Notes: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. Of course I don't own these characters-I'm just borrowing them. I'm grateful to ESG for creating them, and to my betas for taking the trouble to read over what I wrote about them, and making such useful suggestions.
At the end of "Perry Mason Returns," Paul Drake, Jr. says to Perry and Della, "I'd like to buy you both lunch." This is my version of what happened after lunch.
The breeze blew softly across the deck of the beachside restaurant and fluttered the edges of the canvas umbrella that shaded the table. Della Street pushed her half-eaten plate of seafood salad away and sighed. "Oh, Paul, that was delicious. You were so sweet to take us to lunch. And this place is lovely."
"But Della...you've hardly eaten a thing!"
"I guess I haven't been very hungry lately. All this business with Arthur's death and then the trial... I just haven't had much of an appetite."
"Well, that's understandable." Perry Mason looked at her with concern in his eyes. "But it's all over now. Though I have to say, Paul, you left it just a little late this morning. I wasn't too sure you were going to turn up."
"Oh, Perry, I wasn't worried," Della said quickly. "I knew the two of you would take care of things." Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Hurriedly she blinked them back. "Sorry. I don't mean to fall apart. But I'll never be able to tell you both how much I appreciate what you've done for me. You saved my life."
"Now, Della, it never would have come to that," Perry assured her. "If Paul hadn't gotten the evidence we needed, I would have thought of some other way to make Braddock own up. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve."
" I know you do, and I'm grateful them," she said, touching his hand. "Now I think I'd better get home. Paul, would you mind taking me? Or I can get a taxi from here if it's too far out of your way."
"Of course I wouldn't mind," Paul responded promptly. "Are you sure you don't want dessert?"
"Oh, no, I couldn't possibly eat another thing."
"Well, let's go, then. Perry, can I drop you at your hotel?"
"I'll tell you what, Paul. My car's still at the courthouse. Why don't you drop us there, and I can take Della home. Don't you have something to do this afternoon? " Perry took a folded slip of paper from his pocket. "You might want to deposit this, and then pay the phone bill."
"No, Perry, you don't need to give me anything. This job wasn't a business thing; it was family."
"Paul, I insist. You earned every cent of it and more. I won't take 'no' for an answer."
"And neither will I!" Della reached out a hand to each of them. "When Arthur's will is probated, I intend to take care of my obligation to each of you."
Paul and Perry exchanged glances. "That's something we can discuss later." Perry patted her hand soothingly. "Now let's get you home so you can get some rest."
"Maybe I am a little tired. I haven't been sleeping very well. I still feel very wired up, though. I don't think I could possibly rest now."
"Maybe later, then. Are you ready, Ms. Street? Your coach, such as it is, awaits. Paul, I would have enjoyed riding in that Jeep about thirty years ago, but now I'm not so sure. Do you think it will hold together for a few more miles?"
"Without a doubt, Mr. Mason. It has served me well today, and I don't think it will give up now. Shall we go?"
Mason eased the convertible out of the court house parking garage and slid into the line of cars. It felt good to have Della beside him in the car, just as she had been in the old days, but he thought it was a shame that cars had bucket seats now. "I'd forgotten just how bad the traffic is in L.A.," he said. "Are you sure you don't want me to put the top up? We're hardly going fast enough to get a breeze."
"No, it's fine. The sun feels good. I haven't had a chance to be outside much lately. I've missed it."
"What are you planning to do when you get home, Della? Anything particular?"
"No, not really. I think I'll just change clothes and work in the garden for awhile. "
"Are you sure? That sounds like a lot of work. Shouldn't you just rest?"
"No, no, I need to be doing something. If I pull enough weeds, maybe I'll be tired enough to get some sleep tonight."
"I could help you," he offered. "The hotel isn't far out of our way. We could run by there so I can change clothes and then go out to your house. Okay?"
She turned to look at his face, studying his expression doubtfully. She had never known him to want to pull weeds. "Well, sure, that's okay, if you really want to. "
"Yes, I really want to. And I can really help, too. Did I ever tell you about how I used to help my grandfather prune the grapevines?"
"No, I don't think you did. Does it go with the story you used to tell Paul when he was little about how you walked five miles to school in the snow up hill both ways?"
Mason glanced over at Della and grinned when he saw the impish sparkle in her eyes. Maybe she was finally beginning to relax. She had seemed so brittle when he came to her at the jail, and since then she had maintained an air of calm composure that hadn't fooled him in the least. He knew it was her way of coping, so he hadn't challenged her, but now he saw that she was on the verge of collapse, and he had no intention of letting her be alone when it happened. The weeds would have to wait. He had other plans.
