Nov. 29, 1962…The Watchdog is Weary

This was no accident, Della wearing the softest dress he had ever seen.

After all of these years she knew him so well, knew what he liked, what he loved actually. Now here she was the day following the miraculous feats of magic that kept her friend Janet from the gas chamber, and Della Street out of jail, poking the tiger with a stick.

Perry Mason was angrier than he ever thought he could be at Della Street. In his opinion she had jeopardized everything important to them: her safety, her career, his career, their practice and their relationship.

But she sat there in Andy's office looking like a slip of a girl, a rose-colored dress in the softest angora he had ever seen almost hugging her slim figure, hem just barely gracing her knee. Perry loved Della's hair back from her face and forehead, as it was today, because it made that captivating widow's peak so prominent. This woman belonged on the pages of a magazine, or walking along the Champs-Élysées, not sitting in the LA County Jail.

Three nights ago when he picked her up here (was it really only three) she looked devastating. Did she really go out dressed like that without him; alone? It was hard to say what had made him angrier. The way she looked in that tight, short lame dress and the blonde mink stole he had given her one birthday; or the trouble in which she had gotten herself accompanied by an incredibly cavalier attitude.

When they left the police station photographers besieged them, snapping her furiously unable to get enough of her. Reporters screamed questions asking if she had been charged with murder, if Perry was going to represent his secretary, if she was still his secretary and if she was really just his secretary.

Every question made him angrier at her because they pointed up how vulnerable she had made them both personally and professionally. Uncharacteristically gruff with the press, when a reporter tugged at Della's arm, Perry pushed him sharply and held her close. With the flashbulbs exploding Della clung to him as he held her even closer. It made for quite a display in the morning and evening papers, until he got her into the car. It was the last time he would hold her that week.

Since her near-arrest, Perry Mason had not been able to comfort Della in any way, to do any of the things he owed her, any of the things that she would have done—had in fact done—regardless of what mistakes he made. Somehow, and he couldn't say why, this just seemed different to him.

In court awaiting the verdict he had been so angry he could only stare out the window. When she tried talking to him he snapped at her until she looked down at her lap. But he had needed to think, to strategize. Della knew human nature. If she said that Janet was innocent then she was.

So where was the damn proof, where the Hell was it? Not only did he have to find it, he had to find it before Janet's verdict which meant that he had no time. Had that verdict come back guilty, Della would have been charged and the damage would have been done. Everything that they had worked for, even if he could both women off on appeal, would be gone.

That is what consumed his thoughts as he stood by the window; protecting the only person he had ever loved. When Paul brought in lunch for them, he felt the stagnation, suggesting he could leave if it was "a private wake." Trying to smooth things over, without any luck, he at least delivered the tip that helped Perry put all of the pieces together and break the case. But Perry had left Della alone; she set it up that way, she could finish it the same way.

DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDS DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDDSDSDS

Their practice was so insanely busy that they hadn't had much time for a personal life the last several months. They were either in the office, trying to stay awake through dinner or at their own apartments trying to catch a few short hours' worth of sleep.

Occasionally Della might suspect that Perry had a date so she would eventually go out on a few, too, for the sake of self-preservation. Sometimes it worked the other way around. When they talked about it many years later, all they could do was feel pity for, and shame about, the poor stand-ins who sat across from them at dinner over the years occasionally.

For years their relationship had been at the mercy of their schedule, Perry's fears and his inability to make a commitment. Della had her fears, too, but they were largely due to his and her reputation. Usually she would just shrug her shoulders generously and attribute his lapses to the nature of their work. But he knew that she knew better, even if it hurt her too much to say it.

As they sat in Andy's office waiting to pick Janet up to take her home, Della sat with her arms wrapped protectively around her, clearly contrite. At one point she gazed at him, smiling softly, hopefully but he couldn't even give her that and she finally turned away with a shake of her head, eyes wet.

When Andy told them Janet was ready, Perry said "we appreciate it." It was a small tidbit but maybe meant that they were still "them." It reminded her of when he had wanted to write newlyweds Danny and Elaine Harrison a check to tide them over said, "Let us help you." And he always said "our" practice.

