Chapter Two

“Oh, dear,” sighed the matron as she looked Elizabeth up and down.

Robin held her breath as she and Dean stood in the doorway to the castle. She glanced over at Elizabeth, who looked more curious than frightened at the moment. Dean was putting on his best “bluff ’em out” look.

“The seventeenth-century group is meeting in York this weekend,” the matron continued. “I do hope you haven’t been terribly inconvenienced.”

“No,” said Robin with a quick grin. “As a matter of fact, we’re just on our way there. Thought we’d drop in and see the castle first.”

“Oh, good.” The matron smiled in relief. “It really doesn’t do to say so, but some of your colleagues are rather disorganized. I was quite afraid I was going to be bombarded with Cavaliers and their ladies.” She smiled again at Elizabeth. “Lovely job, dear, but I do believe ties at the neck are not quite period.”

Elizabeth looked puzzled, but before she could say anything, Robin gently took her arm and turned her toward the parking lot.

“Well, who knows,” Robin told the matron as she pushed Elizabeth past. “Not a lot of portrait evidence among the lower classes, you know.”

“Huh?” asked Dean, following close behind.

Robin glanced behind them. “We’ve got an explanation for Elizabeth for the moment.”

“Explanation?” Elizabeth asked.

“I don’t get it,” Dean said.

Robin stopped to catch her breath. “Historical re-enactors, Dean. You know, like the Renaissance Faire back home? There are clubs all over the place that dress up in historical costumes and make like they live in the past. They’ve got them for all different time periods. That woman just thought we were dressed up for a seventeenth-century group.”Continue reading

Bib Overalls Skirt

This is a project I’d had in the back of my mind for… Well, years. My husband had worn out the legs on a pair of bib overalls, but the bib, itself, was in pretty good shape. Thinking about what I could do it with it more or less got me started on my latest “thing,” if you will: remaking new clothes out of old ones.

Michael and I will wear our clothes to rags. Donating the old clothes to charity doesn’t really help the charity because who wants to buy a shirt with ragged collar and cuffs? Yet, all too often, it’s just the collar and cuffs that are frayed and messed up, but the rest of the shirt is fine. Or the really ugly hole in the jeans is just in the one impossible to patch spot, but the rest of the pants are fine.

I have been making bags out of jeans where I’ve cut off the legs (working on turning those bits into yarn) and using old shirts for the linings. But a whole dress or something? Not there yet. Or I wasn’t. Frankly, I just finally got off my keister and put together the skirt I’d been thinking about for so long.

It took seven shirts. I used a pattern piece for a gored skirt from an old Burda magazine (August 2007, French Edition, long story). The piece was too big for the backs of the shirts, so I had to squiggle it around on the front and make each of the skirt gores out of two pieces of fabric. Since I was doing that, I decided to add more color and mix and match the different shirt pieces. I didn’t know if it would save any actual sewing, but since the shirts – mostly Hawaiian and other casual short sleeved ones – had pockets, I used the former shirt pockets for my skirt pockets.

I would have liked a fuller skirt with more body, but it still looks okay and is darned comfy to wear. I don’t know if I’ll try this project again, but I do have another dress that I recently finished that I’ll feature here eventually. And another, more structured, dress project, too. Then there’s the crazy quilt top I’m working on. And so it goes.

Chapter One

IT’S A NEW SERIAL! But World Enough and Time is the first of a trilogy of time travel novels – and the serial starts today. Join Robin and Dean Parker, a sister and brother who travel back to return Elizabeth Wynford back to her native time. Oh, would that it were that simple. Roger York is busy trying to figure out how to get one step ahead of the trio, but he’s not the person to worry about. Donald Long is even more persistently chasing the three with definite intent to inflict harm. Visit this space every Friday for a new episode!

Desperation made people do some strange things. Roger York looked at the sleeping girl, then gently checked her pulse yet again. Endless days mapping DNA strings on the fastest machines in existence. Even more, months carefully searching for the perfect hiding place as others developed the tools to keep prying eyes away. All for an experiment that could take an innocent life that had no reckoning of the risk she was taking. Worse yet, Roger had little hope that it would succeed.

Roger ran his hands through his soft brown hair, not short nor long, cut so he could go as many whens as possible. He looked around the room, double-checking everything, especially the power sources. They would be all right. But what effect would the suspend an have on Elizabeth? Nobody had tried it over a hundred years, and Roger was bringing the girl forward five hundred and fifty plus.

The only thing more dangerous would be to bring her forward through the time drop. He’d drop in and wake her up every fifty years as it was. She seemed a strong, intelligent woman, in spite of her ignorance. Hopefully, her mind would be strong enough.

As he picked up his hand unit, he checked everything once more, then focused his mind on the coordinates for fifty years ahead. It was odd, but the timetron landed him within seconds of the coordinates he entered. It had never done that before. Must have been the power source so close. He brushed Elizabeth’s lips with his own. Her eyes flickered open. She smiled at him. He was smiling back. At least that part of this fool’s enterprise was working.

Each fifty-year jump felt better than before. Elizabeth showed no visible effects from her time asleep, nor did what few instruments Roger had show any. The special locks that prevented anyone from even thinking about entering the room were working perfectly. He left the 1990s almost bursting with joy.

Just a few years into the 21st century, a small ion retainer on the door fizzled and sputtered. The rest of the card flared up and died as quickly. A minute later, the door creaked open.Continue reading

Essays, general essay

Preaching in the Streets

Evangelizers on Hollywood Blvd. recently, and, yes, they ignored all the homeless people nearby.

Several months ago, I was waiting for a bus across the street from the L.A. City Hall when I saw a group of about five or six young women, all wearing the same bright green t-shirt, surrounding an old Hispanic woman sitting on the next bunch. One of the green-shirts was seated next to her, talking earnestly at the old woman. You could tell the old woman was nervous – as who wouldn’t be? Another group of green-shirts, guys, was nearby and I saw the small pamphlets on the ground and realized what this group was up to.

They were evangelizing – as in trying to get people to convert to Christianity. It’s bad enough when someone is being kind and sincere about sharing his or her faith. It’s bad enough when I tell these people that I am a Christian, and that, yes, I’ve said the magic prayer, but they still keep at it. What really got me torqued off at this group was that right across the street, the north lawn of City Hall was dotted with homeless people. Were any of the green-shirts over there, handing out sandwiches and clean socks? Maybe sitting and listening to somebody? No. They were all gathered on the side of the street I was on, molesting an old lady.

I got mad and called them on it. One sweet young thing told me they were praying for the homeless people. I made an allusion to the Epistle of St. James, chapter 2, verses 15-17 (you know, what good does it do tell someone naked to dress warmly and be well and walk by him) and got on the bus.

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about the incident with the compassion and love I was really not feeling for these people ever since. See, the thing is, most people out there stumping for Jesus are doing so thanks to their pastors, who are playing the guilt card, big time. They tell their flocks that if they really cared about people, they’d make sure they heard the Gospel, how unkind it is not to evangelize, etc., ad nauseum. And you can’t entirely blame the pastors. Not only are they hearing the same message, they’re looking at their shrinking Sunday collections and either consciously or unconsciously (I suspect the latter) figuring they’d better put the pressure on to bring in some new bodies.

The problem is, that same zeal is exactly why those Sunday collections are shrinking. People simply don’t believe in churches anymore. We can go into the whole Millenials are disaffected routine, and that does play a part. But I strongly suspect another part is the narrow-minded self-righteousness of people like the green-shirts, talking about the love of Jesus, but completely ignoring the hungry people across the street.

This bothers me because I happen to think that this planet would be a great deal better off if Christians (including me) really tried to practice the love of Jesus instead of talking about it. And it is practicing. None of us gets it totally right. Practicing the love of Jesus is about being present to other people, not quintuple-teaming an old lady until she says your prayer. It’s not worrying about the state of other people’s souls, but staying focused on the state of your own. If someone is genuinely searching and wants to hear about your faith, great. Be ready. But Jesus’ final directive of making disciples of all nations may actually mean he wants multi-cultural representation (in which case, we’ve met that goal – there are Christians pretty much everywhere), not that he wants everyone to become a Christian.

I can’t say for sure. All I can do is keep trying to be kind and present and loving to everyone, from my husband at his most annoying to the smelly bum sitting next to me on the bus. And give money to the poor. Maybe remember to buy an extra package of clean socks for the local homeless shelter. Carrying a few extra fruit bars in my backpack to share with anyone who asks. And probably a few other things I should be doing. And I’ll keep praying for the green-shirts, too. Why not?

 

Deceptive Appearances is Done as a Serial, Check Out the Book

Wow. That went fast. Just like That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine and Stopleak, Deceptive Appearances is now a full book. You can check it out on its own special page under the Operation Quickline menu.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series so far. If you have, I’d love it if you’d write a review on GoodReads or one of the other retail sites. It really makes a difference when you do.

I’m going to take a week off to make sure my next serial project is even better. It will debut this space on Friday, August 25. It’s something very different from my usual cozy mystery bent – a time travel novel called But World Enough and Time.

Robin and Dean Parker discover a young woman in a closed-off room of an abandoned castle. When Robin can’t resist the temptation to test the equipment in the room, she realizes that it’s a time machine and Elizabeth has been in suspended animation for almost 400 years. After Robin accidentally takes the machine with her, she realizes that she and Dean need to return Elizabeth to her own time. Thus the three embark on an amazing adventure through history with not one, but two, time travelers on their tail.

Chapter Ten

September 24 – 25, 1983

 

My parents and Sid and I went to Murray’s funeral the next morning. I got pretty soundly razzed when I wouldn’t look at the body during the viewing. Daddy told us that Fletcher had thought I was an operative, and we all laughed. That night, Mary and Neff babysat the kids, while the six of us adults went to the casinos and gambled.

Sunday morning, I went to early mass, then Sid and I said our goodbyes and left. Mae and Neil were bringing Motley down for us because there wasn’t room for the dog in the 450SL.

“Aren’t we taking three-ninety-five back?” I asked as Sid turned the wrong way on the highway.

“Nope. We’re going to spend a few days in San Francisco first.”

“Oh. That’s nice. But why?”

“Well, we have a transponder to drop off.”

The metal briefcase was in Sid’s trunk and had been since we got home Friday night. I didn’t say anything because I could tell Sid wasn’t finished yet.

Rain drops splattered onto the windshield. Sid drove through them silently, then turned on the windshield wipers.

“You know the line ‘I’d give a thousand tomorrows for a single yesterday?'” he said finally.

“Yeah. ‘Holding Bobby’s body next to mine.'”

“Well, in a way, I got that yesterday a week ago last Thursday night. It was a beautiful night, Lisa. I have to admit, making love to someone as special as Della was, after all these years, and all I’ve lived through, it was very, very special. But…” He looked over at me, then at the road. “I guess, Lisa, I have a lot invested in you, too. When I consider the tomorrows we almost lost Friday night when Lehrer pulled that trigger.”

My heart skipped a beat at the memory. “I can’t tell you how glad I was to hear that click.”

“We don’t have a thousand tomorrows, Lisa. We can’t even count on a single one.”

“Nobody can, Sid.”

“But for us especially. Our lives are in constant peril from the work we do.”

“Perhaps. I guess in a way, the future is the ultimate deception. It doesn’t really exist, so how can we count on it?”

“That’s exactly my point. All we have is the now, and to trade a future that is not even real to relive the past is the ultimate folly.”

“Unless of course, you’re putting the demons of the past to rest. But in a sense, that’s not trading the future away. It’s making the future possible.”

Sid nodded. “And I think that’s why we’re going to San Francisco. We’ve got nothing to lose by it and everything to gain.”

“‘Nothing ain’t nothing but it’s free.” I grinned and sang. “‘Feeling good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues.'”

Sid reached over and squeezed my hand. “And feeling good is good enough for me.”

I laughed and squeezed back.

 

Nancy Cole Silverman on Writing Herself – Or Not Herself

Nancy Cole Silverman impersonating Carol Childs (or is it the other way around)?

As somebody who otherwise leads a pretty boring life, it’s always amazed me when I run into novels written by folks who bear an uncanny resemblance to their characters. So when Nancy Cole Silverman, who has more than a little in common with her character Carol Childs, agreed to do a guest post for me, I had to ask about how and where she draws the line. And she did!

Anne Bannon believes my protagonist has been impersonating me.  Or maybe it’s the other way around, since on more than one occasion, Anne, and a number of friends, have referred to me as Carol Childs.

Allow me to set the record straight.  My name is Nancy Cole Silverman, and I created Carol Childs, she was a figment of my imagination.  A strong, take no prisoners type of now-gal, who believes, no matter what the situation, “Brains Beat Brawn, and a Mic is more Powerful than a Forty-five.” In short, as an investigative reporter for a Los Angeles talk radio station, Carol doesn’t carry a gun, she carries a microphone.

Idealistic?

You bet. But then I spent twenty-five year in news and talk radio, and saw first hand where the power of the mic got the last word on more than one bad varmint in this town. OJ Simpson and Robert Blake may have not been found guilty of murder, but by the time their trial ended, the court of public opinion–the chatter on the airwaves–had cast a very different light on both the man and the crime.

The truth is, Carol Childs is my alter ego. And why not? I’ve taken my experiences, both those from inside some of Los Angeles’ busiest newsrooms, and those from my life as a single mom and bled them onto the page, in an attempt to make Carol feel real to the reader.

Similarities aside, however, Carol Childs is not me. Creating a character, particularly a powerful and believable protagonist requires a little distance and few rules; Writing What You Know, Research, and Romance or Writing From the Heart. I call them the three R’s.

Write what you know.  Everybody has experience in something and pulling from that can be an invaluable resource when writing.  Nora Ephron said, “Everything is copy.”  For me, that experience was working in a newsroom.  It helps when I sit down to write a scene to remember the world I came from; the non-stop deadlines, the constant chatter from the news desk to reporters and that adrenalin rush a reporter feels when uncovering a breaking news story. Along with all the facts and stats of the newsroom, I also pull from my own experiences as a single, working mom. Like I was then, Carol Childs is a single mom, struggling to establish herself in a tough competitive field and the clock is always ticking.