When they reached the hotel, he turned into the parking garage. "There's no place to park the car out front. I'll just leave it in the garage for a minute. Why don't you come up with me? "
"I don't mind waiting in the car. You won't be long, will you?"
"No, I won't, but it's too hot to stay down here. Come on up. It won't take but a few minutes."
"Well, all right. And maybe I could powder my nose while you're changing."
"Sure, that's a good idea." Mason tossed the keys to the attendant and said loudly, "Keep it handy, please, Fred. We'll be going out again shortly," then in a lower voice, "If we haven't come down in an hour, just go ahead and park it."
As they crossed the lobby and went up in the elevator, Mason noted Della's erect posture and the determined tilt of her chin. He marveled at her courage. She hadn't shown a moment of fear or anxiety since they met at the jail. He wondered what it had cost her.
Mason unlocked the door of the suite and stood aside to let Della go in ahead of him. The sitting room was decorated in soft shades of cream and green, and the whirring of the air conditioner masked the sounds of the traffic far below. Mason took Della's purse out of her hands and placed it on a chair by the door. Before she could object, he stepped behind her and eased off her jacket, laying it on the chair as well. Putting his hands on her shoulders, Perry began to massage the knotted muscles. After a moment he felt them begin to ease.
"Mmm...that feels good," she murmured. "But I thought you were going to change clothes."
"Oh, I will. But we're not in that much of a hurry, are we? Let's just relax for a minute."
"Well, all right. And that really does feel good." She dropped her head forward and rolled her shoulders under his hands. He pulled her against him and kissed the back of her neck. "That feels good, too. Perry Mason, did you plan this?"
"Oh...maybe. Is it working?"
He turned her around to face him and touched her cheek. "Baby...it's time to let go. It's all over now. Just put it down." He looked at her steadily, his gaze full of love and sympathy. Her eyes filled again, and this time she didn't try to hold back the tears. He gathered her into his arms and held her, minute after long minute, as her desolate sobs tore at his heart.
At last the sobbing grew quieter, and then she took a deep breath and was in control again. She raised her head. "Oh, Perry, look what I've done! There's mascara all over your shirt."
"Don't worry, darling. I've got plenty of shirts. Here, let's sit down for a little while." He drew her down onto the sofa, and cradled her in his arms. "Now why don't you tell me all about it. You always used to tell me that it helps to talk."
The tears began to flow again, quietly, as she nestled against him. "Oh, Perry, it was such a waste. Arthur was a kind, generous man. He didn't deserve to die like that. He had so much left to do. He never had the chance to make peace with his children. That's what I regret the most. They needed to know the truth, and he was on the point of telling them. Now, they'll go on blaming him for something that wasn't his fault."
"What do you mean, Della? What wasn't his fault?"
"His wife's death. His first wife, I mean. The children blamed him for it. You heard Catherine say that he drove their mother to suicide, but it wasn't like that. Not like that at all."
"What really happened, then?"
"Oh, Perry...it's such a long story."
"That's all right. We have time."
"Well, if you're sure you really want to hear it." He nodded. "All right, then. Arthur and his wife-her name was Elise-met in college and married right after graduation. She was a social work major, and he majored in electrical engineering. She got a job as a case worker with the DHS, and he went to work for a firm that was just getting into the computer business. Before long, Elise started having bouts of depression. At first, they thought it was because of the stress of her job, and the fact that she was having trouble getting pregnant. Finally she did get pregnant with David, and was better, but after he was born, the depression got worse, and the same thing happened with both of the girls.
After the younger one was born, Elise got so bad that Arthur had her hospitalized. That's when they diagnosed her illness as real clinical depression-a chemical imbalance, you know. Nothing that was her fault. And she knew that, intellectually. She was a mental health professional, after all. But she still felt that she should have been able to overcome it, and she was ashamed that she couldn't. She didn't want anyone to know, even her parents- especially not the children. Of course, at that time, they were too young to understand.
Arthur had started his own company by then, and it really took off quickly. He had to spend so much time working that he really didn't get to know his children very well. I don't think he knew how to be a father to them, and he didn't have a good role model. Are you sure I'm not boring you?"
"No, this is fascinating. I really had no idea what their family history was. I just saw the end of it, I guess. But Della, I have to ask you-how do you know all this?"
"He told me. There's a lot of time to talk on those long flights to Asia."
"Asia? You went to Asia with him?" Perry was dumbfounded.
