Ilene Schneider on What Mysteries Can Do

Rabbi Ilene Scheidler

Rabbi Ilene Schneider, EdD, was one of the first women to be ordained in the United States. So after a lifetime of working in Jewish education administration, then as a hospice chaplain and coordinating a Jewish hospice program, she wrote a short series of mysteries featuring Rabbi Aviva Cohen, who in between leading a congregation, offering advice and dealing with synagogue politics, stumbles into murders and solves them. You can find out more about Rabbi Scheidler on her website RabbiAuthor.com, or check out her Facebook page, Rabbi Author.

When I asked my gracious blog host Anne Louise Bannon about suggestions for my post, she mentioned, “How about the use of the murder mystery to share our values, maybe as a mitzvah? Not necessarily as a way of beating people over the head to agree with us, but as a way to present another way of thinking about something?” Her question got me thinking (as all good questions should) about how much of an author’s views are reflected in the fictional characters. And, conversely, how hard is it to incorporate opinions the opposite of the author’s into a book?

I know that an author does not have to be a murderer or a rapist or a sadist or a crook to write convincing villains. I admire authors who can write convincing thrillers, yet I wonder how some are able to squelch their own distaste or squeamishness to compose actions I have trouble reading. I find it very hard to write scenes that depict graphic violence, which is why I write cozies. Everything is off the page. I find it is easier to describe a character’s reactions to an event than to write the event.

(As an aside, I write a first person narrative, and my protagonist, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, looks a lot like me. In fact, she looks like me. I’ve commented on panels that as good an imagination as I may have, I do have difficulty writing from the first person point of view of someone who is tall and svelte and athletic, has straight, silky hair, and complains she can’t find a bathing suit that fits because the tops are too roomy.)

One advantage of writing fiction is being able to put unpopular or racist or other objectionable opinions into the mouths of characters the readers aren’t supposed to like. It’s a great form of therapy to ascribe such views to the bad guys, particularly if they’re based on real people I dislike. But it does not mean I ascribe to those views. But I also find it cathartic to explore what may consider esoteric or philosophic or theoretical ideas. The trick, as Anne alluded to, is to find a balance between lecturing and discussing, to teach without indoctrinating. And to do it without diverting from the plot or boring the reader.

In my latest book, Yom Killer, I have a scene in which Aviva and a colleague, who works as a chaplain, have a discussion about how to be a spiritual counselor when one has questions about the validity of the theology patients and their families want or need to hear. I used the scene to explore issues that have bothered me as a rabbi and rationalist, particularly when I worked as a hospice chaplain. Aviva voiced the hesitations I had, while her friend supplied the answers I also espouse.

Now it was my turn to shake my head. “Wow. I wish I could have your faith, but I feel like such a fraud sometimes.” 

“Don’t. Just remember that you have to be where your patients are, even if you believe what you’re saying is no more than a banality. You’re helping them, and that’s all that matters. If they think they’ll see their parents in the afterlife, don’t lecture them about how there’s no such thing. If they start talking to their dead husband, don’t tell them it’s a hallucination caused by reduced blood flow to the brain.” 

I quickly backtracked. “Oh, I never would. I always agree with whatever they believe. It’s just that I feel like such a hypocrite, betraying my own belief system.” 

“I’m repeating myself here, Aviva, but it’s not a betrayal to soothe others.”

So, yes, Anne, I do add elements to my books “as a way to present another way of thinking about something.” Is it a mitzvah? Only my readers can answer whether they benefit from these ramblings. I like to think I am giving them a new insight.

As for Anne’s other possible topics for my guest blog, perhaps next time I will take her suggestion to “riff on the glory of the Krispy Kreme.”

Schneider’s latest book is Yom Killer, which you can buy in paperback at Barnes and Noble or in ebook and paper at Amazon.

 

 

 

Chapter One

spy novel, serial fiction, cozy mysteryWelcome to the debut chapter of Deceptive Appearances, the third installment of the Operation Quickline series. Please come back and check out the rest of the series as it is posted on Fridays.

 

September 15, 1983

 

We hit the rain in Lone Pine, as we skirted up the backside of the Sierra Nevadas on our way to Lake Tahoe. It didn’t slow Sid down much, at first, except that U.S. 395 stopped being a freeway for a good chunk after that and being in the mountains and all, even Sid slowed down.

“I hope the passes aren’t frozen,” Sid grumbled as he finally switched on the windshield wipers.

“It’s way too early for snow,” I replied, trying to sound more reassuring than I felt.

Neither of us was in the best of moods, although for once, it wasn’t because we had been fighting. It was the job we were on. We don’t usually get a pick-up assigned to us over a week before we have to make it, and since they asked for both of us specifically, well, that meant the job was going to be more than a pick-up.

The worst of it was that we were doing the job as ourselves and not as our alter-egos, something we’d been requested to do, probably because somebody upline had seriously screwed up. You see, I grew up in South Lake Tahoe and the pick up was scheduled for the casinos in Stateline, literally just on the other side of the border in Nevada. Harrah’s parking lot is in California, to give you an idea of how close it all is.

I went back to the magazine I’d been reading from. “You want me to finish this? I mean there are only a couple sentences left.”

“I’m listening.”

“Okay. Where was I? Oh. ‘The ultimate problem with Moriarty’s is not unlike the problem with Shanda. The club has all the appearances of a truly great night spot, but it will get you in the end. Parenthesis  – I told you to watch out for us nice girls. We only look harmless, ljw, close parenthesis.”

“Hattie left that in?” Sid asked. Hattie is the editor of Sid’s singles column.

“I told you she was going to. She’s been leaving in all my parentheses and wants more.” I’d been adding them almost since Sid had started his column, but originally as a joke for Sid only. Then a few months before, this one had slipped through to Hattie and she’d thought it was hysterical.

“Oh. That’s right.”

I looked at him. “You okay with that?”

“I told you I was.”

I didn’t completely believe him but saw no reason to say so. Instead, I watched out the window for several minutes, listening to the beat of the windshield wipers. Slowly, a familiar melody slipped through my mind and I began humming.

“Windshield wipers keeping time,” I sang softly, then sang it again, trying to remember the rest.

“It starts with ‘Busted flat in Baton Rouge,’” Sid finally said. My humming tends to get on his nerves, especially when I can’t remember the whole song.

“Oh, right!” I went ahead and sang it from the beginning, with Sid feeding me the lines as needed. He doesn’t sing, well, not much.

“When did your folks say they’d be back?” Sid asked as I went into the la-dah-dahs, probably to shut me up. [Oh, yes. – SEH]

My parents still lived during the summers up at the resort they owned off of U.S. 50 and weren’t scheduled to head down to their place in Florida for another month yet. Fortunately, they were spending the week in New York visiting my great aunt.

Mama and Daddy think that Sid is merely an eccentric, but wealthy, freelance writer and that I’m merely his secretary. We are, but we’re also operatives for Operation Quickline, an ultra-top secret government organization, so secret, in fact, that even my family doesn’t know that it exists, let alone that Sid and I work for it.

“That’s just it, they didn’t say,” I said. “Mama said something about playing tourist in Boston while they were on the East Coast, but I don’t think Daddy’s going to go for it. They should be gone through the weekend, though.”

Sid swore under his breath as he eased onto the brakes again.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell my parents what to do,” I said, feeling a little defensive.

“It’s not your folks,” Sid said, braking again. “We’re just making lousy time.”

We had left later than we’d intended after a small dust-up over whether I was spending ten hours in a car fully dressed in business wear. Sid had agreed to let me go casual since I had conceded to driving up when we could have flown. Sid had said that since we were going as ourselves and odds were decent we’d need a car once there, we could at least take his 450 SL.

Sid does have a lead foot [So do you – SEH], and in spite of the rain, we actually made it to Stateline in just over eight hours, my best time ever. I have to admit, I was a little excited about staying in the casino where we were going to make our drop. I’d been to the casinos often enough, but who stays in the hotels in their hometown?

We had a two-bedroom suite, too. That had been the hotel’s idea. We were also there to interview the hotel manager for an article for a major airline’s in-flight magazine, and the manager insisted on setting us up in their best room instead of the two I’d requested. It wasn’t exactly discreet, but Sid and I figured that with me being a former local, discreet was not on the agenda, anyway.

We parked in the hotel’s main lot and carried our luggage in on our own. Sid checked in, got our keys, then held me back before I followed the bellman to the suite.

“I’m going to call in and set things up,” he said, taking off his tan overcoat and handing it to me. “Why don’t you get changed and wired up and meet me down here?”

“Dinner?” I asked hopefully. It was past six-thirty at that point and I was starving.

Sid’s eyes rolled. “You’ve been nibbling all day, not to mention how much you ate at lunch.”

I blinked twice.

“Oh, alright.” Sid pulled out his thin black leather billfold. “For the tip.”

He handed me a couple fives. He’d chosen to wear his usual three-piece suit, shirt, and tie. The way he held his suit jacket closed told me he’d already put his shoulder holster on, though when he had, I wasn’t sure. Driving in one isn’t exactly comfortable and we’d made our last pit stop in Bishop. I couldn’t see if he’d gotten his earpiece and transmitter on, but then, you can’t really see the earpiece unless you look really carefully for it.

“Go ahead and change, too,” he said. “It’ll give us more options for the pickup.”

“Okay.”

With a nod, Sid moved off into the casino, while I followed the bellman up to our suite.

It was huge, decked out in Southwestern pastels, with a sunken floor in the center of the main room, containing a huge circular sofa. The bedrooms were on either side of the main room. I put Sid’s trench coat on the rack next to the door as the bellman, who looked like he was barely out of high school, brought our two suitcases and carry-ons into the one bedroom.

“Uh, excuse me,” I called out, anxiously. “Two of those are mine and they belong in the other bedroom.”

“Oh. Sorry. Uh, which bags?”

“Happens all the time,” I sighed.

I do get very tired of people assuming Sid and I are lovers. We may live in the same house – long story how that happened – but we are strictly housemates.

I let the bellman wait while I decided which room I’d take. They were both pretty luxurious, with huge bathrooms each containing a sauna. But I let Sid have the one with the rock spa tub. I figured he might want to bring some company back to the suite somewhere along the line and was feeling generous.

I gave the bellman the tip, then went back to my room to change into a dark-blue paisley skirt and light blue velveteen Edwardian-style jacket with puffed sleeves and short peplum. I’d trimmed it with dark blue braid and it certainly stood out. I wear my hair fairly long and permed, and picked out the curls, then slid a small piece of spring steel behind my ear.

Unfortunately, the jacket was too fitted for me to carry a shoulder holster, but I had my S & W model thirteen revolver in my monster of a purse. The thing was huge, but it carried everything I needed and then some. I strapped a twenty-two automatic to my thigh, high up under my very full skirt. My transmitter, I clipped to the inside of my skirt, adjusted the microphone inside the jacket’s collar and slid the earpiece into my ear. I took one last look in the mirror, then turned the transmitter on.

Immediately, the noise of the casino filled my ear.

“I’m wired and ready,” I said, picking up my purse.

“Come on. Bust for me,” Sid grumbled, letting me know where he was without letting anyone else know he was wired.

Good thing, too, because the pit bosses are really looking for that sort of thing – you’d be surprised what people do to cheat.

Once I got downstairs it was easy to spot Sid. Okay, the man is particularly handsome, with dark wavy hair, bright blue eyes and a cleft in his chin. He’s not big, just three inches taller than me and I’m average. It also helped that he was playing at a twenty-five dollar minimum bet table. Those tables are almost never crowded, except on at peak weekend or holiday hours. In fact, there was only one other player there.

Sid looked up and smiled as I approached.

“Doing okay?” I asked.

“About even,” he replied. He signaled a hit to the dealer and winced as he busted. “Oh well. Time to move on.”

He gathered up his chips and a drink glass filled with something clear and ice.

“What do you want to do?” he asked, slipping gracefully off the stool.

“Dinner. I’m starving.”

“You’re always starving.”

Which is true. I am. I’m one of those lucky types that can eat like a horse and never get fat, a fact which mystifies Sid, who can’t.

“So when’s the pickup?” I asked softly as we made our way out of the casino.

“Between nine-fifteen and nine-thirty. You’re making it. Just put your purse on the bar in the Keno lounge.”

“Oh, good, we’ve got time for the buffet.”

Sid all but gagged. “On your own time, please. They have a nice seafood restaurant here.”

“Okay, that sounds good.”

Sid shook his head. But I will give him credit. He almost ate like a normal person. Sid is a complete health nut. No red meat, no refined sugar or starches, no fat, small portions all the time. Not that I don’t like healthy food. I do. I just like all the other stuff, too. He had grilled salmon, steamed vegetables, no potato, and salad with oil and vinegar on the side. I indulged in surf and turf, creamy dressing on my salad, and loaded up my baked potato with butter and sour cream, and dunked every bite of lobster into luscious drawn butter. Sid sighed but didn’t say anything.

We finished around eight-thirty and lacking anything better to do, went over to the Keno lounge. The casino was crowded with conventioneers – a trade association for manufacturers of recreation products was having its annual meeting at the casino that weekend. Sid and I were hard-pressed to find a place to sit but did manage to find a booth away from the betting window and across from the bar.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to figure this game out,” I grumbled, trying to read a brochure about Keno in the dimmed light.

“Hm.” Sid was checking out a woman in her mid-forties sitting a few tables away and trying to look as though he wasn’t checking her out – not Sid’s usual modus operandi.

