This stands alone but first reading "The Day They First Met" wouldn't hurt.

The Case of the Fraudulent Fireworks

San Francisco Airport

Thursday, July 4th, 1985, 12PM

Standing at the gate in the USAir terminal waiting for Della Street, Perry Mason felt like a boy waiting for his sweetheart to come downstairs before the big dance. But then Della Street had that effect on him as far back as the morning after the first day she worked for him. That night she had worked at his elbow well past 11PM before he even knew her name.

When he then took her for a steak it was because he felt he owed it to the girl and because he didn't want to let her go. Asking her to dance was just to be chivalrous—and so he could hold her in his arms.

At 3AM he walked her to her door and said he would be back at 7. In the morning or evening she had rightly asked, telling him that he couldn't have it both ways. Charmed and taken aback by her forthright manner, it was a potent combination that would hold him hostage time and again for many decades.

Sleep eluded him that night—Della, too, she would later admit—and still he was outside her building ten minutes early smoking and pacing around the shiny, black Cadillac until she emerged; early herself. On his way to her that morning, driving through a thick spring fog, it had been as if Perry and his thoughts were alone in the world. He passed no cars, he saw no people, he thought only of her.

Were the previous 24 hours a dream? Nobody could be that wonderful. The woman he had waited for his entire life could not possibly have walked into his office and found him. Perry Mason understood people, however, particularly women and his instincts told him that that was indeed what had happened.

Stamping out his cigarette, he looked up to see Della Katherine Street's slim, shapely figure and long legs bound out the front door running to him on her high heels, dark curls swirling like petals in the breeze. When she spoke her rich voice, unexpectedly deep and mature for a woman of 27, played on his spine like Lionel Hampton.

Ravishingly beautiful, sunny behind an enormous smile, the girl even had a thermos of hot coffee for him tucked under her arm. Perry held it and her elbow helping her in the car, handing the thermos back with a raise of his eyebrows and a smile when she was settled. By the time he got to his side she had reached over and opened his door for him and when he climbed in next to her—was it him or had she snuggled herself in rather close—Perry had a sensation of being whole for the first time in his life.

"Top up, Miss?"

"On a day like today, Counselor?" Della said in mock rebuke, "Certainly not. Your new secretary is a rag top girl!"

"I'll bear that in mind when I get you a company car," Perry's deep voice beckoned.

"Mmmm," teased Della, "Fringe benefits!"

Perry reached for the radio dial and as Frank Sinatra ended, Ella Fitzgerald's friendly, smooth voice started coming through the radio. When he realized what "her choice" of song was this morning he knew there were forces around he and Della over which they had no control.

You
Stepped out of a dream,
You are too wonderful
To be what you seem.Could there be eyes like yours?
Could there be lips like yours?
Could there be smiles like yours,
Honest and truly?

Perry and Della, surreptitiously stealing glances at one another, had lapsed into a companionable silence. Were they thinking the same thing? For the first few years they would wonder that often, until the time came when they didn't have to wonder anymore; they just knew.

You
Stepped out of a cloud,
I want to take you away
Away from the crowd,
And have you all to myself,
Alone and apart.
Out of a dream
Safe into my heart.

Della realized to her chagrin that she may have been thinking the primary fringe benefit was Perry who, as she sat next to him, clearly came by his reputation honestly. Unless he was laughing, photographs of him capitalized on the dark, haunted look, which did him no justice. Della had seen that look when she first walked into his office and then again late that night when he walked her to her apartment door.

This morning, however, she found him somehow younger, more like the 32 year-old he was, and she hoped with some presumption that she had something to do with the change. Because he was beautiful, a distinction that was not just a visual one but had to do more with what seemed to be on the inside.

Perry Mason was hiding something. Suave, even swaggering at times, Della could see that he was confident about his mind and arrogant in his sense of right and wrong. He was paternal with clients and employees without condescension, but even in quiet times when he was sitting alone seemed to be unraveling some great mystery, a mystery that had more to do with life than crime.

When he started to laugh, though, to really truly laugh from the soles of his enormous feet, he was reduced to a little boy. Sitting across from him last night and next to him now, Della detected a depth, a vulnerability, a goodness that captured her heart and made her instantly protective.

"Incidentally," started Perry, making Della jump in her seat and his eyebrows wilt with laughter. "You did accept the job last night, didn't you? I know I offered but I wasn't sure if you actually accepted."

Perry knew he sounded a too smooth, which she wouldn't like, but frankly it covered his fear. While he shaved that morning, Perry realized that they discussed no details of her compensation.

"Contingent upon a few things," Miss Street said coyly.

"And what would those things be?" Perry relaxed.

