cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Eleven

June 14 – 18, 1983

 

We had one tense day, killing time in Manhattan until our plane left for Paris. We slept as late as we could and still be on the streets before we were charged an extra day at the hotel. Sid can be pretty extravagant, but even he’s not that crazy. We checked our luggage at Grand Central again, then found a guided bus tour that would finish before we needed to be at the airport.

It’s a good thing we slept on the plane. It landed in Paris the next morning at six a.m. Sid slid his hand into mine as we took off and didn’t really let go until we landed. Well, I did have to go to the bathroom once, but I took his hand back as soon as I returned to my seat. We waited a long time at the baggage claim, then customs took forever, but only because of the long lines. The guards didn’t even ask us to open our luggage.

Then Sid made what we discovered was the ultimate mistake in Paris. He hired a cab to take us into the city from Orly airport. The highway wasn’t too bad until we hit the city and joined everyone else trying to get in to work. We crawled, then spent, I swear, thirty minutes stopped waiting for some truck that was unloading merchandise in the middle of the narrow street. The cab driver told us in his broken English that sort of delay was not unusual. Of course, the fare was adding up as we waited.

We’d gotten francs at Kennedy (another mistake, we found out later). When we finally got to our hotel off the Place de la Concorde, Sid found he had to shell out a good chunk of our cash to pay for the cab.

“How much was that American?” I asked nervously.

“Enough to make even me wince,” he said. “I’ve been told France is expensive. At least the dollar’s been doing better lately.”

The hotel had a nice room available right away, with a private bath.

“Boy, I hear these aren’t too easily gotten here,” I said, admiring the bathroom.

“This is a three-star hotel, that’s why,” explained Sid. “They aren’t hard to get, you just pay for them.”

“What’s this?”

It was a funny little toilet bowl without a tank or seat. In fact, where a toilet seat reaches your knees, the top of this thing only came mid-shin on me, and it had two little nozzles that aimed up.

Sid chuckled. “That is a bidet.”

“Oh. I’ve heard of those.” I looked at him. “What are they for?”

“You use them instead of toilet paper.”

“That sounds kind of messy.” I went back into the room and sat on the bed. “Have you ever been to Europe before?”

“Besides ‘Nam, this is only time I’ve ever left the country.” Sid prowled.

“Gee, you know so much about it.”

He chuckled. “I have a couple friends back home who have bidets, and while you had your nose in that woman’s magazine, I read the guidebook.”

“I was going to read it on the plane, but I fell asleep.” I gazed out the window to the cars rushing around the fountains in the circle below. “What are the odds we’ll get some sightseeing in?”

“Pretty good. The last thing we’re going to want to do is give our quarry any reason to believe we’re not who we say we are.”

I picked up a brochure off the bureau. “Hey, this is in English. And German, and Italian, even Japanese. They’ve got all the bases covered.”

“What does it say?”

“It’s bus tours.”

“That might be just the ticket to orient ourselves.”

We had to move quickly, but we caught a general city tour by the skin of our teeth and spent most of the day on it. Our tour guide gave us a lot of pointers on how to get around, too.

“But it doesn’t give us a lot of information on how we’re going to get the Beldons,” said Sid as we relaxed at the sidewalk cafe near our hotel.

“Where did you say that office was, the Rue St. Denis?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Would they even go there?” I looked up from my map of the Metro. “I mean, if our theory’s right that they’re the ones responsible for the leak, they’d have to know they’re under suspicion and figure that someone is watching them.”

“Possibly. Then again, they were cleared without problem to come here, and the note that they were down came in after they’d left, so it’s also possible they don’t realize that they’ve been tracked this far.”

“When are we going to stake it out?”

Sid checked his pocket watch. We’d changed for dinner already only to find there weren’t any restaurants open.

“Well, we’re not going to get dinner before seven thirty,” he said. “Why don’t we head on over that way? There’s enough tourist stuff in the near vicinity that I think we can get away with ambling through.”

Sid swears it was just luck. I say it was God, Himself. We turned onto the Rue St. Denis several blocks away from where the office was located. Walking toward the office, Sid happened to look up a side street and saw what could only be Harry and Carol Beldon heading away from us. She was average height, with fluffy, streaked hair, and a nice motherly look about her. He looked like your basic, slightly paunchy American businessman.

Sid and I slid around the corner. I grabbed the transmitters and receivers from my purse. Sid stopped me.

“We may as well stay together,” he said. “It’s too obvious we’re Americans. If we split up, they’ll know we’re tailing them.”

Fortunately, they went straight to a bistro that was around the next corner and down a block.