"Sure, several times. He wanted to build a manufacturing plant there, so we were scouting sites in various countries. Well, anyway, Elise was taking her meds regularly, and things went pretty well for a good many years, but when she started to go through menopause, she got worse again. The changes in her hormone levels made the depression worse, and the meds weren't working anymore. They were trying new ones, but hadn't found just the right combination. Arthur knew she was very fragile at that time, so he made a point never to spend the night away from home. If he had to be away on business, he would just go for the day, and then come back.
One day, he had to go to Seattle on the company plane. He was planning to fly back that afternoon, but a storm came up and they couldn't take off. He thought about renting a car and driving back, but the pilot convinced him that if they just waited out the storm, he would get back quicker. He and the pilot stayed at the airport all night so they could take off as soon as possible, but even so, it was morning by the time they finally got back to L.A.
When Arthur got home, he discovered that Elise had either fallen or jumped off the balcony outside their bedroom. Her neck was broken."
"Oh, my God, Della! That's awful!"
"Yes, it was. Arthur was devastated. He blamed himself for not being with her. But he couldn't help it, not really. He didn't mean to leave her alone. When he called to tell her he couldn't leave Seattle, he said she sounded okay. She told him she'd be fine. He suggested that she call one of her friends to come over and stay, but she told him not to be silly."
"Did they think she was planning to commit suicide?"
"No, I think they thought she just got overwhelmed by the depression, and she wasn't able to pull out of it. Going over the railing of the balcony was probably just a sudden impulse. Even if Arthur had been there, she might have done it anyway. But, as I said, he blamed himself, and the children blamed him, too. They were all away at school at the time, so they didn't know what was really going on, and since Elise hadn't wanted them to know, Arthur never told them."
"So the children think he 'drove her to suicide.' Isn't that the way Catherine put it?"
"Yes, with his workaholic ways and uncaring attitude. And I think he felt that he deserved what they thought of him."
"So what happened then?"
"Well, then he and the children grew even farther apart. Without Elise to run interference between them, the situation went from bad to worse. All of them were suffering after Elise's death, and they didn't know how to help each other-and didn't want to try. Arthur was very lonely then-and very vulnerable."
"Vulnerable? What do you mean? I never would have thought of that word in connection with a man like Arthur Gordon."
"Oh, but he was. He was so lonely that he was ripe for somebody to take advantage of him. And that's when he met Paula."
"Ah, yes, Paula. The evil queen. How long had Elise been gone when Paula came along?"
"A couple of years. Paula had just gotten her second divorce and was in the market for husband number three. She saw Arthur as a good catch, even with all his baggage, so she went after him. All she ever cared about were his money and his social position. So she set out to charm him, and he was so lonely that he fell for it."
"I take it that their marriage didn't go well."
"It did for awhile. He said she made him feel young again. She was still making an effort to keep him happy at that point, and they did a lot of traveling and entertaining. Paula enjoyed that part, and Arthur liked to indulge her. I think he was still feeling guilty about Elise, so he tried to give Paula whatever she wanted-clothes, trips, spa treatments, even cosmetic surgery."
"He got a good return on his investment-she's a very good-looking woman."
"Yes, she is, but that's about all there is to her. She's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say, and after they had been married about two years, Arthur had realized that. She bored him. They had nothing at all in common. She had no interest in his business, and he had no interest in her shopping trips. He made her director of the foundation to try to give her something meaningful to do, but she didn't really care about it, and didn't ever bother to learn what its activities were. That's why it was so easy for Ken Braddock to siphon off the funds. Paula never noticed."
"But you would have, when you took over as director."
"Yes, I would have, which, of course, is why Ken didn't want me to. I didn't want the directorship at all, but Arthur literally begged me to take it. I told him I would until we could find somebody else. What I was hoping to do was to train one of the girls to take over eventually, probably Kate. She could have done a really good job with it, if she were interested enough."
Perry sighed thoughtfully. "I wonder what will happen to them all now. I wouldn't think they have much of a future as a family."
"No, I don't think so, either. Whatever chance the children had to reconcile with their father died with him, and they don't even know it. And Paula won't be any help to them at all. I'm sure she'll take every opportunity to remind them what an awful person he was, but she'll enjoy spending the money that he worked so hard to earn. It's all very sad."
"What do you think will happen to the company? Paula has controlling interest, doesn't she? Can she run it?"
"No, of course not. She'd have no idea what to do. And there's nobody there who would. In fact, the only person who would be able to keep the company afloat is no longer available to do it."
"Really? Who is it?"
"You?!" Perry gasped in surprise.
"What, you don't think I could do it?"
"I didn't mean that! Of course you could. You're capable of doing anything you set your mind to. I've always known that. I just didn't realize you had that much knowledge of that kind of business."
"I learned a lot in eight years."