"Am I getting paid? I'm not independently wealthy…anymore," Della's voice dropped and Perry detected a story for another time. "So although I probably would work with you for free, my landlady insists on a salary—very serious about that."

Her laughter drew a ring around him and held him in it.

"I'll tell you what…"

"What?"

"You're going to be making out the checks so you make yours out for whatever you want."

"I'm a modest young woman, Mr. Mason," Della said crossing her exquisite legs.

"If I didn't know that already I wouldn't have made such a magnanimous gesture," Perry laughed a little surprised at himself.

"What about the fringe benefits?" Della's lips were pursed sexily now.

"I'll take care of those, Miss Street," Perry wasn't sure but he might have blushed a bit when he said it.

"Fair enough, Chief," Della's smile was wide now.

"I think we'll be very happy together," Perry was now firmly embarrassed.

"Working together."

Della looked away, a palm covering her smile, "Five will get you ten, Counselor. Five will get you ten."

At the next stoplight, as she passed him his coffee again, the look they exchanged was so overwhelming that their faces began to grow serious.

"This is great coffee, Della, all it needs is a cig—"

But Della Street had already pulled a cigarette from her purse, making his eyebrows wilt again, this time with surprise, delicately putting it between her lips and lighting it. Blowing smoke between her lips, she leaned over and slowly placed the cigarette in his mouth, drawing her fingertips across lips. Suddenly Perry was terrified he might become visibly aroused; that he hadn't yet was nothing short of a miracle.

Mesmerized by his fluid hands and their elegant, long fingers—almost feminine the way they held the cigarette against the steering wheel but so male when he took a drag or reached for the coffee from her—Della was feeling a bit woozy. Many times she had been complimented on her "elegant" hands but it was a compliment that bemused her—until now.

Spellbound, Della thought it best to busy herself with the only task at hand but each time she went to fill his cup, pushing her sunglasses back on her forehead they came banging back down onto her tiny nose, eliciting a giggling "ouch." Finally Perry placed a finger on their bridge, holding them in her curls while she poured.

"You're going to end up with a nose like a prize fighter if you're not careful," Perry said, their laughing now just continuous.

As it turned out, Della Street was a dream… and as real as a woman could be. In the end, he did have it both ways; they both did—for 35 years and counting.

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Perry realized he must have appeared odd to anyone standing nearby, grinning to himself as he thought back to the first days of their relationship 35 years ago. Once again he had arrived early to pick up Della Street, this time from the Los Angeles shuttle. If anyone had told either of them that they would be apart like this neither would ever have believed it.

After five weeks of phone contact only, he was so excited about seeing her that he almost couldn't stand it. Even his poor law clerk mentioned what a good mood he was in…for a change, which was said very much under his breath.

Work dominated their lives, which was fine when they were working together but suited neither of them now that they were not and were living at the opposite ends of a very long state. Since Valentine's Day they had managed to spend only four long weekends together; Easter, Memorial Day and their birthdays.

Then there was the early Sunday morning in June he walked into his kitchen, the handle end of his cane poised to whack an intruder over the head, only to find a gorgeous, half-naked Della drinking orange juice her hazel eyes hooded as she stared at him over the rim.

Wearing nothing more than a tailored, pink, silk shirt, the rest of her clothes in a heap over a kitchen chair, her long, thin legs were astonishing. Perry's mouth began to water. Women, she announced hand on hip, head cocked to the side, even in their 60s had needs too.

Perry surmised it was his needs about which she was worried after he had exploded on the phone three days in a row accusing her of not loving him, of all things, and threatened to fire everyone he knew. But putting the juice glass down, she reached her arms around his neck and pulled him down to her mouth, ravaging his lips.

Perry's hands had fallen on her hips and pushing the silk up he was shocked to find no panties. Taking the generous invitation, he let his hand find the velvety skin of her inner thighs, which led him higher still, making her cry out. When he withdrew his hand it was clear to him her intentions might not have been as altruistic as he thought. He always complimented her on her sexual appetite which, like her reasoning skills, was definitely male.

Letting the tips of his fingers dance up her belly he found her soft, round breasts exposed, too and let his fingers play with her until it was torture. Taking her leg off his hip, where it had climbed, she went after his pajama bottoms then pushed him backwards onto a leather kitchen chair.

From the first kiss Perry decided to let Della drive, knowing that he wouldn't be disappointed. As she stood over him, pushing his hair off his forehead and stroking his beard she watched his eyes. They were seductive and demanding, calling her to him, encouraging her. He didn't need to say a word.

With a leg firmly on the side of his hip, she brought her other leg up, tucking her knee next to his other hip. Curving his hands around her he grasped her back side, waiting. Della unbuttoned the silk shirt slowly, letting it fall down her arms but not off. With both hands on his shoulders now she pulled down his pajama top as she let her lips drift over his. Every nerve ending, all of the softness he had to offer and with those lips, it was a lot, was hers.

