Della's Apartment, Los Angeles
Friday Night, July 8th, 1966
Legs dangling over his long arms, Perry Mason managed to unlock the door and angle the limp little boy through the threshold without bumping his head on anything. Balancing a bulging briefcase in one hand, a ratty, old bunny and child's blue suitcase in the other, he was reminded why the idea of parenthood made him skittish.
Normally it wasn't that taxing a walk from the car to Della's apartment but, gaining weight by the day, Perry struggled a bit, huffing and puffing as quietly as he could manage. He certainly did not need the extra 60-plus pounds provided by their little visitor and his accoutrements. Bringing up the rear, an increasingly maternal Della Street carried another small suitcase, a box of toys, her own briefcase and handbag.
"Kids require an awful lot," Perry was not amused.
"Nothing compared to an infant—we got very lucky our friends were away that week and they had everything we needed for Leander."
For some reason, Della suddenly felt self-conscious about what she had said and busied herself with the baby's things and putting her keys back in her bag. Perry caught the wistful note in her voice and the slight darkening of her beautiful eyes as when a cloud passes the sun.
What had Della wanted in her life when she was young, he wondered? As much as she seemed to love the excitement and danger of their work, he often wondered what she would have done had she not walked into his office.
On the other hand, Della had sought him out. Perry did know—and this wasn't lack of humility because he never ceased to be astonished—that she wanted him. And boy did she have him. Because of the kind of man he was he knew she never quite believed it but it was never-the-less true.
"Shall I deposit this in your sewing room ma'am?"
Perry just liked calling the guest room her sewing room since the only time she tried sewing a button on for him it nearly sent her to the hospital from blood loss. From then on they decided the cleaners would be best the place for button restoration.
An attractive, well-appointed room it was contemporary like everything else in Della's apartment, large with its own small bathroom. Mostly that room was used to house (hide) witnesses and defendants. When Aunt Mae visited Della insisted she take her room, which usually ended in an all-out war.
"Stay in your own damn room!" Mae would grouse at her.
A few years back a compromise was finally reached, when upon Aunt Mae's arrival she agreed to accept Della's offer under the condition that Della spend her nights the way she spent them when Mae wasn't in town. This she offered while simultaneously staring at Della's boss whose eyebrows wilted in mirth.
"Aunt Mae!" screeched her niece.
"Dear," her aunt sighed, "We are getting a bit long in the tooth to be playing the coquette. In your 40s now, aren't you? If you're not spending your nights with this tall drink of water, I am going to worry about you."
Perry, smirking so hard the muscles in his face actually hurt, had had to excuse himself from the room.
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"No, Perry. Put him on the chaise in my room."
Della waited for it.
Perry gave her his best crooked smile, "You have a perfectly good bed in the guest room."
Della saw his best smile and raised it one upturned chin, which she wagged sassily, "I'm glad you think so!"
There it was! Perry's face fell so hard and fast that it was impossible for Della to control herself. Scowling, he headed to her room pushing on the light with an elbow and setting the boy down on the chaise as instructed. When he removed the little sport coat, a blonde head drooped against his chest and immediately… snuggled in.
Perry faltered for a moment. Della's lips were parted ready to speak but Perry gently tipped the little fellow back, cradling him in his great arm. Nimbly he undid the tiny tie with his long fingers then started on the shirt as Della rummaged in one of the little grips for pajamas.
"I guess we should have gone through these for clues," Della surprised herself that they hadn't thought of it.
"I'm still trying to get used to the idea of this being our best friend's son so I'm not quite myself."
Ironically, the humanity of Perry admitting to being flustered was somehow comforting.
"I know," Della's eyebrows went up and stayed that way a little long, letting Perry know exactly what she was thinking.
"Well, after we put him down," Della smiled at his use of the phrase, "Then we'll go through everything. Won't have anything else to do…"
Now who is the little boy she thought, accidentally giggling aloud. With a shoulder he knocked into her a bit then did it again and again until she laughed.
"Hey! This is hard enough without you!"
Della worked to slip the cowboy jammies up his gangly legs then tried to get his top on. He was so sound asleep that he flopped every which way; it was like trying to pick mercury up from the floor.
"Whew," she shook her head from the effort, blowing a stray curl off her forehead making them both laugh.
Perry covered Junior with a blanket that had been folded neatly on the ottoman, while Della tucked the boy's rabbit under the covers. The reedy arms like young elm branches curled instinctively around the fuzzy mess and as she left a heart-shaped lip print on the fair forehead he emitted a contented squeak.
Della Street's magic made Perry grin, which made her eyes crinkle, too.
Turning the small brown oxfords over in his hand, he dropped a shoe to the floor, next to his own foot, laughing chuckling at the difference in size.
"Yours were that little once…even smaller," she threaded an arm through his.
"My baby shoes were bigger than these, Della. You know, you've certainly heard it enough over the years from my mother," Perry snorted.
"You were a round, sweet-cheeked bundle with fair curls and eyes like blue saucers," she whispered just for him, "You forget I have some of those pictures."
