In Case You Didn't Know
Della stood next to Paul Drake's grave. The earth was so freshly turned that it was pungent, an olfactory and gut rending reminder of 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
The bronze casket that held Paul's body was on a bier, with an American flag arrayed elegantly across it. To the side stood young Marines in their dress blues ready to do the proper military honors, which he so richly deserved, from his service in WWII. Many of the young men looked younger than towels she owned, she mused.
A slight wind suddenly swept across the graveyard and lifted the hair gently off the nape of her neck, briefly alleviating the warmth and dampness there. Della was bone tired, hurt, and shell shocked. She was even hotter because Paul, Jr., was so close that he was touching her shoulder. She honestly didn't know who was holding up whom. Junior had adored his father.
Paul had never really thought seriously about becoming a father. Sure, he played with the idea in the back of his mind, but big Paul was only a meticulous planner when it came to his work. His private life was an improvised performance. Sometimes situations worked out, and sometimes they didn't. Having Junior sure was a success in his book. Della's, too.
The crowd was sizeable and quite diverse, ranging from police to red light district ladies, who weren't standing as near to the family as the cops, of course. Even prostitutes had some respect, after all. Paul had friends and contacts EVERYWHERE in his LA stomping grounds. She had nodded at Steve Drumm, now a captain in the LAPD, on the way to their seats. Hamilton Burger had given her a small smile, the concern in his eyes evident.
There was one face that Della didn't see and didn't expect to. She tried desperately hard not to look for him, though Paul would definitely have understood. Still, Della thought that it would be something of a betrayal.
Five years after leaving San Francisco and his judgeship, harsh words and misunderstandings had occurred and Perry Mason had sworn to himself that he would never return to Los Angeles. Perry remembered those exact words as he came up behind the densely packed crowd of mourners standing on the unnaturally green grass, for a California summer.
Never say never or you'll eat your words, as he and Paul used to say.
Ain't that the truth.
Persistently, Perry wound his way through people until he could see the casket and the family there.
United in their shared heartache, Perry could see the two of them seated in chairs placed beside the casket. Della dabbed at her tears, and the young man knit his brows together and stared numbly at the coffin.
The tall, large man tried to ignore all the eyes on him and the loud whispers around him. To hell with them. His business and feelings were none of theirs. When he first heard the news, the famed attorney felt sucker punched. No one, not a single person in this crowd, had probably considered his pain and his regret that the best friend he'd ever had had died in a car accident.
Perry thought that was as bad as it could get. He was wrong. Actually, seeing the casket was making him nauseous, along with Della's tears, and her obvious distress, all while trying to comfort Junior. The finality and pain of loss made the great Perry Mason want to fall to his knees and beat the ground with his fists at the futility and limited understanding of humanity.
Della glanced at Junior. He was pale and glassy eyed. She understood how he felt. Less than a week ago, the three of them had returned from a cruise to Hawaii, celebrating Junior's graduation from Cal State, at Long Beach. God knows, they had almost despaired of his making it to graduation. He had his father's eye for beautiful women along with a fondness for performing with an amateur jazz band. His GPA had dipped precariously many times.
She remembered their celebration in the backyard with steaks and drinks, lots of drinks, with friends and neighbors. Della remembered Junior calling home after getting his final grades, this past spring. Paul had raced through the house after hanging up the phone. She had been standing at the sink in the kitchen practically holding her breath waiting for the news. Paul had grabbed her from behind and spun her around while laughing and repeatedly yelling, "He did it! He finally did it!"
Della had laughed and cried along with him, as she had since the first day the boy had arrived, at six years old.
She unconsciously touched her lips in an attempt to stifle an upwelling of fresh sorrow at the memory. Junior instinctively put his arm around her and tried to console the woman he considered his mother. Della allowed herself to lean on him. He was a grown man now; he'd have to behave like one.
Reverend Williams finished his graveside service with John 16:33:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.
Marines then stepped forward and started the elaborate ritual of folding the flag. Once folded, the flag was handed to the senior officer who bent over and gently placed it in Junior and Della's hands (Junior had insisted), while saying, "On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service."
Stepping back, he saluted and returned to his detail. There was a twenty-one-gun salute, which caused Della involuntarily to jump, although she'd expected the noise.
In the distance, a lone bugler began playing taps, which was Perry's unraveling. His chest became so tight and his breath became so labored that he wondered if this is what a heart attack felt like.
He forced himself to watch as Della placed her hand the in crook of Junior's arm and the young man led her to a waiting car, which would take them to a quieter and much emptier home where they would continue to grieve, privately. As for himself, Perry craved a drink, hopefully in a dark bar, where no one would recognize him for a while.