
"Too close?" he chuckled.
"I need a minute, honey, or the next kiss will be it," she said, her chest heaving. The moonlight having worked its way around to the side window now, dripped off those beautiful cheekbones and illuminated her eyes. Pulling his good knee up, she leaned back to rest, giving him a staggering view. They held hands, staring into each other's eyes.
Although it had been a few months since they had made love bed was the place they could always find their way back to one another. Tonight, however, was very different. This was passion from their very first days together, when each night was a revelation and every touch so crisp, so clear, it threatened to send them vaulting over the edge.
With his strong hands gripping her upper arms, a sign of his possessiveness that she always loved, Perry pulled her toward him, his mouth merciless on her cleavage. Countless nights Perry merely playing against this soft flesh sent Della into oblivion and now she struggled to keep her wits about her finally begging him to stop before it was too late.
"That's not how I want it," she panted.
"Tell me," he encouraged her.
"I want you inside me," Della's deep voice lured him in as she fell on him again their lips ceaselessly hungry for each other.
"Guide me, baby…" With Perry pleading in her ear Della lifted herself up ever so slowly.
"Oh, Counselor," she murmured, "I think that you know your way after 36 years. But, as you wish my love…"
As Della Street guided Perry Mason back to where he belonged she looked directly in his eyes. Feverish now, he wanted only her complete pleasure and regardless of her "stand" tonight, he knew what that meant. In one swift, stunning movement an unusually agile Perry flipped his secretary on her back without losing contact, covering her with his great form.
Della screamed, holding tight to his shoulders.
Perry dropped his mouth again, teasing the rigid rose-colored flesh with his tongue in the gentlest circles he could make enjoying her sweet scent and the salty trickle of sweat now forming between her lush breasts. Della's hand began to move between them and behind him, until he was tormented.
In all of their years together she had never been this loud, in part because so much of their life had been secret. But tonight, here in their home with Perry finally revived, there was simply nothing she could do about it and this never-before-heard volume and variety made Perry mad.
Locking eyes with her he raised himself up so slowly she wailed. Della arched to meet him but Perry, enjoying her desire more than he could ever enjoy his own, pulled away from her, torturously. Finally she reached her arms up around his neck, corralling him, and he drove himself to the bed forcefully as they screamed together. Even after she stopped undulating Perry kept pressing into her causing guttural noises until she curled against him, whimpering.
Turning them on their side without parting for a moment, Perry cuddled Della close.
"Welcome back, my love," she whispered tears streaming down her cheeks.
"You'll never know how much I've missed you, baby. I will spend forever making it up to you."
"You've got nothing to make up for, Counselor. Let's just… love each other, okay? Just like the old days, let me love you."
"Oh, baby," Perry said kissing her lips. "I love you so. I love you so much more than you could ever know. Next time, Della, you have my permission to club me." Perry wiped away her tears, the back of his fingers sweeping across her cheeks.
"Perry," Della's chuckle was filled with sarcasm and exasperation. "If there is a next time, I'm going to kill us both. Case closed, Counselor."
"Be a fitting end wouldn't it?"
"Long as we go together," Della snuggled in giggling against his chest as they fell asleep exactly as they did in their first years together, arms and legs entwined, never having lost contact, laughing and entirely impressed with themselves.
As if making up for lost time they stayed in bed all day Saturday except for trips to the kitchen for sustenance and a long "soak" in their enormous bathtub. Sunday, out of necessity, they actually left the house having run out of food. But the third time Della's toes, peeking out from her mules, climbed his leg and ducked under his napkin Perry had to call the waiter over to pack their steaks to go.
"Can you get up to leave?" Della laughed at his predicament, her impossibly deep voice doing nothing to help, which he mentioned.
"You're not helping," his eyebrows were raised.
"Sorry, Chief," her shoulders were bobbing up and down.
"This is your fault. You are going to have to help get me out of here."
