cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter One

May 14, 1983

 

The sky was overcast, a little unusual for that time of year in Southern California. I zipped up my ski jacket against the bite of the cool mountain air and headed away from the cabin in search of a quiet place to think, which is the point of going on a retreat. We were somewhere near Big Bear Lake. The area was a crowded one for the mountains, but certainly not as crowded as L.A. It had that special stillness, with the constant whisper of the wind in the pines.

“Hi. Going for a walk?” asked a voice behind me.

I jumped and turned to face Father John Reynolds. He was a tall man with salt and pepper hair and solemn brown eyes.

“Yeah,” I replied quietly.

“Mind if I join you?”

“Mind if I be honest?”

He smiled. “Go ahead.”

“Well, I did want to get away from the group for a while,” I replied, shrugging helplessly. “I need to get some perspective on a couple of things.”

“Maybe I can help.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think so.”

Father John gently took my elbow and steered me down the road.

“I’d like to talk to you, Lisa,” he said. “I think it’s important.”

“Alright,” I sighed.

We walked in silence for a moment, as Father John mentally put his words together.

“Your small group asked me to talk to you,” he said finally. “They think you’re holding out on them.”

I thought back to that morning. They had been trying to draw me out, Frank Lonnergan in particular.

“Maybe I am,” I said slowly. “But sometimes you just can’t say things to people.”

“Something about your boss?”

“Not that,” I said. My boss, Sid Hackbirn, is an eccentric freelance writer. I’m his secretary. I also happen to live in his house. Of course, everyone who knows about it jumps to the obvious, however erroneous, conclusion.

“Well, if you’re not living in sin, some other kind?”

“Father, I know you’re just trying to be helpful, but please don’t ask. For once, I’m not guilty. I’m not in trouble or anything like that.”

“You’re carrying something around, Lisa. It looks pretty heavy to me.”

“Even if it is, it’s just something I’ve got to carry.”

“Confession isn’t just for sin.”

I looked at him and thought about that a moment. All of a sudden, my secret felt just too big and burdensome.

“Father,” I began slowly, not at all sure I should be saying anything. “If I were to tell you, it’d have to be you only and you’d have to guard it as if this were a confession.”

“Alright, I will.”

“This is going to sound crazy.” I thought back to how it had been explained to me. “But within the structures of the FBI and CIA are several smaller organizations so secret people don’t even know they exist. They are involved in espionage and counter-espionage. My boss is a member of one called Operation Quickline and so am I.”

“Ah hah.”

“You don’t believe me.” My heart sank.

“No, no. I believe you. I was just trying to imagine you as Mata Hari.”

“I’ve heard she was a lousy spy.”

“And you are a very good one. I never suspected.”

“Well, now you know why I’m holding back. I have to.” I looked down at my feet. “I can’t even tell my family.”

“It’s better you don’t. Your kind of knowledge is dangerous.” Father John smiled quietly.

“Tell me about it. I’ve been afraid so much.” I could feel the tears forming but held them back. “When we were talking about fear of death today, all I could think of was being shot at in Washington, D.C. and watching a man die, and I couldn’t say a word about it.”

He nodded. “That’s a heck of a thing to carry around by yourself.”

“Sid tries to help me. We’re really very close. But he doesn’t quite understand where I’m coming from a lot of the time. His background’s so different from mine and our value systems are diametrically opposed anyway.”

“You must have some common ground.”

“Some. In some ways, quite a lot. But where it counts…”

“I know. It’s very difficult for you.” John put his arm around me and gave me a gentle squeeze.

I heard a car go by. Looking up, I thought I saw a familiar dark slate blue fender disappear around the bend. I started.

“Something wrong?” John asked.

“I thought I saw Sid’s car.” I let out a nervous chuckle. “I’ve been so afraid he’s going to pop up here with some problem. I must be letting my imagination run away with me, seeing his car everywhere.”

“Lisa, if it’s that big a strain for you…”

“But it isn’t.” I shook him off. “Most of it’s desperately dull. I just need to get some perspective on those times that aren’t so dull, like when someone dies as a result of my actions. The time I’m thinking of, he was the enemy and he was going to kill us. Sid says it’s a lot like war. I suppose he ought to know.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for that. There’s the concept of the lesser of two sins, but I don’t think that makes it any easier.”

