“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.