The Case of the Defiant Della
Las Vegas, Nevada, September 1990
Perry Mason did the unprecedented, the unthinkable and when he burst into her room without so much as a rap of his knuckles on her door, Della turned so fast she nearly got whiplash.
"Perry!" screamed Della, who was known to startle easily and had launched a shower of lingerie up into the air.
Holding her chest she watched as it fluttered down around them like the pastel clouds. Reaching out Perry managed to snap up a pale pink negligee, a lavender nightie, a shimmering oyster slip the color of a seashell's lip and a black lace garter belt, before they hit the ground. Looking adorable draped in the silk, like some giant, slightly odd, racing jockey Della couldn't suppress her laughter.
"Why did you allow me to come to Las Vegas, young lady?" Perry was staring her down in mock anger, covered in lingerie. "For a fight, no less; since when have you known me to enjoy that kind of thing? I like jazz and orchids."
Perry started plucking various pieces of lingerie off him.
"And lingerie," Della laughed her low, throaty chuckle taking a bite of cookie from a plate of cookies he had sent up for her with a pot of tea. He knew she would be peckish when she got in and there would be no time for a meal.
"Well, after a fashion…yes," said Perry pressing his broad back against her door, shutting it, and staring at her legs as he turned the lock.
"Gee, I don't know what was I thinking?" Della rolled her eyes.
Della noticed him staring at her legs and shook her head scanning him up and down in return.
"Not the same thing," Perry smiled.
"To you, maybe. Me, I always find you irresistible, as you very well know." Della took another, this time very sexy bite of her cookie, chin down, eyes up. "And I'm not the only one, much to my eternal chagrin."
Perry recognized when her devotion was showing, as it was with that comment. But that was Della Street, wasn't it? She had been hurt by that very thing and, yet, she knew he needed the boost these days and she played to his vanity, once again, with her deft touch and grace.
"You know Miss Street, only you could make eating a chocolate chip cookie look wholesome and sexy. And make me seem sexy."
"I've always told you, don't sell yourself short, Counselor," Della said giving him her sexiest sidelong glance. "Thank you, by the way, they're delicious."
Perry was wearing one of the striking new suits that she had ordered from his Saville-Row tailor. He was supposed to be losing weight for his heart and instead he was putting it on, out-growing his clothes her poor boy. In the bargain he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with himself, bed activities both of the sleeping and non-sleeping varieties, his ability to move at all, and his appearance.
To Della, he remained devilishly handsome; he was forever larger-than-life anyway. Perry's weight never had, never could have, any effect on her attraction to him. Since he was usually ill when he was on the thinner side, as she often pointed out to him, she would take the full-sized Perry every time; unless that was compromising his health, which at this point it seemed to be.
"Della, I've walked into a case that I didn't want and into playing grandpa to a thoroughly trying teenager. I am not happy," he punctuated every word.
Of course, now that she was here things were improving considerably. With her coloring, Della was dreamy when she wore white. Today when he heard her arrive he almost danced into the room. There she stood in a flowing white traveling suit with a knee-length coat, skirt and blouse. Della was in non-work make-up, bright, sexy with full lips like coral, and smoky eyes glittering like jewels. With her hair full and on the longer side she was so young-looking, so lovely that all he wanted to do was take her to bed; as difficult as it was for him these days.
But that would not do; work was pending, Ken was waiting and their reputations needed maintaining.
Perry had spent decades protecting Della in their unorthodox partnership. A true lady, living in a way that was antithetical to whom she was and in what she believed, at the very least Della deserved to have her privacy protected. When they traveled for work they had separate rooms and used them; travelling for pleasure they had separate rooms but used only one. And after more than 40 years, Perry still insisted that they maintain separate residences.
Considering what had happened to them as recently as '87 with that scoundrel Harlan Wade, he felt he was right to insist on these things. Although, Perry had to admit that while he thought it would get easier as they got older it was in fact, getting much more difficult.
"Is there something that you want in my room?" Della said still looking up at him lips pursed.
"There is always something I want in your room, Miss Street, when you're in it."
Della didn't like the tired look in his eye but she didn't say anything.