Which was odd, because she was definitely checking Sid out and with considerably more interest than the other women in the bar, who believe me, were checking.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Irony of ironies,” Sid said with a weak smile. “You know how worried you’ve been about running into someone you know?”

“Yeah, but I’ve never seen her before, assuming you mean that woman over there.”

“That’s because she’s someone I know. Or knew.”

Sid cussed softly as she got up and made her way over. There was something almost stunning about her, although she didn’t have that glamorous look. Her hair was cut short into a wedge and she was wearing a nice, but predictable, dark business suit. It must have been the way she carried herself.

“Oh, my lord, Sid Hackbirn!” she said, smiling happily as she got to the table.

“Della, well, I’ll be damned.” Sid scrambled to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for the meeting.” She held up the badge she was wearing. “I’m VP Finance for Sunland Products. You?”

“I’m here doing a story,” Sid said. He waved at the booth. “Please, join us.”

“Thank you.”

Sid glanced at me and I moved over on the bench as Della slid into the booth ahead of Sid.

“This is my secretary, Lisa Wycherly,” Sid said. “Lisa, this is Della Riordan.”

I was waiting for her to question Sid having a secretary – everyone tends to assume he’s made his money by writing, which is ridiculous because writing does not pay very well at all. But she didn’t.

“Wycherly?” she asked, looking at me carefully. “As in the sporting goods store across the state line?”

“Yeah, that’s my dad’s store,” I said, hesitantly. “He and my mom own the resort out here, too.”

“Your father is a good client,” Della said.

“Sunland Products. You guys make trail food,” I said, even though I was still puzzled. I knew the product line from running my dad’s store summers while I was in college. But the big chains carried Sunland, too, and Daddy didn’t carry all that much trail food.

“My goodness, Sid, you’ve done well for yourself,” Della said, ignoring me. “What happened to your glasses?”

That placed Della way back to Sid’s early college days, at least. He’d gotten his money around then. Sid is extremely near-sighted and hates wearing glasses, so the contact lenses were one of his first indulgences.

“I inherited some money,” Sid said, “and promptly got contacts. You seem to be doing rather well, too.”

“Well enough,” Della sighed. “I still miss teaching, but I can’t complain about the compensation for executives.”

“Yeah, I’d heard what had happened. So, are you married? Single?”

Della chuckled. “Still single. You?”

Sid laughed lecherously. “Very single and always open.”

“Still audacious, too, I see.” She glanced at me. “How long have you two been together?”

“I’ve been working for Sid for a year,” I said, my tone getting frostier than I’d intended.

There was something about the way Sid was looking at her. I had a feeling this wasn’t just any old past fling.

“Lisa is strictly my secretary,” Sid said with a teasing edge to it. “Not for lack of trying on my part.”

“You can say that again,” I grumbled.

“What?” asked Della.

Sid sighed loudly. “The woman has morals. Can you believe it? In this day and age?”

I put my hands up. “Okay. Got the hint. I’m leaving. Della, nice meeting you.”

I grabbed my purse from where it had been sitting under the table next to Della’s feet and scooted out of the booth and off toward the bar. I checked my watch and sure enough, it was coming on to nine-fifteen. I knew Sid was giving me an excuse to leave, but I was annoyed at how he chose to do it.

“Snippy little thing,” said Della’s voice in my ear.

“I wasn’t entirely fair,” said Sid. “I was baiting her.”

I did my best not to glare in his direction and plopped the monster purse on the bar next to me.

“And she does come in for a lot of grief because people keep assuming we’re sleeping together,” Sid continued.

“I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified,” Della said.

“Be impressed. It’s not easy for her. Or me.”

“I’m surprised you’ve kept her around. That’s not like you, Sid. Or it wasn’t.”

Sid laughed. “It’s still not like me, and if you give me half a chance, I’ll prove it. But Lisa’s different. I don’t get it, but it seems to work out well for us and I’m content.”

“Well, bully for you, dear.” Della’s voice turned deeply sour. “People with morals are why I’m not teaching anymore.”

“Lisa’s not like that. She doesn’t judge, and lord knows, I’ve given her more than enough reason to.” Sid gently took her hand as I tried not to squirm. I knew it was about to get intimate and while we needed to stay wired, I wasn’t wild about listening in on his latest conquest.

Except this was different.

“I wish I could have been there when Crowley blew the whistle on you,” he continued.

“He was lying, you know,” Della sighed.

“That doesn’t surprise me.” Sid paused. “I, uh, hope it didn’t get out about us. I’d hate to think that what we had got you into trouble.”

“What we had was an illegal fling, Sid.”

“Yeah. I know. I kind of wish I’d thought about that now.”

“I should have. I was, technically, the adult.” Della put her hand on Sid’s cheek. “But you were special. Half man, half boy.”

“Della, I wouldn’t be half the lover I am today if it hadn’t been for you. I learned so much from you.”

“I was only supposed to be teaching you algebra.”

“Well, you know, Della, I am of age now. Unless your company has issues about consenting adults.”

Della chuckled. “At least you’ve gotten a little more subtle than your hand up my skirt.”

“I still remember the smell of your perfume.”

“And I remember how sweet and how giving you were.”

Sid moved in for a kiss, his hand sliding under the lapel of his jacket to remove the microphone hidden there. I checked my watch again. Nine-thirty.

“What’s with that couple over there?”

I looked up at the man sitting on the stool next to me. He had that tall and gangly look, with darkish hair cut sort of short and dark horned-rim glasses. His eyes were dark and he was kind of cute. He was dressed in a suit and boring blue-striped tie, but the tie had been loosened and his collar was open. A plastic badge was clipped to his chest pocket, but I couldn’t make out what it said.

“Oh,” I said. “Um, that’s my boss. I just work for him.”

“I believe you,” he said, glancing over at Sid and Della, who were in full embrace and about to enact a porn movie if they stayed in the bar any longer.

“I shouldn’t be so defensive,” I sighed. “People see us together and assume we’re sleeping together, and I just get tired of it, is all. I’m not that kind of girl.”

“Really? What kind of girl are you?”

My grin got a little strained. “Religious.” I stopped. “Sorry. I’m making a hash of this. I’ve never done the bar thing well, mostly because I don’t do one night stands and every time I go into a bar, it seems like that’s all anyone is interested in. Whatever happened to just having a good time being friends? I mean, I like dating. I just don’t want to jump into bed with every guy I go out with.”

My new friend laughed. “What a refreshing perspective. You know, I’m so tired of going on dates only to feel like I’ve got to perform or I’m some kind of mutant.”

“You don’t look like a mutant to me.” I glanced over at the booth. Sid and Della had gone. “Looks like I’m off duty for the night.”

“Hey, it’s not late. My name’s Fletcher Haddock. I’m here with the meeting. Um, I’ve got an extra ticket for the midnight show. Would you like to come with me?”

“Sure. That sounds like fun. I’m Lisa Wycherly.”

“As in the sporting goods store over the state line?”

“Yeah. That’s my parents’ place, along with the resort. I can’t believe it’s so popular.”

“Oh, yeah. We all know Wycherly’s. It’s a nice store.”

“That’s good to know.” It certainly explained Della knowing it.

“Well, shall we?”

We had a lovely time. Fletcher and I had a lot in common, including the church thing. Not only was he a Catholic and still practicing, he even sang in his church’s choir. We gambled a bit and Fletcher taught me how to play craps. You’d think growing up next to the casinos, I’d know these things. But one of the disadvantages of being a local kid in such a relatively small place as South Lake Tahoe is that the pit bosses knew us. In fact, I got carded that night by a boss who used to go to my old church.

The midnight show was entertaining. A comic named Gary Shandling was up first, then Juliet Prowse. Afterward, Fletcher walked me up to my room.

“I had a good time, Lisa,” he said as we reached the door. He kept his arm tight across my shoulder.

“Me, too, Fletcher.”

“You know, we don’t have to end the evening now,” Fletcher said, trying to sound casual and completely blowing it.

“Yeah, well, I do have to work tomorrow,” I replied.

Fletcher moved in for a kiss. I was okay with that until I found myself all but choking on his tongue. And it was really wet, too. I pulled back.

“Um, Fletcher, I think I’m going to go to bed now.”

“Why don’t you let me come with you?” He grinned, but it wasn’t working.

“No. I sleep alone. Remember? Thanks for a fun evening.”

I slid into the room as fast as I could and all but slammed the door shut behind me.

Sid had, fortunately, shut the door to his bedroom, but I could still hear him and Della fully involved. Blushing and thoroughly disgusted, I went to my room and slammed the door. Either Sid got the hint or the door did its job. It didn’t matter. The room was quiet and I went to bed.

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

The Serial is Done, Stopleak is Now a Book

Yep. Stopleak is now only available in book form.

Thanks for sticking it out all those weeks. If you missed a couple or want to share the fun with a friend, please check out the book page on my site here.

The next Operation Quickline story, Deceptive Appearances, will debut in this space on Friday, June 2. Sid and Lisa get sent to her hometown of South Lake Tahoe to try and find an enemy operative. Only they end up in the middle of a murder and a shipment of illegal drugs that hit both of them far too close to home.

 

 

 

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Making Lentil Chili

A friend of mine recently hosted a large number of her relatives at her place thanks to a death in the family. So to help her out, I sent over some lentil chili. It’s a dish I make fairly often. It’s hearty, healthy (for the most part) and it tastes really good. Plus I often make it vegan for those folks of that persuasion.

Apparently, my friend’s relatives really loved it and she asked me to get the recipe for them. Um. Oops.

That is the downside to not cooking with recipes. Sometimes, folks want to know how you made something and it can be tough explaining it. That’s assuming I remember. The other downside to not cooking with recipes.

Oddly enough, my lentil chili did begin with another recipe, in this case, a copycat recipe for canned chili, such as Dennison’s or Hormel. I’d had a yen for some and when the copycat recipe came pretty durned close, I analyzed it. According to the person who posted that recipe, what made the chile taste the most like the canned stuff was Fritos corn chips. I looked at the ingredients on the corn chip bag and there were only three: corn meal, salt, and safflower oil. So I tried the recipe again, adding corn meal. Not even close. Turns out, it was the salt that made the copycat work. There’s a boatload of salt in Fritos, which makes you wonder just how much there is in canned chili.

So I started wondering how I could make a similar version that would be healthier and come up with the idea of adding mushrooms (for meatiness) and collard greens (for the health benefits) to lentils, which cook quickly and are pretty good protein-wise. I added mostly the same spices and came up with my lentil chili.

It’s a pretty straightforward process. Chop half an onion, then get your collards and mushrooms chopped. Instead of the collards, you can use any leafy green you like (or don’t like – the good thing about this chili is that it hides the nasty flavor of kale).

Add some oil to a saucepan, and get the onions cooking until translucent. About this time, you add the chopped greens and mushrooms. Then you want to add one to two tablespoons of a chili powder you like, about a teaspoon of garlic powder, another half to full tablespoon of ground cumin, plenty of salt, and some pepper.

 

Get it all stirred up, then add the lentils. I’ll sometimes add a pat of butter or two if it’s only going to be me and the Beloved Spouse eating it. Butter makes it not vegan, so leave it out if you’re feeding any. Give the lentils a good stir, then add a couple cups or so of water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Don’t worry about it not being thick enough at this stage. The lentils will thicken the chili as they cook, which takes about fifteen to twenty minutes at a soft boil. I’m about to add the second part of what makes this taste so good.

Yep. That’s corn meal. Once the lentils are almost cooked, I start sprinkling in corn meal by the handfuls.

You can sort of see it above. The idea is to keep stirring as you do so that the corn meal doesn’t lump up, but thickens the chili up evenly. Not thick enough, stir in more corn meal. Too thick? Add a little bit of water and stir. Give it a taste before you serve it and see if it needs any extra spice or salt. And that’s pretty much it.

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Twelve

July 28, 1983

 

My church’s youth group holds a week-long retreat at a Christian camp on Catalina Island every summer. Most of the leadership comes from the single adult bible study that did the retreat I was on when Sid came to get me back in May. Father John decided I should be a camp leader too. Sid “just happened” to take off for the Bahamas this week, and doesn’t need me around.

It’s Thursday evening. The sun is slowly sliding behind the hill. The ocean laps peacefully on the rock where I sit, writing my journal. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it with me. The fact that it’s ciphered won’t reveal any secrets, but it could make me look a little strange in that planned way that once made me very suspicious of Sid. That was before I knew about Quickline.

But perspective is why I wrote down the first one, and it’s why I’m here finishing this bit up. I’ve been working pretty steadily on it since we got home almost a month ago.

We stayed on a week yet in Paris to recover. Sid’s eyes were still a sick shade of green, and the scar on my forehead was a sight. And the cigarette burn got infected. But no one questioned us. Mae just raised cain with me for not calling her and wondered where I’d been. I told her we’d been in and out and all over the place, and never really answered her questions. I didn’t even tell her about Catalina. Like Sid says, we can’t call attention to our traveling.

The week we got back, Sid picked up a package from A12 and A45. It was a package of study tapes of French, Italian, and German. We had a good laugh over it. After all, being strictly domestic, the odds of us ever needing to speak those languages is pretty remote.

This morning I gave a talk on sex and the problem of temptation, another one of Father John’s ideas. When I told Sid I was giving it, he laughed and said I should use him as a bad example. I did, too. The kids loved it, but I don’t think they really believed me about him until lunch.

I sat at the scarfer’s table: Father John, Frank, three high school football players, and me. We all have phenomenal appetites and are on fourth and fifth servings before the rest of the camp has finished firsts. [It’s not a pretty sight, Lisa dear, and you are the worst of them – SEH] However, today we lingered over dessert. There weren’t seconds available.