"I guess you did."
"As to what will happen to the company, I'd be surprised if it lasts six months. The best people will be jumping ship pretty soon, production will go down, contracts won't be fulfilled. The whole thing will go to hell in a hand basket. Paula's only hope is to sell it as quickly as possible, while there's still something left to sell. I hate to see what Arthur worked so hard to build just collapse, but I really think that's what will happen." Della sighed, and shrugged her shoulders. "There's nothing I can do about it, though. Paula is just going to have to deal with it. It's not my problem."
"No, it's not your problem. What you need to do now is to try to put all that aside, and move on."
"Move on to where? I feel..." she paused, searching for the right word. "I feel rudderless, like a boat that's lost its anchor and is just drifting. It's the same way I felt when you moved to San Francisco, and I couldn't go with you. Only that was worse."
"Moving to San Francisco was the biggest mistake I ever made."
"Well, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time," she said with a sigh.
"I was in a bad place then," he said solemnly, remembering. His best friend's death had hit him hard, his own health was precarious, and for the first time in his life, he was thoroughly sick of defending clients in murder cases. When he had been offered a seat on the Appellate Court in San Francisco, he had accepted without much thought. He had expected, hoped really, that Della would try to talk him out of it, but instead she had encouraged him to make the move. It wasn't until all the plans were in place that she had told him she couldn't go with him.
Her aunt had suffered a stroke, and Della felt that she couldn't leave her-abandon her-was the way Della put it. Although neither of them had said it in so many words, both had thought that Aunt Mae wouldn't live much longer, and then Della's situation would change. Aunt Mae was a tough old lady, though, and she had recovered well from the stroke. It was several years before she suffered another that would prove to be her last. By that time, Perry and Della had both made new lives for themselves, and the subject of Della's joining him in San Francisco had never been raised by either of them.
"I thought we would keep in touch better than we did. That didn't work out so well," she said sadly.
"No, it didn't. We both got busy, I guess. At least you did. I spent a lot of nights at home by myself wishing you were there."
She pulled out of his arms and turned to face him. "You thought I was too busy? I spent just as many nights by myself wishing the same thing. And I read the San Francisco papers. I saw plenty of photos of you at some function or other with a good-looking woman on your arm. I felt so bad when I saw them."
"And I saw just as many of you with Arthur Gordon, when he was being interviewed about some new deal or plant expansion or something. You were always right there at his side. I felt the same way."
She sighed again. "Well, we're a pair of fools, aren't we?"
"I'll say we are. But we don't have to keep on being fools, do we?" He took her hands in his and raised them to his lips. She smiled as she met his eyes.
"No, I guess we don't." He pulled her close and kissed her, tenderly at first, then with growing fervor, and her response matched his. They felt the old familiar heat begin to build between them.
"Baby, I've missed you so much. Don't you think we have a lot of catching up to do?"
"Yes, I think we do."
"Would you like to start on that now?"
"Yes, I think I would."
He stood up slowly, then turned and took her hands again to pull her to her feet. He put his arm around her as they started toward the bedroom. "I'm afraid my knee won't let me scoop you up in my arms and carry you to bed like I used to." He smiled ruefully.
"I always loved it when you did that." She sighed reminiscently. "It was so romantic. It made me feel all gooey inside. But that's okay." She snuggled closer against his side. "This works, too. And besides, there's more of me to scoop up than there used to be."
"I don't know where it could be," he replied. "I don't see it."
"I guess you will before long. I hope you don't mind."
"Della, you are and always will be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen-or ever will see."
"Oh, Perry. As always, you flatter me."
"No, it's absolutely true. And there's a lot more of me than there used to be. I hope you don't mind."
"No, I don't mind. It just makes you cuddlier." She looked up at him and grinned.
"Cuddlier?!" He threw back his head and let out a joyous bark of laughter. "Come on, baby. Let's get started on that catching up."
Perry sat in an armchair opposite the bed watching Della sleep. After a very satisfactory beginning to their "catching up," they had both fallen asleep, spooned together.
Perry had awakened after an hour or so and had slid carefully out of bed, but Della was sleeping so deeply that she never moved when he left her. He had showered quickly, then called the concierge desk to have the afternoon newspaper sent up.
Now he sat reading it, and waiting for Della to wake up. He had always loved watching her sleep, but even more, he loved watching her as she awoke. He saw her stretch languorously, and then a small frown crossed her face. She must have forgotten where she was, he thought. Then the frown disappeared, and she smiled in her sleep and stretched again. He folded the paper and the rustling noise made her open her eyes.
