Essays, general essay

My SmartWatch

smart watch, smartwatch

My personal smartwatch (with well-worn and stained wristband.)

I have a Moto 360 second generation smartwatch. Now, this is the sort of gadget that only a geek would wear. And while I do have to cop to the geek label, I have to concede that I scoffed at them. Scoffed, I tell you, because they were a solution in search of a problem. Then I got one last year for Christmas. After almost a year of wearing one, I must conclude that a smartwatch still is a solution in search of a problem. But it’s a really cool solution!

Today being the original feast of St. Nicholas, the precursor of Santa Claus, I thought it might be fun to share this. After all, everyone else is getting out the gift guides. And you might want to know if a smart watch is worth giving someone. Or buying for yourself.

It’s a good question to ask. I suspect that one of the reasons smartwatches aren’t catching on faster is that they really don’t do a lot, per se. The utility of a smartphone was pretty obvious the moment they came out. In fact, most technology is like that. Video calling has actually been around for decades and even as it’s gotten easier and more trustworthy, the only two applications I regularly see for it are video conferencing and calls between loved ones separated by distance. On the other hand, it seemed like overnight, everybody was getting a smartphone, once the prices came down.

A smartwatch can’t do a lot. It’s mostly an accessory to a smartphone, and you do need a compatible smartphone to make the watch do anything. Some can make calls, although I can’t see having an extended conversation with my wrist to my mouth. I can see, however, being able to tell my watch to call somebody, then talking to that person through my phone’s headset. And I can do that (and have) with mine.

In fact, I was surprised at how much I can do with my watch. And how much I actually use it. The few times I haven’t been able to wear it, I’ve felt a little lost not having it.

Things I can do with my smartwatch

I can text someone or dictate a quick note. The watch tracks my steps and cheers me on like a fitness tracker. I can set a timer or an alarm on my watch. I can pull up a generated code for some of my web accounts that require one. Citymapper, the app I use to tell me when the bus is coming, can put my directions on the watch if I’m using it to figure out how to get somewhere. Google Maps does the same and it’s great when I’m driving, since I can look at my wrist on top of the steering wheel, rather than down at my phone. I can start a workout on my walking app (and when it’s working) track my mileage from my watch, which is a lot easier than digging the phone out of my pocket. I can supposedly use the watch to start listening to music on the watch, but I don’t.

Most of my notifications come through the watch and I can read texts and, while it’s a little tricky with long ones, I can read most of my emails and even respond to them. The nice thing about that is that I can be working or walking and something comes in. I can see right away if it’s something I need to pay attention to or can ignore.

Of course, I could just look at my phone. And I can dictate texts and other stuff on the phone. But I have to say, the watch does make all that easier. I can also customize it – I tend to keep pictures of past and current pets on my devices, and my watch lets me see my beloved and recently passed dog, Clyde, on the face.

Oh, and it tells time, too.

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Thirteen

Spy novel, cozy spy novel, cozy mysteryJanuary 11, 1983

I suppose jeans, even nice dress jeans, are not really appropriate for a city council meeting, even if the city is a smallish Southern California suburb. But I was dressing for comfort and mobility that night. We’d learned, through Henry, that Ned Harris had met twice since New Years with a man who had contacts among known Soviet operatives and that preparations were underway to pick up a passenger the night of the council meeting.

Along with my dress jeans, I was wearing an oxford shirt and a camel colored blazer. Unseen underneath the blazer, I was also wearing a shoulder holster and a miniature transmitter and microphone. I also had on my armored running shoes, the ones with the false soles. Mae wasn’t much more dressed up, though definitely unarmed. She would have died if she’d known what I was really up to.

I was supposed to be attending the meeting as part of Sid’s research on the city government article. Sid had gone ahead full steam on it and found himself genuinely interested. He’d already talked to all of the council members. I was at the meeting more or less incognito because Sid wanted as natural a meeting as possible and he was afraid his presence would cause the council members to start grandstanding. Or that’s what he said. Frankly, I think Sid knew it was going to be a dreadful bore and didn’t want to go.

Mae had decided to go also because she was mad again at the overnight parking law (you can’t park your car overnight on the streets in Fullerton). She picked me up at the train station and drove us to City Hall.

“Well, Ned’s here already,” she said as we walked through the parking lot to the council chambers.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“That’s his car.” She pointed to a white Cadillac with a tan top about three cars down from us.

“You sure?”

Mae laughed. “You can’t miss it, or that license plate.”

I began digging through my purse. “Now where’s that pen?”

Sure enough, the Caddy’s license plate read “INFLIT 1.” I stopped, and continued digging, not looking for my pen, but for a round leather case that looked like a compact, but actually held a micro transmitter.

“Can’t you get your pen out inside?” Mae asked impatiently.

“I’ve almost got it. Nope. Besides, I’ve got to be ready before I get in that door. You never know when somebody will say something.” I slid the transmitter into my hand, then dropped a notebook and three pens. “Shavings.”

Two of the pens obligingly rolled under the Caddy’s bumper. Mae groaned and scrambled for the other pen and the notepad.

“Lisa, you are so disorganized.”

I ignored her and quickly stuck the transmitter’s magnet to the inside of the bumper. Mae just rolled her eyes as we got up and got going.

We sat together in the middle, on an aisle. I set my purse on the floor and left it open. Inside was a very good cassette recorder. I was taking notes also, but more on the people than what they were saying since that was being taped. All that was for the article.

The meeting dragged on and on and on. It finally broke up about ten. Sighing with relief, I turned off the tape recorder and put my pad and pen back in my purse. Mae was fussed because she hadn’t had a chance to have her say. She went after Ned Harris, but he had gone. We got outside the chambers just in time to see him get in his car and drive off.

My hand slid under my shirt and tapped out a code on the transmitter I wore. I couldn’t hear it or see it, but somewhere in the sky, a helicopter waited to follow the micro transmitter’s signal. Static filled my right ear.

“This is G-2,” said a voice. I looked over at Mae, certain that she had heard. [I told you no one would — SEH] “We read you, Little Red. Tracer’s working just fine. Over.”

“I’ll just have to call him tomorrow,” complained Mae. “Lisa, are you alright?”

“Oh. I… I’m fine. Did you hear anything funny just now?”

“No. What did you hear?”

“Just somebody’s radio.”

“That’s another thing I’ve got to talk to Ned about. Those stupid ghetto blasters. There must be some ordinance they can enforce on those things.”

Mae drove us back to her house because I was supposedly spending the night.

“What’s Sid doing here?” Mae asked as we drove up. His car was parked in front of the house.

“I have no idea,” I said, although I did. “Probably has some problem for me. I swear he’s just like a little kid sometimes.”

“Wanna trade?” Mae asked, then set the brake.

“Not on your life.”

I took my overnight bag out of the car and followed Mae into the house. Sid was there waiting for us. He was wearing jeans (as always dark blue and discreetly, but very tight) a white shirt, black running shoes, and light blue tweed blazer, which meant he was armed to the teeth, and to the soles. I also knew he had hidden on his person somewhere a transmitter and mike similar to mine, and probably some other stuff. I couldn’t see the receiver parked behind his ear, but I knew it was there.

“Okay, boss,” I groaned. “What’s the problem?”

“Hattie Mitchell called and moved up a deadline.”

“And I thought she was a friend,” I sighed. “Well, so much for spending the night.”

I kissed Mae and Neil good night and followed Sid out of the house.

At the car, we checked before we got in to make sure no one was looking. Sid nodded and we quickly exchanged our blazers for ski jackets. We weren’t terribly sure of where we were headed, but it was probably going to be a long night and January nights are chilly in Southern California.

“Here we go,” said Sid, starting the engine.

I opened the glove compartment and turned on the radio equipment there. I took a deep breath and glanced at Sid as I picked up the microphone.

“This is Big Red/Little Red to G2. Do you read me? Over.” I said into it.

“G2 here, Big Red/Little Red. I read you loud and clear. Over.”

“We are in motion, G2. Over.”

“Affirmative. Your friend is heading east on California 91. Over.”

“We copy G2. Over and out.”

I put the microphone back but left the equipment on.

“The Riverside freeway,” I said. “He’s headed for the desert.”

“It figures. Nice, quiet, flat place to land a plane. It was either that or the beach.”

Once on the freeway, Sid drove fast, eighty miles an hour, dodging between the other cars. The freeway was fairly clear but there are always plenty of people driving somewhere in Southern California, even late on a Tuesday night. The further out we got, though, the less traffic there was.

“I hope the C.H.P. doesn’t pull us over,” I said.

“They won’t,” Sid replied. The way he said it implied that that had been arranged. He looked at me nervously. “It’s going to be rough tonight.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because if and when Harris sees us, he’s not going to let us live unless we get him first.”

“That shouldn’t be any problem.”

“It’s going to be harder than you think, Lisa.” Sid took a deep breath. “The reason I couldn’t go to that meeting tonight was that I had a break-in to do.”

“Oh.” I was hurt that he hadn’t taken me.

“Lisa, break-ins are tough, and you’ve never done one. You don’t want your first to be a high risk, early evening job.”

“I suppose not. So what went down?”

“Harris’s office. Hit the jackpot big time and I had to trigger the alarm. The Feds are all over it by now.”

“What did you find?”

“Satellite equipment, code books and files. In particular, files on each of us.”

“So he did know about us.”

Sid chuckled. “Not quite. He re-opened the file on me in October when he saw us together at the mall. He’d figured that I had courted you because of Mae’s connection to him. He wrote you off as a civilian because of the way you panicked when his henchman attacked you.”

I had to snicker. “And you yelled at me because I didn’t defend myself.”

“That and he didn’t find anything on you.” Sid smiled at me. “The best I can figure is that they were watching everyone who talked to the manager that day. Anyway, Harris couldn’t question Mae about me until Christmas when he met me, and even then, he still wasn’t sure. I was right about him setting me up for that article. Fortunately, with business shut down, there was nothing for him to find on me.”

“That doesn’t mean things are going to be more difficult tonight.”

“Except that while I was in the office, Harris got a transmission which said that if he wanted to ship an extra package or two tonight, there was room.”

“You mean if he had an extra prisoner.”

“Or two.”

“Oh.”

I really didn’t like the sound of that, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I just shrugged and gazed out at the darkness around us.

G2, the helicopter monitoring the tracer’s signal, broke in periodically to tell us our “friend” had changed freeways. From 91 he changed to 60, and then I-10. Sid drove as fast as the traffic and road would let him, hitting over 100 a couple of times. But there’s a very narrow curvy place on the 60 between Riverside and Beaumont where Sid was forced to slow to 65. Still, each time G2 reported we could tell we were gaining on our friend.

It was getting close to midnight when G2 reported that Harris had turned onto highway 62. We had just passed the turnoff to Palm Springs about five miles back.

“Should be picking him up any time now,” said Sid.

I nodded. A few minutes later, just after we turned onto 62, to Joshua Tree, a small red light flashed on one of the consoles in the glove compartment. I flipped the switch and a small monitor came to life with a line drawing of the road ahead, a compass in the upper left-hand corner and a small green flashing blip near the top of the screen. The tracking equipment was basically a combination radar and signal receiver that was tuned to the micro transmitter on Harris’s car.

I picked up the microphone. “This is Big Red/Little Red. We have our friend. See you at the rendezvous. Over and out.”

I put the microphone up. Sid had slowed down considerably, remaining about a half a mile behind Harris’s car. We drove on for another thirty minutes. Neither one of us were tired, having slept most of that afternoon in preparation. The tension and the naps kept us alert.

The small green blip left its place between the lines.

“He’s leaving the road,” I said “Heading south.”

“There’s where he’s going.” Sid pointed to a small orange light burning on the horizon to our right.

I could barely make out Harris’s headlights in the pitch black. Sid slowed the car some. I aimed the light magnifying binoculars at the distant light.

“I can see a campfire and a plane there, but not much else,” I said. “We should probably get in closer.”

“There’s no way we can get closer from here without our headlamps being spotted, and I’m not driving in the dark.”

We drove past the dirt road Harris had taken. A tall hill rose up and blocked the campfire. Sighing, Sid turned off the road and followed the edge of the hill around for about half a mile.

“We’ll hide the car here,” said Sid, stopping and killing the engine.

As silently as possible, we walked around the hill to the side where we’d seen the campfire. We could see its glow but nothing else. Above and behind us, the hill had long ago crumbled, leaving a sheer, rocky face. Sid looked through the binoculars and frowned.

“I can’t see a thing from here,” he grumbled. “The angle’s wrong.”

“We must be lower than the road. What are we going to do?”

He headed for the face of the bluff. “Climb up there and look.”

“That’s awful steep, Sid. Do you know what you’re doing?”

“How hard can climbing a rock be?”

“Plenty. I’ve done a lot of rock climbing in my time. Let me go.”

“Alright, if you really want to. Your wiring on?”

“Yeah.” I pulled out a pair of knit gloves with leather faces and put them on. Sid handed me the binoculars and I was on my way.

“Am I coming in okay?” I heard Sid’s voice in my ear.

“Loud and clear,” I said a little breathlessly. “Am I?”

“Clear as a bell. Don’t go too high up.”

“I won’t.” I grunted and pulled myself a little higher.

It took me about ten minutes to climb to a small ledge where I was reasonably secure. Looking down I could barely make out Sid leaning casually against a rock. I lifted the binoculars to my eyes.

“I can see three men,” I said. “One of them is getting on the plane. There’s another one there, and yeah, it’s Lipplinger. He’s bound and gagged.”

“Good for them,” Sid replied.

“I don’t see Harris, though. His car’s there but I can’t see him. The plane’s moving. It’s taking off. Lipplinger’s still there.”