"I hate to see you change," he sighed. "I've always loved you in white, you look fetching, like the angel you are come to rescue me."
"Such poetry, and from such a gorgeous man!" Della flirted back with him, madly.
"You're probably the only woman in America who still dresses up to take a plane."
Perry smiled at her, holding his papers in front of him like a little boy, not wanting to leave despite being relieved that she was here with him now and he was feeling significantly better.
"I have an admission…" Della was folding the itinerant lingerie to put in a drawer, which brought a wistful look from Perry and, subsequently, a sly smile from Della.
"You know, Miss Street, I would say that there was some design behind all of that lingerie if I didn't know you as well as I do…"
"The closest person to me," Della stopped for a minute and looked off, "Closer than I thought I'd ever be to anyone, actually."
"How do you always know what I need to hear?"
"You know, when you announced this boys' weekend I was excited," Della continued unpacking, missing the hurt that crossed her boss' face. "You've been a bit of a …challenge lately you must admit. I thought ahhh, a few days alone!" Della waved a hand in the air.
Then she sighed and put her hand on her hip. "But then you left… and all that I felt was lonely and empty, as I always do when we're apart."
Perry was smiling beatifically. Then he thought better of his gloating.
"Which is why I try and make sure we're not apart that often," Perry lowered himself onto the edge of the bed. "Della, have I been that difficult?"
Della stopped what she was doing, crossed her arms and considered the floor taking her time to think before she spoke.
"Perry considering all of the work pressure we face every day and that you've been ill this year and let's not forget you live your life in constant pain with your knee and stomach, among other things… considering all of that, my love," Della stood between his legs and drew his head to her. "I think you do fine, just fine.
And don't forget, I never fell in love with you because you were easy. All of those crazy stunts you used to pull worrying me—I loved our work, still do, that's why I've devoted my life to it; to you."
Della batted those long lashes at him as he reached up and held her chin.
"Sometimes I hear myself speak to you, only to you I don't care about anyone else, and I can't believe how I sound. I worry you, about your, for lack of a better and more modern word, reputation. When did I become an old man?"
Della, who had begun the conversation with her usual level of worry for him was now genuinely fearful.
"Perry, I chose my life with you. We chose this life and it has been, a few bumps not-with-standing, a crazy, wonderful carnival ride and I wouldn't have missed a moment of it," she stroked his hair, leaning down to kiss him.
"And this is 1990 not 1950, I don't think we have to worry all that much about my reputation anymore, do you?" Della tipped her head sideways.
"I don't know if I agree but…"
"Well, I'm telling you we can relax the rules a bit."
Out of habit, Perry looked around to make sure they were alone even though they were in Della's room and the door was locked. What he was about to do was verboten.
"Della, the truth is that I missed you and it hasn't even been 24 hours. I can't really stand to be away from you anymore and, while I find it embarrassing, I absolutely cannot work without you."
Perry pulled her down onto the bed next to him for a long, luxurious kiss. Holding her cheek in his hand he let his lips part hers until he was inside her, his need suddenly overwhelming.
"My one and only love, I'm here now." Della held him tight, nose-to-nose while she stroked his back.
In February Perry had had a heart attack and although the "widow maker" failed in its attempt and he recovered nicely, he hadn't been the same. The doctor had told her that it was not unusual. Curiously emotional, he was impossible to read anymore and they both had been afraid of the bed despite the doctor clearing his health and their activities months ago.
"I want to stay here and hold you," Perry pulled her away and sighed. "But Ken is waiting up in Stewart's room. Get me what you can on those men, Della. See you later on."
Perry gave her another quick peck but Della pulled him into her this time, her lips lingering on his, letting him find her. Instinctively Perry's hands went to her waist and then traveled up.
"See," he said his voice raspy. "This is the problem with having a suite instead of two separate rooms."
"No," corrected Della, "This problem is indicative of something much greater, Counselor."
"Yes," agreed the attorney as he breathed into her ear, "We are getting too old to have to sneak around or be without one another."
"Counselor," Della was in just as much trouble, "You just said a cotton-pickin' mouth full."