“Make contact?” I asked, a little nervous.

“Yep.”

We took a chance and went around the block, entering the bistro from the other way. The Beldons were still there, conferring over a small table. Sid and I threaded our way through the tables. As we passed theirs, Sid stopped.

“You guys are Americans,” he said jovially.

Carol’s eyes narrowed for a second, then the mask fell, transforming her into the warm, cozy matron. Harry gave us both the once over and likewise adopted a “glad to meetcha” demeanor.

“Well, howdy,” said Harry, standing up. “Why don’t you join us?”

“Why not?” said Sid, pulling over a couple chairs. “I can’t tell you how good it is to hear some good old American English.”

“How long have you been in Paris?” asked Carol.

Sid chuckled. “Not long, but it’s a real freaky feeling when people don’t sound like you’re used to.”

“I’m Harry Beldon,” he said, offering his hand. “This is my wife, Carol.”

“Ed and Janet Donaldson,” said Sid. “We’re here on vacation. My wife twisted my arm. She’s always wanted to come.”

“Ed,” I said quietly. Sid had slipped into his salesman persona, and it was a little unnerving to see the quiet dignified man I knew acting like he had several used cars to sell.

“So you folks here on vacation, too?” Sid asked.

“Business,” said Harry. “I’ve got a women’s wear company in the States. If it’s going to sell, it’s got to come from here.”

“No kidding,” said Sid. “You in the business, too, Carol?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I just come along for the ride. What business are you in, Ed?”

“Office supplies.” Sid reached into his back pocket and his wallet. “Golden State Office Supplies. Janet and I own the company. Let me get you a card.” Sid thumbed through the wallet. “Damn. I’m out. Honey, you got any cards in your purse?”

“No,” I said. “I left them at home. We are on vacation.”

Sid laughed. “You are so right, sweetie. So, where are you guys from?”

“Chicago,” said Harry. “We also have a home and outlet store in Santa Fe. Where do you folks hail from?”

“Los Angeles area,” replied Sid. “Orange County, actually. You know where Disneyland is?”

The conversation went on. Small talk and Sid did most of it. Neither Carol nor Harry were particularly quiet, but I got the awkward feeling that they had more than a casual interest in us. They invited us to dinner, and we accepted. We went to a lovely place on the Champs Elysee, a few blocks down from the L’Arc de Triomphe. I had lamb. Sid had fish. Both of us drank water. The Beldons split a bottle of red wine.

Sid and Harry were really great pals by the end of dinner. As we left the restaurant, Harry had his arm around Sid’s shoulders as they laughed and carried on about who was worse: the Cubs or the Angels. They shook hands and we agreed to meet again the next day at the Place St. Germain, a common meeting spot. Sid slid his arm around my shoulders and hailed a cab.

It was just barely getting dark even though it was close to ten at night. The city showed no signs of closing either.

“Speak English?” asked Sid, still the salesman.

“Yes,” answered the driver.

“Eiffel Tower. You know?”

“Yes. Eiffel Tower.” The accent wasn’t French.

“Hey, an Arab,” chuckled Sid as we got in. “We might as well be in New York.” We got settled in. “Well, Janet, what do you think of the Beldons? Great folks, huh?”

“I suppose. They seem nice.” I was puzzled.

The Beldons weren’t anywhere around, and we’d been with them the whole time, so they hadn’t had a chance to call for a tail, and it didn’t look like we had one. Sid rummaged around in my purse.

“Yep, top of the line. I sure can pick them, can’t I? This may work out better than I thought. You got any of those antacids in here?”

“I think so. If not, they’re back at the hotel.”

“How do you find anything in here?” Sid pulled out what looked like a beeper.

It was actually a signal receiving device that, when turned on, would flash if there was a listening device in operation within five hundred feet. We could also use it to track a bug. Sid showed me the glowing red light with a disgusted look on his face. He dropped it back in the purse and left it there until we got to the tower. We walked around, heading toward the river. Sid made loud fun of the French all the way while I tried to isolate the bug unobtrusively.

It didn’t seem to be in my purse, which seemed strange. That would have been the first place I would have dropped something. I teased Sid by tickling him. Well, I tried tickling him. He’s not ticklish in the least. But I did find the bug in the upper breast pocket of his suit jacket.

At the top of a bridge, Sid stopped.

“Hey, look at all those gawkers on those tour boats,” he chortled. He pulled the silk color from his pocket. Sure enough, in the folds was what looked like a button off a suit jacket. I looked at it more closely. Tiny mesh covered the holes. Sid knocked it from my hand. “Honey, get a picture of me waving my hanky at the boats.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

I doubt the Beldons heard my reply. Sid just happened to walk on the bug at that moment. I surreptitiously showed Sid the bug finder. No light.