The plane roared away above me.

“I still can’t see Harris,” I continued. “I don’t think he’s in the car. The men are sitting around, waiting, I think.”

“Someone’s coming,” Sid announced quietly.

I could just barely make out the sound of an engine and wheels turning over rocks. I turned the binoculars on where Sid was. The sound died out. Sid stiffened and I could see his right hand reaching into his open ski jacket.

“Where are they coming from?” I asked.

“About two o’clock.”

The night was moonless, but the stars were out in force in the clear desert air. I maxed the magnification on the binoculars and scanned the desert in front and to the right of Sid. Ned Harris and another man, both carrying handguns, slid around brush and rocks and over the rise that had blocked our view of the campfire. Behind them, several yards away in the gully, was an open white Jeep 4×4.

“It’s Harris and another guy.” Gasping, I slung my binoculars around my neck and started down the bluff. “I’m on my way.”

“Stay put.”

“But—”

“Damn it, stay put. Aah!”

My heart in my throat, I looked down at Sid. He recoiled, blinded by a bright, white, light. I could just barely make out Harris behind the flashlight.

“…that hand slowly out,” said Ned Harris’s voice. Sid had managed to turn up the transmitter so I could hear what was going on. “Now, Corporal, nice and easy, get those hands on your head. I’ll be damned. I had just written you off as legitimate. Didn’t even bother turning your name in. You’re slick, Corporal, I’ll give you that.”

I held my breath. On one hand, I wasn’t sure what Sid would do if I disobeyed orders, but I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant. On the other hand, it didn’t look too good for him. On the other hand, he’d probably had a very good reason for telling me to stay put and it probably had a lot to do with my inexperience. [Yes and no – SEH]

“Get him frisked and cuffed,” ordered Harris.

The second man did the honors quickly, pulling the gun from Sid’s shoulder holster and another smaller handgun that Sid had strapped to his left shin. The man cussed when he found Sid’s transmitter.

“He’s wired!”

“Damn it.” Harris scanned the sky. “I thought I heard a chopper.”

I heard a ripping noise as the man pulled the transmitter off Sid’s shirt, then a crunch, then silence. The man finished grinding the transmitter into the dirt, then grabbed Sid’s ear for the receiver. A minute later, Sid’s hands were cuffed behind his back. I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing, but I didn’t think I could plug both of them quickly enough to keep them from killing Sid, not with a revolver from that height and with Harris either behind the light or right next to Sid. With a rifle, maybe, but not with a revolver.

Below me, Harris gestured and pointed to the other side of the hill. I strained for their voices. It was faint, but I made out Harris.

“It’s got to be around here someplace,” he said. “He didn’t walk here.”

So they were looking for Sid’s car. I reached out along the ledge to find a foothold that would take me towards the Mercedes. On the ground, Harris’s companion had also gotten a flashlight and scrambled along the rocks around the other side of the hill from the car. Harris knocked Sid onto his seat and kicked him.

It was slow going on the bluff’s face, but I wouldn’t have thought Harris’s friend could get around that hill faster than I could get up it. He did. I had just crested it when I heard the man holler that he’d found the car.

I heard scuffling behind and below me and guessed that Harris was having a hard time getting Sid to his feet. [I was out of the cuffs and jumped him. He lost the gun, and I kicked it away. Then it was just your basic fist fight — SEH] Silently, I made my way down the hill, creeping behind the rocks. The man went through the car.

“Damn it,” he yelped, dragging out the two blazers. I ducked behind a bush as he swept the light over the hill. The light passed over me, then returned and stayed. Drawing my gun, I blinked several times, trying to adjust to the new brightness. He was about twenty feet from me when I jumped out and aimed right at the source of the light.

The revolver cracked, and the man howled. I dove for the bush, my hand stinging with the kickback. All was darkness again. The flashlight rolled down the hill, somehow still on. It rested near the front tire of the Mercedes, lighting up the edge of the bluff. Still blinking, I listened.

The scuffle on the other side of the bluff had turned into a brawl if the sounds were any indication. [They were – SEH] The man glanced that way, then back towards me, searching for me. Nearby, a rabbit scurried away. The man whirled at the noise and shot. Dirt flew where the rabbit had been.

Near the edge of the bluff, Harris staggered backward into the light. He dove forward, only to run into Sid, who beat him back. They wrestled for a moment, then Harris dove behind the bluff again. Sid dove with him.

The man looked anxiously around for me again, then back at the fight. Behind the bluff, a gun went off. Sid dashed around the hill right into the light. In a second, the man had his gun raised, but a split second before, I had squeezed the trigger. He howled as the bullet sparked against his gun. Sid shot at the spark and the man collapsed.

Just in case, I stayed put. Sid ran for the light. He swept it across the hill. Slowly, I stood up. He saw me and quickly jerked the light away. I hurried down the hill.

“I don’t think there’s any more,” I hissed as I reached his side. “How’d you get out of those handcuffs?”

Sid gasped and leaned against the side of the car.

“You can always hide something,” he said, wincing. “I had a piece of quarter inch spring steel in my hair. Got it out when they frisked me.”

“Oh, my god, are you shot?”

“Nah. Just roughed up.”

Harris’s friend groaned.

“We’d better get over to that campfire,” said Sid. “With all the shooting, they’ll be wondering what’s up. Did Harris have a car?”

“Yeah, a white Jeep over in the gully.”

Sid stumbled over to the wounded man and checked him.

“He’s not going anywhere any too soon,” said Sid. “Let’s go.”

I pointed at the wounded man. “What about him?”

“He won’t peg out before help gets here, and dragging him around won’t do him any good.” Sid started off for the bluff.

“And Harris?” I scrambled after him, then stopped.

There in the glare of Harris’s flashlight lay his corpse. The shadows emphasized his wide open eyes and his tongue stuck out around the dark blood that had spilled from his mouth. The sob leaped from my throat as I stood transfixed.

Swearing, Sid trudged back. Gently, he covered my eyes and led me away from the grisly spectacle.

“Again,” I whispered, trying not to weep.

“The gun went off while we were struggling with it,” said Sid softly. “I couldn’t even tell who pulled the trigger.”

We found the keys still in the Jeep’s ignition. As I started the engine, Sid opened the sole to his right shoe and signaled G-2 with the transmitter he pulled out. I drove because I’d driven offroad before and I didn’t think Sid felt like it anyway. He was silent as we drove, and had a hard look on his face as he sat with a rifle he’d found in the back of the Jeep on his lap. I had the lights on as we pulled out of the gully and towards the camp. Sid pulled one of those ski caps that covers the whole face out of his pocket and put it on.

“When I tell you to, turn on the brights and cover me. If you stay behind the lights, they won’t be able to see you. But if you have to come out, try to keep your face hidden.”

We were just on the edge of the ring of firelight when Sid told me to stop and turn on the brights.

“Police. Freeze,” he yelled in that deep tone unique to cops. “We’ve got you covered.”

The two men jumped up, startled. Between them sat Lipplinger, bound and gagged. Both had rifles in their hands. Sid had his seat belt off and his rifle trained on them but didn’t move.

“Drop those rifles. Now.” The men dropped them. “Kick them away.” They did. “Face down on the ground. Move it. On your bellies.”

Sid waited until they were completely down before moving. Handing me his rifle, he took a roll of duct tape from his jacket pocket. One of the men started crawling. I fired and the bullet glanced off a rock next to his head. The man froze.

“My partner only misses on purpose,” Sid announced as he walked over to the men. “I wouldn’t try anything else.”

He gave each man a quick pat down search, then bound them with the tape.

“Sorry, gentlemen, but I lied,” he said calmly. “I’m not the police.”

I heard a helicopter approach. As Sid smoothed down the last bit of tape, he looked up and signaled. The chopper set down on the other side of the campfire. The noise drowned everything out, but I watched as Sid handed Lipplinger over to one of the two men who had come out of the chopper. Sid talked to the other man and motioned toward the hill. After a moment, Sid swung into the Jeep next to me.

“Okay, kiddo, let’s make tracks,” he said grimly buckling his seat belt.

“What about the wounded guy?” Slowly, I started the engine.

“We’ll park the Jeep next to him, and they’ll get to him as soon as we get out.”

It didn’t take long to get back to the Mercedes. As we drove past the face of the bluff, I sighed.

“In a way, he did get what was coming to him,” said Sid.

I shrugged, keeping my eyes straight ahead. “I was just thinking about his wife and kids. She’s pregnant, you know.”

“I know.”

I pulled up next to Harris’s friend. We sat there silently for a moment. Then Sid undid his seat belt.

“Let’s get back to L.A.” He groaned as he got out of the Jeep.

“Sid, why don’t you let me drive back. I don’t think you’re feeling up to it.”

“No, I’m not. Thanks.” He handed me the keys, then walked stiffly to the passenger seat. “Boy, am I going to be sore tomorrow.”

“You’d better take a hot bath when we get home.” I climbed in behind the wheel.

“Sounds like a good idea.”

Daylight was just breaking when I pulled into the garage. We both yawned at the same time, too tired to move.

“You did a good job tonight, Lisa,” Sid said quietly. “I was afraid after they knocked out my transmitter that you would stay put on that cliff, but you did exactly what I was going to tell you to do, and you did it smart.”

“Thanks, Sid.”

He opened the door and groaned as he tried to get out.

“Hold on, I’ll help you.” I ran around the car and helped him out and into the house.

We stumbled to his room in the semi darkness. Once there, I removed his arm from my shoulder.

“Sorry,” I said. “This is as far as I go.”

“It’s far enough.” Sid took off his ski jacket, laid it on the bed and started unbuttoning his shirt. “Don’t worry about running this morning.”

“Thanks. Don’t forget your shoulder holster.”

He looked down and chuckled. I left, shutting the door quietly.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Six Reasons For Cooking Your Own Meals

cooking your own meals, cooking for yourself, how to cookA few weeks ago, I got a flyer in the mail for a home meal delivery service. This seems to be the new big thing. Either you get your meals already made and ready to heat. Or you can get all the ingredients for a meal and cook it yourself. It seems like between services, restaurants, and supermarket pre-made items, there’s no point in cooking your own meals.

The advantages of these services are pretty clear. There’s less time hassling it out at the supermarket. Less time actually having to plan and cook. Less clean up. The service that I just mentioned even sent the meals in compostable containers to minimize the trash.

So I signed up. I’m no fan of cooking, any excuse to get someone else to do it for me will do. I abandoned the service after two months and, I think, five meals. I didn’t use it. Part of that is my very strong cheap streak. The prices weren’t that bad, but I could still do better on my own.

What really did the service in, though, was that I had to go on this rather restrictive elimination diet. No lactose, no gluten, and among the forbidden vegetables was onion. Onion is the base of just about every dish out there. I can cook my own food and use onion powder, which is allowed. But I’m pretty well out of luck when it comes to anything commercially prepared.

As it turns out, there are a lot more reasons for cooking your own meals than there aren’t. So here are a few of them.

Reasons for Cooking Your Own Meals:

1.) It’s healthier. Forget my crazy elimination diet. The more I eat out rather than cook my own, the more weight I gain. It’s that simple. Fats and high-calorie additives make food taste good. Restaurants, food services, and pre-fab commercial food producers can’t stay in business if their food doesn’t taste good. So guess what ends up in the food offered by these folks – fats and high-calorie additives. And if you do happen to be on some kind of restrictive diet for health reasons, say, you have to limit sodium or something else, that makes eating out insanely hard.

2.) You get a better variety of foods. Granted, there are a lot of options out there, but if you hook up with a service, you’re pretty much limited to what they feel like cooking and/or prepping for you. Also, depending on your personal palate, if there’s a hot new ingredient, you can bet everybody will use it and if you don’t like it, you’re stuck. I, for one, loathe cilantro, and everyone loves using it. Blech.

3.) It’s a lot cheaper to make your own. Well, not if you’re eating strictly fast food, but check out the film Super-Size Me to see what a disaster that is for your health. If you shop carefully, you can eat a lot more economically if you buy lots of fresh veggies, a minimum of meat, and even fewer pre-made food items. And see above about the whole health thing.

4.) You’re not as limited. I know, with bazillions of restaurants out there, that sounds a little silly. However, it’s more about being able to decide whether you want to eat out or just hang at home with some personal comfort food. If you don’t know how to cook, you can’t recreate your favorite childhood dish on your own. You can’t make something you really love that the restaurants just aren’t making because it’s not in style. You can when you are cooking your own meals.

5.) If you have a picky eater in your family, it’s a whole lot easier to get the young ‘un to try something new if the rule is eat what’s in front of you or don’t eat. Depending on the service, or if you get your food from restaurants, said young ‘un can simply eat only what he or she wants, also really bad for their health.

6.) Cooking your own meals can be fun. I do get tired of the cooking grind, but I also really enjoy cooking dinner with my husband. It’s a lot more relaxed way to get dinner on the table and helps us talk to each other. When my daughter was still living with us, our family night was all about the three of us making dinner together, which gave us lots to talk about, especially during those awkward teen years, and it was fun. It can also be fun just to create a dish out of your own imagination. Cooking can be very creative. And there’s just a good feeling knowing that you can take care of yourself.

 

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Twelve

16-1104-cdr_pullquoteDecember 26, 1982 – January 1, 1983

The next morning after breakfast, I took the long way to the front door, going past Lipplinger’s room.

“Good morning, Professor,” I called after pounding on the door.

No answer. That wasn’t surprising. Lipplinger never said anything to me unless he absolutely had to. I went on to Sunday mass without thinking about it.

When I got back, I found Sid hadn’t lost any time calling Henry James.