“Is your boss really that bad?” asked Todd Wilkins, one of the football players.

“Like, you’ve got to be exaggerating,” said Jeff Childs.

“Not a bit,” I said. “If anything, I toned it down some.”

“She’s not kidding,” added Frank. “Every time I’ve taken her home from something, he’s got a different woman there. Which reminds me.” He got up. “I’ve got mail duty today.”

He picked up the bag of letters and called out names on the dining hall microphone. I didn’t get anything, which I expected.

“That’s it for today,” Frank announced. “Except for one postcard.”

“Read it!” someone yelled.

“Oh, I’m going to,” Frank snickered. “And this will be uncensored.”

Something about the way he said that caught my attention. I looked around. The card was blue, maybe an ocean.

“This hot little number is addressed to our own Lisa J. Wycherly.”

Cat calls erupted from the kids.

“He didn’t,” I groaned, though why I was surprised, I don’t know. “He didn’t.”

“It goes like this: My dearest ice maiden…” Frank was without mercy.

Some more cat calls.

“He did!” I sank my burning face into my hands.

“No offense, but glad you’re not here. Getting a great tan and lots of great dot, dot, dot.” The kids roared. “How are the horny juveniles?” Roundabout booing. “Still trying hard to understand. Please, don’t eat too much.” Cheers, which were accepted by the football players. “And stay away from the junk food.”

“Too late!” someone hollered to a big laugh. I’m told my candy bar habit is the stuff legends are made of.

“Your favorite reprobate.” More laughter and cheers. Frank held up his hand. “P.S. Don’t forget your sunscreen.”

The kids laughed really hard and cheered. I did not get slapped on the back because that would have hurt my sunburn.

“Now, Lisa,” teased Frank. “You wouldn’t happen to know who that was from?”

“He’s going to regret this, and so are you, Frank,” I called. Silently, I wished sand in Sid’s equipment. [So that’s how it happened – SEH]

Later, Father John caught me alone, sitting with my journal on my rock.

“Well?” he asked.

“What?”

“You seem to be doing a lot of thinking.”

“I guess I am.”

“About Sid?”

“Yeah.” I looked at Father. “Things got pretty wild on that trip we took.”

“Would it be fair to guess that scar on your forehead did not come from a fall on a coffee table?”

“Not quite.” I lifted my hair. “That was a cigarette burn. The whites of Sid’s eyes had just barely cleared up before he left. He got winged. I got beaten up twice.” I looked out over the ocean. “The funny thing is, the violence doesn’t seem to bug me. I mean I don’t like it, but I’m not scared of it anymore. And I’m not scared of Sid anymore. We tried making love. He asked me, and I couldn’t say no or yes. It didn’t work. But it really took the pressure off. I mean he still wants to.”

“And do you?”

“Yeah,” I said softly. “I really want to. And I really don’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’d have to be married to him for it to work, and more than anything, I don’t want to be married. It’s like I’m finally finding out who I am and what I can do. This trip completely tested all my limits. I don’t want to submerge that in a man, and that’s what’s expected in a marriage. I like being independent and able to make my own decisions without consulting someone else.” I chuckled.

“What about Sid?”

“What about him?”

“Someday you might decide that you want to be part of his life in a way that does not submerge who either of you are, but does call for a deep, loving commitment from both of you.”

I smiled. “I might, but he can’t. I don’t think he ever will.”

“I guess at the moment, it’s much safer for you that way. I’ll talk to you later.”

I fished Sid’s postcard out of my cover up pocket, then pulled out my pen and started writing. Sid says there’s a kind of safety in keeping me mad at him.

I keep getting funny looks from the kids as they walk past my rock out here. Lots of people sit out here alone, and quite a few write, so that’s not it. I guess I’m the only one who comes out here and whistles “All Day, All Night, Marianne.”

Essays, general essay

My Latest Novel Came Out…

Actually, it came out two weeks or so ago. I was going to do an ad campaign. A special post with a big cover reveal (ooh-aah). I was going to be all over social media.

I was going to be a good little author and do the whole Blatant Self Promotion Thing. I was going to be confident but pleasant, letting folks know without being annoying about it. I did do a couple author events, which fortunately cropped up right around release time. But otherwise, I dropped the ball and let it roll into the street and under a bus.

I know – the wags say that if you’re not confident in your work, no one’s going to be for you. And everytime someone does, I realize just how utterly screwed I am.

It’s not that I’m not proud of The Last Witnesses. It’s the third in my mystery series set in the 1920s and featuring Freddie Little and Kathy Briscow. Freddie’s sister, Honoria, finds a body in her apartment and plunges all three of them into a conspiracy so unbelievable it almost gets them killed.

I’m actually very pleased with how it turned out. There’s enough action. The story is interesting. The characters came to life really nicely. The history is sound, well, except for the parts I played with for the sake of the story. And the conspiracy is based on a real conspiracy theory going around at the time.

But, see, that’s bragging. And the last thing on earth that I want to be is a braggart. Seriously, this is one of those childhood shame-based lessons foisted on me by the rotten little monsters I went to school with. Which was plenty long ago, and certainly long enough ago that I should be over it. Except that the only difference between grown-ups and kids is how we express those same attitudes. Because, trust me, the attitudes don’t change as we get older.

Worse yet, I’ve run across some pretty aggressive self-promoters and I really, really don’t want to be like them. They are so annoying.

So I’m out here trying to find a balance. If I still don’t have it right here, would you mind doing me a favor, please? Forgive me and buy my book anyway?

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Eleven

June 14 – 18, 1983

 

We had one tense day, killing time in Manhattan until our plane left for Paris. We slept as late as we could and still be on the streets before we were charged an extra day at the hotel. Sid can be pretty extravagant, but even he’s not that crazy. We checked our luggage at Grand Central again, then found a guided bus tour that would finish before we needed to be at the airport.

It’s a good thing we slept on the plane. It landed in Paris the next morning at six a.m. Sid slid his hand into mine as we took off and didn’t really let go until we landed. Well, I did have to go to the bathroom once, but I took his hand back as soon as I returned to my seat. We waited a long time at the baggage claim, then customs took forever, but only because of the long lines. The guards didn’t even ask us to open our luggage.

Then Sid made what we discovered was the ultimate mistake in Paris. He hired a cab to take us into the city from Orly airport. The highway wasn’t too bad until we hit the city and joined everyone else trying to get in to work. We crawled, then spent, I swear, thirty minutes stopped waiting for some truck that was unloading merchandise in the middle of the narrow street. The cab driver told us in his broken English that sort of delay was not unusual. Of course, the fare was adding up as we waited.

We’d gotten francs at Kennedy (another mistake, we found out later). When we finally got to our hotel off the Place de la Concorde, Sid found he had to shell out a good chunk of our cash to pay for the cab.

“How much was that American?” I asked nervously.

“Enough to make even me wince,” he said. “I’ve been told France is expensive. At least the dollar’s been doing better lately.”

The hotel had a nice room available right away, with a private bath.

“Boy, I hear these aren’t too easily gotten here,” I said, admiring the bathroom.

“This is a three-star hotel, that’s why,” explained Sid. “They aren’t hard to get, you just pay for them.”

“What’s this?”

It was a funny little toilet bowl without a tank or seat. In fact, where a toilet seat reaches your knees, the top of this thing only came mid-shin on me, and it had two little nozzles that aimed up.

Sid chuckled. “That is a bidet.”

“Oh. I’ve heard of those.” I looked at him. “What are they for?”

“You use them instead of toilet paper.”

“That sounds kind of messy.” I went back into the room and sat on the bed. “Have you ever been to Europe before?”

“Besides ‘Nam, this is only time I’ve ever left the country.” Sid prowled.

“Gee, you know so much about it.”

He chuckled. “I have a couple friends back home who have bidets, and while you had your nose in that woman’s magazine, I read the guidebook.”

“I was going to read it on the plane, but I fell asleep.” I gazed out the window to the cars rushing around the fountains in the circle below. “What are the odds we’ll get some sightseeing in?”

“Pretty good. The last thing we’re going to want to do is give our quarry any reason to believe we’re not who we say we are.”

I picked up a brochure off the bureau. “Hey, this is in English. And German, and Italian, even Japanese. They’ve got all the bases covered.”

“What does it say?”

“It’s bus tours.”

“That might be just the ticket to orient ourselves.”

We had to move quickly, but we caught a general city tour by the skin of our teeth and spent most of the day on it. Our tour guide gave us a lot of pointers on how to get around, too.

“But it doesn’t give us a lot of information on how we’re going to get the Beldons,” said Sid as we relaxed at the sidewalk cafe near our hotel.

“Where did you say that office was, the Rue St. Denis?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Would they even go there?” I looked up from my map of the Metro. “I mean, if our theory’s right that they’re the ones responsible for the leak, they’d have to know they’re under suspicion and figure that someone is watching them.”

“Possibly. Then again, they were cleared without problem to come here, and the note that they were down came in after they’d left, so it’s also possible they don’t realize that they’ve been tracked this far.”

“When are we going to stake it out?”

Sid checked his pocket watch. We’d changed for dinner already only to find there weren’t any restaurants open.

“Well, we’re not going to get dinner before seven thirty,” he said. “Why don’t we head on over that way? There’s enough tourist stuff in the near vicinity that I think we can get away with ambling through.”

Sid swears it was just luck. I say it was God, Himself. We turned onto the Rue St. Denis several blocks away from where the office was located. Walking toward the office, Sid happened to look up a side street and saw what could only be Harry and Carol Beldon heading away from us. She was average height, with fluffy, streaked hair, and a nice motherly look about her. He looked like your basic, slightly paunchy American businessman.

Sid and I slid around the corner. I grabbed the transmitters and receivers from my purse. Sid stopped me.

“We may as well stay together,” he said. “It’s too obvious we’re Americans. If we split up, they’ll know we’re tailing them.”

Fortunately, they went straight to a bistro that was around the next corner and down a block.

“Make contact?” I asked, a little nervous.

“Yep.”

We took a chance and went around the block, entering the bistro from the other way. The Beldons were still there, conferring over a small table. Sid and I threaded our way through the tables. As we passed theirs, Sid stopped.

“You guys are Americans,” he said jovially.

Carol’s eyes narrowed for a second, then the mask fell, transforming her into the warm, cozy matron. Harry gave us both the once over and likewise adopted a “glad to meetcha” demeanor.

“Well, howdy,” said Harry, standing up. “Why don’t you join us?”

“Why not?” said Sid, pulling over a couple chairs. “I can’t tell you how good it is to hear some good old American English.”

“How long have you been in Paris?” asked Carol.

Sid chuckled. “Not long, but it’s a real freaky feeling when people don’t sound like you’re used to.”

“I’m Harry Beldon,” he said, offering his hand. “This is my wife, Carol.”

“Ed and Janet Donaldson,” said Sid. “We’re here on vacation. My wife twisted my arm. She’s always wanted to come.”

“Ed,” I said quietly. Sid had slipped into his salesman persona, and it was a little unnerving to see the quiet dignified man I knew acting like he had several used cars to sell.

“So you folks here on vacation, too?” Sid asked.

“Business,” said Harry. “I’ve got a women’s wear company in the States. If it’s going to sell, it’s got to come from here.”

“No kidding,” said Sid. “You in the business, too, Carol?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I just come along for the ride. What business are you in, Ed?”

“Office supplies.” Sid reached into his back pocket and his wallet. “Golden State Office Supplies. Janet and I own the company. Let me get you a card.” Sid thumbed through the wallet. “Damn. I’m out. Honey, you got any cards in your purse?”

“No,” I said. “I left them at home. We are on vacation.”

Sid laughed. “You are so right, sweetie. So, where are you guys from?”

“Chicago,” said Harry. “We also have a home and outlet store in Santa Fe. Where do you folks hail from?”

“Los Angeles area,” replied Sid. “Orange County, actually. You know where Disneyland is?”

The conversation went on. Small talk and Sid did most of it. Neither Carol nor Harry were particularly quiet, but I got the awkward feeling that they had more than a casual interest in us. They invited us to dinner, and we accepted. We went to a lovely place on the Champs Elysee, a few blocks down from the L’Arc de Triomphe. I had lamb. Sid had fish. Both of us drank water. The Beldons split a bottle of red wine.

Sid and Harry were really great pals by the end of dinner. As we left the restaurant, Harry had his arm around Sid’s shoulders as they laughed and carried on about who was worse: the Cubs or the Angels. They shook hands and we agreed to meet again the next day at the Place St. Germain, a common meeting spot. Sid slid his arm around my shoulders and hailed a cab.

It was just barely getting dark even though it was close to ten at night. The city showed no signs of closing either.

“Speak English?” asked Sid, still the salesman.

“Yes,” answered the driver.

“Eiffel Tower. You know?”

“Yes. Eiffel Tower.” The accent wasn’t French.

“Hey, an Arab,” chuckled Sid as we got in. “We might as well be in New York.” We got settled in. “Well, Janet, what do you think of the Beldons? Great folks, huh?”

“I suppose. They seem nice.” I was puzzled.

The Beldons weren’t anywhere around, and we’d been with them the whole time, so they hadn’t had a chance to call for a tail, and it didn’t look like we had one. Sid rummaged around in my purse.

“Yep, top of the line. I sure can pick them, can’t I? This may work out better than I thought. You got any of those antacids in here?”

“I think so. If not, they’re back at the hotel.”