Della drained her glass before she stood, enjoying his discomfort immensely. "You know dear, much younger men would be very envious of that rapid reaction. You should feel very proud."
"No, Miss Street. I think that you should feel very proud!"
With that Della Street stood, let him get out of the banquet behind her, and handed him the bag of steaks to carry—in front of him. With Della walking as close to Perry as possible they finally got out the door, laughing. As they waited Della kept teasing him, inching away until Perry held her firmly in front of him his arms wrapped tightly around her waist.
When Monday rolled languidly around, it turned into a day of firsts for Perry Mason.
As a cheeky stretch of early morning light found them, Della marveled at the change that had taken place in Perry over the last 48. Only now that she recognized him again could Della see how far away he had been. Sleeping with his head on her chest Della studied his face, admiring how the lines had smoothed and the darkness had cleared; there was even a funny little smile curling around his lips, which, cataloguing the previous evening's activities could have been any number of things.
Realizing how wretchedly she had missed Perry she couldn't stand to have him out of her sight for more than a few minutes. Originally Perry had called his office to say that he would arrive after lunch. While on hold with the airline, however, Miss Street came offering him a Bellini wearing only a pair of heels and a black satin robe that parted to reveal everything.
Taking the cocktail from his lovely, naked secretary, Perry swallowed the drink right down; he had a feeling he was going to need it. Leaning over her lips barely touched his in kisses so soft he was aroused instantly. Dropping the empty glass, fortunately on the rug thought the pragmatic Miss Della Street who was worried for her crystal Perry let his head fall back.
Della worked her way leisurely down Mr. Mason's eager torso and by the time the airline was on the phone his once and future secretary was on the carpet engaged in a first ever for Mr. Mason and Miss Street. Who knows what the poor airline representative heard but after 30 seconds Mr. Mason had dropped the phone—next to the champagne glass—on the floor and was roaring in paroxysms of ecstasy.
The second first came shortly after.
When he could breathe again, 67 year-old Perry Mason, searching the eyes of his beautiful girl who was now tucked into his lap, made an unprecedented move. For the first time in his life, he called in "sick." Blaming urgent business, which wasn't entirely a lie, he informed his office that he would be in Los Angeles for the better part of the week.
"What will you do while I'm at work, dear?" Della wondered, playing with his beard.
"I will cook you wonderful dinners, read and do other things that normal people do. Assuming I can recall how normal works. Also, I believe you said I had some spaces to look at and some people to meet in preparation for re-opening our office."
"We have to sort through your storage, too, and make room here for the things you would like to have in our house."
"Our home," Della agreed.
"And, of course, we have our first case."
Della was leaning in, now, listening.
"Alright, Mrs. Charles," he held her chin between his thumb and forefinger. "We finish what we started."
"And we get Paul's murderer."
"And we get Paul's murderer. As Sam Spade said in the Maltese Falcon, 'When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it… it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around bad for every detective everywhere.'"
Della stroked Perry's beard, her eyes glistening. "We need to avenge…our wondering boy."
Perry held her as she cried softly. "Yes and I don't particularly care for someone chasing us out of our life."
"Us? Not us, pal…" Della tipped her head sideways, sniffling.
"You're right baby; no one chased you away did they, brave girl?" Perry took the handkerchief from his robe and wiped her eyes.
"Let's find them Perry, let's get them; for Paul, for us, for Little Paul."
"How is he?"
"Not good Chief; needs some guidance."
"I'll call him tomorrow. He'll want to be part of this, too. Okay Mrs. Charles, we're back in business. I'll do a little leg work this week."
"You can drop me off at work and, if you don't mind, pick me up in the evening. That way you can have the car," Della liked the sound of that.
"I like the sound of that, Miss Street," he was grinning so widely now that he was starting to look like his much younger self.