“It doesn’t. I don’t know. I keep hoping there’s an answer.”

Father John thought about it, then shrugged. “ ‘Now we see as through a glass, then we shall see face to face.’  First Corinthians thirteen. I suspect that’s all the answer you’re going to get.”

“I was afraid of that.”

Father John stopped walking and put his hands on my shoulders. “Lisa, yours is an important job. I truly believe you were chosen for it and not by Sid Hackbirn. God is very good at putting us where we’re most effective and He doesn’t throw things at us we can’t handle. You are in your admittedly unusual position because someone else would not be able to handle it.”

I looked down the road.

“You know,” I said, slowly. “I really like my job, all of it, not just Quickline.”

“Do you like Sid?” He stepped to my side and we began walking again.

“Of course, I do. I like him a lot. We’re very good friends.”

“And yet, you’re so different where, as you say, it counts.”

“I know. But we’ve learned to respect each other’s beliefs. I don’t agree with Sid’s fooling around any more than he does with my celibacy, but we respect that it’s our choice and leave it at that.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t.” Father John looked up at the pine trees surrounding us.

“What do you mean?”

He stopped walking. “As closely as you two work together, maybe you should try to understand each other and where you’re coming from.”

That was a new idea. I thought about it for a moment.

“You’re going to end up challenging each other,” John continued. “You, most of all, might have to think about some things you’ve always just accepted.”

“Sounds dangerous.” I let out a wary chuckle.

“Yes, but more dangerous for Sid perhaps, than you.”

“Why?”

“You have the power and protection of Almighty God on your side. Who does Sid have to call on?”

I laughed. Sid’s a confirmed atheist.

“Come on,” John said, turning around. “It’s time we got back.”

I almost missed it as we approached the cabin. But parked next to Carl and Erin MacArthur’s dark blue Nissan four by four pickup was the slate blue Mercedes 450SL that belonged to my boss.

“Oh, no,” I groaned. “I was afraid it was him.”

John just smiled.

“It can’t be that bad,” he said.

“Oh, yeah? I told him he’d better not come up here for anything less than World War Three starting.”

“Let’s hear it for Armageddon. Come on.”

I hesitated. “I’ve got too much to sort out yet. I’d rather not talk to him. It’s probably just a moved-up deadline anyway.”

A small, dark figure appeared in the cabin’s doorway, Esther Nguyen.

“Oh, there you are, Lisa,” she called, and then inside. “She’s back.”

“Too late,” John chuckled.

Esther stepped back to allow Sid to get through the door. He was immaculate, as usual, in a dark pinstriped three-piece suit. He’s not a tall man, barely three inches taller than me and I’m about average height. His dark wavy hair is always precision trimmed and never out of place. His face is handsome, in fact quite striking with bright piercing blue eyes and a cleft chin. He’s slender with a well-proportioned figure. In short, he’s a very attractive man with a sensual air about him, very handy for him since his hobby is sleeping around. I’ll admit I’ve been tempted, but I happen to believe sex is for marriage and that’s that.

That day, his manner was urgent, even grim.

“Will you excuse us, please?” he asked Father John without waiting to be introduced.

I swallowed.

“When are the missiles coming?” I asked wearily as John left.

“What missiles?” asked Sid. “Oh. Your World War Three condition.”

“The sole circumstance under which you were to come up here.”

He sighed. “Alright, it’s not W W III. But it could be something equally bad for us. We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Why?”

“I’ll explain in the car. Let’s go.” He started towards the Mercedes.

“No.”

He turned and glared at me. “Lisa, I don’t want to argue about it.”

“Well, I don’t want to leave without a darned good reason. This weekend is important to me.”

“How about your life?”

“My life? Sid, what’s happened? Come on, we can talk on the road.”

Sid looked around quickly then went with me in the direction I’d just come from.

“There’s been a leak,” he said quietly. “The news came this morning. We’ve been ordered to pull out fast and report to Washington D.C. by Tuesday morning.”

“Do they know where it is?”

“No. That’s why we’re reporting to D.C. We’ve been elected to find it.”

“How? We don’t know anybody else in the business.”

