cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Nine

June 8 – 11, 1983

 

One of the things that really amazed me about Sid that trip was his ability to act as if nothing had happened the morning after one of those wonderful, frustrating moments of closeness that kept popping up. I would be very subdued, but Sid would tease me out of it by the end of breakfast. Well, not that Wednesday. I remained somewhat lackluster until mid-morning. We got on a tour bus right after breakfast, having decided that the odds were against running into my folks since they were leaving.

We were at the Fountain Paint Pots when Sid insisted on having his turn with the camera.

“You sure you know how to work it?” I asked, reluctantly handing it over. “This isn’t surveillance photography, you know. I’ve only got one hundred A.S.A. film in there.”

“I’ve been playing around with all kinds of photography for years,” said Sid, checking the light. “I always figured if I was going to be freelancing, it would be worthwhile to be able to take my own pictures. Why don’t you sit… here on this rail.”

I did as he asked. “So why aren’t you into it now?”

He shrugged. “I mostly write business articles, and most magazines would rather use their own art for that. Now put your hands here and lift your chin.” His finger softly did the lifting. He stepped back and fussed with the light meter and focus ring. “Alright, now, smile. Think of something fun, like sex.”

“Oh!” Caught off guard, I ducked my head, covering my face with my hand. But I was laughing.

“Come on,” he coaxed. “Let me see your face.”

“I’m blushing. Why do you do that to me?”

“What did I do?” He was so innocent.

“You know darned well you told me to think about sex just to make me blush.”

“You’re so cute when you do.” Then more gently, he said, “You’re also smiling now.”

“What?” I looked up involuntarily.

Sid removed the camera from in front of his face and smiled.

“Beautiful,” he said, quietly.

I found myself almost mesmerized by his piercing blue eyes. I had to look the other way. His hand touched mine as I slid off the rail.

“Why don’t we check out what’s down this path?” he said, jovially.

I stopped him.

“How do you do it?” I asked.

“What?”

“We have moments. They’re incredible. They’ve been happening ever since New Orleans, at least. But the moment passes and the next thing I know you’re acting like it never happened.”

“Oh, they’ve happened, alright.” Sid leaned on the rail and gazed at the gurgling geyser pots. “But I have to bury my feelings. What I feel for you, I cannot deal with right now, any more than you can deal with your feelings for me.” He paused. “I’m sorry. I had no right to speak for you.”

“Maybe not. But you’re right. I don’t know what’s happening to us, but whatever it is, it’s happening way too fast. I’m having a terrible time coping with it. I don’t understand my feelings right now.”

“Me, neither. But it’s not just lust anymore.”

“Please. Don’t try to put a name on it. You think we can’t cope now…” I bit my lip as a new thought occurred to me. “Maybe, when we get home, I’d better ask Henry to have me reassigned.”

“No. Please don’t.” Sid walked over to me with a strange urgency. “At least not right away. Seriously, I think a lot of this is our current situation. We’ve been living very closely together. But when we get back home, we’ll have all our old distractions and friends. I’ll have more accessible women. You’ll have your boyfriends.”

“Okay. I see what you mean. But maybe our next trip, we’d better find another cover.”

“That might not be a bad idea.” Sid put his arm around me and guided me up the path. “We’d better get back to the bus before we get left.”

One nice thing about the weirdness that was going on was that Sid started being extra nice to me. The tour bus driver told us about this Old West barbecue at the park. The only way to get to it was to ride a horse or in wagons. Although, Sid adamantly refused to ride a horse, he consented to going to the event, and he let me sign up for a horse.

That was before he made his check in call. He came back to the room with a scowl so threatening and dark it could only mean misfortune of the gravest kind.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“We have to leave tomorrow morning,” he said.

“Isn’t there going to be a second drop?”

“No. They believe they have something, so they’re stepping up the schedule.”

“That can’t be all.”

“That’s just it. The Dragon didn’t say anything else. But there was a lot more to be said. She sounded nervous. It was nothing I could put my finger on, but she wanted off the phone.”

That really put a damper on the evening. At least, I got a couple good gallops in.

We left early the next morning, actually getting a flight out of Jackson Hole to Denver and from there we just barely made the connecting flight to Flagstaff, Arizona, and from there got a shuttle to park. We were settled into our hotel room at the Grand Canyon by five o’clock.

We got lucky again and got “stuck” with a double: two full sized beds. There was a sink in the room, but the baths, showers, and toilets were down the hall. While Sid was making his second shave, I thumbed through the schedule of events.

“You want to take the all-day mule ride?” I asked. “It goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon.”

“No.”

“How about the half-day trip?”

“It’s not the time involved, but the mules that I object to.”

“But don’t you want to go down into the canyon?”

“I could live without it. But if I have to, I’d prefer to walk.”

“Great. They’ve got an early hike on the Kaibab Trail, or we could take Bright Angel all the way down even earlier and come up Kaibab. That’s an all day hike, but we’re in good shape.”

“Remember that the next time I wake you up to go running.”

“Boy, if you weren’t shaving.”

“Don’t know yet.”

“Hm. Why don’t I just brief you now?”

“Okay. Who do we have?”

“Amanda Whitefoot. Black hair, brown eyes, five seven. She has a P.O. box and lives on the local reservation. She handles the public relations for Bright Angel Lodge. She has a small problem with mobility, but has an otherwise good record.”

“Sounds good.” He wiped off his face, then turned and smiled at me. He was wearing jeans, but his lightly tanned chest was bare.

“What are we going to do tomorrow?” I asked.

“I’d rather know what we’re going to do about dinner.”

“How about the coffee shop?” I suggested. “The only other restaurant in this hotel is a steak house, which I admit sounds rather attractive to me.”

Sid shook his head. “It would. I bet you also like your steaks rare.”

“And still mooing.” I grinned mischievously.

“Disgusting.” Sid picked up his shirt, the blue one that I’d made. “Let’s try the coffee shop. I should at least be able to get a salad.”

“Okay,” I sighed exaggeratedly.

“Alright. I’ll compromise. The steak house some other night. Hopefully, they have seafood.”

Just before check in, we decided to go ahead and hike the next day, depending on when the drop would be set up. Sid figured that the less we hung around the hotel, the safer we were. The Dragon agreed, especially since we would not be making any drops for the time being. I took that as a sign that they had pretty much caught their leak, although both of us knew better than to ask. If we had a need to know, we’d be told.

I was quite happy and talked Sid into an extended all-day hike, which meant we had to buy the things we needed for the hike. We were okay on clothes and shoes, but we needed water bottles, knapsacks, hats, and snacks. The last two items, Sid questioned. Well, he didn’t question the need for a hat, just the one I chose for him, a cowboy hat.

“I despise western wear,” he growled.

“It’s not all that bad,” I replied. “It’s more dignified than those baseball caps.”

“Why not this?” Sid pulled a tweed alpine hat off the shelf.

“An alpine hat in the Grand Canyon? Come on.”

“It’s more my style.” He tried it on and examined the effect in the mirror.

“That wool is going to be miserably hot and the brim is so narrow it defeats the whole purpose of having one.” I pulled it off his head and replaced it with a natural colored straw western hat. “There, that’s light weight and it’ll give you plenty of shade.”

Sid sighed as he adjusted it. “Whatever. I guess if I don’t have to look at myself in it.”

“Don’t worry, you look great.” I pushed him away from the mirror and tried a similar hat on for myself. “If you start smiling, I might just throw myself at you.”

“No such luck.” He did smile, but he took the hat off.

The snacks proved to be another obstacle.

“I gave in on the granola bars,” said Sid, firmly. “I gave in on the cheese, but all natural or not, these crackers are out. They’re loaded with salt.”

“And it’s a darned good thing they are, too,” I retorted, equally firm. “Do you want to get dehydrated? They aren’t kidding when they say it’s hot down in the canyon. I’ve hiked it before. It’s no pleasure walk.”

“Then why are we doing this?”

“Because it’s a lot of fun when you’re adequately prepared. But not having enough water or even the right stuff and it’s a killer.”

“Hm.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not that bad, and we’re in good shape.”

Sid chuckled. “I’m not worried. I’m just fascinated by the risks you choose to take.”

“What?”

“Never mind. It’s just another one of your inconsistencies.”

I just shrugged and slipped a can of beef jerkies into our growing load then went to eat dinner at the coffee shop.

We were up at the head of the trail just before dawn. As the sun rose, I got a beautiful picture of Sid and the rim silhouetted against the bright colors of the sky. As soon as there was light to see, we were on our way.

We climbed out again shortly after four.

“That’s the rotten part about hiking in this canyon,” I said, slowly stretching out. “The hard part gets saved for last.”

Sid finished off a long drink of water.

“I presume you mean the climb back up,” he said, breathing heavily. “They’re right. The air is thinner up here.”

“But it’s fresh.” I headed for the road. “Come on, we’ve got a long walk back.”

Sid sighed, took off his hat, wiped off his forehead with the back of his hand and replaced the hat. He smiled at me.

“That was quite a hike,” he said.

We heard a car approach. Sid stopped walking and faced it, holding his thumb out.

“Will you stop clowning around?” I giggled.

“Who’s clowning around?” Sid flashed a smile at me. “I’m tired.”

“Sid. Hitchhiking is dangerous.”

“It’s not that bad.” The car passed without slowing. We continued walking. “Besides, the likelihood of the enemy knowing that we’re on this road at this moment in time is pretty slim.”

“I don’t want to chance it.”

“Relax. I’ve never had anything happen to me, and until I got my money that’s mostly how I got around.”

Sid tried to thumb down yet another car. It didn’t stop. A third car did.

“Come on,” Sid said, as we trotted down the road to where the car had stopped.

It was a station wagon with Wisconsin license plates loaded with camping gear and three college students: two guys and one girl. The girl was behind the wheel, one guy was in the front passenger seat and another was sitting in the back seat with his back to the door and his legs along the width of the seat. The guy in the front rolled down his window, as we approached. We could hear the rock music while we were still fifty feet away. Unperturbed, Sid walked up to the open window.

“Hi,” he said. The girl turned down the radio.

“You guys look like you could use a lift,” said the guy.

“Sure could,” replied Sid. “We’ve been hiking all day. You headed for the village?”

“We sure are, hop in.” The young man turned around and swatted his companion’s legs. “Hey, Brett, move over.”

Yawning, Brett sat up straight. Sid opened the door.

“After you, my dear,” he said to me gallantly.

Still, hesitant, I got in. Sid climbed in after me and shut the door. The car pulled back onto the road.

“Hi, I’m Stan,” said the guy in the front seat, twisting to face us. “That’s Margie driving and Brett back there with you. You’ll have to excuse Brett. He’s been smoking too many of those funny cigarettes.”

“Stan,” groaned Margie, slapping his leg. “Will you quit saying that? You know Brett doesn’t do drugs.”

Stan chuckled.

“I just haven’t slept since we left Madison,” grumbled Brett, yawning. Clearly, the trip wasn’t agreeing with him.

“I’m Ed and this is Janet,” Sid said. “Where you guys headed eventually?”

“We’re making the grand tour of the western half of the U.S,” answered Stan. “This is our second real stop. We stayed in Denver a couple nights. After here it’s Vegas, then California. We’re going to Disneyland, Hollywood, the Sequoias, San Francisco, Tahoe, Crater Lake…”

“That’s in Oregon,” interrupted Margie. “And we’re stopping in Ashland first. Besides, they don’t want to hear every little place we’re going.”

“Camping all the way?” asked Sid.

“Half and half,” replied Stan. “and half. We’ve got relatives in some spots, we’re staying in motels in others and camping. We’re staying at a motel in Vegas.”

“I hope so,” said Brett.

“You guys camping?” Stan asked us.

“Fortunately, no,” replied Sid. “We’re staying at Bright Angel Lodge.”

“Bright Angel?” asked Margie. “Isn’t that the where they had all that trouble this morning? We heard it on the radio.”

“Trouble?” I asked, getting worried.

“One of the employees got the you-know-what kicked out of her,” said Stan. “A couple of hoods worked her over in her office. It was just luck that a couple guests heard the racket and barged in on them. They had to airlift her to Flagstaff.”

“That’s too bad,” replied Sid, casually. But I could see he was afraid of the same thing I was. “Did they catch the hoods?”

“Nope. It had to be drugs,” said Stan. “That whole business is so stupid. I know a couple of guys at the dorms in Madison who are pharmacy students. They’re strung out half the time on Tylenol and codeine. They’re just barely passing. How, I don’t know.”

“You ought to see the idiots on my floor,” said Margie. “They’re smoking grass in the hallway, right under the smoke alarm and it’s not like it’s that easy to miss.”

“That’s what smoking that stuff will do to you,” agreed Sid.

We arrived at the village shortly after that. Our ride was nice enough to drop us off in front of the Lodge. We discreetly asked a few questions about that morning’s accident and found out that Amanda Whitefoot had indeed been the victim, and that she was still kicking. They hadn’t found the two men responsible. Sid and I didn’t think they would.

Sid insisted on checking in himself and told the Dragon everything. He was not happy as he hung up.

“Well?” I asked when we got back to the room.

“We stay until Sunday,” he said, scowling again. “At least, that’s the plan. Not making that second drop in Yellowstone triggered something, but the Dragon didn’t say what.”

“That’s nice. Does this mean we have to stay cooped up again?”

“We were specifically requested not to, unfortunately. But I think we will stay wired, and you can carry your gun in your purse. I don’t think I can get away with a blazer.” Sid sat down glumly on his bed. “I was thinking of skipping out tonight by myself, but I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“There’s always Sunday morning,” I said.

“I don’t think you want to listen in on me. Besides, how am I going to hide the transmitter?”

“So don’t use it. I’m sure a couple of hours isn’t going to hurt, especially during the day.”

“Well, we’ll see.”

Saturday, I got depressed. Very depressed. That trip I’d been at times a little blue, lackluster, crying and even out of it. But Saturday, I was hit by a depression as deep as the Grand Canyon and as dark as a night in the desert. I was feeling fine when I woke up, not even tense really, but as I was getting dressed, after a shower down the hall, it enveloped me like a huge black sheet and took over.

The worst of it was, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what was causing it. It wasn’t the tension of the situation. I was worried about it, but not in a depressed sort of way. It wasn’t Sid. He’d been very sweet the night before, offering to eat at the steak house. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get in at a reasonable hour, so we went elsewhere. Sid made reservations for Saturday night at seven thirty just to be sure. I knew he didn’t want to eat there that much, so I was pleased by the effort he made to make sure we got in. We weren’t close that night. If anything, Sid was a little distant, but still very pleasant to be around.

Trying to put a finger on what was depressing me only depressed me more. I shoved my feelings aside and went back to the room. I guess I was hoping my mood would just go away.

I should have known better, and to make matters worse, Sid was very distant and touchy to boot. He didn’t seem to notice me and my mood at all. In all fairness, I was working very hard at hiding it. But the perverse nature of the mood was such that I began to get a little irritated at Sid for not noticing.

At lunch, I more or less picked a fight with him. It was a little too easy. We were in the cafeteria. Sid held a table for us while I ordered.

“Well, here we are,” I said, all but slapping the tray onto the table. I handed him my sandwich. “You get turkey, no mayonnaise, on whole wheat, and milk.”

Sid morosely unwrapped the paper.

“This is roast beef, rare roast beef.”

“That’s mine.” I traded sandwiches and plopped a carton of milk in front of him. Sid looked at it, then glared at me.

“This is whole milk. You know I only drink non-fat.”

“Well, that’s all they had, so tough. I know plenty of people who’d be more than happy to have that.”

“I know. I was a deprived child once, too. I still don’t want it.”

“You are so picky. It’s disgusting. Can’t you be happy with what you’ve got?”

“Will you leave me alone?”

“Alright, what’s eating you?”

Disgusted, Sid laid his sandwich down looked away, then glared at me.

“No-one,” he said, extremely irritated. “That is the problem.”

It took me a minute to figure out what he meant.

“That is sick,” I replied, blushing and angry and still not completely sure what was involved.

“Tough. I would have thought by now you’d be able to pick up on the signals and have some sensitivity.”

“You’re a fine one to talk. All you think about is yourself and your needs. Well, what about mine?”

“I’m not the one saying no.”

“See what I mean? That’s the only need you ever acknowledge. I’ve got other needs too, you know. I operate on more than one level. I’m not just a physical person.”

“I am sorry. But in my current condition, I cannot deal with this.”

“Then why don’t you just go out tonight?”

“Not tonight.”

“Then tomorrow, while I’m at church.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“Well, it’s better than this. You’re not livable when you’re this way.”

Sid looked at me, then sighed. “Alright. But while I’m gone, you stay away from the rim.”

We finished eating in silence. Sid’s mood picked up a little, now that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Mine got worse. Later that afternoon, I went shopping while Sid checked in. Our transmitters were on and functioning. I thought I heard him hang up the phone without saying anything. I backed into a corner and put my face into a book.

“What’s going on?” I hissed into the transmitter.

“No answer,” grumbled Sid.

“Oh no.”

“Don’t panic. It doesn’t mean anything yet. I’m going to relax in the lounge.”

The souvenir shop was only across the hall. It was a little confusing dealing with the noise from the lounge at the same time as the noise from the shop. I managed by tuning out the lounge somehow.

It was impossible to tune out the woman’s voice, though. It was a little before five when it sounded in my ear, deep and sensual. She was talking to Sid, however.

“I notice you’re alone,” she said.

“I am.” Sid’s voice was receptive.

“Looking for some company?”

“I could be. What kind…” The sounds of Sid’s voice and the lounge faded out.

I had a feeling I knew why Sid had turned his transmitter off, but the way things were, I didn’t feel it would be a good idea to bank on that. I put the mug I’d been looking at down on its shelf and went over to the lounge. From where I stood in the doorway, I could see Sid sitting sideways at a table. Across from him was a casually dressed woman. She was rather pretty but had a hard look about her. Sid had his wallet in his hands. He held it low, underneath the table top and removed a bill. After casually shoving the wallet back into his jeans, he slipped the bill under the table to the woman. She looked at it and smiled.

I nearly wretched. It had never occurred to me that was how Sid was meeting his needs. Thinking about it, it made sense. Shaking, I left the lounge.

“Sorry about that.” Sid’s voice in my ear made me jump. “I didn’t think you’d want to listen in.”

“I figured. Thanks.” I spoke softly and headed down the hall. “Um, I’m going back to the room.”

“Are you alright?”

“Fine. I’m just tired.”

“What about dinner?”

“You go on without me. I’m not hungry.”

Inside the room, I sat down on the bed. As ugly as I found the situation, I knew I had no right to condemn Sid for it. The action maybe. But I still had to accept it as a part of his life and continue actively caring for him. It wasn’t easy for me to accept. That’s why I’d gone back to the room, so I could work it out in my head before I faced him. I didn’t get much of a chance. Less than three minutes later, I heard the key in the lock and Sid came in.

“What’s the matter?” he asked, concerned.

“Nothing. Please just leave me alone for a bit.” I couldn’t look at him.

“Sorry. You don’t leave me alone. I reserve the same right.”

“Please. I’m trying to work something out.”

“What?”

“Will you?”

“Something is bothering you.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“You can’t tell me you’re not hungry and expect me to believe it’s not that bad.”

“Alright, it is. But it’s something I’ve got to work out myself.”

“No way. You wouldn’t let me get away with a stunt like that. I’m not going to let you. Now spill it.”

Miserable, I took a deep breath. “When you turned off the transmitter, I got concerned and went to the door of the lounge. I saw you hand her some money.”

“So?”

“You’re paying her to… you know.”

“You knew that’s how I’ve been getting it, didn’t you?”

I shook my head.

Sid shrugged. “Oh. I thought you knew, or at least figured it out. I keep forgetting how naive you are. Sorry about the rude awakening.”

“Sid, please.”

“What are you so upset about? I’ll admit it’s a little on the sordid side.”

“A little? It’s repulsive!” I blurted out. “It’s bad enough you use women the way you do. But that. It’s the most degrading, selfish-”

“Now, you just hold on one minute, little lady,” Sid snapped. “Get off your high horse right now and start facing some facts. One, I am horny and I am very limited at the moment as to how I can relieve it. Two, hookers are people too, and they don’t particularly get any big kick out of the way they make their living. But for a lot of them, it’s the only way they can. It’s either hustle or starve. Three, hookers are also very efficient. At the moment, I don’t have time to seduce someone. I’ve got to get it where I can find it and get it fast. Four, as for being selfish, I don’t suppose it occurred to you that I might have something to offer them. Women like me for a reason.”

“Oh, come on. You don’t honestly expect me to believe your primary motivation is to make some hooker feel good. You said it yourself – get it where you can find it and get it fast. You’re just out there to satisfy yourself.”

“I care about my partners.”

“Yeah, but when you’re doing it, you’re not thinking about them. You’re thinking about how good you’re feeling, and nothing else.”

“You don’t know the first thing about it.”

“I know enough.”

“No, you don’t. You have no idea.” He glared at me, his eyes blazing, and his voice got soft and even. “You don’t know what it is to want and I mean want so badly it hurts.”

I stood my ground. “You’re wrong, Sid. If there’s one thing I do know, it’s want. I’m very good at that.”

Suddenly, his manner changed. His eyes were still intense, but not with anger.

“Yes, I believe you are,” he said softly. He shook his head, then fixed his eyes on me. “This is ridiculous. We are responsible adults. We desire, we crave each other. Why are we saying no to ourselves?”

“You know very well why.” But I was beginning to wonder myself.

“It’s not like there isn’t anything between us.” He took a step towards me, his eyes pleading. “Lisa, please, will you let me make love to you?”

I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t even look away. Sid slowly moved closer.

“Please?” he asked.

His arms slid around me, across my back, with his hands up into my hair. I held him, enjoying the feel of his solidness. His mouth kissed mine with a fire unlike anything else I had ever known.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice reminded me that this was not right. Big help that was. I had always figured the moment would come when Sid’s desire would overwhelm my better judgment and it had arrived with a vengeance. The poor man was desperate, so why not get it over with?

“It’s time,” he whispered, his voice thick and husky. “I promise I’ll take very good care of you. It’s going to be beautiful.”

Again, he kissed me, and nervously, I held him. One of his arms dropped and he picked me up and carried me to my bed, his mouth still on mine. Gently, gazing into my eyes he laid me down and smoothly laid down next to me, then halfway on top of me. One of his arms remained underneath my shoulders, the other hand gently caressed my face.

He kissed my mouth again, and I tasted his tongue as it lightly slipped between my teeth. I still didn’t like it much, but it was part of it all, so I went along with it. He pulled away and looked tenderly into my eyes, his hand brushing the hair away from my face.

“Please relax, Lisa,” he said, very softly. “It’ll be so much easier for you.”

Taking what deep breaths I could, I tried to relax and calm my trembling limbs.

Sid’s gentle kisses followed my jaw back to behind my ear.

“I won’t hurt you,” he whispered. “Just relax.”

He kissed my mouth again.

“Relax,” he whispered again, but this time there was a touch of urgency in his voice.

I concentrated solely on that one word, trying to forget anything else. I could feel myself loosening.

“That’s good,” he whispered. “Hold me. Keep relaxing.”

I put my arms around him, as he continued kissing and caressing me. Effortlessly, he rolled us onto our sides. His hands gently rubbed my back. It felt good, soothing. I let myself enjoy it and tried to kiss him back as he kissed me. I didn’t realize he was pulling my t-shirt out of my pants. He rolled me back onto my back. His kisses worked their way down my neck and along my collar bone.

“Nice and relaxed,” he whispered. “You’re doing good.

His hand slipped under my t-shirt just below my ribs. The shock of his soft warm hand on my skin made me stiffen.

“Dammit, will you relax!” He fiercely pulled away.

“I’m trying.” I started to cry. “I’m trying.”

He looked at me tenderly, but all the passion was gone.

“Yes, you are,” he said very softly. He bent and gently kissed my lips. It was gentle and inviting and I tried to respond, but his tongue hit my teeth. He sighed as he pulled away. “It’s no use.” He sat up. “You’re worse than a cold shower.”

As I rolled over, sobbing uncontrollably, I felt Sid’s hand on my shoulder.

“Lisa, I’m sorry,” he said, urgently. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I don’t care how you meant it.” I was even more miserable than I had been. “How’d you like to be frigid?”

“But you’re not.” His strong gentle arms picked me up and held me close to him. “The passion is there. I touched it. It’s just locked away for the time being. I was a fool to push you.”

“And I was a fool for falling,” I sniffed.

He lifted my chin and smiled warmly.

“Looks like we both blew it,” he said softly.

I sniffled. Sid reached over to the bedside table and grabbed a tissue.

“Here you go,” he said quietly.

I took the tissue and blew my nose, while he held me and kissed the side of my head.

“You want to try again?” I asked.

“Oh, no. One failure is all I can handle.” He looked at his watch. “It’s time to get going anyway. You’ve got just enough time to wash off your face.”

“For what?”

“Dinner.”

“Oh. I almost forgot.” I scrambled off the bed and tucked in my shirt. I looked back at Sid. His face was unreadable, but he did look rather forlorn. I realized that as bad as I felt about what had happened [or not happened – SEH], he must have felt worse. His ego had probably taken quite a beating from my inability to respond. [Actually, I was berating myself for pushing you – SEH] But there wasn’t anything I could say.

He couldn’t find anything to say, either. In silence, we walked to the dining room. In silence, we ate most of our dinner.

A woman played a harp at one end of the room, accompanied by a young man on guitar. They did instrumentals of mostly contemporary music. It underscored our silence nicely.

We were almost through our meal when I recognized the melody she was playing. I looked at Sid.

“I know that song,” he said, thoughtfully. “Now, what is it?”

“Send In the Clowns,” I replied.

We looked at each other. At the same time, we both started breaking up. I think we just sat and laughed for about five minutes solid.

“Was that a farce?” Sid asked, as the laughter finally began to subside.

“Oh, it was awful,” I giggled. “I hope you’re not too mad at me.”

“Why?”

“Because you couldn’t… I don’t know… Melt me down, I guess.”

“That’s not your fault. It’s good that you’re that committed to your values. I know better than to try making it with a woman like you. That’s why I don’t usually fail. Don’t worry, I’m not in the least bit mad.” He paused as a new thought occurred to him. “Actually, I’m relieved.”

“Relieved?”

“Yeah. I think we proved to ourselves that a sexual relationship between us is just not going to work, at least not for the time being. And neither of us is at fault, really.”

“I guess so. It does kind of let the pressure off, doesn’t it? Now we’re free to be just friends.”

The waitress came and took our order for dessert. I was surprised when Sid requested a cup of de-caf. He wasn’t surprised when I asked for a slice of fresh peach pie a la mode.

“Um, this is going to sound a little strange,” I said when the waitress had gone. “But do you still… You know, want me?”

“Oh, yes.” Sid reached out and touched my cheek. “Very much. In some ways, more than ever. But it’s different now. I know the damage it can cause. I may never make love to you. Before this, the thought was unbearable. Now, it doesn’t bother me. I’d still like to. But if I never find the key to your mental chastity belt, then what we’ve got right now will be enough.”

“Thanks. I needed to hear that.” I paused. “I think it’s only fair to tell you I know what that key you’re looking for is.”

“What?”

“Marriage and that includes fidelity.”