Della bent over the bed and ran her fingers through the blonde curls, pulling the blanket up before letting Perry lead her from the room. Careful not to close the door all the way, she was fretting about the resilience of children when a thought grabbed her; a thought that nearly broke her heart.
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"He'll be right there Paul."
Della handed Perry the phone, whispering, "I have to run down to get my mail. I'll be right back."
Perry was so suspicious watching her slip back into her shoes and hurry out the door that he was only half paying attention to Paul.
Once downstairs, Della went first to her mailbox so that technically she wouldn't have lied to Perry. Tucking the few envelopes in her pocket, she realized that although midnight was a memory, she was still in her suit …and that she had never fixed her sweater.
Stepping into the uncharacteristically cool July night, the warm glow of the vestibule receding behind her, Della instantly felt the dark close around her. On tip toe, craning her neck, then crouching down she scanned hedges and streets surrounding her building, worried about the girl who had left her a little boy with her just a few hours before.
This girl had spent hours and hours casing them; seeing what kind of people they were so she would know how and by whom her son would be cared for and Della didn't think it was at all outrageous to suspect that she was nearby tonight.
"If you can hear me…he's fine. He's just fine. If you want to know… how he is…I'll keep your secret," Della pulled her blazer tight around her. "You can contact me any time.
But he misses you already so, if we can help in any way…we will. What you told the baby about Mr. Mason is true—he is a good man, he's the best man I've ever known. In 17 years he's never let me down," Della's voice choked from the truth of her statement, "not even once. You don't have to do this alone, sweetheart. I know it seems impossible to you tonight but I can promise you, I promise you, that whatever the problem is Mr. Mason can fix it."
Della felt the girl nearby but after several moments knew she had to get back inside. Turning she saw a massive, dark figure looming in the doorway and nearly soared through the trees.
Fortunately this turned out to be her lover.
"Della," Perry said sharply. "Is she out here?"
"I don't know. But watching us as she did… I thought…" Della bit her lip and shook her head. "Yes, I'll bet she is."
Lighting a cigarette, Perry walked outside to his tender-hearted girl, holding out his arms to her. Deep in his warm embrace, head on his chest, she sighed deeply. As he kissed her temple and brow he assumed she was thinking the same thing he was: how lucky they were to have found one another.
"I can't fix everything, you know?" he whispered in her ear.
"Oh, yeah?" she snapped back at him with a sexy smile. "Name me one time you didn't manage to…"
Perry put a single finger over her lips, as they grinned at one another like teenagers.
"Miss Street's right about one thing," Perry Mason called out. "We can all do this together. You do not have to do this alone, whatever the difficulty may be. But we'll…take good care of him. He's a fine little fellow and we'll…help keep up the good job you've done."
They stood there a while longer hoping to hear the rustling of a bush, a footfall, anything that might indicate she was listening. Instead the night was studded with the rhythmic chant of crickets and peepers; combined they were a sweet, slightly sad symphony. As bright as the moon was, illuminating the purple and magenta blossoms on the crape myrtle trees until they seemed to glow, it just seemed to make the night chillier.
"Hard to believe it's July," said Della, shivering as she burrowed deeper into Perry. "Almost cold out here…"
"For some people it's always cold out here, Della."
Perry took another drag on his cigarette then threw it down. Turning her chin up he tumbled into those familiar hazel green eyes with their beautiful laugh lines at the outer edges and their impossibly long lashes. Those eyes lit his life like beacons and while he couldn't recall a time when they didn't he could remember well what it was like to be scared that he would never find his soul mate.
Perry shivered and Della immediately pulled away in concern.
"Hey, mister, you're always too warm. Are you feeling okay?"
"Fine. Just haunted by memory…the memory of time before you."
Della stared at him for a moment taken aback by his emotional openness, a thing for which he was not particularly noted, not even with her.
"It's…okay you know?"
"That I know…who you really are. You're safe and let's face it you couldn't do what you do," Della shrugged, deadly serious, "Without being an extremely sensitive man."
They really did read one another's minds, he marveled to himself. A little embarrassed, Perry threw down what was left of his cigarette, stepped on it then kicked it around a bit.
"We'd better go in, in case he wakes up."
Della nodded. She had been heard. A lost girl, so frightened that she was willing to relinquish the most important thing in her life to what she hoped would be a better life, had captured Della and Perry tonight. Arms around one another they went inside but not without Della pausing for one last look over her shoulder.
The young woman in a pale blue coat and matching scarf, looking as tired as anyone ever had, held onto a tree for dear life as she watched the older couple leave. Suddenly she felt so alone that she wanted to cry out. Della Street with her warm eyes, genuine smile and deep, soothing voice almost had her.
But Caroline knew better. She had made many mistakes in her life perhaps what she was doing now was a mistake, too. Maybe it was her worst. But she had been right about Della Street; she knew that she had been right about her. That woman would no sooner let harm or unhappiness come to her son than Caroline herself would.
When she climbed in the car to leave, it was for good this time. There was no question that her baby boy was in the best possible hands. In fact, there was really only one question left: had Caroline been careful enough that the great Perry Mason couldn't find her…unless or until she wanted to be found?