After changing into her office beige, Della scanned her notes before going up to Stewart's suite. There weren't many people Perry hated viscerally without really knowing them well but Stewart was one. He had come to the office a few times in the 1970s, trying to get Perry to join his "team" and he never left without asking Della to dinner.
Over the years they had confronted this hundreds of times and it never failed to remind Perry how alluring Della was not just to him but to almost any male with a pulse. Not wishing to seem proprietary he let Della handle these moments. Depending on the kind of man with whom she was dealing, she used one of the two set answers: "I don't date clients," or "I'm involved." Both were said as endearingly as she could manage.
Stewart was a special case, though, and when he leered at her asking her to "share" dinner with him that weekend, she simply said, "No thank you." Perry admired Della during such moments. It was the proper response, maybe the only response, for a man like Stewart who needed to be shut down immediately and without qualifiers.
"You're a lucky man, Mason," Stewart had smiled at Perry as he left.
According to the police report, Stewart had been with one of the many hookers he had "on retainer" in Las Vegas the night he was murdered, who had told police that she left him alone after taking the money off the table. Stewart was only a marginally successful publicist but he was never-the-less loaded thanks in large part to these poker games where he was invariably the winner of some enormous pots.
Now Perry wanted Della to pump the secretary for as much information as she could get on the men who were part of the poker game.
Della was always sent in to work on the secretaries, which she found aggravating even understanding the thought process behind it. Over the years they had seen so many women in so many perilous situations; some in which they put themselves, some into which they were put by bosses, or bosses' wives. For a while it had become an office joke between the three of them until Della became sensitive to it, perhaps even overly sensitive. Perry understood that it was not without very good reason.
Passing in the hallway, just outside the door, Perry and Della reached out their hands briefly to one another and exchanged a smile as she kept going, entering the suite.
It was an inauspicious beginning. Richard Stewart's secretary seemed as hard as he was and Della sensed a very bitter woman.
"I was hoping you could tell us about the four men who played poker with Mr. Stewart the night he was murdered," said Della sweetly.
The answer had seemed obvious to Della, "Because we suspect that one of them was the murderer."
"I thought the police already had the murderer."
This woman wasn't giving an inch and Della knew that she was going to have to remind her what the future held if she didn't co-operate. Stewart was a rogue who by rights belonged in jail, having ruined countless lives with blackmail and slander. Sarah Andrews was now the primary witness to those misdeeds.
"Sarah all of Richard Stewart's records are subject to subpoena," Della stated matter-of-factly, "You could be compelled… to testify."
"Is that some kind of threat?"
"I just want you to understand that I know how unpleasant that could be for you."
Whenever Perry needed "the personal touch" he sent in Della Street. Della decided to try another approach; no one understood the fierce allegiance of the protective secretary better than Della Street.
"How long were you with him?" Della asked.
"I've been with mine over 40," which was true, if not entirely truthful, as their definitions of "been with" would be considerably different.
"I know what it's like to devote your life to your job; to one man," Della's voice dropped. Perry, who had turned back once he passed Della and had been standing just out of sight in the hallway, felt a lump in his throat.
"Are you married?" Della asked.
"No," Della nodded. This could have been her; in fact, if she wasn't careful it could still be her. "He was once but it didn't last. He could be difficult, even mean. But he was always good to me."
"What you had with him was like a marriage," No thought Della even as the words left her mouth. That was a lie. There was a big difference between being a man's secretary and being his lover or wife.
"He was probably the closest person in the world to you."
Perry looked down at his feet scowling, putting his hands behind him.
"I know how terrible it must be for you to lose him," Della's voice was so sweet, so sympathetic, just like Della herself, thought Perry.
"You can't imagine."
"Oh yes," Della said looking off. "I can imagine."
As Perry left to make his way quickly—or as quickly as he could—to their suite, Della and the bitter secretary were making arrangements to meet for dinner in a few hours to discuss the suspects. Perry had a lot of thinking to do; and not just about the case.
Della Street neither mooned, not moped; those emotions were purely the province of Perry Mason. Even he knew that, quite often, he acted like a spoiled child and that what was "adorable" when he was a younger man was not attractive at his advanced age. Perry also knew that he had been irascible and diffident around the office these last couple of years, which had gotten much worse since his heart attack. He only hoped that in private, out of the way of prying eyes that Della felt he had made it up to her.