“How do you find anything in here?” Sid pulled out what looked like a beeper.

It was actually a signal receiving device that, when turned on, would flash if there was a listening device in operation within five hundred feet. We could also use it to track a bug. Sid showed me the glowing red light with a disgusted look on his face. He dropped it back in the purse and left it there until we got to the tower. We walked around, heading toward the river. Sid made loud fun of the French all the way while I tried to isolate the bug unobtrusively.

It didn’t seem to be in my purse, which seemed strange. That would have been the first place I would have dropped something. I teased Sid by tickling him. Well, I tried tickling him. He’s not ticklish in the least. But I did find the bug in the upper breast pocket of his suit jacket.

At the top of a bridge, Sid stopped.

“Hey, look at all those gawkers on those tour boats,” he chortled. He pulled the silk color from his pocket. Sure enough, in the folds was what looked like a button off a suit jacket. I looked at it more closely. Tiny mesh covered the holes. Sid knocked it from my hand. “Honey, get a picture of me waving my hanky at the boats.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

I doubt the Beldons heard my reply. Sid just happened to walk on the bug at that moment. I surreptitiously showed Sid the bug finder. No light.

“We’re safe for the moment,” he said with an invisible sigh of relief. “I don’t think we have a tail, but let’s not go back to the hotel until we’re sure.”

There was no tail.

“But why?” I asked.

“When did they have a chance to call one?” replied Sid as we got on the Metro train. “They were probably counting on us not noticing the bug and telling a cab driver where to go.”

“And on us not having the means to find a bug, and not suspecting we’d have one. That’s just too much to swallow. I’ve got a really bad feeling they recognized us from somewhere.”

“If they were watching the drops at all, they could have, which is probably why I was bugged in the first place. There couldn’t have been any planning involved.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have gotten rid of it.”

Sid shrugged. “I hope I accounted for it.”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t you be a little bit suspicious?”

“I’d be a lot suspicious, especially as paranoid as those two must be by now.” Sid thought. “I move we search their office tonight, and let’s just hope they decide to move it legitimately to keep their butts covered.”

If wishes were horses, we should have had a herd of them. And Sid wonders why I believe. Paris nightlife being what it was, we had to wait until three a.m. to leave the hotel. That wouldn’t leave us much time before sunrise at four thirty. Sid had us put on light colored shirts with dark jeans and black zip front sweatshirts.

“I don’t get it,” I asked as we laid out our equipment. “Don’t we want to be all in black so we’re not seen?”

“That’s what the sweatshirts are for,” he answered, more preoccupied with the lockpicks and flashlights. “But if we have to make a run for it, we can ditch the sweatshirts and bluff our way through because nobody will be looking for burglars wearing white. Damn. We’ve got to hide the masks and the gloves, and still find someplace to carry a gun or two.”

It was tight, but we managed. I vowed to do something about the problem the first chance I had with a sewing machine, preferably my own back in California.

Around the corner from the Rue St. Denis, we faded into the shadows and put on our sweatshirts, gloves and the all-over ski masks. We slid around the buildings to the office. Sid ran a beam from his flashlight all along the door jamb, looking for alarm wires, then picked the lock.

We weren’t worried about the police. They were the last people the Beldons would call. But we didn’t want the Beldons alerted either.

The office was at the top of a narrow flight of stairs. Sid got us in within seconds and shut the door. I went for the file cabinets while he checked the desk and shelves. Orange light from the street gave the room an odd glow.

I found the file in the bottom drawer of the end cabinet. It contained a host of surveillance photos, but I saw a picture of Amanda Whitefoot and knew I had something. Sid and I heard the footsteps on the stairs at the same time.

I shoved the file drawer shut and followed Sid under the desk. I crossed myself. Sid lifted his pant leg and drew his gun. I got my twenty-two, also.

“Somebody’s been in here,” grumbled Harry’s voice as they entered.

“You’d just better hope they didn’t find that file,” said Carol, as she pushed past him.

Awkwardly, I jammed the file into my sweatshirt. Sid nodded at me and slid away from the desk on the side where the Beldons weren’t. I started after, but in the next second, the office door burst open and bright light circled the Beldons.

There were two figures silhouetted in the doorway, one very short, one rather tall, both lean, and both had .45 (at least) automatics trained on the Beldons.

“Don’t you Americans take this overtime business a bit too far?” said the larger figure, a male, in a smooth educated British voice. His face had a rather horsey profile.

Sid nodded at me, and I followed him silently to the wall away from the light.

“Since when does it make any difference to you what time we come here?” said Carol.

“Let’s just kill them and be done with it,” said the short figure. She was also educated and British.

Harry looked over at Sid and me and laughed and pointed. Before the two Brits could swing the light our way, Sid charged with me on his heels. The Beldons charged also. The Beldons broke first from the ensuing tangle, with Sid and me close behind. On the sidewalk, the Beldons went one way, Sid and I went the other. I glanced back to see the short figure running after us.

We had a good lead on our tail and bettered it, charging around the first corner and down the street to a wide avenue lined with trees. Sid and I ducked into an alcove between two sidewalk cafes. The short Brit came running past.

We stripped masks, gloves, and sweatshirts in seconds.

“Let’s neck,” Sid whispered, stashing everything behind us.

I ended up with my back to the street and gasped as Sid undid my shirt. I didn’t have time to complain. The Brit was on her way back. Sid exposed my shoulder as I covered his face with my hands. He let out soft little moans as we kissed, his tongue everywhere but beyond my teeth. I still wasn’t up to that.

Heavy footsteps and breathing announced the return of the large Brit. He met his partner not far from where we stood.

“Lost them, damn it,” he complained. “How’d you make out?”

“Not any better. I checked the Metro. The train was just leaving.”

He chuckled. “Have you tried asking them?”

She laughed also. “I doubt they saw anything. We’re for it, you know. They won’t be going back to that office now that they know we’re watching it.”

“Can’t be helped. Let’s be off.”

Sid peeked around my hair as the two disappeared into the night.

“We should be safe now,” he whispered, pulling my shirt back into place and buttoning it. “Sorry about that. I wanted it to look good.”

“I’ll live.”

We gathered our belongings and the file and headed back to the hotel, checking for tails every step of the way.

I barely remember going to bed, I was so tired. It was full daylight when I awoke. Still heavy with sleep, I rolled over. Sid lay on his side, fully awake and watching me. I stared back for a minute.

“What are you looking at?” I asked finally.

“What does it look like?” Sid rolled away, and grabbing his robe, got up. [Let’s hear it for denial – SEH] He squinted at his pocket watch. “It’s already nine thirty.”

I flopped onto my back. “Do we have to run today?”

There was a park, the Jardin de Tuilleries, just off the same circle as the hotel, with a straight, broad unpaved walkway down the middle which was just perfect as a running course.

“Much as I hate giving in to your sloth, we’re not,” said Sid. “It would make us too conspicuous as Americans. Do you have any compelling desire to shower first?”

“Uh-uh.” I yawned and closed my eyes.

Sid was out, fully dressed in designer jeans and sport shirt, within twenty minutes, which isn’t bad for someone as fussy about his appearance as he is. I dragged myself in, and eventually put on a full-skirted strapless sundress and petticoat with eyelet trim that peeked out from under the skirt.

It was already a habit. I didn’t even feel the straps anymore. But I made sure my twenty-two automatic handgun was in its holster on the top of my thigh, as high up as possible.

As I left the bathroom, Sid had the pictures from the file spread out over the dresser top.

“You were right,” he said, holding one up for me. “They recognized us from the drops.”

It was pretty grainy, having been shot with a light magnifier and all, but you could see Sid leaning over Blaine Winters’ body in that alley in New Orleans, with me facing the wall.

“Terrific,” I said.

“They caught me making the first drop in Chicago,” said Sid. He picked up the picture to hand it to me, then stopped. “What’s this? Get the micro magnifier, will you please?”

I dug the viewer out of my purse. It looked like one of those handheld doohickeys for viewing slides and basically served the same purpose except the magnification power was considerably stronger. Sid scraped something off the photo. I handed him the magnifier and looked at the pictures.

“It looks like they’ve got shots of their entire line. There’s even the guy from Washington, D.C. in here.”

“Yep.” Sid switched the magnifier on. “Well, I’ll be damned. Looks like we’ve stumbled onto the Beldons’ record keeping system.”

“What?”

Sid handed me the magnifier. “That’s all the information on the Chicago killing, right down to the return of the deposit money found in the killer’s apartment. It’s the same accounting code we use for our expenses.”

“Except theirs are for killing people.” I thought. “If they recognized us, then the Beldons had to figure we would be watching them and their office.”

“Yeah, and they probably went back at the same time we did for the same reason.”

“What if the file they came back for is this file?”

Sid nodded. “Given the evidence in here, it would be worth the risks to get it.”

“And they never got a chance to look for it.”

“You’re right. They’ll have to go back for it one way or another.”

“Could they have already?”

“They have no way of knowing that we, or anyone else, have called off the search, and they were caught within seconds of entering.” Sid thoughtfully gathered the pictures together. “The trick now will be in capturing them. I don’t want to meet at the Place St. Germain. It’ll be too easy for them to hit us.”

I grinned. “That’s it. We draw an attack on us in a public place, then scream for the police.”

Sid snorted. “That’s the last thing we should do. Local law enforcement just makes things more complicated…” He stopped. “And it’s the last damned thing the Beldons will expect. It seems to me that there is a hotel across the street from their office. We’ll get a room and monitor them from there, and let them catch us monitoring them. That should do it, especially if we let them know we have their file.”

“And with the hotel room, we’re not set up for an obvious sniper attack.”

“Bingo. We’ll leave the file in this hotel’s safe, too. It’ll be just that much more secure.”

We emptied a couple suitcases and only packed our guns and a couple changes of underwear. We wore our transmitters. At the second hotel, Sid got a single room overlooking the street and the Beldons’ office. We sat in the window watching, or rather, Sid did most of it. He thought he spotted the Beldons once, but couldn’t be sure.

I read for a little while, then Sid and I made up a list of article ideas I could query on when we got home. After a while, Sid got progressively more antsy and distant. He made his second shave around five and took his time doing it.

At seven thirty, he broke away from the window.

“Why don’t you watch?”

“Sure.” I took his place.

He paced restlessly. “Listen, I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to go out for an hour or two.”

“Let me guess,” I said softly. “You’re horny.”

“Hey, it’s been four days. I think I’ve been doing pretty good.”

“Pretty well.” I sighed. “I was thinking the same thing, but I didn’t want to bring it up.”

“I’m glad.” He came over to me. “I don’t know why, but last night when we were necking, it really turned me on. It wasn’t the open shirt. It was probably the fear element. But it was all I could think about this morning. And there you are in that lovely little sundress.”

I turned my gaze out of the window. His hands gently cupped my shoulders, and his nose cleared my hair away so his lips could softly grasp my ear. His kisses, sweet and gentle, slipped down my neck. I leaned into it, even as the fear and guilt crept in.

“I can’t tell you to get the hell out and get yourself laid,” I said. “And I just don’t feel right about taking care of you myself.”

“No.” He pulled back a little. “I can’t dump the decisions I have to make on you.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve got to do something. I’m obsessing on this. I can’t think straight.”

“It’s an awful risk.”

“We have no reason to believe the Beldons know we’re here, and I can’t help but think we’re better off if I clear my head.” His finger turned my chin to face him. He pressed a kiss to my forehead. “It’s only for an hour or so. I’ll leave my receiver on. You can tap in a message if you see anything.”

I didn’t say anything as he left. Not ten minutes later, I saw him leave the hotel with a blonde woman. They went up the street and turned the corner. Tears filled my eyes.

A minute later, the door burst open. Two huge and ugly men swarmed inside with guns drawn. I reached for my model thirteen on the dresser, then quickly drew back.

“The hands in air,” growled one with a very strong French accent.

Slowly, I raised mine. The one held me at gunpoint while the other tore the room apart. There was nothing to find. I’d even left my purse back at the other hotel. Angry, the two eventually pulled me from the room, holding me close to hide the gun in the small of my back.

They took me down the street to a warehouse. I stumbled and tried nudging my twenty-two more between my legs. Once inside, I was greeted with a fist to my ear. The receiver went flying. One of my captors held me as his partner pounded my stomach. I tried to relax, but it hurt and I couldn’t breathe. The pounding stopped, but before I could get my breath, my scalp flamed as the man grabbed my hair and yanked my head close to his face.

“You have pictures,” he demanded, his breath as sour and foul as anything I’d ever pulled out of a toilet, and I’ve pulled plenty in my time.

I gasped.

“Pictures!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I sobbed.

He backhanded me three times, or maybe it was more.

“Where are pictures?” he demanded.

“What pictures? I don’t have my camera.”

I got another cuff in the ear. My head spun and rang, and by that point, I was so disoriented, I really didn’t know anything about pictures. The man holding me growled in French.

His partner replied, lighting a cigarette.

“Tell me,” he said, pulling my hair again. “Where are the pictures, or this makes the fat marks on your pretty face.”

I whimpered. The cigarette came closer.

“Tell me.”

I could feel the heat of the glowing end on my cheek. Ignoring the pain in my scalp, I jerked my head away. The cigarette pressed into my neck, just below my ear. The pain was incredible. I screamed and screamed, and even being backhanded however many times couldn’t get me to stop.