“Well, I’d appreciate it, Henry,” he told the living room phone as I entered the house. There was a pause as Henry spoke. “No, she’s doing real good. We had some tense moments, but she came out okay… What do you mean you can reassign her if she wants?”

“I don’t,” I said, going into the living room.

Sid looked at me.

“I see… When was this..?” Sid sighed in response. “That’s been settled. She’ll stay with me… No, she’s standing right here.” He handed me the phone. “He wants to talk to you.”

“Hello, Henry,” I said into the receiver.

“Sid says you’ve patched things up.”

“A long time ago. Really. I’m fine.”

“Well, the option’s there. Getting rid of Quickline you won’t be able to do, but if Sid’s a problem I can get you reassigned.”

“You haven’t done anything yet?”

“No.”

“Please don’t, then. I’m very happy where I’m at.”

“That’s a different song than the one you were singing last November.”

“I know, Henry. But we settled it.”

“Alright, goodbye.”

I handed the phone back to Sid, who hung it up.

“I didn’t know you called Henry during that fight,” he said, hurt.

“I was pretty upset. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t do anything anyway.”

Sid sighed.

“It looks like we’re not as stuck as we thought.” He looked like he wished we were.

“Maybe not by the business.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“Even then it won’t be that easy.” He paused, then looked away. “Which, perhaps, is just as well.”

I just smiled and left the living room. Sid and my daddy were very much alike in that neither one could admit emotion.

Later that afternoon a call came through on the business line. (The other two lines are Sid’s and my private lines.)  I didn’t listen in, being busy with a new dress I was putting together. When I saw that Sid had hung up, my curiosity got the better of me. After all, people hardly ever called us on the business line on Sundays. I went looking for Sid and found him in his office. He sat behind his desk with his chin in one hand. He glanced at me briefly and went back to staring into space.

“Something’s up,” he said. “Harris is being a little too chummy.”

“Is that who called just now?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Couldn’t he be wanting to bury the hatchet?”

“That’s what he says. But I seriously doubt it. Last fall when we were at that mall with the kids, I saw him there. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me. I thought he might have been talking into a radio. I tailed him just out of curiosity, then saw you in trouble, so I dropped him. At the time I thought I was just being paranoid. But now I’m really wondering.”

“I’m more than wondering. I ran into him just outside of the toy store.” I frowned. “Wait. He knows me. He wouldn’t have had any reason to think I was up to anything.”

“Unless he saw us together,” said Sid. “That, in itself would be enough to arouse suspicion.”

“Why?”

Sid snickered. “What would a nice girl like you be doing hanging around a guy like me? Ned and whoever he’s working with must have pegged the drop at the toy store. The hard part is knowing whether or not Ned knows you weren’t using your real name when you picked up those keys. I’m inclined to think not.”

“I don’t get it.”

“If they know you, then they know me, and they would also be watching us and that means they would have to have seen Lipplinger. But nobody has come for him, and we haven’t had any tails.”

“That makes sense. But what about Ned?”

“That is indeed the crucial question. We’ll have to keep an eye on him. That’s another thing that bothers me. He practically paved the way.”

“How?”

“We were talking about city government and he suggested it might be a good magazine article. I said it would take some research and he said he’d be happy to help me.”

“Oh.”

Sid lifted an eyebrow. “It would make a good piece if I can get the right angle on it. I think I will play Harris’s game.”

“What if it’s a trap?”

“It’s quite possible. But I get the impression Harris is trying to feel me out more than anything else. He had no reason to suspect I was an operative back in ‘Nam. He’s definitely wondering about me, but if he was certain, he’d be more likely to set up an attack or just watch us and try to blow up our operation. Which is why I’m taking his bait. If I were only a freelance writer, I’d think Ned’s being a little pushy and trying to grandstand, but I’d still do the article.”

“Well, be careful. I don’t want to end up in the unemployment lines again.” Then a thought hit me. “You mind if I do some research, too?”

“Your sister?”

“Uh-huh. I don’t know what she could tell me, but it couldn’t hurt.”

“I think it could. We don’t want her to get suspicious.”

“If she’s going to get suspicious, then she already is by now. She noticed you were a little put off track when you met him. I wrote it off by telling her it was Viet Nam. With all the current concern over about Viet Nam vets, she won’t think twice about Ned Harris bothering you.”

Sid frowned, then sighed. “That does make sense.”

“Good. I’ll call her in a little while. No sense in pushing it.”

A little while turned out to be the next day. Mae was very happy I called.

“Any chance I can get to sit down,” she sighed.

“Knee bothering you?”

“Just a little. So what’s up? Did Ned Harris get a hold of Sid?”

“Unfortunately. Sid’s been real moody since he did.”

“The Viet Nam thing?”

“I think so. Listen, Mae, what can you tell me about Ned?”

“Well, I don’t know. He’s a very nice, very active man. What more can I say?”

“He’s a travel agent, isn’t he?”

“Mmhm.”

“How does he strike you, as a person?”

“Just a good All-American type, I guess. A little pushy sometimes. He seems a little closed, too, like he’s not quite willing to let you see him. Hold on a second, Lisa.” Then more softly, “Ellen, you stay out of that or I’ll paddle your seat.”

I heard a soft chuckle. Sid was listening in.

“What was that?” asked Mae. So she had heard it, too.

“Just some interference on the line, I expect.” I got up from my desk and walked over to the doorway where I could see Sid with the phone to his ear. I felt a little like my privacy was being invaded, but decided he had a right to listen this time. “Do you know much about Ned’s business?”

“Not really, except that it’s doing very well. They’ve got plenty of money and a nice place up in Sunny Hills.”

“He’s on the city council, right?”

“Yeah.”

“When’s the next meeting?”

“Sometime the week after New Years. Why do you want to know?”

“Ned kind of hinted that Sid should do an article on city government and Sid’s thinking about it. He also thinks Ned’s grandstanding a little.”

“That may be. I wonder why Sid’s so bugged about him.”

“I have no idea.” I looked away from Sid. “Bad wartime memories, I guess. Sid absolutely refuses to talk about it. The only reason I found out he was in Vietnam was that I was cleaning out his files and found his army papers.”

I said goodbye to Mae shortly after and hung up. Sid came into my office.

“So, now what?” I asked.

“We wait.” He seemed bugged.

“Sid, did I say anything wrong?”

He paused. “Not per se. If anything, you were a little too accurate. I, uh, really don’t like remembering that time in my life.”

“That bad, huh?”

“There are no words to describe it, Lisa.”

He looked back at his office, then ambled out into the hall. A few minutes later, I heard piano music from the library. I later found out that the piece was the first of Chopin’s Twenty-Four preludes, Opus 28. Sid played all twenty-four.

The next day, Harris took second place for a while to a greater concern: Lipplinger. He’d been very good about staying in his rooms before Christmas, so neither Sid nor I thought anything of it when we didn’t see him after. Until Conchetta came into the office.

“You have sent the old man away again?” she asked.

“Not ’til after New Years,” I said. “Why?”

“I haven’t seen him.”

“He has been staying in his room since he came back.”

“No he hasn’t. I see him different places. But I haven’t seen him since Christmas. No food is gone either.”

“Well, then…” I thought, then called out, “Sid. We’ve got a problem.”

“What?” He came out of his office.

I was on my way out. “Conchetta thinks Lipplinger’s missing.”

“I haven’t seen him since Christmas,” she said, as she and Sid followed me to Lipplinger’s room.

I opened the door. The room looked alright except for the fact that Lipplinger wasn’t in it. Sid came in past me and went straight to the bathroom.

“He’s not there,” he said coming back in.

I noticed a piece of paper lying on the dresser. I picked it up.

“That idiot,” I grumbled, and handed it to Sid.

“’I’ll be back after the holidays.’  What does he think he’s doing?” Sid slipped the note into his pocket. “He must have gone to Hattie’s. I’d better call her.”

In the office, I listened in. The butler answered.

“Yes, may I speak to Hattie Mitchell?” said Sid. “It’s rather important.”

“Just a minute.”

There was a delay before Hattie’s voice came over the wires.

“Hello?” She sounded particularly cheerful.

“Hi, it’s me, is your brother there?”

“Oh, hello, Sid. I thought Miles was with you.”

“Not at the moment. Have you heard from him at all?”

“Actually, I haven’t. I was a little surprised when he didn’t call Christmas, but I didn’t think anything of it. You know Miles.” Her voice caught. “Sid, if you don’t know where he is…”

“We’re on top of it. Don’t worry. In the meantime, you are under surveillance by the other side. I’d be careful.”

Hattie laughed. “Oh, don’t worry. My phones are clean, and so is my house. I’m very certain of that.”

“There are other ways to listen in.”

“Sid, it’s sweet of you to be concerned, but believe me, half my business is electronic surveillance. I know what’s out there and how to thwart it.”

“Alright. We’ll get back to you as soon as we know anything.”

He wasn’t happy as he hung up. I walked into his office.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

“There goes Mammoth.” I’d been planning on spending New Years skiing at Mammoth Lakes with my church group.

“I think you’ll make it.”

The phone rang. This time, it was Henry. I went back to my office and debated what to do next.

“Lisa,” Sid called.

I went back to his office. He scribbled something on a notepad.

“Yeah, thanks a lot, Henry.” He hung up.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Sit down. We’ve got a hot one this time.” Sid dropped his pen on the desk and leaned back in his chair. “Henry was digging up whatever they had on that operative in Fullerton. They know he or she is brokering information, basically, putting people who want to sell out into contact with people who want to buy. Who that person is, we have no idea, but he or she stays very clean, and may even be fairly visible in the community.”

“Is it my imagination, or does that sound like Ned Harris?”

“It does indeed.”

“But Fullerton?” I shook my head. “It’s a nice little suburban city. There’s nothing there.”

“There is one major defense plant in the city and several others nearby. Lisa, Southern California is a veritable hotbed of covert activity. The better part of the defense industry is based here. Henry’s friends have been trying to pin down a number of transmissions beamed to the North Orange County area and they’ve got it pinned down to Fullerton, but where they don’t know. And just to make things interesting, another transmission was received not half an hour ago from Washington, D.C.”

“Lipplinger?”

“They haven’t got the code completely broken yet, but there was something about a special traveler in two weeks.”

“You know, Ned Harris is a travel agent.”

“Mighty convenient, don’t you think?”

I sighed. “It is. It just seems so weird. I mean we’re only guessing at this point. How can we know for sure?”

Sid smiled. “That, my dear, is the difference between knowing what has happened and proving it in court.”

“I don’t know, Sid. Why two weeks? If they’ve got Lipplinger now, why don’t they ship him right away?”

“Traveling with a prisoner, especially when you don’t want anyone to know he’s a prisoner, is not an easy thing to do. And then there are arrangements to be made. You don’t just charter a Soviet plane or boat on a moment’s notice.”

I nodded. “I guess this really puts the clamps on Mammoth.”

“Why? We’ve got two weeks.”

“They could have gotten it wrong, or they might move it up.”

“We’re making arrangements. If Ned leaves Fullerton or has any guests, we’ll know.”

“And what about Lipplinger?”

“They’ve got him, for the moment. Let them deal with him.” He looked at me for a moment, thinking something over. “I think you’d better go to Mammoth as originally planned. It’s possible we’re being watched and I want us to stay as clean as possible, which means we’re shutting down business. Any plans we’ve made I don’t want to change unless something legitimate comes up. It might arouse suspicion if we do.”

There was something fishy about that. Shutting down business, I could see. But letting me go running off to Mammoth..?

“Are you trying to get rid of me that weekend for some reason?” I asked.

“Well.” Sid’s grin was guilty as all get out. “I have been planning a small party here.”

“Not the kind I’d like, I take it. Okay. I’ll lock all my doors before I go. Don’t get too drunk.”

“I won’t be drinking that much. Alcohol doesn’t do much for lovers either.”

“And heaven forbid you should not always be in peak form.” Then another thought hit me. “There won’t be any illegal substances floating around, will there?”

Sid shrugged. “It’s not unlikely. That’s one thing you can’t always control. I don’t think there’ll be much pot. It’s out of style. I try to discourage it. It doesn’t do much for the sex drive, besides being hard on the lungs. But coke is a whole other kettle of fish. This town is loaded with it and you can’t get around it, even though the stories are exaggerated.”

“You don’t…”

Sid snorted. “Lisa, you know better than that. It’s far too dangerous in our business, and I probably wouldn’t anyway. Sex is my only vice.”

I looked at him, my curiosity getting the better of me again.

“Did you ever do drugs?”

“A little marijuana. It was as common as tobacco among the people I grew up with. When I was in high school nobody could understand why I was so bored about it. A few kids thought I was doing the hard stuff. But I wasn’t. I’d seen too much of what that does to people. I just smoked an occasional joint to be part of the gang.”

Sid’s reminiscent mood infected me also.

“I was just the opposite. I knew there were drugs around, but I never really believed it. In a resort city, you get all kinds of people. I was still very sheltered. I remember once this girl I knew told me drugs were to be had as easily as asking for them. I never believed her. I was in college before I saw my first joint.”

“Such innocence.” He chuckled, then got serious. “You know, there are times when I could kick myself for getting you involved in this business. You’re too good. You don’t deserve guys shooting at you.”

“So what do I deserve?” I asked smiling.

“Something like what Mae’s got. A husband and family, a nice peaceful life.”

“Did it ever occur to you I don’t want that?”

Sid was surprised. “You don’t?”