He sighed, then looked at me. “That’s asking a lot. I don’t think I could.”

“To be honest, I’m glad. I really don’t want to be married, at least not now. My independence is very important to me. And there’s also the fact that you’re not Catholic. It’s no big deal now, but when you’re married, man, those values, they’re everything.”

“Hm. I suppose they would be.”

The waitress arrived with my pie and Sid’s de-caf. Sid pulled her aside and whispered in her ear. She smiled and nodded. He slipped something into her hand.

“You’re going to be busy tonight,” I said, my voice far snider than I’d intended.

“What? Oh. No. My appointment is for tomorrow morning, and I think I will be keeping it. What I slipped to the waitress was for something entirely different.”

“I’m sorry. I guess I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of you buying it. I’ve just got to get used to it. It’s a part of you, and I’ve got to accept it as such.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better, it’s not my favorite way to go. I rarely do it. They’re hard women and not terribly willing to let go. It’s not a lot of fun always, but it’s adequate.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? For being yourself?”

“No. For you, for having to deal with it. I’m trying to understand.”

“So am I, my dear little ice-maiden.”

“I’m sorry I’m so cold.”

“I only called you that because you’re not.” He leaned over and gently kissed my lips. I softly returned it. He smiled. “Yes, it’s there. It’s just not mine. Yet.”

I chuckled. The harp began to play “You and Me Against the World”. I looked over at Sid. He nodded. I smiled at him. Then, impulsively, I leaned over and kissed his gentle mouth.

 

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Eight

June 2 – 7, 1983

 

“Hog butcher for the world, Toll maker, Stacker of wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler,” or as it’s better known, Chicago, Illinois. The sun was setting Thursday night as our plane landed at O’Hare airport and it was dark by the time our taxi let us off in front of the hotel on Lake Shore Drive. I stood on the sidewalk with the luggage, while Sid paid the cab driver.

“Show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning..,” I said to myself.

“What?” asked Sid, picking up the suitcases.

“‘Chicago’, by Carl Sandburg,” I explained. “I can’t remember all of it. Just snatches.”

Sid just chuckled.

Our room was nice but had only one bed.

“Who had the bed the last night in Florida?” I asked when the bellhop had gone.

“I don’t remember,” Sid replied digging into his pockets. “Let’s flip for it.”

I looked at him suspiciously. Flipping a coin to decide something was not unusual for us. Sid almost invariably suggested it, flipped the coin and won. I almost always called heads, and as I thought about it that night, I realized I had never seen that quarter come up anything but tails.

“Call it in the air.” Sid sent the quarter flipping into the air.

Instead of calling it, I snatched it as it fell. I looked at it, then at Sid. He smiled sheepishly.

“Double-tailed,” I replied, not really angry or even disgusted. “Tacky, Sid.”

“A young lady gave that to me, just before I left for Nam. Made me promise to always carry it with me. She said it was a good luck piece.”

“Especially when you have to flip for something.”

“Well, I was wondering when you’d catch on.”

“Just for that, you can sleep on the floor tonight, and as an added punishment for all those months of deception, you can also watch Johnny Carson with me.”

“Cruel and unusual punishment.”

It wasn’t the Tonight Show, or even Johnny Carson, that Sid minded so much. He hates commercials. That’s one of the reasons why he almost never watches television. On the rare occasions there’s something on commercial television he really wants to see, during the commercials he’ll take the remote control and switch channels every three seconds until his program is back on. That drives me nuts. We had a rather nasty fight last spring when I got fed up with his channel switching and hid the remote control during the third episode of a mini-series we both wanted to see. We never did resolve the remote control issue, but we did decide it wasn’t worth fighting over. Of course, we’ve been known to have occasional friendly wrestling matches over it.

Fortunately, the television in the hotel room didn’t have a remote control and I made Sid promise not to touch the channel switch. I turned it on just before ten.

“Aren’t you turning that on a little early?” Sid called from the bathroom, where he was getting ready for bed.

“I want to watch the news,” I answered. “I’m tired of not knowing what’s going on in the world.”

“But it’s not even eleven yet.”

“This is the Midwest, Sid. Everything’s an hour earlier.”

“That’s right. Turn it up so I can hear.” He opened the bathroom door a crack.

I was already in my nightgown and robe. I took a pillow and lay on my belly with my head at the foot of the bed and chest propped up by the pillow. The anchorman was introduced and the camera zoomed in on him.

“Good evening. In tonight’s top story, a shootout with police in New Orleans has solved the murders of two women, one in Orlando and the other in San Francisco. Paul DeNaio, with our New Orleans affiliate, has that story. Paul?”

Sid came out of the bathroom wearing his robe and bottoms, but still brushing his teeth.

“Uh, oh,” he mumbled, through the foam.

Pictures of coroner’s men taking bagged bodies away in the night filled the screen as the voice spoke.

“Andrew Jackson Square is not known for gun battles, but that is exactly what erupted here last night when New Orleans police officers interrupted and shot two gunmen.”

There was a shot of a mustached police spokesman labeled Captain James Wilkes.

“The suspects exited the alley over there, firing their guns,” said Wilkes in that wooden tone all police spokespeople seem to use. “We, uh, don’t know at this time who they were shooting at. The officers were on patrol, heard the gunshots, and came around the corner, there, identified themselves, and then returned fire.”

DeNaio picked it up. “The body of a third man, whose name has not been released was also found in the alley. Police believe the gun battle may be connected. The gunmen were identified as Lyle Kisko and Arnold Shipner. Kisko died at the scene. Shipner died later this morning at New Orleans General Hospital.”

“How comforting,” I grumbled, crossing myself.

“At least we didn’t do it,” Sid said, still brushing his teeth.

“Today, a routine check matched Kisko’s fingerprints with those found in connection with the strangling death of Laura Fredrickson, a tour director who worked at Disney World. Fredrickson’s body was found at the Orlando, Florida resort last Friday, May 27th. Orlando police were already comparing notes on a similar murder in San Francisco on May 12th, that of Gina Delacando, an independent insurance sales rep from Washington D.C. Semen samples from both Kisko and Shipman have been shipped to Orlando and San Francisco police departments and early results look promising. The question now remains why and how did Kisko and Shipman attack two women on two separate coasts and what relation those crimes might have, if any, to the death of the third man here in New Orleans. This is Paul DeNaio, ABC News.”

I reached over and turned off the television. Sid returned to the bathroom and rinsed out his mouth.

“Why do I get the feeling that Laura Fredrickson did not show up for her drop?” I asked. “And that you took advantage of the fact that the transmitters were not working to avoid telling me?”

Sid stayed in the bathroom. “I don’t know that that’s an issue.”

“I think it is.” I was angry and hurt.

“That was what? Last Friday? I wasn’t exactly in any shape for extended conversation then, you know.”

“That’s no excuse. Will you come out of there? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Sid stood in the doorway. “I guess I didn’t want you to worry. I don’t know.”

“That really hurts.” I started to cry.

“That’s not necessarily why.” Trying to keep a grip on his temper, he paced. “Damn it, I was already all tensed up with being horny and all, and then she didn’t show, and I had a bad feeling I knew why, and I just didn’t want you to have look at another corpse. I was trying to spare you, and that, I swear, is the truth.”

I nearly shrieked. “What do I have to do to prove myself to you? Okay, I used to panic because I was new to this, but are you going to hold that against me forever?”

“Of course not.”

“Then will you get it through your thick skull that I don’t want to be protected? Yeah, I’ve got a problem, but it’s not going to get any better if you keep shielding me from it. I thought we were a team. How can we be if you hold stuff back from me?”

“I didn’t mean to.” He looked at me helplessly. “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. Anyway, it scared the hell out of me. I was having enough trouble holding myself together. I didn’t think I could hold you too.”

“Didn’t you consider the possibility that I could have held you?” The tears ran down my face.

“I should have.” He sat down in a chair next to the dresser. “I don’t want to hurt you and I’m sorry if I have. I know it’s been a while since we’ve been working together, but I’m still not used to having another person around. I’ve been alone all my life and I’ve preferred it that way.” He sighed. “I intensely dislike being vulnerable, and I don’t like saying how I feel. It’s extremely hard for me to tell you I feel afraid, or that I feel anything at all. Even when I’m angry at you, I have to be in control. That’s the worst of what you’ve done to me, and probably the best. You make me own up to my feelings, at least to myself. Handling all that, I…” He shook his head, unable to finish. He got up, restlessly.

“Sid,” I took his hand as he passed close to me and patted the bed next to me. He looked at me puzzled but sat down. I turned his back to me and gently rubbed it in a circular pattern.

“I just want you to understand that I can be strong, too,” I said. “And I don’t care if you’re weak. For heaven’s sake, if you keep trying to be strong for both of us, all you’ll do is hurt yourself. I don’t want to see that.”

He turned to me and gently laid his hand on my cheek. It was soft and his thumb tenderly caressed me. He began to move towards me, his lips barely parted. I let out a strangled little cry, afraid that I could not resist him. Apparently, he thought I could, for he stopped and shook his head, withdrawing his hand.

“No.” He closed his eyes and turned his head. “No, I won’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Don’t ever be. You can’t be sorry for your need to say no to me any more than I can be sorry for my need to make love to you.”

“You don’t know how much I wish we could.” I wiped the tears from my eyes.

“Someday, Lisa, we will, when I can make you see the beauty and not the guilt.”

“No. I couldn’t ask you to make that kind of sacrifice.”

“I won’t. Nor will you. It would hurt both of us too much. When we come together, it will be on terms we both agree on, happily.”

“If that could ever happen.”

“It will, that much I do know.”

“I can’t change that way.”

“You already are, just like I’m changing your way. We’ll change and come together somewhere in the middle.”

I smiled at him knowing there wasn’t any somewhere in the middle and half-fearing that there was. Sid pulled me up off the bed and took the bedspread, extra blanket, and my pillow. Quickly, silently, he made up the bed on the floor. He turned to me.

“Goodnight, my sweet Lisa,” he said softly and kissed my forehead.

“Goodnight, Sid.” I reached and my lips brushed his cheek next to his ear.

We looked at each other fondly for a minute. Then Sid sighed.

“Go, now, to bed.” He turned me around and gave me a gentle shove. “I have only so much control.”

“Maybe I’ll make myself scarce tomorrow.”

Sid laughed.

“We’ll see,” I heard him say from the floor.

The next morning, at breakfast, I went over Sid’s drop.

“He’s Damon Savallo, a top man, adopted in 1979. He’s black, about six three, and big. His cover is as a talent scout for the Chicago White Sox. He transferred in from division 57J when our group needed some extra bodies. His references were excellent, and he has exceeded expectations.”

“Hm.” Sid mulled it over. “Is there anything you want to see or do while we’re here?”

“I’ve heard good things about the Museum of Science and Industry, but that’s kind of an all day thing.”

Sid’s drop was around two, at a coffee shop about a block from our hotel. Sid didn’t like the idea but didn’t want to drop any clues by changing it.

“Maybe I will make myself scarce this morning. It’ll probably be my best chance. Do you mind putting off the museum until tomorrow?”

“Nah. I think I’ll just hang around here and relax. What time do you want me at the drop?”

“Given that you picked up a tail on that last one, why don’t I just turn up the transmitter and you hang out in the lobby here. If there’s trouble, you can catch it, and if I’m tailed, you won’t be seen.”

“Sounds good.”

Sid took off a few minutes later, and I ordered a second breakfast with extra bacon. I had seen a bookshop in the lobby and figured I could augment the Victorian Poets with a good murder mystery but didn’t find any to my liking, or anything else I felt like reading. So I explored the hotel.

I was delighted to find a laundromat on the bottom floor. I didn’t know what Sid was planning on doing about the dirty clothes situation. But I knew what I was going to do that day. I hurried back to the room.

While gathering together the laundry, I decided to take a chance on having the dry cleaning done. Not that I was worried about the hotel. I was sure they, or whoever did their dry cleaning, were competent and I was able to get it in in time for one-day service. I was worried about a possible quick departure. Doing the laundry myself, I had a little more control on what would be left behind if we had to leave Chicago suddenly.

The drop went fine, without hint of a tail or trouble. Sid checked in and came back to the hotel around three thirty, humming “Marianne.” I was on the bed, surrounded by a pile of underwear and socks.

“Repacking?” Sid asked, not quite sure what to make of it.

“In a minute. I’ve got to get all this stuff sorted first, then folded and the socks matched.”

“What did you do today?”

“The laundry. I don’t know if you noticed, but both of us were out of clean clothes.”

“Well, I had, but I was going to call the hotel laundry service tomorrow.”

“Now you don’t have to.”

“I would have preferred it.” Sid looked around. “Where are my shirts? I assume you washed them.”

“And dried them. They’re hanging in the closet. They’re not a bit wrinkled. I hung them and your washable pants up straight from the dryer. That’s one advantage to cheap clothes.”

Sid inspected his shirts.

“Oh no,” he groaned. He pulled out one of the shirts on its hanger and fussed with the collar. “Look at that. Limp.” He turned and gestured with the shirt. “I like my collars, cuffs, and fronts lightly starched. That’s why I use a laundry service.”

I shook my head.

“He can face gunmen and corpses without blinking an eye,” I addressed the air. “But let his collars go limp and the man goes to pieces.”

“A- I am not going to pieces, and B- It is the small creature comforts that make the unpleasant things in life bearable.”

“What’s comfortable about a starched shirt?” I held up a pair of athletic tube socks. “Are these yours or mine?”

“What did you do with my warm up suit?”

“Are you kidding? I washed the warm-ups first. Those things were beginning to walk around by themselves. They’re drying in the bathroom.”

“I see.”

“I washed everything. Well, not everything. I took your suit, your two sportcoats, my shetland sweater, my black dress, and your tweed pants to the hotel’s dry cleaners. They’ll be ready at four.”

“And you washed everything else?”

“If it didn’t say dry clean only on the tag, I did.”

“Including my jeans.”

“Sure.”

“You washed my jeans.” Sid sank into the chair, devastated.

“They were dirty.” I couldn’t help being a little amused by Sid’s distress.

“You do not wash jeans. You dry clean them, otherwise, they shrink and fade.”

“Not if you don’t put them in the dryer, which I didn’t. They are also drying in the bathroom.” I shook my head as Sid bolted in there.

He sighed as he came out and leaned in the doorway.

“At least you didn’t crease them down the center. I really hate those lines.”

“Of course I didn’t. Give me credit for some know how. When I said I did everything on Daddy’s resort, I meant it. Part of that included guest laundry. I also had a girlfriend in college who worked in a dry cleaners. We used to compare notes every now and then.”

“And you still washed my jeans.” Sid returned to the chair.

I had to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” he grumbled.

“You. For heaven’s sake, it’s not that big a deal.”

“Oh, it isn’t? I happen to value my personal appearance.”

“So do I. But I don’t let it bother me if I can’t look perfect all the time. Besides, who’s going to see you? Just me and I couldn’t care less if your shirts aren’t starched.  And I seriously doubt you’re going to have any problems attracting women even with a limp collar and jeans that just might be a touch faded.”

“That is the least of my worries.” He folded his arms and gazed at the bathroom. “This may sound crazy to you, but I don’t really care who sees me. It’s like a picture hanging crooked on a wall. Some people wouldn’t even care. I’m the type that has to have it straight.”

“I understand. My mother is like that sometimes. I remember once when she had a dinner party, she found a spot on her best table cloth at the last minute. For a lot of reasons I don’t remember, she couldn’t change it. But I do remember that nobody knew the spot existed because the centerpiece covered it. Mama still went nuts. Never mind that nobody else knew. She knew it was there and it spoiled her entire evening. Look, I’m sorry I went ahead and washed everything. I should have asked you first.”

“That’s alright.” He still sounded miserable.

“Listen, if it’ll make you feel any better, I’ll see about digging up some spray starch and an ironing board.”

“Thanks, but don’t bother. It’s not fair for me to burden you with my personal fetishes.”

“I thought that’s what you were paying me for.”

“For taking care of the mundane trivialities, yes. But while ironing is definitely mundane, it is anything but trivial. Remember, my innocent one, there was a time when if I wanted a shirt without wrinkles in it, I had to iron it myself, and I grew up in the days before permanent press. That is why I’m so glad I can pay to have it done for me. I’m sorry I got upset at you. I shouldn’t have. You’ve obviously been working hard today. I should be thankful.”

“Don’t worry about it. It was worth it to see you having fits.”

“I don’t have fits.” Sid glared at me.

“Of course not,” I replied soothingly. “I was speaking figuratively. Now, will you help me figure out whose socks are whose?”

“Socks?”

“Our athletic socks, dear boss. We both wear tube socks to run in.”

Sid came over and helped sort out the athletic socks. Then he refolded all his other socks the way he liked them folded, while I finished folding his underwear. He finished with the socks first and looked at me, puzzled.

“Why doesn’t that bother you?” he asked.

“What?” I set his underwear to one side and started untangling a pile of bras.

“My underwear. You always get so embarrassed about things like that, but not that. I don’t understand.”

“At the resort, I handled all sorts of underwear. It never bothered me. Why should yours?”

“I don’t know. I just know people get weird about underwear. I remember once, I was living with this girl and one day I was helping her with her laundry and she went into fits because I was handling her bras. I couldn’t figure it out. I’d been removing them from her for three nights and sometimes during the day, too. And, yet, here you are, the most modest person I’ve met in my life, and not only do you fold my stuff without batting an eye, you let me sit here and watch you fold yours.”

“I’ll even let you help if you like.”

“You don’t mind me putting my hands all over your most intimate apparel?”

“As long as I’m not in it.”

“You are hopelessly inconsistent.”

I just shrugged. Sid shook his head and helped me fold.

That night, after dinner in a fairly respectable restaurant, we went to a movie. The next day, Saturday, was spent at the Museum of Science and Industry. Sid went out that night by himself and didn’t come back ‘til one thirty a.m., humming “Marianne”.

Sunday was another second drop. Sid went with me to church, in his blue sport shirt and navy sportcoat, under which was his model thirteen.

“Why not do what..?” I asked hesitantly as we walked to the church. “Well, you know. What you did the last couple of Sundays?”

“Because of check in yesterday.”

We’d been ordered to make the second drop together and try to capture the persons we figured would be there to nail us.

“It’ll be faster if we don’t have to meet up with each other.”

“We can probably ditch after communion, too.”

Sid hesitated. “Won’t that be a little conspicuous?”

“Hardly,” I snorted. “It’s almost more conspicuous to stay ‘til the end. Are you going to be okay without your fix?”

“That’s why I went out last night.”

For some reason, I felt very restless all through mass. I couldn’t concentrate on the readings or the sermon and during the consecration, I could have been at the drop for all the attention I was paying.

It had been arranged at a park, I still can’t remember the name, but there were plenty of nice, leafy trees to discourage sniper fire and give us plenty of cover. Unfortunately, that also gave any bad guys plenty of cover. Sid and I went there in separate taxis. Although I remained more or less within sight of him at all times, I kept a good hundred feet or so between us. It was what Sid called a flanking maneuver.

It worked, sort of. Sid met Savallo at a park bench, and within seconds, gunfire erupted. Sid and Savallo dove behind the bench. I traced the gunfire to a tree across the path and down some, and I mean literally within the branches. The advantage was that the gunman was pinned. The disadvantage was that I couldn’t see him for the leaves. He, however, could see me approach.

I dashed for the closest tree. Savallo stood and fired. The gunman put a couple slugs in him and he fell over the bench. I aimed for the branches and fired, hoping for the best. That drew more fire at me. Sid tried shooting from the bench but didn’t get much of a chance. It seemed the least movement brought on bullets.

We remained in a standoff for a while. It seemed like an hour or three, but it couldn’t have been. Sirens approached. I fired at the tree again and ducked as bullets tore into the tree that hid me. I tried again, but as I ducked, out of the corner of my eye, Savallo raised his head and gun. The revolver snapped back and tumbled, but it had done its work. The branches rustled, and the gunman tumbled to the ground.

Sid scrambled for me, his hand on his left arm.

“The bathrooms,” he gasped.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Fine.”

We made it to the public restrooms before the police got to the park, and managed to stay hidden long enough for them to get too occupied with Savallo and the guy he’d killed to notice us casually look them over and saunter away. Sid had ditched his sport coat in the restroom and kept his arms folded. His shoulder holster went in my purse.

We didn’t say anything in the cab back to the hotel. Sid continued holding his arm.

“Get packed,” he said, gruffly when we got back to the room and headed for the bathroom. “We’re getting out of here.”

As he passed me, I noticed the dark stains between the fingers of his right hand. I stopped him and pulled his hand away. On his left upper arm, there was a bright red horizontal bloody stripe. I looked at him in horror.

“Lord Jesus, have mercy,” I whispered.

“I’m alright,” Sid replied. “I just got winged. That’s why I couldn’t shoot back. But it’s not serious. Now hurry up and get packed.”

“No.” There was a silence as he glared at me. I stood my ground. “We’ve got to take care of your arm first.”

“I’m not going to a hospital. That’s too obviously a bullet wound and someone will ask questions.”

I looked at it more closely. “I don’t think we’ll have to.”

“Alright, I’ll clean it up and you start packing.”

“I’ll clean it up. It’s at too awkward an angle for you. The packing can wait.”

“We’ve got to leave Chicago as fast as possible.”

“I know. But you need taking care of.” I pulled out the first aid kit. “That comes first.”

“Alright,” Sid grumbled.

“Sit on the bed. I’ve got to get a washcloth and a towel.”

I don’t think my touch was as gentle as Sid’s, but I tried. He gritted his teeth as I carefully cleaned the wound.

“It burns like hell,” he grumbled.

“I’ll bet. There isn’t any puncture wound. It looks like it just grazed you.”

Sid winced as he tried to flex his left hand. “It did enough. I couldn’t shoot, damn it. Savallo killed himself plugging the bastard.”

“Dear Jesus, have mercy on his soul.” I crossed myself and sniffed, then went back to work. “Do you get the feeling we’re leaving a trail of bodies?”

Sid winced again as I applied antiseptic ointment to the stripe.

“Unfortunately, yes. I just can’t figure out why, or even if I should figure it out.”

“Why not?” I carefully cut a piece of gauze padding to fit over the wound.

“We don’t necessarily have the need to know.”

“Given that we’re also the targets, I think we need to know plenty.”

“Well, we haven’t been nailed yet.”

“I suppose.”

I wasn’t feeling terribly reassured. After I finished bandaging his arm, I washed off his hand. While Sid started packing, I rinsed the blood out of the washcloth and towel.

Less than an hour later, we were at an airline ticketing desk at O’Hare airport.

“We want to go to Yellowstone,” Sid told the girl behind the computer terminal.

“The National Park?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, sir, the closest we fly to it is Boise, Idaho. Then you can change planes there and fly to either West Yellowstone, Idaho Falls, Jackson Hole, Bozeman or Billings. Oops. Wait a minute, skip Bozeman.”

“We want to get there today.”

“Well, I’m afraid, sir, that’s impossible. The next flight out of Boise to any of those airports is Tuesday morning to Jackson Hole.”

“Can we go to Boise today?”

“Yes. We’ve got a flight in about an hour.”

“Fine, put us on it.”

“Certainly. I can check your baggage here and assign you seats if you’d like.”

“Great. Two in non-smoking, with a window seat.”

“Would you like me to ticket you through to Jackson Hole?”

“No thanks. We’ll see what happens when we get to Boise.”

Sid handed the girl his credit card with some difficulty, given his arm.

“Why didn’t you take the flight to Jackson?” I asked as we headed for the gate.

“There’s got to be a faster way to get there. We’ll find it in Boise.”

“You want me to take your carry on? It’ll be easier on your arm.”

“I can manage.”

He couldn’t, really, but needed to keep his precious control, pretty gutsy, in a way, when you consider we didn’t have any pain pills except some Tylenol.

There wasn’t a faster way to Yellowstone. We spent a good two hours at the Boise airport looking for one. The only thing that left sooner than the flight to Jackson Hole was a bus and it left Monday evening. Sid was about to resign himself to spending two nights in Boise when I got a hold of a road map and ascertained that if we drove ourselves and left early Monday morning we could get to Yellowstone by dinner. Sid wasn’t overwhelmingly thrilled with the idea but agreed when I pointed out that we would have to rent a car, anyway, in Jackson Hole, as it was still a two and a half hour drive from Yellowstone. I also suggested the possibility of camping, but Sid flatly refused to. He said it wasn’t practical for our situation. I had to agree, although I knew darned well the reason Sid said no had little to do with practicality.

Once we saw Boise, Idaho itself, Sid was perfectly happy to be driving out of there the next morning in the four-door sedan we’d rented. Not that Boise is all that bad, in fact, it’s rather nice as cities go. But I do have to be honest. Boise, Idaho is not one of the nation’s hot spots, especially on a Sunday night. It also had more one-way streets than L.A. Sid and I got turned around three times looking for a place to eat dinner. To make matters worse, Sid was sulking because I had to drive because his arm hurt.

It wasn’t bothering him that much, either that or something else was bothering him more. At six thirty, he left me at the motel and drove off to find some nightlife in the deserted city. I had no idea how, but he did. He came back close to eleven, singing “Marianne”.

We left the motel at six a.m. Sid drove, saying that his arm felt a lot better. It probably did, but I knew darned well that wasn’t why he was driving. [So I hate being driven – SEH] Sid can be a real control freak at times.

We didn’t leave Boise until after six thirty. While trying to get to the interstate, we stumbled across a supermarket just opening. I told Sid to stop.

“Why?” he asked.

“We’d better get some more bandages for your arm.”

“Alright.” He pulled into the parking lot.

Once in the store, I got another idea.

“Hey, why don’t we get one of these?” I said, pointing out some styrofoam ice chests. “We can get some ice and some cold drinks and stuff for lunch and have a picnic. Better yet, we’ll get some munchies for on the way.”

“We won’t be getting much exercise all day in the car. Eating on top of that…” Sid shook his head. “Besides, I’ve got a feeling you’re going to want to stuff that thing with soda pop.”

“Alright,” I groaned. “I’ll compromise. Fresh fruit and healthy stuff. You know, if we nibble on the way, we won’t have to stop for lunch and that’ll save time.”

“True. Okay, you’re on. But no junk.”

“If you insist.” I pulled a shopping cart away from the others.

We bought bananas, strawberries, a couple oranges and some peaches. Sid insisted on a quart of non-fat milk, which I drink though I’m not overly fond of it. I tried to get him to compromise with low fat, but he remained firm. We also got several different canned fruit juices (no sugar added). Sid was delighted to find the store carried Perrier and added a six-pack of bottles to the cart. I was able to talk him into a couple packages of Alouette, that French cheese spread, and some unsalted Akmak crackers. When we went past the candy aisle, I tried to sneak a couple of candy bars and a package of raspberry whips into the cart. Sid caught me and made me put them back. He also tried to make me put back the package of fig bars.

“We agreed,” he said, getting irritated. “No junk.”

“These are not junk,” I replied. “See, they’re even whole wheat. They’re the best thing to keep you, uh, well, moving.”

He looked at the package and then at me.

“They do, huh?”

“Grandma Caulfield swears by them.”

“She does. Well, what the heck.” He dropped the package into the cart. Sid may not agree with Grandma Caulfield’s views on sex, but he doesn’t argue with her home remedies. I’d had to dose him before and he knows they work.