They were noisy now, greedy for each other. There was no time, no age, no separation. They could have been in the office in 1955 or in that chateau they rented in the South of France in 1969 or on that nude beach in Brazil that they "accidentally" visited in 1973. They were their only constant.

Della reached down between them and looked into his brilliant eyes lowering herself as slowly as she could stand, onto his lap. Perry's head, which had been luxuriating between her breasts, fell back, his fingers pressed into her flesh. Lifting herself slowly up, Perry tried pulling her back down but she resisted only allowing him to succeed when they simply couldn't wait any more.

They fussed like this for as long as they could hold out, Perry trying to pull her back down every time she pulled away; Della resisting. Finally giving into what they both were craving, she let him pull her down harder and faster each time, their cries spiraling.

When Perry pulled the back of her head to him, tearing at her lips with his mouth, their noises were deep, primal. Della fell sideways into Perry's enormous chest and he cradled her in his arms but she continued to move them until the final wave passed.

Della's legs were quivering as she curled up against his chest.

"I wish I could carry you to the bed now," Perry said in her ear, his finger tucking a curl behind her ear.

Wrapping his enormous arms around her, he held her to him. She loved when he did that to her. Della never considered the possibility that she was attracted to large men since there was only ever Perry Mason for her but she did love his size, the way he covered her, felt against her, made her feel so tiny and so protected. If it hadn't compromised his health, mentally and physically, she realized she would never give his weight a thought.

"I wish I could carry you," she giggled biting the soft skin of his neck right where his beard stopped.

"You just did, baby. You just did," Perry whispered between her breasts, which he began kissing again until she was writhing on his lap.

"Bed?"

"Can we make it?" Della was draped over his shoulder now, like a sleepy child; only she was decidedly not sleepy.

"We have to, baby. Now it's my turn," he said and, with great effort, stood with Della's legs still wrapped around him.

"Perry!" Della yelped fearing for his heart.

"Well, Rhett wouldn't have carried Scarlett like a sack of groceries but then he wasn't 67—Hell Clark Gable never even made it to 67!"

Della was laughing through Perry's kisses, as they entered the bedroom, only about 20 steps from where they had been. Setting her down on the bed he never lost contact with her, not even letting her swing her legs into the bed before he took over her body. Della ran a hand up and down his chest, the hair threading through her fingers, her other hand between them, shocking him with its audacity and persistence.

"I said it's my turn young lady," Perry groaned.

"Who's stopping you…Counselor?"

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There had been no recent drop-ins unfortunately. Lately Della had been particularly busy attending a slew of work events with her boss, plus numerous lunches and dinners with unnamed partners—she didn't say who they were and he wasn't about to ask. Perry knew that since he set the rules he had no right to question. Then, of course, there was his pride.

So Perry suffered, imagining things that, had he cleared his head for even a moment, he would have realized could never have been true. To alleviate his pain, he daydreamed, which wasn't like him at all.

In his mind he saw those eyes when they first spotted him then the smile that bloomed just for him. He tried to deduce what color she might wear—the smart money was on pale pink right now although white was always a contender. Della knew how he loved them both.

There would be presents and he wondered what she would bring as he planned his gifts for her. Mostly he thought about how they might greet one another; about how that first "hi" of hers would sound, how much affection would be appropriate, how warm and soft she would feel against his chest.

He had spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about these things, actually, nearly every minute of the last two weeks, because this was not the weekend he planned.

Each year the San Francisco Bar Association threw a July 4th party to benefit the Legal Aid Defense Fund. They visited friends on Catalina every 4th so Perry usually declined with a hefty check. This year their friends were new grandparents—which never failed to shock Perry—so he thought Della might enjoy sailing around San Francisco Bay on a majestic 19th Century schooner, with waves of Veuve Cliquot, who were sponsors, and fireworks exploding over their heads.

As benefits went, it sounded uncharacteristically enjoyable, particularly since both he and Della would live on the water—and on champagne— if they could. Della was immediately pleased with the idea. Friends becoming grandparents tended to be even harder on her, and not for reasons of age like Perry.

They agreed she would arrive early Thursday morning and stay until Sunday night, giving them plenty of time to be together and relax. Maybe, she suggested, they could even take a day trip—up to Sonoma or down to Carmel, long one of their favorite vacation spots.

After finalizing their plans Della apologized; she had to get off the phone or she would be late for a dinner engagement, prompting Perry to do something that was a mystery even to him.

"You can bring… someone …if you like," he said rather quietly.