“We’ll find out Tuesday morning. But I’ve got a bad feeling we’re going to end up bait for a trap.”

I swallowed. “Wonderful.”

“In the meantime, we’ve got to get out of L.A. We’re flying to Washington tonight. We’ll be staying with Hattie Mitchell.”

“Correction. You’ll be flying out tonight. I’m staying here ‘til this retreat is over. I’ll meet you at Hattie’s”

“Are you out of your mind?” Sid glared at me, his piercing blue eyes sparking with worry.

“No. I am for all practical purposes out of L.A. The only people that know I’m here are Mae, Henry James and you. Heck, I didn’t even tell Mae where the place was to prevent you from badgering her into giving her the address.”

“I know,” Sid grumbled.

“Look, Sid, I really need this time.”

“Alright, you can stay. I don’t like it. Henry told me they found a female operative dead in San Francisco yesterday. She’d been raped and strangled, but it was a little too clean to be just your standard thug.”

“I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“I’m sure you will.” He sighed. “Just in case, have you told anyone about the business? Even Mae and Neil?”

Mae is my sister, Neil is her husband. They live in Fullerton with their five kids. I’m really close to them. So is Sid, strangely enough. They kind of attached themselves shortly after I started working for them.

“I haven’t said a word to Mae or Neil. I wish I could.”

“It’s better for them if you don’t. Anybody else?”

“Not anybody that could be the source of a leak.”

“What?” Sid looked shocked.

“I just told him this afternoon, just as you drove up, so it’s impossible.”

“You told somebody?”

“I told Father John Reynolds, a priest and he promised me the secrecy of the confessional.”

“The what?”

“The secrecy of the confessional. It’s a vow priests take never to divulge what a person tells them in the course of a confession, currently known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’ll sound insane to you, but most priests, John among them, would literally rather die than tell somebody some ten-year-old lied to his mother three times last week.”

“Lisa, why?”

“Because I can’t take it anymore.” Turning away, I wiped my eyes dry. “Sid, I really do like the business and I don’t want to quit, even if I could. But even you admit there’s a lot of pressure, and things happen that I have trouble justifying. I just need somebody to talk to whose beliefs are more in tune with my own.”

“I see.” He didn’t.

“And don’t worry about him being the leak. I only just told him. Heck, I saw your car go past us.”

“I thought that was you. You mean that guy with his arm around you was a priest?” Sid was really shocked. “Why wasn’t he in black?”

“He’s wearing his civvies this weekend.”

“But the arm…”

“Sid, there is such a thing as affection without sex. He was just offering me a little comfort and support, a little paternalistic squeeze if you will.”

We started back with Sid shaking his head.

“So, when are you done here?” he asked finally.

“Tomorrow afternoon. I’m not sure when.”

“I’ll find out exactly before I leave. I took the liberty of packing for you. I also included Janet Donaldson’s I.D. and credit cards and ring. They’re in a wallet at the bottom of the suitcase. Carry both your I.D.’s on the plane, and wear the ring. I told Hattie I wasn’t sure who we were coming as and that I was going to check out the situation there before I decided.”

“Alright. Why don’t you leave my ticket also? I can change it at the airport.”

“I haven’t got it. They’re both waiting at the reservations desk. I’ll change it and call you from the airport to give you the time. You got any cash?”

“A little.”

Sid pulled out his slim snakeskin wallet from his inside breast pocket and opened it.

“Just a loan,” he said before I could protest and handed me a fifty and two twenties. “You’ll need it for meals and taxis. Keep an eyeball out for tails. I don’t know how you’ll get your shoulder holster on around here but wear it. It’s in the carry-on, plus the shield for the metal detectors at the airport. Put some steel in your hair, and you might want to wear jeans and your running shoes. I packed those also. I don’t want you running around unarmed, is that clear?”

“Alright,” I grumbled. Sid knew I didn’t like carrying weapons. He didn’t like carrying them, either. But the way automatically held his suit jacket closed as he put away his wallet told me he was wearing his shoulder holster. He probably had hidden about his person a variety of spring steel lockpicks, transmitters, and other potential weapons. [To the teeth, my dear. You can always hide something ‑ SEH]

As we came up on the cabin, Kathy Deiner, a tall slender black woman with her hair cut close to her head, broke away from a small group at the door.