We got some plastic knives and napkins and the extra bandages. As we headed for the checkout, I added, without thinking, a box of female type personal items. Sid looked at me, rather puzzled.

“I’m due in a few days,” I explained, blushing a little.

“I thought you bought those in New Orleans,” he said, quietly.

I was caught. “I didn’t get a chance to. They got me before I could.”

“Come to think of it, you should already be using them.”

I bit my lip. “I’m late.”

“This late and most women would be worried, and we both know you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Sid’s voice had that angry edge to it.

“Well…”

“Why did you lie to me?”

I looked at him. I could see he was hurt.

“Look, I know you’re mad and you have every right to be. But can we wait to argue about this until we get back to the car?”

Sid’s lips pressed into a tight, straight line. He nodded.

When we got back to the car, I started packing the ice chest immediately. Sid watched for a couple minutes before speaking.

“That really hurts, Lisa.” His voice was just barely shaking. “And after you yelled at me in Chicago for keeping things from you.”

The tears were already rolling down my face.

“Well, I went to get your birthday card and I knew you’d be really mad if I told you that.”

“There was no way you could help being found out. Didn’t it occur to you that I’d be even madder when I did?”

“Well, yes, but that wasn’t all of it.”

“What else is there?”

“It was your birthday and I wanted to surprise you.” I broke down into sobs, waiting for the inevitable fury.

“You mean Wednesday night?” he asked quietly.

“Uh-huh.” I looked at him, still crying. “Didn’t it mean a lot to you?”

“Well, yes.” He sighed, helpless, the anger draining from him. “Oh, Lisa. Come here.” He reached over and pulled me to him. Gently, he held me. I sobbed onto his shoulder. He sighed again. “Woman, what have you done to me?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He released me enough to look into my face, his hands still holding my shoulders.

“I ought to be giving you the chewing out of your life. Instead, I feel like a heel for getting mad at you in the first place. What you did was stupid, even without Mutt and Jeff around, risking your neck just to buy a birthday card for me. Then to lie about it just for the sake of a silly celebration…”

“Sid, that’s the only thing I ever lie about, honest. Just birthday surprises, and Christmas, and things like that. You’ve got to believe me.”

“I believe you, and your little celebration meant a lot. I was very touched. But in the final analysis, it wasn’t that important.”

“It was to me. You were so nice to me on my birthday.”

“I didn’t expect…”

“I know.” I sniffled. “It’s just that, Sid, you’re my best friend. I’m closer to you than I am to Mae. I had to do something.”

“Oh, Lisa.” Sid opened the front door to the car and reached in and pulled out a tissue from the box that had been left on the dash. He put it to my nose. “Come on, blow.”

I pulled my head away.

“Thanks, but I can blow it myself.” I gently took the tissue from his hand and blew my nose. With one arm still around me, I felt Sid kiss the side of my head. He walked over and finished packing the ice chest.

“You know, Lisa,” he said fitting the lid on. “You’re one of the best things that ever happened to me.” He opened the door to the back seat and put the folded shopping bags on the floor. “You’re right up there with losing my virginity.”

“Thanks a lot,” I grumbled.

Sid looked at me for a moment.

“That wasn’t meant to be as tacky as it sounded. Give me a hand with this, will you?” He grunted as we picked up the ice chest and swung it onto the back seat. “Maybe I’d better put that into perspective.” He shut the car door, looked away for a moment to think and then back at me. “I’ve got a good life. Sure, it’s had its low spots. But a lot of very good things have happened to me.” As he spoke, he walked around to the driver’s side of the car and opened the front door. He paused, not getting in. “The women I’ve known, getting published, getting my money.” He looked at me intently. “There is a reason I’m exceptionally horny. I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from sex. Until I met you, losing my virginity was the very best thing that had ever happened to me.”

I was speechless. What was there for me to say? I knew how hard it was for him to go without sex. I cared for him so much but was powerless to express it.

“We’d better get going,” he said, getting into the car.

I got in on my side, slowly putting on my seat belt.  Sid waited until it was buckled before starting the engine. He looked at me.

“You mean a lot to me, Lisa,” he said quietly.

“Oh, Sid, you mean a lot to me, too.”

He put the car in gear and pressed the accelerator.

“Let’s go find that interstate,” he said, jovially, purposely shattering the mood that could go nowhere.

As we came into Twin Falls, Idaho, we saw several signs for the local McDonald’s.

“Oh, Sid, please stop,” I begged, teasing. “I really need a junk food fix.”

“Come on,” said Sid, laughing. He accepted a cracker that I’d just spread with cheese. “Are you seriously telling me this isn’t better than McDonald’s?”

I finished licking the cheese off my fingers. “Well…”

“You’re hopeless, woman.”

“My tastes just aren’t limited, that’s all. I’m open-minded.”

“I prefer to be discriminating.”

“You’d never know from the women you date.”

“I’m open-minded. There are times when that’s appropriate, too.”

I chuckled. “It seems so weird, you know? We’re so different sometimes, and yet we do work well together, and we’re such good friends. It’s not supposed to work this way.”

“I’m glad it did.”

“And the really funny thing is, if it hadn’t been for one chance meeting, it would never have happened.”

“But fortunately I came along and rescued you from a fate worse than death.”

“Just so I could risk my neck with you, and Larry wasn’t that bad.”

“A- He was, and B- You’d already ditched him. I merely provided a more graceful escape.”

“Then what, pray tell, was the fate worse than death you were talking about?”

“Working for your parents.”

“That’s not fair.”

“That’s the way you described it.”

“Well, maybe I should have gone back to Tahoe. I would have been safer. Working for you, if I’m not trying to save my life, I’m defending my honor.”

“Now wait just one minute. I have never made any serious attempt to deflower you.”

“But the thought has crossed your mind.”

“Of course it does, frequently. That doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about it.”

“I know. That’s why I’m still around.”

“Still, I won’t turn down any invitations.”

“Well, don’t expect any.”

“I’m not.”

We lapsed into a silence.

“Do you really regret coming to work for me?” Sid asked suddenly.

“No. Not in the least. I like the excitement. I can’t imagine living a dull normal routine life anymore.”

“Good.”

There was another silence.

“Sid?”

“What?”

“Do you regret hiring me?”

“Oh, no.”

“You keep saying that I’m doing things to you.”

“You are. You’ve managed to turn my life upside-down.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? Making me think about things? For reaching out and touching me? For making me share myself with you? Lisa, you haven’t got a thing to be sorry for.”

Shortly after one, we stopped at a rest area to stretch and use the facilities. I always take longer than Sid, so he was waiting for me when I came out. Smiling, he put his arm around my shoulders and suggested a short walk around the rest area before we got back to into the car. I agreed.

About halfway around, we both saw at the same time what looked like a New York model getting out of a little Fiat with the top down. I heard Sid catch his breath.

“What?” I asked.

“That is one gorgeous woman,” he said softly.

He was gazing at her with more admiration than lust. Maybe that’s why I reacted the way I did. I still don’t know. I do know it was a very unreasonable reaction. I shrugged his arm off my shoulder.

“What’s your problem?” Sid asked, genuinely surprised.

“I suppose we don’t have to be in Yellowstone by dinner,” I replied.

“What do you mean?”

“If you want to go pick up on her. I suppose I could find something to occupy myself.”

“I was just looking at her”

“It was the way you looked at her.”

Sid looked at me, uncomprehending. Then the light dawned and he chuckled.

“You’re jealous.”

“I am not.”

“Yes, you are. It’s written all over you.”

“So what if I am?” I glared at him as he laughed harder. “And stop laughing. It’s not that funny.”

“It’s hilarious.”

“It is not!” Then I mumbled, “You never look at me that way.”

“Why should I?”

“You think I’m ugly don’t you?”

“No, I don’t. I think you’re pretty.”

“You never said so.”

“I’m saying it now. You’re a pretty woman.”

“Not like her.”

“I’m not going to lie to you. No, you’re not. But you’re still good looking.”

“I’ll bet you’ve never even looked at me.” Which really, was pretty ridiculous, and I knew it even as I said it. But I was in no mood to be rational.

“Alright.” Sid threw his hands up in disgust. He stepped back a couple of paces and really looked at me, in a very detached manner. “Strictly physically speaking, you’ve got a good figure, nice hair, a nice face, a good smile, when you’re smiling, and beautiful eyes. Your eyes are definitely your strong point.”

“That’s all?”

“What more do you want?” Sid was very frustrated. He came over to me and put his hands on my shoulders. “I’m sorry, Lisa, but you are not unutterably gorgeous. You are, however, a very very beautiful woman.”

“But…”

“Lisa, what makes you beautiful has very little to do with your physical features, which are, nonetheless, very nice.” He put his arm around my shoulders and walked me back to the car. “What makes you beautiful is your character, your personality.”

“That sounds kind of funny coming from you,” I replied, somewhat mollified.

“Why?”

“You don’t seem to be terribly worried about whether or not a woman has a personality.”

“I’m not. But then, the women who have no personalities that I know usually make up for it in bed.”

“That’s sad.”

“Why?”

“To have being good in bed as your only positive quality. I don’t know. It just seems like so little.”

“It can be a great deal.”

We fell silent and remained so until we were back on the highway.

“Sid?”

“What?”

“Does it ever occur to you that you use women for your own personal gratification?”

Sid was unfazed. “Yes. But I don’t quote unquote use anyone who doesn’t want to be.”

“I don’t know. It just seems very selfish.”

“It probably is. But then, they’re using me in the same way.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“No.” It didn’t.

“Why not?”

“Why should it? I’m happy, they’re happy. They know that sex is all I want from them and that’s all they want from me.”

I frowned. “There’s got to be more to it than that.”

“Why?”

“Well, what about relating to them as human beings? Like we do.”

“Lisa, what you and I have is an exception. You are a very unusual person in that you work on your relationships. I work with you on ours because we have to.”

“Is that hard?”

“Yes, it is. I’ll admit it is very rewarding, and I don’t mind the work anymore. But most people don’t want to work that hard on a relationship, myself, for the most part, included. I know that sounds terribly cold-hearted to you, but it is a fact of life.”

“Facts of life have a nasty habit of being very brutal, don’t they?” I sighed.

“Not always.” He could see how depressed I was getting. “Flowers are a fact of life and they’re not brutal.”

“No.” My spirits lifted a little.

“So is fresh fruit. Speaking of which, why don’t you hand over a strawberry?”

“They’re all gone.”

“You don’t mean to tell me you ate that entire basket full?”

“No, you ate half.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You did too.”

“I did not. I only got, what, three?”

“Four, but whose counting?”

“That’s not half the basket.”

“Alright, so I got three-fourths. You’ve got to learn to eat faster, Sid.”

“Well, you could try not inhaling everything edible within reach. Would you mind peeling an orange for me?”

“May I have some?”

“You’ll probably get most of it, but alright.”

I made a point of giving him most of the orange. As I peeled it, the juice ran all over.

“Orange juice is a fact of life,” I moaned, trying to keep it all on the napkin.

“But it’s not brutal.”

“Just sticky. I’d better pop these sections straight into your mouth. You don’t want to get everything all sticky.”

“That would be highly distasteful.”

The first section didn’t quite make it all the way in. I still had the piece that didn’t make it. But the juice dribbled down his chin. Laughing, Sid grabbed a tissue and wiped it off. The next piece almost went down his windpipe.

“No more throwing,” he gasped, as soon as he could speak.

“I’m sorry.” I was, too, though I was laughing with him. “You ready for the next section?” He nodded. “Okay, open up.”

As I gently pushed the section in, his lips caught my fingers and he licked the juice off of them.

“Yuck!” I snatched my hand away.

“There are a lot of women who like that.” Sid grinned mischievously.

“I know.” I licked my fingers myself. “Licking is supposed to be really sexy. Well, it’s just gross to me. Like French kissing. I never could figure that one out.”

“You seriously don’t like French kissing?” Sid asked. “I thought you were just joking that time you told me no tongues.”

“Not entirely,” I said. Sid had only kissed me that one time in the entire ten months we’d known each other. It was under the mistletoe, and he’d set me up. “And believe me, I was glad you didn’t.”

Sid shook his head. “I’ll never get you figured out. You say you like necking.”

“That doesn’t mean I want someone else’s tongue in my mouth.” I shuddered. “There was this one guy, it was just so sick. We’d barely held hands and all of a sudden he kissed me with his mouth wide open and his tongue going for my tonsils, and he was drooling and slobbering. Yick.”

“How old were you?”

“Fifteen. You think I was too young or something?”

“Or something. You just weren’t ready for him to intrude past your personal barriers like he did.” Sid shook his head. “There are a lot of men out there who forget that sexual activity is a physical invasion of a woman’s body. You have to respect that, and there are too many jerks out there who don’t.” [Jerk was not the term I used – SEH]

I flushed. “I’ll say. Is it my imagination, or is it really true that all men think about are sex and sports?”

Sid laughed. “You’re asking me that?”

“Yeah.” I was serious.

Sid glanced over at me, then studied the road. “In all honesty, I have to admit I do not spend most of my time thinking about sex, and I almost never think about sports. But a lot of the men I know are obsessed with getting their rocks off one way or another. A good many of them suppress it, which is where I think the sports thing comes in. At least that’s physical. Steve and Eric and Dave, you know, the guys from the gym? They are not into messing around like I am. Eric and Dave are as faithful to their wives as they come. Steve’s too much of a romantic. But they’re all hung up on sex, and I really think it’s because of the prudish nature of our culture. They repress their sexuality and as a result, they see sex in everything.”

“I repress and I don’t see sex in everything.”

“You’re also not a man, and a large part of how manhood is defined is by the ability to perform. A woman’s femininity is defined by fertility, which may be why women nurture.” Sid smiled at me. “And you may say no, but you don’t repress your sexuality that much. If you did, you wouldn’t admit to ever having been horny or enjoying necking, and yet you do. You may deny yourself the pleasure, but you don’t pretend you’re not interested.”

“What good would that do? It’s going to come out one way or another. It’s like being angry, in a way. And I am curious. It’s like the French kissing thing. I mean I never understood it as an intrusion issue until you said so. I just thought it was over-rated, and I couldn’t figure that out. There are a lot of things that are supposed to be sexy that I can’t figure out.”

“Like what else?”

“Like bucket seats. How could they be sexy with that gear shift between you?”

Sid’s eyes twinkled. “Who says it has to be between you?”

“You mean two people in one seat?”

“Mm-hm.” Sid’s grin was knowledgeably smug and a little reminiscent.

“Well, I suppose if it reclines.”

“Even if it doesn’t.”

“You mean you can still…you know..?”

“Mm-hm.”

“That’s physically impossible. Oh, geez. this is embarrassing.” My face was almost purple.

Sid laughed. “Will it embarrass you too much if I tell you how it’s done?”

“Probably. But I’m dying to know.”

“Your problem, Lisa, is that you’re limiting yourself to one position. There’s no law that says you have to be lying down, face to face.”

“I guess not, but…” My voice trailed off in confusion.

Sid laughed, again.

“The girl sits on the guy’s lap,” he said, gently.

“Oh. But where do her legs go?”

“It depends on whether or not they’re facing. Generally, the legs go where there’s room.”

“I take it you know from experience.”

“Oh, yes. I remember this one girl I knew, her dad had one of those little two-seater T-birds. He’d drive to work during the day and she’d have it at night. We used to drive up to Mount Diablo. It put a lot of miles on the car, but her dad figured if we were driving so much, we couldn’t be doing much else. Boy, was he wrong. On warm nights, I’d bring a blanket and we’d make love under the stars.” He sighed and then looked at me. “Maybe we’d better change the subject. You look like you’re about to crawl under the seat.”

I shrugged. “You want some more orange?”

We got to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park around two p.m. After paying the entrance fee, we pulled over to look at tourist brochures we’d been given and figure out where we were going to stay and what we were going to do. Sid chose Old Faithful Inn simply because that was the closest to where we were. It took us almost another hour to get there because the roads were so twisted and narrow we couldn’t drive all that fast. I further delayed us when I saw a small herd of elk and made Sid stop so I could take pictures. He just smiled and said I played the tourist role very well.

While we were checking in to the hotel, I noticed on the sign board that Old Faithful was about to blow.

“Come on,” I said, pulling on Sid’s elbow. “Let’s go see it.”

“I’d rather get settled first.” Sid put his charge card back in his wallet.

“But you know how one thing leads to another. I don’t want to take a chance on missing it.”

“I seriously doubt we will. There is a reason they call it Old Faithful.”

“Please?” I blinked twice.

He weakened. “But what about our luggage?”

“I can have the bellhop take it up for you while you’re watching Old Faithful,” said the desk clerk. “You can call for the key here when you’re ready.”

“Great,” I said excitedly and grabbed Sid’s hand. “We will.”

Sid refused to be dragged, insisting instead on holding me back. His pace was maddeningly slow. Still, we joined the crowd surrounding the geyser in plenty of time.

By the time Old Faithful finished blowing, it was getting close to three fifteen. Sid made the check in call, then we got settled into our room. I suggested an early dinner. Sid wasn’t all that hungry after nibbling all day in the car but agreed amiably. He didn’t eat much. I did. We ate in the hotel dining room, relaxing and taking our time. It was five fifteen when we walked back into the lobby. I noticed that Old Faithful was due to blow and tried to talk Sid into watching.

“Why do you want to see it again?” he asked, chuckling.

“Why not? It’ll be fun.”

But as I looked outside the windows, I noticed the crowds walking away from the geyser.

“She blew early,” I heard someone remark.

“Too bad,” replied Sid.

I continued gazing at the people heading our way when suddenly my heart froze.

“Oh no,” I gasped.

“What’s the matter?” Sid asked in a low voice, sensing my urgency.

“My parents.”

“What?”

“They’re here.”

I pointed to where Mama and Daddy were in the crowd. They were with another couple that was vaguely familiar to me. It had to be the Shakespeares.

“What the hell are they doing here?” Sid growled in shock.

“Mama said they were coming. It’s part of some timeshare thing Daddy’s thinking about getting into. But Mama said they were coming next month.”

“Have you talked to them since Washington?”

“No.”

“Then you talked them in May,” Sid snarled. “This is June. It’s next month.”

“Oh, help. What are we going to do?”

“Good question.”

“Maybe we ought to just brazen it out.”

“Do you want to try to explain to your father why we are sharing a room and wearing wedding bands and using phony names?”

I paled. “Are you kidding? He’d tear you apart in no time. Oh my god, they’re coming in here.”

Sid noticed an open stairway on one end of the huge room. It led to two lofts, one above the other, overlooking the lobby. We scrambled up to the uppermost loft. Just as we reached it, I looked down and saw my parents and their friends entering the lobby.

“Stay away from the edge,” Sid hissed.

He pulled me back into the shadows of the dimly lit loft. I looked around. Scattered about were well-cushioned love seats and chairs.

“Damn,” Sid growled. “They’re coming up here.”

“We’re trapped.” Then a ray of hope dawned. “Maybe they won’t come all the way up.  Mama can’t stand heights.”

“But what are we going to do if they come up here?”

“What are you asking me for? You’re the boss.”

“Real cute. We’d better ditch these rings just in case. Damn, I’ve never had a cover blown before.”

“Wait a minute. It may not be blown.” An idea congealed as I gazed about the loft.

“How?”

“Now this is going to sound like a B-rate movie, but…”

“We don’t have time for lengthy explanations.”

“Would you be able to recognize that couple over there if you saw them again?” I pointed to a dark corner, where two young people were necking.

“You know, I think you’ve got something.”

“And most people wouldn’t look that closely. It’d be too embarrassing.”

“Hell, I don’t even look.” He stopped and looked at me, concerned. “You don’t mind, do you?”

I swallowed. “As long as it’s perfectly clear that it’s strictly in the line of duty.”

“Of course. Uh oh, they’re coming up.”

Sid and I made for the nearest dark corner.

“Let’s see, my back isn’t as familiar as yours, so you sit here.” He sat me down facing the stairway and sat down, next to me and turned.

“You can put your hands on my face to help hide it,” I said nervously. “And I’ll put my arms around your neck to help hide your face.”

“Good idea.” And we positioned ourselves accordingly.

I looked at him.

“You won’t get any ideas, now?” I asked.

“Never.”

“And you won’t get carried away?”

“Strictly business, I promise.” He glanced over his shoulder quickly. “Here they come.”

He moved in. It was strictly business, too. Thinking about it later, I got very disgusted with myself. I had always wanted to do a little necking with Sid, although I never told him. I was too afraid of what it would lead to. But there I was, necking with Sid, with a virtual guarantee that nothing would come of it and do you think I took advantage of it? No. I was too busy trying to follow my parent’s movements. I strained to catch every sound I could. I peeked through half-closed eyelids.

“Now, Bill, you stay away from that edge,” I heard Mama drawl.

“Althea, there’s a good strong railing here,” Daddy replied. “I ain’t gonna fall.”

“Then don’t lean over it and don’t tell me not to worry. You know how I am about edges. And heights, too. I don’t see why we had to come up here.”

“It’s a nice view.” I assumed that was Bill Shakespeare.

“These men are so thoughtless,” said Dottie, Mr. Shakespeare’s wife. “Come on, Althea, we’ll wait for them downstairs.”

“Well, we’ll come down with you,” Daddy drawled. “This place is worse than a drive-in movie.”

“Now, Bill,” Dottie laughed. “Don’t Althea and you want to join them?”

“This here’s a public place.” Daddy didn’t sound in the least perturbed. “Althea and I don’t need to do that kind of stuff in public.”

“I wonder if he does it at all,” Sid muttered.

I took a chance and kicked him in the shin.

The voices trailed away. Sid carefully looked over his shoulder.

“Okay, they’re gone.” He pulled away.

“Low blow, boss,” I growled, still steaming.

“Alright, it was a tacky cut.” He stood up. “I apologize.”

“Apology accepted.” I let him help me up.

We cautiously went to the head of the stairs and watched them descend. It took forever. As they got to the main floor of the lobby, they headed for the door. We took a chance and went down the stairs, just far enough to keep them in view. We came all the way down when they got into a car and drove off.

“Whew,” I sighed in relief. “Oh, be calm my beating heart.”

“That was too close.”

“Well, we’re safe.”

“For how long?” Sid headed for the desk and I followed.

“It’s a big park.”

“Well, I’m not taking any chances. We’re going to our room now and staying there unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out.”

“Terrific.” I sulked.

The room was small. The bathroom had only a sink, toilet, and cramped shower stall. About the only thing the room had going for it was the pair of twin beds. Sid wasn’t very thrilled about sleeping in a twin-size, but he had to admit it was better than the floor.

“Shades of New Orleans,” I grumbled. “We’re gonna go nuts.”

“They’re your parents.”

“It’s not my fault.” I sat sulking on one of the beds.

Sid gazed at me with a strange look on his face.

“What are you looking at?” I asked, grumpily.

“You. I’m trying to analyze what happened while we were necking.”

“Nothing.”

“Are you sure?” His tone was not challenging, more like he wanted to know.

I thought for a moment. “Yes. Nothing happened. I was too busy trying to keep track of my folks.”

“Same here. In fact, I’m afraid I shortchanged you. I could have made a better effort.”

“Well, it’s alright by me that you didn’t.”

“We’d better file that little trick for future reference. It might come in handy again.”

I shrugged. Gloomily, I found myself gazing at the phone. Then I got an idea.

“I’ll call Mae,” I said, reaching for the phone. “She’ll know when they’re going to leave.”

“Not from that phone,” interrupted Sid. “It’s too easy to trace.”

“Well, we’ve got to do something. We can’t just stay here. The hotel staff’ll notice and I know they’ll talk.”

“They’ll just have to.”

“Sid, Yellowstone is not the sort of place where people stay in their rooms, and it was blatantly obvious, we aren’t honeymooners.”

“I know. But the whole park isn’t even open yet. That increases the odds of our running into them again.”

“But I have to make that drop, and there’s check in.”

“Alright, I’ll go. They won’t recognize me as easily.”

“Try again. Mama’d spot you just as easily as she would me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Those lovely distinctive features of yours. On top of that, Mama says you’re a dead ringer for some old boyfriend of hers.”

“She’s never said anything to me about that.”

“And she never will. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to tell you.” I mimicked my mother. “‘Tisn’t nice.”

“What?”

“Any relation to you would be probably on the wrong side of the blankets.”

“Big deal.”

“To Mama it is. She didn’t want to cause trouble. I didn’t have the nerve to tell her you were born on the wrong side of the blankets and never really cared. She did tell me the name of the gentleman in question. A John something. Caponetti.”

“Hoping to track down my erstwhile father, I presume?” Sid smiled gently and shook his head. “It won’t do any good. I got all my distinctive features from my mother.”

“How do you know?”

“Because Stella and I look almost exactly alike, and I do have a photograph of my mother somewhere. When we get home, I’ll dig it up for you.”

“Oh, and your baby pictures too.” I smiled happily, somehow forgetting our current dilemma.

Sid shook his head. “I have no baby pictures. We were too broke for a camera and Stella didn’t care, anyway. I may have one of my senior pictures around and I’ve got my high school yearbooks. But that’s about it. Something about being in the spy business made me rather camera shy after that.”

“Wow. That’s weird. You should see all the pictures of us that Mama has.”

“Which is very nice, I’m sure. But speaking of your mother…”

“What are we going to do about that?” I looked at Sid hopefully.

He shrugged.

“Play a lot of cards,” he said.

Later, as I was getting my nightgown and robe from my suitcase, I noticed a tuft of blonde hair sticking out of a pocket. I checked to see if Sid was looking. He was absorbed in a hand of solitaire. Smiling, I pulled the wig out and slipped it between the folds of my robe.

Before I left the bathroom, I put the wig on.

“It’s all yours,” I said, coming out.

“Thanks.” Sid glanced up at me, then dropped the cards he was holding and stared, squinting.

“You’re not going to laugh, are you?” I asked feeling very foolish.

“No.” He stood, and looked at me more closely. “I think you’ve found the solution to our problem.” He paused. “I am a little worried, though. Is that really going to get you past your parents? Keep in mind, your face is particularly familiar to them.”

“Well, I also have a pair of those indoor/outdoor sunglasses and I have some tricks I can do with my makeup. I have to cover up my eye, anyway.”

“That might just do the trick.”

“Now, if there was just something for you.” I pulled off the wig and laid it on top of my suitcase. “How long would it take you to grow a beard?”

“We’ll be out of here by the time it was grown enough.”

“How about glasses?”

“Well, I do have a pair, but A- I seriously doubt they’d be that effective as a disguise and B- I can’t see out of them anyway.”

“Why not?”

“I think it’s because I’ve been wearing contact lenses exclusively for so long. You have to focus differently with glasses and my eyes just won’t anymore.”

“It sounds to me like a bad prescription.”

Sid shrugged. “Who cares? I never wear the things anyway. I hate how I look in them.”

“I’ll bet they’re not that bad.”

“That is irrelevant. I don’t like how I look and that is enough.”

“Could you put them on for me?”

“Why?”

“I want to see how you look in them.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m curious.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Come on, Sid, please.”

Sid shook his head and rolled his eyes skyward, but he walked over to his suitcase.