"Well, Sleeping Beauty, did you finally decide to wake up and come to the ball?" Smiling, he rose from the chair, and crossed to the bed. She slid over to make room for him to sit on the edge and smiled back at him. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"Wonderful! I feel wonderful, but I didn't mean to go to sleep. What time is it?"
"You were asleep for almost four hours. It's time for dinner. Are you hungry?"
"Four hours! I had no idea it was so late! I have to go home!" She started to sit up, but he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
"Why?" he asked. "Do you have something to do?"
"Well...no. No, I guess I don't."
"So why don't you just stay here with me?"
"Well... I guess I could."
"Do you want to?"
"Yes, I want to."
"All right, then. Let's have some dinner. I'm hungry. What about you?"
She thought for a moment. "Yes, I am. In fact, I'm starving."
"Good! I'll call room service. Do you still like what we used to have?"
"Yes, that sounds good, but I think I'll skip the Lyonnaise potatoes. Could I have some steamed vegetables or maybe some grilled asparagus instead?"
"You can have whatever you want. Your wish is my command, my lady."
She sat up then, put her arms around him and kissed his cheek. "You're so sweet to me."
"Sweet, am I?" He grinned at her. "Just don't tell anyone. It would ruin my reputation."
She laughed back at him, then pushed him away. "Let me get up. I want to take a shower while we're waiting for dinner to come. And I need to find my clothes, so I can get dressed."
"Why do you need to?"
"Perry, I can't eat dinner like this."
"Well, maybe not." He gave her a sly smile. "I'd be very distracted. In fact, I don't think I'd be able to eat a thing."
"But I don't have anything else to wear!"
"Della, the hotel has thoughtfully provided two of these very nice bathrobes." He gestured to the white terry cloth robe he wore. "The other one is hanging on the back of the bathroom door. You can wear that to eat dinner."
"All right, I guess that will have to do. I'm going to get in the shower now." She disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door. Then he heard the water come on.
Perry made the call to room service, then exchanged the robe for casual slacks and a sport shirt. He didn't care whether the room service waiter saw him in his bathrobe, but he knew decorum was important to Della. He went into the sitting room, picked up her purse and jacket from the chair where he had put them earlier, and took them into the bedroom, placing them on the bed where she would see them. Then he went back into the sitting room, closing the bedroom door behind him, and sat on the sofa, re-reading the newspaper account of the trial while he waited for dinner to arrive. News of the verdict had made page one.
"Gordon's Murderer Found!" screamed the headline. "Della Street Cleared of All Charges!" The reporter had written a factual account of the trial, but was obviously sympathetic to Della. There was a flattering photo of a radiant Della being congratulated by friends and another of the two of them smiling at each other as they left the court house. The one picture of Paula Gordon made her look bitter and gaunt. Perry smiled as he folded the paper. It was a very satisfying conclusion to the most important case he had ever tried.
A knock on the door announced the arrival of the waiter with dinner. After setting up the table and opening the bottle of champagne, the waiter departed, grinning, with a very large tip.
Della was coming out of the bathroom as Perry entered the bedroom. She was almost lost in the large white robe, and her feet were bare. Her hair curled damply around her face, which was still rosy from the warmth of the shower. He thought he had never seen her look more beautiful.
"Come and eat, baby. Dinner is ready." He offered her his arm, escorted her to the table, and held her chair with great ceremony. He poured them each a glass of champagne and held his out to touch to hers. "To us," he said, smiling. She raised her glass to his. "To us," she echoed softly, smiling back at him.
They chatted comfortably as they ate, talking about inconsequential things, and falling unconsciously into the familiar conversational rhythm that felt so natural to them both. Perry was pleased to see that Della's appetite seemed to have returned, as she ate almost everything on her plate. As she was finishing her coffee, Perry reached over to the sofa, and picked up the newspaper. He held it up so she could see the headline. "You can read the whole article later, but I thought you'd like to see this. The reporter who wrote the article likes you. Look at the pictures."
She took the paper, and studied the photos. "Not bad, not bad at all." She chuckled softly. "Paula's not going to be happy with that one of her. It's much too good a likeness." Then the smile left her eyes, and she laid the paper carefully back on the sofa. "Perry, I have to tell you something. You're not going to like it."
His heart sank. This was it, then. He had been dreading this moment. He knew she was about to tell him that she and Arthur Gordon had been more than friends. Searching for a delaying tactic, he said brightly, "Let's just get rid of this table first. I can roll it out into the hall, so it won't be in the way." Silently, she helped him stack the dishes and fold down the leaves of the table. When he returned from the hallway, she was standing in the center of the room, hands clasped at her waist, twisting her fingers nervously.