“Hey, Lisa,” she said pulling me away from Sid. “The rest of the group and I want to talk to you before you leave.”

“I’m not leaving,” I said.

“You’re not? But what about the boss’s interview?”

I headed over to the Mercedes where Sid was taking my suitcase out of the trunk.

“It’s not ‘til Tuesday,” I said. “He just thinks he can’t handle the background work himself. I’ll be flying out Sunday as it is.”

As I reached down to pick up the suitcase, Sid slipped the luggage tag he’d taken off into my hand.

“Be careful,” he whispered. “It’s not yours.”

I slipped the tag belonging to my alter ego into my coat pocket.

Frank Lonnergan, a tall pleasant looking man with dark hair, appeared in the doorway.

“Kathy, Lisa, hurry up,” he yelled. “They’re calling ten minutes.”

“She’s not leaving,” Kathy called back. “She talked the boss out of taking her.”

“We’ve still got to talk. Come on, Miss Wycherly.”

I looked at Sid, shrugged my shoulders and followed Kathy into the cabin carrying my suitcase.

It was rather odd that the six of us had ended up in the same small group at the retreat. Kathy, Esther, Frank, Jesse White, George Hernandez and I were already close friends. I had even been dating Frank and George, and usually on retreats, they’re trying to get you to meet other people. We met upstairs in the “girls’ dorm.”

“Lisa,” Frank began. “John talked to us and, well, we kind of owe you an apology.”

“What did John tell you?” I asked, puzzled and a little scared.

“Just that there’s sometimes things you can’t share with us,” Kathy said. “He said that he talked to you about it and agreed that you had a good reason and we have to respect that.”

“We just want you to know we care about you.” George put his arm around me and squeezed. He’s average height, with features that remind you of Montezuma and still seems like a cuddly teddy bear.

“I know and I appreciate it. I love you guys.”

“We love you too,” said Jesse, who’s about average size with dark black skin. It was good to get a hug from him. I’d kind of embarrassed him a couple months before by asking him out. Jesse’s liberated. He just wasn’t used to white girls asking him for dates. I think he has a crush on Kathy, too.

We were tangled in a group hug, when Susie Talbot came up, giggling.

“Oh, Lisa,” she said. “You should see your boss.”

“What’s he doing?” I asked, afraid that he was trying to pick someone up. [Why would I have wasted my time? ‑ SEH]

“Father John’s trying to talk him into staying through mass and dinner.”

“I don’t think Sid’s interested,” I said nervously. “He’s not exactly religious.”

“That’s not stopping John,” Susie giggled. “Sid told John he’s a confirmed atheist and John just said at least he was committed. Of course, everyone else wants him to stay, too.”

“Shavings!” I was downstairs in seconds to rescue Sid.

Frankly, I would love it if Sid would convert. But at the same time, there is nothing worse than a bible thumping zealot trying to win your soul. I hate it when it happens to me, and I’m already converted. My friends at church aren’t all that bad, but I did want Sid to like them, and I didn’t think the odds of them hitting it off were too good if they found the sorry state of Sid’s soul too tempting.

Sure enough, Sid was surrounded when I got downstairs.

“Come on, you guys. Lay off,” I said.

“Lay off what?” asked Carl MacArthur. “We’re just trying to be friendly.”

“Right.” I looked at Sid. He was starting to get angry. Suddenly, very much I wanted him to understand. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. I don’t want you to feel pressured. But, please, try to understand, they only want to share something with you that means a lot to them, and to me, too.”

Sid’s eyes pierced me, then slowly, they softened.

“Would you like me to stay?” he asked with surprising tenderness.

“I don’t want you to feel obligated. It would be nice if you did. It might help you to understand where I’m coming from.”

“I can only stay through dinner,” he said softly. “I don’t want to miss my plane. Hattie’s expecting me.”

“Dinner’s enough.” I was very touched. I knew how hard it was for him to stay. He’s very comfortable with his atheism but feels out of place in religious settings, and he doesn’t like it.

Mae’s oldest daughter, Janey, had conned Sid into going to mass with us on Christmas and Easter, so he wasn’t totally new to it. But mass on a retreat is certainly a more casual affair than the high masses of Christmas and Easter. We had a couple of tense moments that night.