My hands were jerked behind me and bound very tight. The one who spoke English patted me down fairly thoroughly but missed the gun completely. I’m guessing he couldn’t feel the straps through my nice full skirt and petticoat, and the gun was safely tucked between my legs as high as it would go. [There are more concise ways of describing its location, albeit cruder – SEH]

I was dragged up four or more flights of stairs and tossed into a small room. At first, all I could do was reel with the pain. My entire body ached, and my hair tickled the burn, irritating it and making it hurt worse. Slowly, my wits settled. If I was alive, it was only because someone believed I knew where the pictures we’d stolen from the Beldons were.

I didn’t know how much time I had. Listening would do no good because nobody was speaking in English. Sid’s instructions from my training days slowly filtered in. The first thing would be to get my hands free.

They were bound with bright orange strapping tape. I couldn’t reach the little piece of spring steel hidden in my hair, but I could get to my shoes. Groaning, I sat myself up and wiggled my feet around. I slid my thumbnail between the insole and top of the heel on my right shoe. Like magic, it popped open. It hurt like hell, but I twisted so I could see what I was doing.

I wriggled the small serrated blade out of the heel and went to work on the tape. It only took a minute or so to cut it open, and another minute to get braced so I could tear it off. It took my wrist hairs with it, leaving bright red welts across my wrists. But I was free.

I rescued my gun first. Peashooter or not, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I put my heel back together, then slowly got up. The room had two windows, one overlooking a tiny alley festooned with clothes drying on lines, and the other facing the street. Through it, I could see the hotel facing the Beldons’ office and the open window where Sid’s and my room was. So that was how they knew we were there. There was also a skylight, but no way to reach it. Climbing down would be far too slow.

I listened at the door. There was silence on the other side. I tried the handle. It was locked.

Sid swears by spring steel. I have decided it is handy stuff. I pulled the piece from my hair and went to work on the lock. It took me a few minutes, but I popped it open.

The hallway was empty. I silently shut the door behind me and slipped across to the stairs. I could hear the thud, thud of feet climbing, and a second later, my captors spotted me. The pea shooter did a good job on their guns. The men dropped the weapons and grabbed their hands.

They also got mad. I popped the English speaking one in the shoulder. He fell backward onto his partner, and they tumbled down the stairs. I grabbed the two automatics they’d dropped. There wasn’t any other way to go, so I ran after them. They landed in the middle of a flight. One reached up for me and I kicked him in the face. I crawled over the banister and jumped to the next flight.

I hit the ground floor running. The door to the warehouse was barred with a huge metal arm. I could hear shouting above me. Summoning whatever little strength I had left, I slid under the arm and shoved. It scraped on the catch but went over. I danced out of the way, then leaned on the door. Feet pounded behind me. I tripped over the threshold but scrambled out.

I ran as fast as I had ever run, cursing and thanking Sid for dragging me out of bed every morning. I found a newspaper in the gutter, swiped it up and wrapped the three guns in it. I dodged cars, then ran the long way back to the hotel on the Place de la Concorde, checking for tails and finding none.

I had been tapping messages to Sid since I broke free. With no receiver, I had no way of knowing if he’d gotten them. When I got to our room, I checked the transmitter. It had died in the rough treatment. I hoped Sid would find the destruction in the other room and come back to the first hotel. He wasn’t there. I checked the time: eleven fifteen.

I bandaged myself as best I could, then took a hot bath. Sid didn’t come. I slept restlessly, fully dressed. No Sid. Dawn broke and the sun rose slowly into the sky, filling the room with light. Sid didn’t come.

There was no doubt in my mind that Sid was in trouble. Just how much, was the question. The best I could figure, he had gone back to the other room and had been caught by the Beldons or whoever else had figured we were there.

Maybe it was a silly chance, but that’s where I went. I had dressed carefully in jeans and jacket with my armored running shoes. In my shoulder holster was one of the stolen automatics. I put the other in my jacket pocket. The twenty-two was strapped to my shin, and I had various other pieces of hardware stashed all over. In my other jacket pocket were the bug finder and a small roll of duct tape. I also wore my blonde wig and phony glasses. The wig periodically jabbed my burn, but I wasn’t up to taking chances.

Frankly, I was terrified, and felt very lost and alone in a huge city I didn’t know and where I couldn’t speak the language. I dreaded going back to that second hotel, but there was nothing else to do. I checked out the lobby first, then found the stairs and went up that way. The room was shut. I unlocked it. Everything was as it had been the day before. I even found my model thirteen still on the dresser. I removed the automatic in my holster and replaced it with the revolver. I jammed the automatic in the back of my pants.

I checked out the window. I couldn’t see who, but there was definitely movement in the Beldons’ office. I dashed downstairs. Slipping out of the hotel, I looked up. Whoever was still in there. I slid in the building’s door and into the shadows of the tiny foyer.

A woman left the office and came down the stairs. I couldn’t quite see her in the shadows. She wasn’t Carol Beldon, but I wasn’t going to assume that she was on our side. As she reached the door, I put the muzzle of the model thirteen in her neck.

“Move and you die,” I told her as coldly as I could manage.

She froze.

“Hands up and turn slowly.”

She did. I almost dropped the gun.

“Dragon,” I gasped. She looked at me, cool but unsure. “I’m Little Red, Division 53Q, code 6-A. Come on, you saw me in Washington. I’m wearing a wig.”

“You also have a gun in my face,” she pointed out.

“I’m sorry.” I lowered the gun but hung on just in case.

The Dragon headed out the door with me following.

“What are you doing here?” I gasped. “We thought you’d gotten it.”

“No. I had to intercept Yellow Ribbon and Yellow Knife before they left.” She went across the street.

“The Beldons you mean?”

She smiled. “Very good. How did you find that?”

“We searched Amanda Whitefoot’s place before we left the Canyon. It was in her phone book. We recognized their number.”

The Dragon led me into the hotel and went straight to the elevator.

“We got background on them from the Company when we got our passports,” I continued.

“Excellent. I was hoping you’d come here.” The elevator opened and we got on. “Where’s Big Red?”

I swallowed. “Missing.” I tried not to sniff. “He left the room here, and I got captured and got away, but he never returned to the room where we’re staying or the room here. Something’s wrong, and I can’t get through on my transmitter because it died.”

“And it seems our friends have slipped through our fingers again. They know we’re watching the office. They’ve got a second hiding place, but we haven’t been able to find it.”

“It’s a warehouse down the street. That’s where they took me, and you can see this hotel, and their office just fine from there.”

We got off the elevator on the fourth floor.

“That makes sense.” The Dragon got her room key out and unlocked the door.

She let me in first. I kept a good grip on the model thirteen, which was a good thing because in the room was a largish man with a horsey profile and a small almost fluffy woman – the Brits from the night before. I braced and aimed.

“What in heaven’s name is going on here?” demanded the woman.

“Enough,” the Dragon told me. “They’re with us.”

I lowered the gun, still wary. “They crashed in on the Beldons last night in their office.”

“That was you in the mask?” asked the man.

“We were there to capture them,” said the woman.

“You were there to kill them,” I said.

The Dragon glared at the couple. “We have the assurances. They won’t be back.” She waited as the couple basically ignored her. She looked at me. “Little Red, this is A12 and A45. They’re CID, and have an interest in this case.”

A12 was the woman and A45 her partner.

“We’ve been watching that office since we heard the Yellows were on their way,” said A12, looking me over shrewdly. “I can’t imagine why they chose last night to return. They had to have been here a few days.”

I squirmed. “Big Red and I made contact with them the day before yesterday. We found them in the neighborhood. They bugged us, and when we got rid of it, they must have figured that we were the ones watching them and that they’d better get to the office and get their records.”

“That can’t be it,” said A45. “We searched that office. There weren’t any records.”

“There was a file of surveillance photos on their line,” I said.

“There’s nothing unusual about that,” said the Dragon.

“We found microdots on the photos with the payoffs to the hired assassins listed.” I bit my lip.

“They are clever, aren’t they?” said A12 with a lady-like chortle.

“The question is, where are they now?” said the Dragon, going over to a table spread with more photographs. “We can try staking out that warehouse, but I doubt that will do any good.”

“I suppose we’ll have to continue identifying and interrogating their acquaintances,” said A45.

I went over to the table.

“That’s rather awkward security-wise,” said A12.

I picked up a series of photos of Harry Beldon and a blonde woman that looked vaguely familiar. They were in various attitudes on the streets of Paris, including some rather passionate ones.

“Have you identified her?” I asked the Dragon.

She looked bored. “She’s a hooker. Owns a stable not far from here.”

“Oh no.” My mouth went dry as my heart stopped. I looked at the back of a single shot of the madam. “Is this her address?”

“Yes.” The Dragon picked up another photo. “This fellow bothers me.”

“That’s where he is.” I tossed the hooker photos onto the table and headed for the door.

“Who?” asked the Dragon. “And where are you going?”

“Big Red,” I said, leaving. “He’s got to be at the brothel. I’m going after him.”

The Dragon hurried after me, followed by A12 and A45.

“You don’t know that,” the Dragon said.

I pounded the elevator button. “The last time I saw him, he was with that woman.”

“Sounds like it might be under control then,” said A12.

“It’s been too long,” I groaned. “Come on, you stupid machine.” I ran for the stairs, then stopped. “It’s… He was horny. He wasn’t thinking straight. He’s in trouble and I’ve got to get him out of there.”

I flew down the stairs with the others after me. They nearly ran me over as I stopped short on the final landing. Downstairs, Carol Beldon handed a note to the desk clerk.

“My, isn’t she the brazen one,” said A12.

“It’s rather encouraging, actually,” said A45. “She must have a hostage, and if it’s your Big Red, he must still be alive.”

“That’s our room number,” I said as the clerk filed the note in a pigeon hole. I looked over at the Dragon. “Why don’t you follow her?” I pointed to A45, then A12. “You can keep an eye out in the lobby, and you can keep the desk clerk occupied so I can get a look at that note without anyone knowing it’s been seen.”

“Of all the ruddy-” began A12.

“Marian, do it,” said the Dragon as she took off.

A12 and A45 ambled down the stairs together. While A12 addressed the clerk in rapid-fire French, I also ambled down. A12 directed the clerk to a room in the back. As soon as they had disappeared, I scrambled over the desk to the pigeon holes and the note.

“If you want to see your lover again, bring the file to the Place St. Germain at 6:00 tonight.”

Disgusted by the assumption, however valid, I replaced the note, hurried over the counter and to the front door. A45 held me back.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded.

“That was a ransom note for my partner,” I said. “I know where he is and I’m going after him.”

I headed for the sidewalk. A12 came back into the lobby. She joined A45 as he followed me out.

“What on earth?” she asked.

“It was a ransom note,” explained A45. “For her partner.”

“They want us to take the file we have to the Place St. Germain at six o’clock,” I said. “It’s ten forty-five now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hurt him in the meantime.”

A12 caught my arm. She had quite a grip for such a small woman.

“Why not just wait until six and get them at the Place St. Germain?” she asked.

“It’s a setup,” I said. “Wednesday night, they arranged to meet us there yesterday morning. After that, we found we were bugged. They recognized us from some drops we’d made in the States. That’s why they went to their office that night, to get their file before we got it.”

The Dragon quietly walked up. “Good work, Little Red. She went right to the whorehouse.”

I thought quickly. “We’ve got to find a way in there. If there’s an alley near there, I could climb a wall and get in through the roof.”

A45 smiled. “Actually, there’s a vacant building two doors down. We can get to the roof from there.”

“Great.” I turned to the Dragon. “Why don’t you and A12 go check out the Place St. Germain? If we miss them at the brothel, we can still get them there.”

“What is it about Americans?” asked A12, but she tapped the Dragon on the shoulder and turned. “Let’s be off, Lillian. Are all your people like this?”

I looked at A45. “Come on.”

“Perhaps we should cover ourselves better,” he suggested as we headed down the street.

“Perhaps, but I’m wearing a wig, and it wasn’t in any of the surveillance photos.”

A45 held me back before turning the corner. We slipped into the doorway of an old, old building of gray brick, long gone black with soot. Inside was layered with centuries of dust, it seemed. We got to the roof without a problem, and made our way over it to a building two roofs down. The buildings were literally side by side, so it was no trouble.

A45 stopped at a small dormer window and forced it open. He crawled in first, then helped me into a nice little bedroom, complete with sink and worn towels. We slid out and down a flight of stairs.

Near the next floor, A45 waved me back into the shadow of the stairwell. He went ahead casually and tried to embrace a young woman in drab gray clothes carrying a pile of towels. They went back and forth in French for a couple jovial minutes, then she went on her way and A45 waved me into the hall.

“Well?” I asked. “I don’t understand French.”

“I didn’t get much,” he said. “The girls are angry with Madame because she has locked them out of her room, and there’s a new favorite in there.”

“Which room?” I asked anxiously.

“It’s a customer. Quite a man, too. The girl said they haven’t heard Madame scream like that in quite some time.”

“That’s him,” I sighed, somewhat chagrined. It figured Sid would find a way to get relief before he got captured.

“Dark haired fellow? Rather handsome?”

“Yes. Which room?”

“This way.”

It was down the hall. A45 listened at the door and shook his head. I pulled a piece of spring steel from my hair and went to work on the lock.

It was a fairly small room, and not at all what I expected for a madam. There was a sink, and a huge wardrobe that I’m certain was an antique, and a brass bed with a flowered spread and Sid, barechested, laying face down on it. His hands were bound behind his back.

Fighting tears, I rushed to the bed and carefully turned Sid over. He groaned. His eyes were huge and black and puffy, and what I could see of the whites were blood red. There was dried blood all over his upper lip, and fresh bruises on his arms and chest. He groaned again and sort of squinted.