When she came in she reported her conversation but in a very evasive way; without any of the details that he had heard for himself standing by the door. Perry knew that this one had gotten to her, and he suspected he knew why.
"Della, you're never not very truthful." Perry said as she rubbed his back.
"Weeell," she said leaning down next to his ear and putting her arm around his shoulders. "I certainly was not very truthful this time."
Perry only half listened to the rest of her conversation. Since he had heard most of her interview with Sarah the only conclusion he could draw was that Della was suffering remorse over the sin of omission. Della's relationship to her boss was, in fact, nothing like the sad, lonely one-sided one Sarah Andrews had.
On the other hand, it was certainly lacking in places, especially as they were growing older. Yes, Perry had a great deal of thinking to do.
Perry could hear Della enter her bedroom and looked from his book to the phone, expectantly. She had been longer than he anticipated, hard because he was so lonely for her tonight. Also, he didn't really appreciate the idea of her going to dinner with one of their witnesses—even if it was to get him the information he needed—while he had room service hamburgers with the kid.
"Those fellows," Della laughed, "They were real stinkers. But nothing you wouldn't expect of men like that. I'll type up my notes in the morning. Stewart's game, on the other hand…"
"He ruined a lot of lives, Della. If you didn't pay, he slandered you with information he had about you because you paid him to protect you."
"Well, there was more than one motive a man in that room."
"Was she in love with him?"
"Sure; she said she didn't know whether or not he knew."
"Stewart wasn't the kind of man to have real feelings but even he would know if a woman was in love with him."
"That's what I thought, too."
"She wasn't exactly his type…and then there were all of his hookers…"
"Perry, that's awful. She's a nice woman."
"So, out with it my girl. Why did you say that you hadn't been truthful?"
"When I told her what she had with her boss was like a marriage; when I insinuated I had the same kind of relationship she had; that I knew what it was like to devote your life to your job, to one man."
"You do. You have. Any regrets?"
"You know better than that. But we've been together Perry; for over four decades and that… that's very different. I keep thinking about what it would have been like to have…loved you from a far for all of those years and how painful it would have been. And what if you had gotten married?"
"But it was always different with us, Della; always. We fell in love that very first day."
"The truth is I don't know her pain. We have had a blessed life, even with our problems here and there."
"You know, if we hadn't been together that still doesn't mean you would have been a spinster secretary."
"Spinster secretary? Perry!"
"Della, you know that you would have gone off and married someone else. You were, and are, an uncommonly beautiful girl. Frankly, I'm surprised you didn't leave me and find some handsome man who was easier and wanted you to have the things you should have had."
"A home…a family."
"You are my family."
"And you're mine; you're everything to me, in fact."
"Perry," Della sighed. "What am I supposed to do with you, really?"
"You ended up telling her the truth, of course."
"You know me."
"Better than anyone I expect."
"Yes, better than anyone. As it turns out…she knew."
"Well, Counselor, we ignore the press but the press does not ignore us."
"As she said, all of the pictures in the papers over the years and both of us still single, inseparable. We were either together or gay."
"Her words not mine."
Perry laughed at her tone, "Remember that time…"
"I thought she came back because she was chasing you. Imagine my surprise! You're never going to let me live that down are you?"
"No plans to and I think of it rather fondly…now and then. You know how men just love…"
They were both laughing now. Della nestled down in her pillow two rooms away thinking how silly this was at their age; a rule that had been in place since their very first business trip in 1949! Right now it wasn't even passion that she wanted, she wanted his companionship; just to lay against him on the barge of pillows he liked—needed—holding tight, listening to him breathe.
"Perry, does Carlton Grant still need a secretary?"
"Seems like Sarah is a very competent secretary, it's the same business, public relations, and if he still needs one…" Della shrugged.
"Doesn't hurt that he's handsome, about ten years older than she is and a recent widower does it?"
"Gee, I never thought about that," Della said slyly.
Perry laughed at his girl. "I'll call him tomorrow."
They were silent a while… two rooms away, Della kept thinking.