Sipping her Bellini, still perched on Perry's lap, Della considered him with narrowed eyes. With a slight, sassy bob of her head she indicated the phone and Perry obliged, watching her curiously. Prompted by her lover's bold behavior, Miss Street phoned her employer saying that she, too, had urgent business and would need to be gone from Thursday until next Monday. And that she wasn't going to make it in today, either.
Before she could get off with her assistant, she heard Arthur Gordon's gruff voice on the phone.
"Get off the phone," Arthur dismissed the poor girl. "Della, are you alright?"
"I 'm fine, Arthur, I'm…"
"Yes. Yes he is." There was a long pause.
"Good." With that he hung up the phone.
Della smiled at Perry a little sadly as she hung up the phone. Perry couldn't be sad for his rival in fact, he hadn't smiled this much in years. When he finally got USAir on the phone again, he arranged for two seats on the San Francisco shuttle for Thursday morning and one return for Della on Monday morning; although, even as he made the reservation he wondered if he would be able to let her go back alone…or at all.
Renewed by their love and the idea that he was no longer impotent to do anything to protect the people he loved, Perry was a changed man. He would never be the arrogant, self-assured fellow of his youth, but more the better he thought.
They arranged to see one another when work didn't overwhelm but spoke every morning and every night before they put their heads to pillow often falling asleep mid-conversation. Rarely did a day pass when they didn't catch up over lunch or tea in the afternoon, too. They shared their goals again, and it didn't even matter that those goals were mostly about him. Of course, to Della, it never had.
So, when the call came a few months later, Perry's blood ran cold.
"Perry…I'm in trouble." Della Street said, her voice quaking.
"My God Della what is it?" In 36 years he had never heard her sound like this. Not even when she helped out her friend Janet Brent and Burger nearly charged her as an accessory to murder.
"I've been arrested, Perry."
"For what?" he screamed into the phone.
"Arthur Gordon was murdered last night. They called me to the office for questioning this morning and arrested me for first degree murder after searching my house."
"Dear God, Della! You let the police search your house without calling me?" he screamed into the phone. "Where the Hell is Andy?"
"Perry, please don't ...I had nothing to hide so…"
"Have you been booked? Finger printed?" He couldn't believe that he was asking that of Della Street.
"Yes," he could hear her voice trembling.
"Della…you're incarcerated?' Perry was incredulous.
"Yes, Perry. Who should I call to represent me?" Della was crying now, although she was trying hard to hide it, and the thought of not being there with her made him physically ill.
"Baby, I'll be there in an hour and a half."
Perry had Kelly charter a puddle jumper and sped to the airport. In the air he tried to figure out how he would pitch this to her. Their plan was that he would step down January 1st. and that's what the court was preparing for but who would do as good a job as Perry Mason?
If she balked, when she balked, he was prepared to tell her the truth. No one was as good as he was and he was sick of this damn job anyway. But he knew that he had to be careful how he said it to her, too emphatic and she would either start to worry or fight him on his decision; knowing Della probably both. Cool, calm and collected, as if she were any other client; that was his tact.
The sight of Della Street in jail was shocking and almost blew the whole plan. His immediate goal was to get her the Hell out of there now.
"Since you called this morning I've been trying to think who should represent you. The best man I can think of… is me," said the Perry of old, calm, professional to the point of distant, strong, assured, eyes brilliant.
"Since when," she said crying "Are appellate court judges allowed to represent defendants?"
"They're not," he stated matter-of-factly.
"You'd have to step down."
"I signed my resignation," he said in his courtroom voice.
Della started to protest. Perry put a hand up, "Della, let's say… I got tired of writing opinions."
Perry went to her grabbing her as she fell crying into his arms, "Oh, Perry…"
Perry, still stunned, held her close stroking her arms for the first time completely unconcerned with who might be watching. Della pulled away to look at him then fell back into his arms nuzzling her head in his shoulder crying as he stroked her and held her tight.
When Perry Mason and Della Street decided to return to private practice who could ever have known that Della would be their first client?