For What It's Worth
Della Street, office manager, secretary, and great love of famous attorney Perry Mason, lay back in her leather chair and let out a long breath. The last documents were finally completed for the McAlister case and ready to be officially filed. This had been an emotionally draining case. A young man, Ben McAlister, had fired a gun into what he thought was a safe berm, only to find that the shot had ricocheted, and a young woman had been gravely injured. On top of the feelings that such a case engendered was everything that it drew into its orbit. Hot tempers and hot opinions flew in court and in the newspapers, even death threats had been directed at the defendant, the victim, and at Perry for representing McAlister. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on gun rights or gun control, and none of them had been shy about sharing it.
Perry appeared in the darkened doorway that connected their offices. His unshaven face and the dark circles under his eyes reminded her that they were not as young as they used to be, and everything taken out of them was not replenished as easily.
"Did I imagine it or was that a huge sigh of relief I heard," he rumbled, as raked his hand through his already disheveled silver mane. She knew he had been resting on the sofa in his office, but he still looked weary, drained.
"It was. I don't know when I've ever been so happy to wrap up a case, Perry. What a tragedy. Two lives so horribly damaged," Della said, not looking up at him as she shut down her computer for the evening.
Perry disappeared back into his office and returned carrying their jackets and her purse.
"Let's go home," he said, as she took her items from his hands. "I could murder a steak and a potato, hell, even a salad."
Laughing softly, she said, "You must be starved, Counselor. A salad?"
"Yep. I give up. You and that damn doctor win. I'm going to eat the salad first THEN the steak and potato," he said, with a slight smile. Della and his physician had been trying to help him lose weight for quite a while. It didn't help that his knee hurt like hell, although he knew that his weight did not help that either.
"Come on, Perry. You can decide where we can eat on the way downstairs."
She punched the button for the Lobby while waiting for him to turn off the lights and lock the door.
Once inside the elevator, Della leaned against the wall and realized just how drained she was. Taking note, Perry pulled her warm body to his, catching a whiff of Chanel. He held her close until the doors opened. She took his right arm as they exited, nodding and smiling to the night guard on duty. The clock above the entrance read 8:45. Thirteen hours. A long day indeed.
An hour and a half later, they excited Lawry's The Prime Rib, after a fabulous supper. The best thing that had happened to them all day, they both agreed.
"Perry, I swear, I could sleep in the car on the way home," Della said, as she could finally feel a bit of the tension bleeding from her shoulders as they left the restaurant. She noticed his mood had improved, too.
He smiled. "I know. After a meal like that on top of a day like today, it's enough to put you to sleep for about ten hours."
The valet pulled their Lincoln to a smooth stop in front of them. Perry reached to open Della's door when a white middle-aged man slammed his hand down on the top of the door frame, stopping him.
"How does it feel, Mason, to prevent a man from getting his full righteous punishment for putting my baby in a wheelchair? Huh?! McAlister should be behind bars for the rest of his life, Mason! The rest of his life! My daughter got a life sentence in a wheelchair! Maybe you should be the one in a wheelchair! You get to walk around, celebrating a win, while my baby girl may never walk again, you son-of-a-bitch!"
In the split second that Perry had recognized Angie White's father, he had hastily pulled Della to his side and behind him. Mr. White moved in closer and was now punching his finger into Perry's broad chest. His face was flushed and every time he yelled spittle flew from his mouth. Della was horrified, but Perry's face was inscrutable. The big lawyer didn't move back or strike out at the screaming man.
Della didn't know when, but one of the valets had run inside to get the manger. Now both he and a security guard were heading in their direction.
"Hey, you there," yelled the guard.
Mr. White continued to rant at Perry, and, by extension, Della. The guard reached the angry man and tried to get him away from the couple. Instead of reining himself in, White struggled as the guard attempted to pull him away. A fist flew wide and landed on the guard's nose. The gloves were off.
The security guard, who was off-duty LAPD, landed a solid punch to the man's jaw. White hit the pavement hard and appeared to be dazed, at least enough to shut him up for the time being.
Perry jerked open the car door and practically pushed Della into the car.
"Stay here," he said, slamming it shut.
By now a black and white was pulling to the curb, and people had stopped to watch the spectacle.
Della couldn't hear what was being said as she watched the officer pull White from the ground. He cuffed him and placed him in the rear of his patrol car. The officer and security guard spoke to Perry, and she could see the attorney shaking his head 'no.' The manager appeared to apologize to Perry, who shrugged him off and headed back towards her.
She started to ask him if he was alright as he got into the car, but he inhaled deeply and held out a palm silently asking her for a few minutes to gather his wits. He put on the signal and pulled their car out into traffic.
The emotion from the confrontation echoed around them. Nothing that she could say could make that go away now.
Della reached across the leather seat and placed her hand softly on his thigh, I'm here. Perry took one hand off the wheel and put his on top of hers, squeezing it lightly, thank you.
She found him in one of the teakwood chairs, on the back deck of their house, overlooking Los Angeles. It was usually one of their favorite places to wrap up the day.
Walking up behind him, she placed her hands on his shoulders and began to gently massage the muscles there.
"Your knots have knots."
He grunted in response and took a drink from his highball glass.
After about ten minutes, she moved around in front of him, her pink silk robe blown around her legs by the warm California wind. Kneeling in front of him, she gently took the glass from his hand and set it on the table beside him. He was in one of his dark moods and alcohol would only exacerbate it. Hoping she could cut it off before it grew problematic, she spoke to him softly.
"Are you in there, Counselor?"
"I wish I wasn't," he grunted back.
Not good. He was in deep. The argument at Lawry's had tipped him over the edge of an already dark humor.
"I don't have to tell you after all this time, do I, Counselor, that everyone is entitled to a good defense. And I know you are well aware of how remorseful Ben McAlister was about the accident. Don't let Mr. White's pain take you under, Perry. This case…." She elevated her eyebrows and bit her lower lip.
Perry gazed at Della. Her hazel eyes so soft and loving, trying to make him feel better although this case had been hard on both. The soft breeze rearranging those curls around a face sans make up made her look younger.
"I'm sorry about tonight, Della. You shouldn't have to—"
She put her hands on his cheeks and looked into his eyes. "I'm fine, just fine. It's not the first time this has happened to us. What's different this time, Perry? Mmmm? Talk to me."
"I can't get that young woman in that wheelchair out of my head, Della. She was starting her career as a kindergarten teacher. Now—"
He stopped abruptly and lifted his chin as if he was holding it above very deep water.
"I know, Perry. I know. It was a horrible accident. You, Mr. Mason, need to put it out of your head tonight. Tomorrow, things will look better. I promise."
He smiled at the lovely lady whom he had loved for almost as long as he cared to remember. He leaned forward and brushed his lips softly across her temple. Della rose, pulling him by his hands until he got to his feet.
"Come to bed with me, Perry. Please," she whispered.
In the distance, the lights over the city were flickering, white, red. Standing behind her, he pulled Della in close to his chest and wrapped his arms around her. He could feel her hair brushing against his chin and her warmness through her thin wrap.
They stood quietly, staring out over the vast gleaming metropolis that lay before them. She felt his chest rumble against her back when he finally spoke.
"It gets bigger every day. Harder, every day. We have fought the good fight, baby. Maybe we should think about retiring for good."