"Can't this wait, darling?" he pleaded. "I was thinking we could go and do some more catching up."
"No, Perry. I have to tell you now. It's important." She pointed to the sofa. "Sit down," she ordered. He sat.
"What is it, then?" he asked reluctantly.
"It's this. I didn't have a motive."
"What did you say?" Her statement was so far from what he expected that he could barely comprehend the words.
"I said I didn't have a motive for killing Arthur."
"What do you mean you didn't have a motive? What do you call half a million dollars?" In his confusion, he spoke more sharply than he meant to.
"I call it pocket change," she snapped. "Think about it, Perry. Why would I have killed him for just half a million? If I had waited just a few days, I could have had ten times that and more!"
"Della, I have no idea what you're talking about. Now sit down and start at the beginning." He patted the place on the sofa next to him, but when she sat, it was at the other end, leaving space between them.
"All right, then. Arthur was planning to divorce Paula. He decided that the first step was to remove her as director of the foundation. He couldn't do that without Ken's knowledge, since Ken, of course, was the foundation's attorney of record. But he didn't want Ken to know about his plans to divorce her, since he thought-we both thought-that Ken and Paula were having an affair. We never even considered the possibility that it was really Kate who was involved with Ken. Well, anyway, Arthur needed another attorney to handle the divorce and draw up a new will that would cut Paula out. Ken had been handling Arthur's legal business for years, and Arthur didn't know any other attorneys, so I recommended Charlie."
"Charlie?" Perry frowned, thinking. Then his face brightened. "Of course! Charlie! Charlie Hanlon, my old golfing buddy. He's the best divorce attorney in the state." He paused. "I thought I caught a glimpse of him in court today, but when I looked again, I didn't see him."
"Yes, he was there. I asked him to come."
"You did? Why?"
"Because he and his secretary-she was there, too-were both prepared to testify that I knew the terms of the old will, and the terms of the new one, and that I would have had no reason to murder Arthur before he had signed the new will. You see, Arthur was killed on Thursday night. He had an appointment to sign the new will on the following Monday, and the divorce papers were to be served on Paula that same day."
Perry stared at the floor, frowning. He was so surprised that he couldn't think of anything to say. Della watched him carefully, trying to read his expression, and seeing nothing. She took a deep breath, and continued. "You see, the will really should have been signed sooner, but Arthur and I couldn't agree on the terms."
"You and Arthur couldn't agree? What did you have to do with it, if I may ask?"
This was going to be harder than she thought. She sighed. "Arthur and I disagreed about what he wanted me to have, and what I was willing to accept. It took three tries for us to come to terms."
"And what exactly were those terms?"
"Well, except for bequests to various charities and some old retainers-those were also in the previous will-at first Arthur wanted to cut the children out entirely, and leave everything to me. Then I could share with them if I chose to, or not. I had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted."
Perry gaped at her. "So I told him that was ridiculous," she went on. "It gave me more responsibility than I wanted, and I wouldn't have it. Then he decided to give the children a token million dollars each, and five percent of the stock in the company, and I was to have the rest. I told him that would just make the children resent me even more than they do now."
"So what did you decide on in the end?" Perry couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"In the end, I just gave up and agreed to what he proposed. In the last version, the children would each get five million in cash, a one-third share in the house in Pacific Palisades-that house is easily worth fifteen or twenty million-and sixteen percent of the stock in the company. I was to get five million in cash, the house in Aspen, and fifty-two percent of the stock. The rest was to go into a trust fund that I was to administer. I could dole out the proceeds as I saw fit."
Perry stared at her in amazement. "Della, just how much was to go into that trust fund?"
"Well, I don't really know. It depended on how much it took for Arthur to get rid of Paula. His opening offer was five million in cash and the apartment in Century City, but he would have gone higher. Of course, I didn't think it would ever happen that I would actually inherit under that will. I thought he would live for many more years, and that our situations would eventually change, and he would make yet another will. But we needed to get on with it, and I was tired of arguing about it, so I finally just gave in. So you see, if Arthur had been murdered after he had signed that will, then I really would have had a motive. But since he hadn't signed it, and I knew it, I had no motive at all."
"Della, how could Charlie and his secretary have proved that you knew all this?"
"Because I was there every time Arthur met with Charlie. I took notes at every meeting, and Charlie's secretary-her name is Jennifer-did, too. My notes are more general-I couldn't take down the conversation verbatim while I was in the middle of arguing with Arthur, but Jennifer did. She brought her notes with her today, and I had mine, as well. They're in the same steno pad that I used to take notes today. It's in my purse."