“No. Sure I like being at Mae’s, and, sure, I love the kids. But I’ve got a good thing going. When those kids get cranky, Mae and Neil get them. When diapers had to be changed, Mae and Neil did it. When the kids have to be disciplined, that’s Mae and Neil’s job. I get to share all the good times and only rarely do I have to deal with the bad. That week I spent babysitting only reinforced that. In some ways, I’d like to get married and settle down, and maybe there’ll come a time when I will. I’m not ready to close the door on that option yet. But the more I think about it, the more I want to stay single. That’s mostly the reason why I didn’t want to work for my dad. If I had gone back to Tahoe, or even to Florida, I would have worked for a while. But it wouldn’t have been a career. It would have been just marking time until I found a husband, and I don’t want one. I like my freedom. Of course, I couldn’t tell that to my parents. Even as independent as Mama is, she’s in the resort business because Daddy is. With them, it’s either the convent or the home, and I won’t be settled to them until I’ve chosen one or the other. Even if I’m eighty.”

“I hope you don’t choose the convent.”

“Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. It would be nice and there’s certainly a great deal of job security in it. But I really don’t think I am, if you’ll pardon the expression, called to it.”

The jangling of the phone totally shattered the mood. It was Mae, calling to give me the date of the next Fullerton city council meeting. It was approximately two weeks away.

New Years Day, I entered the house very cautiously. Well, it was closer to the day after New Years at that point. The lights were still on, so I knew Sid wasn’t in bed yet, or rather asleep for the night.

“Sid?” I called loudly. “I’m home.”

There was no answer, but that wasn’t surprising. As I dropped my luggage in my room, I thought I heard glassware jangling from the rumpus room. The door was open, so I went to investigate.

He was straightening up the bar. There was a pile of dirty glasses on one end and next to it a dust pan with a broom on the floor.

I yawned and flopped down into a bean bag.

“Have a good time?” Sid asked without looking up.

“Uh-huh, and yourself?”

“Quite nice, thank you. Any casualties?”

“Just a couple of sunburns. Myself included. Dummy me forgot my sunscreen.”

Sid looked at me and smiled. “You look like a raccoon.”

“I know. They changed my nickname from Teacher to Bandit.”

“Teacher?”

“My past has been haunting me. I used to be, among other things, a ski instructor in Tahoe. There were several people with us who had never skied before, so guess who got elected to teach them.”

“Elected? If I know you, you told them not to spend the money on lessons as you could teach them just as well.” His blue eyes glittered with mischief.

“Better than the twit they had. I have my pride.”

“Oh, well, my condolences on not getting to the good slopes.”

“Oh, I did. How do you think I got sunburned so badly? Even got a little night skiing in.”

Sid yawned and came around the front of the bar for the broom. I noticed that not only was he just wearing a shirt and dark pants, he was in his stocking feet. His hair was still perfect, though. I shook my head and smiled.

“I take it your party was a success.”

Sid nodded and began sweeping behind the bar. I yawned again and stretched. I noticed something with lace on it sticking out from underneath the beanbag next to me. I reached over and pulled it out. It was a pair of women’s bikini underpants.

“One of your friends left something.” I tossed them at him. He caught them and looked at them, lifting an eyebrow.

“Whosever these are, I’ll bet it’s not the first time it’s happened to her,” he said. He looked at me. “If I had them washed, would you want them?”

I think he was being tacky just to tease me.

“No thanks,” I said, for once playing it cool. “Lace itches me.”

Sid dumped them in the waist can and went on sweeping. I got up, walked to the door and turned back to him.

“It might amuse you to know, “ I said, languidly leaning against the door jamb. “That yours truly has a genuine real live date, scheduled for the end of this month, provided my boss doesn’t cart me off on one of his infamous capricious whims.”

“Congratulations. With who, may I ask?”

“I don’t ask who your dates are. Of course, it’s impossible to keep track. His name is George Hernandez and he’s a class A-one sweetheart. He’s part of my church group.”

“Well, if I have to behave, he darned well better.”

“I’m sure he will. Good night, Sid.”

“Good night, Lisa.”

Essays, general essay

#ImWithHer and Sick at Heart

I am sick and hurt, and even physically ill over this election cycle. I keep thinking I need to write about what’s going on in this country and all I feel is fury.

Just this morning, I was complaining about the Republican Party in what I thought was a safe, though public, environment.

“I’m a Republican,” said the woman behind me. “I’m a Trumper. I’m a business woman and I want him to run the country like it should be.”

And I almost told her that if she was a business woman and found Trump a good model, then I absolutely did not want to do business with her. I almost called her an idiot, too. Actually, I did later, behind her back.

The trouble is, that’s not me. I do not aspire to that kind of meanness. My values are firmly entrenched in live and let live. In respecting perspectives, values and ideas different from my own. I believe in being kind and understanding. I try to choose love over anger and fear.

And yet, right now, I am so angry and hurt and frustrated. I’m sure there are folks out there who cannot fathom how anyone could vote for Hillary Clinton and feel at least as frustrated as I do. But I cannot understand it for the life of me. I’m trying, folks, but I just can’t.

Maybe it’s because I know what it feels like to have people constantly assuming the worst of you. I’ve been hurt by that kind of thinking more times than I care to count and have only recently found some safer people to hang with. So when I see Mrs. Clinton being routinely vilified on no evidence, called evil even by people who are supposed to be on her side, yeah, that hurts. It hurts badly.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Mr. Trump in person, at at least two different press conference, back when I was a TV critic. I found the man’s values so skewed, I felt like I needed to take a shower after each conference. His greed, arrogance, and contempt for anyone who does not think like him, those are the kinds of values writers assign to villains. They are traits that are universally labelled bad or even evil. And yet, there are people who find that kind of evil a better alternative to Mrs. Clinton, who is no saint but still works for things like childcare and justice and other things that most people find admirable.

This boggles my mind. Worse yet (and this is why I was cursing the Republican Party when I met Trumper lady, not Mr. Trump) certain Republicans are already saying that if Mrs. Clinton wins the election, they will not work with her. Oh, that was bad enough when President Obama was elected. But even worse, these Republicans are going to keep investigating her and attacking her on all fronts. Never mind that in 30 years, they have failed to find anything on her. Like it would kill them to work with her? What is wrong with people who have to stay so stuck on their own rightness that all they can do is find fault and attack others when maybe compromising would be for the greater good?

I know that love is the answer, and I feel like I’m failing badly, which also hurts. I want to be compassionate, to assuage the fears of people on the Right. But they are simply not listening. They refuse, and that hurts, too. I am willing to listen. I am willing to consider that maybe I’m not right, that I don’t necessarily have the one best answer. But you can’t work with people who only see one perspective and that is their own. You just can’t, and I don’t know what to do about that. Except pray.

 

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Eleven

cozy spy novel, mystery fiction, fiction serial, spy fiction serialDecember 20 – 25, 1982

Monday morning, I was surprised I was lighting the fourth candle on my advent wreath and told Sid so. He just shrugged. He was mostly amused by my advent wreath but didn’t object when I put it on the table in the breakfast room, where we ate all our meals.

He did finally break down and came home from an errand that afternoon with his own contribution to the Christmas spirit. Of course, it was mistletoe.

“It figures,” I said, shaking my head.

“Admittedly, it’s pagan,” said Sid, “but that’s okay because I’m a pagan.”

I thought about it. “I don’t think you are, technically. Pagans believed in multiple deities, and you’ve said you don’t believe in any.”

“This is true.” Sid looked around my office. “Now, where to put it. Ah, the sliding glass door.”

He reached up and attached the twigs to the top of the mini blinds. Suddenly, he stopped and pulled the blinds apart.

“Oh no,” he grumbled.

“What’s the matter?” Worried, I got up from my desk and joined him.

His arm landed across my shoulder.

“Gotcha!” His eyes twinkled as he glanced at the mistletoe above us.

“You stinker,” I groaned. Sid moved in, his mouth open. I put on my best Madeleine Kahn voice. “No tongues.”

“No fun.” He sighed heavily, then gently, so gently, his lips pressed against mine. I was drawn in and found myself returning it in good measure. As he pulled away, I scrambled free.

“One of these days, I’m going to end up slugging you,” I said, going back to my desk. But my lips were still warm and tingling, and come to think of it, I was tingling all over. [You were tingling. I’ll give three guesses what you’d done to me – SEH]

I managed to get all my projects done early that evening, so I wandered, and decided to try singing some carols on the piano. I don’t play, but I can read the treble clef. I had the sheet music to “Oh Holy Night,” and tried to sing it in the key it was written in, which is soprano (I’m an alto). Apparently, Sid had been listening to my efforts because the next day on the piano was an old staff paper notebook with a note on it asking “Is this better?” I opened it up and, sure enough, he had transposed the entire arrangement into a key I could sing.

Three days before Christmas we got the good news that a new holding place for Lipplinger had been found. It was much more secret and better protected. The only hitch was he couldn’t go there until after the holidays. No matter. He’d been keeping to his room, although he’d harassed Conchetta so badly when she brought him his tray, that Sid had told him to get his own food and to make sure he cleaned up after himself and to stay out of our way.

Sid couldn’t wait to be rid of the old man, especially when he found out that Lipplinger had been calling his friends almost daily and telling them he was in Los Angeles. Lipplinger swore he hadn’t said where he was in Los Angeles and with whom he was staying, but after what he’d told Hattie, Sid didn’t trust him.

Then Hattie called. Sid was out making a pickup, so I got it.

“Miles is begging to come home,” she said. “He says he wants to spend the holidays with his family, though why he does, I haven’t the faintest idea. He does nothing but complain when he’s here.”

“Well, I don’t know that there’s anything I can do about it,” I said. “We sure wouldn’t mind sending him, but there’s no way of knowing if it would be safe.”

“That’s the most important part,” said Hattie. “If he can come home for Christmas, it would be nice, but unless it’s one hundred percent safe for him, keep him there, I don’t care how much he howls.”

Sid was real thrilled when he heard that. Worse yet, the latest intelligence we had said that Hattie’s was the worst place Lipplinger could go. She’d been under heavy observation since Lipplinger left. Lipplinger agreed to stay put without too much fuss. We should have known.

However, at the time, I was more concerned about my parents. They were also going to be spending Christmas at Mae’s. I should have thought of that when Mae called Sid to have him come over for Christmas. But it was too late, and the thought of Sid and my daddy getting together had me more than a little tense.

I love my father. He is the sweetest, most wonderful father a girl could ever have. He’s very much the he-man type, strong and silent. He taught me how to backpack, fly fish, ride horses, rock climb, all sorts of things. He’s usually very open minded and always taught me that all human beings are God’s creatures and deserving of respect, regardless of sex, age, race or creed, unless the man happened to be dating Mae or me. I think the only reason he got along with Neil was because Neil had worked for him for so long (Neil had put himself through college and dental school working summers and breaks at the resort in Tahoe.

Personally, I enjoyed my boss’s smooth cosmopolitan sophistication. But I knew Daddy wouldn’t. I wasn’t sure if Daddy would be suspicious of Sid. Either way, it was not going to be easy on Sid. As much as I looked forward to Christmas, I began to dread the inevitable confrontation.

My parents flew in from Florida on the Monday before Christmas. I would have gone to the airport to meet them with Mae and family, but I figured it would have been just too crowded in that station wagon. Sid generously offered to loan me his car, but I said no, I had work to do anyway. I didn’t tell him that if Daddy saw me driving the boss’s car it would only arouse his suspicions and make things difficult for the boss.

For the same reason, I didn’t want Sid to drive me into Orange County on Christmas Eve. But Sid insisted, saying that Mae had invited him to lunch.

We pulled up in front of Mae’s house a little after ten in the morning. As we got out of the car, the front door opened and the kids came streaming out, yelling. In spite of the noise, I still heard a sweet female voice with a wonderfully familiar southern drawl to it.

“Lisa Jane! Lisa Jane!”

“Mama!” I ran to her.

I admit I tend to rave a bit about my parents. But Mama is an exceptional woman. She’s small and pert, the perfect southern lady. She reminds me of a tiny brown sparrow with a southern drawl. I hugged her.

“It’s so good to see you, Mama,” I said, kissing her.

“Well, now, Lisle, just let me get a look at you.” Lisle is my parents’ pet name for me. She stepped back to admire me. “Aren’t you looking pretty as a picture.”

I was wearing a nice pair of jeans, an oxford shirt and a rust tweed sports coat with leather on the elbows, and of course, my beloved deck shoes. Sid still sighs every time he sees them.

“Thank you, Mama.”

“Well, now, you go unload your stuff, then come on in and we’ll talk.”

“Oh, Mama, come meet my boss.”

Sid was loading Janey and Darby up with the presents we had brought. Because he was planning on returning to Los Angeles, he was decked out in his standard three-piece suit, complete with pin under the tie. When he looked up and smiled, Mama just looked at him with a puzzled frown.

“Mama, this is my boss, Sid Hackbirn,” I said, not quite aware of what was happening to her.

“How do you do, Mrs. Wycherly.” Sid extended his hand.

“I’m Althea,” she replied, mechanically shaking his hand. “Pardon me, but have we met before?”

Sid looked at her, then away, trying to think if he had.

“I don’t believe so.”

“Well, I guess it’s just silly me. Still… Oh, never mind. Lisle, you get yourself settled and then we can talk. I’ll be in the kitchen.”

She walked back in the house, shaking her head.

“What’s with Grandma?” Darby asked, struggling underneath several wrapped boxes and trying to pick up my overnight case.

“Beats me,” I replied. “Darby, can you carry all that? Let me take my case.”

“No way, Aunt Lisa, that’s my job!”

“I’ll take these,” said Sid, removing a couple of boxes from Darby’s load. “Now, scoot.” Darby hurried in. Sid turned to me. “Why don’t you go talk to your mother. I’ll supervise the unloading.”

“And you’ve got to see the tree,” said Janey. “It’s beautiful.”