“We’re safe for the moment,” he said with an invisible sigh of relief. “I don’t think we have a tail, but let’s not go back to the hotel until we’re sure.”

There was no tail.

“But why?” I asked.

“When did they have a chance to call one?” replied Sid as we got on the Metro train. “They were probably counting on us not noticing the bug and telling a cab driver where to go.”

“And on us not having the means to find a bug, and not suspecting we’d have one. That’s just too much to swallow. I’ve got a really bad feeling they recognized us from somewhere.”

“If they were watching the drops at all, they could have, which is probably why I was bugged in the first place. There couldn’t have been any planning involved.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have gotten rid of it.”

Sid shrugged. “I hope I accounted for it.”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t you be a little bit suspicious?”

“I’d be a lot suspicious, especially as paranoid as those two must be by now.” Sid thought. “I move we search their office tonight, and let’s just hope they decide to move it legitimately to keep their butts covered.”

If wishes were horses, we should have had a herd of them. And Sid wonders why I believe. Paris nightlife being what it was, we had to wait until three a.m. to leave the hotel. That wouldn’t leave us much time before sunrise at four thirty. Sid had us put on light colored shirts with dark jeans and black zip front sweatshirts.

“I don’t get it,” I asked as we laid out our equipment. “Don’t we want to be all in black so we’re not seen?”

“That’s what the sweatshirts are for,” he answered, more preoccupied with the lockpicks and flashlights. “But if we have to make a run for it, we can ditch the sweatshirts and bluff our way through because nobody will be looking for burglars wearing white. Damn. We’ve got to hide the masks and the gloves, and still find someplace to carry a gun or two.”

It was tight, but we managed. I vowed to do something about the problem the first chance I had with a sewing machine, preferably my own back in California.

Around the corner from the Rue St. Denis, we faded into the shadows and put on our sweatshirts, gloves and the all-over ski masks. We slid around the buildings to the office. Sid ran a beam from his flashlight all along the door jamb, looking for alarm wires, then picked the lock.

We weren’t worried about the police. They were the last people the Beldons would call. But we didn’t want the Beldons alerted either.

The office was at the top of a narrow flight of stairs. Sid got us in within seconds and shut the door. I went for the file cabinets while he checked the desk and shelves. Orange light from the street gave the room an odd glow.

I found the file in the bottom drawer of the end cabinet. It contained a host of surveillance photos, but I saw a picture of Amanda Whitefoot and knew I had something. Sid and I heard the footsteps on the stairs at the same time.

I shoved the file drawer shut and followed Sid under the desk. I crossed myself. Sid lifted his pant leg and drew his gun. I got my twenty-two, also.

“Somebody’s been in here,” grumbled Harry’s voice as they entered.

“You’d just better hope they didn’t find that file,” said Carol, as she pushed past him.

Awkwardly, I jammed the file into my sweatshirt. Sid nodded at me and slid away from the desk on the side where the Beldons weren’t. I started after, but in the next second, the office door burst open and bright light circled the Beldons.

There were two figures silhouetted in the doorway, one very short, one rather tall, both lean, and both had .45 (at least) automatics trained on the Beldons.

“Don’t you Americans take this overtime business a bit too far?” said the larger figure, a male, in a smooth educated British voice. His face had a rather horsey profile.

Sid nodded at me, and I followed him silently to the wall away from the light.

“Since when does it make any difference to you what time we come here?” said Carol.

“Let’s just kill them and be done with it,” said the short figure. She was also educated and British.

Harry looked over at Sid and me and laughed and pointed. Before the two Brits could swing the light our way, Sid charged with me on his heels. The Beldons charged also. The Beldons broke first from the ensuing tangle, with Sid and me close behind. On the sidewalk, the Beldons went one way, Sid and I went the other. I glanced back to see the short figure running after us.

We had a good lead on our tail and bettered it, charging around the first corner and down the street to a wide avenue lined with trees. Sid and I ducked into an alcove between two sidewalk cafes. The short Brit came running past.

We stripped masks, gloves, and sweatshirts in seconds.

“Let’s neck,” Sid whispered, stashing everything behind us.

I ended up with my back to the street and gasped as Sid undid my shirt. I didn’t have time to complain. The Brit was on her way back. Sid exposed my shoulder as I covered his face with my hands. He let out soft little moans as we kissed, his tongue everywhere but beyond my teeth. I still wasn’t up to that.