Research. I certainly haven’t had any first-hand experience with any of the crimes involved in my books.  Like most mystery writers I may write about murder, but poisons, sex trafficking, international jewelry theft or vigilante killings, like those I have exposed Carol to in my books, I’ve no first-hand knowledge.  Instead, I did a lot of research. Admittedly, research can lead a writer down a lot of rabbit holes, but in the end, when well-researched information is blended with real-life scenarios we get a ripped-from-the-headlines type of feel to the story.  I love when readers ask me if I really encountered such things while working in radio.  It’s my gotcha moment, my reward for a job well done.

Romance or Writing From the Heart: I believe it’s important for a writer to take note of their emotions.  Psychologist have categorized six basic emotions; happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust, but writers know telling isn’t showing.  It’s important for a writer to note if a character is surprised to be able to recall their own physical and psychological reactions to such an emotion.  Equating that to the character’s feeling on the page in a way the reader can relate to helps to make the character real and memorable.

If readers recognize me on the page, I suppose I’ve nobody to blame but myself. Sometimes writers put more of themselves into their work then they know.  Hemmingway was accused of it in his Nick Adams short stories. Some literary critics suspect that Charlotte Bronte may have lived vicariously through her characterization of Jane Eyre, and I’ve often wondered if Janet Evanovich is more Stephanie Plum than she lets on.  Whatever the case, my name is Nancy Cole Silverman, I’m the voice behind The Carol Childs Mysteries, as for any similarities, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Nancy’s latest book, Room for Doubt, is now available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. You can find out more about her and the other Carol Childs mysteries at her site, www.nancycolesilverman.com.

Chapter Nine

September 23, 1983

 

Friday morning, Sid decided he wanted a change of pace, so we ran up the road towards town, instead of south towards Meyers. Motley tagged along as usual.

“The hard part will be dismantling those bugs,” said Sid. “We’ll have to do that before anything else. The problem is that Lehrer is wondering about us.”

“Why?” I grumbled, still not awake.

“I would imagine the missing coke. He’s got a point about that, and there was the tape in your purse.”

“It’s not that strange a thing to carry.”

“But you’d question someone who had it, wouldn’t you?”

I just yawned. Sid sighed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Nothing much,” he said forlornly. “Just the usual. Last night, when you mentioned the possibly of your stripping and running naked, I naturally began thinking about it, and remembered that Tuesday was the last time I got any.”

“So go out tonight.”

Sid winced. “It’ll be a little awkward with your family around. I was thinking I could make it through the weekend, but…”

His voice trailed off as his gaze settled on a young woman jogging towards us on the other side of the road. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Sid’s eyes weren’t exactly going up and down, but you could tell what they were focused on.

“She’s doing horrible things to her chest,” I said.

Sid wrenched his eyes away. “I keep thinking what I’d like to be doing to it.”

“We could run to the lake and I could dump you in.”

“No thanks. I think I’ll just run some errands by myself this morning.”

“How are you going to do that at this time of day without buying it?”

Sid sighed. “That could be somewhat problematic. But don’t worry. I will not be patronizing any brothels or hookers.”

I shook my head. I didn’t doubt it.

We had just turned around when two more women, both rather plump and wearing pastel running suits turned the corner and jogged towards us.

“Oh my,” gasped one. “Sarah, look. It’s Lisa Wycherly. Hi, Lisa!”

I smiled, but inside I groaned. I wasn’t quite sure who they were, the two having gained some since high school. Sarah had to be Sarah Jefferson, and her partner looked a lot like Rhonda Stadtler. I wasn’t too thrilled to see either of them.

The girls I went to high school with tended to run to extremes. Either they went all the way with their boyfriends or they believed that you didn’t kiss a boy until you were engaged to him. Rhonda and Sarah were from the latter extreme. In fact, their big hobby had been planning different ways to avoid sleeping in the same bed as their husbands on their wedding nights. I noticed they both wore wedding bands.

It would have been rude not to stop, and I have to admit I didn’t mind that part of it.

“Hello, Lisa, it’s so good to see you,” crowed Sarah.

Rhonda was giving Sid the once over. Actually, so was Sarah, but there was something different about the way Rhonda ogled. She was almost hungry.

“Hi, you guys,” I said. “It’s nice to see you. Um, this is my boss, Sid. I’m sorry, I don’t know your married names.”

Rhonda smiled at Sid. “I’m Rhonda Jefferson, and this is Sarah Carter.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Sid, his gaze lingering on Rhonda.

Sarah didn’t notice. “You haven’t changed a bit, Lisa, except for that perm. It looks great. I wish I could say the same.” She giggled. “I put on so much weight with my last baby.”

Apparently, she’d resigned herself to sleeping with her husband somewhere along the line.

“How many do you have?” I asked politely.

“Five.” She giggled proudly.

“When did you get married?” I gasped.

“August after we graduated. You knew I was engaged to Fred Carter, didn’t you?”

“Oh, that’s right.” It had been the ideal engagement for Sarah. Fred had been in the army the whole time, and they had courted each other through the mail. “Is Fred out of the army?”

“Oh, yeah. We bought his parents motel, and Fred’s talking about expanding.”

“How nice.”

“You look like you’re doing really well.”

“Pretty good.”

Sarah giggled again. “I’ve heard all the rumors. Lynn Fremont, you know, she used to be Lynn Raines, met me in the supermarket the other day. Her husband works at that hotel, so she heard everything first hand. She said she couldn’t believe that you, of all people, would be involved like that.”

I sighed. Lynn was from the other extreme and had always put me down because I wasn’t.

I smiled weakly. “I guess I still get the last laugh. There’s nothing going on.”

Sarah glanced over at Sid, who was talking quietly with Rhonda.

“There isn’t?” She giggled.

“There isn’t.” The frost crept into my voice.

Motley whined.

“We’d better get going,” said Sid suddenly.

We said good-bye and resumed our run.

“What were you and Rhonda talking about?”

Sid chuckled. “I don’t think you want to know.”

“You don’t mean you and her..?”

“It was her idea, and it is pretty convenient.”

“You’re kidding. I mean, I saw her looking at you, but it just doesn’t make sense. Rhonda’s always been one of the most uptight prudes I’ve ever met.”

“She’s changed a lot since you knew her.”

“She’s married.”

“So she said, to Sarah’s brother, as a matter of fact.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“That she’s married?” Sid shrugged. “You know I believe marriage is a lie, and if she agrees, why should it bother me?

“What about her husband?”

“According to Rhonda, he doesn’t care, and there was just enough bitterness in her tone to tell me he doesn’t. If my guess is right, he’s probably running around himself.”

“Possibly because he can’t get it at home.”

Sid laughed. “I stand warned. But I’m not worried.”

“Well, I hope he doesn’t catch you. You’ve already got one black eye.”

“That’s why I usually avoid married women. Violence is so messy.”

I glanced at Sid, suddenly very glad he had no interest in marriage. I could see the two of us trapped in a loveless union, taking lovers to get back at each other. Or I tried to see us that way. Somehow, I just couldn’t. [Probably because neither of us really wanted to be married at that point. The cold, hard truth about Rhonda was that she was raised to look to men for validation, and married the first man she could find to get away from her parents. Pete Jefferson had been fooling around on her almost from the start. Rhonda got into it shortly after when one of the managers at the store where she worked seduced her. It was technically sexual harassment, but he ended up making her feel so good, she kept it up and found other lovers, too – SEH]

When we got back to the house, Sid went straight for the shower. The kids were up and dressed and playing outside with Richmond and Murbles. Motley and I played with them for a while, then I wandered into the kitchen. Mama and Mae were also up and dressed and cutting up fruit for breakfast.

“Oh, you’re back,” said Mama. “How you doing this morning?”

“Fine.” I went over and kissed her cheek. “How are you?”

“Real good, honey,” she replied without her usual enthusiasm.

“And how are you, sister the elder?” I hugged Mae from behind. “Sleep okay?”

Mae yawned. “Uh-huh.”

I grabbed a chunk of cantaloupe and popped it in my mouth.

“Lisa Jane,” scolded Mama. “You keep your hands out of that bowl.”

“Yes, Mama.” I grabbed the last banana and peeled it part way down. Taking a bite, I flopped into a chair.

“Why don’t you get a knife and help us?” Mama asked.

“I’ve been helping all week. It’s Mae’s turn.”

“Young lady, that is so childish. Landsakes. Mae works hard all the time, feeding all those kids. You just have yourself to feed.”

“Which is a monumental task in itself,” said Sid, grinning. He’d come in while Mama was talking, wearing a suit and tie.

“All dressed up again, Sid?” Mama said with a disappointed sigh.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some business to attend to. I just came in to tell Lisa I’m through in the bathroom.”

“Well, you’re not leaving on an empty stomach. Here.” Mama dished fruit into a bowl. “I’ve got toast in the oven. I’ll get it.”

“Thanks.” Sid found the last spot at the table.

“Lisle, why don’t you hurry and get dressed so you don’t hold up Sid,” said Mama, laying a placemat in front of Sid.

“She’s not coming with me.” Sid spread his napkin on his lap while Mama put a plate of toast next to the bowl of fruit.

“She’s not?”

“Nope.” I finished my banana.

Mae snickered at Sid. “What are you up to?”

Sid grinned. “I’ll never tell.”

“Now you two stop it,” scolded Mama. “‘Tisn’t nice to talk like that. What if one of the kids heard you?”

“Mama, are you sure you’re okay?” I asked. “You seem a little snippy this morning.”

Mama glared. “Just never you mind about me. I’m fine.” She looked out the window, then strode over to the back door. “Darby! I told you to stay out of that wood pile.”

The screen door creaked and slammed as she went out, hollering at the kids.

“It’s the cops,” sighed Mae. “Daddy talked to Detective Frisch for a long time last night after that Lehrer guy left. I guess South Lake Tahoe P.D. didn’t know anything about any drugs connected to Murray’s death until Lehrer showed up with the warrant, so Daddy called Douglas County Sheriff’s this morning. They don’t know anything about any drug shipments, either. I overheard Mama hollering at Daddy about sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, and that he should let the DEA handle it.”

“They’re involved?” I asked casually, avoiding Sid’s eyes. “What’s going on?”

Mae shrugged. “I don’t know. Mama won’t say.”

The screen door creaked and slammed.

“Well, that’s enough of that,” grumbled Mama.

“Althea, I’m inclined to agree,” said Sid, wiping his mouth. “And so I really must be off.”

“Are you sure can’t take care of your business here?” Mama asked as Sid got up.

“I’m very sure.” Sid brought his dishes over to the sink.

“Well, Sid, you’re perfectly welcome to bring a guest here, if you like.”

“Mama, why don’t you just let him go?” I said quickly before Sid could reply.

“I’ll be back by lunch.” Sid grinned and left.

“He’s sure starting early,” Mae whispered to me.

“He figures it’ll be too awkward to go out tonight,” I whispered back.

“But how’s he going to pick up somebody at this hour of the day?”

“He’s got it all arranged.” I sighed. “I’m glad he’s going, frankly. He’s a terrible grouch when he gets horny, and it’s been a while.”

Mae snickered. “That’s not what I’ve been hearing.”

“He hasn’t been out since Tuesday, and for him, that’s a while.”

Mae giggled.

“What are you two whispering about?”

“Nothing, Mama,” said Mae. “‘Tisn’t nice.”

“Well, I’m going to get dressed,” I announced, grabbing another piece of cantaloupe and getting a piece of toast from the oven. “Save me some breakfast, will you?”

I showered and changed in record time into jeans and a shirt. I pulled my Shetland wool sweater on as I headed for the kitchen. I paused outside the door, pulling my collar out.

“I know what you mean about them,” Mama was saying on the other side.

“But you’re not going to get them to admit it,” said Mae. “Even to themselves.”

“Well, the way things stand right now, I think it’s just as well.”

[Were they talking about us, by any chance? – SEH]

I pushed open the door. “What’s just as well?”

They both colored up and looked at each other with guilty starts.

“Nothing,” said Mae, too quickly.

[I guess they were. It’s interesting how they picked up on our feelings for each other so early. Too bad we hadn’t – SEH]

I was puzzled but decided not to pursue it.

“Where’s the food?” I asked instead.

“I’m sorry, Lisle,” groaned Mama. “They went and ate up everything before I could save you some.”

“You probably wouldn’t have saved enough anyway.” I grinned. “Besides, I happen to know there’s something in the cupboard that I like and now that the boss is safely occupied elsewhere…”

I all but danced to the cupboard and opened it.

Mae groaned. “Lisa, I hope that’s not what I think that is.”

“Oh, yes it is, Mae.” I hugged the fuschia colored box. “Lucky Charms in all its sugar-coated glory. Fortified with artificial preservatives and colors.”

I grabbed a medium-sized mixing bowl out of the other cupboard, a soup spoon, and the milk. I put the bowl at my spot at the table and emptied the box into the bowl.

“Are you going to eat all that?” asked Mae, utterly disgusted.

“You bet I am.” I picked a coupon and a plastic wrapped toy out of the cereal and poured on the milk. “And I am going to enjoy every bite, without lectures on what it’s doing to my insides. You wouldn’t believe what a time Mama and I had getting this past Sid. Frankly, Mama, I think Sid went to the grocery store with us just to keep an eye on me. He’s such a control freak.”

“He’s just looking out for your own well-being,” said Mae.

“Mae, shut up.” I shoveled it in.

“Lisa Jane, you don’t talk to your sister like that,” said Mama. “She’s just concerned.”

“I know. But there’s nothing to be concerned about. Really.” I went back to my cereal.

I didn’t see it, but I could tell Mama and Mae were shaking their heads. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, so I went on eating my cereal.

When I finished, I washed my bowl and put it away and wandered back towards my room. I was in the front entry when the phone rang. Mama got it, then hollered for Daddy.