“For crying out loud.” He pulled out a simple brown eyeglass case. He slipped out the glasses and put them on. The frames were dark but very stylish. “Are you satisfied?”

“I like them. They make you look very intellectual. You really look good.”

Disgusted, Sid pulled them off his face, jammed them back into the case and put the case back where it belonged.

“Sorry, it won’t work. I still won’t wear them, unless absolutely necessary.”

“Doesn’t it feel funny when you put them on with your contacts?”

“I took my lenses out while you were in the bathroom. My eyes were getting sore.”

I got into bed as Sid came over to his bed and picked up the cards he’d dropped. I watched him fondly. He neatly put the deck in its box and then, looking up, somehow caught me gazing at him. We looked at each other for a long moment, then he smiled warmly and headed for the bathroom.

I had the weirdest dream that night. I was walking down an aisle that split in the middle. One aisle led to an altar with a priest waiting and another man, my groom. The other aisle led to a platform with a group of people in caps and gowns sitting on it, my PH.D. Then out of nowhere Rory Sheidler and George Hernandez came up and took me to a park. There they each took turns kissing me. But then Sid came up and they stepped aside. Sid held me and began kissing me also, albeit more passionately. Then all three men ran away and Daddy was chasing them. I tried to hide, but I couldn’t. Daddy started after me. I ran as fast as I could, but it was in slow motion. I looked back and it wasn’t Daddy chasing me but an army of strange, shadowy men, all with guns. I ran even harder, but couldn’t go any faster. I ran and ran.

I woke up. My legs twitched. I sat up in bed and looked around the dark room. Sid was babbling away in his sleep. He’d been doing that the whole trip, talking in sleep, that is. I’d never said anything to him about it. But I was beginning to wonder if it had something to do with why only a few of his girlfriends stayed the night. I was having enough trouble sleeping through it and I wasn’t even in the same bed.

I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. Sid rolled over and began chuckling.

“Come on, come on, come on,” I heard him mutter. He sighed happily. “Oh, Lisa.”

I looked at him shocked. Then I realized I’d been dreaming about him. I felt my face growing hot. He snorted and rolled over again, remaining silent. I laid back down again. Surprisingly, I fell asleep almost immediately.

If Sid had been somewhat skeptical about the wig Monday night, Tuesday afternoon he was even more so.

“Having them catch us would be bad enough,” he said, about mid-morning. “If they catch you in some crazy disguise, it’ll really be awkward.”

“It fooled you at first.”

“But A- I didn’t have my contacts in and B- I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Well, neither are my folks. They don’t know I’m here. Why should they look twice at a blonde with glasses and heavy makeup? Besides, I know some contouring tricks that’ll make my face look different.”

“Where did you learn that?”

“High school drama classes. I was the main make-up person.”

“Well, I suppose. I still don’t trust disguises. It’s too hard to get out of trouble if you’re caught.”

“I won’t get caught, then.” I pulled out my makeup case.

Sid picked up his pen and folder from the nightstand.

“Well, the drop’s not till tonight,” he said, watching me start to apply my make-up with a disapproving eye.

“We’ve got check in coming up, and I’m going to call Mae.”

“I don’t know if you should call her at all.”

“Sid, I’ve been gone almost three weeks. She’ll be worried if I don’t call soon, and she’ll probably start asking questions, too.”

“Alright. Do what you want.” Sid sounded perturbed.

“Sid, are you alright?” I asked. “You’re not getting horny already are you?”

“Oh, no.” He looked at me. “I’m just feeling a little like a caged animal, I guess.”

“My sympathies. I know how it feels.”

Sid just shook his head and returned to his work.

The check in call was pretty standard. I hung up and called my sister.

“Hello?” Mae did sound rather distant.

“Hi, Big Sis, it’s me.”

“Lisa. It’s about time. How are you?”

“Oh, fine. How’s it going with you?”

“Really good. Of course, Darby and Janey are a little wired ‘cause school’s almost out and the others are picking up on it. But they haven’t torn down the house yet. I figure if I can just hang on for the next three months, I’ll have Ellen in kindergarten and just the twins to deal with.”

“Ellen’s in kindergarten already? It just doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since you first brought her home from the hospital.”

“I was thinking the same thing last week when I registered her. Still, she doesn’t start ‘till September. I’m beginning to think it’s going to be a long summer.”

“Why?”

Mae laughed. “Just my active, healthy children. Yesterday morning I left the twins playing in the backyard while I was cleaning up after breakfast. There’s nothing back there for them to get into trouble with. So, naturally, they couldn’t stay there.”

“Naturally. But I thought you kept the gate latched.”

“I do. I don’t know how, but they unlatched it. Anyway, I got this phone call from Carol Lester, they’re down at the end of the block and she’s having fits because Mitch is down there teasing Roddy’s whippets. I went running down there to get him, wondering where Marty had gotten off to. The little rascal, he was digging up the Lesters’ flower bed looking for buried treasure.”

“Oh, no.” I was laughing.

“For once there wasn’t too much damage, thank heavens. Carol was having kittens over the whippets as it was. They baby them too much, if you ask me. It’s no wonder they’re so high strung, and they’re so skinny, too. Ugly dogs.”

“They’re built for racing.”

“Whatever. Anyway, when I got the boys back to the house, there was Ellen in the middle of a mess, as usual. This time she’d decided she wanted a drink of grape juice and had spilled the whole pitcherful all over the kitchen floor. When I got back, she was dropping slices of bread into the juice because she said they soaked it up just like paper towels.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish. She ruined over half a loaf. And before I could clean everything up, the twins got into it and the three of them tracked grape juice onto the family room carpet. I’m thanking God they didn’t go into the dining room. We’re having Jack Laird’s birthday party here Friday night. Granted, they’re all people from the church, but you know how it is.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“So, where have you been? I haven’t heard from you since before you went on that retreat.”

“I’ve just been really busy. But listen, the reason I called is that I’m wondering where Mama and Daddy are. They’re not in Florida or Tahoe. That’s not like them to leave Tahoe at this time of year.”

“Oh no, they’re in Yellowstone Park. I talked to them the other day. Remember Bill and Dottie Shakespeare? They had those three boys, one of them was kind of stuck on you?”

“Oh, them.” I groaned in disgust at the memory of those really awful boys. “What about them?”

“Well, Bill Shakespeare’s got some big timeshare investment. I don’t remember all of it, anyway, they brought Mama and Daddy out there to check it out.”

“Oh. So when are they going to be home?”

“They leave Yellowstone tomorrow morning. They’ve got to get back to Tahoe. Mama wants me to call her again on Wednesday when they’re more or less settled in.”

“I might call then too. But don’t tell them that. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to. Look, I’ve gotta run. Give my love to the kids. Bye.”

I hung up fast before Mae could ask any questions. I turned and looked around the big, echoing foyer I was in. A second later, my father appeared from one of the hallways. He seemed to be looking for something. When he saw me, he looked at me for a moment puzzled. He looked down the other hall, then back at me. Shaking his head, he withdrew.

I found out later, he’d heard the last couple of sentences of my phone call, had recognized my voice and come looking for me. He was surprised to find nobody but a “blonde tart”. Mama insists it was his imagination, especially after what happened that night, when I went to make the drop.

My contact was Daniel Pusnell, six three, blonde hair, green eyes, football player figure. He’d been with Quickline since its inception in the 1960’s and was considered the cleanest of everybody in the suspect tree. His cover was as director of concession sales, and he lived in a small cabin just outside of the National Park.

I didn’t see him, or anyone else worth noting when I first walked into the bar at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. I sat down at the bar and ordered a ginger ale. About twenty minutes later, Pusnell stepped up to me and asked me what I was drinking.

“Swamp water,” I replied, smiling coolly.

“I’ve been looking for someone drinking that.” He smiled.

I furtively slipped my hand into my purse and handed him the envelope.

“Now do me a favor and make tracks,” I said.

“Sure thing. You might consider doing the same thing. That tall guy over at the table near the moose head has been staring at you since you walked in.”

“Thanks. I’ll watch out for him.”

Pusnell returned to his friends, smiling and shaking his head. They laughed rather crudely. Slowly I turned to see who was staring at me. It was my father.

He was sitting with Mr. Shakespeare. They’d been friends in Tahoe, which is kind of surprising because Bill is loud and rowdy and a little radical and Daddy doesn’t usually like that type. What drew them together is that they’re both named after old English playwrights. Bill Shakespeare has the worst time of it, though. Very few people have heard of the Restoration playwright, William Wycherly.

I wasn’t sure if Daddy recognized me. I didn’t think so. But he was trying to. I knew I had to throw him off. I tried to think of the last thing I, as myself, would ever do. Hanging around Sid had certainly rubbed off on me. I put on what I thought was a sexy smile and blew a kiss at my father.

His brow wrinkled and he glared at me. I smiled again and ran my tongue along my teeth. That did it. He stopped staring.  With a very affected sigh, I left the bar. When I got back to the car, I sat behind the wheel for five minutes before I could stop shaking enough to drive.

Sid laughed when I told him what happened.

“You came on to your father?” he gasped. “I don’t believe it.”

“That was the point,” I snapped. “It was the last thing I’d ever do.”

“That is priceless.” Sid sank onto his bed chuckling helplessly. “I wish I could have seen it, oh, I wish.”

“Well, it was pretty scary when it was happening.”

“I can imagine. But to see you come on to anybody, and on top of that, your father. I wish I could have seen his face. It must have been something else.”

As I thought about it, it had been. In spite of my irritation, I found myself giggling. Sid looked at me and we both burst out laughing. I hurried into the bathroom to take off my makeup and get ready for bed.

As I came out, I saw Sid sitting on the edge of his bed, dealing out a hand of solitaire onto mine. He was smiling to himself in a way that made him look particularly handsome. My camera was close at hand. I picked it up, grabbed the flash unit and retreated into the bathroom, so he wouldn’t hear the faint whine of the strobe warming up. After slipping the flash unit in place, I set the shutter speed.

“I thought you were finished,” I heard Sid call.

“I forgot something.” I hoped he hadn’t moved.

Fortunately, he hadn’t. I focused quickly.

“Sid.”

“What?”

In a brief second, he looked up and I released the shutter. A second later he was recoiling and blinking from the flash.

“What did you do that for?” he groaned.

“I just realized I didn’t have any pictures of you.”

“It’s just as well.”

“No, it isn’t. I’d like to have a picture of you.”

“There aren’t any of you.”

“I’m taking them all.”

“Then hand over that camera.”

“No.”

Sid came over to me. “Why not?”

“I don’t like having my picture taken.”

“Neither do I. Give me the camera.”

“Not now.” Switching off the strobe, I walked away from him over to my suitcase. “I just washed my face and it’s all blotchy, and my hair’s dirty, and I’m in my nightclothes.”

“Will you let me tomorrow?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t photograph well. Really, I don’t. I guess I just don’t have that much to work with.”

“Are you still bugged about that stupid woman yesterday?”

“No. I hadn’t even thought about that.” But suddenly, remembering the incident brought tears to my eyes. “But maybe I am. No. It’s not that so much as… Well, Sid, I guess what hurt so badly was that, well, all my life I’ve been good looking, but not really pretty. I’ve been smart, but no genius. I tell you, being in the bottom half of the top ten percent is really the pits. I hate second place. I’m sick of it. At the end of my junior year in high school, I ran for senior class president. We had a run-off between me and this other guy. It was close, but he won. I just barely missed getting on the pep squad. I almost got into Chamber Singers. The only reason I got to play Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun my senior year was because the other girl who’d been cast broke her leg skiing two weeks before dress rehearsals. I didn’t even get my name in the program ‘cause they’d already been sent to the printer. In college, I almost got the department scholarship. My thesis was almost published. Darn it, Sid, I know I’m pretty. I’m just not pretty enough. I know I’m smart, just not smart enough. I’m good. I’m just not good enough.” I sank down onto the bed sobbing.

Sid sat down next to me and put his hand on my back.

“Lisa,” he said, softly. “You’re good enough for me.”

“Am I?”

“Yes.” He reached over to my suitcase, pulled out a small travel packet of tissues and handed it to me. “We all have our moments of self-doubt. But don’t give in to it. You are beautiful. You are intelligent. You’re extremely competent. Based solely on the work you do with the business and with my writing, you are invaluable to me. As a friend, well, you’re the only person who’s ever broken through.”

I sniffed and wiped away my tears. “Thanks, Sid. I just wish I had more of your self-confidence.”

“You do?” He smiled gently, then looked away. “That’s funny. You know, there’s a reason I don’t like having my picture taken, and it has nothing to do with the spy business.”

“Oh, you don’t think you’re…”

“Not always.” He looked at me. “Heaven knows I hear otherwise often enough. But I’m not convinced. I guess I have my moments too.” He paused and looked away again. “There are days when I wonder if I really am that good looking, that good of a writer or spy, if I’m really that good in bed.”

I couldn’t reply. I knew how much it had cost him to say what he had. Wordlessly, I put my arms around him and laid my head on his shoulder. He slipped his arm closest to me around my waist and with his other hand, stroked my cheek. Gently, he rubbed his cheek across my hair. I felt his gentle kiss on the top of my head. His hand slid to my chin. He lifted it and my head to face him.

“I’d better get ready for bed,” he said, quietly.

I released him. Sorrowfully, he got up. He paused for a moment, then shook his head and went to get ready for bed. Frustrated, for some reason, I grabbed my book of Victorian poets and turned to Tintern Abbey. I flopped face down on my bed, yawned, and began to read. I heard the shower going in the bathroom.

I was barely a third of the way through the poem when I began to nod off. Soon, it was impossible for me to keep my eyes open, or to make sense of what I was reading. Strange images filled my head; of the abbey, the grassy fields, cliffs, and Sid in Dickensonian dress.

I was only dimly aware of the book being removed from my hands, of being lifted by strong, gentle arms and set down again. I curled up comfortably. The hands returned again, this time deftly removing my robe. I was lifted again. I snuggled in. My forehead and my cheek rested against flesh. It was warm and smooth. I was laid back down again and the blankets were pulled gently over me. A hand tenderly removed the hair from my face and brushed against my cheek. Then his lips caressed mine, tenderly, gently, warmly. They were soft and I reached for more.

I opened my eyes and found myself looking into his beautiful blue eyes as he pulled away.

“I’m sorry,” he said, very softly. “I didn’t mean to wake you. But you looked so lovely.”

I reached out and touched his cheek. My fingers brushed over the beard that was just barely starting to come in, to the softness just above it.

“You are beautiful,” I replied. His hand covered mine and pulled it down to his lips. Gently, he kissed the backs of my fingers. “Maybe a little too beautiful,” I continued. “For my own good. Goodnight, Sid.”

He kissed my fingers one more time before releasing them.

“Don’t worry.” He smiled gently. “Not without your permission. Goodnight, Lisa.”

I rolled over, perilously close to saying yes. Later that night I dreamed I had. I don’t remember much of the dream, just his warm, gentle kisses.

[And all I could think of that night was how wonderful it felt just to hold you next to me. It’s funny, for all you said you were on the brink of giving in, I knew you were nowhere near ready, and I couldn’t understand why, but it didn’t bother me. Many other times that trip, I felt frustrated and fearful that we would not have our consumation, but not then – SEH]

Judy Alter Looks at Sparking Up an Established Series

Please welcome to the blog today author Judy Alter. She’s best known for her fictional biographies of Women of the American West, as well as the Kelly O’Connell mysteries. Today, however, she’s sharing with us how she set up the plot for her third Blue Plate Café mystery series. You can find out more about Ms. Alter on her website judyalter.com.

Judy Alter

When I sat down to write Murder at Peacock Mansion, third in the Blue Plate Mystery Series, the framework of the Blue Plate Mystery Series was already set firmly in place by two previous novels, Murder at the Blue Plate Café and Murder at Tremont House. Kate Chambers is settled back in her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, running her grandmother’s Blue Plate Café. Busy with local life—and scandals and murders—she no longer misses the high life in Dallas.

Her love/hate relationship with her sister is ever-present, as is Donna’s husband, Tom, in his role of good guy. The dog Huggles is firmly in place—and would become a player in Peacock. Also established was Kate’s penchant for getting involved in situations she shouldn’t. She solved the murder of her beloved Gram, and she untangled the twisted story behind a woman who came to Wheeler posing as a journalist but really motivated by her own anger and jealousy.

Each time Kate promised to ignore trouble . . . and then found she could not sit idly by when things in her town went awry. Murder at Peacock Mansion is not a romance. It’s a cozy mystery, per most definitions I know, with the requisite single female who is an amateur sleuth. But like many cozies, the series has a fairly strong element of romance. In Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Kate, who expected to be dateless in Wheeler, found herself courted by three men, each in his own way. By book three, Dave Millican, the nursery owner who always had dirt under his fingernails and on his clothes but who had a soft heart for Kate and Huggles both, has left the action. Similarly, Rick Samuels, the uptight ex-Dallas policemen who became Wheeler’s chief of police, has moved on, puzzled that for all their attraction to each he and Kate never quite clicked.

That leaves David Clinkcscales, Dallas lawyer and Kate’s former boss. He has moved to the Wheeler area to get away from the city and his recent divorce, and he and Kate find themselves enjoying each other’s company outside the office. They become a couple, quietly moving into Kate’s house, despite Donna’s frowns of disapproval, and cooperating on Kate’s capers with the law—or the lawless. So how could I make Murder at Peacock Mansion new? Plot and intrigue. The story comes straight out of my own neighborhood, where a huge, dark and shuttered house is known by local kids as “the murder house” because the reclusive woman who lives there was accused years earlier of killing her husband. Acquitted she was allowed to stay in the house as long as she lived; after her death, it would revert to the heirs. I took that kernel of a story and ran with it, moving the house to East Texas and creating a complicated and often greedy set of heirs. Things get more complicated when the recluse’s first husband turns up—dead, and Kate and her friends are confined to her own house for their safety. The peacocks? They just showed up one day.

You can buy Murder at Peacock Mansion at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Seven

June 1, 1983

 

Wednesday morning I woke up stiff. Sid made me do stretching exercises to relieve it.

“So what now?” I asked after we both were dressed.

“Nothing.” Sid picked up the phone and dialed. “This is room two-eighteen. I’d like to order breakfast… Yes, the fresh fruit with whole wheat toast for two, a glass of prune juice.” He glared at me as I giggled. “And a glass of orange juice. Oh, and I want the toast dry with butter on the side… Thank you.” He hung up. “You need to recover so you are staying put today.”

“Then you are, too. It’s not fair that I have to stay cooped up, while you’re out having a good time.”

“I suppose.”

Room service showed up pretty quickly.

“We’ll leave the dishes in the hall,” Sid told the waiter, tipping him.

After breakfast, Sid pulled out the deck of cards.

“Gin today?” he asked, shuffling them.

We were almost evenly matched. He never really slaughtered me, but he did usually win.

“Let’s not keep score,” I said, setting up the little night table between us. We sat on the edge of our beds, facing each other.

“Why not?” Sid shuffled and began dealing.

“I’m tired of seeing how badly I’m losing.”

“You’re not that bad.”

I wasn’t. But Sid is very good at gin rummy because he has a good memory for details, which helps him remember which cards have been played. A plan formed in my head. If I could break his concentration…

“Maybe not,” I continued. “But what difference does it make if we keep score or not? I thought you communists were supposed to be noncompetitive.”

“I’m not a communist anymore. But alright. You can start anytime.”

I rearranged my cards and discarded the two of clubs. Sid picked it up. No big deal. He did that a lot of times, just to bug me.

“What was it like?” I asked.

“What was what like?” He dropped the ace of spades. I grabbed it and discarded the four of diamonds.

“Your education. You keep saying it wasn’t terribly structured. I know you went to a lot of private schools, and if you were so poor, I don’t know how you could have afforded it.”

“Stella taught at almost all of them. That’s how she supported us.”

“They were all communistic, too, weren’t they”

“Not all. Just radical. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I was normal.”

“Was it really different? I mean you read all this stuff about the sixties and everyone’s doing all sorts of strange things and taking their clothes off and all.”

Sid chuckled and absently drew from the pile.

“Some of that’s exaggerated,” he said, looking at his cards. “But I did spend a certain amount of time in the buff. Sex was no big thing either. If you felt like it, you did it. If not, you didn’t.”

“I bet you were at it all the time.”

“Not at first. Actually, I started relatively late.”

“How late?”

“Thirteen.”

“That’s late?”

“Well, you’ve got to bear in mind, I knew lots of kids who started as early as eleven. I think my initial indifference had a lot to do with Stella’s attitude. That, and well, with most people, puberty just sneaks up on you. With me, it was an explosion. One day, I couldn’t have cared less and the next day I couldn’t get enough.” Sid smiled as he lapsed into the memory. “Paula Frost. She came up to me one day and asked me why I was still a virgin. I said it just didn’t seem worth bothering with. Then she asked me if I wanted to know what all the excitement was about. I was a little curious at that point, so I said okay. After that…” He sighed.

“Gin,” I said, presenting my hand.

“Huh? Oh. Alright. It’s your deal.”

I dealt the cards. “So how’d you learn to read and all that stuff?”

“I don’t know. Depending on the school, we studied various things. Usually, they just let us learn what we wanted. I was rather fond of math and science. I guess I was desperate for structure. I’ve always been the well-ordered type. I didn’t get too much of it, though. That is one area radicals are notoriously weak in. That last school I went to had a good math teacher. He was gay. Tried coming on to me once, but I was having too much fun with the girls. He had a pretty steady lover, anyway.”

“How come you went to so many different schools?”

“They kept folding. Usually, there weren’t enough rich kids enrolled to support the ones that couldn’t afford it. Fortunately, Stella had enough idealistic friends to keep me steadily enrolled somewhere. Of course, the last school I went to before high school was closed by the Health, Education and Welfare Department. I don’t remember exactly why, but I think it had something to do with the fact that most of the kids couldn’t read.”

Sid discarded.

“Was that the ten of hearts you just dropped?” he asked, suddenly.

“I’ll never tell.” I reached over and lightly slapped his hand as he tried to remove the card he’d just discarded to see the card underneath. “No peeking, that’s cheating. So that’s why you ended up in a public high school.”

“That and the fact that Stella couldn’t get another job and had to go on welfare. Was she mad about that. Then the social worker butted in and said I had to go to a properly accredited school or they’d put me in a foster home. So I ended up at San Francisco High School. Talk about a culture shock. When I saw all the rules and regulations that came with the enrollment papers, I about died. Fortunately, the dress codes were still pretty strict, so I didn’t look that different when I arrived, which probably saved my neck. Before that, I had long hair and was generally pretty sloppy. Before school even started, I had to get my hair cut, get shoes, all that stuff. I remember reading the student handbook about a week before school started and thinking I was never going to make it.”

 

{This is from a creative writing class that Kathy dragged me to, but it’s all based on the original journal entry – ljw}

 

San Francisco High School. He’d passed by it many, many times before without giving it much thought. But now, the building seemed very imposing. Shaking his head, a very scared fourteen-year-old Sidney Hackbirn pushed his black horn-rimmed glasses up on his nose and swallowed. Being a freshman on the first day of school was bad enough. Being a freshman that was short, nearsighted, and (he thought) a little on the chubby side with a background totally different from the whirl of students around him, a background that had had no rules, that had been totally unstructured, was sheer misery.

Sid wasn’t entirely alone. Three other kids from his old school were in the same predicament. But what good were three people in a freshman class of over four hundred? That wasn’t even counting the students from the other three years.

Sid let the crowd of students carry him along and shuffle him through to the right spot to pick up his schedule. He already knew some jerk in an office somewhere had taken one look at where he was from and had dumped him in a remedial program, assuming he couldn’t read, write, or do math. It wasn’t an unfair assumption. Sid knew his three friends couldn’t. But Sid could, even if he didn’t know how well. Of course, they hadn’t bothered to test him.

Sid looked at the schedule with disgust. For the first time in his life, he had not chosen what he was going to learn. He’d had two electives, but Stella had chosen them for him: orchestra and French. He didn’t get to take French. He was a remedial student and had been given wood shop instead. First period was homeroom/social studies; second, math; third, English; fourth, orchestra; fifth, P.E.; and sixth, the despised wood shop.

He got through homeroom okay. A couple of girls giggled at his first name, but that had happened before. Mrs. Gridley was okay, even if she did get a little perturbed when Sid spoke out in class without raising his hand first. It wasn’t that he didn’t raise his hand that bothered her. It was that he asked her why he had to. He backed down when she threatened something called detention. He wasn’t trying to be rude, he just wanted to know.

Mr. Carson, the math teacher, promptly announced the homework for the next day. When the books were passed out, Sid opened his and started right in.

“Mr. Hackbirn,” growled Mr. Carson. “You do not write in your book.”

“Oh. Sorry. I’ll erase it.” Sid erased the pencil marks and then rewrote the problems on a sheet of binder paper.

“Mr. Hackbirn, in class you listen to the lecture and you do your homework at home.”

“But I know how to do the problems.”

“We’ll talk about it after class.”

After class, Sid got a lecture on not talking back to the teacher and on doing things at the right time.

English was a bore, but at least Sid didn’t get into trouble. In orchestra, Sid was told they already had a piano player, he would have to learn violin. Sid did not want to learn violin. For once, he did not say so. Mr. McCready did decide to find out how well Sid could play in the event they needed a backup. Upon assuring Mr. McCready he could sight read, Sid was presented with a piece of unfamiliar, but easy music. Sid played it through halfway as it was written, then began to improvise in a jazz style, something he did when his aunt wasn’t around. If it wasn’t classical, Stella frowned on it. Mr. McCready asked Sid to transpose it. It took a couple of seconds, but he did. Feeling like he was getting somewhere, Sid started showing off and launched into Flight of the Bumble Bee. Mr. McCready asked Sheila Warner, the piano player, if she’d mind working on the violin. Sid ran an appraising eye over Sheila. After class, he made a pass at her.

“Sidney Hackbirn, what to you think you’re doing?” she replied to him in shocked anger. “I’m a nice girl.”

“Yeah, I thought so too.” Sid was totally baffled by her reaction. “That’s why I…”

Sheila was on her way. He sighed and went to lunch. In the cafeteria, he met Doris Ames, the only girl he knew from his old school.

“Where’s Frank and Hector?” he asked, as they carried their trays to a table.

“I think they chickened out,” said Doris, in utter disgust. “I don’t blame them. What a bunch of clods they’ve got around here. All the guys are looking at me, drooling practically, and not one of them’s made a pass at me.”

“I believe it. I made a pass at a girl just now and she was furious. These people are weird.”

“Not one lousy pass.”

“I’ll make a pass at you after school.”

Doris smiled. “We’ll go to my house.”

“Okay.” Sid smiled. The day wasn’t going to be a total loss.

Sid got even more disgusted, as he sat listening to the other boys talk in the locker room before Mr. Quickly called the class to order. They were rank amateurs, most of them probably virgins. Even in the relatively short time he’d been fooling around, Sid had done more than the boys had ever dreamed of. Sid sighed and shook his head. There was no point in even bothering.

Mr. Quickly was a former Marine who hadn’t gotten it into his head that he had left the service. After a lecture on the importance of keeping fit, Mr. Quickly gave a pep talk on the armed forces, the Marine Corps in particular, and how great serving your time could be, especially in Viet Nam, where our boys, etc. He had all the boys except Sid, cheering.

