cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Eight

June 2 – 7, 1983

 

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

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

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

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

Sid just chuckled.

Our room was nice but had only one bed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Especially when you have to flip for something.”

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

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

“Cruel and unusual punishment.”

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

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

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

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

“But it’s not even eleven yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How comforting,” I grumbled, crossing myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That really hurts.” I started to cry.

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

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

“Of course not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

“If that could ever happen.”

“It will, that much I do know.”

“I can’t change that way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe I’ll make myself scarce tomorrow.”

Sid laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you do today?”

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

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

“Now you don’t have to.”

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

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

Sid inspected his shirts.

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

I shook my head.

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

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

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

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

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

“I see.”

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

“And you washed everything else?”

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

“Including my jeans.”

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” he grumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Socks?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll even let you help if you like.”

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

“As long as I’m not in it.”

“You are hopelessly inconsistent.”

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

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

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

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

“Because of check in yesterday.”

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

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

“We can probably ditch after communion, too.”

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

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

“That’s why I went out last night.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The bathrooms,” he gasped.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Fine.”

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

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

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

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

“Lord Jesus, have mercy,” I whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alright,” Sid grumbled.

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

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

“It burns like hell,” he grumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, we haven’t been nailed yet.”

“I suppose.”

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

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

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

“The National Park?” she asked.

“Yes.”

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

“We want to get there today.”

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

“Can we go to Boise today?”

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

“Fine, put us on it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can manage.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” he asked.

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

“Alright.” He pulled into the parking lot.

Once in the store, I got another idea.

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

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

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

“True. Okay, you’re on. But no junk.”

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

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

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

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

He looked at the package and then at me.

“They do, huh?”

“Grandma Caulfield swears by them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bit my lip. “I’m late.”

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

“Well…”

“Why did you lie to me?”

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

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

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

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

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

The tears were already rolling down my face.

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

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

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

“What else is there?”

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

“You mean Wednesday night?” he asked quietly.

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

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

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t expect…”

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

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

I pulled my head away.

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

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

“Thanks a lot,” I grumbled.

Sid looked at me for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, Sid, you mean a lot to me, too.”

He put the car in gear and pressed the accelerator.

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re hopeless, woman.”

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

“I prefer to be discriminating.”

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

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

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

“I’m glad it did.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Working for your parents.”

“That’s not fair.”

“That’s the way you described it.”

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

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

“But the thought has crossed your mind.”

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

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

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

“Well, don’t expect any.”

“I’m not.”

We lapsed into a silence.

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

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

“Good.”

There was another silence.

“Sid?”

“What?”

“Do you regret hiring me?”

“Oh, no.”

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

“What?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

“I was just looking at her”

“It was the way you looked at her.”

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

“You’re jealous.”

“I am not.”

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

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

“It’s hilarious.”

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

“Why should I?”

“You think I’m ugly don’t you?”

“No, I don’t. I think you’re pretty.”

“You never said so.”

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

“Not like her.”

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

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

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

“That’s all?”

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

“But…”

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

“That’s sad.”

“Why?”

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

“It can be a great deal.”

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

“Sid?”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“No.” It didn’t.

“Why not?”

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

“Is that hard?”

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

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

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

“No.” My spirits lifted a little.

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

“They’re all gone.”

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

“No, you ate half.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You did too.”

“I did not. I only got, what, three?”

“Four, but whose counting?”

“That’s not half the basket.”

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

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

“May I have some?”

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

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

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

“But it’s not brutal.”

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

“That would be highly distasteful.”

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

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

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

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

“Yuck!” I snatched my hand away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How old were you?”

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

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

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

Sid laughed. “You’re asking me that?”

“Yeah.” I was serious.

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

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

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

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

“Like what else?”

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

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

“You mean two people in one seat?”

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

“Well, I suppose if it reclines.”

“Even if it doesn’t.”

“You mean you can still…you know..?”

“Mm-hm.”

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

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

“Probably. But I’m dying to know.”

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

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

Sid laughed, again.

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

“Oh. But where do her legs go?”

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

“I take it you know from experience.”

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

I shrugged. “You want some more orange?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please?” I blinked twice.

He weakened. “But what about our luggage?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not? It’ll be fun.”

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

“She blew early,” I heard someone remark.

“Too bad,” replied Sid.

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

“Oh no,” I gasped.

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

“My parents.”

“What?”

“They’re here.”

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

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

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

“Have you talked to them since Washington?”

“No.”

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

“Oh, help. What are we going to do?”

“Good question.”

“Maybe we ought to just brazen it out.”

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

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

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

“Stay away from the edge,” Sid hissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sid and I made for the nearest dark corner.

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

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

“Good idea.” And we positioned ourselves accordingly.

I looked at him.

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

“Never.”

“And you won’t get carried away?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took a chance and kicked him in the shin.

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

“Okay, they’re gone.” He pulled away.

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

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

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

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

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

“That was too close.”

“Well, we’re safe.”

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

“It’s a big park.”

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

“Terrific.” I sulked.

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

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

“They’re your parents.”

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

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

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

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

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’ll just have to.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“Big deal.”

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

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

“How do you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shrugged.

“Play a lot of cards,” he said.

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

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

“It’s all yours,” I said, coming out.

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

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

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

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

“That might just do the trick.”

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

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

“How about glasses?”

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

“Why not?”

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

“It sounds to me like a bad prescription.”

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

“I’ll bet they’re not that bad.”

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

“Could you put them on for me?”

“Why?”

“I want to see how you look in them.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m curious.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Come on, Sid, please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It fooled you at first.”

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

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

“Where did you learn that?”

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

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

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

Sid picked up his pen and folder from the nightstand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My sympathies. I know how it feels.”

Sid just shook his head and returned to his work.

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

“Hello?” Mae did sound rather distant.

“Hi, Big Sis, it’s me.”

“Lisa. It’s about time. How are you?”

“Oh, fine. How’s it going with you?”

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

“Oh, no.” I was laughing.

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

“They’re built for racing.”

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

“You’re kidding.”

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

“Yeah, I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Swamp water,” I replied, smiling coolly.

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

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

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

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

“Thanks. I’ll watch out for him.”

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

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

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

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

Sid laughed when I told him what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, he hadn’t. I focused quickly.

“Sid.”

“What?”

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

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

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

“It’s just as well.”

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

“There aren’t any of you.”

“I’m taking them all.”

“Then hand over that camera.”

“No.”

Sid came over to me. “Why not?”

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

“Neither do I. Give me the camera.”

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

“Will you let me tomorrow?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Am I?”

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

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

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

“Oh, you don’t think you’re…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He kissed my fingers one more time before releasing them.

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

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

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

Anne Louise Bannon

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