A long silence on the other end of the phone followed. He was about to fill it with words to right this egregious mistake when she started first and, with a little flirtatious lilt in her voice, agreed.

Perry felt ill. It was that lilt that did it.

That lilt felt like being stabbed in the chest. Well, what did he expect? First he suggested the open ended relationship and now he made this stupid suggestion. Why didn't he just get it over with and start introducing her to eligible bachelors to marry her off for God's sake?

To add insult, now he had to find a date.

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Shifting back and forth from foot to foot trying to lessen the pain in his knee, it never occurred to Perry that he could sit down and wait. He was simply too nervous, and too excited. That morning he had trimmed his beard and taken extra care choosing his clothes, just as he used to when they were younger.

Della always liked him in lighter suits, she said it offset his dark, brooding Mr. Rochester quality. Never at a loss for a literary reference his girl. Perry called his London tailor and had them quickly make him a linen suit and complimenting shirt. Due to the time constraint he trusted them to choose the fabric and colors, which turned out to be a handsome cream with a white short-sleeved shirt.

Standing in front of his mirror, Perry went back and forth for more than 15 minutes trying to decide whether or not to wear a tie. When he remembered the pale yellow one with blue stripes matching his eyes that Della bought him in spring that was still in the box, his decision was made. Walking through the airport, however, he caught himself in the mirror and decided she might think he looked too much like an F. Scott Fitzgerald character, so as he waited by the gate he removed the tie and gently rolled it up, storing it in his pocket.

By the time he changed his mind back, it was too late to do anything about it without looking as foolish as he felt; which at that point, he had to admit, was fairly foolish.

Having to bring the cane, and in the airport there was no choice, actually angered him. The know-it-all doctor told him at his last check-up in May that losing 100, even 50, pounds would go a long way toward alleviating his pain probably rendering the cane unnecessary. But for now it remained his quasi constant companion. Of course, Della had seen him with it but he certainly wasn't interested in her companion seeing him so infirmed.

Della dating.

It was hard if not nearly impossible to imagine. He had certainly hurt her over the years between the "Lauras" and running off to SF and then suggesting an open relationship. Separately, these had been painful times for her, but strung together they constituted a singular inability to commit to the great love of his life who was the one woman in the world to whom any man would surrender willingly; almost any man.

Another woman, any other woman, would have questioned his love not just his commitment but Della was smarter than that and had too much self-respect.

After decades of being inseparable they were…separated. Whether by distance, Perry's choice or both neither of them could say but it didn't matter really. The result was the same and they were apart at a time when their lives should have been increasingly gentle.

Della behaved the same as ever, phoning each day, arranging for them to be together as much as possible. They still communicated through work, which had always been their conduit. When visiting she was secretary, lover and friend.

They went through his cases, one by one, she straightened out his calendar, re-scheduled appointments so they made sense, conducted research for him, listened to, and loved, him. With even fewer benefits and less commitment than ever, Della Street did what she always did only know she traveled several hundred miles in a weekend to do it.

When she left and he was once again alone, he walked around for days surrounded by the ghost of her perfume missing her so much he almost mourned. The housekeeper was not to touch her pillow case. Opening the fridge and freezer there was food for a week or more of healthy dinners and breakfasts and crisp, expensive white wines to replace his bourbon.

Whether it was a better cleaning service, or softer sheets, she found little ways to make his apartment more comfortable and comforting. Going into her room he would find clothing she "accidentally" left, although as it was always something exceedingly soft he surmised this was no accident.

These remnants were a meager consolation.

Other than the surprise drop-in, Perry and Della had grown physically quite shy with one another and it was shocking, as if they had gone back in time. After decades of throwing down, ripping off, pouncing, teasing, and every manner of physical release two lovers could "invent," they were tenuous and awkward getting to bed.

There was always the "otherness" of their separation with which to contend, especially for her and Perry no longer boasted the same physical strength he once came by so naturally. Della had also grown quieter, more businesslike, her sass and verve diminished by …what? Perry could only speculate—and blame himself.

One night after he had been up there for a few years and their careers had kept them apart for more than three months, he came out of the bathroom to see Della standing on her side of the bed, arms wrapped around her waist considering the bed with damp eyes. She had heard about the colleague he was "dating" and Perry knew immediately what she was thinking.

Coming up behind her, he pulled her back against him, whispering in her ear, "Never, Della. Never."

With a single nod, Della let him help her into bed before getting in behind her and kissing away her tears. As night turned to day they were still making love.

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They had been a sexy and successful couple from their youth into middle age; well matched in form, figure and mind. A modest man, he never-the-less knew how good they looked together and how magically they functioned as a team in every way. They were the envy of everyone they knew whether it was a business partnership or a romantic couple.