“In the living room,” he hollered back.

“It’s that DEA guy again,” called Mama.

“I’ll take it in the bedroom.”

My parents’ bedroom is right next to mine, and mine was bugged. I beat it out of the hall and to my room, where I turned on the radio and tuned it to a rock and roll station. Then I slid into the hallway to the closed door to my parents’ bedroom. I had no idea why Daddy was talking to someone from the Drug Enforcement Agency, but I was going to find out.

“Aunt Lisa!” Janey hissed. She tugged on my arm. “This way.”

“But-”

I glanced at the door, then took a chance and followed her back to the hall phone. Mama and Mae had the extension off the hook and their ears pressed to the receiver. Mama quickly put a finger to her lips. I shoved my way in, dislodging Mae, who glared at me furiously. I didn’t care. She didn’t have priority need to know, and I did, even if I couldn’t tell her that.

“Douglas County said they didn’t know squat about it,” said Daddy’s voice. “It just seems kind of fishy to me, and Lehrer was awful anxious about finding it.”

“You think he knows something?” asked the DEA guy. His voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it.

Mae squeezed in. I held my ground and put my finger in my free ear.

“He’d almost have to,” said Daddy. “Neither of us said a word about the stuff from the store, even with Murray dead, and Lehrer was very clear. There were two missing shipments.”

“If we could just figure out where the one Riordan had went to.”

“Lehrer sure as hell doesn’t know, and he wants to, bad.”

“And he’s looking for a second shipment. The question is, did it come in before or after Murray died?”

“Well, the police say he died Friday night.”

“Hm.” The DEA guy thought for a moment. “Do you know if you got anything from Sunland on Friday?”

“I don’t think so. But they ain’t sending it through the stock. We got the winter order in this past Tuesday and there wasn’t anything there that shouldn’t have been, or anything missing, either.”

“Who unpacked it?”

“My daughter and that boss of hers. She would have said something if she found it.”

“I agree, but there’s her boss. He was humping Riordan when the stuff she had disappeared.”

“I don’t think he’s messing with drugs. He’s too busy chasing tail.”

“I’ve heard he’s got money. You know where it comes from?”

“Well now, they’ve never said.” Daddy mused. “Nah. Lisa’s been with him for a year. She’d have noticed by now if he was up to something funny.”

“What if he’s got some kind of hold on her. Is she scared of him at all?”

Daddy snorted. “I sure wish she were. Look, the stuff’s got to be coming in through some kind of courier. We’ve been over and over that stock thing, and there’s no way Murray could have kept finding it faster than we could, not without radar.”

[Or a good dog – SEH]

“All I know is that Riordan told me she was to deliver a back order to the store. It’s possible it was a code to someone else in the store, maybe that Martin kid.”

“I’m inclined to think not. I think she knows something about what’s going on, but she just ain’t that bright.”

“Well, Bill, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess we’ll have to try checking out Lehrer. Tell you what. He’s on duty tonight. We’ll go over to his place after he’s on and check it out.”

“Ain’t that illegal?”

“There’s ways around it. That’s why I need you there.”

Daddy cleared his throat. “If I’m under oath, I’m going to say what really happened.”

The DEA guy laughed. “I just need you to set Lehrer up. It’s not going to blow the court case, and you probably won’t have to testify, let alone perjure yourself. Even then, chances are, we’ll get him to name names, and plea bargain it. Let’s see. Lehrer’s night shift. I think those guys have roll call at eleven. Why don’t you meet me at the store at eleven thirty and we’ll go over from there.”

“Eleven thirty, alright. I’ll meet you in the back.”

“Hey, with luck, Lehrer’ll be able to tell us who killed Murray, and maybe even Riordan. Talk to you later.”

They hung up. Mama all but slammed the phone down and pressed her lips together.

“I don’t like it,” she hissed, hurrying into the kitchen. “I just don’t like it.”

“What’s Daddy been doing with the DEA?” I demanded, right on her heels.

“And what did you think you were doing pushing me out?” snapped Mae, grabbing my shoulder and spinning me around.

“I needed to hear,” I said.

“I was there first.”

“Well, nobody’s trying to pin a bum drug rap on you.”

“Everyone knows that’s just hot air. You were just being selfish again.”

“Girls!” snapped Mama. “Landsakes, you’re both grown women. It’s about time you stopped bickering with each other.”

“Mama, I was there first and she pushed me off,” groaned Mae.

“What’s Daddy doing with the DEA?” I pressed. “Come on, Mama. I need to know.”

Mama sank down into a chair and leaned against the table with her head in her hand.

“Somebody’s been smuggling drugs through your daddy’s store,” she said softly. “We don’t know who. The only reason they think it’s Murray is ’cause he got killed. The fellow from the DEA said it’s through Sunland Products, and that’s why it’s Daddy’s store. It’s the closest place to the state line that carries sporting goods, and it carries Sunland year-round.”

I sat down next to her. “How long has this been going on?”

“Don’t know about the smuggling. Daddy and the guy from the DEA have been talking for about a month now.” Mama shook her head. “I’m just so afraid he’s going to get his neck in too deep.”

So was I, knowing that espionage was involved, too.

“Oh, Mama,” said Mae, sitting down on her other side. “Daddy’s not stupid, and he knows how to handle himself. He’ll be fine.”

Daddy walked in. “Lisle, what are you doing in here? I thought you were in your room. And why are you playing that damn radio so loud?”

“I just had it on.” I shrugged with a guilty smile. “And then, well…”

Daddy’s eyes narrowed. “You girls were listening in. Don’t think I didn’t know.”

“Well, Bill, I think we needed to.” Mama got up, spitting mad. “With that DEA guy and his midnight meetings. You’re going to get yourself killed if you’re not careful. These drug dealers don’t play nice. Landsakes, you read in the papers every darned day about one of them fellows getting themselves murdered, or what have you.”

“I know what I’m doing, Althea.”

“Oh, you do. Since when did you join the DEA?”

“If the man needs help and I can do it, it’s the least I can do. He won’t let me do anything dangerous anyway.” Daddy sighed and held Mama. “Honey, I’m going to be careful and stay out of the way. I know my limitations.”

“Oh, Bill, I just don’t want to see you hurt.” She looked up at him. “I know you can handle yourself, but you be careful now.”

Daddy gave her a squeeze and released her. “Well, it’s getting on for time. Where’s Neil? We need to fire up the barbecue.”

There were steaks and chicken, grilled, and Mama’s special potato salad and green salad, and potatoes roasted in the coals, and vegetable kebobs. The only thing missing was the corn on the cob, but it was too late in the year for that. Sid showed up just in time to change into jeans and sweater and eat. I did manage to signal him that we needed to talk as soon as possible and slipped off into the woods the minute I was done eating. Sid found me in a nearby clearing some minutes later.

“Well?” he asked.

I told him about the phone call. He was, as I expected, thrilled.

“Jesus,” he swore.

“Sid!”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry. But this is one complication we can’t afford.”

“No kidding.” I picked up a twig and started peeling its bark off.

“We’ll have to work around it. The first priority will be to dismantle those bugs.”

“There’s always the radio. I think mine is still on.”

“Someone’s bound to turn it off at just the wrong moment.” He shook his head. “We’ll find a way. We just have to think about it. I did get a good look at the one in my room last night. It’s more Company equipment.”

“It is?” I frowned. “At least, we know who got the stolen equipment.”

Sid nodded.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Another excellent question.”

“So we’re stuck.”

“For the moment.” He smiled at me. “I hear you’ve got sugar on your breath.”

“Mae ratted on me, didn’t she?” I viciously tossed away a piece of bark.

“Yes.”

“Well, I don’t want to hear any more about it. For once, will you just leave me alone?”

“What’s the matter, Lisa?” His gentle eyes gazed at me.

“It’s my dad.” Trying not to cry, I turned away. “He doesn’t know what he’s getting into, with the spy stuff and all. And I can’t tell him. And I couldn’t tell Mae why I had to hog the phone this morning. And she’s been on my case about being withdrawn. She’s really worried about it. Okay, I never was that open, but I could at least say things if I wanted to. Now, it’s like there’s a barrier between me and my family and it hurts. You know, I really like this business most of the time. But there are days when I wonder if it’s worth the sacrifices.”

“Sometimes I wonder, too.”

“Yeah, but it’s easier for you, Sid. You don’t have a family. You keep telling me you prefer being a loner.”

“True. But I have my moments. Frankly, Lisa, I envy you. If something happens to you, there are people who will notice you’ve gone. Me, I’ll fade away and no one will know the difference.”

“Sid, that’s not true.”

He smiled. “Well, not anymore. I’m very grateful for your friendship, and for the way your sister’s family adopted me. But in the circle of people I generally move in, one only exists for the moment you’re there. And I don’t want you feeling sorry for me. I like it that way. However, it has its drawbacks, just like having a family does. I do understand how you feel, Lisa. The business is a barrier, but a necessary one, and if you don’t make the sacrifice, who will?”

“That’s sort of what Father John keeps telling me. I’m in this situation because I can handle it better than anyone else. It just gets hard sometimes.”

“Well, I’m here, and we have no excuse for a barrier.”

I smiled softly. “No, we don’t.”

“By the way, I ran a couple errands while I was out.”

“Either they were real quick ones, or Rhonda was.”

Sid chuckled. “Somewhere in between.” He sighed and shook his head. “Actually, she’s involved in one sordid mess.”

I went back to picking at my stick. “That’s too bad.”

“What is it about her that has you so bugged?”

“I wonder what could have happened to make her change so drastically, and I wonder if it could happen to me.” I looked at him nervously. “It seems sometimes like I’ve got the perfect opportunity.”

Sid smiled and shook his head. “If by that, you mean giving in to me, then no. Rhonda’s problem has a lot more to do with an insensitive husband who made a promise he wasn’t about to keep. I keep my promises, and I do my damnedest to be sensitive.”

“And you’re very successful. Still…”

“Lisa, it won’t happen to you. You’re much too strong. I can’t think of anything that could happen to you that you couldn’t rise above. You and Rhonda have very little in common that way.”

“Thanks.”

“Anyway, regarding those two errands. The first was a brief meeting with Tom Collins to see if he could confirm if our bugs were the stolen ones.”

“And?”

“Assuming I described them accurately, they’re pretty standard equipment.”

“Oh, goody. A generic listening device.”

Motley chose that moment to come trotting into the clearing. He barked once, then whined softly as I bent to pet him. I suddenly smiled.

“Sid, why don’t we let Motley find those bugs for us?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, last night, when I was looking for them with the bug finder, Motley found them before I did. I pretended not to notice. But we could set it up to look like we finally did.”

“Hm. That’s a possible, but it might be a little tricky.” He smiled down at Motley. “It would appear the mutt has his uses. Which brings me to my second errand. You may not have heard, but I found out that Murray’s ex is in town with the children for the funeral tomorrow. Anyway, I sought her out, told her we had the dog, and she made it quite clear that the last thing she wanted was another dog around.” He pulled a folded paper from his shirt pocket. “Anyway, here are Motley’s papers. I do believe you have to sign and mail them in.”

“Oh, Sid, thank you. How much do I owe you?”

“You don’t.”

“But-”

“I didn’t have to pay for him. The former Mrs. Waters decided that between the hassle of paying for an ad and getting a vet to look at him, she was better off giving him away. It’s hard enough to sell puppies. A year-old dog is almost impossible.”

“But you don’t want a dog.”

“Don’t you?”

“Yes, but I thought I was going to have to twist your arm or something.”

He shrugged. “I thought I’d save you the trouble. He’s all yours, Lisa. I’ve even called the fencing people to put in a kennel for him.”

“Oh, Sid, that’s wonderful. Thank you!”

I flung my arms around him and squeezed. He squeezed back.

“I’m so glad I’ve got you, Sid,” I whispered.

“I’m so glad I’ve got you, Lisa.”

We pulled apart. Gently, he laid his hand on my cheek. We gazed into each other’s eyes for a minute, then softly, so softly, he laid a kiss on my lips.

Motley’s barking brought us back down to earth. We could hear the children calling him, and he bounded off back to the house. Sid and I followed separately.

After lunch was cleaned up, the kids talked Sid into playing the piano for them. Darby had his guitar and played along, keeping up pretty well for someone who had only been playing since January.

“We’re getting an orchestra together at school this year,” he told Sid during a tuning break. “Only I won’t get to be in it unless I learn to play something else. Mrs. Gomez says she already has a pianist and that she needs someone who’s been playing a lot longer than I have. She thinks I ought to try violin.”

Sid chuckled. “Boy, do I know how that feels. Almost the exact same thing happened to me when I started high school. Fortunately, my piano skills were already advanced by that point.”

Darby shrugged. “I don’t know. Violin sounds kind of neat, really. I just don’t want to be called a sissy.”

“That can be rough,” said Sid. “But you know, the only real sissies are the ones who have to call others sissies.”

Darby looked over at his grandfather. “What do you think, Grandpa?”

I knew why he asked. Darby and my father have kind of a strange relationship. Daddy was really ecstatic when he found he had a grandson. Even though I’d played substitute son for him, I was still his daughter, and after two of them, Daddy was looking forward to a real he-man to he-man relationship. Only Darby turned out to be anything but interested. Daddy was disappointed but equally determined that Darby should be what he is. Darby is onto him and makes a point of being a he-man whenever he can.

“Well, now…” Daddy struggled. “Darby, I’ve always said you’ve got to follow your heart. If you want to play violin, then you play violin. Sid’s right, and I think it takes a damned sight more guts to do something you want even though you might get called names than it does to do the name calling.”

Darby didn’t get a chance to answer. One of the twins started screaming from the back of the house.

“What now?” sighed Mae as the other twin joined in. Ellen wandered in. “Ellen, why are your brothers upset?”

She shrugged. “Janey’s being mean to them. Motley found something neat in Uncle Sid’s room and she took it away.”

I glanced over at Sid.

He turned around on the piano bench. “What did they find, Ellen?”

