1977, Los Angeles
Silently and just out of her sight, Perry Mason stood in the doorway watching Della Street finish packing up 28 years-worth of their lives. Since Perry wasn't expected back until much later Della, believed she was alone with her thoughts and seemed consumed by them.
The weeks leading up to this night had been highly charged and insanely busy, with most of the work falling on Della's slim shoulders. Perry had always tried to look out for her but his mind was elsewhere seemingly wholly unaware of the toll this enormous change was taking on her emotionally and physically.
In fact, he was so remote it had left her a bit dazed. But on this difficult night, stalwart as she was, the sole concession she had made to fatigue and heart-break was kicking off the spectacularly high heels she had insisted on wearing every day since 1949.
Perry watched Della as he had for 28 years; from a far. Now 55 she was more beautiful than ever, breathtaking even, from the gentle eyes incapable of hiding her emotions, to her sweet, dazzling smile and, especially, the luminous glow that radiated from her, which was uniquely Della Street. Recently she had cut off the long hair she had grown and had been blowing straight for a few years. The change was quite stunning but, in truth, he had missed his beloved and quite adorable curls and was thrilled upon their return.
Over the years elegance had fairly evaporated from their little corner of the world. An ill wind had blown across the country and Los Angeles was drowning beneath an ultra violet sea of unfortunate, unnatural materials like polyester, colors not found in nature including something called day-glo, fringe and patterns that left you thinking you might somehow have unwittingly ingested LSD.
Ever chic Della's style had, of course, modernized but had not fallen prey to the trendiness that now infantilized fashion. Her hems had gotten much shorter with everyone else's, thankfully since covering those gams was a crime in itself, but her suits, skirts and dresses still had clean, classic lines and she had yet to succumb to slacks in the office. Cashmere sweaters and twin sets were still her mainstay and she sent for them from the same Madison Avenue boutique she used for decades. And none of her shoes had a layer of cork on the bottom.
Unlike anyone else he had ever met— feisty, sexy, playful, funny, brave and brilliant—she set new standards for efficiency and was the kindest, most centered person he had ever known. Perry had loved watching her mature and had loved growing older with her. Now after almost 30 years, at a most important time in their lives, he was going to leave for a job he never really wanted and the sad fact was he couldn't even say exactly why he was doing it.
In some respects Perry felt that this move had the desperation of a midlife crisis, despite the fact that at 60 he was on the far end of mid-life. There were mortal undertones, motivated by the deaths of their friends; and some family duty in the fulfillment of a long-dead grandfather's wish. Perry's great fear, however, was that it was something much more sinister than he, himself, would not see for years.
What bothered him most was that he had come to realize he had erred on the wrong side. That it was not his work life that needed changing it was the fact that, at the age of 60, he realized that he needed a personal life and now he was doing the one thing that virtually assured he wouldn't have it; not the one he craved anyway.
Instead of running away to another city, he should have confronted Della. He should have told her he loved her, only her, and wanted to be with her. If she chose Rich Richardson over him then so be it but at least he would have been honest and they would finally have dealt with their feelings. But Perry nurtured hurt instead, which helped prompt a rash life-altering (lives altering) decision.
When he learned that what he had heard about Richardson and Della getting married—from Richardson himself—had been an outrageous exaggeration, it was too late. The announcement had been made to the press and there was no graceful way out. Now he had closed a thriving practice, putting 25 people out of work and traumatized the one person in his life who should have been cossetted at this time in her life. Over, at least in part, gossip.
Despite a steady stream of tears, Della moved efficiently around the room packing up their lives to send his in one direction and hers in another. That was as he wanted it and it was quite a final statement to make after all of these years.
Lovingly she placed the last items from his desk in the final carton marked Justice Perry Mason, c/o First Appellate Court of the 9th District, 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Della had had a friend of theirs who did their audio forensics help her make Perry a tape of their favorite songs to take with him. Over nearly three decades they had spent thousands of hours on the dance floor together, one of their few opportunities at intimacy. Della loaded it into the latest thing in music, an audio cassette player that she had bought him, and pushed play.
Moments later Nat King Cole's smooth voice wafted from the machine:
There will be many other nights like this,
And I'll be standing here with someone new,
There will be other songs to sing, another fall, another spring,
But there will never be another you.
There will be other lips that I may kiss,
But they won't thrill me like yours used to do,
Yes, I may dream a million dreams,
But how can they come true,
If there will never ever be another you.
Falling into Perry's leather desk chair, Della dropped her head and began to sob. Perry, now in tears himself, knew that walking in at this moment wasn't going to help either one of them. They had nearly 30 years to express their feelings but somehow never managed to break the barrier beyond a few stolen kisses and caresses, endless nights of her in his arms dancing and a single missed chance that could have changed the course of their lives.