As they aged, their love was warmer, though no less passionate, their cadence the undeniable rhythm of two people who spent little, if any, time apart. Both were the very definition of self-assured at their jobs as anyone with their success would be. Professionally, Della was his protector in every way; Perry acted in the same capacity for her, personally.

They took more time off going away together for long weekends and at a certain point Perry even insisted that they start taking most of their long vacations together, "the office" would survive. During the winter months they visited warm, exotic islands while in spring, fall or summer they traveled Europe.

And then it was gone, in a blink of an eye. Della nearly killed, Paul murdered and Perry's mid-life crisis so thick, so impenetrable that not even Della could break through. Suddenly he had always wanted to be a judge like his grandfather, although he had always told her the opposite. But if that was what he now desired, Della knew she could not stand in his way.

When he did not ask her to come with him, not to work but at least to live, her heart broke more than a little. But she chose to credit him with the generosity of being afraid to impose his life on her. So she offered to join him and, when he did not respond, thought she might die of humiliation and hurt.

When it was known that Della Street was available, she took the most amazing, of a truly impressive array of jobs, she was offered. Even Perry was surprised at what was dangled in front of her—he knew that he shouldn't have been. Making the decision for them Perry could see into the future, the damage it would wreak and the toll it would take. But he could not stop himself. They were just a 45 minute flight away from one another but they may have been across the country.

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People were trickling through the entry way now and it was a colorful procession of bedraggled families, happy tourists and the odd be-suited businessman. Suddenly there was that smile: pursed lipped, sweet, sexy and warm.

Della's hazel eyes lit up as soon as she saw him, he caught it.

So where was this character, Perry wondered? Maybe he didn't come. Thank God, thought Perry. Relief was just breaking when suddenly two male hands appeared on Della's shoulders from behind. Perry Mason felt like bashing in someone's skull with his cane when the cheesy grin of Paul Drake, Jr. their Godson, popped out from behind her and the two started laughing!

What the Hell had he been thinking wondered Perry Mason? Of course. They had just been talking about Paul. In fact, lately it was Della's most frequent topic; how worried she was about his lack of focus; how long it had been since Perry had seen him; how much Jr. missed and needed "the Old Man," as he called him.

You stupid, jealous, fool, thought Perry. You stupid, jealous, relieved fool… with two escorts for the evening.

"Hiya' Pops!" Paul grabbed Perry around the shoulders for a hug, laughing at how shocked he looked.

Regaining his composure, and genuinely glad to see him, Perry hugged his Godson giving him an enormous smile.

"Where did you pick up this young fellow, Della?" Perry was smiling broadly at her.

"I have to tell you, I was pretty offended by your suggestion until I understood what you meant," Della laughed.

Perry hoped that what he was feeling did not register on his face; not with Della so close, so able to read his every thought.

"I'm never very far away from her, Pops, especially since you've been up here. I'm beating your time."

"You always did with my gal," Perry patted him on the shoulder then turned to Della who was so happy about the reunion and surprising Perry, who was notoriously difficult to surprise, that she was fairly bouncing up and down on her heels.

"As for you, young lady," Perry took her arm and brought her close, then took her overnight case.

"Hi," she drew it out in her sexy way, making it sound more like, "Can we go right home?"

Bending down for a modest kiss she seemed to melt into him, making him want to wrap his arms around her and lift her off the ground. When he pulled away she was biting her lower lip and looking up at him mischievously, making Perry smile self-consciously at her.

"Been waiting long?" she asked, her face tilted up inches from his.

"Well, you know me," he laughed, running his hand down her arm and making her shiver, which in turn made them both laugh.

"Well, I guess it's obvious," Della chuckled although tears sat on the edges of her lashes, "But I've missed you so…"

Perry just shook his head. "Me, too. I'm glad you chose pale pink; it really is my favorite."

Della looked down at the straight silk dress that fell just at the knee with its matching pink coat and very high pink heels and said, "I thought white was your favorite."

"It would be," he teased, "If that's what you were wearing."

Della pushed a shoulder into him, "Do you have any idea how absolutely handsome you look?"

"Only you, Della. Only you."

"Would that that was so, my love. It would save me some horribly jealous moments, late at night," Della stroked his beard and his ego at the same time. "I always liked you in light suits."

"I remember…" Perry pulled her a bit closer. "I like it better when you're around though, you know, to help with all of the…little decisions."

Della reached around him and into his pocket withdrawing the tie with a chuckle, leaving him pink cheeked.

"Yes, well, precisely, Miss Street."

Della and Perry stood there paralyzed by the other's presence, gazing into one another's eyes.

With one hand on the wall and the other on his hip, Junior finally reminded them he was there, "You two finished yet?"

Embarrassed that they had completely forgotten about their Godson, Della hid in Perry's jacket.