Perry could hear her longing and wondered if his was as obvious. Any time she tried to break the rule he used the integrity of the practice against her despite the fact that his sole concern was her reputation. Perry knew that in the heat of a heated moment with him, Della Street might ignore her reputation, but she would not ignore anything that might damage him in any way. And it was that devotion that made Perry Mason know in his heart that he would go to his grave with Della Street's name on his lips.
Perry heard a tiny yawn.
"My tired little kitten."
It always made Della laughed when he called her kitten. The big, forbidding attorney loved cats; one day when they were firmly settled in one place, she would have to buy him a kitten.
"I didn't even take off my make-up. A cocktail too many I think."
"What did you have?"
"Two martinis, two glasses of wine instead of one and a Madeira. God, how did we used to do it?"
"Drink and work?"
"Martinis, then wine, then cognacs," Della reeled off the cocktails as if she were in a cartoon, making Perry chuckle. "And then we'd go back to the office to work or out on a case. Then we'd go home and make love!"
"Della we have had three secret weapons over the years; coffee, cigarettes…"
"Love, of course."
"I don't know that I like the sound of that; makes it sound like an addiction."
Of course, as soon as Della said it out loud…
"And are you under the impression that our love hasn't been an addiction?"
"I prefer to think of it as an obsession."
Della yawned again, a tiny yawn like that of a child.
"Go to bed sleepy."
"I'm in bed. All alone."
"Now that's a waste."
"It's okay. I'm used to it…"
Perry smirked, "Manipulation is so unbecoming on you Miss Street."
"Good-night, Counselor," Della sang in that voice.
From two rooms away, Della could feel the (hotel) Walls of Jericho tumbling down.
Perry sat in bed uncomfortable in the extreme. Even at this age all it took was a little verbal thrust and parry with the lovely Miss Street for Mr. Mason to be ready to go. Laying back he tossed and turned for a few minutes, unable to find a comfortable position, envying that she was probably asleep already.
Then he turned off the light and endured another three minutes of agony. Perry had several choices and only one was appealing, in part because it was the only one that made any sense at all.
"This is absurd!" he said out loud to no one, a habit of his when he was frustrated.
Getting out of bed he stepped into his slippers and walked to the closet for his robe, mumbling to himself; so loud, in fact, that he hadn't heard the door quietly opening.
Now he was even imagining he could smell her.
When he turned back around there she was, leaning against the edge of the connecting door. Wearing a short frilly little nightgown that he recognized as the lavender gown he had caught that morning, one incredibly, long, slender leg crossed in front of the other, arms across her chest.
Della saw that he was coming to her and he was coming to her because his need was more than evident.
"The numbers don't add up Counselor."
"In what way, Miss Street?" Perry was crossing the room slowly, his eyes hooded and dark, trained on hers, having her without ever touching her. She felt it too, he could see it.
"In any way, Mr. Mason," Della pulled his robe away and threw it on the chair. Then she quickly unbuttoned his pajama top and pulled it off him.
"You're 73. I'm 68. We've been together for 41 years and it's 1990. It's 1990, Perry and everyone apparently knows about us anyway. The joke's on us, lover. Not living together, not spending the night together in hotels because we're unmarried…how much longer?"
"It is getting to be an untenable position," he agreed.
Della's voice dropped so low it rolled under the bed, "And I can think of so many other positions I'd rather enjoy with you, Counselor."
Perry reached out and touched her cheek, pulling her towards him to taste her; that familiar taste that had owned him outright for decades. When they were together like this time ceased to exist; the sound of their kisses, as unique as snowflakes, filled the silence of his room. Della loved those sounds knowing them better than any other.
Pulling away, but only for a moment, Perry answered, "We made a good show of it for 41 years. We're done, Miss Street. We don't owe anyone a damn thing."
Pressing her hands against his chest, she dropped her mouth and began running it along his collar bone, gently pulling the silky still mostly dark hair with her teeth until her lips found his softest skin. Perry's hands were behind her busily stroking one of her more underrated attributes, one hand sliding all of the way between her thighs.
Della was calling his name now, over and over.