Della knew that he considered her his partner, knew that he loved her even when he forgot or didn't have time for such sentiment. But she was 40 now, Perry 45 and the time had come to make some decisions.

For Della it was already too late to change the course of her life, even if she could. Perry Mason and their work were all she wanted and she would have to take them both on his terms.

To date she had been able to subsist like a desert plant, drawing from the situation what she needed to sustain her but if he came to her someday and told her he was engaged to some young thing she knew that it would kill her.

There was a time she would never have considered such a thing possible.

DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDS DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDDSDSDS

When they took Janet home Della sat in the back seat with Paul, turned toward the window as Perry drove in the late morning sun. In her quiet, nervous way, Janet was trying her best to make things right between Della and the attorney, explaining how terrified she was, causing her to put Della in a terrible position; that she couldn't have imagined what she would have done without a friend like her.

But Perry was having none of it, saying that he didn't think either of them were very good friends to have gotten each other in more trouble, then changed the subject to less incendiary topics before taking them all to lunch.

Paul reached over at one point and patted Della's knee but she couldn't look at him. She was too busy counting palm trees in an effort to avoid crying. Della knew he was angry but the extent of it was frightening.

Their luncheon at the Beefeater made for an odd group. Janet's strange, fey husband joined them and it seemed clear they had a tough road ahead. Paul, in an effort to alleviate the tension, guzzled martinis and tried to make too many jokes. Perry studiously discussed the case with both Paul and Della, post-mortems very important to his ordered mind.

Just as carefully he avoided Della in any other way.

Knowing she wouldn't be able to eat much she had ordered a small salad. Perry staring at Della over the menu, seeing that she was thinner and pale, told the waiter to bring her the sliced beets, a baked potato and a filet mignon—the 6-ounce "princess" size. They usually laughed at this but when she looked up at him he was scowling at his menu.

Returning to the office, where she felt on much surer ground, was a relief. But Perry's words remained sparse, his answers clipped and angry. When he spoke to her she swore that she could see icicles form on his breath.

Around 8PM, after six solid hours of hard work trying to catch up, he told her to order dinner so they could finish a brief. Della had to take a moment and say something; she had to try and make this better, to let him know that he needed to ease up on her if he wanted her to work with her usual efficiency. Nervous and preoccupied, she had little concentration for the tasks.

"Perry?"

Perry wanted to ignore her but couldn't; looking up his breathe stopped. He had forgotten how beautiful she looked today.

"I've said it before but I'm not sure that you've heard me; not sure you've wanted to but I am so, so sorry for what happened. I was trying to help," Della trailed off, watching as he turned the pen over in his hands, "If it had been anyone else defending Janet, I'd be in jail right now. I know that."

Perry felt his heart beating faster. She was trying so hard but he was still so angry; but even he knew that his anger was disproportionate now.

"Is that it?"

"Are you….going to keep this up much longer?"

"Della, we have work to do. We're behind because I got distracted this week."

"Perry, I know but I can't think straight with you behaving like this. Haven't you punished me enough?"

"How I'm behaving is at issue? I'm angry at you and I'm angry that you've made me so angry at you. Have you looked at the papers this week at all?" Perry pushed them at her, still yelling. "Do you know what they've been saying about you; about us? Do you have any idea how close you came to being charged as an accessory to murder? What were you thinking?"

"I just told you I understood every bit of that; without you prompting me. I was just trying to help a friend."

"I just don't understand how Della Street, Della Street, of all people, could do something like this…"

"She begged me not to tell anyone. I tried and tried to get her to talk with you. I went to see her with the cash, told her what she was doing was foolish and begged her to see you. I think…I know… if you had come with me that night…" Della's voice was deep and soft.

Perry ignored the remark; it cut to close to the bone.

"You're the one person…"

Perry went to take a cigarette, slamming open the lid on the cigarette box.

"Go on…"

"You are the only person in the world I truly trusted; the only one."

"And now you don't?" Della was incredulous.

"No," he lied. "Now I don't."

Della took a deep breath and steadied herself on the edge of his desk.