She shrugged again. “Motley found another one in Aunt Lisa’s room.”

“Another what?” asked Mae.

Ellen shrugged. “It’s neat.”

“Janey!” called Neil. “Martin, Mitchell!”

“Daddy,” bellowed Janey as she pushed her little brothers into the living room. “I told them to leave the things alone.”

“What did they find, Janey?” asked Sid.

She held out her hand to display the two small round micro-transmitters. Neil picked them up.

“What the heck are these?” he asked. He looked at Janey. “Ellen said one was in Uncle Sid’s room and the other was in Aunt Lisa’s.”

Janey nodded. “Yes.”

Neil looked the bugs over closely. “I wonder if these are listening devices. Look at this wire mesh here.”

“Are you sure one was in my room?” I said, letting my voice shake. Janey nodded. “Oh Lord, somebody’s been listening to me?”

Neil started to show the bugs to Mae, but Daddy snatched them.

“If they are, I know who put them there,” he growled, looking the bugs over himself. “I’ve got a phone call to make.”

“What if they’re broadcasting, Daddy?” I asked, letting my voice go panicky.

Daddy stopped and looked at me. “You got a point.”

“Is there an off switch?” I asked. I knew it was a dumb question, which is precisely why I asked.

“I wonder if I have that magnifying glass in the car,” muttered Neil.

“Not the science kit,” groaned Darby. Janey and Ellen looked at each other guiltily.

Neil’s attempts to get the kids hooked on science are the family joke. The kids like science, especially Ellen. It’s just that Neil thinks he is taking good advantage of serendipitous occasions, and the kids think he’s a total bore. To be honest, Neil’s lectures are a little on the dry side. [Dry doesn’t begin to describe them. Sawdust has more flavor – SEH]

Neil sent Janey after the magnifying glass, which meant he knew darned well she and Ellen had hidden the science kit again. Meanwhile, I went to my room and checked my bug finder. Those adorable little brats had done their work well. Nothing was transmitting.

I went back to the living room. Neil had the eyeglass kit out, with the tiny screwdriver and pliers. Janey brought in the magnifying glass and everyone except the kids and me converged on the coffee table. Sid looked up and saw me standing in the doorway. Surreptitiously, I made a slicing motion across my neck. He nodded and slipped out of the pack.

We went back to his room.

“It’s a pity we can’t hire those kids to do our work for us more often,” he said, shutting the door.

I stood next to it, listening for anyone coming.

“No kidding. Does this mean we go check out Lehrer tonight?”

“With your father and his friend from the DEA out to do the same? You’d better believe it. We’ll just run a basic search and switch. I’ll call Tom Collins and see if he can get us some less sensitive evidence.”

“Maybe we ought to check out Donny Severn’s place, too.”

“Why? He couldn’t have killed Murray. He was in Reno, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” I felt deflated, then… “Sid, didn’t Officer Burke say Stripkin said Donny was with him at the critical time?”

“That’s why Donny’s out of the running for Murray’s murder.”

“Except that Alice called Donny’s friend Mike Friday night, and Mike said Donny wasn’t there, that he was staying there but was out all the time.”

Sid sat down on the bed and mused. “And that was before we said word one about Murray, which gives her even less reason to be lying about it.” He looked at me. “Donny was supposedly in Reno since the previous Wednesday.”

“Which was when Lehrer took Donny with him to do a job for him.”

Sid snorted. “The problem is, with the gun that killed Della turning up the way it did, there’s no way of proving that Donny did it.”

“Unless that room service waiter identifies him.”

Sid shook his head. “We have to get Donny arrested first. Actually, we need to get Lehrer arrested.”

“Too bad we can’t do it.”

“Technically, we can.” Sid got up and paced.

“A citizen’s arrest, but anyone can do that.”

“No. We have the authority to make a regular arrest for any crime under FBI jurisdiction. We just don’t use it because it would blow our cover.” He stopped pacing and gazed at the closet without seeing it. “Now, are you sure this DEA character plans to bust Lehrer tonight?”

“He said he needed Daddy to set Lehrer up, and the plan is to meet tonight.”

An almost evil grin spread across Sid’s face. “How about if we help the set up along?”

“How?”

“I still have Della’s cocaine in the trunk of my car, and I seem to remember suggesting some drug charges might help things along.”

“But don’t we want him busted for espionage?”

“Yeah.” Sid went back to pacing. “That would be preferable since they won’t set him free quite as easily. But at the moment, I’ll take any charges I can get. Did I give you the code nine phone number?”

“Yeah.” Calling in a code nine brought out the nearest FBI agents who would make any arrests we needed made.

“Good. I’ll put them on alert. With the DEA hanging around, it could get sticky if they butt heads. Now for the rest of the details.”

It wasn’t easy. We had to pull together all our equipment without anyone seeing us. We had to formulate a good excuse for being out that night without everyone else. I had to get Mama and Daddy to let me drive the jeep since Sid’s car was a little too recognizable.

Sid got the stuff in from his car just as soon as it got dark, by hiding it under his ski jacket. It was also right on top of dinner, which is why there was no one around to see. I helped with the cleanup, then Mama sent me to get ready to go with Sid to a local nightclub that he was going to review for his article, which he also wanted my opinion on. Mae tagged along.

“Why aren’t you staying here?” she asked softly. “You know Daddy has that meeting tonight.”

“I know.” I glanced at her bedroom, where Sid was checking over the guns and lockpicks and masks and gloves. “But, um, Sid didn’t know anything about it when he set up the interview at the nightclub, and you know how Mama is. This past Wednesday, Sid told me to take off and she was really mad that I went riding instead of sticking around to help him. She doesn’t need to worry about me losing my job on top of Daddy playing cops and robbers.”

“I suppose. What are you going to wear?”

I squirmed. “Mae, I’d really rather get dressed by myself. Okay?”

Mae gave me the kind of look that said it wasn’t but left me alone. I dressed quickly in a light pink handkerchief linen shirt I’d pressed and starched that afternoon, and my black break in pants. They were still pretty new, and the fabric hadn’t faded yet, so they looked casual but nice. I also put on my armored running shoes. They were black, so I still looked a little dressed up. I pinned my hair up, then folded up the collar on my shirt to look stylish. I picked up a gray herringbone twill bomber jacket and with a deep breath, left the room.

I made sure the hall was empty and slid into Sid’s room. He looked up from the bed where he was loading one of the S and W model thirteen three fifty-seven revolvers.

“You look good,” he said.

He was wearing a white dress shirt, his shoulder holster and revolver, tight, dark jeans and his armored running shoes. A tweed sports jacket sat next to him on the bed.

“Thanks.”

Sid rolled the clip, then clicked it in place and handed the gun and its holster to me. I slid it on. Sid slid into his sports coat.

“I’m almost tempted to put the model thirteen in my purse,” I said, wriggling the holster around to where it was almost comfortable.

I pulled up the right leg of my pants and strapped on my twenty-two automatic.

Sid shrugged. “Anyplace you’ll be carrying your purse, you won’t be able to use it. You can’t carry that monster with you on the break in, and I don’t want to leave it out in an open car. We can’t afford to lose it.” He looked at me as I slid into my bomber jacket. “That’s different. Where did you get it?”

“International Fabrics on Beverly.” I zipped up the front just high enough so I could get at the gun and still keep it hidden.

“It looks nice.” Sid tried not to sigh.

He knows one of the reasons I sew most of my own clothes is because I’m basically cheap, which bothers him. It’s not like he’s underpaying me, and there’s also my salary from Quickline. He can’t understand why I won’t spend one penny more than I have to. Neither can I, really. I’ve always been that way. [On the other hand, you do very good work, and I concede the therapeutic benefits are considerable – SEH]

I finished distributing lockpicks, miniature flashlights, glass cutters, wire cutters, screwdrivers, duct tape (a fresh roll I’d filched from the barn), and the box of cocaine among the many pockets in my pants.

“Are we ready?” Sid asked.

I took a deep breath. “Yeah.”

We announced our departure and left quickly before anyone decided they wanted a hug. I’d seen to putting our ski jackets in the jeep earlier. I looked at Sid, then started the engine.

Not that we were really on our way yet. It was only eight o’clock, and we couldn’t go near Lehrer’s place until eleven. We did stop by a bar up the road in Stateline, just to back up what we’d told my family, and decided pretty quickly it didn’t have anything to offer. We went back to the big casinos next to the state line, itself.

I made the pickup in the Keno Lounge. Tom Collins hid the microdots in a cocktail napkin which I slid into my pants. Then Sid and I hit the blackjack tables.

“I hope we have better luck tonight,” he muttered as he busted again, and with twenty-two.

I crossed myself. I was doing okay, pretty much staying just a little bit ahead. I hit a blackjack the next hand.

By ten thirty, Sid was ahead fifty bucks, which wasn’t much when you consider he’d been playing with twenty-five dollar chips. I was ahead twenty dollars, which was pretty darned good since I only bet the two dollar minimum. We cashed in and took off.

Lehrer’s cabin was in Tahoe Village, off by itself at the end of a longish street. We drove by, then I parked the jeep in a real estate office’s parking lot, behind some trees at the bottom of the hill. Sid and I slid out of our jackets and into our ski jackets and walked up the hill to Lehrer’s place.

The cabin was dark, without even an outside light. In the trees next to the place, Sid and I put on our gloves and masks. We slipped onto the deck and over to the front door.

It was ajar. I glanced at Sid. He already had his revolver out. I drew mine. He backed up against the open side of the doorway. I backed up against the door side. We could hear nothing inside.

Sid nodded. I pushed the door open a little further. Sid slid in and braced. I rolled around and went in. The cabin was dark. Braced and ready, we waited. The only sound was the whisper of the wind in the trees outside.

Sid glanced at me, then shut the door. I holstered my gun and got out the flashlights. In the tiny circles of light they produced, we could see that someone had gotten in first and started trashing the place. Several cushions from a Herculon couch were scattered over the floor, and about two desk drawers had been emptied. But the rest of the room was intact.

I checked the kitchen. It was fine. A stairway led to a loft over the kitchen and living room. Sid was going through the desk. I went up the stairs.

A dark, wiry form leaped out at me. I dropped the flashlight and tried to dodge, but the stairs were too narrow. I stepped back, my foot hit air then slammed onto the next step. I was twisting to the side at the time, so I didn’t go down. The form did.

Sid was waiting for him at the bottom, but the young man was quick and bounced up. He jumped at Sid, who dodged. The man clasped his hands and swung.

I was still trying to get my balance and over-corrected myself right into the banister. My side ached with the impact, but I didn’t have time to worry about it because I was going over. I caught the railing just in time, then dropped safely to the ground.

Sid took a punch to the stomach, then landed two good ones in the young man’s jaw. It didn’t faze him. He came back, swinging wildly. Sid ducked, then worked in close and got the man in the stomach. I charged, and Sid and I caught the young man in a squeeze play. He struggled and almost broke loose.

We had a heck of a time wrestling him to the ground. I fumbled for the duct tape and tossed it to Sid, who had his knee in the young man’s back. I got one arm. Sid got the other, and between the two of us, we forced them together. There was a ripping sound as Sid whipped the duct tape around the young man’s wrists. I had to sit on his legs while Sid wrapped his ankles. I taped the mouth, while Sid found the flashlight I’d dropped.

He rolled the young man over and shone the flashlight in his eyes. Sid nodded at me and rolled the young man back onto his stomach. I took the flashlight, and as I did, I realized that the young man was wearing a blue and black flannel shirt, and near the bottom, a piece had been torn off.

Sid pulled me over to the desk.

“That’s Donny Severn,” Sid whispered.

“What’s he doing here?”

We looked over the cushions and empty drawers.

“Looking for something,” said Sid.

“Remember that scrap I found in my clearing?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“He’s wearing the same fabric shirt and there’s a piece missing.”

“Hm.” Sid glanced over at Donny. “We’d better hustle. Your dad and the DEA will be here any minute.”

I hurried up the stairs. I found a couple hidey holes in the wall next to the bed, and after a quick search brought the contents down to Sid. There were about three microdots and a three by five looseleaf notebook, and a heavy metal briefcase. I opened the briefcase and found a black box with dials on it and strapped to the case’s lid, a disk.

“The transponder, I think,” I whispered.

“I guess,” Sid whispered back. “Let’s take it anyway.”

I showed him the notebook

“Records,” he hissed, pulling a small camera from the pocket of his ski jacket. “You hide the box next to the cushions on the sofa, while I get this.”

I set the box on the bottom of the sofa where the seat cushions should have been, then exchanged the microdots with three of the ones we’d gotten earlier. Sid snapped photos of the loose leaf notebook. I thought I heard a twig snap. I slipped to the front of the cabin and looked out a window. My father’s large form slid onto the deck, next to another, equally tall, but slighter fellow.

I tagged Sid’s arm as he took the last photo, and, grabbing the briefcase, we ran up the stairs. A second later, the front door opened and the lights went on. We dove for the floor.

“Hell,” cursed the DEA guy.

“What happened?” grumbled Daddy.

“Somebody was looking for something.”

With the lights on, Sid and I didn’t dare look. We just hugged the floor as close to the edge of the loft as we could get.

The DEA guy cursed.

“That’s Donny Severn,” said Daddy. “What the hell’s he doing here?”

“Leave him,” ordered the DEA guy.

“What?”

“Obviously, another agency wants him. Look at this. Lehrer wouldn’t leave a shipment out where anyone could find…”

“What you looking at there?”

“This box. It’s the one Riordan was bringing up. She marked it. See, here’s the serial number she put on it.”

“I don’t get it.”

“She was supposed to drop it off at the store Thursday night or Friday morning after making contact with me, so I could tail whoever it went to. I had her mark the box to make it easier to trace.”

Daddy cleared his throat. “Then how, pray tell, did it get here?”

“Della’s room was searched. I checked that out Friday night. Damn it. There’s counter-espionage people involved in this somehow.”

“In drugs? How can you be so sure about that?”