“You’re not cheering,” Mr. Quickly growled at Sid.

“I’m a pacifist.”

“Oh, you are, are you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

Sid was completely baffled. “Yes, I am?”

“Are you trying to be smart?”

“No.”

“No what?” Mr. Quickly bellowed.

“No, I’m not trying to be smart. I don’t know.”

Mr. Quickly was scribbled furiously on a piece of paper which he shoved at Sid.

“Get to Mr. Frye’s office. Right now. Hop to it.”

Sid all but ran. He was completely frustrated and confused. Somehow he’d managed to get himself into trouble again and he didn’t even know what he’d done.

Mr. Frye was the principal, a kind, gentle man. He knew about the four radical kids who’d been recently enrolled. He wasn’t surprised to find one of them in his office.

“What happened?” he asked, after reading the note.

Sid told him. Mr. Frye nodded.

“Do you prefer Sid or Sidney?”

“Sid.”

“Alright, Sid. I think you know you’ve got a problem.”

“I just wish I knew what it was.”

“Nobody ever taught you how to behave in a classroom situation. It’s not your fault. But you’re going to have to learn and learn fast. It’s yes, sir or yes, ma’am; or no, sir or no, ma’am. That’s what Mr. Quickly wanted to hear.”

“Sir?”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“That’s another thing you’re going to have to watch. Asking why. In many ways, it shows you’re alert and trying to find out. But a lot of people don’t like it when you ask that.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“A lot of things don’t and you’re going to have to accept that, I’m afraid. Sid, you can waste a lot of time knocking the system, or you can work within it to change it. It’s up to you.

“Alright.”

At least the rules in wood shop made sense. The tools were dangerous if used improperly. Sid still couldn’t see any reason for being there in the first place. He was less than enthused about making a wooden trivet and correctly guessed that his aunt would be even less thrilled about having one.

After class let out, Sid headed for Doris’s apartment. About two blocks from the school, several boys from his P.E. class caught him and roughed him up. Later that night, as he mended his glasses with tape, Sid decided pacifism would be the first thing to go.

In the days that followed, Sid found himself tagged as gay. He also spent several afternoons sitting at his desk in various classrooms after school, enduring detention for a variety of misdemeanors, most of them involving the question “why”, and others involving comments that were either implied or directly sexual. When this first happened, Sid couldn’t figure it out. Nobody had ever told him there was anything wrong with sex. Mrs. Gridley explained, with much blushing, that one just didn’t talk about such things and that sex was for marriage. Sid decided not to mention that he’d always heard that marriage was a crock.

Life was getting more and more miserable for Sid. Being called a fag wouldn’t have bothered him, except that he knew he was considered the scum of the earth because of it, not to mention being beaten up all the time. The worst part, though, was that none of the girls would come near him and he was horny. Doris helped, but she wasn’t terribly interested in being associated with a fag, not when she was happily getting a reputation herself.

Then there was Stephanie. She was a junior. The Friday of the first week of school, she stopped a group of boys from picking on Sid. She innocently took him to her apartment, so he could clean up and have a snack. After she very innocently mentioned her parents were gone for the weekend, Sid had her. She had no idea what was happening until it was over. Then she cried and insisted Sid tell no-one. She was a nice girl and didn’t want a reputation. Sid finally found out what being a nice girl and having a reputation meant. He thought it was pretty stupid, but went along with it. He also got into the habit of stopping by her apartment every now and then.

By the third week of school, Doris was struggling with her work and about to go under. In desperation, she asked Sid for help.

“I’m sick of this,” she groaned after they’d been studying for a couple of hours. “Come on Sid, make love to me.”

“You’ve got to learn this stuff first. You want to stay with those clods forever?”

“No. I’m going to drop out anyway. I’m going to get pregnant.”

“Not by me, you’re not.”

Doris showed him her diaphragm. “See, I’m covered. Don’t worry. I’m going to really cause a ruckus when I do.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think I’m going to let one of the senior football players be the father. Can you imagine the scandal?”

“He’ll get off scot-free and you’ll get all the blame.”

“Not if I play my card right and I will. Come on, Sid, let’s forget about these books. You don’t study afternoons.”

“That’s because I’m ahead of everybody.”

“You poor thing. And they think you’re gay. What a joke.”

“It’s not funny. Being called gay really kills a guy’s love life. I just wish there was something I could do. Can’t you do some talking?”

“They won’t believe me. But I know who they will believe and she’s very good about talking. I’ve also heard she’s very good.”

“Who?”

“Liz Warner. She’s in your home room.”

“I’ve heard about her. Easy Lizzie. Aw, she wouldn’t look at me.”

“Screw her and your troubles are over, Sid. She’s probably dying for somebody decent, anyway. And you’re better than decent.”

“I am, huh?” Sid grinned and reached for Doris.

But how to get to Liz. That was the problem. Liz avoided Sid like the plague, as did everybody, terrified of guilt by association. Finally, Sid came up with a plan. A little research provided promising results. All he had to do was wait.

He didn’t have to wait long. One morning, near the end of September, Liz got herself put on detention by Mrs. Gridley. All Sid had to do was get on detention also. It wasn’t hard. All it took was one well-chosen comment about his mother’s unmarried state at his conception and birth.

That afternoon, Mrs. Gridley, as usual, spent her time correcting papers. With her thus occupied, Sid had plenty of time to work on Liz. She sat across the room from him, but no matter. Sid knew what he was doing. He spent many minutes just staring at her ample bosom. When Liz finally noticed him staring at her, he made a couple of insinuating gestures with his tongue. She looked at him like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Sid maintained the same maneuvers through the whole half hour.

Mrs. Gridley dismissed Sid first. He waited outside the door for Liz. She came out five minutes later.

“Come here, Liz,” said Sid, taking her arm and pulling her around a corner. “I’ve got to talk to you.”

“No way, faggot. I don’t want to be seen with you.”

“In the first place, I’m not a faggot. In the second place, there isn’t anybody here to see us. This place is deserted. I ought to know. I get on detention more than anybody.”

“Alright. What do you want?”

Sid backed her up against a wall and leaned over her.

“You.”

She gaped. “You were coming on to me in there.”

“You bet I was. I’m so horny even old Gridley’s looking good.”

“What are you? Bi?”

“No. I’m hetero. Very horny and very hetero. Give me fifteen minutes to an hour of your time and I’ll prove it to you like you’ve never had it before.”

Liz glared at him.

“Quit trying to act so cool,” she growled. “I know what you are. You’re just another horny freshman trying to lose his virginity on me. Well, I’m getting sick of it.”

“I bet you are. But who says I’m a virgin?”

Sid moved in and French kissed her.

“Does a virgin kiss like that?” His hands wandered confidently. “Does a virgin move like this, huh?” He slipped a hand underneath her blouse.

“Not here, you idiot,” she hissed pulling his hand out. “You want to get us suspended?”

“Come on, I know a place.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her. She followed willingly.

“Fifteen minutes to an hour, huh?” she asked.

“That’s up to you. How long you want it is how long I take.”

“You sure know how to talk.”

“I perform even better.”

Liz was impressed, very impressed, and she talked, too. Two days later, when Sid came into the locker room for P.E., the guys were waiting for him.

“Liz Warner says you’re no fag,” said Tom Freeman, the spokesman for the group.

“Uh-huh.”

“She also says you laid her.”

“Uh-huh.”

“She said you’re no virgin, either. In fact, she says you’re pretty good.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So what gives, Hackbirn?”

“I laid Liz Warner, several times. I’ve laid lots of girls.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not. You guys are all talk and I know it. I’ve messed around with more girls in one month than all you guys together have in all your lives. And you guys are calling me a fag?” Sid twirled the combination to his locker.

“How come you never talked about it?”

“In the first place, you wouldn’t have believed me. In the second place, when you’re doing it, you don’t need to talk about it.”

[This is also a corrected version, and it wasn’t that creative. That’s the way it happened – SEH]

 

“Gin,” I said, laying my cards down.

“Again?” It was the fourth hand I’d won since he’d started talking. He picked up the cards, shuffled and dealt them. “Anyway. I got invited to a party that weekend and needless to say, further developed my reputation. After a while when I’d disappear, someone would see which girl was missing and look for which bushes were shaking. I still got into trouble with the teachers a lot. But as long as my love life was secure, I didn’t care.”

“You sure got into a lot of trouble.”

“I only got suspended twice, once when Quickly had a surprise inspection of the P.E. lockers and found my, uh, birth control hidden there. That was spring, my sophomore year. Mr. Frye was happy I was being responsible but had to suspend me because Quickly was making such a fuss. Then I got suspended when I was caught with Liz Warner. We weren’t really caught in the act, just the preliminaries. But it was Mrs. Gridley who caught us and she nearly had a heart attack.”

“Did you ever get out of the remedial classes?”

“Are you kidding? I was there less than two months and I was promoted to the gifted program. I got out of wood shop then, too. Didn’t get to take French, though. Not that I minded. I TA’d for Mr. McCready and ended up playing keyboard for a student jazz combo he put together. I also accompanied the choirs and the school plays. Outside of class time, if I wasn’t chasing girls, I was playing piano. The girls still didn’t want to be seen with me. I had a reputation and they didn’t want one. I found out, though, that most of those nice girls, including Sheila White, were perfectly willing to submit to me as long as no-one knew about it. Except for Stephanie. She really was a nice girl and would have stayed one if I hadn’t caught her off guard. I felt kind of bad about that. She said she only slipped with me, but that I was worth it.”

“That’s nice. Gin.”

“Okay. Your deal. And now you can spill your guts.”

“What?” I shuffled the cards.

“You’ve distracted me long enough. It’s your turn to lose a few hands.”

I smiled. I should have known he was on to me all along.

“So what do you want to know?” I asked, dealing.

“About your life, I guess.”

“It was pretty boring compared to yours.”

“I doubt it. There were a lot of things that I consider boring about my life.”

“Maybe. But my life, except for the resort, was very conventional.”

“Conventional is a little outside my experience.”

“I don’t know. It was pretty much like your high school days. Only I was a genuine nice girl. I didn’t even go to a parochial high school, cause it was too far away. We had a Catholic elementary and I went there, but I went to South Lake Tahoe High. Actually, a resort town is kind of an interesting place, especially Tahoe, which doesn’t really have an off-season. There’s always a lot of people around there, but very few of them live there. Everything revolves around tourists. My life centered on Daddy’s business. Not that I was working all the time. I did a lot of things, and I had several friends. I liked to read a lot. Mama, Daddy, and Mae used to take turns reading to me when I was little, especially when I was sick. Then I started reading to them. Mama also taught me how to knit then. I was probably pretty young to learn, but she couldn’t think of anything else to keep me occupied and quiet at the same time while I was getting well.”

“Gin.”

“Oh. Your deal. Anyway, I was half a tomboy. I liked hiking and water sports and skiing and horseback riding. But I liked my dolls, too. Mama also saw to it that I learned to cook and clean and housewife stuff, in general. I guess that’s why I come off so domesticated.”

“You do indeed.”

“It’s kind of a problem for me. Everyone thinks I want to get married. But I don’t. There was a time when I did. When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I wanted to be a housewife and mother. That was when Women’s Lib started getting big. I looked at what they were saying and I realized I didn’t want to be a traditional housewife. I still planned on getting married, but I also planned on running Daddy’s business for him when he retired.”

“Was he going to let you?”

“I never told him my plans. I just started helping out more. From the time I was twelve and a half, I did a little bit of everything on that resort. The summer between my sophomore and junior year, I worked in my daddy’s gift shop on the main drag, and every summer after that, until I got my teaching job. Then I was a ski instructor in the winter. I enjoyed it.”

“What changed your mind?”

“My literature course in college and I guess my high school days did, too. I liked school and planned on going to college, preferably one away from Tahoe. Mae and Neil got married when I was fourteen and I used to go down and visit sometimes. I think that had a lot to do with it. I began to realize that all these people who came to our resort came from real places. I got curious and wanted to see the world.”

“That’s funny. You never struck me as the world traveler type.”

“What type do I strike you as?”

“I don’t know.” He gazed at me thoughtfully. “A nice girl, I guess. But you’re not the popular cheerleader type. I know their kind a little too well.”

“Hey, watch it. My best girlfriend was a cheerleader and she was just as well behaved as I was. I had friends in high school. But I still felt lonely a lot of times. I used to blame it on the fact that my daddy’s place had horses and all the girls only liked me for that. Looking back I can see now that was true only in a very small number of cases. I was different than most of the girls at school. They tended to run to extremes. About half the girls were fast with the boys, and they looked down on me because I didn’t believe in going all the way. The other half were even worse prudes than I was. I mean these girls were ridiculous. There was a group of them, and I promise you, this is true, that were so hung up that they spent their time trying to think up different ways they could avoid sleeping in the same bed with their husbands on their honeymoons. Sex wasn’t even a possibility.”

“They didn’t.”

“They did. I listened to them once at a slumber party and asked if that was all they talked about. They were flabbergasted. They couldn’t even think of anything else. I was considered a wanton woman because I let guys kiss me.”

“Oh my, such a loose woman. I wouldn’t have thought that you even dated.”

“I’ve been known to neck a little. Of course, I made it very clear from the start what the limits were. That still didn’t stop a lot of guys. Sure, I had boyfriends. I remember my first one, Les Rickert. He was a dog. But I was just a freshman and totally thrilled that a boy actually liked me. It lasted two weeks. I realized I was more in love with having a boyfriend than him so I told him to get lost. He was the first guy that ever kissed me. It was pretty bad. He was also the only guy I ever broke up with. After Les, they broke up with me.”

“Why?”

“Come on, Sid. How long would you have gone steady with a girl that showed no sign of going all the way?”

“I never went steady. But I get the point. No performance, no boyfriend.”

“Precisely. It was very depressing. I began to wonder if anybody liked me for me. It didn’t take long before they gave up trying. The only reason I don’t hate men now is that I always had a fresh supply of guys readily available during vacations.”

“Who?”

“The guests at the resort. Actually, it was an ideal situation. I could fall in love knowing darned well he’d be gone before any of the more difficult complications set in and I never had to worry about the rejection when we broke up because I wasn’t being rejected. His cruel parents insisted on taking him back with them. It was great. I had more summer romances. By the time I got to college, I had a very good idea of what kind of guys I liked. I dated a lot in college, somehow managing to avoid getting serious. High school was fun. But my college years were the prime of my life. I had finally found my niche. Academia. I loved it. I loved the research, the BS sessions, I didn’t even mind all the all-nighters. You know, not only was I supposed to have my Ph.D. by now, but I was supposed to be well on my way to becoming the head of an English department somewhere.”

“What happened? Got tired of it after your Master’s?”

“Oh no. I had to support my education habit and myself. My parents footed the bill through my B.A., but after that, I was supposed to get married, or the convent, or something, and if I wanted to go on, fine, but I had to do it on my own. Fortunately, I was able to live with Mae through my M.A. but that house was getting full and I wanted to be on my own anyway. That’s why I took that teaching job. I was also hoping I could get the college I was teaching at to fund my Ph.D. They might have, too. But the cutbacks came. I had no seniority and ended up on the unemployment line and you know the rest of the story.”

“What made you change your mind about marriage?”

“The guys and my goals. Being a graduate student doesn’t leave you much time for a husband. And the same problem that I’d had with the guys in high school popped up again in college, only in a different way. I stopped dating guys who weren’t Christian because all they wanted was my body. But after a while, the Christian guys got to be a drag too, cause they wanted to get married and I wanted to head up an English department. It’s even worse now. Men my age are looking to settle down and if they aren’t, you know what they’re after. Very, very few guys are just looking for companionship.” I looked at him. “I guess that’s what I value about our relationship. We’re just friends. I can be completely honest with you.”

“Would you mind being honest with me now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you still want to head up that English department?”

I thought about it. “Not really. I’d still like to go for my Ph.D. eventually. But not right now. I really like what I’m doing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it was no accident that things fell out the way they did.”

“Who knows?” Sid absently discarded.

I looked down at my hand. “Oh. I’ve got gin.”

Sid looked at me, a little stunned, then started laughing. “It’s not my day for cards.”

“So let’s give it up, then.”

“Alright. What do you want to do now?”

“How about telling me some more stories of your wild and wanton youth?”

“They’d only embarrass you.”

“I haven’t been so far.”

“That’s right, you haven’t. I wonder why?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you’re not purposely trying to embarrass me. You might want to edit a little anyway.”

“I suppose I could.” Sid adjusted the pillow on his bed, then leaned back against the headboard. “Let’s see. How about the time I single-handedly started the biggest riot my high school ever knew.”

“How did you do that?”

“By doing what came naturally, of course. It was at a football came with our crosstown rivals, South High. Let’s see, I was sixteen so that makes it junior year. Anyway, the South High guys were just plain mean, knives, chains, the works. But their cheerleaders, well, they were all stacked and wore the tightest sweaters, the shortest skirts, and you know those little leotard panties they always wore?”

“Yeah.”

“Pulled up very high. Before the first quarter was over, I was visiting the other side. I returned during the middle of the third quarter to find fights breaking out all over the field and the bunch of guys I hung around with panicking. They had noticed how one of South’s cheerleaders had turned up missing and when they couldn’t find me, figured out where she had gone. Of course, the South football players on the sidelines knew their girl was getting it from a San Fran guy. They’d heard the girls talking. The subs told the players on the field, who started fights with our players. They did get through the fourth quarter. I think we won. But as soon as the gun blew, there was the biggest fight on that field you ever saw.”

“What did you do?”

“I made it with another South cheerleader. The South guys never found out I was the one who did it either. I think it took ten squad cars to break up the fight. When they finally did, it was after midnight. South got sat on for starting it all, even though the cops knew why they’d started fighting. The cops just didn’t know who and nobody on our side was going to say, even though they knew there was only one person with that kind of nerve. I got called into Mr. Frye’s office the following Monday and he told me that the only reason I wasn’t being suspended was because they couldn’t prove I was the one who’d been playing with the South Cheerleaders. I, of course, admitted nothing. Stella taught me that.”

“What? To admit nothing.”

“Mh-hm.”

“Was she mad when she first found out you fooled around?”

“Yeah, but not because I was fooling around.”

“Then what was she mad about?”

“Well, I’d never told her, even though I think she suspected. Then one day about a month before school let out my freshman year, she got a phone call from an irate father. The inevitable had happened.”

“What? You got caught in the act?”

“No.”

“V.D.?”

“No.”

“Then what..? You got a girl pregnant.”

“Bingo. Stella denied any responsibility for my actions and said he couldn’t prove it, and even if he could, the most we were going to do was give him the name of a safe doctor. When he hung up in disgust, she turned on me, wanting to know why I hadn’t been using any birth control. I had to make the stupid comment that it was the girl’s business. Stella promptly retorted that it was stupidity like that that had resulted in my being in existence. If I was going to fool around, I was an idiot begging for paternity suits if I insisted on assuming someone else was going to be responsible. Then she told me I was a bigger idiot if I ever admitted that I had slept with someone. That lecture stuck very well. I think the timing had something to do with it. Diedre had told me she was pregnant before her father called and I was pretty scared. I don’t think I ever believed it could happen to me. Anyway, Diedre got her abortion and after that, I kept myself covered. It was a nuisance, but I wasn’t going to let it happen again. After I got to Stanford and got my money, I had my minor surgery. I still had to stay covered for a couple months, but I was so relieved afterwards.” He looked at me. “I guess all this sounds pretty bad to you, abortion and self-mutilation.”

I shrugged. “Not really. I don’t agree with it. But what’s done is done, nor am I here to pass judgment.”

“Thanks. What else do you want me to tell you about?”

“I don’t know. You sound like you were pretty popular.”

“I was, especially my last two years. Radicals were in vogue then and I was a genuine, real live radical. I was the only kid who got excused from school to attend peace rallies and sit-ins and civil rights marches. I didn’t go all that often. It depended on whether or not Stella was on welfare. If she was on welfare, I was left to keep the social workers happy. If Stella was working, she brought me with her. She had to be careful either way not to get arrested, cause then I’d end up in a foster home and Stella didn’t want that. I guess she was making one last ditch effort to keep me from becoming a capitalist. She could see I was leaning that way.”

“What made you change your mind?”

“Three things. In the first place, there were the peace rallies themselves. As you know, they weren’t always peaceful and it was a little too easy to get yourself hurt or even killed. Hell, look at Kent State. The tear gas was the worst part for me, though. That stuff is miserable.” Sid shuddered at the memory. “In the second place, my civics teacher held me after class one day and pointed out that while I questioned everything else, I had never questioned my aunt’s philosophies. So I did and I found out that I didn’t really agree with them. Of course, the thing that really did the communism in was good old-fashioned adolescent rebellion. Most kids then were rebelling by speaking out and taking action. I rebelled by becoming indifferent.”

“You’re not indifferent, Sid.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve noticed that the things you’re indifferent about are often the things you care about most.”

He thought about that.

“Maybe,” he said. “Probably. I guess I’ve gotten very good at fooling myself.”

“We all have. Look at all the years I spent thinking I wanted to get married. You wouldn’t believe what a shock it was to me when Rory Scheidler proposed to me and I turned him down.”

“Who was Rory?”

“A guy I met while I was working on my B.A. We went together for about eight months. Oh, he was sweet. I really loved him. He was an art major, a very sensitive guy, but crazy. He wore an earring in one ear. You think Daddy doesn’t like you, you should have seen the fits he had when I brought Rory home. Daddy almost made me quit school. I still went with Rory for another four months after that and then he proposed. When I turned him down, he really thought I was too scared to tell Daddy I was marrying him.”

“Were you?”

“No, I don’t think so. I spent a good long week deliberating before I gave Rory my answer and during that time, Daddy never once entered my mind. A lot of other things did, but not Daddy. I thought it was Rory I didn’t want, at first. But I really loved the guy and I knew we could have had a good marriage. It was the idea of being stuck, not just with Rory, but with anybody that bothered me.”

“You don’t seem to mind being stuck with me.”

“I know I can be reassigned.”

“You didn’t always know that and you still didn’t mind.”

“But we’re not married. You still have your life and interests and I have mine. I know there are a lot of similarities. Sometimes they scare me, but I guess there isn’t that sacramental element. We share and are close to survive, not because it’s demanded of us. That doesn’t sound quite right, either.”

“I don’t have any answers. I vote we change the subject to something on safer ground. I don’t mean to pull away, but I’m not ready to deal with where this conversation is headed.”

“Me neither.” I looked at the cards still laying spread out on the night table. I put them into a deck. “How ‘bout some fifty-two card pick up?”

“If you want to pick them up.”

We ate lunch after that, ordering from room service. Then Sid decided he had an idea he wanted to develop. He took a nice leather covered clipboard/folder out of his suitcase and got out his fountain pen. He kicked off his shoes and lined them up neatly next to the bed. Then, after propping up the pillows against the headboard again, he sat down and stretched his legs out.

I just sat, thinking. It looked like my plans were going to be ruined. I was going to talk Sid into having dinner at a nice restaurant and present him with his watch then. But Sid showed no sign of leaving the room. I figured I could make do with room service. The reason I didn’t want to do that was that I was afraid of what could happen if Sid’s birthday present really touched him. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him. I didn’t trust myself. The very real threat of the thugs somehow diminished next to Sid’s hold on me.

I knew going out that night would be taking a stupid, silly chance, but it seemed worth it.

I picked up the cards and shuffled them. Then, sitting cross-legged on my bed, I dealt myself a hand of solitaire. I thought if I could get Sid antsy enough I could get him to take me out that night. Fortunately, I knew all the right buttons to push. I also knew I was asking for trouble at the same time. Sid knew exactly what buttons to push on me.

I played absently, whistling an old forties tune in sharp piercing tones. After a few bars, I knew Sid was glaring at me, even though I hadn’t looked up to see. He let me continue for another minute.

“Lisa,” he said finally, in a controlled, but irritated tone. “In the first place, you are not In the Mood. In the second place, your whistling, in general, is bad enough without you trying to imitate the entire Glen Miller orchestra.”

“Huh? Oh. Sorry.” I returned to my game.

A few minutes later, I hummed a Dan Fogelberg melody, then I added what words I knew.

“Lisa,” Sid said after about five minutes of my singing only half the lyrics. “I’m trying to concentrate.”

“Oh, was I singing again? I’m sorry.”

“Why can’t you control that mindless humming of yours…”

I decided I was losing my card game, so I shuffled the cards and dealt another hand.

“Sid,” I asked, plaintively. “Is there anything you need me to do?”

“No.”

“What are you writing about?”

“Hookers.”

“You’re just saying that to tease me.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re not really going to write an article about prostitution, are you?”

“Why not?”

“Who are you going to sell it to?”

“Depending on how I handle it, several places. In fact, I may develop two articles.”

“Why?”

“Because you write differently for Playboy and Cosmopolitan than you do for Ladies’ Home Journal. You ought to know that.”

“Sorry. There won’t be anything to embarrass me in the one you send to Playboy will there?”

“Have I ever sent anything to Playboy that’s embarrassed you?”

“No, but…”

“Will you get it through your head that there’s some very fine writing in that magazine and that they’re very nice to freelancers?”

“I know. But that’s not why people buy it.”

“Well, it’s why I buy it.”

“That’s what you say.”

“If I want to look at women, I don’t have to waste time looking at pictures. I know where I can find plenty of the real thing.”

I didn’t have an answer for that. I hadn’t been all that fair to him in the first place. I knew darned well that ninety percent of the many magazines he subscribed to and read, he wrote for. Besides, I couldn’t see him leering over the pictures in Playboy. It just wasn’t his style.

“So what are you going to say about prostitution?” I asked.

“I haven’t made up my mind.”

“Then what are you working on?”

“Making up my mind.”

“Getting very far?”

His “no” was rather pointed. I returned to solitaire. I lost two more hands, then gave up.

“I’m bored,” I announced.

“Why don’t you read? I packed a book for you.”

“I noticed. You had to bring Victorian poets, didn’t you?”

“I thought you liked poetry.”

“I do. But I’ve only got a minimal tolerance for Shelly, Coleridge and Wordsworth et al. ‘In Xanadu, did Kubla Kahn/A stately pleasure dome decree…’  Do you know why that poem was never finished?”

“I never knew it wasn’t.”

“You’ve read it, haven’t you?’

“I believe so.”

“You know why it wasn’t finished?”

“No, and I don’t care to, either.”

I flopped onto the bed on my tummy and continued reciting “Kubla Kahn”.

“I’m trying to work.” Sid was getting angry. “Will you put a cork in it?”

I got up and paced back and forth across the length of the room. I really was bored silly by that point. Sid let me go for about ten minutes, then it began to get to him. Sighing, he put down his pen and closed the folder.

“Alright, I give up,” he said.

“I’m sorry, Sid. I’ll sit down and let you go on working.”

“And five minutes from now, you’ll find something else to bug me with.”

“I’m sorry. This room is getting on my nerves.”

“Mine, too. But hang in there. Hopefully tomorrow they’ll let us go to Chicago.”

“Maybe. In the meantime, I get to go stir crazy. You think maybe we could go out tonight? Just to dinner?”

“You want to get yourself killed?”

“It’ll be dark out and if we stay together, I won’t be spotted so easily. We don’t have to go anywhere where there are bright lights.”