“And presents,” replied Ellen quietly, still attached to Sid’s leg. “Lots of presents. But we can’t open them ’til tomorrow.”

“Nope,” said Janey, running after the twins, who were screaming “Jingle Bells” repeatedly.

“Alright,” I said and headed in. I figured that unloading the car, seeing the tree and inspecting the largess underneath would keep Sid occupied for a while.

“Well, maybe he’s been up to Tahoe,” Mae said as I walked into the kitchen.

“Where’s Daddy?” I asked.

“Him and Neil went up to the market,” replied Mama, more concerned with another problem.

“Mama’s been having fits over your boss,” explained Mae.

“I have not been havin’ fits, Mae Alice. I just know I seen that face before and I can’t think where.”

“I have no idea, Mama. It could be Tahoe,” I said, although I doubted it. Sid had said he’d never been to my parents’ place or store.

“No, it wasn’t Tahoe. It was Dade County for sure. I keep thinking Homestead, but that don’t seem likely.”

I shrugged. It didn’t seem likely. Homestead, Florida was where my folks were raised. Right next to the Everglades, it wasn’t exactly Sid’s kind of place.

“The thing that keeps throwin’ me is that’s he’s so young,” Mama continued. “I keep thinking it was years and years ago.” She slammed her hand down on the kitchen table. “John! John Caponetti. Went steady with him for three months in high school, would you believe? Had money too. Mama said I shoulda married him for it when he asked me. But I was bound and determined not marry a man from Dade County.” She laughed.

Mae and I smiled. It was an old story, how Mama and Daddy met. They’d both come from the same town but didn’t know each other until they met in college in New York. Grandma Caulfield had never liked the idea of her girl going to college, let alone a Yankee one. But Mama had gotten a scholarship and there was no stopping her determination to get out of Homestead and Dade County. Of course, Daddy brought her back for a little while. Then just after I was born, the opportunity to buy the resort in Tahoe came up and they took it.

Mama laughed a little. “My, my, John Caponetti. Haven’t thought about him in years. But I tell you, Lisle, your Sid Hackbirn is the spit and image of John Caponetti.”

Mae and I looked at each other with guilty grins. We were both wondering if we’d stumbled on Sid’s missing father. Mama had to catch us.

“Now, I know what you two are thinking, but if there’s any relation, you can bet it’s on the wrong side of the blankets, hear? So I don’t want you two saying anything. ‘Tisn’t nice. There was all sorts of cleft-chinned babies in families what had no right to have ’em, just as there was Caulfield babies. Remember that, now.”

“Sure, Mama,” I said.

“Mommy!” called Janey running in, followed by Darby and Ellen and, further behind and slower, by Sid. “Mommy, can Uncle Sid sleep over tonight? Can he, please?”

“Pretty please, Mom?” begged Darby. “He can sleep in my bed. I won’t mind a sleeping bag. Can he, please?”

Mae and I were both laughing at the uproar.

“Settle down,” said Mae. “He can—” The kids yelled. “Hush up! He can if he wants to.” She turned to Sid. “Really, Sid, you’re more than welcome, but I don’t want you to feel obligated. If there’s anything you need, I’m sure Lisa won’t mind running you down to the store.”

“She won’t have to.” Sid paused. “I, uh, am in the habit of carrying an overnight case in the car.”

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to laugh. I could see Mae biting hers, too.

“Now, why on earth would you carry an overnight case?” Mama asked innocently. She hadn’t heard that much about Sid.

I put my hand to my mouth and held it. I didn’t dare look at Mae. Sid, mercifully, ignored us.

“I like to maintain a flexible lifestyle,” he replied.

“Well, now as a writer, I s’pose you would,” Mama said.

“I guess I’m staying, then.” Sid was drowned out by cheers. “Come on, Darby, let’s get my case.”

He left with Darby and Ellen.

“Now, what is your problem, you two?” Mama’s eyes were flashing as she turned to us. “I admit it seems a little silly, carrying a bag, but it’s certainly convenient.”

“Oh, no! I can’t hold it!” I was laughing. So was Mae.

“Mama, you did it again,” gasped Mae. “Walked right into it.”

“What are you on about?”

“The overnight case,” I said. “It is real convenient for him.”

“Well, honey, if he doesn’t know where’s he going to be at night.”

“Or in whose bed,” giggled Mae. I giggled with her.

“Girls!” Mama glared at us. “’Tisn’t nice!”

“What’s so funny about an overnight case?” asked Janey, bewildered. She was too young to know about Sid.

I picked her up and set her on my lap.

“Janey,” I said, squeezing her. “Sometime, when you are older and a lot wiser in the ways of the world, I’ll explain.”

“Just nobody say anything to Grandpa,” warned Mae.

At that moment, Sid and Darby came in. Darby was carrying a garment bag. As I thought about it, I realized I’d seen it behind Sid’s seat and wondered what it was for.

“Darby, please go hang that up in your room,” said Mae, then to Sid, “I just put fresh sheets on his bed this morning.”

“Is there anything in there that the kids can’t see?” I whispered in his ear.

“Not if they don’t look,” he whispered back.

“Darby, put the latch on the door when you leave,” I yelled, then explained, “He’s not going to want the twins going through his stuff, and you know if it’s not locked up, it’s fair game.”

“They’re not old enough to know better,” added Mae, who was wishing they were. “Well, I’d better get lunch started.”

Darby came running downstairs.

“All locked up!” he reported and then went out back, taking his sisters with him.

“Sid,” asked Mae. “Are you going to be comfortable all dressed up like that?”

“Sure,” he shrugged, then thought a moment. “Maybe I will change.”

“Lisa, why don’t you show him Darby’s room.”

As we came into the front hall, Neil and Daddy came in from the store.

“Hi, Daddy!” I came up and hugged him.

“Hi, Lisle. How’s my baby?”

“Real good, Daddy. How are you?”

“Good.”

“Oh, Daddy, this is my boss, Sid Hackbirn.”

They stood there for a minute, like two dogs on the street, sizing the other up, only it was like a terrier and a German shepherd. Daddy is a big man. His face is a little on the stern side, but both Janey and I have his huge round eyes. He used to play football in college and he looks like he could have gone pro. Sid isn’t that small, but he’s not more than three inches taller than me and I’m average.

Sid broke the silence first.

“How do you do, sir,” he said putting out his hand.

Daddy took it, shook it firmly and nodded his head.

“How de do,” he mumbled, then walked into the family room.

Sid raised an eyebrow, while I breathed a sigh of relief. He smiled at me.

“You seem relieved,” he said.

I started up the stairs.

“He doesn’t dislike you.” I paused. “Yet.”

“I see.”

When we got to Darby’s room, I undid the latch, then paused.

“Sid, are you planning on wearing a sweater?” I asked in a low voice.

“I usually do.”

“Then I’d strongly suggest wearing it all the way or not at all.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know how you usually do, around the shoulders?”

“Yes.”

I winced. “Daddy doesn’t think that much of that kind of style.”

“Ah. I see. Well, this is going to be interesting.”

“You said it.”

There wasn’t much he could have done about the blue tweed pleated-front pants. But he was wearing the sweater all the way when he came downstairs. He sat quietly at the kitchen table listening to the rest of us gossip about the family.

I wouldn’t have believed it was possible. Daddy was not only suspicious of Sid, but Mae and I agreed by lunchtime, he was certainly jealous of Sid. It did make lunch a little strained.

“You poor thing,” Mae whispered to me after lunch.

We were cleaning up in the kitchen while the other adults lingered in the dining room and the kids were outside playing.

“Poor Sid, you mean,” I whispered back.

“Isn’t Daddy awful?” Mae giggled. “Remember that one boy you brought home from college? The one who had his hands all over you?”

“Rory? Oh my, do I.” I laughed, though at the time Daddy had hit the roof. “I was amazed Daddy let me finish my degree.”

“Thank God I talked you out of moving into Rory’s house with him and his friends.”

“And thank God you didn’t talk me out of moving to Sid’s place.” I was amazed I’d said it but not half as amazed as Mae. I mean, I had been meaning to tell her, but I just never got around to it.

“Are you joking?” she gasped.

I glanced at the closed dining room door, then quickly shook my head.

“Lisa!”

“Sh. It’s completely kosher, I promise. His room is on one side of the house and mine’s on the other. There’s a whole big house between us. He hasn’t touched me.”

“But why?”

“I’m on twenty-four-hour call. I told you the guy was eccentric.” I was shaking, although I was tremendously relieved at finally having told her.

“So why didn’t you tell me in the first place?”

“I don’t know. I guess I was desperate and I was afraid you’d try to talk me out of it.”

“I probably would have, so I suppose it’s just as well now.”

“Mae, I don’t even know why I signed on with him. I could have worked at the resort.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you did, Lisa. He needs us.”

“There really isn’t anything going on, Mae. I promise.”

“I believe you.”

I swallowed. “It’s just that he wishes there was and a lot of times, so do I.”

“Of course you do. He’s had my heart racing a couple of times, too.”

“It scares me, Mae. I’ve been horny before, but this is different.”

“Well, you just stand firm. He’ll come around.”

“It’ll be a long time before that happens, if at all.”

“Don’t worry. I’m here. It’ll be like AA. You just call when temptation hits. I’ll be praying for you, too.”

“Thanks, Mae.”

Sid wandered in at that point.

“It may be my imagination,” he said to us slowly. “But I get the impression that your father does not like me.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Sid,” replied Mae. “It’s not you. He doesn’t like anybody that comes near his little girl.”

Sid noticed I’d been blushing since he came in. He smiled mischievously.

“Is there a reason why your face is so red, Lisa?” he asked.

“Oh, we were just talking about you, Sid,” Mae giggled. “I hear you got my little sister shacked up at your place.”

Sid looked surprised for a moment then burst out laughing.

“You, shut up!” I backhanded him in the arm.

He only laughed harder. “You mean you never did tell your own sister where you were living?”

“No,” I groaned. “I just didn’t. I haven’t even told my parents, really.”

“You can’t,” gasped Mae. She had stopped laughing and was deadly serious.

“Mae, I’m going to have to sooner or later.”

She glanced back at the dining room. “Are you kidding? What do you think Daddy’s gonna do? He’ll be furious, and if he loses his temper…”

“Well, Sid can handle himself.” I looked over at him.

“I really don’t care to be involved in physical violence,” he said.

“Lisa, you can’t tell them where you’re living, unless you want Daddy getting into one nasty fight, then physically dragging you back to Tahoe.”

“What on earth is going on in here?” asked Mama as she came in.

“Just joking around, Mama,” said Mae, with a quick laugh.

“I wish,” I muttered as I turned on the faucet.

“Sid, you’d better go back and join the men,” said Mama. “We’ll take care of the mess. This is woman’s work.”

“That’s okay,” replied Sid. “I’m liberated.”

“No, Sid,” I said. “Daddy thinks it’s woman’s work.”

“I think I’ll go join Neil and your father.”

“He’s certainly trying,” said Mae when he had gone.

“I just hope Daddy doesn’t make any insinuations,” I sighed.

“Like nocturnal activity?” Mae giggled.

“Mae, what are you getting on about?” Mama asked in that voice that said she knew darned well what Mae was getting on about and didn’t like it one bit.

“Mama,” I replied. “Remember the overnight case? Sid fools around a lot.”

“Oh, dear,” Mama sighed. “He seems like such a nice man, too.”

“He is,” I said. “What he does with his time is his business and I’ve no right to judge. Just don’t worry. He’s not fooling around with me. I only work for him.”

“I never doubted that for a minute, Lisle, honey. And don’t you worry about your daddy either. I told him to behave himself.”

I have to give Daddy credit. He did behave himself. But it was obvious Sid and he were not going to be great friends. There was one tense moment that afternoon. Sid was relaxing and chatting with Neil in the living room. Janey came in, holding her grandfather’s hand. Seeing Sid, she dropped Grandpa and ran over to him. She climbed into his lap and gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Sid naturally hugged her back and cuddled her while he went on talking to Neil. He didn’t even see Daddy.

But I did and I groaned silently. Janey is the apple of Daddy’s eye and the joy of his middle age. Now Daddy would be jealous of Sid over two females.

In spite of five wired kids, Christmas Eve with my family is the most peaceful, contented time of the whole year for me. I could see Sid was enjoying it, too. We spent the evening in the living room. The tree lights were turned on, giving everything a nice soft glow. Darby was being as adult as he could. The four younger children were taking turns in everybody’s laps.

Then Darby decided we should be singing Christmas carols. I tried to talk Darby into playing the piano for us. He said he wasn’t good enough. Then I suggested he find someone else. Sid glared at me but succumbed to Janey’s pleading to hear “Fur Elise”, her favorite.

The kids kept him busy after that. He finally put his foot down and told them to ask me to sing “Oh Holy Night.” He had to have his revenge. He did play it in my key, without the music. I have to admit I was impressed. By the time the song ended, the twins and Ellen had fallen asleep and Janey was nodding. Darby soon followed them upstairs. He knew about Santa Claus and had been promoted to look out the year before.

While we waited for his clearance, Mama unwittingly asked an awkward question that nearly started a scene.

“How’d you and Sid meet? Did he run an ad in the paper or something?”

Mae, Neil, Sid and I looked at each other nervously. We knew we were on thin ice.

I looked at Sid.

“Shall I..?” I asked, hoping he’d see I was trying to give him a chance to save face. Of the two of us, he had the most to lose.

“I picked her up in a bar,” Sid said, grinning mischievously.

“You, Lisa?” Mama couldn’t believe her ears.

I saw his strategy.