Her eyes had been stinging through the entire conversation but now the tears broke, "Well then, I need to prepare…my resignation for you. An attorney has to trust his confidential secretary."

Della made the long walk to her office hoping for words that she knew would not be forthcoming.

DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDS DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDDSDSDS

"How long were you standing outside?"

Paul had entered as soon as Della walked out. Sitting on the edge of Perry's desk he pulled a cigarette from the box, and lit a match on the bottom of his shoe.

"How long are you going to stay mad at the kid?"

"She's not a kid. She's a 40 year-old woman."

"Really? In all of these years, I didn't think you'd noticed."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh c'mon…how long is she supposed to wait around for you?" Paul said through a stream of smoke.

"You?"

"Hey, pal, big difference. I date the kind of women… well, they know the score; I know the score. That, in there, is a lady, need I remind you; a true lady who loves you. And I thought you loved her, frankly."

"That's not a discussion for the office."

"That why you stay holed up in here all of the time?"

Perry glared at his closest friend, essentially his only friend next to Della and certainly one of the few people in the world willing to risk Mason's Irish temper to tell him the truth.

"Okay, she made some mistakes this week trying to help a friend. Maybe she was even a little arrogant about it. Remind you of anyone?"

Perry just stared at Paul, eyes hooded, angry.

"And where do we think she learned all of this, Counselor?"

"Are you saying this is my fault?"

"I didn't think I had to say it. She got caught up in it; you know how she loves this stuff. And you knew she was in trouble, Perry. You knew it. You let her go to that party alone, which you shouldn't have done anyway. But the minute Della Katherine Street asked for 25-large, you should have been on high alert."

Perry twisted his hands in front of him.

"Alright," Paul said smashing his cigarette in the ash tray on Perry's desk. "I've said enough. But you can't kid me. I know why you're so mad at her. I just don't know why such a spectacular woman takes so much crap from a guy like you."

Paul stood up from Perry's Desk as Della walked in carrying a typed sheet of paper. Yanking it out of her hands, Paul only needed to read the first few words of her resignation before tearing up the paper and turning it into a ball, making Della gasp.

Kissing her on the forehead he turned her toward the door and pushed her back.

"Run back to work now, Beautiful."

Paul turned to Perry, shook his head and pelted him with the paper ball. When he flinched and ducked Paul just laughed at him.

"By the way tough guy, no charge on this one, not for our girl."

"Thanks. I'll tell her…"

DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDS DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDDSDSDS

How much?

How much of this was his fault?

They had "taught" her this life and she loved it. And he loved that she loved it. And she loved him, so much so that she stayed by his side regardless of the mixed messages he sent, the weeks, sometimes months of neglect.

For the first time since they had met Della Street had seemingly put someone ahead of him and had gone rogue in a dangerous situation. How alone must he have made her feel that she would have done thought that this behavior was acceptable?

What would he do without her, not just as his secretary, but her?

Perry broke out into a cold sweat as he lit another cigarette.

DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDS DSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDSDDSDSDS

Their coats over his arm, Perry stood in the doorway, watching her. Women like Della, if indeed there were any others and he doubted it, didn't stay single and dedicate themselves to work. She had clearly made a decision. Standing there he woke up from the middle-aged fog that had been afflicting him recently, to remember what an amazing woman he loved.

Perry stretched his hand across her desk.

"Come on," he said softly, giving her a little wink.

Della looked at him for a moment then reached for him, letting him lead her from behind her desk. The wink was enough to send out the tears again.

"Let's go for a drive…" Perry held up her coat.

When Della turned her back to him he slipped the white wool coat over her shoulders. Running his hands up and down her arms he pulled her back against him then wrapped his arms tightly around her waist.

How many times had he helped her into her coat, slipping in a moment of intimacy? How many times had they walked out that door together, or walked back in, clinging to each other by the arm? How many times had they cuddled and kissed, danced and held one, another only to have him back away weeks or months later?

"We'll come back and close up later. Maybe," he whispered in her ear, making her swoon a bit.