“The tape. Lehrer didn’t wrap Donny up like that. He’d use handcuffs. They’re harder to get out of, and Lehrer has a legitimate reason for carrying them. Most undercover operatives can’t get away with cuffs, but a roll of tape isn’t going to raise too many questions.”

“Huh.” Daddy mulled that over. “So that’s what Lehrer was talking about.”

“When?”

“Last night, when he was putting in those bugs. He found a roll of strapping tape in my daughter’s purse and asked if she knew what it was for.”

“You mean Lisa?”

“Yes.” Daddy’s voice cooled considerably.

“That’s… Yes.” I could all but see the wheels turning in that guy’s head. “It’s about the only thing that really makes sense.”

“What are you getting on about?”

“The tape in your daughter’s purse.” He laughed. “Bill, I think you’ve got a spy right under your nose.”

“What? Lisa?” It was Daddy’s turn to laugh. “You’re talking nonsense. The girl couldn’t even look at the body bag when they brought Murray out.”

I felt Sid shaking with laughter, and jabbed him with my elbow.

“Trust me,” Daddy continued. “She ain’t got the nerve. The girl’s a mouse. Her boss, maybe, but nah. She’d have noticed.”

“He’s got his hands up too many skirts, anyway. Playing James Bond is a good way to get killed.”

I shook and got jabbed.

“So what now?” Daddy asked.

“We make tracks. They’re obviously busting Lehrer tonight. Damn, I wanted his butt. Wait. I think we’ll still get it. Here’s what I want you to do. We’ll go down to the Sheriff’s station. You tell Lehrer you want to talk to him someplace quiet, and you want to do it tonight. Above all, you let him set up where it’s going to be. I’ll let you come with me to the meeting, but only to draw him out. I’ll draw the attack. Come on.”

A second later, they were gone. Sid and I got up. I headed down the stairs. Sid grabbed the briefcase and caught me at the bottom.

“Where are you going?” he hissed.

I wrenched my arm free. “After them.”

Sid signaled me to wait, gave me the briefcase, then picked up the phone and dialed.

“Code nine,” he hissed, and gave the address, and hung up. “Alright. We’re done here.”

He waited until I had dumped the transponder in the back of the jeep and got it going before saying anything.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Saving my dad’s butt.”

“Get a grip on yourself, woman. We can’t do a damned thing. If he sees either one of us, we’re blown.”

I thought. “Not necessarily. They’re going to my spot. I’ll just say you and I got in a fight and I was upset. I’ll put the model thirteen in my jacket pocket. It should fit, and I’ll be able to ditch it if I have to.”

“Why don’t we just let the DEA handle it?”

“Because it’s my father!” I yelped.

“You don’t even know if that’s where they’re headed.”

“It is.” I glanced over at him. “That piece of shirt. Motley knew it. Murray was the one who showed me that place. I’ll bet anything, he had Lehrer meeting him up there, and that’s where Donny got roughed up, and alright, I’m guessing, but I’d say it’s pretty safe that it was Lehrer roughing him up one way or other, possibly over Murray’s death.”

Sid sighed and leaned back in the seat. “Alright. It makes sense. And we haven’t got anything else.”

We parked off the road at the foot of the drop. The jeep blended in with the lighter colored rock, although it was screened from the road by pines. As we put on our other jackets, Sid kept watch.

It was cold. I shivered and folded my arms across myself. Down on the road, an engine thrummed and a set of high beams whitened the sky above the trees. Sid and I sat up, waiting. The car didn’t stop.

Another car, coming from Nevada, went by. In the still following its wake, Sid gazed up at the sky.

“Look at all those stars,” he whispered. “When I was a kid, I used to think that was where the other side was.”

“What other side?”

“Death.”

“You believe in life after death?”

He shrugged. “The first law of thermodynamics. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. There’s been some interesting stuff coming out on out of body experiences. On the other hand, who knows for sure?”

Behind us, a small rock tumbled. We both swung around, Sid’s hand reaching inside his jacket, mine for my jacket pocket. Another car hummed its way down the road from Nevada and kept on going.

Silence.

“He’s not coming,” said Sid, after we’d been sitting about ten minutes.

“Lehrer or Godot?” I asked.

Sid chuckled. Something rustled ahead. Sid tensed.

“I thought the mountains were supposed to be quiet,” he grumbled.

“That doesn’t mean silent.”

The bushes ahead rustled again. I caught a bouncing flash of white and sat back.

“What do you think that was?” Sid asked.

“A deer. Must be pretty confused to be this far down. It happens.”

Sid pondered the skies again. I shivered.

“It’s so clear,” he said.

“No clouds. That’s why it’s so cold.” I shivered again and pulled my jacket tighter around me.

Below us, a car slowed. Its lights went out as its tires crackled against the rocks and dirt next to the pavement. The sedan parked next to the trail leading to the clearing. Starlight glinted off the light bar on top.

“You win your bet,” hissed Sid.

He was already out of the jeep. I jumped out after him and tagged his arm.

“This way.” I nodded at the other side of the rock.

We heard the sedan’s door open and close. Sid put his finger to his lips. I nodded. He took the lead, keeping me close enough to direct him and showing me how to get through the brush without making too much noise. I felt a little miffed. After all, I was on my home turf and he wasn’t. [But you had never walked night patrols in a Vietnamese jungle, and I had – SEH]  However, with Lehrer out there somewhere, there was no way I could argue.

The clearing was empty when we got to the edge. Sid’s lips brushed against my ear. Thinking it was one stupid time to get romantic, I tried brushing him away.

“I’m going to the other side,” he whispered so softly I could barely make out the words. “You watch from here.”

Shaking, I put my hand on my model thirteen. Sid disappeared into the shadows. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. The clearing remained empty.

The brush to my right erupted in crackling and rustling, and I heard an “ooph.” It was a fight, and someone had connected. Fearing the worst, I drew my gun and ran for the noise.

I saw the barrel flash almost before I heard the crack of the shot. Bark from the tree next to me exploded in a shower of slivers. I dove to the ground, aiming for the flash point, but before I could squeeze off my shot, the other gun flared three more times, with the shots getting closer and closer. I rolled, then lay still.

Wheezing, the stout heavy form crashed through the brush. I tried to get a fix on the shadow, but the next thing I knew, a rubber soled foot came down on my right hand. I swallowed the yell, then swallowed another as Lehrer fell on top of me.

I wriggled around, trying to get a grip on him. I caught polyester double knit and little else. I hung on and pulled myself along it. White light blinded me. Lehrer’s hand clamped onto my sore right wrist. I gasped as he yanked me up.

“Well, what do you know?” he sneered. “I come up here trolling for Bill Wycherly, and what do I get in the net instead, but his kid.”

I cried and struggled, but Lehrer’s grip was like iron, and the flashlight felt like iron as it clipped my head. I sank to my knees. Laughing, Lehrer jammed the light under his arm and roughly cuffed my hands behind me.

“Don’t hurt me,” I sobbed, playing into my fear.

He backhanded me. “Shut up. You want to stay alive, you stay quiet.”

He yanked me to my feet and all but dragged me to the clearing, keeping me at his side. He had a pump action shotgun under his arm with the flashlight. He dropped me on the boulder, then sat down next to me. The flashlight he propped up on his other side. Chuckling, he opened the gun and popped three shells in.

“Your dad should be here any time now. I was going to waste him from the brush, but now that I’ve got you, I might not have to.”

The flashlight suddenly flew down the drop, and Lehrer was under Sid. [The dope had blinded himself with that flashlight right next to him – SEH]  They rolled, then Lehrer landed on top of Sid, with his hands around Sid’s neck. Sid popped Lehrer’s triceps with his knuckles, then bucked and sent Lehrer flying over him.

In a second, Sid was on his feet. He dove at Lehrer, grabbing Lehrer’s collar, then rabbit punching him. Lehrer went limp. Sid dropped him.

I staggered to my feet.

“You okay?” Sid whispered, pulling me off the boulder and leading me to the edge of the clearing.

“I think I’ve got a goose egg on my head,” I whispered back. “Lehrer hit me with that flashlight. I feel kind of woozy.”

Sid got one of the mini flashlights from my pants and waved the light in my eyes.

“Well, your eyes are dilating. You’re probably fine.” He put the flashlight back, then felt around behind me. “Oh, goody. Cuffs. Let’s get sat down and I’ll get you out of these.”

He helped me to the ground, then popped open the sole of his left shoe and got out a tube of spring steel. A minute later, I felt the metal give around my left wrist. I started to wriggle my hand free, then Sid cursed and clamped it back.

“What?” I hissed.

“Your dad. I spring you now, and we’re for sure pegged as operatives.”

A light flashed on us.

“Lisle!” gasped Daddy’s voice.

I couldn’t quite make out the tall, slender form bending over Lehrer’s body. All of a sudden, it dodged back and tripped as Lehrer roared to life.

Lehrer scrambled around, his hands landing on the shotgun. I got knocked flat under Sid as the gun blasted.

“Daddy!” I screamed.

The gun blasted two more times.

“Had enough?” snarled Lehrer. “Hackbirn, get off your girlfriend. Now! Move it!”

Sid slowly moved off of me. Lehrer came over, pointing the shotgun right at me. I howled as he grabbed my hair and pulled me up. He jammed the shotgun muzzle, still hot, under my chin.

“That hurts,” I whimpered.

“It’s not going to hurt at all when I blow your head off,” snarled Lehrer. “Okay, Wycherly, what do you got on me?”

“I don’t,” said Daddy, struggling to keep his voice calm. “I just wanted to talk to you. Find a way to make peace.”

Lehrer swore. “Say goodbye to your girl.”

“Holy Jesus, have mercy,” I gasped.

The gun went click.

I looked up. I was still under the stars, not among them. But before I could breathe to confirm it, I found myself under Sid, falling on top of Lehrer. Somehow, I scrambled free. But Sid and Lehrer were rolling on top of the boulder.

Lehrer pulled free first and got a hold of the shotgun. He swung it like a club. Sid danced back, then realized if he danced back any further, he’d be dancing on thin air. Catching his balance, he swung sideways. The DEA guy, whom I still couldn’t see clearly, caught Sid, while Daddy jumped Lehrer. The shotgun clattered on the rock.

After that, all I could see was this pile of bodies heaving. It stopped slowly. The DEA guy got up first, then Sid, then Daddy. Lehrer struggled on the rock.

I sank to my knees, sobbing.

“Hey, it’s alright. You’re safe.” Arms enfolded me, but they weren’t Sid’s. Or Daddy’s. Nor was the voice.

The face slowly came clear in the starlight.

“Fletcher,” I gasped. “What? How?”

“I’m from the Drug Enforcement Administration. I’m sorry, Lisa. I couldn’t tell you.”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” snarled Daddy. His huge hand landed on Fletcher’s shoulder and he ripped Fletcher away from me. “It’s alright, Lisle baby. I got you.”

“Oh, Daddy,” I sobbed, laying my head on his shoulder.

“What’s wrong with your hands?”

“He put handcuffs on me. Will somebody get these off of me?”

Only they couldn’t. Fletcher searched Lehrer for the keys, but they’d been lost in the scuffle. They had to take me to the Sheriff’s station that way, which was none too comfortable. Then it seemed like forever before they got a universal key up from the jail.

In the meantime, I had to go into another crying fit, explaining about the fight Sid and I had, which had made me so miserable I just had to find my special spot. Sid had followed because he was worried about me and to make up. They bought it.

My arms were really stiff when they finally got me loose. Sid started to move in to massage my shoulders, but Daddy cut him off. In fact, Daddy wasn’t letting anyone near me, least of all, Fletcher.

There was quite a hullaballoo going on, too. Several FBI agents arrived with Donny Severn in custody. They were thrilled to find Lehrer already busted, but then a shouting match broke out between them and Fletcher and his cronies from the DEA over whose charges carried more weight. It was really kind of ridiculous because both the FBI and DEA are under the Department of Justice.

Once Donny saw that they had Lehrer, he kicked in, claiming that Lehrer set him up and Lehrer forced him to kill Della and Lehrer was behind Murray’s death. When things finally quieted down, and someone had gotten the room service waiter from the hotel, Donny was put in a lineup and was positively identified as the gunman fleeing Della’s room. He also confessed to killing Murray that Friday night because Murray didn’t have his coke. He said it was an accident, that he’d hit Murray with the gun to get him to shut up.

I also noticed Sid and Fletcher commiserating and glaring at my father. When I finally got Daddy to find me something to drink, Fletcher came over.

“I want to explain about Thursday night,” he said. “Della Riordan had contacted me about this back order she’d been asked to deliver to your father’s store. It was actually a box of cocaine. I was trying to make contact with her in the bar when she stumbled onto your boss.” He paused. “Yeah, I was trying to get into the suite, but more to get a hold of Della, than to make it with you.”

“Then why did you stick your tongue down my throat?” I grumbled.

“I wanted to make it believable, and well, most women I know like it.”

Sid smiled. “He’s got a point, Lisa.”

I glared at him. “You can stay out of this.”

Fletcher shrugged. “Anyway, I kept trying to stay in contact because the coke had disappeared, and I was afraid Della had dropped it on you or your boss.”

“Then who got it?” I asked. I’d already heard how it had been found at Lehrer’s.

“We don’t know,” said Fletcher. “There were some undercover operatives working the case also. All we can figure is that they found the coke and dumped it at Lehrer’s place. But with the code book that was found, it was more or less overkill.”

Sid rolled his eyes. Of course, when we’d planted the box, we’d had no idea how important the code book was.

“Anyway,” continued Fletcher. “I’d still like to stay in touch. I promise, no more tongues.” He smiled sheepishly. “I really am a nice guy, and I have to admit, you were a nice girl to check out.”

“Except she’s got Atilla the Hun guard dogging her,” said Sid. “And speaking of, here he comes.”

Daddy wandered up and glared at Fletcher. “Here’s a soda for you, Lisle.”

“Excuse me, Bill,” said Fletcher. “What are you so mad at me for? You’ve been raising hell with me since I said I’d met Lisa. I haven’t done anything.”