“Who..?” he asked.

“It’s me,” I said quickly. “Are you alright? I mean how bad are you?”

“Li-” He stopped and swallowed and sighed. “You found me.”

A45 broke open the wardrobe and began a methodical search.

“It’s okay. I’m here now,” I told Sid. I looked at his wrists. “Good lord, there’s this big heavy cable on you.”

Sid nodded. “I heard a church bell ring ten o’clock, and a little after that, they came in and put it on me, as if I was in any shape to do anything.”

“It sounds about the right time,” I said, picking at the heavy coated wire to untie it. “I cut through some tape, must have been an hour or two before that.”

“They got you?”

“Not for long. Here it comes.” I pulled the cable away, then popped open the sole on my left running shoe. “You’ve got duct tape on you, too.”

“Goody.” He grunted as I helped him sit up.

I slashed it. “Listen, I’m going to have to pull this off now. It’s going to hurt.”

Sid snorted. “That’s like telling the Ancient Mariner he’s walking under a ladder.”

I yanked and Sid swallowed his yelp. I put the knife back in my shoe and closed it. Groaning, Sid slowly moved his arms around front. I rubbed his shoulders. Sid groaned some more.

I stopped. “Am I hurting you?”

“Yeah, but it’s what I need. Got to get the circulation going again.”

“I believe I’ve found your things,” said A45 suddenly.

Sid stiffened and tried to make him out.

“He’s CID,” I explained, still rubbing. “A45. He’s helping the Dragon.”

“The Dragon?” asked Sid.

“She’s here.”

A45 brought over Sid’s running shoes and shirt. Sid groaned as he lifted and rotated his arms, then leaned into my hands as I massaged his shoulders.

“Think you can walk?” I asked softly.

“Do I have a choice?” he returned. I slid around and looked at him. He gazed softly back. “I’ll make it.”

Sniffing, I bent forward and carefully kissed his lips. He returned it generously, carefully wrapping his arms around me.

“Hep,” hissed A45 suddenly.

He stood with his ear next to the door. On the other side, we could hear Harry Beldon yelling in French and a young woman crying. It came closer.

Sid put his hands behind his back and laid down on them. I grabbed his shirt and shoes and dove under the bed. Harry burst into the room and went straight for Sid, swearing like a Marine. He reached for Sid’s arm and got a good solid kick in the chest instead.

Harry recovered quickly, and I rolled out from under the bed right into his legs as he started for Sid again. Harry fell onto the bed. Sid dodged, then jumped on him. Harry threw him. I charged Harry from the side while Sid recovered, and the two of us caught Harry in a squeeze play. I swung my elbow up and into Harry’s nose. His head jerked back and the blood flowed freely. Sid shoved his elbow into Harry’s stomach, then pulled Harry forward onto the floor. Together, Sid and I got Harry’s hands behind his back.

I got the duct tape from my jacket, and ripped off a piece big enough to cover Harry’s mouth, then handed the roll to Sid. Sid whipped the roll around Harry’s wrists, then held his head still so I could tape his mouth.

Gasping, Sid and I got up. I groaned and doubled over.

“You alright?” Sid asked his hand on my shoulder.

“I got knocked around yesterday, too,” I whispered. “I guess I’m not entirely recovered.”

Sid nodded. He looked at A45. “Can we count on CID to help us take care of him?”

“There’s a simpler way to deal with it,” said A45.

Taking a switchblade from his pocket, he walked over to Harry, popped the blade open, lifted Harry’s head, and I didn’t see the rest.

The room started spinning and I slipped into the hall. Swearing, Sid joined me.

“You might consider that he won’t be haunting you now,” said A45 calmly, handing Sid the shoes and shirt I’d left behind.

“Let’s be thankful for small favors,” grumbled Sid. He eased into his shirt. “How do we get out of here?”

“His partner should still be in the building,” said A45. “I recommend we find her.”

“I’m not big on your tactics, buddy,” growled Sid, getting into his shoes.

A45 shrugged. “Nonetheless, unless you are more seriously injured than you appear, it would not be a good idea to forgo the opportunity.”

I handed Sid the automatic I had in my jacket pocket.

“Why don’t we keep going through the house?” I suggested. “At the rate things are going, she’ll find us soon enough.”

Sid checked the clip and took off the safety. “Sounds good. Let’s just be careful.”

“Do you speak French?” A45 asked him as we moved down the hall.

“I only kiss,” said Sid.

A45 shook his head. “Why don’t you two have any language skills?”

“It’s a fluke we’re here,” said Sid, getting irritated. “We’re strictly domestic.”

“Seriously? Well. You’ll need to stay with me, then.”

“Sh,” I hissed.  I nodded at a nearby stairwell.

We faded into a doorway, but the steps on the stairs continued up. It was just one of the girls. She paid us no mind and went into one of the rooms.

We found Carol on the bottom floor. The three of us peered out of the stairwell and across a hall at her as she paced alone in a well-appointed living room. A45 raised a small automatic.

I put my hand on it and shook my head. He withdrew. Upstairs, a woman screamed. Carol tensed, listening. The hysteria grew. She marched into the hall, right into three handguns.

“It’s over, my dear,” said A45. “You couldn’t expect to keep it up forever, could you?”

Behind us, more screaming erupted, and the hall filled with young women and a few men in various states of undress. Seeing the guns, one drunk fellow decided we were the source of the trouble and jumped us. In the confusion, I lost my model thirteen. I reached for Carol and got one of the hookers.

The fighting escalated into a full-scale brawl. I elbowed my way through the crowd and suddenly found myself in a headlock. I tried to flip the one who had me and nearly choked myself. She gripped tighter. I stopped struggling.

The fight slowed and stopped as everyone watched Carol drag me to the hall table. Keeping a tight grip on me, she opened the drawer and removed a knife.

She loosened the choke hold, but with the knife against the skin of my neck, I wasn’t too inclined to do much beyond what she wanted. She turned me toward A45 and Sid.

“I want cash,” she told them coldly. “Fifty million in francs and I want a plane ticket to Argentina.”

A45 raised his gun. “My dear, you know the policy. I dislike losing such a good operative, but I will not bargain with a terrorist.”

I can’t say my life flashed before my eyes. Things went down too quickly. Sid slammed into Carol’s side. My forehead stung as I pushed myself away and toward the front door. Carol slammed Sid in the breadbasket, knocking him back, and dashed after me. A45 grabbed her knife hand and forced the blade from her. He tried spinning her back but got kicked where it counts by one of the young women, who wasn’t convinced that we were the good guys.

As I opened the door, Carol grabbed me by the hair. I yelped but plunged forward. The wig gave, and Carol stumbled back. I landed on my face. I started up but got tackled.

I screamed for the police as loud as I could. Passersby stopped and stared at the little drama. Blood dripped into my eyes. I wiped it and struggled forward on the sidewalk. Carol desperately tried to pull me back.

“Police! Gendarmes!” I screamed. “Gendarmes!”

I heard a whistle in the distance. It got closer and I blacked out.

I awoke to darkness.

“You are alright,” said a woman with a French accent. “Calm now.”

“No,” I moaned. I felt something brushing my nose, but couldn’t feel the rest of my face.

“Lie still. You are fine.”

I still struggled.

“She has no head injury. We’ll give her something to make her sleep.”

“No,” I protested. “I don’t want it. I don’t.”

Something pricked my arm. I tried fighting it, but soon I was out.

The light seemed incredibly bright when I awoke. My forehead burned and I felt really nauseous. I didn’t feel like getting up, but my stomach left me no choice. I struggled upright. The Dragon sat down next to me.

“It’s alright,” she said. “You’re safe.”

“Barf,” I got out through gritted teeth.

“Oh, here.”

She pulled a waste can to my face and I tossed it. By the time I was done, Sid was there with a glass of water and a washcloth. He held me as I rinsed out my mouth and wiped up.

“I thought that doctor said she didn’t have a head injury,” Sid growled at the Dragon.

“Are you better?” the Dragon asked me. I nodded. “How does your head feel?”

“Fine. My forehead burns.” I reached up and touched gauze. “My stomach feels better, too. I still feel pretty fuzzy, though.”

“It must be the after-effects of the sedative,” said the Dragon. “The doctor gave you one when you came to and panicked while she was stitching you up.”

“A sedative?” I thought back. “Was it a barbiturate?”

“Why?”

I looked at Sid. “Wasn’t that what you gave me when I panicked that time, and I almost threw up when I woke up?”

“I gave you a barbiturate tablet,” said Sid.

“Don’t ever give me a sedative again,” I said.

Sid gave me a gentle squeeze. If I didn’t notice his puffy eyes right away, it was because he was wearing his glasses.

“Did something happen to your contacts?” I asked.

“Yeah. I lost them almost immediately,” he said. “I went back to our hotel after they patched you together and got our stuff, including that file.”

“Where am I?”

“In a safe house,” said the Dragon. “We thought it might be a little more comfortable, and it’s certainly more discreet.”

It was more comfortable. The bed was soft and covered with lavender silk sheets. The room was decorated with purple and lavender flowers.

“What about Carol Beldon?” I asked. “I mean with Harry upstairs, why didn’t we get arrested?”

“Our friends from CID,” said Sid. “They have some pull, apparently.”

“They do indeed,” said the Dragon. “Carol’s been arrested.”

“But Harry. I mean, he just killed him.”

“He doesn’t like traitors.” The Dragon fidgeted with the lavender flowered quilt I was under. “Those two can be very Medieval. It’s understandable, given who they are.”

I knew better than to ask. The door suddenly swung open and the Medieval pair walked in.

“Well, the extradition papers have been signed,” she announced. “They’re being delivered Air Express. Should be here first thing tomorrow morning. She’ll be shipped out then.”

“We can’t thank you enough,” said the Dragon.

“No thanks needed,” said A45. “If it hadn’t been for your team here, we wouldn’t have gotten them at all.”

“It was getting very nasty at our end,” explained A12. “But Arthur tells me you two work strictly in the States. What division?”

“53Q,” said Sid. “Code 6-A.”

“Couriers?” gasped A12. Even A45 seemed taken aback. “Lillian, do you mean to tell me you sent couriers on a job like this?”

“The division frequently handles counter-espionage investigations,” said the Dragon. “They haven’t been together long, but they’re already one of our best teams. In fact, they’re the ones that made sure you got that care package we sent you last January.”

“Well, if that’s the caliber of people you hire for your couriers, it’s no wonder.” A12 ran an appraising eye over us.

I flushed. A12’s gaze lingered on Sid, however. He turned to me, sliding his hand into mine. The Dragon got up.

“I think it’s time we let you two alone,” she said.

“Quite right,” said A12. “Mustn’t intrude on two lovers.”

“But we’re not,” I said.

“I should be so lucky,” said Sid.

The others laughed and left the room. Sid leaned back on the bed.

“Now where did they get the idea that we’re lovers?” he asked, puzzled.

“You didn’t say anything…”

“No.” He shrugged.

“How are you feeling?” I asked softly.

“Stiff and achy, but much better, thank you.” He reached over and kissed the end of my nose. “We sure make a pretty pair, don’t we?”

I laughed, then looked at the door, feeling rather puzzled. “I wonder why they decided to kill their operatives. You’d think they’d have just run like heck when it got obvious someone was onto them.”

“I don’t think we’ll ever know,” Sid said. “Just like we won’t know who they were waiting for here and why they decided they needed that file. I’m guessing they were trying to raise some cash to disappear. And by the way, the Dragon confirmed it. With the way we cleaned things up here, we can go back to being ourselves.”

“Oh, wonderful. I can see my family again.”

“And we’re not married either.”

“Yeah.” I sighed unexpectedly. “I was kind of getting used to the idea.”

“Me, too.” He looked at me. “It’s probably better that we’re not, but however relieved I am, I’m also a little sorry, too.”

“So am I.” I smiled at him. “We could still get married, I suppose.” I shivered. “I don’t want to.”

“Me, neither.”

We laughed, then he reached over and kissed my mouth.

 

Merrilee Robson on Housing-Inspired Murder

Merrilee Robson

Please welcome Canadian author Merrilee Robson, whose first book is based on her own experiences with a housing option we don’t have here in the states. Murder is Uncooperative is her first book, unless you count the one she wrote at age 11. I’m impressed about that first one. I asked Merrilee to explain what is cooperative housing.

During university, I moved every six months. From the apartment on a busy street we left when the mouse infestation became unbearable, to a cold and gloomy room in a shared house where someone else regularly ate the food I bought. There was the basement suite that flooded, leaving my roommate and I trying to salvage our belongings while wading knee deep in cold water. Then came the nice one-bedroom I had to leave when the rent was raised, and then finally the apartment that was charming but a firetrap.

It was while living in the last place that our fortunes changed. A government program allowed the tenants in the building to buy, renovate and run the building as a non-profit housing co-op. Young couples settled down and raised families. Refugees and other new immigrants found a stable community that welcomed them. Seniors were able to “age in place” in affordable rental homes where they knew their neighbours. We lived there for 10 years.

In my new mystery, Murder is Uncooperative, all Rebecca wants is a safe, affordable home for her family. That’s not an easy thing to find in an expensive rental market. At first she thinks she’s found the perfect home in a non-profit housing co-op. But then she finds a body.

The book focuses on how desperate people can get trying to find a home for their family. That experience will ring true for readers, whether they understand housing co-ops or not.