“Oh, he’s just trying to shock you,” I said with feigned disgust. “I was out on a blind date. The guy turned out to be a jerk, so I ditched him. Mae and Neil weren’t home when I called. Sid popped up, eventually sent the jerk on his way, bought me dinner and that’s all. Two days later he called up and offered me a job.”

“You never went out with men you didn’t know before, Lisa,” Daddy spoke deliberately.

“Well, Daddy, I was hungry. Heck, it had been a year since I’d worked and things were tight.”

“You could have had a job.”

“Now, Bill,” Mama interrupted sternly. “I thought you weren’t going to bring that up.”

“It’s alright, Mama,” I said gloomily. I hadn’t wanted to hurt Daddy’s feelings when I’d decided not to go to Tahoe, but it appeared he’d still been hurt. “I’m sorry, Daddy. But I guess I figured I’d be stuck in Tahoe for good if I went then. I like Tahoe and I really did like working for you. I just wanted to be on my own. Besides, you would have had to fire someone to put me in and all those people have kids to support and I don’t.”

“Well,” grumbled Daddy. “I always said it was your life.”

“I really like what I’m doing now, Daddy. It’s different.”

Sid smiled at me. He alone knew just how different it was.

“Hey,” hissed Darby from the top of the stairs. “It’s all clear.”

“Alright, Darby. Goodnight,” said Mae.

“Goodnight, Mom.”

We waited five seconds in silence. After that quiet chaos reigned. Poor Sid sat and watched, bewildered, as we all sprang to our appointed tasks. Daddy and I worked on putting toys together while Neil and Mama concentrated on stuffing stockings. Mama finally took Sid under her wing and had him helping her. Mae tried assembling a dollhouse. Daddy and I are the only ones who are any good at putting things together. Well, we were the only ones. At one point Mae groaned in utter frustration. Sid automatically reached over and set her straight. I put him on assembly detail.

Thanks to Sid’s help, we were done in record time. Even so, it was well after midnight when we finished. Thoroughly exhausted, but happy, I went to bed.

On Christmas morning, the kids are allowed to take down their stockings and play with the presents Santa has brought them, which are the ones left unwrapped. The wrapped presents have to wait until after church.

I got to sleep until shortly before seven, when I was awakened by the girls, whose room I was sharing. I wake up slowly, and I was still half asleep when I followed Janey and Ellen downstairs, after putting their robes on them and donning my own.

“My ice skates!” crowed Janey with delight.

“Nice,” I mumbled and headed for the kitchen.

I was a little surprised to see Sid coming in the front door, wearing a running suit and even more surprised to see Darby, also.

“We went running,” Darby said and ran to his sisters in the living room.

“You would,” I grumbled with tired disgust, then yawned. “You gonna shower?”

“I was planning on it,” replied Sid.

“Then do it now and be quick. Towels are under the sink.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have a blow dryer would you?”

“In my case, in the girls’ room.”

“Thanks, and uh, Merry Christmas.”

“Mm.”

Twenty minutes later, I was sipping hot herb tea and somewhat more alert. Daddy came down in his robe and pajamas and sat down next to me.

“Any coffee?” he asked without much hope.

“Just instant. You know Mae.”

“I went past Darby’s room. Know what he was doing in there?”

I assumed “he” meant Sid.

“Dressing?”

“Blow drying his hair.”

“Oh come on, Daddy. It’s the thing now. Even Neil does sometimes.”

He just snorted. “He coming to church?”

I paused, realizing Sid’s religious beliefs, or rather lack of them, would just cause more conflict. But then there wasn’t much I could do about it.

“I don’t know,” I said finally. “I haven’t asked him.”

“He ain’t Catholic, is he?”

“No, Daddy.”

“I don’t know, Lisle. I know you’re just working for him, but, honey, that boy’s dangerous.”

“I know.”

“Then why’re you still with him?”

“I like him. Don’t worry, I’ll be alright. He knows how I feel and he respects that.”

“Well, Lisle, I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I know, Daddy.” I reached out and patted his hand. “You gonna come early to church with me and save seats?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for nothing.”

Janey came running in with a box. “Merry Christmas, Grandpa. I got ice skates.”

He took her in his lap. “Well, now, let’s see ’em.”

Sid chose that moment to walk in, fully dressed in the suit he’d been wearing the day before.

“Uncle Sid, you’re ready for church,” proclaimed Janey.

“Well, I..,” he started to protest. But then he saw all three pairs of our big eyes staring at him expectantly. “I thought I might take it in.”

A few minutes later as I went upstairs, Sid followed me.

“Lisa, I have never been to a church service before in my life,” he whispered rather frantically. “What do I do?”

“It’s no sweat,” I replied, a little moodily. “Just stand when we stand, sit when we’re not standing and try to look like you’re paying attention. They’ve got little books in the pews that’ll help you follow along.”

I yawned and went to change.

Sid went early with Janey, Daddy and me to help save seats for the slower moving ones at home. He did look a little uncomfortable when we all genuflected before entering the pew but wisely decided against trying it. Otherwise, he made it through mass okay. Janey had managed to sit between him and me and stayed in the pew with him when we all went for communion.

After mass, chaos broke loose. Mae and Neil’s friends are mostly people they know from church and there were quite a few there. Janey and Darby both go to the parish school, so they had friends, also. Even I was delighted, though not terribly surprised, to see a couple of old friends from college there.

There was a great deal of helloing and hugging and talking. Sid would have gotten lost in the shuffle, but every few seconds he was being introduced to somebody. Mama and Daddy had left right away with the younger three, so Mae and Neil took their time.

Almost twenty minutes after Mass had ended, people for the next mass were coming in, and we were still in the vestibule talking and saying hi.

I turned to see Sid standing next to me.

“Well?” I asked.

“They’re talking,” he replied, noncommittally.

“Uncle Sid, I want you to meet my teacher,” piped up Janey.

We turned to face Sister Francine.

From the look on Sid’s face, I think he’d “heard about” nuns before. But things have changed a lot since most of those stories got started. Sister Francine was not a face in a long heavy black habit.

She was a fresh, pretty, young woman dressed in a conservatively cut navy blue suit that had a wooden pin of the Sacred Heart order on the lapel. She wasn’t even wearing a veil.

Sid recovered himself to say “How do you do” to her and shake her hand.

“Janey’s very fond of you,” Sister Francine said, smiling.

“Well, I’m very fond of her,” Sid replied, as Janey grabbed his hand and leaned against him.

“Oh, Sid!” called Mae. “I’ve got somebody here I want you to meet.”

I don’t know if Sid really wanted to meet whoever it was Mae was talking about. But I know he wanted away from Sister Francine.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, politely. “Excuse me.”

He walked towards Mae, still holding on to Janey. I followed behind.

“Sid, I want you to meet one of Fullerton’s premier citizens,” Mae said.

Ned Harris was carrying one of his children, a one-year-old girl when Mae collared him. When he first saw Sid, he looked startled for a second, then broke into a huge grin.

“Well, if it isn’t Sid Hackbirn,” he said, with happy surprise.

“How are you, Ned?” Sid replied quietly.

He was smiling, but there was something about his reserve that told me he wasn’t nearly as happy to see Ned as Ned was to see him. At the same time, Janey was a sight to see. Her lips were drawn into a tight thin line and her eyes had a fierce look in them. Obviously, she did not like Ned Harris, which I thought was strange, because everybody I knew liked him a lot.

“You two know each other?” Mae was amazed.

“Sure,” said Ned. “We were in the army together. So how are you, Sid?”

“Very well, and yourself?”

“Couldn’t be happier. Got a beautiful wife and kids, good business. Doing terrific. I’ll bet you’re still single.”

“Yes.”

“You’ve still changed. Look at where you are. The last place I would have ever expected to find you would be in a church.”

“Actually, I just came along for the ride.”

“Yeah, still cool as a cucumber. So what are you doing for a living?”

“I write.”

“Books?”

“Freelance, for magazines.”

“No kidding. Does it pay well?”

“Enough.”

“Great. I’m in the travel business, myself. Inflight Travel Agency. Doing real well.”

“Good.”

“Listen, I gotta get inside. Say, look me up real soon, will you? I’d love to have a chance to chew over old times.”

“Whatever.”

Ned left, after shaking hands with Sid.

“He’s a bad man, Uncle Sid,” said Janey. “He does good things, but he’s real bad.”

Sid just lifted an eyebrow.

“Hm,” was all he would say.

On the way to the car, Mae held me back a little.

“Sid sure reacted strangely to Ned Harris,” she said softly to me.

“Sid was in Viet Nam. He doesn’t like to be reminded of it.”

“That’s right. Ned was, too. That must be it.”

“I don’t know. Janey doesn’t like him.”

Mae sighed. “I know. That’s why I didn’t vote for him for city council. Still, he is a very sweet man and his wife is just as nice. Janey likes her well enough.”

We both shrugged.

“Hurry up, you two,” called Neil.

Mama already had the turkey in the oven when we got home. The next order of business was to unwrap the huge mound of presents underneath the tree. Of course, the kids got most of it. But I cleaned up pretty nicely myself and Sid was surprised when there were several packages for him.

I admit I was a bit nervous when Daddy handed Sid a box from me.

“Very nice,” he said, smiling and nodding when he saw the sweater.

“Lisle, is that one you knitted?” asked Mama.

I could have kissed her. Sid looked at me, surprised.

“Did you make this?” he asked.

“Every stitch,” I replied, blushing as usual.

“That’s beautiful. Thank you.”

Several packages later, I got a long, thin one from Sid.

“I told you not to,” I complained.

He just smirked and went back to thumbing through a book Neil and Mae had given him. But I noticed he kept one eye on me.

“Go on, you ingrate. Open it.” Mama was used to my protests over receiving presents.

Trembling, I slid the ribbon off, carefully undid the tape, pulled the paper away and opened the box. Laying on the cotton, suspended from a fine gold chain was a pendant of two rectangles, one polished, one brushed. In the middle of the brushed one was an opal encircled by tiny diamonds. The diamonds sparkled in the morning light.

“My necklace,” I said quietly and looked at him.

He smiled gently and nodded. I looked at it again.

“I went back a week later and it was gone.” I returned my gaze to him. “I guess you bought it.”

“Let’s see, Aunt Lisa,” begged Janey.

“Why don’t you put it on?” said Mae. “That way we can all see.”

“Alright.” I lifted it out. My fingers fumbled on the catch. “Oh dear, my hands are shaking.”

“Here, I’ll put it on you.” Mae took it and had it on in seconds. “Oh, Lisa, it’s beautiful.”

“Thanks.” Still shaking, I turned to Sid. “Thank you, Sid.”

“You’re welcome.” He went back to the book.

Opening presents seemed to last forever. It didn’t, but it was almost one by the time the last one had been opened and duly admired. I helped Mae clean up the paper in the living room, while Mama checked the turkey.

Neil and Mae must have conferenced about Daddy and Sid the night before, because Neil shooed Mama out of the kitchen and took over, drafting Daddy and Sid to help. Even Darby got to help peel the potatoes.

But when dinner time came, Neil, Sid, and Darby dropped the liberated bit and became perfect gentlemen; Darby seating Mae, Sid my mother, and Neil me.

I confess, I was a little nervous about how everything would taste. But Neil’s a fairly good cook and Sid’s very good at finding his way around the kitchen, although he’s usually too lazy. Daddy’s basically hopeless, but he can follow directions.

He followed them very well because everything tasted wonderful. I pigged out. I caught Sid glaring at me when I asked for seconds. I just smiled happily, cleaned my plate, and asked for thirds.

We were all finishing up and debating whether or not we should eat dessert just yet when the phone rang. Mae answered.

“Hello..? Oh, hi Ned… Merry Christmas to you too… We’re just eating… No, you’re not interrupting a thing… Well, my sister works for him. He came down when she was babysitting while I was in the hospital with my knee… Oh, the kids just love him… Well, I expect he was pretty surprised too… It’s a small world, Ned. He’s still here, do you want to talk to him- It’s no trouble. Sid, it’s Ned Harris. Hello? Hello? That’s funny.” Mae hung up. “Never mind, Sid. We got cut off.”

“Hm.” Sid had obviously heard the conversation and was now mulling it over in his mind.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye. It was dark when we left.

“What a time,” I sighed as we pulled onto the freeway.

“It’s been a very enjoyable two days,” Sid replied.

“I want to thank you for my necklace.”

“I thought it would surprise you.”

“It certainly did.”

Sid chuckled and was silent.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked after a bit.

“Hm? Oh.” He shrugged. “A lot of things. The sweater. It’s a very nice piece of work.”

“I made that one ’cause it was the only kind you didn’t have.”

“It’s the only kind I don’t wear.”

“Oh no.” My heart sank to the floor.

“However.” He started to pat my knee, thought better of it, and put his hand back on the steering wheel. “I am going to make a point of wearing this one.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“That’s just it. I want to, very much. There’s something about the work that makes it a very valuable thing.”

“It’s one heck of a pattern. It’s funny, but it’s as close as I’ve gotten to knitting a perfect sweater.”

“I didn’t see any mistakes.”

“I see them, but I know they’re there.”

There was another silence.

“What do you think of Ned Harris?” Sid asked suddenly.

“I don’t know. I think he’s a nice guy. I’ve only met him a couple of times. He seems alright, but…”

“Janey doesn’t like him.”

“I noticed. Why did you ask about him?”

“Back in ‘Nam, I was investigating him for selling secrets. We never proved it, so someone else set him up for a drug bust. He managed to get out from underneath those charges, too.”

“That’s interesting. It must have been quite a surprise to see him at church this morning.”