The first was during the “sermon.” Actually, it was a discussion. Sid had to make the comment that he thought Jesus’s actions in the gospel reading were rather snotty. The room was stunned. I buried my burning face in my hands, thinking decidedly un-Christian thoughts. Father John came to the rescue, however, saying that Sid did have a good point and then proceeded to put the situation in a completely different light so that even Sid had to agree there was justification for the acts.

During the prayer of the faithful, we just made spontaneous requests instead of the usual pre-written prayers. Kathy prayed that Sid and I would have a safe trip, little realizing how unsafe it was likely to be.

The second tense moment was during the sign of peace. In a regular church situation, we just shake hands and say “peace be with you” to the people around us. On Christmas and Easter Sid had merely stood and smiled politely. He was pretty startled that night when we suddenly all got up and started hugging each other. He backed off into a corner pretty quickly.

I went ahead and went over to him, even though I was very nervous about it. I guess I didn’t want him to reject me, but I couldn’t see not doing it.

“Thanks for staying,” was all I could say.

He smiled and then I put my arms around him and he put his arms around me and just held me like a friend.

“Thanks for being here,” he said softly into my ear.

After communion, we had a spontaneous round of thanksgivings. I was almost as surprised as Sid when I thanked God for him being there.

“And thank you, Lord, for the friendship Sid and I have built,” I continued, still blushing. “And, dear Jesus, take care of him and watch over him.”

Sid did a minimum of teasing through dinner. For a minute, I actually thought he was behaving for my sake, but then I noticed he seemed very thoughtful.

“Do you spend a lot of time doing that?” he asked later as I was seeing him off.

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Praying for me.”

I blushed.

“All the time,” I whispered, and braced myself.

With Sid, the rejoinder could have been as caustic as the one I got was tender.

“Thanks.” He smiled warmly. “I’d better get going. See you in Washington.”

He got into the car, inserted the key in the ignition and buckled his seat belt.

“I’ll see you there,” I replied. “You take care now.”

“You too.”

He drove off and I went back to sort things out.

 

Essays, general essay

The Path to Forgiveness – Through the Anger

This started because I got sick last fall. Literally. And if our bodies’ illnesses reflect our emotional states and/or needs, then it became readily apparent to me that I was hanging onto shit that I need to let go of. With me, it’s easy to figure that part out. I’m angry. I’m pissed off, enraged, fed up, you name it.

So why write about being angry here? Well, I suspect I’m not the only person on this planet who is dealing with anger issues, even if we’re reluctant to admit it. Most women I know are. We’re trained to be nice and being angry is not nice. Which gives a lot of us tremendous incentive to hold onto and suppress our anger until it turns inward on us and becomes depression.

Also, as I began to sort out the issue of anger (not necessarily what’s pissing me off), it occurred to me that one of the healthiest ways to get past the anger is to forgive. But how many of us really know how to forgive someone? We know how to say the words, but it doesn’t always play out in our lives. We are freshly wounded again. We don’t believe it’s possible. I’ve heard and read all kinds of different things. So, maybe, if I share my own struggle to learn to forgive, really forgive, then maybe we can struggle along together. Maybe we can build each other up, even when we’re so angry, we’d love to do some serious tearing down.

And that’s kind of where I’m at right now. There is a whole boatload of people in my life right now that I’d just love to slap around. Yeah, I know the standard advice is to keep those people out of my life. Well, that’s not going to work here. Some of them I’m related to, and they’re not so bad that I’d want to take that drastic a step, at least, not yet. A lot of them I have no direct relationship with – as in they are the masses of fucking idiots out there whose combined stupidity is conspiring to fuck me and mine up royally. You know, self-righteous, knee-jerk reactionaries (liberal or conservative – they come in both flavors); tech support people; doctors who can’t take their noses out of their formularies long enough to see me as a whole human being and understand that I don’t always conform to their medical cookbooks. (Seriously, three months of telling them I don’t react well to psyllium and they kept telling me to take it.)

Actually, it’s not the stuff that I can do something about that tends to get me all riled. It’s the stuff I’m powerless against. I can’t even write about some of it because of certain people, who will assume I’m writing about them when I’m actually writing about someone else. Of course, I won’t hear about it until years later after a suspicious silence and since they’re not going to admit anything is wrong, I can’t do anything to fix it.