But Anne asked me to explain a bit about what a co-op is. In Canada, where Murder is Uncooperative is set, there are over 2,000 co-ops across the country housing a quarter of a million people. But there are housing co-ops in most countries around the world, including in the United States.

The main distinction between a housing cooperative and other forms of home ownership is that in a housing cooperative you don’t directly own real estate. People buy shares or a membership in a housing co-op, which is often a non-profit. In some cases there is government subsidy to help keep costs down for low-income residents. Co‑op housing also offers security. Co‑ops are controlled by their members, who have a vote in decisions about their housing. There is no outside landlord.

And how did housing co-op members react to their homes being portrayed as the scene of a murder. They were thrilled! While housing co-ops can be safe havens for many, there are inevitably tensions among groups of people trying to live together.

“I bet I know who dies and I bet I know why,” people kept telling me. Or they asked, “Is it based on my co-op?”

In any case, housing co-op members seem to like seeing their lives portrayed in the first housing co-op mystery.

You can find Murder is Uncooperative at Kobo.com, Barnes and Noble, Chapters Indigo Books, or Amazon.

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Ten

June 12 – 13, 1983

 

Sundays, Sid lets me skip running and sleep in. That Sunday I woke up early with a familiar dull ache in my lower abdomen. I tried sleeping through it, but it had to get messy, and wouldn’t you know, Sid had to come back in after his run.

“Awake already?” he asked, with an amused grin. He was wearing a tank top and running shorts instead of a warm up suit, even though it seemed fairly cool out. Then again, that was probably why he wasn’t sweating like a horse.

“Uh, yeah.” I pulled the covers to my chin. “You going to be here long?”

“My appointment’s not ‘til eight, and I wasn’t going to shower until after.”

“I guess if you’re paying, she can’t complain.” I was more interested in my robe, which was at the foot of the bed because I knew I’d stained, and that was more embarrassing than I was ready to handle.

Sid sniffed his armpit. “I’m okay.” He still grabbed a towel and rubbed down.

I wasn’t doing too well. Keeping my covers over me, I sat up and got my robe. It was a bit of a struggle getting it on without sitting on it and making things worse and still not letting Sid see anything, and by that point, he’d figured something was up and was watching. I got my clothes and my carry on.

“Wearing your jeans today?” Sid asked. He rinsed a washcloth out in the sink.

“I can still stay fully armed,” I replied. “I’ll strap my twenty-two to my shin like you do.”

“True.” Sid wrung out the washcloth and turned off the water.

“Don’t!” I yelped as he lifted the covers to my bed.

“I thought that’s what I saw.” He pulled the covers back to reveal the stain. “Well, it’s about time. I was getting ready to put a candle in the window.” He went to work.

“You don’t have to make it any more embarrassing than it is,” I grumbled.

“What’s embarrassing about it?” he asked. “It’s just a natural process.”

“So is going to the bathroom, and I seem to remember you getting pretty grossed out when I unplugged that toilet of yours.”

“That’s…” Sid looked up at me and smiled. “You’ve got a point. However, the one is merely waste.” He pointed at the stain. “This can be considered a celebration of fertility.”

“Since when are you so interested in fertility?”

“Yours I have no problem with.” He chuckled. “You know, you could look at this as evidence that your virginity has been lost. It’s the traditional sign, you know.”

“Hm.” I squeezed my legs together, thinking that I really needed to be going.

Sid looked at me. “Are you still feeling upset about something?”

“I’m not depressed anymore, but my cramps are pretty bad, and don’t lay any psychosomatic BS on me, okay?”

“I wasn’t planning on it. I am sensitive to the needs of women.”

“Then why don’t you have a trash can in your bathroom? That’s why your toilet got plugged, you know.” I started feeling really messy. “Listen, I’ve got to get going. Figures this month would be a gusher.”

“I’ll meet you back here at nine thirty. And stay away from the rim.”

We spent most of the day reading. Around a quarter til three, we found a pay phone and I made the check in call. I swallowed when it wasn’t answered after the first two rings. I let it go a little longer.

“What’s up?” Sid asked, a little nervous himself.

“No answer.” I held on, hoping. “It’s gone at least ten rings.” I hung up. “It’s the second time.”

Sid checked his watch. “It’s early yet. Maybe she’s just not there.”

We called again right at three, then at five after, and ten after. At a quarter after, Sid hung up the phone, his face as pale as a ghost.

“Nothing,” he said softly. He took a deep breath. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

I touched his arm. “Sid-”

Glaring, he laid his finger on my lips. “From this moment on, Sid Hackbirn and Lisa Wycherly are dead. You and I are now Janet and Ed Donaldson.”

“I know.”

He nodded sadly. I managed to hold my tears until we got inside the room. As soon as Sid closed the door, I sank onto my bed and sobbed.

“We’ve got to get packed and out of here now,” said Sid urgently.

“I’m never going to see my family again,” I cried.

“That’s not for certain.” Sighing, Sid sat down next to me and held me. “We’ll find a way to go back to being ourselves. We just can’t count on it is all. I know it’s going to be hard. But you’ll have to cry later. We’ve got to go now.”

“I know.” I tried pulling myself together. “Just give me a couple minutes, will you?”

“Sure.” His lips softly pressed against my hair.

I got a tissue. “I suppose it could be worse. It’s not like we don’t have feelings for each other, but I just don’t want to be married.”

“It’s the last damn thing I want,” Sid grumbled.

“Well, you don’t have to make it out to be something really awful,” I snapped.

“It’s not. Except…” He turned away. “You can’t be a real wife.”

I bit my lip. “Can you be a real husband?’

Sid gave me his only too obvious look. “I don’t think there’s any question about my interest in that issue.”

“I didn’t mean conjugally. There’s a lot more to marriage than just sex.”

Sid picked up his suitcase and set it on his bed.

“I suppose there might be,” he grumbled. “What are you thinking of?”

“A relationship for starters.”

“Didn’t you just imply that we have one?” Frustrated, he jammed some socks into the case. “I mean, I’d like to think the past few weeks would count for something.”

“Of course they do.” I fidgeted with my tissue. “It’s mostly just…”

“Just what?”

“Will I be the only one?” My voice grew small and uncertain.

Sid stepped back. “Oh. That.”

“Well?”

“Believe me, after what we’ve been through and as close as we’ve become, anyone else wouldn’t mean a damn thing.”

“Then why not just be faithful?”

“If you weren’t around for some reason.” Frustrated, Sid went back to packing. “Why is it so important that I be faithful anyway? I’m not expecting it from you, although I have to admit, I find it a little hard to imagine you sleeping around.”

I grimaced. “I couldn’t. Our sex life should be something very special and unique.”

“What makes you think it won’t be?”

“How will I know it is?”

Sid chuckled lecherously. “You’ll know.”

“Really? And how will I know that the words you whisper to me are not whispered to some other woman? That you don’t touch another woman the way you touch me? And what about whenever something starts itching or dripping and I’m wondering if I’ve got some social disease?”

“I’m very careful about that, and if you want, I’ll be extra careful.” Sid came around the bed and held me. “But don’t ever think for a second that what passes between us could be anything like what I do with another woman.”

“Then why aren’t I enough?” My eyes caught his.

He pulled away. “Enough has nothing to do with it. I don’t even know why we’re discussing the possibility. You’re not ready for sex any more than I’m ready to lock myself up if you’re not there. And that, my dear, is precisely why we’ve got to find a way out of this. We’ve wasted too much time already. Come on.”

Sadly, I hoisted my purse onto the bed.

“Wait a minute,” I said suddenly, digging through the huge leather sack. “We still have the drops.”

“What?” Sid came over to me.

I shoved the envelopes in his face. “The drops for Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego.” I opened one. “I’m going to see what they say. They may give us a clue.”

“We don’t necessarily have the right.”

“Neither of us wants to be married, and I want to see my family again.”

Inside was a second envelope. Sid peered over my shoulder.

“It’s addressed to the floater team,” he said, deciphering the code faster than I could.

I hesitated. “Oh, hell. In for a penny…”

I opened the inner envelope and gave the card inside to Sid. He read it and swore.

“What?” I asked.

“It basically says that upline knows they’re leaking. This was Seattle. What do the others say?”

I ripped away to find exactly the same messages.

“Get finished packing,” ordered Sid, doing the same.

I grabbed my stuff. “What are you thinking?”

“I don’t know yet. It just doesn’t make sense. Obviously, they were looking for whoever was opening stuff.”

“And then setting us up for an attack with that second drop.”

“Which the suspect couldn’t have known was coming, but would probably take advantage of to save his or her own skin.”

“But it’s the suspects that keep getting killed.”

“And these are addressed to the floater team, which is going to be the same for this line, and they knew that second drop was coming in Chicago.”

“But did they in New Orleans? That’s probably why I was followed.”

“But I wasn’t in Chicago, which must mean they were looking for you.”

“And then I had that blonde wig in Yellowstone.”

“Nor was there a second drop.” Sid stopped. “It must be the floater team that’s leaking. That’s the only thing that could account for what’s going on, and they must have gotten a hold of the Dragon somehow.”

“So what do we do?”

“We’re going after that team.”

“We don’t know who they are.”

Sid thought that over. “But we have Amanda Whitefoot’s address. She’s still in the hospital.” He looked at me and smiled. “I think a nice little break-in is in order.” He checked his watch. “We’d better hustle. I’d like to be in and out of there before dark. We’ll need the light to see, and if we make any of our own, it could attract attention out there in the middle of nowhere.”

I thought it was going to be tricky getting onto the reservation, but Sid pulled out an F.B.I. ID and said we were there to question some people about some antiquities that had been stolen from them. We found the house without problem, and it was pretty isolated. Someone else had found it first. The place had been trashed, naturally after every trace of Whitefoot’s double life had been removed.

“It’s not an unusual procedure when one of ours goes down,” explained Sid with a frustrated sigh as he looked around the room.

I picked up an address book and flipped through the pages.

“I doubt you’ll find anything in there,” said Sid.

I stopped flipping. “Care to put some money on that?”

“You got something?” Sid came over.

“Recognize that phone number?”

Sid took the book. “I’ll be damned. Harry and Carol Beldon. I wonder who they are.”

“How about Whitefoot’s floater team?”

“It wouldn’t be out where anyone could find it.”

“Why not? Don’t you have Henry James in your address book? You had him in the Rolodex when I started working for you and had a reasonable excuse for knowing him.” Henry is our floater. Sid ostensibly knows him as a contact for his writing. “Why wouldn’t Whitefoot have a visible reason for knowing her floater?”

“That makes sense, and it’s about all we’ve got.” Sid thought it over. “There’s a CIA base in Manhattan. We’ve got to get our passports through them, anyway. Let’s see what they can do with this.”

We had to fly to Denver first and spent the night there. Neither of us felt up to saying anything. Sid got us a double at the hotel next to the airport, neatly avoiding any discussion about who would sleep on the floor. [Or whether one of us would  – SEH]

We caught an early morning flight out to New York. As usual, Sid boarded the plane, took his contacts out and went to sleep, waking up just long enough to recline his seat after the captain said we could. I read the magazines I’d picked up at the airport in Denver. I didn’t want to think about being married, let alone to Sid. As for never seeing my family again, I found that even harder to face.

We hit some nasty turbulence about two hours into the flight.

“What? Help,” Sid muttered, then snapped awake. He swore and blinked.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he gasped and blinked again. “Just had a bad dream. Why aren’t we landing?”

“We’re not there yet.”

The plane took a sudden dip.

“What the hell..?” Sid gripped the armrest.

“It’s just turbulence.”

Sid snorted. “I was dreaming there’d been an explosion and everything was blown all over.”

“Good timing.” I smiled briefly, then gazed out the window.

Sid leaned back and tried to go to sleep again, but the plane kept bouncing. He squinted and leaned over me towards the window. He always gets an aisle seat, which is fine with me because I prefer a window seat.

“Is that the wing bouncing up and down?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Wonderful.” He settled back into his own seat.

“I’ve been told it’s supposed to do that.”

There was a pause. I looked at the magazine in my lap. About five minutes before it had seemed incredibly inane. One of the headlines promised me “Fabulous Sex Secrets To Keep Your Man.”

“Your cramps feeling any better?” he asked quietly.

“Some.”

“Good.” There was another pause. “What are you thinking about?”

“Things. Trying to get some perspective.”

“On what?”

“On me, you. Our relationship. I don’t know. It’s like what you said about it counting for something. These past three weeks have been pretty intense. The day you came to get me at the retreat, Father John suggested I try to understand you a little better. It’s kind of weird how important that is all of a sudden.”

“If I believed in that nonsense, I’d call the man psychic. He had a little chat with me before I left.”

“What did he say?”

“Not much. He just expressed some concern for you and said that you needed my support.” The plane lurched. I slid my hand into Sid’s. His grip tightened as the plane bounced again. “I told him I was doing what I could to give it to you. Then he suggested I try to understand you better. That’s why he talked me into sticking around through dinner.”

“I wondered about that.”

“Well, I owe that man one, assuming I get a shot at payback. If I’d known what trying to understand you was going to do to me…”

“If I’d known the same thing.” I looked at him warmly. “It hasn’t been easy, and I can’t say I’ve gotten very far, but it’s been worth it, at least to me.”

“To me, too.” Sid smiled. This time his squeeze was gentle.

“I don’t want to stop trying, either.”

“No, we can’t afford to.” He looked away for a moment. “You know, yesterday afternoon, what I said about being married, it really wasn’t you.”

“I know. But I couldn’t help thinking so.”

“I was a little rough about it. In a way, I’m still in shock. I don’t like the idea of leaving my life any more than you do.”