Keeping her hand in his, they walked to the elevator, waiting in silence. Once inside he pulled her into his arm, kissing her temple. Della was a big girl—40 years old, prone to occasional sarcasm, savvy and able to take care of herself, she had had to be—but she didn't know what to do now. After all, her intuition had proved dismal this week. Surely she couldn't be trusted now to know when he might jam on the brakes again, throwing her face-first into the windshield.

For a while, she thought perhaps they had accidentally slipped into another kind of relationship, that of a brother and sister; certainly there had been undertones through the years. But there was too much passion and, finally, that was perhaps their great challenge, their often overwhelming passion.

Passion that made them need only one another, and made the world stop turning on its axis when they kissed; passion that forced him to hide his lap when nothing more than his smoldering eyes caressed her; that made her as damp as an early spring morning almost any time he touched her.

Passion that scared the Hell out of them; Perry because if it was ever denied he feared it might be the end of him, Della because she knew that, no matter how little he offered, she would never leave his side.

The simple fact was, she needed him, loved him and when he offered his great, long arm and broad shoulder, Della leaned into him with a weary sigh, one hand on his chest. This had been a long, terrible week that saw her make too many mistakes, misjudging people and situations in a way she never had before; even Perry, to some extent.

"Shhh…," he said wrapping his other arm around her. "I do know and I am sorry. Are you sorry?"

Della nodded her head against him.

"You realize what could have happened?"

Drawing in a deep breath she nodded again, dabbing her eyes with the handkerchief he gave her. When the elevator opened to the garage, Della tried to compose herself so Charlie wouldn't be the wiser.

"Boy," he yelled across the garage as soon as he saw them, "That was a close one, Miss Street! Hey you almost lost your girl, Mr. M!"

"Nah, I wouldn't have let anything happen to her, Charlie. She's taken such good care of me all of these years how could I?" Perry looked at Della, who he saw was registering surprise that he had noticed.

"If it went badly we would have just opened a branch in San Quentin," Perry smiled widely, holding the door for her and then jumping in after her.

"Yeah, well, why don't you cut all of this nonsense and marry the girl," said Charlie wiping his hands on a rag. "This is no kinda' life for two grown people. Why when the wife and I…"

"Thanks, Charlie," Perry Mason cut him off with a genial grin, despite the fact that he wanted to belt him one.

When he looked over Della was smiling for the first time since Janet's arrest.

Once they were out on the road, Perry turned on the heater for Della and then the radio. Then he lifted up his arm and looked over at her. Shyly she slid over, sitting straight-backed next to him. Perry chuckled very quietly and at the next light pulled her forcibly down into him.

Kay Starr came on, not a favorite of theirs, but she sang a song they both loved. Snuggling into him, Della started to relax a little, which was almost always a mistake with Perry but she did it anyway listening to the plaintive music.

Little painted lady, with your lovely clothes

Where are you bound for, may I ask?

What your diamonds cost you, everybody knows.

All the world can see behind your mask.

All dolled up in glad rags,

Tomorrow may turn to sad rags,

They call you Glad Rag Doll…

Admired,

Desired

By fellows who soon grow tired,

Poor little Glad Rag Doll

You're just a pretty toy boys like to play with,

You're not the kind they choose to grow old and grey with.

Don't make this the end Dear

It's never too late to mend Dear

Poor little Glad Rag Doll

Della sighed against him, her lovely hands crossed in her lap. Perry leaned in and kissed her curls a few times while he drove. Suddenly he couldn't let go of her.

"Give me a hand," he whispered in her ear.

Della reached up her right hand, entwining their fingers.

"Huh; just as I suspected young lady," Perry said summing up for the jury. "Freezing. Where are your gloves?"

Della took her gloves from her lap and pulled them on, then turned her body toward him to really snuggle in.

"Della," he said seriously. "You've got a lot more to forgive than I do."

Della, who still hadn't said a word, just shrugged her shoulders.

"How's it been all of these years? Waiting for me to finally grow up?"

Della's laugh surprised even her; for that's exactly what it was and had been for 13 years now. Della had been patiently waiting for this boy she loved so dearly to grow into the man of whom she often saw glimpses and whom she absolutely worshipped.