“It is and it isn’t.” Sid gazed out at the traffic, dodging cars without really seeing them. “I’ve always figured I’d run into him again, and actually, catching him at church makes perfect sense. Ned was always very good at appearances. That’s how he got out of that drug bust. He’d been a volunteer aide for the Catholic chaplains and they stuck up for him. That phone call’s bothering me. Getting cut off was a little too convenient. I think I’ll talk to Henry about it tomorrow.”

“Good idea.”

I put Ned Harris out of my mind and let my thoughts drift.

CarlessinLALogo

How to Bring Home the Groceries Without a Car

how to bring home the groceries without a carThere are two times when not having a car can be a real pain. One is when the buses or trains don’t go to where you want to go when you want to go. The other is when you’re trying to haul groceries and other stuff home from the shopping center. Both those times are why we’ll often choose to rent a car.

Now, we can and do fetch groceries without the car. There being only two of us humans, we don’t need huge amounts of food. And while we buy the dog food in 20-pound bags, we only need to buy it every other week. So, given the usual chaos of our lives, there are good odds we’ll be renting a car on the weekends we need to buy dog food.

Except for a few weekends ago. We had to replace some of our tech gear and the dogs needed food. And we’d decided against renting a car because of the cost. Did that stop us? As you can see from the photo to the left, of course not.

Even when the haul isn’t going to be this excessive, it does take some planning to grocery shop. I generally have to remember the granny cart or my other wheeled bag. Plus some extra bags. We like to try and include an insulated bag and some frozen packs since it does take longer to get the milk home.

And a good list is imperative. You really can’t just start tossing stuff in your cart willy-nilly because, at some point, you’re going to have to figure out how it’s all going to fit in what you have to carry. That may sound pretty obvious until you’ve actually gone and bought more stuff than you can carry. I’ve come pretty darned close, let me tell you. Having the granny cart with me is a big help because I use it as my regular shopping cart. That way, I know when I’ve got too much stuff.

Most times, only one of us will go out. As I noted above, we don’t generally need too much food at one time. But then there are those weeks when it helps to have two of us working together, like when we had the 20-pounds of dog food to buy, plus the extra tech gear, plus all the usual stuff we eat. We did it, as you can see. And it was kind of fun, too.

 

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Ten

spy novel, cozy mystery, mystery fictionNovember 29 – December 17, 1982

On Monday, two things happened which made me very happy. At breakfast, Sid gave me permission to decorate the house for Christmas.

“Waste of time and money,” said the professor.

“Shut up, Lipplinger,” said Sid.

He only drew the line on outside lights and with good reason. We would be the only house with them and we did not need to be conspicuous.

Then shortly after noon, I got the results of a project I had started in the middle of November.

“Is Sid around?” Henry James asked on the phone.

I checked. “Nope, the coast is clear.”

“Alright, here’s the information you wanted. She’s in Coral Gables, Florida.”

“Shoot, that’s near where all my family’s from.”

“You want the address and phone?”

“You got that?” I copied them down. “Thanks.”

“We aim to please,” continued Henry. “How’s it goin’ between you and Sid?”

“Fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Thanks for the info, Henry. You’re a doll.”

“Well, good luck, kid. I’ve got a feeling you’ll need it.”

But his warning couldn’t dampen my spirits. I slipped into the library and shut the door. It took me three tries to get through, but finally, the other phone rang and an elderly female voice answered.

“Is this Stella Hackbirn?” I asked.

“Yes, ’tis.” The voice had a rather light drawl for that part of the country.

“My name is Lisa Wycherly. I’m calling on behalf of someone you haven’t talked to in a while.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, Ms. Hackbirn. I work for your nephew.”

“I haven’t got a nephew.”

“Haven’t you got a nephew named Sid?”

“I had a nephew. But he decided that my politics weren’t good enough for him, so we no longer speak.”

“But haven’t you wondered at all about him?”

“No, I haven’t. It sounds to me like you’re trying to effect a reconciliation.”

“I’m not asking much. Just send him a card or something. Here’s the address.”

I gave it to her so quickly I don’t know if she got it down.

“You got that?”

“I don’t want it.”

“But…”

“I haven’t spoken to Sid for fifteen years because I do not wish to speak to Sid and that’s final.”

The line went dead, and then the dial tone. I just sat there, utterly amazed.

“I could have told you she wouldn’t.” Sid shut the library door behind him.

“What? How..?”

“I had a feeling you’d try. So when I saw you sneaking in here, I listened in.”

“You weren’t supposed to know.”

“Just in case she said no, so it wouldn’t hurt my feelings?”

I nodded, my happy mood dashed.

“Stella is a very stubborn woman. She won’t change her mind. But I appreciate your trying.”

“I’m just sorry you found out.”

“Okay. So it hurts a little. Rejection always does. But when she ran me out, it wasn’t the first time she’d rejected me.”

“I’m sorry, Sid.”

“Don’t be. She’s obviously an old, embittered woman. That is her problem, and I propose we don’t make it ours.”

“You’re right.”

“There you are, Hackbirn.” Lipplinger’s voice shattered the moment. “We’ve got some talking to do.” He stopped when he saw me. “A little nookie behind the shelves, eh? I tell you, Hackbirn, you ought to let me have her. I’ll lay her and have it done with.”

“That is not why she’s in this house.”

“So what. Listen, Hackbirn, we’ve got to discuss this setup. I need space, room to work. This room would suit me just fine.”

When I thought of that old grouch taking over one of my favorite retreats, I got angry.

“Something else will have to do,” I said firmly. “This is a common recreational area.”

“She’s right,” said Sid. “You have your room. If there’s a problem, I’ll have the decorator in tomorrow.”

“Well, if that’s the best I’m going to get.” He shuffled off, muttering.

“That’s darned good, Lipplinger,” I shouted after him. I looked at Sid, who was chuckling. “There’s something about that man that brings out the worst in me.”

“I suspect you’re not the only one.”

“You’re not going to inflict him on that nice Mary Smith, are you?”

“You don’t know Mary like I do.”

“Obviously. I’m not a man.”

Sid chuckled again. “Don’t worry, Lisa. Mary’ll make mincemeat out of him.”

Whether or not she would have we never found out. When Sid called her, she told him she couldn’t come until the beginning of the following week. By Friday, Sid had had enough of Lipplinger. I was quite happy to come home from Mae’s on Monday morning and find him gone.

“You didn’t throttle him without telling me did you?” I asked Sid.

“Nope.”

“Shoot him and not let me get any shots in?”

“Nope. I found another house for him.”

“People you’re not very fond of, I hope.”

“Don’t know them at all.”

“That’s good. Well, Praise the Lord, he’s gone!”

The days passed quickly. Christmas was well on its way, which put me in a very good mood, although I was busier than a one-armed paper hanger, what with all the various projects I had going for different people. Even though he wouldn’t say so, I could tell Sid was looking forward to spending Christmas day at Mae’s. Right after Lipplinger left, he questioned me extensively on presents for the family and insisted on taking me with him to buy them. After much debate, we settled on perfume for Mae, a classical record for Neil, a very nice souvenir book on Mercedes-Benz for Darby (I said it was too expensive, but Sid insisted), a copy of “The Wizard of Oz” for Janey, a picture dictionary for Ellen, and toy cars for the twins.

It was then, too, that we had the Great Present Fight, which has become a tradition around my birthday and any other holidays where presents are given. [One I could do without – SEH] I just didn’t want Sid to give me a present.

“Listen,” I told him. “You paid my back rent at my old apartment when I first started working here. That’s enough.”

“That was part of the initial employment agreement.”

“No, it wasn’t. So let’s just call that my Christmas present and leave it at that.”

“I don’t want to do that.”

“But you’re not letting me pay you back.”

“So what’s wrong with that?”

“I don’t want to be a kept woman.”

“For crying out loud, do we have to go through that again? I’m not asking for favors.”

“I never said you were. I just want to be independent.”

“And my buying you a Christmas present makes you dependent.”

“Sid, you don’t understand.”

“You’re right. I don’t, and I don’t think I’m going to anytime soon. So let’s make a deal. I won’t buy you anything if you won’t buy me anything.”

I paused. “Sid, it’s too late.”

“I thought so. Well, I’m not going to make any promises, then.” [Of course, it was too late for me, too. What else could I do? – SEH]

That closed the issue, of course. I would have made the deal, but I’d already finished the sweater and after all that work, I couldn’t bear not to give it to him.

If I had been happy to see Professor Lipplinger leave, you can imagine how I felt when, a week and a half before Christmas, I answered the door and found him on the doorstep, suitcases in hand.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

He walked in and set down his suitcases. “I’m moving in.”

“Oh, no you’re not,” I said picking up his cases and putting them on the porch.

“I’m afraid he is,” said Sid, coming into the hallway. “I just got the call. His other house kicked him out.”

“I believe it.”

Lipplinger, with an air of triumph, picked his cases up and walked past me with a smug grin on his face.

“Always did like your place, Hackbirn. No noise, decent scenery, even if you can’t touch her.”

“You’re staying here on one condition,” warned Sid. “You stay in your room. I will not have you harassing my secretary or my housekeeper, nor do I want to listen to your tripe. Is that clear?”

“Perfectly. All I require is privacy and three hot meals a day.”

“You will get what you want, provided you stay out of our way. This is my house, remember.”

“Of course. Don’t bother showing me. I know the way, Hackbirn.” He shuffled off.

I shut the door and looked at Sid.

“Couldn’t we just ship him to the Soviets with a note that says ‘Here he is, you can have him if you can stand him’?”

“Nice idea,” Sid replied. “There’s just one problem.”

“What?”

“They’d ship him right back and we’d be stuck with him again.”

We both laughed.

It was one week before Christmas.

“Sid!” I ran into the house bellowing that Friday. “Hurry up! Come here! Sid!”

He came out of the library with a worried frown on his face.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I got it! Hurry up and see!”

I grabbed his hand and started towards the front of the house.

“What are you talking about?”

“What you loaned me the car for. The Christmas tree. I got it. It’s out front. Come on. It’s a real beauty, too. I can’t believe I did it again.”

“Did you make that drop?”

“Of course I did. It went smooth as silk. I told you it would work. I was a little late. The guy was already at the lost and found counter asking for it. I just handed it over. No sweat.”

“Good.”

I pulled him outside. “There it is. What do you think?”

“I think there’s a tree tied to my car. I just had it waxed, too.”

“Quit fussing. I put a blanket down first. Help me get it inside. It’s just perfect. Another year and I did it again.”

I had to run inside first and get some scissors to cut the twine. After we got the tree off the car, I ran ahead to open the double front door all the way.

“Bring it in bottom first,” I called.

“I’ll bring it in whichever way I can get it!”

With much grunting and groaning, he got it into the hallway.

“Where do you want it?” he asked, sighing.

“I told you. In the living room, right in front of the bay window. It’s going to be so gorgeous! I can’t believe I did it again.”

“If I remember correctly, there is a very nice Queen Anne bench in front of that window.”

“Not anymore. Don’t panic, Conchetta and I did some rearranging this morning.”

“Miss Wycherly.” Sid heaved the tree along to the living room. “You have already dug deep inside me and turned me around, must you also rearrange my house?”

“Sure. But, relax, it’s only temporary, just through the holidays.”

We stood the tree up on its pine cross bars. The top branches scraped “snow” off the acoustical ceiling.

“Lisa, that tree is at least five inches too tall for this room.”

“And it’s not even in the stand.” I looked it up and down. “Yep. I did it again.”

We finally got it up and decorated, after first going out again to buy a stand, a saw (I couldn’t believe he didn’t have one) lights and the decorations. I guess Sid got caught up in the excitement in spite of himself, because I knew he’d planned on going out that night, but he stayed home to help me with the tree.

It was beautiful, too. Even Lipplinger admired it when we let him out of his room for the occasion.

“It’s decent,” he said. “Just the sort of thing you need a woman for, Hackbirn.”

“Hey, I helped too,” Sid replied, laughing.

Lipplinger snorted. “It only confirms my opinion of you. Nice piece like that and you’re not laying her. What a waste. Of course, I’ve always thought that about your kind.”

“Are you suggesting I’m gay?” Sid’s voice was calm, but it had that edge to it.

I tried to suppress a laugh. I could see where one could accuse him of it. He wasn’t swishy or had that kind of high-pitched voice (although I know a lot of gays don’t). But he was terribly clothes conscious and there was a gentleness about him that could be labeled effeminate.

Lipplinger just shuffled off, muttering.

“What are you laughing at?” Sid grumbled, picking up his cup of eggnog. Conchetta had made it before she left.

“You? Gay?”

“It’s not funny.” There was something strange about his discomfort.

“You haven’t…tried it, have you?” I was actually kind of curious.

“No. that would make me bi-sexual, and I’m not that, either.” He looked at me, trying to figure something out. “I don’t know how you feel about the whole gay thing, but I know gays and lesbians and it’s no big deal. I just don’t like it when a straight calls me gay because then he’s being as insulting as he can be.”

“Oh. That makes sense.”

I smiled and stacked the ornament boxes up so I could put them in the hall closet. Sid watched me for a moment, then chuckled softly.

“What are you laughing at?” I asked.

“You. You won’t spend twenty dollars on a blouse you need, and yet you spent a bundle today, and for what? A tree.”

I walked over to the tree, smiling at the softly twinkling lights.

“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,” I sang softly. “Wie treu sind deine Blaetter.”

“I don’t speak German.”

“The message of the evergreen, Sid. Its leaves are always green. They don’t change with the weather. The evergreen is unchanging, just like God’s love.” I looked at him. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to preach.”

He just shrugged. “I seem to remember reading somewhere that the Christmas tree was originally a pagan symbol of fertility.”

I laughed and picked up my eggnog.

“Well, then, a toast.” I raised my cup and so did Sid. “To fertility.”