“You just stay away from my girl.”

“Daddy,” I groaned. “He doesn’t have to stay away. It’s my decision whether or not I want him around. And…” I looked over at Fletcher. Well, he was cute. Sid stood back, watching, with his arms folded and a bemused grin. “And I want him around. So there.”

Daddy growled and shook his head, but let it be.

We left shortly after. Fletcher made sure I had his phone number and I gave him mine. Back at my parents’ place, Mama, Mae, and Neil were still up and worried sick. So we had to tell them the whole tale. It was close to three thirty before my face hit my pillow, and by that point I was asleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

September 22, 1983

 

“What are you two all dressed up for?” Mama asked as Sid and I came into the kitchen for breakfast that morning.

We were both in standard business wear. Before that we’d been running, as usual, in spite of the previous night’s wounds. Sid was pretty much recovered, except for a spectacular shiner on his left eye. He had wanted me to shower first, which is why we appeared together.

“We’ve got some research we’ve got to double check,” said Sid. “In fact, we may want to eat in the car.”

“But it’s so early,” Mama said.

It was almost seven thirty.

“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” said Sid.

I took the pile of toast and some paper towels and we were on our way. I thought Sid was being a bit over cautious regarding the time. But it’s true that as soon as you assume the precautions aren’t needed, that’s when you wish you’d taken them.

Sid parked the 450 SL across the street at the bottom of the driveway leading up the hill to South Lake Tahoe High School. Teenagers came from all directions, in packs, pairs and singly, laughing, solemn, all trudging up the hill.

“So, that’s the old alma mater,” said Sid gazing up at what could be seen of the school.

“Yep. Where I spent four of the most miserable years of my life.”
Sid looked over at me. “Were they really that bad?”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “There were high spots. I don’t think I was chronically unhappy, although it seemed like I cried my way through junior year. I just didn’t fit in the whole time I was there. I had friends, like Jimmy, but except for Leslie, they were never that close. It’s not a time of my life I’d like to re-live.”

“Adolescence can be difficult.” Sid gazed out at the students. “I used to think I had a rough time of it. Then they sent me to ‘Nam. Kind of put a new perspective on the whole thing. And as time goes by, the bad stuff seems to fade away, and all I can remember are the good times.” Sid looked over at me. “Maybe I’ll take you by the old school someday. You might like it, after all the fuss you made over my yearbooks.”

I snorted. “I only fussed because you made such a fuss about not showing them to me.”

“I do not make fusses. However, you get embarrassed easily and I didn’t think you’d appreciate some of the inscriptions the old gang left behind.”

“I didn’t even look at them. I knew what your friends were like.” I looked him over. “I know I’m sure to regret asking, but most likely to what?”

“Oh. You mean me and Liz Warner?”

“Yeah. You were voted most likely to, and it never said what.”

Sid laughed. “That was the idea. You supplied your own. It was my buddy, Tom Freeman’s idea. He was the yearbook editor.”

“Didn’t he beat you up when you were a freshman?”

“He got over it, especially when he realized being my friend made it a lot easier for him to get laid. Anyway, he decided that someone as notorious as I was deserved some sort of recognition, and since they couldn’t print my homecoming record.”

“Why not?”

Sid chuckled lecherously. “It was an underground thing. They even had it going long before I got there. We always had our Homecoming game on Friday and the dance on Saturday. After the game, the cheerleaders would throw this huge party, and the guys would see how many girls they could each lay in one night.”

“And you hold the record.”

“World champeen and still undefeated at sixteen females.”

“Must have been a small party. I would have thought you’d done it with twenty or twenty-five.”

Sid choked. “When I think of how I nearly killed myself that night.”

I flushed. “Is it that hard to do it that many times in one night?”

“It’s impossible. Males have to recharge, you know. Your average teenage male can get it up again faster than an adult, but even then, four times in six to eight hours is asking a lot. I once pushed it to five times in one eight-hour period, but that last time wasn’t easy.”

“Then how did you get sixteen?”

“Nobody said I had to complete the act. I just had to penetrate.” Sid chuckled. “Della and I did get a chance to gossip. She told me Tom is teaching there now. Apparently, he’s been there something like six years. She ran into him last June at some conference or other. Tom told her my old record still stands. When he first got there, it was considered a myth until Tom set them straight. But they have yet to figure out how I did it.”

“Didn’t Tom tell them?”

Sid laughed. “Tom’s lucky he can remember being there. He got exceptionally stoned that night, even for him.”

“There she is.” I pointed out the window.

The flow of students had slowed to a trickle. Alice Martin walked with two other girls, the three of them giggling and smoking cigarettes. Sid glanced at the dashboard clock and shook his head.

“Late, late, late,” he said. “And before you say you told me so, you told me so.”

“But like you said, it wasn’t worth taking the chance.” I put my hand on the door.

Sid held up his hand. We waited until they were almost past us before we got out of the car. We walked up behind the three girls.

“Good morning, Alice,” Sid said loudly.

She froze and her friends stopped. Sid wandered around and sandwiched her between himself and me.

“Oh, hi,” she said nervously.

Sid looked at her girlfriends. “Would you ladies mind if Alice and I had a private chat?”

The two girls took off running. Alice trembled.

“Please don’t kill me,” she cried. “I didn’t sic Donny on you, honest! It was, like, his idea. I totally tried to stop him.”

“You could have told him the truth,” said Sid.

“Well, I–  I tried. Honest. But he didn’t believe me, and… And he’s been running around on me. Like, I know it. He said he was in Reno, but I called his friend, Mike, Friday night and Mike said he wasn’t there, said Donny was staying with him but he was, like, out all the time. He was with some other girl. I know he was. And… And that’s why I said you and me did it.” Alice sniffed and got a grip on herself. “I told him it was totally hot, like we were all over the place, and screaming and everything.” She caved in. “I just, like, wanted to make him jealous. I didn’t think he’d go after you. I really didn’t.”

“I realize having an unfaithful lover can be a painful experience,” said Sid. “However, there are many more mature ways to deal with it. And right now, what I want to deal with is Murray.”

“Murray?” Alice looked at him, puzzled.

“Yeah. I’ve got reason to believe someone is about to pin a bum rap on me, and I want to make sure he doesn’t. What do you know about any side businesses Murray had?”

Alice almost backed into me. “Uh. Uh. Side businesses?”

“So there is one.” Sid moved in closer. “Why don’t you just tell me about it up front?”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

“You don’t?” Sid asked, oh so innocently. “I just can’t help wondering if it might have something to do with why Donny’s nose is so red. And why you’ve been so extraordinarily helpful in the stockroom this past week. What’s in the stock, Alice, that you don’t want Bill Wycherly to find? The books are okay, so it isn’t money. It’s got to be something illegal.”

“Like, why should I tell you?”

“Because if you don’t, I’m going to tell the police that you know what’s going on at Wycherly’s store. And then they’ll start looking, which will make whoever it is that doesn’t want anybody to know what’s going on very angry, and probably very angry at you for telling, and two people have already died over this.”

“Oh.” Alice trembled.

“You know,” I said. “If you tell us, we can tell the police that you cooperated, and they can protect you.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Alice sobbed. “I just knew about it. It was Murray. He was, like, dealing coke. He said Lehrer made him do it. The coke came in the Sunland Products stuff. It was mostly back orders. Murray gave it to Lehrer. Only, like, last Friday, the stuff hadn’t come in. It was supposed to come in Thursday night, but it didn’t.”

I put my arm around her shoulders. “Are you afraid Lehrer killed Murray?”

“I don’t know what to think about that,” cried Alice. “Cause… Cause a week ago, last Wednesday night, Murray stayed late with me. He did that, you know. Anyway, Lehrer came in, and they went in the stockroom, but it was slow, so I could like listen, and Lehrer said he’d turn Murray in if Murray didn’t do a job for him, or get someone who could. And Donny came in and wanted his stuff, but Murray wouldn’t give it to him unless he did Lehrer’s job. So, Donny went off with Lehrer. But that’s all I know. I swear it, on a stack of bibles.”

I looked over at Sid. “What about another guy, a marketing guy from High Wilderness?”

Alice brightened. “Fletcher Haddock. He’s been around lots. Your dad really likes him.” She made a face. “Well, he used to like him. It’s like totally weird. Fletcher was in all afternoon yesterday with Les and your dad, only your dad was like totally teed off at Fletcher. Wouldn’t talk to him, and kept giving him these totally mean looks.”

Sid glanced at me. “Alright, Alice. Thanks for being straight with us. We’ll keep you out of it, and make sure you have protection. We promise.”

Alice nodded.

“Of course, if Lehrer or anyone else finds out you’ve been talking to us, all promises are off. You do understand that, don’t you?”

Terrified, Alice nodded. We sent her on her way and went back to the car. Sid waited before starting the engine.

“If Lehrer’s running coke,” I mused aloud. “Then did he kill Della?”

“I don’t think he did the actual killing,” said Sid. “Why, when he had Donny to do it for him?”

“And Donny fits the tall and skinny description.”

“Indeed, he does. But all we’ve got is the word of one scared teenager.” Sid started the engine.

“And what about Lehrer and Murray?”

“That, too, is a good question.”

We went to the South Lake Tahoe police station. Donny wasn’t there, or in the local jail, either.

“He made bail,” Officer Burke told us. “Though just between you and me and the lamppost, he would have been better off sticking around. That kid should have been in the hospital.”

“Was he that badly hurt?” I gasped.

“Not by that fight. A patrol unit caught him staggering around near the Heavenly ski lifts Tuesday night, actually, Wednesday morning by that point. Somebody had roughed him up, but he either didn’t know who or didn’t want to say. He refused treatment at the emergency room and we had to release him.”

“Too bad,” said Sid. “I was hoping to talk to him. Clear the air and all.”

“He’s probably back in Reno,” said Burke with a disgusted look.

“Family?” asked Sid.

“Nah. Friends. He was there all weekend according to them, since the Wednesday before. We were looking at him for the Waters killing. Found his prints all over this one shelf in the stockroom.” Burke glared at us. “Under all of yours, by the way.”

“We didn’t know,” I said.

Burke cracked a smile. “Figures. But he had reason to be around, with that Martin kid his girlfriend and all, and no telling when he put the prints there.”

“How tight was his alibi?” asked Sid casually.

“Tight enough. He was staying with a Mike Stripkin while he was there, and was in and out. Stripkin says he was there at the critical time. And there were other friends who vouched for him, just enough to be trustworthy.”

“Do they know what actually killed Murray?” I asked.

“A blow to the head. We’re not sure with what. Coroner said it could have been a gun butt, but why hit someone when you can shoot them?”

“True,” said Sid. “Well, thanks a lot for your time.”

I waited until we were outside. “There are a couple good reasons for hitting someone with a gun instead of shooting them.”

“Such as?” Sid held the door open for me.

I waited until he was in his seat. “You’re out of bullets, or you don’t want someone to hear the shot, or you weren’t trying to kill the person, just knock him out.”

Sid nodded. “Makes sense. But it doesn’t say whodunnit yet, and now that Donny has an alibi, he’s out of the running.”

“True. Not to mention we’re still in the dark regarding the location of the agent we’re looking for.” I sat back and frowned. “You know, Sid, if we assume the cocaine was the motive behind Della’s death, then what Tom Collins said about her death being related to the secrets is completely off, and we have nowhere to look for the secrets.”

“Except Sunland Products. Remember, the secrets were traced to them somehow.”

“I wonder if there’s been a mistake. Maybe someone thought what they saw were secrets when it was cocaine being smuggled. Then again, there’s the Company interest in Lehrer.”

Sid pulled out his pocket watch. “That is interesting, but since we know Lehrer is dealing, that could be just drug related.” The music tinkled out, then stopped. Sid started the engine. “We do have a second interview to conduct. Let’s go.”

The interview cleared up some points for the article but did nothing to illuminate the case. We got out of there by eleven.

“So where to now?” I asked as we got back in the car.

“Your folks’ place.” Sid started the engine and brightened. “Mae and Neil and company should be there by now.”

I grinned. “Wait. We’ve got to stop at the grocery store.”

“For what?”

“I’ve got to get some candy for the kids. I always have it for them. They’ll be disappointed.”

Sid glared at me briefly. “As much as I do not want to disappoint the children, you are not going to manipulate me into doing something that goes against my principles.”

“Please, Sid?” I blinked twice, only he wasn’t looking. [Are you kidding? I was not about to take a chance on getting suckered by those gorgeous cow eyes of yours. I kept my eyes glued to the road for my own well-being and that of the children – SEH]

Sure enough, as we pulled into the parking lot, Mae and Neil’s station wagon was there.

Now, Mae is six years older than me and short, like Mama, but with a little padding. She wears her brown hair short and curly and out of the way. Neil is about two years older than Mae, and her opposite in stature. Tall and spare, his hair is bright red and he wears wire-rimmed glasses with thick lenses. Nothing ever seems to phase him. He’s incredibly easy going, which is probably how he survives with five very bright, very active children.

The oldest is Darby, a red head and out and out skinny. He also has his father’s poor eyesight. He was ten and a half at the time and a pretty good guitarist.

Marty and Mitch, the twins, are the youngest. They were three, and though they don’t wear glasses yet, given how much they take after Darby and Neil, it’s a safe bet they’ll be wearing them. Given their hyperactive tendencies, Mae’s not looking forward to it.

Ellen was five at the time. A brunette with her father’s blue eyes, she’s the shy one of the group, happiest when left to herself. Unfortunately, that usually results in a large mess of some sort because Ellen is insatiably curious, too.

Then there’s Janey. She was seven at the time. Her hair is brown and she has big round hazel cow eyes. That’s only a small part of the reason she’s Sid’s favorite. She’s a very loving, sweet little girl with an incredible gift for character analysis. Her rating system is pretty simple: people are either good or bad. Sid is a good person. He just does bad things. But Janey loves him wholeheartedly nonetheless, and he is completely besotted with her. It’s almost a joke, but if the kids want something from Uncle Sid, they know all they have to do is get Janey to ask.