"Della." He could hardly get the words out. "Della, why didn't you tell me?"
"Oh, Perry." She sighed, and picked up the newspaper. Holding it up, she jabbed at the headline emphatically with her finger. "This is why. This is the outcome I wanted. I didn't kill Arthur, and I knew it was just a matter of time before you and Paul found the person who did. I knew that you both were moving heaven and earth to find him, and that eventually you would. But whether you would have found him before the trial was over-well, I wasn't sure about that. And I don't think you were, either."
"No, I have to admit I wasn't. I was scared, and so was Paul."
"So you see, if Paul hadn't come back when he did, if you hadn't been able to get Ken to confess, I would have told you to call Charlie to the stand. You wouldn't have known exactly what to question him about, but you could have winged it, and he would have helped you. With his and Jennifer's testimony, you probably would have been able to get the jury to acquit me on reasonable doubt."
She held up the paper again. "If that had happened, think what the headline would have said. 'Street Acquitted! Mason Proves Reasonable Doubt!' The result would have been the same-I would have been free-but there always would have been those who would have said that I must have really done it, and you 'got me off.' That kind of talk would have followed me for the rest of my life." She paused and took a deep breath. "And I thought that if you and Paul knew you had an ace in the hole, so to speak, then you would have had that thought in the back of your mind. You couldn't help it. I don't mean you would have stopped trying-I know you never would have done that-but if the anxiety were lessened just a bit, if the sense of urgency was just a little less strong-well, the outcome might have been different." She dropped the paper, and clasped her hands together in her lap.
"Perry, I can't apologize enough for putting you through this. By not telling you, I caused you even more anxiety than you would have had. I feel awful about it, and if you find that you can't forgive me, I'll understand." She dropped her head, not meeting his eyes.
"Della, come here," Perry said, and again patted the place next to him on the sofa. She slid warily toward him, and he reached out and put one hand on hers, and with the other, touched her chin, and tilted up her face so that she had to look at him. "Della, you did exactly the right thing."
"I did?" She could hardly believe what she was hearing.
"Yes, you did. If I had been in your position, I would have done the same."
"Well, Charlie didn't agree with me. He thought I should have told you, but he respected my decision, and he was willing to go along with it."
"Charlie is a great guy and an excellent attorney, but he has never been a risk taker. Della, it took a lot of courage for you to do what you did. I'm proud of you."
She smiled at him, then. "So you can forgive me?"
"Baby, there's nothing you could possibly do that I wouldn't forgive you for."
She came into his arms, and hugged him tightly. He held her to him and stroked her hair. "And you know what? Even if you had told me, I wouldn't have told Paul."
"Really? Why not?"
"Just for the reason you said. So maybe it would be better if we never told him."
"Yes, I think that would be better."
She relaxed against him, and they sat in silence, close together. "Della," he said finally, "Arthur Gordon thought a lot of you didn't he? I never realized how much."
"Yes, he did," she sighed sadly. "And I did of him." She felt Perry's hold on her loosen slightly. "Perry, I know what you're thinking."
"You usually do," he said ruefully.
"So why don't you ask me?"
"Della, I would never ask you that."
"Why? Because you might not like the answer?"
He started to lie, but he couldn't. She deserved total honesty from him. "Yes, I guess that's the reason."
She pulled away so that she was facing him, and looked him straight in the eye. "I'm going to answer that question anyway. Let me tell you here and now, Perry Mason, that I never slept with Arthur, not once, not ever. Oh, I have to admit that I was tempted. He was an attractive man, and he wanted me. That's very flattering to a woman my age. But I never did."
"Why not? Why shouldn't you?" He couldn't believe that he was asking her, but he couldn't help himself.
"There were two reasons. The first one, the one I gave him, was that he was married."
"That wouldn't matter to a lot of women."
"It mattered to this woman!" she blazed. "Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I just think that's wrong."
"I don't call that old-fashioned. I call it honorable," he said quietly. "But what about when he had divorced Paula? What would you have done then?"
"Then I would have given him the second reason, although I think he already knew it."
"And what was the second reason?"
She shrugged her shoulders, and said simply, "He wasn't you."
"Oh, Della." He looked at her with eyes that were suspiciously moist. "Della, you humble me."
He gathered her into his arms, and she rested her head on his shoulder. They sat together in silence for a long minute. Finally, he said tentatively, "Della, aren't you going to ask me the same question?"
"No, Perry. I don't think so."
"Why not? For the same reason? You might not like the answer?"
"No, it's not that at all. It's that I don't need the answer."