“Fertility?” he laughed.

“A fertile mind, for new ideas and a fertile heart, for love.”

“To fertility, then, because I’m not and you probably are.”

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Surviving the Grocery Store

grocery store, grocery shopping tipsWe have a grocery store near us that we absolutely love, yet we generally refer to it as The Gates of Hell. Why? This place is chronically crowded, and deservedly so. They have excellent prices. The produce is good and not the same old you find at other stores. Oh, and the service deli. I don’t even want to think about how many inches on my hips that deli is directly responsible for. Or, more accurately, waiting in the service deli for my number to be called because I always find something else to add to my order while waiting.

And, often, while waiting around for my number to be called (and it is always a wait), I am often reminded how most advice about grocery shopping is pretty lousy. They tell you things like don’t shop with your kids but don’t tell you who’s going to watch the squids while you’re at the store. Go when it’s not crowded, and yet, the whole reason stores get crowded is that most of us are at work when they’re not. And I love the idea of mapping your store so that you have your list items grouped by aisle. You may be that organized, and if you are, I salute you. I most certainly am not. Besides, I usually go to at least two different stores because not all of my stores have the same items at the right prices. That’s a lot of mapping and I do have better things to do.

But there are some things you can do to make life easier at the grocery store. Such as keeping a running list with you at all times. I use a grocery list app on my phone, which believe me, helps a lot. That way, when I see that I’m running low on granulated sugar, I just pull out my phone and quickly type it in, instead of trying to remember later that I need to add sugar to my list. I’ve also had a notepad with a magnet on the back stuck to my fridge so that I can list things as I see them running out, like crackers or Worcestershire sauce. With the app, I can also add toothpaste and shampoo because I have my phone in the bathroom, or in the bedroom, and don’t have to cross the house in a state of undress so that I can get those items on the list before I forget.

You may prefer adding your items to what mystery author Donna Andrews refers to as The Notebook That Tells Me When to Breathe, and I’m reasonably sure you have one. Most of us do. Whether we use it or not, well, that’s another issue. But the nice thing about putting your list in your Notebook That Tells Me When to Breathe is that notebook tends to be something we keep with us all the time. It’s always there. You can put your menu in it, too. I have my menu on my phone as a Google calendar. Again, it’s always with me because my phone is and when I’m shopping and think I’ve forgotten something or can’t remember why I put tater tots on my list, I can check my menu to find out.

The advice folks recommend a list to help you control spending – and that does help. However, a list saves me boodles of time. Why? I’m not running back to the store after forgetting some key item nearly as often as when I don’t keep my list up to date. I’ll still forget things sometimes. That’s why keeping the menu with me helps me remember that I do need pork chops after all.

My other cardinal rule is to eat before I get to the grocery store. This is one of those bits of advice that is not always practical. But if you’re trying to control your spending or your waistline, an empty tummy and lots of ready-made junk right in front of you, placed there on purpose so you’ll buy it, is not a good combination. Grab that protein bar out of your purse or the glove compartment and eat it before shopping.

I also make a habit of tracking my spending as I put items in my cart. I used to have to do this just to make sure I could afford everything. I still do it because I don’t want a lot of food going to waste, and if I did forget to eat, it helps keep me in check. If I’m conscious of how much I spending, it’s easier to stop and ask myself if I really need that stick of goat cheese.

Because sometimes, the answer is yes. Which is my final tip. Don’t forget to get a small treat for yourself, whether it’s indulging in a cranberry goat cheese log (thank you, Trader Joe’s) or a bar of chocolate to be broken up and parsed out over the next week or two. You remember stuff for your kids or for your spouse. Don’t forget yourself, even if it’s indulging in a trashy romance on your phone while you’re waiting in line. Or for your number to be called at the service deli.

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Nine

spy novel, spy fiction, cozy mysteryNovember 27 – 28, 1982

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Relationship wise, Sid and I were doing very well. Lipplinger-wise, we weren’t out of the woods by a long shot.

Friday night, Sid called Henry James and made arrangements for the next day. The next morning I woke up with cramps, bad ones.

We drove to Hattie Mitchell’s estate in our third rented car. The first one, Sid had traded in after the alley incident and the second we’d left behind at the shootout. I’d asked Sid what we were going to do about that second car and he told me it was being taken care of. [The F.B.I. had it towed and Ed Donaldson paid for it all, out of my paycheck. Talk about government fleecing. It’s a good thing we don’t have to live on the pittance they pay us as it is – SEH]

I was nervous and holding my belly.

“We’ve had knives, guns,” I said as we drove along. “The only thing they’ve got left for us is bombs.”

“Will you cut that out?” Sid was still smiling. “You’re making me nervous.”

“You? Hah!”

“I have my moments.” Then he turned serious. “Is, uh, something wrong? You don’t seem to be in peak form this morning. You’re not still mad at me, are you?”

“No. Not in the least.” I winced as we hit a pothole.

“Well, something’s wrong.”

“Oh. It’s nothing.”

Sid glared at me. “I seem to remember getting yelled at pretty soundly yesterday for not owning up to my little infirmity.”

The flush spread over my face. “Sid, it’s real embarrassing.”

“And me getting caught with my pants down isn’t.”

“Alright,” I groaned. “I’m just cramped up, okay?”

“Ah hah! Something you ate.”

“Nice try.”

“Then what?”

I glared out the window. “That time of the month cramps.”

“Oh.” Sid chuckled. “My condolences.” He looked at me, mildly concerned. “Are you going to be up to it if things get rough?”

I shrugged. “I should be. Cramps have never slowed me down. It’s just uncomfortable.”

“Well, I hope you’ll be alright, and not just physically.”

“So do I. But I shouldn’t flip too badly. I’ve been through it before and the emotional strain I was under yesterday has been resolved.”

“Except for Lipplinger.”

“He won’t bother me.”

“Be careful. He knows how to push your button.”

“Uh-oh,” I said. But not about Lipplinger.

Hattie’s estate was just about a block away. Two cars were parked next to the gates.

“Looks like we might have some company,” replied Sid.

Yet we got through the gates without hindrance. Hattie met us at the door.

“He’s packed and ready to go,” she said. “But I want to talk to you two first.”

She led us into the room we’d been in two nights before. She shut the door and faced us.

“Miles told me something about a formula he’d developed.” She was calm, but I could tell she was feeling a little hurt.  “He doesn’t think I’m capable of understanding what it’s about, so he just told me it existed and it was dangerous. He also told me about you two.” She looked us over. Sid stayed cool while I squirmed. “Sid Hackbirn. Is that as in S.E. Hackbirn, the one that does the F.B.I. piece?”

Sid watched her carefully. “Why do you want to know?”

“Because Miles, however obnoxious he is, is my brother. I want to stay in touch with him.”

“Whatever my name is, staying in touch with me will not necessarily mean staying in touch with your brother.”

Hattie chuckled. “As owner of two major defense and electronics plants, one of which is involved in highly top secret projects, I have a top-level security clearance. I also have several friends on the House Committee on Intelligence. It will be more trouble to go through them, and I could possibly do some damage to your cover.”

Sid laughed also. “Hattie, I already know what your clearance is, and you’re not cleared on my level.”

“In other words, you’re not going to say so.” Hattie’s eyes glittered with just a touch of mischief. “Well, Mr. Hackbirn and Miss Wycherly, it doesn’t matter. I want to remain in contact. No secrets, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to have friends. Obviously, we’ll need some plausible way to continue. Well, I’ve been thinking about getting into editing.” She smiled at our surprised looks. “Don’t be so shocked. I’ve been accused of playing the dilettante before, and I’ve yet to fall on my face. Yesterday, I bought On Our Own, that singles magazine that was about to go under?”

Sid’s eyebrow lifted. “I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did.”

“Well, it has a new life now, but without the sophomoric content and bad layout. You see, I don’t enter these enterprises without some knowledge of what I’m doing. In any case, Mr. Hackbirn, or may I call you Sid?”

“Call me what you like,” he said with a mildly lecherous smile.

Hattie returned it. “I would like to confirm that your relationship with Miss Wycherly is not of the sort in which exploring the west coast singles scene would cause trouble between you.”

I shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind. It might be fun.”

Sid laughed. “Not the kind of fun you like, my dear. But don’t worry, Hattie, we each have our own lives.”

“Good. Then you’ll be my west coast correspondent. I like your angles on the F.B.I., however, I’ve been warned your spelling and grammar can be a little rough.”

“Not anymore,” I said.

“She’s been cleaning up after me,” said Sid.

“Excellent. I’ll expect your first column on the thirteenth. It’s for the April issue, fifteen hundred words, two hundred dollars.”

“Two fifty and you’ve got a deal.”

“Two fifty, it is.”

They grinned at each other.

“We do have to get out of here alive, first,” I pointed out.

“True,” said Sid.

I added, “I might also say, that while I’m not real good at setting odds, they don’t look too good, considering those two cars out front.”

“Oh dear,” said Hattie. “Maybe I’d better call the police.”

“Please don’t,” replied Sid, getting a little antsy. “We’ll have to make do without. They’ve been involved far too much already.”

“I don’t want to know.” Hattie thought a moment. “You know, there is a path that runs through the woods out back. It goes to the road. I’m sure we could get a car down it.”

“A back way out of here?” Sid’s face lit up. “Hattie, I could just kiss you.”

“Oh, Sid, please do.”

That old reprobate. Sid, I mean. He kissed her alright. Boy, did he kiss her. When they finally got around to pulling away from each other, he winked at her and she let out a prim little sigh.

“Well,” she said, smoothing her dress. “Let’s go get my brother.”

We got him, bad temper, lewd comments and all. The car did go down the path very easily. We got onto the highway without mishap. But to get back to the city and National airport, we had to go past the front of the estate. After we passed it, I heard tires squealing. I looked out the back window.

“Step on it, Sid! They’re coming after us!”

Sid stepped on the accelerator.

“Get on the floor, Professor,” said Sid. He looked at me quickly. “You’d better get down too.”

“I don’t see why,” growled Lipplinger. “It’s undignified and I’ll wrinkle my suit.”

A bullet glanced off the roof.

“It’s a lot safer, that’s why,” I yelled. I reached over the front seat and pushed him down as a second bullet embedded itself in the trunk.

“Get down, Lisa,” Sid yelled.

“I’m getting!”

I slumped down in my seat. I reached into my carry-on and pulled out my gun, then rolled down the window.

“What are you doing?” snapped Sid.

“I’m going to shoot their tires,” I said. I turned around in my seat and started out the window.

“Oh, no you’re not.” Sid grabbed me with one hand and pulled me back. The car swerved dangerously. “Do you want to get yourself killed?”

“You’ll get us all killed,” Lipplinger yelled from the back, “if you keep on driving like that.”

“Shut up, Lipplinger. Don’t worry, Lisa, they’ll stop shooting at us when we get into traffic. Not that there’s ever any around when you need it.”

I shoved my gun back into the special case that would get it past the metal detectors at the airport.

“Got anything you can’t replace in your suitcase?” Sid asked me softly.

“No, I put all my valuables in my carry-on like you said.”

“Good girl. How about you, Professor? Got anything in your suitcase you can’t replace?”

“Of course not. Too many thieves around to carry valuables.”

“Good. We’re ditching the luggage.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’ll make it easier for us to change planes at the last minute. Maybe we’ll lose our tail.”

“Aren’t you going to ditch them before we get to the airport?”

“Not much point in it. They’re probably watching it anyway. With any luck at all, we can put them off our track.”

“Holy Jesus in Heaven, please,” I prayed, crossing myself.

“Whatever.”

At the airport, we dropped the car at the rental place and ran through three terminals before Sid found a flight he liked. Even then we had to run to catch it. Lipplinger complained every step of the way.

The flight was a puddle jumper to La Guardia airport.

“Think we’ll lose them in New York City?” I asked Sid as we were taking off.

“If you can’t lose someone in New York, you’re in big trouble.” Sid yawned. “Keep an eye on the Professor for me, will you?” And he dropped off.

In New York, Sid promised the cab driver a handsome tip if he could get us across Queens to Kennedy airport in under thirty minutes without anyone following us. I didn’t dare look. Sid was looking out the back window for tails, so I just kept my eyes fastened to the back of the seat.

We still switched planes two more times. We got in to Los Angeles shortly after midnight. I was never so glad to see that house in my life. I was also exhausted. Sid wasn’t. He’d slept most of the way. Cheerfully, he drove Lipplinger downtown to an all-night market to get some of the necessities of life left behind in Washington.

The next day, they went shopping and I went to Mae’s. It was so nice being there. I blithely forgot about Lipplinger and risking my neck in the spy business and happily spent the afternoon risking my neck running around on the roof helping Neil and Darby put up the Christmas lights.

I also told Mae about the fight Sid and I’d had and she agreed it was the best thing for him.

“He’s not going to make you go away for Christmas, is he?” she asked.

“He’d better not,” I said. “Of course it is a little hard for him to understand how I feel. He’s never celebrated holidays.”

“You’re kidding.”

“‘Fraid not, Mae.”

“Well, he knows he’s invited here.”

“You’d better confirm that. I told you how he reacted to that letter.”

“It’s not late, I’ll do it now.”

Mae had been back on her feet for some time, and it didn’t take her long to get Sid on the other end of the line.

“Sid?” I heard her say. “This is Mae O’Malley. You got any plans for Christmas Day?… Then I won’t take no for an answer. You’re spending it here and that’s final. You plan to be here at ten thirty a.m. sharp. Any later, and the kids’ll have to wait to open their presents and they’ll be mad… Alright, talk to you later.”

She hung up and smiled. “See? It’s all settled.”