"Why Paul Drake!" Perry exclaimed straight-faced, "What are you doing here?"

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Watching the woman who virtually raised him as she tried gamely to be a good sport, Paul seriously considered punching his Godfather in the zipper. She was terribly nervous he could see it and knew Perry could, too.

To his credit, Perry kept reaching out to her both in conversation and physically but he certainly had put himself in an awkward position. This girl Lily, and she was a girl, was hot and it occurred to Paul to "help" him out by taking Perry's date off his hands but he preferred making the old man sweat.

"Where's your 'mother?' I want to find her before the fireworks."

"I'll give you fireworks! If I were her I'd be on a plane but she's too kind to hurt anyone's feelings; unlike someone else," Paul shot Perry the dirtiest look he could muster. "It's not like this whole move hasn't been hard enough on her, you know?"

"I thought she was bringing a date," Perry tried to explain.

"Oh, c'mon…you, of all people, should know Della Street better than that. If you thought that she was bringing a date, then you're getting senile."

"That's not helping," said Perry sternly.

"Oh, go to Hell," Paul turned away from him and went to look for a bar.

"Go find Lily," Perry called after him. "Look after her."

The kid was right. He should have known better; should have known from her voice and what she said. They had spoken about Paul the day Perry invited her up and the day before and the day before that... Of course, he should never have asked her if she wanted to bring a date, either.

Perry walked the deck—although it occurred to him the plank would be more apropos—searching for Della. Greeting acquaintances politely he stubbornly refused to get caught in conversation, which wasn't easy. When he finally found her she was curled up by herself in a corner against the rail looking out at sea, drink in one hand, chin in the other.

"I always loved being on a boat with you," Perry said, his warm hand rubbing her back as he sat behind her on the seat.

Over her shoulder, Della said, "You're not on a boat with me."

Setting her champagne down, Della pulled her arms tightly around her.

"If you drink that," he said smiling, "You'll be warmer."

"I always underestimate how cold it is up here..."

"You're always cold…wherever you are…you know that," Perry said it so softly in her ear that her shoulder raised involuntarily.

Removing his navy blazer, he wrapped her in it and his arms. Enveloped now in his musky, spicy scent, the jacket warm from his body she felt like herself again for the first time in weeks; damn him.

"Where are the children?" Della's voice dripped of sarcasm.

"Well, your 'son' just told me to go to Hell and walked off…"

Della smiled beatifically, "Good boy."

"Well, loyal anyway."

"Familiar with that concept are we?"

"Della, I just want you to know that I did not have a date until after you said that you were bringing one. I thought…"

"Did you really think? Because I would be even more worried about a Perry Mason who would think that I would bring a man to a weekend with him." Della's voice raised then quieted. "And whom exactly would I bring?"

Perry shrugged just before tucking his chin in her neck. Della's sigh was long and not issued for effect.

"Should an appellate court judge be canoodling with a woman in public like this?" Della asked, casting her familiarly sexy, sidelong glance.

"Who the Hell cares?"

"Not me," said Della leaning back in against him. "So where did you find that child?"

Perry gave a short laugh, "Well, that required some maneuvering. I'm not very good at dating."

"Come now, Counselor," Della's lips were pursed, "You must have a harem around these parts."

"Well, in fairness I had to pick someone who didn't really want to go with me…" Perry tried to explain.

"Ah," said Della, her laughter joining his.

"I'm taken, you see…"

"You think…"

"Well, I'll grant you that I'm probably on thin ice…"

"Again."

"Again," he agreed.

"Poor girl looked as if she was wanted to run and hide when I asked her to be my escort tonight," Perry sighed. "I just hope she doesn't think it was mandatory and bring me up on sexual harassment charges."

"Several women your own age have been buzzing around you like bees tonight. I have noticed. I'm sure any one of them…"

"Yes, well, that's what I meant about going with someone who wasn't interested in me."

"That must have been difficult to find," Della was just torturing him now.

"Sadly, no, just embarrassing. And what about you?"

"Me?" Della half-turned. "What about me?"

"Well…" Perry was hedging.

"Well?"

"Well, where the Hell have you been? You've been going out to dinner and lunch an awful lot and…"

"How long have we been together? I mean are we together, Perry?"

"Of course we are…35 years," Perry straightened proudly.

"So if you want to know where I'm going and with whom—and by the way, you have every right to ask—why don't you do that very thing? Why don't you ask me?"

Perry looked at her so confused that Della felt actual pain for him.

"I just did…"

"I meant before you did something stupid, Dear," Della usually hid her exasperation better.

"Could I have the answer now anyway?"

With his wide eyes Perry Mason looked like a giant three year-old who knew he had done something wrong but could not figure out what that might be. Della felt her heart go out to him yet again.