"No. You see, I've always thought-maybe it's just me being old-fashioned again-but I've always thought that men were held to different standards than women; that men have...um...different needs. So I couldn't expect you not to have done...whatever you needed to do, sometime in the last eight years. And anyway, it happened before, so why shouldn't it happen again?" She shrugged her shoulders again, ending the discussion.
"Della, let's get this straight." Suddenly it seemed vitally important to him that she understand. "If you think back, you'll remember that I was involved with Laura long before I ever met you. And my relationship with her was over within months after you started to work for me. And that was long before you and I were...together."
"But that other time..."
"Okay, that other time was different. That was when I was in Georgetown, and you were so far away, and I missed you so much. I just got into a situation...too much wine, not enough self-control. It just happened before I could stop it. I was horribly ashamed at the time, and I still am, just as much."
"Oh, Perry, I forgave you for that long ago."
"But forgiving and forgetting aren't the same thing, are they, baby?"
She shook her head. "No, I guess they're not. But it was a long time ago. We don't need to go there anymore." She was silent for a minute, as if to gather her nerve, then took a deep breath and said, "Okay, since you brought it up, what about all those women in San Francisco?"
"All those women." He had to smile at that. "Well, I admit that when I first moved up there, I did meet several who indicated that they would be willing to...uh...enter into a relationship. There was one in particular who, well, 'threw herself at me' is the only way to describe it, in such a way that I had to tell her in no uncertain terms that I wasn't interested. I think she must have been the one who started the rumor that I had problems with...performance. Which I don't," he added hastily.
She glanced up at him from under her lashes, and murmured, "I'll say!"
He laughed. "I think she let it be known that I wasn't worth the trouble. I'd be a poor return on their investment, so they pretty much left me alone after that."
"But what about those women I saw you with in the papers?"
"Actually, there were only two, a blonde and a redhead. The blonde-her name is Carol-is a colleague of mine on the court. She lives with her partner Jan, the redhead. Whenever I couldn't avoid going to one of those boring Bar Association dinners or some awful charity event, I would go with Carol, since she and Jan don't go to functions like that as a couple. Jan doesn't enjoy them anyway, but she does like the arts which bore Carol stiff. Then if Jan wanted to go to the symphony or the ballet, she could go with me. So they had a suitable escort when they needed one, and I had protection from predators. It worked out."
Della laughed a little sheepishly. "Perry, I don't know what to say. I never would have expected that particular scenario."
"Darling, there's never been anyone for me since I left you. There never could be." He pulled her to him, and kissed her. "Now that we've gotten all that out in the open, we should go and get some sleep. After we do some more catching up, I mean. We have a busy day tomorrow. We have plans to make."
"Yes, we do. If we're going to hang out our shingle again, we need to start thinking of a place to do it."
"Yes, our shingle." Perry looked up toward the ceiling and sketched a sign in the air. "Perry Mason and Associates." He nodded decisively. "I like the sound of that." He turned to her and asked formally, "Ms. Street, will you do me the honor of being my associate?"
"Yes, Mr. Mason, "she replied with equal solemnity. "I would be pleased to be your associate." They grinned at each other.
"Oh, and Della... There's another position open." She took a breath and started to speak, but he silenced her with a finger on her lips. "No, don't say it. Don't say it again. Just know that the position is always open, and maybe someday the time will come when you'll feel that you can accept it."
She smiled up at him. "Yes, maybe someday it will."
He hugged her to him again. It wasn't a 'yes,' but it was closer than she'd ever come. Maybe there was hope after all. He stood and took her hands to pull her with him. They started toward the bedroom, but she stopped, and stood looking around the sitting room of the suite.
"What is it, baby?"
"Perry, I was thinking. The hotel is lovely, and this suite is very comfortable, but you've been here for awhile now, and your bill must be enormous. Would you like to come and stay at my house? At least until we figure out what to do next?"
"Darling, before I say 'yes' I have to ask you something. Before, you always wanted to keep our relationship private-secret, really. If I stay with you at your house, then what we're really talking about is living together. It will be impossible to keep that a secret. People are bound to know. Would you mind?"
She turned to face him, and said seriously, "Perry, one thing I've learned from this horrible experience, is that life can be very short. We've wasted enough time. I don't want to waste any more."
"Then, yes, thank you. I'd like that very much." He smiled down at her. "I can check out in the morning right after breakfast."
She smiled back at him. "I'll help you pack."
"I was hoping you'd say that."
She laughed, but then added seriously, "You know, Perry, over the years we've been friends and we've been lovers, but we've never been roommates-at least not for any length of time. Can we just see how it goes?"
"Yes, baby, we'll just see how it goes." And with that, he led her into the bedroom and closed the door.