This is about me learning to deal with things. I am not interested in outing anyone else’s neuroses. So, if I write about something, kindly assume it’s not you that I’m writing about. And if you do think I’ve misunderstood something, for God’s sake, TALK TO ME!!!

Because here’s the thing that makes forgiveness so insanely hard. You have to deal with the anger, first. You can’t gloss over it. You can’t pretend that whatever didn’t hurt. You have to stare it in the eye and admit you’re pissed.

The problem is, I do not believe that in our culture, we have any good ways to deal with this most unpleasant of emotions. Ranting doesn’t work. Hurting other people back doesn’t work – trust me, I’ve tried that one. Brooding about it doesn’t help. It doesn’t really matter how many times I admit I’m angry, there has to be something I can do with this boiling up of emotions.

In fact, maybe it’s not letting go of the anger that I need to do. Maybe I need to find a way to let it fuel something good, something Holy. Oh, by the way, I will be coming at this from my perspective and a Catholic and a Christian, or someone who is trying to live out those ideals. That does not mean that I believe that’s the only perspective, just that it’s mine and that I find a great deal to appreciate in this tradition. Not necessarily in the way a lot of folks practice it, but that’s yet another thing that I am angry about and powerless to fix.

Uh, back to the problem of anger. I hope this helps in some small way. As it happens, I can only write what is in my heart. I want good to happen. And I want to find a healthy, purpose-filled way to move through this crap, forgive the assholes and focus on building up my fellows.

That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine is Now a Book!

 If you’ve enjoyed this serial, but came in late or missed a few episodes, you can now buy the whole thing as either a print or ebook from a wide variety of retailers.

Click here for links to Amazon, Barnes&Noble and others, not to mention some fun facts about how I came to write this story, which is the beginning of a thirteen-book series. Really. And you’re in on the ground floor.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

I Have a Lot of Cookbooks

cookbooks, cooking, eatingEvery time I want to get a new cookbook, I can almost always predict my husband’s response: “You don’t use the cookbooks you have.”

Yes, I do. I use them all the time to get ideas and to learn new techniques.

And my husband does have a point when he reminds me that I don’t follow recipes. Of course, I don’t, at least, not in the heat of getting dinner on the table night after night. I don’t have time to start and stop as I check amounts, measure out and otherwise make sure I’m doing what the writer intended. Not to mention, there are plenty of times when I don’t care what the writer intended, I want something that’s a little different.

That doesn’t mean I don’t learn from cookbooks or that I don’t enjoy having them. Which is why I have quite a few. Some are old classics that I stole from my mother. (Yeah, Mom, that’s what happened to your copy of The Joy of Cooking.) Others are books that I’ve either picked up through the years or received as swag from various TV networks, back when I was doing the TV critic thing. Some I’ve even bought.

Dring my Thanksgiving vacation, while I and my folks  waiting for our lunch reservation, we were hanging out a bookstore. I found a new cookbook on sale. I talked my husband into buying it by making a new suggestion. Each week, we would choose a cookbook off the shelf and cook one or two recipes from it.

This is more hobby cooking – stuff we do for the fun of it. But the results have been very good. I’m also taking notes – something I’m not generally good at. The bottom line is that my husband and I are having fun. And we’re getting new ideas and trying new foods. Can’t do worse than that.

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Fourteen – Finale

January 17, 1983

A week later, I finally got a chance to get the last word on Sid and I was taking it. I wasn’t being completely fair. Sid was suffering the indignity of being in the dentist’s chair and had the disadvantage of dental equipment and Neil’s fingers in his mouth. But Sid had already had his chance at me and had made several snide comments about bad eating habits when Neil had found a cavity and filled it. Of course, Sid didn’t have a cavity in his head, except the ones that belonged there.

Neil had talked Sid into the appointment on Christmas day when I’d mentioned it was time for me to get in. Neil won’t touch Mae’s or the children’s teeth. But he doesn’t mind working on me and he was quite happy to have another patient in Sid.

“Sid, have you been fighting lately?” Neil asked while he was poking around. “The inside of your cheeks are all chewed up.”