Reaching down to her thigh, he grabbed her left leg and put it around his hip, his other hand still busy. Della moaned into his shoulder.
"I came to seduce you, Counselor…"
"Yours, mine, ours, Della…" Perry half-laughed, half moaned, pulling her other leg up and lift her around him.
"Be careful, Dear, please…your knee…"
"We're not going far…" he laughed.
Della knew how much he wanted to be the young man, even the middle-aged man that he once was. So much a part of her heart was Perry Mason that his pain, without ever being expressed, became part of her. Clutching his shoulders she tilted her chin up to feel his lips again, kissing him so tenderly, so sweetly he stopped and just looked at her before making a trail of little kisses, from the corner of her mouth to her chin.
Perry carefully walked two more steps to the chest of drawers. Reaching out with the back of his arm, he swept everything to the side, and sat Della gently on the edge. Taking two pillows from the bed, Perry wrapped an arm around Della's back and pulled her toward him, kissing her backwards when he had it just right. The other pillow he placed under her.
Flipping off the lights overhead he stood in front of her, letting his pajamas fall, stepping out of them. Della reached behind her and flipped the lights back on. When Perry reached his hand back up, she put her hand underneath his, entwining their fingers. They stared at each other for a long while, as they often did when engaged in a battle of wills. Perry was stroking the inside of her thigh, higher and higher, trying to break her, while Della's graceful fingers danced over his lower belly and beyond with the same purpose in mind.
Finally Perry leaned into her, involuntarily, and Della drew his head into her shoulder, stroking his hair, rocking him slightly.
"More of you will never make me love you less, my darling," Della whispered. "Now go turn the nightstand lamp on low and try not to kill yourself on the way over," Della chuckled flipping off the lights for him first.
Upon his return Perry put his hands on her knees and buried his head in her cleavage, kissing her through her nightie, which he slowly pulled up and over her head, letting it fall behind her. Perry began exploring her as if they had just met, kissing, stroking, hands and lips all over her until she was writhing and grasping at him.
"Why are you still clothed?" Perry smiled.
Della rolled her eyes slightly at him. Drawing her legs up to the side, she worked her hands between them, lifted herself up a bit and slid her panties down her legs where Perry crushed the soft lace in one great hand and pulled them the rest of the way off.
Perry moved in against her lifting her legs up and around him, as Della cried out. Taking a slender wrist in each hand, he wrapped her arms behind her, pinning her down. For a long, long while he moved only his lips across her body until her head was twisting and Perry thought he was going to go mad watching her pleasure.
When at long last he started to move, they managed to bury in each other's shoulder the sounds that would have come from several cresting waves of euphoria.
"So, my one and only love, you're an Old Man?" Della asked her voice deepened by lust, moist lips panting, a trickle of sweat between her breasts like nectar from a flower. "I'd like to know many men of any age can…enjoy themselves…that many times and remain...relevant?"
Perry laughed, "Miss Street, I have never seen a woman who reads as much smut as you do go so far out of her way to avoid certain words."
Lips against hers now, Perry whispered, "Last round?"
Della pressed her lips to his ear, whispering things that made him moan, "Miss Street, really…"
When Perry let go her wrists he dropped his mouth to where the nectar blossomed. Whimpering, Della wrapped one arm around his neck, hiding there, kissing and biting his skin, and let the other hand drop between them making him gasp. The next several minutes were filled with raw sound, Della backing up against the wall and Perry slamming into the dresser, over and over; their whispered cries, names and declarations of love.
Breaking all of the rules tonight, they lay in bed in the dark, tangled in each other, sharing a cigarette in their non-smoking suite.
"I'll pay the cleaning fee," offered Perry, now in a magnanimous mood.
Perry ran his fingers up, down and around her back, tickling her.
"Mmmm…" Perry loved her purr but it was just one of a thousand things that he loved about Della.
Ladylike and demure, Della Street also had fight in her to let him know when she objected to the way he was handling a case. Since Perry had gotten so difficult these last few years, her fight came in handy for her own survival. At the end of the day, when the lights went out—or stayed on—Della's proper ways took flight. Ever since they had first made love, that abandon in the bedroom was one of Perry's great delights in life; her eager enjoyment of, and natural ability for, lovemaking.