"Like it always is, I suppose. Growing pains don't just affect you but everyone around you. I guess I just thought I'd wait it out; no choice really. But it's been a long wait, my friend and a funny thing happens, when you're a single woman and you reach a certain age…"

Perry pulled over in a small outcropping and turned off the car, waiting for her to continue. When she didn't, he prompted her.

"You're not 'a certain age,'" Perry stroked her hair.

"Oh, but I am, I am and you know that I am so don't pretend," Della's voice has dropped and she was serious.

"And you've never really been single…"

"Tell that to my tax return."

Perry couldn't stop grinning.

"Well, I'll be right there next to you ageing, as well. And in case you hadn't noticed I am getting old!"

"Will you, Perry?" Della looked at her lap.

Perry knew it was time; time to let go of his fears and his adherence to protocol; his insular mania for work; and to pry her fears and mania for work from her, although over the last couple of years hers seemed to have fallen away more than his.

Shifting down into the seat, he pulled her around so that she was lying across his lap, both of his arms wrapped around her, holding her close. When Della caught his eyes with, she could see that something was different.

"Are you…seeing anyone?" Perry asked sheepishly. "That fellow at…"

Della just shook her head, "You are, though…seeing someone."

"No, baby," Della looked up sharply at the pet name. "I've never 'seen' anyone, really…place holders."

"Place holders?"

"For you, Della Street. You may know what it's like to love someone who works far too much, who is terrified of commitment, who takes you for granted, who's terrified of the only good thing that's ever happened to him but I know that you know better than to think you're not loved."

"It's true. But that's what's been so damn frustrating, Perry. I do know that you love me. In fact," Della paused before taking the chance of her life, "I don't think you've ever loved anyone but me."

Perry held her a foot from him, his huge hands wrapped around her upper arms, the long elegant fingers curled around her soft flesh. With her chin up, she stared defiantly into his eyes until Perry finally pulled her into him, resting her forehead against his. This woman in his arms was his whole world; they were each other's whole world. They were lovers, family, best friends and colleagues.

"I should have gone to that party with you. I knew that you were in trouble. If it had been anyone else…"

"If it had been a client, Perry, any client…"

"Della, I've kicked myself a hundred times. You go everywhere with me…"

"What are you so scared of my only love?"

Perry looked at her. She had never called him anything like that…ever. With those words, that warm, tender look in her eyes and the way her slender hands now rested on either side of his neck, he was drawn into her.

"I don't know."

Della sighed.

"Paul's right—what you ever saw in me I don't know but I am a lucky man."

Della stroked his hair, kissing his brow, making him fall into her again.

"I guess I can't give him too hard a time about stealing my coffee anymore," Della laughed softly but Perry was somewhere else, unable to do anything at that moment but hide in her.

Della Street had waited for more than a decade for her boy to grow up and in one night, he had.

"Where do we go from here?" he whispered to her.

Della was unused to Perry asking the questions; it was rare. He usually did the answering.

"Well, there's really only one place two grown people can go from here, Perry."

Perry sitting up now watched her lips pursing then curl into a smile, his smile, the only person to whom she gave that particular look. Adoration rushed him, and he tapped her chin twice with a finger.

"And where is that Miss Street?"

"Home, Mr. Mason."

"Where is home, Della?" Perry asked suddenly as weary as he had ever been.

Della saw in his eyes, and heard in his beautiful voice, exactly what was happening to him. Perry now understood that they were rootless, homeless, vagrants created by a life devoted to work, to other people's disasters. Della had figured this out years ago and she knew how heart wrenching, how cruel the revelation was.

"Wherever we are together, Mr. Mason."

"The office?" he pretended to ask.

Della biffed him on the shoulder, giggling, "Why do you think we're always there?"

"There's been some speculation about that from other sources."

"Mr. Drake."

"Indeed. He seems to think we need our skulls knocked in…" Perry continued smirking but Della looked at him skeptically.

"Mmmmm…."

"He seems to think that I need my skull knocked in."