The kids came running out of the house as soon as Sid stopped the engine. It was one noisy melee, with the three dogs running around barking and the kids yelling. Darby shook Sid’s hand. Ellen attached herself to Sid’s leg. The twins demanded their hugs and kisses. Sid bent to their demands. Janey waited as Marty and Mitch quickly bussed Sid’s cheek and went running off, then she ran into his arms for her own special hug and kiss.

“How’s my best girlfriend?” Sid asked her fondly while I distributed hugs and kisses to the rest of the brood.

“Real good, Uncle Sid.” She looked at his shiner with a worried frown. “You got hurt.”

“It’s not bad at all.”

Janey gently kissed the black eye. “There. That’ll make it all better.”

“It just might.” Sid laughed and straightened.

Ellen tugged shyly on his sleeve and whispered.

“I’m sorry, Ellen, I didn’t hear you,” said Sid.

“Ellen, you got to talk louder,” said Janey.

Ellen hollered, “I lost my first tooth!”

“Let’s see,” said Sid. Ellen opened her fist. “That’s nice, but where did it come from?”

Laughing, Ellen opened her mouth and showed us the gap in her lower jaw.

“It’s been loose for weeks and weeks,” said Janey. “And Darby pulled it this morning in the car, but Daddy said it was s’posed to come out on its own, but Darby pulled it anyway.”

“I’m glad,” said Ellen emphatically. “I wanted it out.”

“I’m getting another loose tooth,” said Janey. She had gaps on either side of her permanent front teeth as it was, and she wiggled her right eye tooth.

“Tooth fairy’s coming tonight,” said Ellen softly, and she tugged on Sid’s sleeve again. “Uncle Sid, does she know I’m at Grandma’s?”

“I don’t see why not.” Sid glanced at me for help. “I’m sure she’s got excellent radar.”

“Lisa, Sid,” called Mama from the porch. “Hurry on in. Mae and Neil want to say hi and we just got the photo box out.”

The kids cheered and ran into the house with Mama following.

“Photo box?” Sid asked.

I grimaced. “All the family photos. Mama keeps them in this huge gift box. The first thing Mae does when she visits is get the darned thing out. If I didn’t have to go say hello.”

“Why do I sense more ambivalence than boredom from you?” Sid’s eyes twinkled.

“Maybe because that’s what I’m feeling.” I sighed. “I don’t know. My early pictures aren’t so bad, but sometime in junior high school, my face got long, and I just haven’t taken a decent photograph since.”

“That’s not true.” Sid gave my shoulders an affectionate squeeze. “It’ll be okay. I’m beginning to get interested.”

I glared. “My dearest reprobate, if you even think about laughing or making any snide comments, I promise you will regret it for the rest of your born days.”

Sid just laughed.

We hello’d and hugged and kissed everyone, and Sid got maneuvered to the sofa between Mama and Mae. While that was going on, I quickly pawed through the box, looking for a specific set of pictures that under no circumstances did I want Sid to see. They weren’t there, so I got a magazine and sulked in a chair across the room.

Sid smiled at all the pictures, although the rat seemed really interested in the ones of me. The kids wandered in and out. The twins were mostly out, supposedly playing in the kitchen. Janey suddenly tackled Daddy and away they went. Neil plopped down on the floor next to me.

“Your mom says things have been pretty rough for you up here,” he said with a grin.

I shrugged. “There’s not much we can do about it. I’d really rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.”

Neil nodded at the group on the sofa. “Pretty boring, huh?”

“You said it.” I put down the magazine. “Why is Mae so hung up those stupid things? It’s not like she hasn’t seen them a thousand times already.”

“I don’t know.” Neil shook his head. “She’s just as bad about the kids’ baby pictures, and we’ve got them on the walls at home. She has got a new audience for a change.”

Sid was examining one of the older photos. I could tell because the edge was crinkle cut. He looked over at me.

“Good lord, you were small as a baby,” he said.

“Which one is that?” I asked.

He held it up. It’s a picture of me at one month old, fresh home from the hospital. Daddy’s sitting in a big armchair, with Mae hanging over the arm. Daddy’s holding me and they’re both looking at me, only it’s pretty hard to see me for the receiving blanket. Well, I couldn’t have been much bigger than six pounds at that point. Sid looked at it fondly and blushing, I turned back to my magazine.

Mama bounced up. “Oh, Lisle, I was cleaning out the closets before we went to Yellowstone, and look what I finally found.”

She got the four books from the cupboard next to the bookshelf.

“Uh, Mama, why don’t I take those?” I got up and snagged them. “It’s kind of silly for you to be keeping them for me, anyway.”

“Well, honey, I like looking at your yearbooks.”

Sid’s eyebrow lifted. “Yearbooks, huh?”

I glared at him. But I knew he’d be going through them sooner or later. Obviously losing them in the bottom of my former closet hadn’t worked.

“And would you believe, I finally found your prom pictures.” Mama handed the five by seven brown cover to Sid.

“No!” I yelped, diving for them.

I was too late. Sid held his laughter in like a gentleman, but I could see him shaking with the effort. He handed the folder back to me.

“What were you on?” he asked softly.

“I just blinked wrong.”

“And the dreamboat you were with..?”

“Now, Michael was very nice,” said Mama. “Lisa’s just fussed because I talked her into taking him to the Christmas Dance, and when he asked her to the prom, she felt she had to go with him.”

“They weren’t exactly lining up to take me,” I grumbled bitterly.

“I thought Michael was very sweet,” said Mama.

“Very, very sweet,” I said. “He took me to the prom because he wanted to go and couldn’t take his boyfriend.”

“Michael Tipton was gay?” asked Mae.

“Is gay,” I corrected.

“Now, Lisa, you don’t know that,” said Mama.

“I met him down at Cal State, Mama. We both went there. He was president of the Gay and Lesbian Student Union.” And I left the room before Mama could say anything else.

I found myself in the kitchen and got an apple out of the refrigerator. The windows over the back porch were open and I could hear Daddy and Janey talking.

“You just have to share,” she told him. “That’s all, Grandpa.”

He laughed softly. “It’s not that simple, sugarplum.”

“It is so. And Uncle Sid isn’t a bad person.”

“I never said he was.”

“You’ve been awful mean to him.”

“We’ve been talking.”

“You still don’t like him.”

“I worry about him, that’s all. About grown up stuff, and never you mind about it.”

“Oh, Grandpa. I’m not a little kid anymore. I know Uncle Sid has sex with his girlfriends. Can we go look at the horses?”

I was choking, first with laughter at Janey not being a little kid, and then over what she said about Sid. Mae came in.

“There you are,” she said.

“Janey’s on to Sid,” I whispered, although Janey and Daddy had long since left.

“What?” asked Mae.

I got up and threw away my apple core. “Janey knows what the bad things are that Sid does.”

“She does? What do you know? It doesn’t surprise me.”

“She knows about sex?”

Mae frowned. “I’m not sure if she knows what exactly it is, but she knows it involves men and women, and that you’re supposed to be married.” Mae shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it. If it were Darby or Ellen, maybe. But Janey seems to be beyond corruption. I don’t think she tells me half what she sees and you wouldn’t believe what she does tell me she knows, even about you.”

“What’s she said?” I gasped, terrified that Janey was onto Sid’s and my business.

Mae laughed. “Nothing bad. Just little things, like how you and Sid feel about each other.”

“We’re just friends. Very close friends, but that’s it.”

“Right.” With a knowing grin, Mae shook her head. “Don’t worry about Janey, Lisa. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with her and she’s got her head on straighter about moral issues than I do.”

“I guess.” Morosely, I opened the refrigerator door again.

“Lisa, I do want to talk to you.”

My heart froze, wondering if Janey had put Mae onto the business after all. My eyes were past seeing what there was to eat, but I kept my nose in the refrigerator anyway.

“What about?” I asked as casually as I could.

“I’m just concerned, that’s all. Lisa, you’ve never been that open and it seems like lately you’ve been even more withdrawn. I can’t help wondering if there’s something you’re hiding.”

Oh, there wasn’t much, just the fact that I’m a counter-espionage agent, risking my neck on a regular basis for the safety of the free world as we know it. But I’m not allowed to mention that little fact, even to my family, and even if I were, I’m not sure I would. I grabbed at the more obvious conclusion.

“You mean like Sid and me?” I grabbed a tub of yogurt and all but slammed the refrigerator door shut.

Mae sank into a chair at the table. “Lisa, please don’t get mad at me, but-”

“But nothing!” I slammed the silverware drawer open and grabbed a spoon. “This is incredible. Even my own sister doesn’t trust me. Mae, you know me better than that.”

“That’s just the point. I don’t know you. You don’t let me. You don’t let anybody know you. Good lord, look how long it took you just to tell me you were living at Sid’s house.”

“I just didn’t get around to it.” Leaning against the counter, I opened the yogurt and licked the lid. “And you’re the one who doesn’t want me telling Mama and Daddy.”

“I’m supposed to be the bad guy because I don’t want a fist fight to break out on a holiday?”

“If Daddy was going to get violent with Sid, he would have this week. Trust me, he’s had ample provocation. Both of them have, and nothing’s come of it.”

“Really? Daddy’s ribs are in bad shape again, and Sid has one heck of a shiner.”

I rolled my eyes. “That was Donny Severn and his gang. Sid and Daddy had patched things up, more or less. Daddy even said Sid had one hell of a punch.”

“That’s pretty good for Daddy. But what about you, Lisa?”

“What about me?”

“Why can’t you talk to me?”

I looked away. “I just can’t. And don’t ask why because that’s all the answer you’re going to get.”

Sid came in. “I should have known to look for you in here. Oh. Hi, Mae.”

Mae sighed. “Hi, Sid.”

“Well.” Sid looked at the two of us, trying to figure out what was going on. He took a deep breath and changed the subject. “It appears the children want to have lunch in the main lodge and your mother is insisting we indulge them. So, Lisa, you and I have to hurry and change into more casual clothes.”

“Sure.” I finished off my yogurt and dumped the tub in the trash and the spoon in the sink, then followed Sid out.

He stopped me in front of his room. “I don’t really want to bring up a sore spot, but I do want to apologize for laughing at your prom picture.”

“It’s wasn’t that big a deal,” I snorted.

“It wouldn’t have been, but for your date’s preference, and that little hassle you had last month.”

I’d gone out a couple times with a guy who turned out to be gay and was only going out with me because he was still in the closet and needed a woman around to look good. Rick felt pretty bad about misleading me, but I have to admit it had hurt. Somehow, in spite of it, we were getting to be friends.

I shrugged. “Well, now you know how it happened.”

“I wish I’d known before.” Sid gazed at me thoughtfully. “After you left, Mae started complained about how withdrawn you are and how you never tell anyone anything.”

“I tell you stuff.”

“Not everything.”

“I guess not.” I sighed. “I just don’t tell people things. The funny part is, I’ve told you more than I’ve ever told anyone, even Leslie Bowan.” I looked at him with a small smile. “I guess you and I have more in common than we thought.”

Sid chuckled. “I suppose I shall have to learn how to pull answers out of you like you do to me.”

“I’m sorry.” I blushed.

“No. I’m glad you do. It’s made all the difference. We’d better get going.” He looked over at the door to the bedroom and frowned. “I thought I left this closed.”

It was open just a crack, about an inch or two at the most. Cautiously, Sid pushed it open the rest of the way, then swore a blue streak.

His suitcase lay open in the middle of the floor and his clothes were strewn all over the place. My first thought was that some enemy had searched it, but there was another more likely source.

“Those twins,” I groaned. “They were supposed to stay in the kitchen. I should have known something was up when they weren’t there. I’m sorry, Sid.”

“It’s not your fault.” Disgusted, Sid started picking up. “If anything, I did it to myself. I should have locked the case and put it out of their reach.”

I picked up a shirt. “There’s no such thing. They’ve gotten stuff out of the top of Mae’s closet. Is anything missing?”

Sid went through the case, then again, and swore softly. He went through the case a third time, checking every pocket, then turning the case upside down.

“What’s gone?” I asked.

He got up and checked outside the room. “That second package of cocaine we found. I brought it in to verify it with my test kit and hid it in my suitcase, and it is coke, and only cut once.”

“Oh, my god.” I crossed myself. “You think Marty and Mitch got it?”

“Who else could have?” Sid searched the room, getting on his knees and looking under the bed. “Unless it’s in this room somewhere, they’ve got it. They wouldn’t try eating it, would they?”

I went through the closet. “I don’t think so. They’re very good about not putting stuff in their mouths. Sid, how are we going to ask them?”

“We’re going to have to somehow, and do it very carefully, or we could blow our whole cover.”

We combed the room. No little box or white powder. There was a knock on the door.

“Hey, you two,” Neil called from the other side. “By any lucky chance are you fooling around in there?”

“For crying out loud!” I stomped over to the door and whipped it open. “Neil, I have had it. There is nothing going on between Sid and me. He is not my boyfriend. We are not sleeping together. There is nothing, repeat nothing, romantically oriented going on between us!”

“Okay,” Neil replied, completely unperturbed.

I swallowed my anger down somewhat. “I am amazed that Mae did not bash your head in years ago.”

Neil shrugged. “Mom wants to know what’s taking so long.”

“Your sons, Martin and Mitchell.” I stepped back so he could see the mess. “They got into Sid’s stuff and threw it all over.”

“Oh.” Neil shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sid. Can I help you get it back together?”

“No thanks, Neil,” said Sid. “I’ve more or less got it under control.”

“Okay. I’ll take care of the twins. But you guys hurry. We’re all waiting on you.” Neil ambled off, presumably in search of his errant sons.

“What now?” I asked Sid when we were alone again.

“We change clothes and go to lunch.” Sid put his hand on my shoulder. “We can’t ask them outright with the adults around just in case they didn’t find it. If they don’t put stuff in their mouths, it should be okay.”