Heavy footsteps and breathing announced the return of the large Brit. He met his partner not far from where we stood.

“Lost them, damn it,” he complained. “How’d you make out?”

“Not any better. I checked the Metro. The train was just leaving.”

He chuckled. “Have you tried asking them?”

She laughed also. “I doubt they saw anything. We’re for it, you know. They won’t be going back to that office now that they know we’re watching it.”

“Can’t be helped. Let’s be off.”

Sid peeked around my hair as the two disappeared into the night.

“We should be safe now,” he whispered, pulling my shirt back into place and buttoning it. “Sorry about that. I wanted it to look good.”

“I’ll live.”

We gathered our belongings and the file and headed back to the hotel, checking for tails every step of the way.

I barely remember going to bed, I was so tired. It was full daylight when I awoke. Still heavy with sleep, I rolled over. Sid lay on his side, fully awake and watching me. I stared back for a minute.

“What are you looking at?” I asked finally.

“What does it look like?” Sid rolled away, and grabbing his robe, got up. [Let’s hear it for denial – SEH] He squinted at his pocket watch. “It’s already nine thirty.”

I flopped onto my back. “Do we have to run today?”

There was a park, the Jardin de Tuilleries, just off the same circle as the hotel, with a straight, broad unpaved walkway down the middle which was just perfect as a running course.

“Much as I hate giving in to your sloth, we’re not,” said Sid. “It would make us too conspicuous as Americans. Do you have any compelling desire to shower first?”

“Uh-uh.” I yawned and closed my eyes.

Sid was out, fully dressed in designer jeans and sport shirt, within twenty minutes, which isn’t bad for someone as fussy about his appearance as he is. I dragged myself in, and eventually put on a full-skirted strapless sundress and petticoat with eyelet trim that peeked out from under the skirt.

It was already a habit. I didn’t even feel the straps anymore. But I made sure my twenty-two automatic handgun was in its holster on the top of my thigh, as high up as possible.

As I left the bathroom, Sid had the pictures from the file spread out over the dresser top.

“You were right,” he said, holding one up for me. “They recognized us from the drops.”

It was pretty grainy, having been shot with a light magnifier and all, but you could see Sid leaning over Blaine Winters’ body in that alley in New Orleans, with me facing the wall.

“Terrific,” I said.

“They caught me making the first drop in Chicago,” said Sid. He picked up the picture to hand it to me, then stopped. “What’s this? Get the micro magnifier, will you please?”

I dug the viewer out of my purse. It looked like one of those handheld doohickeys for viewing slides and basically served the same purpose except the magnification power was considerably stronger. Sid scraped something off the photo. I handed him the magnifier and looked at the pictures.

“It looks like they’ve got shots of their entire line. There’s even the guy from Washington, D.C. in here.”

“Yep.” Sid switched the magnifier on. “Well, I’ll be damned. Looks like we’ve stumbled onto the Beldons’ record keeping system.”

“What?”

Sid handed me the magnifier. “That’s all the information on the Chicago killing, right down to the return of the deposit money found in the killer’s apartment. It’s the same accounting code we use for our expenses.”

“Except theirs are for killing people.” I thought. “If they recognized us, then the Beldons had to figure we would be watching them and their office.”

“Yeah, and they probably went back at the same time we did for the same reason.”

“What if the file they came back for is this file?”

Sid nodded. “Given the evidence in here, it would be worth the risks to get it.”

“And they never got a chance to look for it.”

“You’re right. They’ll have to go back for it one way or another.”

“Could they have already?”

“They have no way of knowing that we, or anyone else, have called off the search, and they were caught within seconds of entering.” Sid thoughtfully gathered the pictures together. “The trick now will be in capturing them. I don’t want to meet at the Place St. Germain. It’ll be too easy for them to hit us.”

I grinned. “That’s it. We draw an attack on us in a public place, then scream for the police.”

Sid snorted. “That’s the last thing we should do. Local law enforcement just makes things more complicated…” He stopped. “And it’s the last damned thing the Beldons will expect. It seems to me that there is a hotel across the street from their office. We’ll get a room and monitor them from there, and let them catch us monitoring them. That should do it, especially if we let them know we have their file.”

“And with the hotel room, we’re not set up for an obvious sniper attack.”

“Bingo. We’ll leave the file in this hotel’s safe, too. It’ll be just that much more secure.”

We emptied a couple suitcases and only packed our guns and a couple changes of underwear. We wore our transmitters. At the second hotel, Sid got a single room overlooking the street and the Beldons’ office. We sat in the window watching, or rather, Sid did most of it. He thought he spotted the Beldons once, but couldn’t be sure.