"Arthur wants me to take over the family foundation," Della began.

"No good can come of that, Della," Perry interrupted. "Not with that family. I don't trust that lawyer of theirs either, never did."

"You're telling me. It's not as if his wife doesn't hate me enough."

"No real reason to though, right?" Perry was digging.

"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that," Della turned with a gimlet eye. "Anyway, it has been a constant round of dinners and lunches with beneficiaries and would be beneficiaries of this thing, as well as money-men, etc."

"With Arthur?"

"Dear?"

"Hm?"

"What is wrong with you?"

Perry honestly sounded perplexed, "Damned if I know."

Della turned her body fully into him now, catching his eyes with hers so she could deliver the seriousness of her message.

"Perry a few months ago I turned 39… for the 24th time," they both smiled at her aversion to birthdays, although it beat the Hell out of not having one, she often said. "This is getting too hard; it's killing us. What do I do? What do I say to you?" Della asked. "There's more at stake for us than ever before and, yet…I can't help you."

Della paused, desperation in her voice, her body trembling, hands grasping his forearms.

"How do I help you, Perry? How do I bring you back…to me…to L.A….to our work…to yourself?"

Perry pressed his lips to her forehead. How he missed her and their work. Their life had been perfect for them, not without challenges, not without hurt and slights but perfect for them.

Resting her head against his she begged him, "Come home, my love. I know that you've never quit anything in your life but you're not quitting. You're putting your considerable talents back to their appropriate use; mine, too."

Della brushed his cheek with her lips, "Come home to me."

Again her lips brushed his cheek, "Come home to me."

And again, "Come home to me."

Perry covered her hands with his and nodded.

And again, "Come home to me."

"The Christmas break is December; that will give the Governor time…"

Della cut him off, her lips covering his, her arms around his mountain range of shoulders. They were aware of bodies nearby but it didn't matter. Only they mattered. Eight years had dragged on like a prison sentence and the sentence was finally being lifted. As the schooner passed by Alcatraz, Perry finally granted them parole.

Perry's lips, his perfect lips, were behind her ear as he held her across his lap, rocking her slightly. Color filled the sky and exploding sound rattled the ship around them but they were oblivious.

"Things…will never be the same, you know," Perry warned her. "It won't be the same."

"Of course not," Della shook her head. "But we'll have each other and my love that is all that we have ever needed."

"I guess we're missing the fireworks," Perry smiled at her, holding her chin between his thumb and forefinger.

"Ohhhh…on the contrary, my love…" Della kissed the corner of his mouth before lifting her eyes to the night sky.

San Francisco Airport

Sunday, July 7th, 1985, 6PM

"Young love," said Paul Jr. to the stewardess standing by.

"Your parents are adorable."

"Yeah," said Paul pushing his sunglasses off his nose, onto his head. "They're adorable alright."

"How long have they been married?"

"They're not."

Paul rolled his eyes suggestively toward the stunning young woman who laughed nervously as Perry and Della continued kissing.

"Can't he do without you for a few days?" Perry, almost breathless now, slammed his cane on the ground.

"Could you have done without me for a few days?" Della laughed.

"Della..."

"This wasn't my ide-."

Perry started kissing her again before she could finish the sentence. Holding her upper arms when they made the final boarding call he drew her in.

"Perry…" Della's head fell against his chest and she tried to memorize his scent.

"Della…" Perry rested his chin on her curls.

This was too painful to watch. How could the two most important people in his life be this crazy? No wonder he was nuts.

Paul realized that he was headed back to L.A. alone.

"Yeah…" He said kissing Della on the side of the cheek and squeezing his Godfather's arm. "See you later in the week, Dear. Bye Pops."

"So," he said to the stewardess as he took her arm, boarding the plane with her, "Have a lay-over in L.A. by any chance?"

Perry and Della laughed as they watched him slip an arm around the young lady's shoulders.

"He really is his father's son…" Della said teary.

"Yes, thank God."

Perry went to take Della's overnight bag off her shoulder.

"I've got it, Dear."

"Della, give me the damn bag. I'm not that old. Yet."

Della shook her head and laughingly hoisted it over his shoulder then took his hand as they headed to the car.

"Feeling energetic, are we, Dear?" Della asked slyly.

"Despite an extremely full weekend, I feel 35 right now!" Perry's cane tapped quickly as they walked.

"Wasn't all that full, you know? I can think of a few things we didn't do." Della pursed her lips and watched the floor tiles pass beneath her heels.

Perry broke into an extraordinary grin

"Yes, Miss Street it occurs to me, as well. A certain young man's presence—which I enjoyed very much—did curtail certain…activities, shall we say that I most certainly had on my…list," Perry stepped to the side so she could exit in front of him.