Sid shook his head and looked at me bewildered.

“I don’t understand you. You were almost raped and killed last night and the guys responsible are still out there looking for you. Why on earth do you want to go out? You’re safe here.”

“Am I?”

“I am not-”

“I know,” I interrupted. “I’m not worried about you. Really. I’m not. I just feel like a sitting duck is all. Do you realize how easy it’d be to poison our dinner when room service brings it?”

“It’s not all that easy. Besides, they don’t know we’re here.”

“How do you know they don’t? I’m not talking about Mutt and Jeff, either. I’m thinking of whoever hired them.”

“I’ll admit it’s possible, but we can only afford so much paranoia. We have to assume no one knows we’re here.”

“Why?”

“We’ll go nuts otherwise. If someone really wants to do us in, there’s only so much we can do to prevent it. More than likely, that’s enough.”

“I suppose. But I still feel terribly exposed. I’d feel better if we were moving around, a moving target and all.”

He sighed. “Unfortunately, this room is getting to me, too. Alright, we’ll go out to dinner.”

“Hooray. Thank you.”

“On the condition we go armed, wired and you stay right by me except to go to the ladies room. You’ll be harder to spot as part of a couple.”

“I’ll drape myself all over you. I’ll be a regular clinging vine.”

“I never did like clinging vines.”

I grinned at him, bubbling over with excitement.

“I know exactly where I want to go,” I said, bouncing onto the bed. “We can get really dressed up for it. Oh please let me make the reservations.”

“Alright. But make them for eight or later. We’re waiting for the dark to cover us.”

“I will.”

I made the reservations for eight fifteen. Then Sid went back to work on his idea and I took up the Victorian poets. Actually, they weren’t really that bad. While reading some of Lord Byron, I got an idea for an essay. I dug out paper and pen myself and became so absorbed I didn’t notice the afternoon slipping away. Sid left to check in and came back and went back to work. I was surprised when he announced he was taking a shower.

“So soon?” I asked.

“It’s six o’clock and I assume you’re going to want time to get ready.”

“Yeah, I will. I think I’ll shower, too. Will you do me a favor and dry your hair out here? I want to get in as soon as you get out. You know it takes longer to dry my hair than it does yours.”

“I suppose.”

It was a quarter to seven when I came out of the bathroom, wearing my robe and with my hair wrapped in a towel. Sid was standing in front of the mirror. He had his suit pants on but was shirtless.

“It’s all yours,” I said to him, indicating the bathroom.

“Thanks.” He gently patted the hair over his right ear, making sure it covered the tiny receiver hiding there, so small, you had to look for it to see it. He tapped the dresser next to the matching transmitter set lying there. “Don’t forget.”

I unwrapped the towel from my head and picked up the blow dryer, looking for the diffuser attachment.

“Lisa, could you bring the blow dryer in here?” Sid called from the bathroom.

“Why?”

“Mirror’s fogged up and not clearing fast enough.”

The lower half of his face was already covered with foam when I handed him the blow dryer. He plugged it in, flipped the switch and began drying the mirror over the sink. I stepped behind him and went rummaging through my carry on for the diffuser so I could dry my hair without trashing my perm. I pulled it out just as Sid finished clearing a good sized space on the mirror.

“Here you are,” he said, pointing the dryer at me.

I grimaced as I got a blast of hot air in my face.

“Very funny.” I grabbed the dryer from him, put the diffuser on the nozzle and started using it properly.

“I thought so.” Sid chuckled as he picked up his razor.

Even in the steamy bathroom, my hair dried fairly quickly. I turned off the dryer as Sid washed off the remnants of the lather on his face. When he turned away to dry off, I looked into the mirror and sighed.

“What’s the matter?” Sid asked.

“I wish I had my hot rollers with me. Then I could do my hair really nicely.”

You’ve got your curling iron, don’t you?” He stepped around me and started poking through my carry-on.

“Yeah, but I can only do my ends.”

“Don’t you know how to do it in layers?” He pulled out the iron.

“No.”

“It’s really easy. Come on, I’ll do it for you.”

I followed Sid out of the bathroom. He plugged the curling iron into the socket over the dresser.

“I don’t know, Sid. You sure you know what you’re doing?”

“Of course, I do. I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t.” He picked up the transmitter and handed it to me. “You go get dressed and made up while the iron heats, and bring me your bobby pins.”

I looked at him, rather puzzled, but did as he asked, although it took a little longer than usual since I had to cover up my black eye. When I was ready, he had put on his shirt, tie and vest, but left the vest open and had turned up the cuffs on his shirt.

“You look like a hairdresser,” I said, smiling hesitantly.

“That’s the idea.” He grinned and pointed to the chair he’d set in front of the dresser. “Come on, sit down.”

“I don’t know. I think I’ll stick with just curling the ends.”

“Sit down.” I sat. “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.” He picked up my brush and started in, brushing with firm, professional strokes.

“Where’d you learn to do this anyway?” I asked, still doubtful.

He clipped a section of my hair to one side with a bobby pin.

“Very first time? At a party. It was a particularly good one, too. I think there were roughly three girls to every guy.” I snorted. “I was, uh, taking a break, when I got to talking with this gal who was a hairdresser. She was just slightly tipsy and had found a curling iron and was curling all the other girls’ hair. So she showed me how and supervised while I did a couple girls. They turned out really nice. Then one of the guys passed out and Shawna and I got hold of a pair of scissors. Between the scissors and the curling iron that poor boy got a shock the morning after that beat his hangover.” Sid chuckled.

“Did you do any other girls after that?”

“No, just Shawna.” He sighed happily. “Nice lady.”

“I was talking about hair.”

“Oops. Sorry. I should have known better. There was this one case. I took the whole training course for that. And at other parties I have. Just to keep in practice. Really impresses the ladies. Of course, it doesn’t usually last.”

“What do you mean?” I was getting nervous again.

“Let’s put it this way. Your hair will stay.”

“I understand.”

I have to admit, I was impressed when he was done. It looked gorgeous. I covered my eyes as Sid lightly went over it with hair spray.

“Not bad,” he said, smiling and stepping back to admire his handiwork. “You look very nice.”

“Thanks. It does look good. I’m impressed.”

“I told you.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of modesty?” I got up and walked over to my purse.

“Me?” Sid grinned as he buttoned up his vest. “Of course, I’ve heard of it.”

“Your ego is so over inflated.” I watched as Sid flipped down his cuffs and slipped the cuff links in place. “I mean look at you. I’ll bet you’re the only person in the country left who still wears cufflinks.”

“What has that got to do with my ego?” He slid his shoulder holster on and adjusted it.

“I don’t know. I’ll think of something.”

He chuckled. But his smile faded as he picked up his gun, quickly checked the clip and put it in its holster. He put on his jacket.

“Ready?” he asked, smiling again.

“Yeah.” I picked up my oversized purse. Sid frowned.

“That bag can be spotted a mile away as it is,” he said. “It really stands out with that dress.”

“I have a smaller clutch,” I said, going to my suitcase. I pulled it out.

“That’s much better.”

“I think I left my lipstick in the bathroom. Would you get it for me, please?”

“Sure.”

While he was gone, I quickly slipped his present and card into the clutch. On top of that, I stuffed in my gun, my wallet, my pen and pad, and my brush. It made things a little crowded, especially when I added the lipstick and the compact Sid brought to me.

Sid took one quick check in the mirror. Satisfied that all was perfect he offered me his arm.

“Shall we, my dear?” he asked in his most pompous tone.

“Certainly, darling.” I affected my best highbrow voice, taking my place by his side.

Dinner was delicious. Sid had broiled swordfish while I had prawns in a Cajun white wine sauce. About midway through, I excused myself to go to the restroom and conveniently “forgot” to turn on my transmitter. I didn’t go to the restroom right away. Around the corner, where Sid couldn’t see me, I stopped our waiter and ordered a fresh fruit plate and split of champagne for dessert.

They did it up beautifully. The busboy had cleared our plates and Sid was shifting liked he usually does when he wants the check. Our waiter appeared with the fruit and cheese.

“What is this?” he asked as our waiter poured the champagne into two flutes.

“Your birthday,” I replied, pulling his present out of my clutch.

“I was hoping you’d forget,” he said, looking at the gift. “Lord knows I’ve been trying to.”

“How could I when you remembered mine?”

He looked up and smiled gently. “I noticed you were wearing your pearls.”

My hand reached up and twirled one of the pearl stud earrings he had given me.

“Yeah, I planned it that way. Aren’t you going to open your present?”

“Alright. It’s too small to be a sweater.”

“You forgot to bring my knitting.”

He opened the card and laughed appreciatively at it. I was on needles and pins as he carefully slipped off the ribbon and undid the paper. I held my breath as he opened the box. He just looked at it.

“You’re an awful hard person to buy for,” I burst out, fearing the worst.

“It’s an antique, isn’t it?” he asked finally.

“Yes. It has a music box too.” I lifted the watch out of the box and wound it.

Sid took it back and opened it. The gentle tinkling music poured out. He smiled.

“Bach’s Minuet in G,” he said softly. “I’ve always liked Bach.”

I took the watch back and slipped it into his vest pocket, carefully leaving the fob to dangle.

“I thought it would be just the right touch. You’re always wearing suits like this.” I swagged the chain and looped it through the vest buttonhole. “There, it looks so dignified.”

“But will it keep time?” Sid was smiling.

“I think so. It was running okay in the shop.”

“Where did you get it?”

“In a little shop off the square.”

Sid pulled the watch out and examined it. Then he set it and wound it.

“You must have sunk quite a bit into this.”

“It wasn’t that much. But I felt it. It was probably more than I should have spent.”

“In more ways than one.” He was still examining the watch. “Places like that usually have quite a markup. Do you mind telling me how much it was?”

“A hundred and fifty dollars.”

Sid was surprised. “Is that all?”

“It was a lot to me.” I was hurt.

Sid started laughing.

“Come here, child.” He pulled me close to him. “I’ve got to do something.” I tightened. “No, I’m not horny. It’s just…” He released me and looked at me fondly. “You did it again. Yes, a hundred and fifty is a lot of money for you to shell out, especially on me. But you’re not out of the bargain basement.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a possibility I’m wrong, but I think this watch could be worth five hundred, up to a thousand dollars.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Of course, it could be worth as little as twenty-five. But I don’t think so. It’s in excellent shape.”

“Oh dear, maybe you shouldn’t carry it.”

“Oh no. It does look distinguished.” He slid the watch back into the vest pocket, making sure the fob was dangling. “It’s just what I needed. Just the right amount of panache to set off my style.”

“Then you like it?”

“I love it. I’d like to get it appraised if you don’t mind, just out of curiosity. But worth twenty-five or a thousand, I still love it. It’s exquisite. Thank you.” He gently kissed my forehead and then hugged me again. “You are a dear friend. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I whispered.

We held each other for a couple of moments more. There was an awkward pause as we released each other. Then Sid reached over and picked up his glass of champagne.

“A toast,” he said, raising his glass. I picked up mine and raised it. “To friendship and to understanding.”

“Amen,” I said as we clinked glasses.

As we left the restaurant, Sid proposed a walk along the river.

“Well,” I replied. “I was planning on going back to the motel and letting you do what you like. I mean I want you to have fun. It’s your birthday.”

Sid gently squeezed me. “I appreciate that, but in the first place, believe it or not, I’d really rather spend the evening quietly enjoying the pleasure of your company.”

“Want to try a different version of gin rummy?”

“And in the second, a second drop got scheduled for you tonight. I found out when I checked in.”

“Oh.”

“I should have told you sooner, but you were working, and then you were so happy about dinner, I didn’t want to put a cloud over it all.”

“That’s okay.”

He smiled softly. “Actually, it’s probably just as well in terms of our relationship. The way I’m feeling right now, the way we’re both feeling, we’re better off on our feet and walking around.”

“If you’re feeling that way, I don’t mind going back to the motel later so you can work it out. Really, I don’t.”

“If it was just an urge, I’d say sure.” Sid stopped walking and faced me, laying his hands on my shoulders. “But it’s more than that, it’s a feeling.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t, either.” Sid shook his head and we continued our walk in silence.

It was near midnight when Sid and I investigated the alley where I was to make my second drop. We hid in the shadows, guns drawn and ready. Down the way, I could see Winters’ form sitting in a doorway.

“It looks clear,” whispered Sid.

Winters flopped over. My stomach tied itself in knots. Sid got a good grip on my hand and all but dragged me along the shadows to the still form. I turned away to face the building. Unperturbed, Sid knelt by the man and began probing.

“Is he..?” I asked, weakly.

“Dead? Yes. I can’t quite tell in this light, but it looks like he was strangled. Rigor’s just passing off.”

“Oh no.” I covered my eyes.

Sid sighed. “I remember last month when you insisted on unplugging my toilet when we could have just as easily called a plumber, you not only looked, but reached in and pulled out a far ghastlier mess than this corpse could ever be in its present state.”

“That was different. It’s the principle of the thing.”

Sid didn’t get a chance to reply. A bullet ricocheted off the building I was facing. Startled, I looked down the other end of the alley. Silhouetted against a street lamp was a short stout figure and a tall one in a raincoat.

“Let’s get out of here,” grumbled Sid, grabbing my arm.

Not that he needed to. I ran very quickly and right behind him. The bullets came fast and kept coming. I still say it was a miracle from God that we didn’t get hit. [It was because they were running after us – SEH] Sid and I came out of the alley at about the same time. I started up the street, but Sid grabbed my hand.

“Into the square.” He pointed across the street to the dark park in Andrew Jackson Square. “There’s cover.”

I looked back as we ducked through the gate. Mutt and Jeff had come to the head of the alleyway still firing. Mutt had one arm in a sling, but it didn’t seem to be stopping him. We ducked behind a park bench. Sid reached inside his coat and pulled out his gun. He turned and took aim. But something I heard made me pull his arm away before he could fire.

“What..?” He looked at me angrily as I placed my hand over his mouth to shush him.

“Listen,” I hissed.

“…completely covered,” a voice was shouting. “Drop your guns or we’ll fire.”

“The police,” I whispered and pointed.

Through the trees, we could see the officers at the head of the street, behind one of the buildings. Mutt and Jeff turned on them and shot. The police opened up and I gasped as they went down.

In the silence that followed, a crowd gathered as policemen filled the street. Sid smiled at me and holstered his gun.

“Good job, my dear,” he said, brushing his forefinger across my nose.

We left the square on the other side, doubled back around and joined the crowd around the two fallen men. From the various comments we heard, we gathered that the cops had no idea who Mutt and Jeff had been shooting at. Mutt wasn’t going to tell them, either. He was dead. Jeff was unconscious and in pretty bad shape.

We left the square very subdued and headed back to the motel.

“That’s one less thing to worry about,” Sid said quietly, as he shut the door to the room.

I sat down on my bed.

“I’d almost rather be worrying,” I replied.

“I know.” Sid came around and sat on his bed facing me. “At least we didn’t do it. In fact, they brought it on themselves. I’m very glad you stopped me from shooting. If you hadn’t, we’d have the cops looking for us now.”

I shrugged. “What a rotten way to end your birthday.”

“Fortunately, I’ve still got a chance at another and so do you.” He briefly smiled that hot little smile of his. “Naw, I won’t.”

“What?”

“I was going to tease you. But I decided that wouldn’t be nice.”

“What were you going to say?”

“Never mind.”

“What were you going to say?”

“You asked for it.”

“Alright, I’m asking for it.”

“Well, I was just going to suggest that we could still end my birthday on a nice high note, that is, if you’re, ahem, willing.” He smiled again.

I caught my breath and then summoned together what little anger I could find, anything to break the spell.

“Oh!” I threw one of my pillows at him. He laughed.

“You had to ask.”

I took advantage of the momentum from throwing the pillow to get myself up and busy with getting ready for bed. I fled with my nightgown and robe into the bathroom.

While I was washing my face, it occurred to me that that was the first time Sid had out and out propositioned me. True, it was strictly in jest. If Sid had been serious about it, he would have been far more subtle. I wouldn’t have known what was going on until it was too late. The fact that he was joking told me that he felt very secure in our relationship. That made me feel good, and strangely enough, safer with him.

I climbed into bed as Sid went into the bathroom.

“Goodnight, Sid,” I called.

“Goodnight, Lisa and thanks again.”

“You’re welcome.”

As I settled in, I thought I heard Sid singing. I listened carefully. Softly from the bathroom came the song “You and Me Against the World.”

 

Phyllis Smallman and a Different Kind of Sleuth

Phyllis Smallman

I have to say Phyllis Smallman beat me to an idea I had that I haven’t quite developed – a homeless person as a sleuth. It’s a terrific conceit, especially when you consider just how invisible homeless people are, sadly. Anyway, you can find out more about Phyllis and her character Singer Brown at her website www.phyllissmallman.com. Or you can read below.

Who is Singer Brown and whatever possessed me to write about this homeless woman? The two main reasons were Janis Joplin and Jack Reacher.

I saw her as a Jack Reacher character, moving from city to city and finding trouble wherever she went. And then there was Janis Joplin. I’ve always wondered if Janis would have found a place in the music scene that came after her? I don’t think so, and Singer didn’t either. She left home at sixteen to sing in a rock band and almost made it, almost a star, but bad choices, of lifestyle and men, took away her options. Now she lives in her old yellow van and sings on the street for coins. Her life consists of watching the lives of others unfold, and watching for danger, while constantly being told to move on. Life on the street turns women into prey, but Singer is no easy victim. And Singer has discovered, there are benefits to being one of the unseen people. When she wants the perfect disguise, she mutters to herself and has arguments with invisible adversaries, becoming that person everyone gives a wide berth.

Life on the street may have robbed her of her dignity and her sense of belonging, but it hasn’t taken away her humanity, her deep sense of right and wrong. In Saving Kali, while parked in an alley between derelict buildings, she sees a woman take a pre-school girl into an abandoned factory and come out alone. Singer tells herself not to get involved, rhymes off a list of reasons to ignore what she saw. And besides, there’s probably a good explanation for what just happened. The problem is she can’t think of one.

Singer hardly has time to pat herself on the back for her courage before unintended consequences put her at great risk. Does she save herself or does she do the right thing? And what is the right thing? For Singer, it seems to depend on the situation.  For instance, in Long Gone Man she goes to a small island of the coast of British Columbia to kill the man who destroyed her life.

Beach Kill is my latest book in this series. Singer is in love and is tempted into a normal existence. But life has a different plan for Singer. When a teenage girl is killed and mutilated, first by man and then by nature, Singer identifies her by the blue butterfly on her ankle.

Singer represents my worst fears. To be without a safe space to call my own, without people who love me, is a terrifying thought but one, in the deep recesses of my heart, that has always seemed possible. In writing Singer, I’m writing my fears. Strange therapy, isn’t it?

You can find Beach Kill at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.

Christina Hoag on Moving From Non-Fiction to Fiction

Christina Hoag, author of Skin of Tattoos

My connection to Christina Hoag is one of those things that really makes you believe in those six degrees of separation. We both belong to the same mystery readers email list, which how we first connected. Turns out, we’d actually met face to face the week before at our local Sisters in Crime chapter meeting here in Los Angeles. Even better, she knows some friends of mine from the Miami Herald. She’s also got a really great novel out, Skin of Tattoos, which came from her work as a journalist. Here she writes about the difference between the two.

Many novelists have started their writing careers as journalists. Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Graham Greene to name a few. But writing nonfiction is a different skill than writing fiction. To be sure, there are many similarities, but there are also key differences – namely one is restricted to truth and the other enjoys the panoramic realm of imagination. There are others that are less obvious, as I was to find out when I started writing fiction in earnest, trying to fulfill my childhood dreams of writing novels.

I’ve been a print journalist for thirty years. I’d written fiction on and off since I was a child. In fact, I won a prize when I was six years old for “writing interesting stories.” So becoming a journalist was a natural step for me. It’s been a career that I’ve loved but ultimately I also felt restrained by. It was always about writing someone else’s story. Fiction is your own story, of your own choosing, and I was eager to undertake this challenge, but in order to develop my fiction I had to “undevelop” several journalistic habits.

The key hurdle in writing fiction for journalists is emotion. Journalists are trained to be neutral observers, impartial witnesses, to present a balanced picture of the facts. Emotion, in your average news story, does not factor in the equation, although it does to a greater degree in narrative fiction. Emotion, however, is the cornerstone of good fiction. Novelists need to portray the range of emotion their characters feel in order to evoke emotion in their readers. There’s no need for balance or impartiality. Indeed, the less of that stuff, the better.

Those elements stand in the way of portraying emotion, and why, in my opinion, many reporter/novelists gravitate toward writing plot-driven stories, such as detective mysteries, where there’s more of a “just the facts ma’am” feel to that type of fiction. Mysteries, for example, generally involve little emotion or emotional arc in the characters.

When I was writing the first draft of my first novel, I got about 170 pages in and I realized what I’d written read like a reportage. I chucked it and started again. It actually took many more drafts before I found myself loosening the reins and letting that emotion come through. And when it did, it gushed out.

Something that really helped me in this regard was acting classes. Acting is all about depicting emotion. Once I gave myself license to do that physically in either scene work or exercises designed to reach and draw out inner emotion, it became much easier to do that on the page with my characters. I also understood better how emotion works in dialogue and scenes, how to show it more than tell it.

I firmly believe, however, that journalism is great training for novelists. Reporters instinctively know what a good story is. They know how to research, how to interview. They know that details can make a story come alive and how to construct sentences that make sense, and structure and order a story. They are exposed to all types of people, issues, lifestyles, experiences. As I like to say, I’ve interviewed bums to billionaires, presidents to prostitutes. All that makes great grist for the novelist’s mill. Maybe, most importantly reporters are used to sitting down in a chair in front of a blank computer screen and filling it with words—on deadline.

I would never exchange my background as a journalist for, say, an MFA. Yes, it may take some work to switch from one to the other, but many have done it, including myself.

Thanks, Christina. You can find out more about Christina Hoag on her website www.christinahoag.com, or connect with her via social media at Facebook.com/ChristinaHoagAuthor, Twitter.com/ChristinaHoag, or Instagram.com/ChristinaHoagAuthor. Skin of Tattoos is available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Six

May 29 – 31, 1983

 

We got up rather late on Sunday. Well, later than usual. We went to brunch at nine. It was Sid’s idea. He must not have been thinking straight because it was a buffet. I made at least five trips and scarfed down beignet, crepes, gumbo, bacon, sausage, grits, eggs, fruit and waffles.

“Is there any hope of you being finished within this lifetime?” he asked tiredly.

“Probably not,” I replied. “But I am getting ready to change restaurants.”

Sid shook his head. “Let’s go over your drop. According to the dossier, the suspect is Blaine Winters, caucasian, five eleven, dark blonde hair, blue eyes, fairly heavy. His cover is independent electronics sales. He has a place out in the bayou, with a P.O. box here in the city. Same good record everyone else has, except he’s a little weak in the area of investigations.” He paused. “You’re going to noon mass, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“I, uh, will probably drop you off a little early and meet you at one thirty. Is that okay with you?”

“Take your time. My drop isn’t til two and you don’t have to be there.”

Sid thought it over. “Wear your transmitter. I’ll make sure I’m in the neighborhood in time. I don’t like the alley set up, but there’s no reason to believe they’re expecting you.”

Sid left me at St. Louis’s Cathedral about fifteen minutes before noon mass. After mass, I killed about twenty minutes looking around the cathedral, then another half hour in the gift shop. The drop point wasn’t far away. It was a small alley off of the square. About two doors down, sitting in the doorway was a man fitting Winters’ description in a black beat up fedora and old dark raincoat.

“Excuse me,” I said approaching him. “I’ve got a small package to deliver on Bourbon Street. Can you help me find it?”

“I’ll draw you a map,” he replied. “You got something to write on?”

I dug into my purse and pulled out a pen and pad. Under the pad was the sealed envelope. These I handed to the man. He wrote the directions down and handed back the pen and pad.

“Thank you,” I replied and continued down the alley.

Ignoring the directions I’d been given, I left the alley at the first real street I came to. I had gone about half a block when I looked into a window and saw two men standing at the end of the alley I’d just left. One of them was short and fairly heavy, wearing a poorly fitting dark suit. The other was tall and had a dark green overcoat on. Neither was Winters.

After turning down a couple of streets, I discovered they were still close behind and getting closer. I walked a little faster. They picked up speed and started gaining on me. Wondering where the heck Sid was, I slid my hand up the sleeve of my dress and tapped out an urgent message on the transmitter. I turned a corner and broke into a trot. Checking behind me, I saw that they had not caught up with me yet so I ducked into a souvenir shop.

Apparently, they saw me go into it because a few minutes later they came in. I ducked behind the shelves, keeping one eye on the tall one, edging towards the door. The tall one was heading for the back. Just as I was almost to the door, I looked down the long aisle just in time to see the two of them spot me and come after.

That was enough. I dropped any pretense of discretion and ran full out, crashing through the doors, and headed in the direction I’d just came from. I looked back and saw the two of them running after me. But I’d gained almost a block’s lead. I frantically tapped out another message to Sid. At the second cross street I came to, I crossed the street I was running along, then nearly got myself hit by a car, running across the cross street. I hit the sidewalk and turned onto the street I’d just crossed. I looked back to check the progress of my pursuers and ran straight into someone.

“Excuse me,” I gasped without looking and tried to run on. Sid’s hands held me firmly but gently.

“Oh, thank God,” I gasped. “I’m being tailed.”

Sid looked quickly around and pulled me after him through two saloon doors. Just before I went through, I saw my tails come around the corner and spot me.

Firmly holding my hand, Sid led me through the dark, smoky room, weaving between the crowded tables. It was terribly noisy in there with loud music and people trying to talk over it. I heard the catcalls but somehow didn’t notice the ramp down the middle of the room.

“They saw me come in,” I said in a low voice in Sid’s ear. “They’d just come around the corner.”

“Do you think they saw me?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay. We’ll take a chance on assuming they didn’t.”

Sid found us a table in a dark corner, about midway through the room. A cocktail waitress came up and slapped two huge menus on the table. Smiling, Sid picked up one and opened it.

“Perfect,” he said quietly. “Don’t hold it so high it’s obvious you’re hiding, but this is excellent cover.”

I opened my menu and looked at it. The bill of fare was pretty typical. I guess the lewd drawings were too, but I had never seen anything like them. I began to realize what sort of place I was in. I swallowed.

“Carefully now,” said Sid. “Look up and check out the two gentlemen who just came in.”

My eyes were adjusted to the dark by then, so I could take just a quick peek.

“That’s them.” I dove behind my menu.

“Are either of them Winters?” Sid asked.

“No. But I picked them up as I left the alley.”

The waitress came to take our order.

“Just a few more minutes,” said Sid and off she went.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my tails heading for the back. Sid suddenly got up and left for a minute.

“Okay, they’re gone,” he said, returning.

I lowered my menu. For the first time, I saw the woman dancing on the ramp. I froze.

“Oh my god, she’s stark staring naked.”

“She’s not a very good dancer, either. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Once outside, Sid put his arm around my shoulders and held me tight against him. I started to pull away, but his grip was too strong.

“Hang on to me,” he ordered, as we walked quickly down the street. “It’ll be harder for them to spot you.”

I stopped pulling.