Della poured several little bottles of Hennessy she found in the minibar into a single glass and came back to the bed, sitting next to him, drawing her legs up. They passed it and the cigarette back and forth for a while, Della's hand on his stomach stroking the soft skin.
Finally, after enough cognac, Della looked into his eyes, "I need more, Perry."
Perry brushed her wayward curls off her forehead. "Tell me, it's yours."
"We both do."
Perry took one of her pillows and pulled himself up enough to tuck it behind his back. Balancing the glass on his stomach and the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, Della couldn't believe how sexy he was to her.
"Tell me," Perry's voice and face were serious; his hand had landed on the inside of her thigh where it stayed.
"I need more than our work; more than our matching rings," Della looked at hers and smiled. "I need more than a few nights a week together."
"Do you want to get married?" Perry asked, still scowling.
Della knew that this wasn't a proposal.
"You work out the details any way you want, Counselor. Honestly, it doesn't matter to me; not now anyway. But I want to go to bed with you every night," Della's voice cracked and fell away from her as she tried gamely to finish. "And I want to wake up with you every morning. I've earned it, Perry."
Lighting another cigarette, he passed it to her first then took it back.
"Yes, yes you have. You've earned a lot more than that."
"Well…in that case," Della sighed and dove in, "I want to go home full-time, Perry. This going back and forth is too much. I don't care for Denver and I don't think you do either. You can teach at UCLA or USC Law—both of them have been after you for years. Being Dean of the law school was a wonderful offer but…I want to go home, where we belong."
Perry took a long drag of the cigarette then stubbed it out in the cold cream lid they were using as an ash tray and moved it to the nightstand. Sitting up slightly he put his hands under her arms and picked her up almost like a child. Della curled into his chest, holding him tightly.
"Okay, we'll start cutting back our case load here and I'll notify the school that I'm stepping down."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. You deserve a say in our life, too, you know? It's the first time you've ever asked for anything and it is, after all, 'our' life."
Della lifted her head, kissing Perry, as he stroked her cheek.
"Tell me something, however, is this because of your conversation with this woman?"
Pushing off him to meet his gaze Della nodded.
"Yes. It is; not entirely but in part. The rest of it is, simply, I'm tired of missing you."
"My apartment, your house or someplace new?"
"Gentleman's choice. But I may as well go for the trifecta."
"There's more?" Perry laughed. Truly in more than 40 years the woman had never asked for a single thing and had accepted his whims, stupidities and indiscretions. She had, in fact, more than earned anything for which she asked.
"Perry, I love you more than anything in the world and that love is the reason I have lived my life the way I have. There's no one else for whom I would have lived my life this way. With the exception of Paul, you are my entire family, my entire world."
"I know, Baby," Perry stroked her soft cheek.
"Someday there will be only one of us," Della could see Perry's eyes flash wide in the dark. "But I'd like that day to be as far in the distance as possible. Do you know where I'm going with this?"
"I have to start taking care of myself."
"No. You have to lose weight, get some exercise, stop smoking, cut back on your drinking and get your blood pressure down. And I'll do it all with you," she said her deep voice curling around him, "Every step of the way my one and only love; every step of the way."
Perry took a drag of his cigarette; it would be one of his last, and nodded. "Okay."
Perry put out the last cigarette and they shared the end of the cognac. Pulling Della around so she faced him, she curled against him and they whispered in the dark, both of them enjoying the excitement of making plans for their future, until they fell sound asleep on one another.
They agreed to go back and forth for one more year to give the school time to find a new Dean, Perry asking repeatedly if she was absolutely sure that this was okay. Della assured him that it was, especially now that they had gotten rid of her Denver apartment and moved her in with him. Neither of them minded being there after that, in fact, they finally started to enjoy the town a bit.
Perry's furnishings from his Los Angeles apartment, which he had used mostly for storage, were moved into Della's house. Since Della had picked out almost everything in all four places, all of the furnishings blended just fine.
Silently, they had both worried that it was too late. Staying in each other's homes was one thing but sharing all of their living spaces with no escape, at this age when they were both so set in their ways, left so much room for failure.