“Are you sure we’ll have to?”

“We’d better assume so.” He looked me over with a warm smile. “I don’t mean to balk so much on the fidelity thing. I really don’t mind the idea of being faithful to you. I’m just not sure I can. I haven’t been faithful to one woman for more than two weeks at a time in my life.”

“Two and a half weeks. Remember Kathy Preving?”

Sid chuckled, then squeezed my hand as the plane jolted.

“That was something altogether different, and I wasn’t faithful. There was that trip to Washington. I figured she’d never know.”

I picked up a second magazine. “Maybe you’d better read this article.”

Sid put the page in his face. “Sex addiction? Oh, come on. Sex is not an addiction.”

“I don’t know. There were some things in there that reminded me an awful lot of you.”

“Well, maybe. But it’s harmless.”

“Not when it starts messing up a relationship. And besides, when you get horny, it distorts your judgment.”

“I couldn’t have survived this long if it distorted it that much.”

“You don’t let yourself get that horny that often.”

“True. But there were times…” His voice trailed off and his grip on my hand changed. I could see him trying to deal with memories that were very painful. “Maybe it was my fault after all.”

“What?” I asked very gently.

“Decisions I made a couple times while I was in Viet Nam. I can’t say they were bad decisions. But I knew, even then, they weren’t the best. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Three weeks on patrol in those jungles and no women at all. Nothing helped.”

“That’s in the past. There’s nothing you can do about it now.”

“Except learn from it. But, damn it, I can’t change who I am, and I’m not sure I want to.”

“That’s why you can’t change. And I don’t know if you should try, except that…”

“Except that now we’re a married couple, and unless I change, we’re not going to have much of a sex life.”

“We could still catch these Beldon people and everything will go back to normal.”

“More likely we’ll spend six weeks wandering the continent, then settle in somewhere as that nice couple next door.”

“And then I can get myself reassigned.”

“Don’t do that.” His hand didn’t squeeze but tightened in such a way that I knew he wouldn’t let go easily. “Look, if I have to be married, I’d rather it was to you than anyone else.”

We fell silent for a few minutes.

“It’s not like we have an option,” said Sid finally. “But if you can put up with me, then I guess I can find a way.”

“I can put up with you.” I gave his hand a little squeeze.

He reached over and kissed my mouth.

“You think we could get it blessed after we get settled?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Get married again in the Church. Lots of couples do. They get married in a civil ceremony for all sorts of reasons, then years later have a priest bless it. I suppose we could draw up some fake annulment papers for you, just to make it look more legitimate, and I’d have to get another baptismal certificate, but that shouldn’t be too hard.”

Sid sighed. “It sounds time-consuming. Do we get to share connubial bliss before or after?”

“Well…”

“If you want it official, why can’t we just visit a judge?”

“Why? Our business has done it for us. As for the connubial bliss…”

“Is it my imagination, or are you saying that the moral issue is resolved?” Sid chuckled.

“I guess I am. But it’s by no means definite that we’re forever doomed to new identities.”

Sid gazed at our hands. “You’re still not ready.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. After a lifetime of saying no, you can’t just turn around and say yes. We’ll take our time getting you used to the idea.”

“Oh, great.”

“Don’t worry, my darling ice maiden. We’ll take it very slowly.” His free hand reached over and touched my cheek. “I’ve done a fair amount of work as a surrogate partner for women in sex therapy, and I’ve dealt with a lot of trauma. I’ll take very good care of you.”

“Can we wait until we’re sure who we are?”

“Sure.” Sid sighed. “It’s probably just as well. If we don’t, we’ll for sure have to go back to our own lives and you’ll be feeling guilty as hell, and I’ll never get you back in my bed.”

He leaned back in his seat and was out cold within a minute. He didn’t even fully wake up when it came time to straighten his seat for landing. But he didn’t let go of my hand until the plane had stopped at the gate and the seatbelt sign was turned off.

Manhattan, which had seemed like such a great place three and a half weeks before, suddenly grated on my nerves. We checked our bags at Grand Central Station and went straight from there on the subway to the C.I.A. offices, which were on the east side near the U.N. Sid flashed his phony F.B.I. ID, which got our thumbprints taken and then into the back office after a twenty-minute wait.

The man behind the desk was not particularly little in size, but seemed little, and had that prissy, bureaucratic attitude one finds a lot of in government clerks.

“Clearance?” he asked us.

“A-1,” said Sid. “Division 53-Q, code 6-A.”

“Personal code?”

I turned away and hummed so I wouldn’t hear Sid give his. A second later, he tapped me on the shoulder, and started humming, while I softly gave mine to the clerk.

“Code names?” he asked.

“I’m Little Red,” I said. “He’s Big Red.”

Sneering, the clerk double checked our info against a printout.

“Well, your thumbprints match,” he grumbled, then smirked. “I hear you 53-Q guys are having a little trouble with security.”

“We’re working on it,” said Sid. “We need passports.”

“Oh, hell,” said the clerk. “Where do you people get the idea that we can just snap our fingers and produce decent documents? We need descriptive info, we need photos. We’re not the State Department.”

“How long will it take?”

“You can have them by eight thirty. You’d just better hope we can get your pictures done now.”

“While we’re waiting, we need a priority one background check on some names.”

“Why don’t you just ask for the moon while you’re at it?”

Sid leaned over the desk. “We have a priority one need to know. Our offices are down. Last I heard, we’re ultimately working for the same boss. Why not cooperate?”

“What’s the name?”

“Harry and Carol Beldon.”

“Beldon, Harry and Carol. Fine. But I’m telling you, you domestic people with your attitudes can blow it out your ears as far as I’m concerned. We’re out there doing the real work.”

Sid hung onto his temper while I bit my tongue. The clerk had to take our passport photos himself and complained every step of the way.

“I’d like to blow it out his ears,” said Sid as we left the building. [Correction, I wanted to blow it out his ass. What is it with you and swear words? The religion thing I understand, but the rest of it… – SEH]

He hailed a cab, which didn’t stop, all the while complaining about the lousy attitudes of CIA personnel in general, punctuated with an assortment of swear words.

“What do we do now?” I asked as a third cab passed us by.

“Go shopping. We need to look a little more affluent if we’re going to be bumming around Europe for a while.”

“If we’re bumming, why can’t we just go the poor student route?”

“Because, as the saying goes, poverty sucks. I know. I’ve done it.”

“What about alterations?”

“This is New York City and we don’t have a credit limit on our cards. We can get alterations.”

We also found a twenty-four-hour laundry and dry cleaning service and were able to get the clothes we had cleaned. By eight thirty, we each had two suitcases, a carry-on, and I still had my cavernous purse. We also had passports for Ed and Janet Donaldson, some extra equipment, and a file on Harry and Carol Beldon.

“Well?” I asked as we sat down at a coffee shop at Grand Central, our luggage gathered around us.

Sid opened the file. “Let’s see. They’re floaters, alright. We’ve got a note here dated the other day that they were cleared to go to Paris and another date yesterday that their line is officially down and that they’re under suspicion. Their basic cover is as clothing importers. Apparently, Harry has an office in Paris. And looky here, Carol has contacts among the Red Brigade in Italy.”

“Aren’t they communists?”

“Definitely, and there are not a few rumors that there’s Soviet money behind them. It could be the Beldons are just taking advantage of an opportunity and playing double agent.”

“But if they’re the source of the leak, then that’s less likely.”

“Not necessarily. You never really know what side a double agent is on. It looks like that was why they ended up domestic, though. According to this, they were doing some good work in the early sixties, but were suspected of walking the fence and ended up charter members of Quickline.”

“I guess the next step is to go to Paris, then.” I sighed. “Just how are we going to catch up with them?”

“We’ve got the address to Harry Beldon’s office here in the file. We’ll just wait for them to show. We’ve got six weeks.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson take up residence in Podunk, Iowa as that nice couple next door.”

I crossed myself. “Dear Jesus, please let them be there.”

We found a travel agent in the station to get our plane tickets. The only two flights to Paris left that night were booked solid. I suggested going stand by and the agent giggled. Sid booked us on a flight that left the next afternoon at five.

As we waited for a cab outside of the station, I talked Sid into staying at the Algonquin. The room was tiny, but we only stayed there long enough to change into going out to dinner clothes. Sid took us down to the Village to a jazz club there, and then we went dancing. It was a lot of fun because Sid is a good dancer, and how many guys dance at all, let alone well? But it was also a little nerve-wracking because we were drilling each other on our new identities the whole time.

“Is there some reason we haven’t gone back to the hotel?” I asked Sid as we held each other through a slow dance.

“We’ve got a long flight tomorrow with a big time change. Tell me about your parents.”

“Curtis and Lynn Mayfield. They live in a condo on Rosewood Court in Diamond Bar. They moved there three years ago. Dad works in computer sales. Mom’s an administrative clerk in the Diamond Bar school system. I’ve got two younger sisters, Jean and Doris, both still in school. Doris goes to Berkeley, Jean is at U.C. Santa Barbara. Tell me about your parents.”

“Jim and Rhonda Donaldson. They live in Walnut Creek at 1531 Seeley Drive and have for fifteen years. Dad owns Donaldson Printers, Mom helps out. I’ve got a brother, Lee, a resident surgeon at County U.S.C. Medical Center in Los Angeles.”

“Why is it you get to be two years younger and I get to be two years older?”

Sid smiled. “It wasn’t my idea, but I’m not complaining.”

“How did we meet?”

“Larry Everett, a venture capitalist, introduced us five years ago when you were fresh out of college and looking for a business partner with strong sales skills. With your unique approach to service oriented office supplies and my smooth talking, the business clicked, and a year later so did we.” Sid gave me a warm look. “You’re good at the shy routine.”

“That’s because I am shy. I don’t mind getting up in front of a group if I have something specific to say, but I really hate trying to talk to strangers at parties and things. It’s really hard for me to get to know people.”

“You got to know me pretty quickly.”

“That was one on one, and I don’t think I really did know you until these past few weeks. You’re not an easy person to get to know.”

Sid snuggled in closer. “Neither are you. You talk, but you don’t really say much about yourself. It’s one of the reasons you’re such a good spy.”

“I am?”

“Mm-hm. Tell me about our place in Sunny Hills.”

I found out why Sid had been stalling about going back to our room when we finally got there. I started to make up the bed on the floor. He stopped me.

“We can’t do that anymore,” he said sternly. “We’re married now, and even if we’re not physically doing anything about it, we can’t let even the least hint drop that things aren’t the way they appear.”

“I suppose. I’ve never shared a bed with a man before.”

“What’s so immoral about just sleeping in the same bed?”

“Well…” I thought. “Nothing, I guess. But there’s the temptation factor.”

Sid yawned. “Not tonight. I am beat.”

He let me have the bathroom first, and was sitting in the room’s one chair reading a newspaper when I got out.

“Which side do you want?” he asked, getting up.

I shrugged. “I never gave it much thought. Which side do you like?”

“That one.” He pointed to the side of the bed closest to the door.

He stopped as I pulled back the covers. “If it will make you feel any better, I sleep by myself.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’m not going to use you as a human teddy bear. Sleeping tangled up in someone else gives me a crick in the neck.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

I got in and laid on my back as close to the edge as I dared. Sid took his time in the bathroom. [I was trying to give you a chance to get to sleep before I climbed in – SEH] When he finally came out, he turned out the lights, slid under the covers and true to his word, rolled onto his side away from me. Tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep.

“Um…” I looked over at Sid and debated poking him. “Um…”

“What?” grunted Sid.

“While we’re trying to get you know who, are you going to… Well, you know…”

“Have sex with other women?”

“I was more wondering about buying it.”

“That’s the most efficient, and let’s face it, discreet way.” Sid rolled onto his back. “I don’t know yet. Let’s see how long I last.”

“Oh.”

“Are you really that bugged about it?”

“In some ways. I guess I’m scared, too. We have to be so careful if we want to stay alive, and it just seems to me that when you’re… I don’t know… Involved with a woman, you’re terribly vulnerable.”

“For a very short period of time, I assure you, and usually, she’s equally vulnerable.”

“You know more about it than I do.”

“I’ve been at this business a long time.”

“True.”

Sid looked over at me and smiled softly. “I’ll be alright. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

I rolled over, telling myself that cricks in the neck are no fun.

Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger Explain ’50s Slang

Will Zeilinger and Janet Elizabeth Lynn

Co-authors Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger are friends of mine from our local Sisters in Crime chapter. (Sisters in Crime is a national organization supporting women who write mysteries, which means we also include misters). They’re a married couple who wrote separately, but now, together, they write the Skylar Drake mysteries, set in the 1950s. You can find out more about the books and Janet’s other books here. Janet has offered us a short glossary of slang from the 1950s.

My husband and I write The Skylark Drake Murder Mysteries, a hard boiled 1950s series. To make this as authentic as we can, we include the language used during that time period. Yeah, some people actually feel the 1950s is considered historical (Umm!)

It is fun looking up some of the slang that was used by the “younger generation” and for me, remembering some as well.

Burn Rubber-when a car accelerates quickly

Shocker-a liar or cheat

Knuckle sandwich- a punch in the face

Get on the horn-to use a phone

Dullsville-a boring or dull person

Wig out-get agitated

So to make our characters real, not only do we dress them in period clothes (i.e. gloves and hats) and include current events of the time we also include some of the slang.

Our third book in the series, Desert Ice was released in January and…yes we are still married!

Thanks, Janet. You can pick up copies of Desert Ice at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.