4 For What It's Worth PM

Della was in the kitchen putting together an evening meal and trying hard not to be angry. She didn't know what had gotten into him. He was protective to the point of being secretive. The shift in his attitude had been so gradual that she hadn't noticed until it was right in front of her nose. Including Paul in his deceit was humiliating.

Perry entered the room and, without speaking, began to help her with dinner. He set the kitchen table, found glasses, and filled them with ice. He didn't know how to explain his actions if he didn't entirely understand them himself. Talking it out was the only way to help them get a handle on it.

Two salads, cold chicken, and orange slices soon graced the table and the two of them shared a rare event in their home—a silent meal.

When they finished, Della reached over for the empty plate in the center of the table. Perry took the opportunity and grasped her hand. The unhappiness in her eyes was more than he could stand. He had to try to present a case.

"For forty years, you have never given me cause to doubt you, Miss Street. You have been my partner in love, in law, in bed, and, yes, in crime. My recent conduct has nothing to do with anything you've done. I think," he actually hesitated before continuing, "I think that I'm getting old. Up here," he tapped the side of his head, "in my mind.

"Working in criminal law, we've been exposed to violence and cruelty. Brutal acts with justifications so banal as to be almost unbelievable if we hadn't seen them for ourselves. I've always accepted that was part of the life we'd chosen. I believed that satisfaction in defending the innocent and finding justice powered me through those dark times. I was so wrong. The only thing that preventing my heart turning to stone was you.

"If I am paternal or patronizing," he took a deep breath, "then it's partially because I'm a product of my time. I always liked to think that I was beyond those mores; apparently, I'm not as modern a man as I like to think I am."

His cobalt blue eyes were glistening, and he held both her hands in his as he continued.

"Most importantly, I'm afraid of losing you. Nothing, not my career, not my money, nor my life would be worth having if you weren't beside me.

"When I pray, Della, I always pray that I die first, so that I never have to spend one day on this earth without you.

"Forgive an old man's failings and believe that I never meant to disrespect you or to doubt that rare and exceptional strength you possess. I simply wanted to protect you and our life, to keep all that corrupt dysfunction away from our home, you. I was afraid that it was going to become so overpowering that I couldn't prevent it from tarnishing our life together, and that I might not be able to protect you."

Della felt a rogue tear escape down her cheek.

Perry was a man of words. He made his living convincing and charming juries with them, but it was difficult for him to admit fear or weakness. He was a lion in winter, but he, by God, was her lion. And he was still a lion.

"Oh, Perry," she whispered through her tears.

Della came around the table and put her arms around him.

"I love you, baby," he said. "And that was one of the longest hours of my life."

"What," she asked him, pulling back to look at him. "What was the longest hour?"

"The hour that you were angry with me."

Della smiled and graced him with a heated kiss. "Does that make it better, Chief?"

With a smile that showcased his dimples, he said, "Yes. Yes, it does."

That second, lights began to come on all over the hillside from houses which now had electricity. The television in the den flickered to life, the sound blaring.

"As per usual, Miss, your timing is impeccable."

When she smiled, he thought it was still the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Nothing gutted him more than seeing Della hurt. Her soul was too gentle to deserve it.

"Well," she said, her arms still around his neck, "Why don't we get out of the house for a bit, clear our heads, and go for a short walk. If your knee is up to it?"

He grunted, rising from the chair to his feet. "It will do. Let me turn that damn television off. You go get dressed."

"Perry, I'm ready," she called out, from the kitchen. When he didn't respond, she found him in the den, perched on the sofa, eyes on the tv screen.

"What's got your attention? We are going for a walk, aren't we?"

"Shush! Della, look." He pointed toward the television.

"KTLA is sad to report that Angela White, the unfortunate victim of an accidental shooting, died early Saturday morning. Doctors think that a blood clot caused a stroke sending her into cardiac arrest. Miss White, a graduate of UC at Santa Monica, was contracted, mere days before the tragedy, to teach kindergarten, at St. Monica's Catholic Elementary.

There was a picture of Angie White, a vibrant young woman, in her cap and gown, inserted below the headline.

KTLA has reached out to her family's attorney, but they have not released a statement. Our station has also reached out to Benjamin McAlister, the young man responsible for Miss White's injuries. No one answered at his home."

"Dear God. Perry, that means she died—"

"The morning after her father approached us at the restaurant," Perry finished her sentence. "Yes. If her father was upset then, I can't imagine how angry and devastated he is now," he said, visage stony.

"Della, I think we should stay inside. We don't want to be out in the open when the media wants a sound bite from the attorney responsible for helping Ben McAlister walk out of that courtroom."

She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Now we know her father definitely had motive to kill Ben. I can't believe that a reporter hasn't gotten a call from someone with that juicy tidbit to share."

"Neither can I. Which probably means the news of his death could break any time. Damn. I need to call Paul." He picked up the phone next to him and slammed it back into the base. "Not charged yet. I need my mobile from the study." He moved to get up.

"I'll get it," Della said, heading down the hall when the doorbell rang.

"I'll get the door," Perry yelled out to her. "Maybe that's Paul now."

He checked through the peep hold before opening the door.

Outside a woman with stiffly coiffed blonde hair, with a cameraman behind her, was rubbing lipstick off her teeth with her finger, while eagerly waiting to jam a microphone into his face.

Della handed him the phone, he put his weight against the entry door, as if an evil horde with a battering ram was on the other side. His face told her everything she needed to know about what and who was lurking behind it.

"They're here," he said, clenching his jaw and dropping his head back against the wooden door. "Damn."