With that Della smirked herself, raising her eyebrows in agreement.

"You've been wearing lots of extremely soft, fuzzy things lately…" Perry ran his hand under her coat and up from her hip to just under her arm, his thumb following the underwire of her bra, making her shiver.

Della's eyes were stormy and dark now. She needed him to know how much he was wanted, her poor scared, lost boy.

"I do that when you need to be reminded that I'm a woman," Della said as she draped her arms around his neck.

"I never forget that, Della."

Della turned her head sideways.

"I never truly forget that…"

Della brushed her lips over his once, twice then again and again. Nothing fell as gently as those kisses, thought Perry; not Cherry blossoms after a storm, not powder on a woman's skin. Next to her kisses they were violent assaults.

Della's tongue flitted in and out so quickly Perry couldn't catch her. But he was caught now, in the truth of them, in his unquiet feelings, in the fear of losing her and her love; caught in the way he had fought all along, and caught in knowing now that he was caught from the first moment he ever started to fight.

In his third year of law school he endured an incredible betrayal; the kind of betrayal that inspires a vow never to be vulnerable to anyone again. Even Della, whom he trusted more than he trusted himself and whom he loved more than he thought it possible to love another human being, hadn't been able to make him break that vow but she was coming close to succeeding and over the next few years, would.

Della felt him next to her thigh and, in between kisses, murmured that he should let go. Whether it was the intensity of the week, the duress of their fracture, the excitement of their new understanding or those soft kisses, Perry Mason found himself, without so much as a touch, moaning and writhing under her perfect mouth. Straining against her, against the seat, the door, the floor, et go as she instructed a scream escaping from deep in his chest.

Clasping her to him, he buried his head in her neck until his breathing calmed.

"Don't you ever, ever put anyone ahead of us again," Perry said so quietly, so evenly that it terrified her.

"I didn't, Perry; not intentionally. I was being you, proving I didn't need you because…you haven't been there for me in so long. I wasn't even sure…there was an 'us' anymore."

"Do I ever try to be 'me' without you?" he asked sternly but still panting.

Della shook her head, not meeting his gaze, feeling like a little girl being reprimanded for misbehaving but knowing he was absolutely right.

"Do you know why, Della?" he queried, his agitation renewed.

Della shook her head again.

"Because I can't."

Della finally lifted her eyes, pursing her lips.

"I can't. And you don't want to be me, believe me, you're a much greater success as you."

"I shouldn't have borrowed the money. I felt so bad when I took it. You just wrote the check as if it were nothing."

"Yes, well that was one of my mistakes, Della. Not giving you the money, Della—I'd have given you a 100-thousand dollars. But I should have watched you like a hawk afterwards. I knew that money wasn't for you and I knew you were going to get yourself into trouble."

"I did think the car thing was pretty good."

"No."

"No?"

"No, Della. You can't let someone else call the shots. When we do something like that it's our plan not the client or anyone else's. That's how you got into trouble. This was her plan so you didn't know all of the details...minor ones like the fact that she thought that she had just killed her blackmailer."

"Well, my plan was to come to you. I tried to get her to do it at least three times."

"That's good to know."

"I felt bad Perry. She has no one but that eerie husband of hers. He is a strange one. And you should have been at that party! What a collection of odd balls!"

"Yes," Perry said with consternation and no small amount of disdain, "I met most of them in court, thank you very much."

"Well, it's part of why I didn't push the party on you. I knew that you wouldn't like any of them. Of course I didn't know that they were all complicit in a Chinese slavery ring…" Della said putting her hand to her chest, still overcome by the thought.

Chuckling, Perry rubbed her arms and said, "Della, why would you? We didn't know the Kingpin ran our favorite Chinese restaurant?"

Always "we," thought Della as she took off a glove and reached up to his cheek to wipe off some lipstick covering one of his dimples.

"Hey!"

"What," Della laughed, wide eyed and teasing.

"Don't take off, put more on…"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I see! You haven't had enough ….mmm…kissing for one night?"

"I've fallen behind the last few months…" his mouth was in a straight line now, eyes enormous, mugging for her like he used to in the old days. It made her laugh and cry simultaneously.