However, when the time came, first in Denver, then Los Angeles and then in the beachfront home they bought in Malibu, they understood just how foolish they had been. Their lives were instantly so much more fulfilling that they took every opportunity to tell each other what idiots they had been.
Had they been as smart as they thought they were, they would have realized how absurd it was to think that this would be the one area where they didn't do better with one another than alone?
Los Angeles, Brent/Bank of California Building, September 1992
Perry opened the door to their shared office back in their old building and, as usual, it made him feel warm, happy and comforted. For both of them, going to work now was like going home, just like it had been all of those many years ago.
"Della," Perry said hooking his cane on the edge of his desk and putting his briefcase down, "Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again."
"You certainly can my darling, you certainly can."
Della got up from her desk and went to pour him some coffee. On her way over his desk Perry reached out his hand, which she took with a smile. Taking the coffee from her hand he pulled her in for a kiss. Having a receptionist again meant he and Della could work together in the same office, which pleased them both. The space they had was so large there was plenty of room for their two enormous desks, a conference table and sitting area.
"You know, Wolfe gets a bad rap for that," said Della.
"Bad rap;" Perry laughed to himself. She had been reading hard-boiled detective stories again. Della Street read everything, but her occasional foray into pot-boilers and worse amused him no end. As early as the '50s he had been shocked to open a book she was reading to find it was what could only be described as porn, which explained a lot about certain knowledge she possessed. Of course what was salacious in 1954 was quite a bit different than what was salacious now and when he opened a book of hers now that had that bent, he found himself blushing and putting it down rather quickly.
"'You Can't Go Home Again' was culled by an editor from a sprawling novel Woolfe never finished. And by the way, the main character couldn't go home again because he wrote a book vilifying everyone in town, not because you inherently can't go home again," explained Della sweetly, but very firmly. "I always find that implication annoying."
"Said the one-time literature major," Perry chuckled behind his fist.
"I had many interests," Della threw over her shoulder blithely, returning to her desk
"My Renaissance woman," Perry looked down and started working on a brief Della had prepared.
They worked steadily throughout the afternoon, frequently lobbing questions back and forth, arguing about a case or staring at one another until the other one looked up; their favorite office game, reminding them of a time before they were together when one would catch the other stealing a glance.
They were sitting on the terrace, watching the sunset with a glass of wine when their receptionist knocked on the door. Della jumped up and, stepping a foot inside called for her to come in.
"This was just dropped off by messenger, Miss Street. Will there be anything else tonight?
"No, Dear," she told the young woman patting her arm. "You run along and have a nice night."
"Good night then!"
Della opened the small manila envelope addressed to the two of them and out came a large, thick ivory envelope, addressed to them in calligraphy.
"What's that?" asked Perry pulling her on his lap.
"Someone's getting married."
"Oh, no," he groused.
"Oh yes, Dear," Della stopped long enough to give him a kiss.
"This really is so cozy now I don't want to go home; although I love the house," Perry admitted.
"Cozy, Dear? Not a word I ever would have thought I'd hear come from those lips but then they offer constant surprises!" Della leaned in, nose against his cheek, making him laugh.
"Oh alright; for whom will we have to give up a Saturday this time?"
Della finished opening the envelope.
"My, my, my…nice job, Counselor. Or shall I call you Dolly Levy?"
Della handed him the invitation, and watched his face grow a slow smile across it.
"All better now, Miss Street?"
"Yes, Chief. All better."
"Can we finally put this case behind us?"
"Consider it done, Boss."
"Then where shall we go to dinner?"
Della thought for a minute and then looked at him knowingly. Putting her arms around his neck she whispered a single word in his ear.
Perry moaned, "I love when you use those words, Miss Street."
Della laughed as he kissed her neck, 'Home' it is, young lady."
Knowing there would be no more work tonight, Della took only her handbag and Perry his cane. After getting the lights around the room then stood at the door waiting as Della finished making a note on their joint calendar for Saturday, December 5th, "Sarah/Carlton, Sacred Heart Chapel, Covina."
Della flipped off the last light as he took her elbow, leading her out, and shut the door behind.