The twins were doing time out in the living room when we joined the others. We had to wait another three minutes for them, and then more minutes while they tearfully apologized to Sid. I watched them nervously. There weren’t any signs of the box, or worse, its contents on them, and they weren’t acting sick. I had a feeling if they’d eaten cocaine, something would have been happening by then. [They’d have been dead – SEH]

Mae and Neil didn’t say anything, and I know they would have if they’d found the box. Altogether, it was a very tense lunch, even if Sid and I didn’t let on that we were tense about anything. After lunch, I brought Motley into Sid’s room, but he didn’t find anything. I was going to take him around the house, but Sid stopped me, saying it would look too suspicious, and that we’d do it that night after everyone was asleep.

The afternoon dragged. Sid chatted comfortably, but I couldn’t. I never was any good at small talk. I did try to forget about the cocaine. The kids were fine and not acting funny, so I didn’t think they had it. I can usually tell when they’re hiding something. So I figured Marty and Mitch must have dropped the box somewhere. That relaxed me some, but it didn’t help the clock move any faster.

Just after dinner, the doorbell rang. Mama got it and was not happy. Sheriff’s Investigator Carl Lehrer had managed to convince a California judge that he had probable cause for a search warrant on Sid and me. He had with him from the South Lake Tahoe P.D. a detective named Frisch, two uniform officers, and a policewoman to pat me down.

Mae got a good grip on Murbles and Richmond, but they were pretty mellow. Motley growled low and mean at Lehrer, but I had a good grip him.

“And just what are you looking for, Carl Lehrer?” snarled Daddy.

Lehrer puffed himself up. “I have very good reason to believe that these two are hiding a missing drug shipment that was supposed to come to Murray Waters. This is the second time drugs have turned up missing and these two have been involved.”

I handed Motley to Neil, then rolled my eyes as the policewoman patted me down.

“She’s clean,” she said.

“That is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in my life,” snapped Daddy.

Mama glared. “Who do you think you are, Carl Lehrer? The Gestapo?”

Lehrer waived the warrant. “The court doesn’t think so. Where are these two staying?”

Mama showed him and the other officers back. The kids came running out and clung to their parents.

“Why are they picking on Sid and Lisa?” Mae asked, irritated. “As if either of them would have drugs on them.”

I glanced at Sid. His eyes briefly caught mine. Apparently, Mae hadn’t found the box. Sid and I were wondering if Lehrer would.

Some minutes later, he returned to the living room with my purse in his hands and Frisch on his tail.

“I know what I’m doing,” Lehrer was saying. He went over to the coffee table and emptied my purse onto it. “Well, look at this.” He picked up the roll of strapping tape and brought it over to me. “Tape.” He shoved the roll in my face. “You know what this is used for.”

It’s used by undercover espionage agents to bind prisoners because carrying handcuffs looks funny. It took every ounce of self-control that I had to contort my face into a puzzled frown, instead of letting out the panic I felt.

“Mailing packages?” I asked.

Lehrer looked over at Sid, who shrugged.

“Lehrer, what the hell are you doing?” asked Frisch, who had been completely disgusted with the whole venture from the start. “Just because she has tape doesn’t mean she used it to ship coke.” He went through the stuff on the coffee table. “So she keeps the kitchen sink in her purse. That’s not illegal, and I don’t see anything here that is.”

Snarling, Lehrer dropped the roll on the coffee table and went to check on the other officers. Frisch sighed and shook his head.

“I’m sorry about this, Bill,” he said to my father.

Daddy shrugged.

“Well, damn it, it’s got to be around here someplace,” Lehrer yelled from the back. “I know they have it.” He eventually stomped back into the living room, followed by the other three officers. “Alright, damn it, you’re clean.” He stomped over to Sid and me. “I don’t know how you did it, but you’re clean. But I know it’s around here someplace, and I am going to watch you two like a hawk until I find it. Get that?”

“Lehrer, you’re overstepping your bounds,” said Frisch. “You didn’t find anything. Let’s get out of here.”

Daddy showed the officers out and stayed outside. As they left, I gathered together the stuff from my purse, surreptitiously switching on my bug finder. The flash was weak, but definitely there.

“What kind of trouble are you two in?” Mae asked, letting the two big dogs go. They joined Motley in barking at the front door.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, sweeping my pens, a hair pick, and several dirty Lifesavers into my purse. “I’m going to my room.”

The flash on the bug finder grew bright and steady as I went in. Motley pushed in past me and started sniffing. Before I could get the bug finder to zero in, he’d found the bug. It was stuck under my bookshelf. I took Motley into Sid’s room just to be on the safe side. Motley found the bug under a bookshelf in there. I left quickly to find Sid.

He was right outside the door.

“I thought you might be upset,” he said.

“I guess,” I said out loud, then mouthed the word “wired” and pointed to his room.

Sid pointed at my room. “Look, it’s his problem.”

“Wired,” I mouthed, then said aloud, “I know.”

“This is the second time he has searched us and found nothing. There is never going to be anything for him to find, so sooner or later he is going to completely lose credibility, assuming he hasn’t already.”

“You’re right.”

“Come on. Let’s go relax on the porch.”

I brought the bug finder with me. It was chilly out on the back porch, which meant the windows were closed, and the bedrooms are on the side of the house, so there was no one to hear us. I checked anyway.

“Nothing transmitting,” I muttered. “But what about those mikes that pick up everything from five hundred feet away?”

Sid laughed. “They have a very limited usefulness precisely because they can pick up everything. It’s much too noisy here with all those cabins with people in them.” He looked over at me. “We’ve been bugged.”

“And he knows what tape is for.”

Sid nodded. “That does not speak well of him. But it is possible he is on our side.”

“That is not a comforting thought.”

“Not in the least. But until we know where the secrets are, we can’t say for sure he’s a bad guy. I just wish I knew where the cocaine is. It must be out on the grounds somewhere.”

The door behind us opened and the screen door creaked. Given what Janey had for us, you could say she was right on cue.

“Uncle Sid, Aunt Lisa,” she said nervously. “I think I know what those policemen were looking for.” She pulled the remains of a small cardboard box from her sweatshirt pocket.

Jolted, Sid and I looked at each other.

“Where did you get this?” I asked, taking it from her.

“The twins were tearing it apart this morning,” Janey said. “There was a white powder in it.”

“Where is the powder?” Sid asked.

Janey shrugged and pointed. “All over the place, but mostly over by those trees next to the parking lot.” She looked over at Sid, her big eyes full of fear. “Is it yours, Uncle Sid?”

“No,” he said softly and pulled her into his lap. “Your aunt and I found it, and we kept it because we were trying to find who brought it here. We just didn’t want the police to find it because we knew Investigator Lehrer would not believe us when we told him it wasn’t ours.”

“He’s a very bad man,” said Janey. She sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t say that.”

“Why not, Janey?” I asked.

“My teacher at school, Mrs. Fenner? I told her that Bobby Drexel was bad, ’cause I figured if Mrs. Fenner and I were really nice to him, he’d stop being bad. Only she got really mad at me.” Janey sighed. “Bobby doesn’t do anything bad, but I can tell he is, and I wanted him to be okay. Mrs. Fenner didn’t understand.”

I sighed. “I know that feeling.”

Morose, I played with the shred of cardboard. It was the longer, wider side of the box, with the end flap still attached and covered with packing tape.

“It’s alright,” said Janey. “I like talking with you, Aunt Lisa. You understand.”

I smiled. “I do my best.”

She kissed Sid’s cheek, then scrambled free. “I’m going to bed now.”

“Uh, Janey,” said Sid cautiously. “I’m not big on secrets, but I think it would be better if we kept that little box business just between us.”

“I know.” Janey opened the screen door. “I wasn’t going to tell.”

The kitchen door slammed behind her.

“She knows a lot more than she talks about,” I said, picking at the tape on the box.

“Just like someone else I know.” Sid grinned at me.

“She could very easily be onto our business.”

“To be honest, I’ve been wondering if she is. However, in the first place, I doubt she’ll say anything, and in the second, there’s not a damned thing we can do about it if she is.”

I lifted the tape from the end flap. Something funny flashed in the porch light.

“What?” I muttered.

“You find something?” Sid leaned over.

“You’re blocking the light.” I wriggled around. “It’s a piece of film.” I pulled it out. “A microdot.”

Sid took it. “Great, and your viewer’s inside.”

“I’ll go get it.” I was inside in a flash.

I got the viewer from my purse without fussing about the bug. Lehrer would have no way of knowing what I’d gone in there for. I got back out to the porch without getting stopped by the rest of my family.

Sid put the dot in the viewer while I watched the door.

“I’ll be damned,” he muttered.

“Why don’t I get to see,” I complained. “I found it.”

Sid handed me the viewer. It was filled with schematics. I turned it off.

“Why smuggle secrets in with drugs?” I asked.

“Just hazarding a guess, who’s going to look for them once the drugs are found?” Sid sat back down on the steps. “And keep in mind, smuggling secrets will get you in a lot more trouble than smuggling drugs will. You get caught smuggling cocaine and you’ve got a whole cartel behind you with suitcases of cash for bail money. Get caught with secrets and nobody’s going to acknowledge you, not even the government you’re spying for. You’re on your own.”

“Does Lehrer know about this?”

Sid shrugged. “He’s pretty anxious to get a hold of the shipment. We’re mostly sure he’s dealing coke. It’s not unlikely he was behind Della’s death. I’d say there’s pretty good odds he’s our mole. The trick now will be proving it.”

“Maybe we ought to try a break in tonight while he’s on duty.”

Sid shook his head. “Not while we’re wired. We can’t leave until after everyone else is in bed, and after that, Lehrer will hear us and wonder.”

“Or won’t hear you and wonder.”

“What do you mean?”

I chuckled. “You talk in your sleep, remember?”

“Oh. That.”

“Don’t you ever worry about revealing secrets?”

“I have yet to.” Sid gazed up at the sky. “At least, I have reason to believe I haven’t. I suspect it’s because even my subconscious knows I can’t, nor do I want to. It’s sort of like hypnosis, in that even in a trance you’re not going to do anything you really don’t want to do.”

“Like if I got hypnotized, I wouldn’t strip and run naked.”

Sid got up and stretched. “Look at all those stars.” [And yes, I was deliberately changing the subject. I was having too much fun imagining you hypnotized and open to suggestion – SEH]

“You poor, deprived urbanite.” I smiled. “There are only two things I really miss when I’m not in the mountains, clean air and stars at night.”

“Them’s the breaks. Come on. We’d better get back inside before I find myself explaining things to your father.”

“There’s nothing to explain.”

Sid’s hot little smile made me catch my breath.

“‘Tis a pity,” he said softly.

 

Author Shannon Muir on Writing in Multiple Genres

Shannon Muir (Guy Viau Photography)

Author and screenwriter Shannon Muir is best known for her pulp mystery suspense stories that appear in a variety of anthologies. However, she’s not one to stop there. She’s got a whole host of fantasy stories out, too. Here she is on why she doesn’t stick to one single genre (which sounds more than a little familiar to me).

In my youth, I grew up with a mother who watched soap operas, a father devoted to science fiction and fantasy, discovering a love of mysteries on my own, and in college getting an English degree emphasizing literary prose and poetry. Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve tried writing a variety of genres trying to find my niche. Early effort strove to be of the soap-opera-in-book-form variety, but I’ve come to learn I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. One thing I really want to focus on is character psychology and why characters behave as they do. It took a while to learn that the traditional romance book, while not without complications, doesn’t really venture down these paths. This required me to take a step back and figure out what I really wanted to be writing.

I realized that what I wanted to be doing were stories that had discovery and mystery at the core, with a focus on character. Early opportunities opened up with niche genre publisher Pro Se Press, who – especially at that time – emphasized fiction written in a pulp style. For me, it became easier to write more of an action piece if I latched on to a character in a period tale; that is a big reason that my early short stories with Pro Se Press are set in 1950 or earlier. I didn’t see them as mystery or crime stories at first, but more pulp-style action stories.

Not long after that, I began to find out about a handful of female writers who wrote for Pro Se Press that also happened to be members of Sisters in Crime. That’s how I began to make the connection that I might fit into some bigger picture with the stories I told. I still remember the day not long after I started regularly networking with mystery and crime authors that I realized a short story I’d previously done, “Ghost of the Airwaves,” was a female amateur sleuth mystery as much as a suspense tale since the lead character actively works to find her husband’s killer. With more recent published stories like “Hidden History” in the anthology Explorer Pulp, and “Tropical Terror” in the anthology Crime Down Island, multiple genre influences are also a bit more apparent. With “Hidden History,” though the thrust of the anthology call was for action stories with explorers, I have a strong interest in how people think and motivation. Therefore, I developed that story with a character mystery first which ended up being a tale of suspense and crime. “Tropical Terror” really clearly shows the cross-genre as the former Marine that gets tied up in the local mystery also uncovers a soap-opera like plot in which his girlfriend is a central player.

So, at the heart, what I want to write is a good character story, that contains some mystery or discovery, that I’ve call “the mystery of character” and use it as part of my branding. Then, I seek out the genre that best fits the way to tell that character’s story. It might be hard action, it could be cozy and romantic; it could take place in the past or present, or maybe not even on Earth. I’ve actually started to discover some interesting and classic mysteries with investigators who utilize fantastical elements, such as the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett, the Garrett, P.I.  series by Glen Cook, and the more recent Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (who counts Cook among his influences). While it will require a lot of research, bringing my personal genre passions together in this manner is something I hope to experiment with in the future.

Admittedly, not sticking to one genre makes any form of marketing a challenge, as I can’t be easily “typecast” or “pigeon-holed” into a set of expectations. Fortunately, while sales are a nice thing to have, that wasn’t what motivated me to want to write; that motivation comes from a strong desire to be a storyteller. In the end, I’m telling the stories I want to tell, and willing to take those risks. That’s better than not even taking the chance and finding out what you can do as a writer.

You can find out more about Shannon Muir and her work at her website, www.shannon-muir.com