“Not that I think they’ll get out of there any too quickly,” he continued.

“Why not?”

“There’s a cat house in the back there.”

“How’d you know?” I looked at him suspiciously.

“Observation, my dear. I saw several men go back there, all escorted by obvious professionals. You got any cash?”

“Some.”

“Oh.” There was a pause. “I just spent my last hundred bucks to keep those goons of yours occupied.”

“How?”

“I sent a couple of girls after them. Told them to say Jerry sent them.”

“Who’s Jerry?”

“Beats me.”

“Are you sure that’s going to stop them?”

Sid looked behind us. “Well, they’re not following us. Besides, I was able to get a better look at them than you were probably able to. They looked like your standard thugs to me. I get the feeling somebody hired them to do some dirty work. That’s just the type to take advantage of a freebie, even if it means being lax on the job.”

“I hope so.”

We got back to the motel without any sign of a tail. Still, we didn’t leave again that night. The next morning, Sid left fairly early to look around. He returned just before noon, saying he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Mutt and Jeff, as we’d come to call my pursuers, but that I’d better not go out that afternoon. We could go out that night, under the cover of darkness. We ate lunch in the motel coffee shop and spent the afternoon playing cards. That night Sid told me he had a surprise for me the next day.

It was an all day riverboat trip on the Mississippi. We had a wonderful time even though I lost ten dollars to Sid when I dared him to spell Mississippi. He couldn’t do it. But he challenged me to, and I didn’t get it right until the third try. That hurt my pride more than it hurt my pocketbook.

We got off the boat just in time to check in with the Dragon. Sid was not happy when he hung up the phone.

“Guess who set up a phony meeting with Winters and asked me to tail him when he splits after no one shows,” he said.

“Why would she do that?”

“Your friends, Mutt and Jeff.” He looked around. “It’s not ’til six thirty. Why don’t we get some dinner and window shop for a while, then you can go back to the motel while I’m on Winters’ tail.”

“Sounds good, but don’t you want to stay wired?”

“Uh, yes and no. The Dragon said I shouldn’t hold onto him too tight, and I thought I might take advantage of the separation, if you don’t mind.”

“I guess not. When do I start worrying?”

“Tap in a message around ten. I’ll make sure I keep my receiver on and give me, say, twenty minutes to respond.”

We took our time and pretty much stayed near the waterfront, as the meeting was in that neighborhood. At six twenty-five, Sid spotted Winters at the restaurant.

“There he is. Now, remember, straight to the room.”

“I’ll see you later.”

He watched me until I got half a block away, then got into position on the other side of the restaurant, where I couldn’t see him. I did see Mutt and Jeff watching Winters, which I thought was rather odd. I didn’t think they’d seen me, so I turned into a nice old fashioned drug store on the corner. Ordinarily, I would’ve done exactly what Sid had told me, but the next day was Sid’s birthday and I wanted to get him a card. I had plans and I couldn’t wait to surprise him.

Finding the right card for him was no easy task. Getting back to the hotel proved to be much harder. I had just paid for the card and stashed it in my purse when I saw Mutt heading my way down the aisle adjacent to me. I didn’t wait. I pulled a wire rack of greeting cards into his path and took off.

After bursting through the doors of the store, I turned right into a dark green overcoat. Gasping, I pulled away and tried to run over a small foreign car parked at the curb. But Jeff pulled me down by the back of my sundress.

By that time, Mutt was there. He grabbed my upper arm hard and held me so tightly it hurt. Jeff took hold of my other arm just as tightly. They escorted me down the street, to a large, dark, four-door sedan. Mutt shoved me into the back seat and climbed in next to me, while Jeff seated himself behind the wheel. Mutt pulled a gun. I decided not to try anything.

I wasn’t blindfolded and I do have a pretty good sense of direction, so I was able to pretty much keep track of where we were, even though I was terrified. I was too scared to play cool. It was all I could do to keep my head clear enough to think and not panic.

We parked in front of a line of seedy apartment buildings on the edge of the French Quarter. When Mutt pulled me out of the car I stumbled and fell, scraping my elbow. I was roughly dragged to my feet and escorted into the building we’d parked in front of.

The stairs weren’t lighted or carpeted. The place reeked of urine and burnt food. Somewhere I heard an infant screaming. I was pushed up three flights and then down the hall.

The apartment I was pushed into wasn’t any nicer. There were newspapers all over the floor, an old yellowed lamp in one corner, a couch with the stuffing coming out in several places and a kitchenette with a sink piled high with dirty dishes. At the end of the room was a door.

Mutt patted me down, missing the twenty-two automatic strapped to the top of my thigh. Sid had told me to wear it as close to my crotch as possible just because people usually avoid searching genitalia unless they have to. I was shoved through the door into a small bedroom with a foul smelling brass bed and a white ceramic stand alone sink up against one wall. In the other wall, was a window.

“Don’t think of trying anything,” said Jeff, as he shut the door.

I tried the window. Even if I could have opened it, there was no place to go but straight down three stories. I wasn’t that desperate yet. I debated blasting my way out with the twenty-two. But while the gun was better than no gun at all, it was little more than a pea shooter, and with two of them, I figured the odds were pretty good I’d get hit before I could get them stopped without killing them.

I decided to listen at the door, to see if I could learn something useful. All I heard was that someone wasn’t answering and snatches of debate about what to do in the meantime. I looked at my watch. It was eight forty-five.

Time crawled along. To calm myself, I recited the Rosary under my breath, counting the Hail Marys on my fingers. Shortly after nine, I heard the phone clatter onto its cradle. It seems whoever wanted me raped, strangled and dumped near the waterfront. Then they started talking about doing it together and arguing about who took the top and who took the bottom first. I had only a vague idea what they were talking about, and a bad feeling that I didn’t want to know. It took them ‘til ten-fifteen to settle it and they came after me.

I yanked up the skirt of my dress to get the gun. The fabric got in my way, then the door slammed into my hands.

Seeing me so close to the door really irritated Mutt and he backhanded me across the face, first one way and then the other. I stumbled, crying softly, as I felt the blood from my nose drip onto my upper lip. I saw him double up his fist and ducked just enough to catch it in my left eye. Then the room went spinning as another fist connected underneath my jaw. I fell backward onto my seat, my tongue throbbing on one side where my teeth had sunk in.

Looking up, I saw the both of them advancing on me. Jeff had come in without his overcoat and was playing with the fly on his pants.

“Holy God have mercy on me,” I prayed in a low voice.

Mutt turned to Jeff. “Quit playin’ with yourself and help me get her onto the bed. You can drop your drawers when we get her tied down.”

That wasn’t how I’d envisioned losing my virginity. I crawled backward as Mutt advanced on me. I tried to get my hand under my skirt again. Before I could get the gun, Mutt made a grab for me. I rolled away and scrambled to my feet. I think Mr. Fukaro, my martial arts instructor, would have frowned on my style, but I landed a good solid kick into Jeff’s groin. I swung around and landed a rabbit punch in Mutt’s ear and knee jerked him in the groin.

I found my purse in the other room and quickly checked inside to make sure everything was there. I guess they figured since they were killing me, they could always empty it later. With the transmitters on Sid and me, there really wasn’t anything of obvious interest in there, except my gun, which was on the same table as the purse. Jeff groaned and stumbled out of the bedroom. I grabbed the model thirteen and put a slug in his shoulder. Then I ran.

I got out of the building okay, but as I started running down the street, a bullet ricocheted off the building next to me. As another passed through my skirt dangerously close to my legs, I ducked for cover in a doorway.

I peeked around the stone to see Mutt, still doubled over, but hanging out the window with a gun. A car came towards us. I was about a hundred feet away from the cross street. As the car passed, I darted out from the doorway, running behind the car, to the corner and headed down the cross street.

I got turned around a couple of times and was making a lot of turns anyway, to avoid being followed, so I didn’t get back to the motel until eleven thirty. I couldn’t take a cab because Mutt and Jeff did get the cash out of my wallet. Gasping and sweating from the run, I got the key from the desk and hurried onto the elevator. My hands shook as I inserted the key and opened the door. The room was dark. I breathed a sigh of relief. Sid hadn’t gotten back yet. I had time to clean myself up and hopefully, he wouldn’t ask any questions. I could always say that the transmitter hadn’t worked.

I sank onto the edge of my bed closest to the balcony and blankly looked at the curtains. The key in the lock scraped and the door opened behind me.

“Where the hell have you been?” Sid was furious. “I’ve been worried sick about you.”

“Just out.” I kept my back to him. “I had to get something.”

I wanted to get to the bathroom before he saw my face.

“Just out,” snapped Sid. “I got back here at nine and you were gone. I found out from the desk clerk you never came in. I told you to come straight here.”

“I had to get something.”

“What, pray tell, did you have to get that took you four and a half hours to buy? Will you look at me?” Sid strode over. I winced as he grabbed my arm and turned me around. “Jesus. What the hell happened to you?”

“Will you please?” I groaned, trying not to cry. “I hate it when you use His name that way.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“Mutt and Jeff were watching Winters. I figured you’d seen them, but they found me. They knocked me around a little, but I got away. I kept an eye out. They didn’t follow me.”

Sid looked me over tenderly. A glance in the mirror told me I was a mess. My hair had gone wild from the run. My left eye was beginning to swell and redden. There was dried blood on my upper lip and out the corner of my mouth. My tongue had swollen and I was speaking with a slur. My upper arms were beginning to bruise. My elbow stung. My dress was filthy, with dark greasy spots all over it. My skirt had been torn away from the bodice in one section in the back and had a bullet hole in one side. My nylons were a mass of runs.

Sid bent and gently took off my sandals, which, amazingly, had held up. Then he turned down the covers on my bed and propped the pillows up against the headboard.

“I want you to stay put exactly where you are,” he said, pulling my nightgown out of my suitcase. “I’m going to get some ice. While I’m gone, I want you to slip out of your clothes and into your nightgown. I don’t want you to try and get up. I’ll clean you up when I get back. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Will you follow directions this time?”

I nodded.

“Alright. I’ll be right back. I’m taking my key, so don’t answer if anyone knocks.”

He left.

I did change into my nightgown. But he came back to catch me staggering out of the bathroom.

He set the ice bucket on the dresser.

“I thought I told you to…”

“I had to go.”

He softened and gently picked me up. I was too tired and shaky to protest. He set me down on my bed with my back against the propped up pillows. Then he quickly gathered together the towels, ice, washcloth, bucket and first aid kit, and neatly laid everything out on the bed beside me. He sat down next to me and without saying anything washed off my face and arms. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to enjoy his gentle touch. His hands were soft as they very carefully, gently probed my nose and around my eye, searching for things out of place, and then inspected the bruises on my arms and the scrape on my elbow.

“Doesn’t look too bad,” he said, smiling. “Just a nice selection of bruises and scrapes. You’re going to have quite a shiner, there.”

“Terrific. Can I have a piece of ice to suck on? I bit my tongue, too. It hurts.”

“Sure open wide.”

I did so and he popped the ice in.

He improvised an ice bag out of a plastic bag and a towel and had me hold it to my eye. Then he bandaged my elbow.

“Feeling any nausea or dizziness?” he asked, picking up the stuff.

I shook my head.

“Good. But let me know if you start feeling sick.”

He put everything away and then sat down next to me again.

“Now, I need to know exactly what happened.”

So I told him, starting from when I first saw Mutt. He listened without comment, although I saw him getting mad when he heard about the attempted rape.

“So you got them where it hurts,” he said and then to himself, “I wish I had.” He looked at me. “I’m proud of you. You handled yourself well.”

“Thanks.”

“But why were you at the drugstore in the first place?”

“I had to get something.”

“I know, but what?”

I bit my lip. Besides wanting to keep Sid’s birthday a surprise, I knew he’d be furious if he knew I’d gone there just for a birthday card. Fortunately, Sid took my hesitation for something else.

“Is it time for your monthly?”

I blushed but seized on the excuse. “Well, not quite. I just don’t like not being covered.”

I figured that was close enough to the truth. I hadn’t checked my calendar, but I knew I wasn’t due for at least another week and a half, more like two.

“You could have asked me to buy whatever you needed. I don’t mind doing that sort of thing.”

“I’m sure you don’t. But you know me.”

“Afraid so. That was a damned stupid thing to do. Next time, ask me, will you?”

“I will.” I watched him get up and go over to his bed. A question kept nagging at me. It was unpleasant, but I had to know. “Sid, I told you what they said before they came to me. Do you know what they were going to do?”

Sid looked at me sadly, then slowly nodded.

“What were they going to do?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“I do. It’s bugging me.”

Sid turned down his covers with a vicious snap before he spoke. He looked at me.

“They were going to take you both at the same time, probably more than once.”

“How?”

“One normally, one orally.”

I put my hand to my mouth as my stomach heaved.

“That’s sick,” I said through my fingers.

Sid shrugged. “It’s not really that bad. It’s the rape element that’s sick.” Sadly, he pulled his pajama bottoms and robe out of his suitcase. “Why don’t you go on to sleep?”

He helped me readjust my pillows, then disappeared into the bathroom.

Sally Wright Part Two

This is the second part of Sally Wright’s guest post. She is the author of both the Ben Reese and Jo Grant mystery series. You can find out more about her on her website, www.sallywright.net.

 

How would Ben Reese be different if you were writing one of his stories while doing chemo? And would Jo Grant be a different character if the cancer hadn’t come along?

 

– I don’t know how Ben Reese would’ve been different if I’d had pancreatic cancer when I was writing his books, but it is an interesting question. I was who I was then. It took quite a while for Publish And Perish, the first Ben Reese, to find a publisher (which made becoming a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Alan Poe Award finalist for Pursuit And Persuasion even more of a gift). I was younger and healthier, riding horses all the time, with my kids at home, then just off on their own, then well-established elsewhere, as those books were being published.

I could travel more easily to do the research for the Ben Reese books (which was more complicated in some ways than what I have to do for the Jo Grant books), and gave me some of my all-time favorite memories – hunting with hawks and ferrets in Scotland high on the list among them. The Ben books came out of that time, when I could work with John Reid and write whatever book got my attention. I don’t altogether choose the books I write. They come to me, and make themselves known, and I get caught up in what they ask of me. They can grow out of a setting, or a character, or an historical event, or a method of murder that seems interesting. They’re what they had to be then, and now I can’t imagine them being different than they are.

But Jo Grant is affected by me having cancer, and from other real-life experiences as well. They’re supposedly written by Jo in the mid-1990s when she’s in her mid-sixties, looking back thirty some years on events that happened when she was in her early thirties. She describes the situations she lived through, fitting herself in like every other character in the “memoirs” she’s chosen to write as novels. She uses excerpts too from her journals from the sixties to show what the day-to-day was like while she was going through it.

Jo lived through suffering and danger and the death of those she loved, and how she deals with it in the beginning of Breeding Ground (the first Jo Grant) is different than she does by the end, or in Behind The Bonehouse, the new book in the series.

One of the organizing principles of the way I constructed the framework of the novels is that Jo tells the reader in the preface and the epilogue that she’s seriously ill without identifying the condition. It’s clear she’s living on borrowed time and has no guarantee that she’ll finish the book. (Which is actually the way we all live, even if we don’t think about it much).

Still, “she’s” finished two books (and started a third), and she sees these years as a gift. The perspective I have on the nature of life and death, and the things that become important when you know you have limited time, do affect the way I portray Jo. We don’t complain about the weather anymore, and we’re more grateful for less.

Jo cared for her mother before Breeding Ground opens through to her death from a brain tumor, and when I began planning that plot, I, too, was caring for my mother (who lived next door, with wonderful caregivers) through nearly ten years of dementia. I had Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer three months before she died on her hundredth birthday, and was going through chemo and radiation during those months.

Jo loses her much loved brother, as well as her mother, and when we first see her she wants nothing to do with caring for anyone or anything – even a good horse. She feels old before her time, as though she’s lost a large chunk of her life, and she wants to be left alone to do her work as an architect without more death and sorrow, or interference from anyone.

Life does interfere, as it’s wont to do in this world. And Jo has to grow up – with the help of a very perceptive chemical engineer who’d been in the OSS in France during WWII. It’s when Jo’s in her sixties, looking back in the preface and the epilogue, that she can explain what she went through more clearly and see what matters most.

Behind The Bonehouse examines the horrors of being wrongly accused (which we all are, sometime of something), then scrambling to prove your innocence when the legal system isn’t listening – before you gradually begin to realize that even if you’re acquitted, many around you, in your small tight community, will always believe you’re guilty. It examines the depths of vindictiveness that human nature is prone to, and the place of forgiveness in surviving it.

Which is not to say that Breeding Ground and Behind The Bonehouse are all doom and gloom. They’re not. They examine, in interesting and unexpected ways, the opportunities and conflicts inherent in family businesses, which have been the backbone of the American economy until the last few years when the cost of doing business makes it harder to start a business, as well as keep it afloat. I was raised with a family business, and I know a lot about the pressures on the founders and their children, and there’s much that’s worth contemplating in those family dynamics.

There’re interesting collections of characters in the Jo Grant books who are easy to like and love, along with great horses, and entertaining dogs. There’s humor too, and happiness that means something, and underpinnings from WWII and the OSS, as well as the kind of danger and death that makes mysteries what they are.

The Jo Grant books are important to me, personally and as a writer, and the positive reviews they’ve been given by accomplished mystery writers like William Kent Krueger, Charles Todd, and Terence Faherty, help me want to get to work in the morning and try to finish the next.

Many thanks to Sally Wright for her contribution. You can buy Behind the Bonehouse and other books by her at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Five

May 24 – 28, 1983

 

We were up early and ran, as always. I got the bathroom first, dressed, then repacked the bags. Our flight to Orlando wasn’t leaving until two, so I figured I might as well.

“Damn it! Lisa!” Sid suddenly bellowed.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to be using names,” I said as he came to the bathroom door.

He was wearing his jeans, but no shirt, and his face was half covered with foam. His left forefinger was pressed against the dimple in his chin. He spoke quietly, but he wasn’t happy. “Did you remember to change the blades on my razor?”

“Well, I remembered, but…”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I left the new one right beside it so you’d see it. I was going to tell you, but you were asleep and I kinda forgot.”

Sid sighed and looked at the blood on his fingertip.

“You just slide the blade assembly off the base.” He replaced his finger. “It’s very simple. You can’t even misalign it.”

“Oh.”

“Please remember that. I don’t like cutting myself.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” Sid sighed and withdrew to finish shaving.

When he came out, I had to look for the cut to find it.

“Do you cut yourself often?” I asked as we left the motel. “I mean with that dimple and all…”

“Almost never. Of course, it took a certain amount of practice. My aunt was fond of saying she was surprised I had a chin left.”

“Why didn’t you grow a beard?”

“I don’t like beards, or any facial hair, for that matter. I did have a mustache in high school, though, one of those thick Sergeant Pepper things. I graduated with it. I was one of the few guys my age who could grow one.” Sid chuckled in reminiscence. “I shaved it off at boot camp and haven’t grown one since.”

I sat back in the rental car and tried to imagine him with a Sergeant Pepper mustache and then with a beard. I decided I liked the cleft chin more, though I didn’t tell him. He was vain enough as it was.

We still got to the airport by ten fifteen that morning. We went ahead and checked our luggage, then Sid phoned our contact.

“I was afraid of that,” he grumbled, as he left the booth.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, worried.

“The drop’s set for Disney World.”

“How fun. I’m excited.”

“You would be. I suppose you’ll be dragging me on all those silly rides.”

“Oh come on. Loosen up a little. Do me a favor and dump the dignity for a while. You might even have some fun.”

“Are you implying that I don’t know how to have fun?”

“Not at all. You’re just limited.”

He sighed.

We still had an hour or so to kill. I talked Sid into the cafeteria. He opted for an early lunch. I pored over some brochures I’d found.

“Let’s see..,” I mumbled between bites of polish sausage and french fries. “They say here Epcot costs extra, but they have combined passports…”

I dug a pen out of my purse and did some figuring on the paper placemat. Sid shook his head. He was eating a chef’s salad, but had picked out the ham slices and set them aside.

“How long do you think we’ll be there?” I asked. “May I have your ham?”

“At least through Friday and no you may not. It’s not good for you.”

“That’s just a myth.” I reached over and took it anyway. “There is no trichinosis in that meat.” I continued with my figures.

“Maybe not, but there is an enormous amount of fat, and even if there’s isn’t, it’s probably salt cured. That’s not even count—”

“Shut up. I’m trying to divide.” I worked at the math a few moments longer and then smiled at the results. “Okay. The four-day passport is the best buy, but it hardly seems worth it if we’re probably leaving Friday. So we should probably get the three-day passport.”

“I’d like to keep our time at the parks to a minimum.”

“Oh, come on. Disneyland is about as safe as you can get.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Sid said, bored. “I’ve never been there.”

“You’ve never been..?” I was aghast.

“Nope.”

“But you’ve lived in California all your life. Heck, my parents weren’t rich and we still managed to make it down from Tahoe at least once a year.”

“I couldn’t afford it.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m serious. I was dirt poor as a kid. I didn’t come into my money until my second year at Stanford. Being a communist made my aunt rather hard to employ.”

“I suppose but… well, how’d you learn to play the piano so well? That takes years of lessons and that’s not cheap.”

A faraway look came over Sid’s face, he quietly laid his fork by his plate and wiped his mouth with his napkin. Slowly he placed the napkin by the fork.

“Stella taught me,” he said finally. Stella was the aunt who had raised him, and as far as he knew, his only living relative. They hadn’t spoken since Sid was nineteen because he allowed himself to be drafted instead of going to Canada. Sid had never been close to Stella. According to him, she’d never wanted him in the first place. So this sudden emotion over her surprised me a little. “She was a student at Julliard when she broke with her family and changed her name. I don’t know if she continued there after that, or not. I’m not even sure if she graduated.”

“Why don’t you know? Didn’t she tell you?”

“Stella never told me anything about her 24background or mine. What little I know, I pieced together from various stories I heard from people who knew her at the time.”

“Could you tell me what you know?” I leaned forward and smiled warmly.

Sid looked at me for a moment and returned the smile. He leaned back in his seat and took a deep breath.

“As far as I know, Stella had been a communist and was broken off from her family for some time, when my mother got pregnant. She got disowned and sought out Stella. Stella took her in, very unwillingly, and managed to convince my mother that an abortion would just be asking for trouble.”

“That’s right, they were illegal, then.”

“Mm-hm.”

“Do you know what your mother was like?”

“I don’t remember her at all. I have heard that she wasn’t exactly an innocent victim. Stella was rather fond of hinting that my mother didn’t tend towards chastity, even after she was pregnant.”

“Like mother, like son.”

Sid laughed. “That’s exactly what Stella said when she found out I was into fooling around. But that’s another story. Anyway, Stella took pretty good care of my mother, but when she went into labor, Stella panicked. She took my mother to the hospital, but couldn’t get her admitted. I’ve heard all sorts of reasons, such as my mother had never been married and wouldn’t name the father, or more likely, Stella just didn’t have the money and got unpleasant about it.”

“Oh no. You were born on the sidewalk.”

“Almost. Apparently, it was quite a scene. My mother sitting on the curb in labor and Stella standing over her screaming Communist propaganda. Finally, they were rescued, by of all people, a priest and Stella was furious about that.”

“How wild.”

“It’s not necessarily true. The man that told me all this was prone to big lies, especially when he was stoned, which he generally was.” Sid smiled. “Donovan Smith. Sheesh, I haven’t thought about him in years. He was the closest to a father figure I ever had. Used to pop in and out of our lives periodically. I hitchhiked cross-country with him several times. Sometimes Stella came with us, too. He was the only man I ever suspected of being her lover. She was strange that way, not gay, just completely indifferent, like it was a nuisance.”

“What happened to Donovan?”

“He died, in `67, I think. I heard he took a bad trip on LSD and jumped off a building.”

“How sad.”

“I suppose. It was no surprise. Stella always said he was headed for it.”

“But what got you started on the piano?”

“Oh that. That was Stella’s idea. I remember that day. It was my sixth birthday. I was also excited because kindergarten was almost over. I hated it. I was always in trouble and the teacher was always making me do stupid things, like building houses out of blocks, and they had to be just so and when I asked her why, which I did often, she had fits.”

“My teacher did that too. She always made us put roofs on our houses and I got mad because we couldn’t play with them that way.”

“I wonder if it was the same lady.” Sid laughed, while I shrugged. “Back to the piano. I came home from school and Stella told me that the time had come for me to receive my legacy. Neither she nor my mother had anything to give me in material goods, they belonged to the people, anyways, and the Revolution was not Stella’s to give. But Stella said she could give me music and that would be my legacy.” Sid paused. “I didn’t even know what the word meant. For years I thought it was playing the piano. Anyway, she sat me down at this old battered upright and started me playing scales. That’s how it all began and every day after that for years I worked on my music for hours. When there wasn’t a piano available, I was drilled on theory. It was the only thing we shared.” Sid fell silent for a minute, then looked at me. “So tell me about your childhood.”

“I was basically happy. Very comfortable. I was sick a lot as a little kid, though. I got pneumonia every year without fail until I was seven, then I got double pneumonia. After that I was healthy. I always said I got it out of my system early. But when I was well, I had a good time. I was Daddy’s girl. Don’t get me wrong. He never played favorites. He loved Mae very much. But I was special because they almost lost me so many times.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, Mama said her obstetrician was surprised I lived at all.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, Mama never had any trouble getting pregnant, she just couldn’t keep them. She miscarried twice before Mae, carried Mae to term, then had five miscarriages in four years before she got pregnant with me and I showed up two months early. I barely weighed four-and-a-half pounds at birth.”

“Is that bad?”

“Average is seven to eight.”

Sid whistled low under his breath.

“Anyway, Mama miscarried three more times after I was born. Then I kept getting sick, which was to be expected, I guess.”

“You must have been one tough little girl.”

“Yep. Of course, part of that was Daddy’s fault. You see, I doubled as his son. He was disappointed when he found out I was a girl. But he told me when I was eleven that when he saw me in the nursery struggling just to breathe, he knew I was going to be a very special baby and he loved me very much because of that.”

“Is that why he’s so protective of you?”

I laughed. “Yes, that’s part of it. Of course, he’s very protective of Mae, too. Neil used to work for Daddy, put himself through dental school that way. Daddy almost fired Neil several times because he thought Neil was making moves on Mae and that was before they fell in love with each other.”

“He seems to like Neil well enough now.” Sid’s tone was a little rueful.

Daddy has never liked any man that Mae or I have dated. He really can’t stand Sid. He considers Sid’s urban polish effeminate, which bugs him. He’s convinced Sid has designs on my body and is going to lead me straight into living in sin. [The man had a point there – SEH]  Worst of all, Daddy is insanely jealous of Sid, more than he’s ever been of anybody I’ve dated, which I can’t figure out for the life of me.

“Well, Neil is his son-in-law,” I said.

“How is the old cuss, anyway?” Sid asked. He’s not terribly fond of Daddy, either.

“Just fine. I didn’t get to talk to him when I called in Washington. But that reminds me, if we go any further south, we’ll have to drop the Donaldson’s. There are parts of Dade County where I can’t spit without hitting a relative.”

“Dade County?” Sid grinned. “As in Anita Bryant?”

“Yes,” I groaned. I hated those jokes. “My parents are from Dade County.”