"Hmm, I'd like to see that list! I wonder if it matches my list?" Della turned to wait for him, her skirt swirling around her knees, which he admired from a few steps behind.

"May I take you to dinner on our way home? Crab on Fisherman's Wharf perhaps," asked Perry lifting his chin.

Della batted her eyes at him, "Dinner is very definitely not at the top of my list."

"Interesting, Miss Street. It's not on mine either. Later on we can figure out something."

"Dear, how many times do I have to tell you…"

Perry interrupted, "That is what left overs are for!"

"Precisely, Mr. Mason."

Perry held open the car door as Della slid in, "Shall we, young lady?"

Reaching up, Della held his face in her hands, "You can bring someone…if you like…"

"Very funny…I don't have that much energy anymore…"

Della was chuckling loudly as she leaned over and opened his door for him then cuddled as close as she could in the Cadillac's bucket seats.

"So, you want me to come back to work for you, huh?"

"That's the idea."

"I have a good job; pays quite a lot. And I get offers from head hunters all of the time."

Perry smiled. She was teasing him but he also knew that it was true.

"I think you'll recall that I offer numerous fringe benefits that you won't get elsewhere," Perry smirked.

"How do you know?" Della dipped behind her shoulder.

"You damn well hadn't better Della Street."

"Oh, ho, issuing orders already, are we?"

"I'll tell you now, what I told you 35 years ago. You're going to be writing the checks, you make yours out the way you want."

"I'll do that, Mr. Mason," Della said smiling at him. "You just take care of those fringe benefits."

"Count on it, Miss Street, count on it."

"The sooner you come home, the better you know."

"I can't leave before the break, baby. Nothing in the world could make me let the Governor down like that, not even you my love."

Perry didn't know how ironic this statement would later prove to be.

"I know. I've just missed you so much. Even when you've been with me you haven't been you. Do you have any idea the difference in you just since the fireworks?"

"Actually, I do," said Perry turning the jazz station on low. "I felt different the moment it happened."

Billie Holliday started to sing and when Della heard what song it was she broke into a huge smile and turned it up.

"Boy," she laughed shaking her head, "Those Deans would stop inviting me to give seminars to their young women students if they could see me now."

Girls were made to take care of boys
To be kind and dutiful
Girls were made to take care of boys
Made to share their sorrows
Made to share their joys
Made to help and guide them
With ever a patient hand

Made to give affection
In the right direction
Always understand

Now boys may think they take care of girls
Just because they pass on their fashions and their curls
But I've always found
It's just the other way around

If you need the girl
And declare you do
Tell her that you need her
She'll be there
To take care of you

"You're a pretty independent girl, Della—always have been. Remember, for a long time you didn't want to marry me because you didn't want the job to change," Perry reminded her but with kindness.

"I know but you know what my favorite job has always been," Della dropped her voice with not a hint of girlishness about it and shot him a serious sidelong glance.

At the next stoplight Perry turned to face her, taking her lips in his and making Della involuntarily run a slender hand along the inside of his thigh. Perry's moan, which often came out more like a growl, made her weak, instantly aroused and wanting.

"Yes, I do; taking care of me. And I am happiest taking care of you."

"See how that works? And I just want us to be happy again," Della was breathing hard against him, threatening to make him drive clear off the road.

There they were in the middle of El Camino Real, at a stoplight, pawing each other like teenagers, both now in a state of full arousal.

"We will baby…"

"Promise?" Della's laugh had a well-deserved edge.

"I promise you, baby," Perry put his arm around her shoulders.

"Five will still get you ten, Counselor," Della smiled.

Perry Mason was driving Della Street through San Francisco, home to his bed but in his mind they were already back in L.A.

Fin—

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Music Notes:

"You Stepped Out of a Dream," I used Ella because it was time appropriate but although she is a favorite of mine (and Ray's) I would have much preferred Dinah Washington's or, particularly Nat King Cole's. Sadly they were both recorded after 1949, '59 and '54 respectively.

"Girls Were Made to Take Care of Boys," there is only one acceptable version, Lady Day's.

Editorial Note: In "Perry Mason Returns" Perry says that the last time he saw Paul Drake, Jr. was when he and Della came up to SF from LA for July 4th weekend. This always sounded very cozy to me, and proves, of course, that they were seeing one another all along.

Personal Note:I have experience a mythic computer probably costing me years of "real life" work, and DS/PM FF, of course. I've spent weeks, when finally back online, re-researching and re-writing a great deal of material with imminent due dates. I will explain personally as I can finally respond to messages. Forgive me. I can't wait to read and return messages my friends and to catch up on your stories! Sorry to have disappeared.