Perry Mason had sex with other women; he had absolutely everything else worth having with Della Street.
Now he was leaving, tearing apart their intricately entwined lives and it was more painful than any divorce could have been because it was not Della that he wanted to leave behind. They were each other's closest confidante and he knew they would see one another often. But Perry couldn't shake the feeling that he was losing any chance he had at real happiness. Turning, his eyes lingered sadly on the caring, sultry, exceptional woman responsible for every good moment of his adult life then walked out the door.
From beneath her lashes, Della Street witnessed this final act of mercy with enormous relief and withdrew a card and square box from her handbag. While it was a bit of a cliché, Della had been searching for the perfect pocket watch for Perry for years; ever since he told her the story of his grandfather's watch one evening in the office, late at night when they often opened up to one another.
"Things" had never interested Perry unless he was the one giving the gift but when he was a boy he coveted his granddad's antique watch; mostly because it belonged to a man he adulated. But the Judge—whose fondest wish was for his grandson to follow in his footsteps—had fallen into ill health and then inevitably onto hard times. In 1933, when Perry was just 16, the old gentleman died and the white gold pocket watch with its sapphire fob, had to be sold to pay his debts and burial.
Just days after Perry devastated Della by announcing his intention to close the practice and accept the Governor's appointment to the appellate court Della got a call from their contact in Cartier's estate jewelry department. After a decade he had finally found a watch with the characteristics she had described. Parisian art deco, from the early 1900s, the watch in platinum, ringed by 12 carats of French cut Kashmir sapphires was so extravagant it was almost unseemly. But it was perfect. And Della no longer cared about what was or wasn't seemly.
That either of them ever cared at all was at the root of their problems.
When she first bought the watch she couldn't wait to see his face as he opened the box. After the announcement, however, Della thought perhaps their separation would be as horrifying to him as it was to her and he would finally make some sort of move to claim her. As each day passed that seemed more unlikely and the pain became almost unbearable.
Della realized that her tender heart could never survive actually saying "goodbye" to the only man she had ever loved. Instead, she decided on a note and as long as it had to be that way, she intended to finally say the one thing she had needed to say all along.
I can't say 'goodbye' to you. I'm sorry to disappoint but as further proof that I'm not the woman either of us thought I was, I leave you with the following thought.
I love you; I always have and I always will. My only regret is that I didn't tell you many years ago. Perhaps things could have been different for us. I'm tremendously proud of you, as ever, and know in my heart what an incredible judge you will be.
Think of me,
Della couldn't tell how long she had been sitting there; through one side of the tape and two short bourbons anyway. If she wasn't careful Perry would come back and the scene she had tried so to avoid would be played out. Maybe in some small way, it occurred to her, she was hoping for that very thing.
Re-winding the tape Della popped it out of the machine, put it back in its case marked "Memories" placing them both on the top of Perry's blotter before sealing the carton with several layers of packing tape. Tenderly, she set the watch and card on top of the box.
When she slipped into her trench coat and picked up her briefcase and handbag she took a final look around the office where she had spent most of her adult life, the sadness that registered in her eyes was untold. Scanning the room countless memories flooded back and the reality of her loss hit her so hard she thought it might knock her down. Wrapping her arms around her waist she leaned against the door, her slender body racked with sobs.
Perry, who incorrectly anticipated that Della would be gone by the time he returned, now watched from behind the door of their law library; the first place he had ever kissed her. Causing Della, who had never done anything but care for him, his work and reputation so selflessly, this kind of pain made him feel like a monster.
Still he kept telling himself he could only make it worse by confronting her now. As much as he wanted to rush in and wrap her in his arms—and as much as he wanted her on that flight to San Francisco with him—he felt that trying to start a real relationship with her finally after all of these years, a long distance relationship, was far more cruel than just letting her go.
What he didn't anticipate was the profound desolation that would settle over him as Della Street finally closed the door behind her; a despair so oppressive it threatened to smother him with its weight and girth. For the first time since 1949, for the very first time, Perry Mason felt alone.
On his desk Della had left two glasses next to the bottle of Maker's Mark. One of the glasses bore traces of her lipstick and a tiny pool of bourbon at the bottom. The other glass was for him, for the rest of the toast. Rolling her glass back and forth in his hand he swiped his finger over her lipstick, considering its softness and the color it left on his finger.
Sitting under the only light left in his bare office, Perry Mason knew he was going to get good and drunk and was well into his third bourbon before he had the courage to open the gift. Platinum gleaming in his hand, sapphires ablaze under the light, Perry was in awe, not just of its astonishing beauty but what he knew the watch meant.
Late into the night Perry Mason sat at that desk, the note on her engraved DKS stationery in front of him, in his hand the gleaming watch, which he occasionally brought to his lips. Over and again the same thought coursed through his besieged mind.
"Sweet girl… what are we going to do without each other?"