Sid chuckled. “It figures.”

“Will you please? He is my father.”

“Alright. But what are the odds of us running into them?”

“Almost nil. They’re already back in Tahoe. Summer season starts this weekend. It’s Memorial Day, you know.”

“Ah, that’s right.” Sid looked up as they announced the flight to Orlando. “That’s us. Let’s go.”

We had a pleasant afternoon. We got checked in at the motel outside Disney World without a hitch, then went to change into our swimming gear.

At first, I was a little nervous. The time had come when I had to face Sid in my swim suit and him in his. I was afraid he would have one of those little knit bathing suits that leave nothing to the imagination, but he came out of the bathroom wearing, brief, but sufficiently modest, trunks out of a blue Hawaiian print and an open short-sleeved shirt out of the same fabric. He, in turn, was surprised when he saw me. My new bathing suit was discreet, but just barely, a halter with a front that plunged and closed just before you could see anything and a back that dipped becomingly low.

“I thought you’d be wearing something that covered a lot more,” Sid said.

So I told him what I thought he’d be wearing.

“I’m not an exhibitionist,” was his reply.

Sid brought a magazine with him to the pool, but when he discovered there was no shade, he decided to swim with me.

“Didn’t you want to work on a tan?” I asked. “Not that it’s much work.”

Sid chuckled. “I can’t out here. We don’t want people to complain to the motel management.”

“At the risk of further inflating your ego, I can’t see anything to complain about.”

“I can’t either. But you see, I don’t believe in tan lines, and some people find that objectionable.”

“Oh.” I could feel my face growing hot. “I thought you said you weren’t an exhibitionist.”

“I’m not. Just because I don’t exhibit my body for show doesn’t mean I am uncomfortable in my natural state.”

I confess I did briefly try to imagine him that way, but it was just too embarrassing. Sid noticed and laughed.

Disney World and Epcot were a blast. Okay, the Magic Kingdom was almost just like Disneyland, but that didn’t bother me because I love Disneyland. Sid made the drop without trouble. He even went on the rides without complaining.

By Thursday, however, Sid was getting a little touchy, and made a few pointed comments about the number of frozen bananas, orange juice bars, hamburgers and boxes of popcorn I consumed. It didn’t help that we were given a second drop to make the next day. By then, Sid was positively distant.

“I just don’t feel like communicating right now,” he told me after breakfast.

“Okay. But the last time that happened, we ended up in that really awful fight and it just made it harder when things blew up.”

He sighed. “Alright. Point taken.” He turned to me and gently touched my cheek. “But the only resolution for what I’m feeling at the moment is something you don’t want to get into. Can you bear with me until Sunday?”

“Oh. Yeah.” I felt guilty, but Sid was right. I didn’t want to get into that.

He was still sulking at lunch.

“We’ll have to take time out from your food and ride fest to make that second drop,” he grumbled. “The layout is pretty good from our standpoint. I’ll be at the hotel bar, and she’ll talk to the bartender. It’ll be pretty hard to pop me with someone right there. I want you to be extra careful on the perimeter sweeps.”

I was, but there was nothing to be seen. Nobody was in the bar in the middle of the afternoon. The bartender was very friendly and I could hear Sid chatting pleasantly with him. I moved around behind the bar. Static crackled in my ear, and instead of Sid, I got the radio from the monorail. I stepped into the ladies room and took off my transmitter. Fat lot of good that did. I whacked it a couple times.

“Approaching station,” said the professional voice. “All clear.”

I went back to the bar. Sid met me out front.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“Everything go okay?” I asked. “My transmitter cut out and picked up the monorail.”

“So did mine.” He paused. “Listen, is your heart still set on another run through Space Mountain?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why don’t you spare me? I’ll meet you over there after check in.”

I wondered what was up, but decided to take advantage of it. While in line to Space Mountain I ate a bacon cheeseburger. [So that was what I smelled on your breath – SEH] As it happened, I did feel for him, but there just wasn’t much I could do about it, besides the obvious, and no matter how I tried to justify it, I couldn’t.

Sid just got grumpier and grumpier. We flew to New Orleans the next day. As usual, Sid slept the whole way, so I didn’t say anything about the problem.

In New Orleans, we found a nice little motel in the French Quarter. At the desk, the clerk said all they had was a double (a room with two queen sized beds).

“That’s it?” Sid asked.

“Oh, darling, let’s take it,” I butted in quickly. “I know it’s more expensive, but it’s Memorial Day weekend. I don’t want to take a chance on not finding a place to stay.”

“Alright,” replied Sid, quietly.

He paid for the room and gloomily followed behind the bellhop and me. It was a very nice little room with a private bath and a balcony overlooking a courtyard and, of course, the two beds. I waited until the bellhop had gone before I bounced onto the bed closest to the balcony.

“No sleeping on the floor,” I crowed, flopping backward and gazing at the ceiling. “How wonderful.”

I thought I heard a faint sigh. I looked at Sid, who was sitting down with his back to me on the far edge of the other bed.

“Isn’t this just perfect?” I asked.

“Yeah, “ grumbled Sid. “Too bad I can’t have company.”

“Well, I could make myself scarce.”

“I’m not bringing anyone here, anyway. It’s too dangerous.”

I rolled over onto my stomach and looked at him.

“Are you sure there’s not something else bothering besides you know what?”

“I’m fine. Just leave me alone will you?”

“Come on, what’s eating you?”

Sid let out a short high-pitched sarcastic laugh, and I thought I heard him mutter the Lord’s name, but I chose to let it pass.

“I’m sorry. I just find it a little hard to believe you are this upset because you’ve missed a few nights.”

He turned around and glared at me.

“I am not upset, but I am that horny. I’m also trying very hard to remain civil and pleasant, but it’s not easy.”

“Well, hang on, Sunday’s coming. Better yet, I’ll go do something by myself today.”

“No, I don’t want you wandering around on those streets by yourself. I’ll make it til tomorrow.”

“You could always try running twenty laps around the French Quarter and then a cold shower.”

“Very funny.”

“I thought so. Maybe you ought to pretend you’ve got V.D., something drastic, like Herpes.”

“Mention not that dread name, even in jest.” Sid was deadly serious.

“Sorry.” I rolled over onto my back again.

“Will you cut that out,” Sid snapped turning away from me.

“What?” I folded my hands underneath my head.

“What you’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything. I’m just laying here, looking at the ceiling.”

“I only have so much control.”

“What do you mean?”

“You laying on your back. Don’t you have any idea how inviting that is?”

“Oh, Sid,” I gasped as the light dawned. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Look, I’m not even laying down anymore. I’m really sorry. I didn’t even think…”

“I know.” Sid turned to me. “That’s the problem.”

“I can’t help it. I just don’t think that way.”

“Maybe it’s better that you don’t.”

There was a pause.

“That bad, huh?” I asked.

Sid nodded. “Your presence isn’t helping any, either.”

“Well, that settles it.” I stood up and grabbed my purse. “I’m taking off, and by myself, too. You do what you want.”

“No, I’ll go with you. I don’t want you out there by yourself.”

“Enough with the chauvinism. It’s broad daylight, I can take care of myself and I’m not going to take any stupid chances. I’ll be fine.”

“So will I. Let’s go.”

“No. Sid, I don’t want to make it any harder on you than it already is. I’ll go. You can do whatever and I’ll be back by four. Okay? See you.”

“Alright.”

I had to pass him to get to the door. As I did, he goosed me. I turned on him angrily.

“Do you want me to sock you in the jaw?”

“Might help.” He shrugged, helplessly.

“Don’t tempt me.” I shut the door. The poor thing.

There was another reason I didn’t want Sid around that day. While on the plane, I had remembered his birthday was the following Wednesday. Now, obviously, Sid isn’t exactly the type to appreciate being reminded that he is getting older. But I felt I had to do something. He had been very generous to me on my birthday earlier that spring.

So, happily rid of him for several hours, I explored the French Quarter stores, searching for just the right gift. It wasn’t easy. If Sid wants something he just buys it. Back home, in Los Angeles, I had a sweater half-way knitted for him, but Sid hadn’t thought to bring my knitting. I don’t knit fast enough to have started from scratch again. There was also the problem of carrying it.

Most of the stores carried tourist-oriented goods. The stores on Bourbon Street carried a lot of items that were along the lines of Sid’s extracurricular activities, but I decided I didn’t know enough about what I was doing. I was too embarrassed anyway.

Towards mid-afternoon, I went into a little antique shop off of Andrew Jackson Square. They had a lovely collection of antique jewelry. I found Sid’s gift sitting in a case with some china. It was a gold pocket watch with a chain and fob attached. It was open, and I could see the time was the same as on my watch.

“How much is this watch?” I asked the shopkeeper.

“Hundred and fifty dollars, ma’am.”

I bit my lip. On one hand, it was a lot of money for me to be spending on Sid and we were supposedly on a budget. On the other hand, Sid wouldn’t like anything cheap and a hundred and fifty dollars wouldn’t seem like a lot to him.

“Um, could I see it?”

“Certainly, ma’am. Nice little piece.” The shopkeeper opened the case and pulled it out. He wound it up and gentle music came tinkling out of it. “Has a music box.”

“How enchanting. I know that piece.”

I was entranced, but the money it cost made me hesitate.

“I’ll have to think about it.”

I knew as I left the store that I wouldn’t find anything better. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that Sid should have it. I continued shopping but was utterly preoccupied with the watch, until a sharp female voice jolted me alert.

“How’d you like to see yourself as a blonde, honey?” she screeched.

I stopped. She leaned in the doorway of a wig shop, a heavy set blonde with a style like Dolly Parton’s. I had a feeling she was wearing her stock.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“How’d you like to see yourself as a blonde?” she repeated. “Got a piece of hair’d suit you right nicely.”

“Oh,” I giggled. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try it on.”

“Course not.”

The effect was incredible. I couldn’t believe the stranger with the ash blonde shag cut I saw facing me in the mirror was me. So, impulsively, I bought the wig. After all, what’s a spy without one good disguise? Still in that frame of mind, I also bought a pair of indoor/outdoor sunglasses with nice contemporary frames.

Then I went right back to the antique shop. As I entered, my heart stopped. I heard the gentle music of the watch and saw another couple looking at it and smiling. I didn’t breathe again until they sadly shook their heads and started out.

“I want that watch,” I told the shopkeeper before the couple had even left. I dug frantically through my purse for my wallet. “Chain and all. You have a box for it?”

“Yes, I do, ma’am.”

“Great. What do you want? Master, Visa, American express?”

“Whatever you wish, ma’am.”

I don’t know which card I gave him. I was just glad I’d left my real I.D. in Washington. Knowing me, I’d have given him a card with the wrong name. While he wrote up the sale, I inspected the watch once more.

“Do you gift wrap?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Could you wrap the watch for me? How much extra will it cost?”

“Not a cent, ma’am.”

“I’m going to tell my friends about this place. Thanks.”

Checking my watch, I saw that it was getting close to four. I hid the gift-wrapped box in my purse and hurried back to the motel.

“I’m back,” I called, coming in the door. I shut it firmly.

The room was empty. The bathroom door was shut, and I heard the whine of the blow dryer coming from behind it. Underneath the blow dryer, I thought I heard singing. Puzzled, I slowly put down my bags. The blow dryer clicked off, but the singing continued. It was Sid’s voice, alright. But I’d never heard him sing before. He was singing “All Day, All Night, Marianne.” At least that was the melody. He’d rearranged the lyrics and they were filthy. It figured.

I noticed his suit jacket and vest laid out neatly on the bed. On the dresser was the matching tie, a pair of cuff links and tie pin.

“Sid?” I called again, more hesitantly. “I’m back.”

“Great,” he called back, over the sound of water running. There was a pause then, “Enjoy yourself?”

“Yeah.”

“Terrific.” Pause. “Why don’t you get on your black dress? I’ve got reservations for us at…” pause “…one of the nicest restaurants in the French Quarter.”

“Do you think that’s wise?” I asked.

“Sure…” Pause. “…We can afford to splurge a little.”

“Alright.”

I got out the dress, wondering a little. He seemed to be in a lot better mood. The bathroom door opened and he came out humming “Marianne” and buttoning the top button on his dress shirt. Flipping up the collar, he crossed over to the dresser, picked up the tie and began tying it around his neck.

“I get the feeling you went out also today,” I said leaning on the doors to the balcony.

Sid snickered. “This city’s reputation is well deserved, I’m happy to say.” The tie finished, he inserted the pin into the collar underneath the knot.

“I don’t know. I can’t tell if you’re easier to deal with when you’re horny or when you’re satisfied.”

“Satisfied? Me? Never.” Sid grinned and faced me. “Like the song says, I can’t get no… And how are you, my little ice cube?”

“Confused.”

“About what?”

“You. I’m sorry, Sid, I’m really trying, but I just can’t understand what the big deal is.”

“What big deal?”

“Sex.”

Sid couldn’t have been more astonished.

“What do you mean you don’t understand what the big deal is?” He sat down on the dresser. “It’s…uh…my god, child, I know you’re untouched, but haven’t you ever been horny?”

“Of course, I have. I’m normal.”

“I wasn’t saying you weren’t.” Sid got up and started prowling about the room. “How can I explain it?”

“I know sort of what’s supposed to happen. I guess part of the problem is that I’ve been hearing some conflicting reports.”

“Such as..?”

“What my Grandma Caulfield told Mae right before she got married.”

“And..?”

“She told Mae to close her eyes and lay still and it wouldn’t take long.”

“That’s rubbish and you know it.”

“I know, but what about all the horror stories I’ve heard from my aunts?”

“They’re probably a bunch of gossipy frigid ladies with husbands who are only interested in slam, bam, thank you, ma’am. A decent sex life does take a certain amount of sensitivity.”

“I’m sure it does, but…”

Sid settled on his bed. “How can I tell you? If I try to show you, I’ll get my teeth knocked out. If I use graphic detail, you’ll probably crawl under the bed and stay there.”

“Sid, please. I guess what I don’t understand is I’ve gone all my life without sex and you can’t go a week without it.”

Sid looked at me thinking.

“Well, I am hornier than most,” he said, finally. “I guess it’s largely because I never say no, except for the occasions when I pick up a little V.D., and that’s rare, believe it or not. When I do and I see a likely woman I start reacting like I would normally. I start thinking about how it would feel. Under normal circumstances, I either move in, if the time’s right or forget about her. But there’s something about not being able to have her, for whatever reason, that locks her into my mind. I work at thinking about other things. But you know how it is when there’s something you don’t want to think about, inevitably that’s what you find yourself thinking about. And when I think about it, I get horny. Having to say no only aggravates it. Worse still, I rarely run across just one woman. Anyway, that’s why I get so grumpy. I like to think I’ve got better control over my thoughts than I do.” Sid sighed, looked at me intently and then looked down at his feet. “Of course, you add a whole new dimension to the problem. Not only have I got you in my brain, I’m working with you, closely. Normally, I get hot, I transfer it to some other woman.”

“You mean you think about me when..?”

“No. It’s just when I look at you and the urge hits, I work it out with someone else. But now it’s a lot harder to do that because there’s supposedly no need for another woman, which makes her harder to come by. So I get horny. Do you realize you are the only woman I have really wanted that I have not made love to?”

“Oh, dear, I knew it.” I bit my lip, trying not to cry. “I knew I was making it worse.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“It’s not? Come on. If I wasn’t such a prude, you wouldn’t need to be that way. When the urge hit, you could just have me.”

“That part of it might be easier, but I think we’re still better off as we are. One of the reasons you and I work so well together is because we’re forced to take the time to talk with each other because we do believe so differently. If we were sleeping together, I don’t know that we’d take that time.”

“I still feel responsible, and guilty. I’ve always felt that teasing a guy was incredibly cruel. And here I am driving you nuts because I can’t say yes.”

“Be careful. You sound like you might be rationalizing yourself into a position I can tell you don’t want to be in.”

“And you’re cheering me on.”

“Oh no. If I was, I wouldn’t have warned you. I’d have let you dig your hole and crawled in after you.”

I looked at him, surprised, then smiled.

“Who’d have though my virtue would be safe with you?”

Sid chuckled. “I’d like to think it isn’t entirely safe. I do have my pride, you know.”

“Well, it does get shaky, sometimes, but I have a pretty firm grip on my resolve.”

“Good.” Sid’s smile was tender and warm, then he looked at his watch. “Uh, oh, it’s getting late. You’d better hurry, or we’ll miss our reservation.”

“Oh dear, yes. Let me see, here are my nylons. I’ll need my…where’s my makeup bag?”

“In the bathroom, in your carry on. I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed your shampoo.”

“You got dandruff?”

“No. I ran out of my own.”

“That figures. You wouldn’t allow dandruff.”

“Very funny.”

“I thought so. Where’s my dress?”

Sid handed it to me and I retreated with it into the bathroom. I was a little mad at myself for not remembering that Sid already had a watch. Then I wasn’t so mad because I remembered that he had several different watches that he coordinated with what he was wearing and not one of them was a pocket watch. Then I got depressed because that probably meant he didn’t like pocket watches. Then again, it was possible it just hadn’t occurred to him. I bit my lip. I really hoped he would like it.

“By the way,” I heard Sid call as I slid into my dress. “By any chance, did you buy anything today?”

“You can be proud of me. I did.”

“What did you buy?”

“Now, don’t laugh. You promise?”

“No way.”

“Sid.”

“I’m not making any promise unless I know I can keep it.”

“Well, it was very impulsive. The second most impulsive thing I’ve done in my life.”

“What was the first?”

“Coming to work for you.”

“Real cute. What is this thing?”

“It’s in the tall round box.”

“I was wondering about that.”

Then I heard him laugh, very loudly and very hard.

“What on earth?” he gasped.

“The lady practically dragged me off the street to try it on. I was fascinated. I looked completely different. I thought it might come in handy.”

“Come on, disguises are for Inspector Clouseau and B-rate spy thrillers.”

“Well, you never know.”

“Are you ready yet?” He was still laughing.

“I’m not coming out of this bathroom until you stop laughing. I don’t care if our reservations are at the White House.”

“Alright, alright. I’m not laughing.”

“I still hear a little snicker.”

“No, you don’t. I’m as straight and sober as can be.”

I opened the door a crack. He wasn’t even smiling. I came out. He didn’t crack. I went to get my purse. He started breaking up.

“That does it.” I fled towards the bathroom but Sid caught me before I got there and held me by the upper arms. “Will you please stop laughing? I admit it was a little silly, but for heaven’s sake.”

“Okay, I’ll try.” Sid’s eyes sparkled merrily. “It’s just so unlike you and at the same time very much like you. I love it, I really do.”

He reached over and kissed my forehead.

“Come on,” he said, sympathetically. He turned me around, put his arm around my shoulders and started walking me out of the room. “We shall now go and be terribly sophisticated and dine in elegance at our leisure. Then you can show me how to be utterly frivolous and childlike.”

“Oh, Sid.”

 

Dinner was marvelous, and oh, we laughed together. Then when we went walking and window shopped. A dress in a children’s boutique stopped me.

“That dress.” I pointed it out to Sid. “I made one almost like it for Janey when she was a baby.” We moved on. “I was so excited when she was born.”

“Why?”

“I was there. It was Friday and Mama and I drove down because Mae was due that Sunday. I was still working at Daddy’s store in Tahoe, but I came down with Mama to bring some of my stuff because I was moving in that fall to go to college. Mama and I pulled up at the house at three o’clock that afternoon, but there was no one there. Darby was at the neighbor’s. Mae had been in labor all night and Neil had forgotten to call us. We went right over to the hospital. Mae’s doctor was real progressive, and he had us put on scrubs and go right in. Half an hour later, Janey was born.” My eyes filled. “Mae held her, then Neil, then they plopped her in my arms. I asked what her name was and Mae said Lisa Jane.”

“They named her after you.”

“Yeah. But we call her Janey to prevent confusion since I was living there. Actually, we’re both named after Grandma Wycherly. I was supposed to be Lisle Frobischer, cause Grandma was German, but Mama didn’t want me to have a funny name. She hated growing up as Althea.”

“I can sympathize.”

“So she and Daddy compromised on anglicizing the first name and hadn’t decided about Grandma’s maiden name when I was born. So when I had to be baptized right away cause they were afraid of losing me, Mama couldn’t think of what to do and the nun suggested Jane after St. Joan, who was a strong fighting woman, and Mama said that sounded good, so that’s my name. There wasn’t time to ask Daddy.”

“What did they do, whisk you off to the church right away?”

“Oh no. I was baptized right in the delivery room. In fact, I think Sister did it. They didn’t want to waste time digging up a priest.”

“But I thought only priests did that sort of thing.”

“Under normal circumstances, sure. But in my case, it was a life and death emergency. Heck, in an emergency, any Catholic can baptize somebody.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, if there’s an accident or something and somebody’s dying and wants to be baptized, but there’s a good chance he’s going to peg out before a priest can get there, I, or any other Catholic, could baptize him.”

“What if he doesn’t die?”

“He’s still baptized. Baptism’s baptism. Even in the old days, the church didn’t re-baptize someone who was joining up if he’d been baptized in another faith.”

“I don’t understand. Isn’t that how you guys initiate somebody?”

“In one sense yes. But baptism is a sacrament and that means it goes a lot deeper than the ritual you see. When a person is baptized, he’s washed clean from original sin, which in the case of babies, is their sinful nature and in the case of adults also includes all their other sins.”

“In other words, you have to be baptized to get into heaven.”

“Basically.”

“What if you don’t get around to it?”

“There are provisions for those who believe but haven’t had a chance to be baptized for whatever reason. One of them is martyrdom.”

“Oh.”

“The key is faith. You have to believe in it, first. So I wouldn’t count on having me around when you cash in. Without faith, it won’t do you any good. And besides, I’ll probably get bumped off a lot sooner than you will, anyway. The idea is not to wait to the last minute, because you may not have a chance.”

“Ah, yes. You realize that’s the argument you religious types have in your favor. Death and what comes after.”

“That undiscovered bourn from which no traveler returns.”

“Precisely.” Sid paused, then we walked on. “Back talking about death again, aren’t we?”

“It must be the circumstances surrounding why we’re here.”

Sid smirked. “Maybe I ought to get myself baptized.”

“What?” I asked laughing. “You?”

“Well, that point you made about not waiting to the last minute because you may not have a chance is well taken. You might even want to consider it, as a matter of fact.”

“What do you mean?”

“Earlier this evening you expressed an intense curiosity regarding sexual intercourse.”

My heart racing, I stepped up my pace. The problem was, I was curious and horny, and I realized all of a sudden just how hard he was to resist.

He caught my shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry. I’m not asking. You’re obviously not ready, any more than I am to believe in God. And I refuse to make love to you until you are.”

I looked into his beautiful blue eyes. “It might surprise you, but sometimes I really think I am ready.”

“I’m not in the least surprised.” His fingers touched my cheek. “But until we can overcome the fear within you, it’s not going to happen.”

We went back to the motel from there. I almost took the cold shower. Sid didn’t shower at all, but he sure spent an awfully long time in the bathroom. [You’re kidding. Didn’t you smell it? I was going nuts. I was going to die. That’s what I thought. Either I was going to get myself between your legs, or I was going to die – SEH]

Author Sally Wright and Her Archivist Character Ben Reese

I met Sally Wright online via an email list for mystery fans called DorothyL. Her first series features an archivist. I’m married to one. We both went to Northwestern University (at different times). We both studied Oral Interpretation, the art of reading aloud, although she did her degree at NU and I did my oral interp degree at California State University, Fullerton. I sent her a few questions and she answered. In fact, she gave me such great stuff, I’m having to break her interview into two posts. Here’s Part One. 

 

 

How hard was it to explain Ben Reese’s job when you were sending your first book out?

 

– I definitely had to work on the cover letter, but it probably wasn’t as hard explaining Ben’s job as it was getting agents and editors to consider taking on the work of an unknown author back when I was getting started. Everybody faces that, and the rejection and the hard work it leads to teaches you a lot.

I described how, in the early 1960s, Ben Reese (who’d been an Army Ranger and behind-the-lines Scout in WWII) was a jack-of-all-trades university archivist who identified, dated, restored and conserved, whatever artifacts had been given to his university over the previous hundred and fifty years. He rescued abandoned artifacts from the college’s basements and attics, organized and maintained the archives, and displayed all sorts of materials in the library so that students and faculty could appreciate them. His archives contained a wide array of materials – paintings, tapestries, a chandelier that had once hung in the Whitehouse, letters, diaries, rare books, rare coins, early Native American pottery – which gave Ben an opportunity to travel and research those materials in Europe and the U.S. The artifacts that I describe above were, in fact, actual materials that the “real” Ben Reese (John Reid, now-deceased, the archivist/ex-Ranger I worked with on the Ben Reese books) had organized in the archives of Ohio Wesleyan University.

 

Do you have a favorite archive that you like to visit? Or a fave resource for research? I always joke that I married my favorite resource.

 

– That was very good planning on your part!

When I was writing the Ben Reese books I worked in the archives at Ohio Wesleyan University, the science library at Bowling Green State University, The Library of Congress, The National Archives in Washington, The British Museum (the famous round reading room in London, not the recently built replacement), the Bodleian Library in Oxford, plus many local libraries in England, Scotland, Fernandina Beach, Florida, St. Mary’s, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina, primarily for local history, and several museums and libraries in Tuscany, Italy, most of them in Florence. John Reid worked with me at the Ohio Historical Society (where he was a volunteer after he retired), but generally we worked at his home, which was an incredible resource of all sorts of materials he and his wife had collected.

Now, as I write the Jo Grant mysteries, which take place in Kentucky horse country and have to do with family-owned horse related businesses – a hands-on broodmare care farm, an equine pharmaceutical company, a horse van and trailer manufacturer – I’ve done most of my on-site research in the archives of the Keeneland Racecourse Library in Lexington, which is an excellent resource for all things having to do with the history of the horse, particularly Thoroughbreds, American and world racing, equine medicine (historical and contemporary), equine art, jockeys throughout history, the early days of Kentucky, and much more. And yet – as with all the Ben Reese books as well – the most inspiring research I do comes from interviewing people who are experts in whatever I need to know.

For the Jo Grant books I’ve interviewed law enforcement people (a former Woodford County, Kentucky Sheriff named Squirrel, who’s now a US Marshall, helped me immeasurably), lawyers in Kentucky, and Ohio where I live, five equine vets (practicing and retired, in Kentucky and Ohio) for the book I’m writing now (which will introduce a family owned equine vet practice), a chemical engineer who gave me pivotal parts of two plots, Mackensie Miller, now deceased (a very well respected Thoroughbred trainer who trained for years for Paul Mellon), the author of several non-fiction works on Midway and Versailles, Kentucky, which helped as much as our interviews to introduce me to a widely differing social and work-related group of very compelling people who were part of what gave Woodford County the character it had in the ’60s, life-long owners of a broodmare care business much like Jo Grant’s – to list only those I’ve interviewed who first came to mind.

The memories and the anecdotes and the perspectives I get from talking to people who know what I need to know work mysteriously in the back of my brain to make my imaginary world real to me, and help me create believable characters and plots that hold together.

 

Sally Wright’s latest book is the Jo Grant mystery Behind the Bonehouse. You can find it at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.