"Right here," Perry pointed to his other dimple and Della obliged.

"And…right here…" Perry pointed to the tip of his nose, making her laugh and roll her eyes.

"Aaaaaand…?" Perry paused, eyes cast up and sideways as if he were considering his next move, "Right…"

Della cut him off.

"Here," she said kissing him once again his on his perfect mouth.

"I love your mouth, always have. You know I could do that all night." Brushing a lock of hair from his forehead when she was done, she said, "I am sorry, Perry. As your secretary, as your…girlfriend…"

"And as my partner?" Perry pretended to be hurt.

Della nodded and clicked her teeth like the dame she could be, "As everything I might be to you. Thanks for being such a genius, by the way."

Della rolled her eyes again.

"It was pretty good, wasn't it," he had his crooked little boy smile now, making her purse her lips again. "To tell you the truth, Della, I haven't had a moment to enjoy it. I was too damn scared. I don't think, no I know for a fact, that I have never been that scared."

"I am sorry, Chief."

Perry pulled her chin towards him and felt the silky, coral lips beneath his. For Perry Mason, although he would admit this to no one, not even Della, kissing seemed like the most intimate act in the world and with anyone but Della he was reticent. But Della Street, so much like him in nearly every way, was his opposite when it came to this. Avid and insatiable, she could kiss for hours and when she was done always left a bit of her soul behind.

Tonight, though, as he concentrated on her bottom lip his fervor matched hers, even surpassed it. Della was dazed and thrilled by the working over he gave her back finally.

"I want to go to one of those places where we keep our clothes and books and other items of a personal nature," Della whispered.

"What do they call that…an apartment?"

"That's it…!"

"Which one?"

"Whichever one of us has the least nosey landlady, I suppose," she giggled softly.

"Well, they're both going to be getting an eyeful from now on so, ladies choice."

"Do you want me to be pretty in the morning?"

"Miss Street, I don't see how you could ever be anything else."

"Then my place tonight, if you don't mind, and in future we'll have some plans in place…."

"A few things at my place, a few things at yours?"

"Precisely."

"Not…one place…?"

Della looked down, biting her lip. "Perry, nice people don't just…live together without being married. They stay over a lot," she laughed at the accepted hypocrisy of it. "But not live together."

"Now I apologize; that was rude of me, Della. Guess all of a sudden I'm just not sure how I'm ever going to leave you again."

The dress was even more of a success than she anticipated. Della wasn't sure Perry even noticed but he had been doing laps around her prone body, beneath her coat, non-stop. Running his hands along her waist, thumbs brushing the outer curves of her breast at each pass, he drew her deeper into his lap to caress her thighs… soon her belly… then graduating, without any shame, to her breasts.

In general he was making himself a nuisance.

"Perry," Della was panting now herself, "Home."

"Shall we head…home then?" he laughed at her discomfort.

"Yes," she managed to get out. "Before all that I'm wearing is a small pile of lint."

Perry let out a belly laugh; that crooked hitch on the right side of his smile bringing tears to her eyes. Flooring it, he opted to risk charming a traffic cop in order to get to her apartment as soon as possible.

"Perry!" Della laughed against him, "Let me sit back up before you take off!"

"You know the trouble with you, Miss Street?"

"No… but I'm sure you're going to tell me, Counselor."

"No commitment," Della watched the crooked, little smile again.

"You know what I used to tell my baby brother when he would come in my room and torture me?"

"I know a lot of things, Della Street but not that."

It was Della's turn to laugh, "You're cruisin' for a bruisin', mister…"

Perry smiled, holding her across his lap not letting her up.

"As long as you're the one who gives it to me!"

"Something has happened to you, Counselor," Della shook her head and gave him a mock look of fear.

"Well…I keep picturing you in jail…"

"Perry Mason!"

"And Della Street!"

Speeding back down Mulholland Drive, the City of Angels snapping and prickling below them, the stars swaggering above, vivacious, show offs, astral fan dancers, Perry hit the gas, sending them off into the night and, with dawn, a new day.