“Probably one of his girlfriends,” I said from where I was standing in the doorway. I slurred a little from the Novocaine.

Sid grunted.

“Uh oh,” said Neil.

“Has he got one?” I asked, hopefully.

“Nope, just another crack. And speaking of bad eating habits, you’d better quit chewing ice. That’s what’s cracking your teeth.”

I laughed. Mae came into the office and said hi to the receptionist.

“Oh hi, Lisa,” she said seeing me. “That’s right, today was when you and Sid were coming in.”

“Hi, honey,” called Neil.

Mae went into the examination room and kissed Neil’s forehead.

“Hello, sweetheart,” she said. “How are you doing, Sid?”

Sid grunted.

“Good. You finding any guilty secrets, Neil?”

“Just that he chews ice.”

Mae and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“What is so funny about that?” Neil asked.

“It’s a long story,” I said.

Neil shook his head and put his probe down on the tray. After squirting some water into Sid’s mouth, he fit the polishing bit onto his drill and slid the little pan of tooth polish onto his thumb. I chuckled maliciously. Neil’s tooth polish was peppermint flavored, and Sid hates peppermint. Maybe I should have said something, but I decided to enjoy my revenge. [Thank you, Lisa. I’ll remember that – SEH]

“How was the funeral?” Neil asked Mae over the whine of the drill.

“Funeral?” I asked.

“Ned Harris’s,” Mae replied. “It was this morning.”

“Yeah, I’d heard he got killed.”

There had been a small piece in the paper a few days before about the mysterious desert auto accident of a prominent Fullerton businessman. According to the papers, the mystery was why he was out there and didn’t say anything about how the accident occurred. Nor had it mentioned the raid on Harris’s office. I wasn’t surprised. We had also found out that the Feds had gotten another transmission asking for any information on Harris’s suspect, including the name, so Harris hadn’t been lying that night.

“It was a nice funeral,” Mae continued. “Kind of sad, with his wife being pregnant and all. But she’s doing real well. She’s taking over the agency. I got a chance to talk to her and you know what she told me? She was kind of relieved about the accident. She was still sad about losing Ned, but she’d found out there was some funny business going on out of the agency, stuff the government was interested in, and if Ned had lived, he would have been in real trouble, but since he’s dead, the government’s overlooking it.”

Which, of course, they were because the last thing the government wants is attention on any covert action, even if it’s the good guys bringing in the bad guys.

“No kidding,” said Neil. “You think Janey was right?”

“I’m beginning to think so, Neil.”

“You two should know better than not to trust Janey,” I said. “Sid told me he got busted for drugs in the army. Right, Sid?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, I’ll be,” said Mae. “Did you get your article on the city council finished, Sid?”

“Just the outline,” I answered for him. “He won’t write it out until somebody says they want to look at it. We’ve got a query in to Ladies’ Home Journal, I think.” [Did that ever sell? – SEH]

“A query?”

“A letter asking an editor if he wants to look at a given manuscript.”

“Oh.” Mae looked a little puzzled. “I thought you just sent it in.”

“Some magazines work that way. But most want to see if what you’re writing about is something they’re looking for first.”

“Okay,” Neil said to Sid, hanging up the drill and squirting water into his mouth. “Rinse and spit it out. You’re done.”

Sid did so, wiping his mouth on the napkin around his neck. Neil took it off and rolled back on his stool so Sid could get up.

“Well, that’s that,” Neil said.

Sid ran his tongue over his teeth.

“Thanks a lot, Neil.” He got out of the chair and straightened his suit jacket. “Say hi to the kids for me.”

“I will. Be seeing you two.”

“Bye-bye,” said Mae.

Neil and Mae stayed behind in the examination room. As Sid and I passed the receptionist, he winked at her and told her he’d see her Saturday. I waited until we were outside.

“You picked up on Neil’s receptionist?”

“He isn’t.” Sid shrugged.

“That’s beside the point. Have you no shame?”

“Absolutely none.”

“You reprobate.”

“Ice cube.”

“Reprobate.”

“Ice cube.”

“Repro…”

 

Here ends That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine. Check in next week for a special announcement and look for the sequel Stopleak on January 6, 2017.

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.