I read for a little while, then Sid and I made up a list of article ideas I could query on when we got home. After a while, Sid got progressively more antsy and distant. He made his second shave around five and took his time doing it.

At seven thirty, he broke away from the window.

“Why don’t you watch?”

“Sure.” I took his place.

He paced restlessly. “Listen, I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to go out for an hour or two.”

“Let me guess,” I said softly. “You’re horny.”

“Hey, it’s been four days. I think I’ve been doing pretty good.”

“Pretty well.” I sighed. “I was thinking the same thing, but I didn’t want to bring it up.”

“I’m glad.” He came over to me. “I don’t know why, but last night when we were necking, it really turned me on. It wasn’t the open shirt. It was probably the fear element. But it was all I could think about this morning. And there you are in that lovely little sundress.”

I turned my gaze out of the window. His hands gently cupped my shoulders, and his nose cleared my hair away so his lips could softly grasp my ear. His kisses, sweet and gentle, slipped down my neck. I leaned into it, even as the fear and guilt crept in.

“I can’t tell you to get the hell out and get yourself laid,” I said. “And I just don’t feel right about taking care of you myself.”

“No.” He pulled back a little. “I can’t dump the decisions I have to make on you.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve got to do something. I’m obsessing on this. I can’t think straight.”

“It’s an awful risk.”

“We have no reason to believe the Beldons know we’re here, and I can’t help but think we’re better off if I clear my head.” His finger turned my chin to face him. He pressed a kiss to my forehead. “It’s only for an hour or so. I’ll leave my receiver on. You can tap in a message if you see anything.”

I didn’t say anything as he left. Not ten minutes later, I saw him leave the hotel with a blonde woman. They went up the street and turned the corner. Tears filled my eyes.

A minute later, the door burst open. Two huge and ugly men swarmed inside with guns drawn. I reached for my model thirteen on the dresser, then quickly drew back.

“The hands in air,” growled one with a very strong French accent.

Slowly, I raised mine. The one held me at gunpoint while the other tore the room apart. There was nothing to find. I’d even left my purse back at the other hotel. Angry, the two eventually pulled me from the room, holding me close to hide the gun in the small of my back.

They took me down the street to a warehouse. I stumbled and tried nudging my twenty-two more between my legs. Once inside, I was greeted with a fist to my ear. The receiver went flying. One of my captors held me as his partner pounded my stomach. I tried to relax, but it hurt and I couldn’t breathe. The pounding stopped, but before I could get my breath, my scalp flamed as the man grabbed my hair and yanked my head close to his face.

“You have pictures,” he demanded, his breath as sour and foul as anything I’d ever pulled out of a toilet, and I’ve pulled plenty in my time.

I gasped.

“Pictures!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I sobbed.

He backhanded me three times, or maybe it was more.

“Where are pictures?” he demanded.

“What pictures? I don’t have my camera.”

I got another cuff in the ear. My head spun and rang, and by that point, I was so disoriented, I really didn’t know anything about pictures. The man holding me growled in French.

His partner replied, lighting a cigarette.

“Tell me,” he said, pulling my hair again. “Where are the pictures, or this makes the fat marks on your pretty face.”

I whimpered. The cigarette came closer.

“Tell me.”

I could feel the heat of the glowing end on my cheek. Ignoring the pain in my scalp, I jerked my head away. The cigarette pressed into my neck, just below my ear. The pain was incredible. I screamed and screamed, and even being backhanded however many times couldn’t get me to stop.

My hands were jerked behind me and bound very tight. The one who spoke English patted me down fairly thoroughly but missed the gun completely. I’m guessing he couldn’t feel the straps through my nice full skirt and petticoat, and the gun was safely tucked between my legs as high as it would go. [There are more concise ways of describing its location, albeit cruder – SEH]

I was dragged up four or more flights of stairs and tossed into a small room. At first, all I could do was reel with the pain. My entire body ached, and my hair tickled the burn, irritating it and making it hurt worse. Slowly, my wits settled. If I was alive, it was only because someone believed I knew where the pictures we’d stolen from the Beldons were.

I didn’t know how much time I had. Listening would do no good because nobody was speaking in English. Sid’s instructions from my training days slowly filtered in. The first thing would be to get my hands free.

They were bound with bright orange strapping tape. I couldn’t reach the little piece of spring steel hidden in my hair, but I could get to my shoes. Groaning, I sat myself up and wiggled my feet around. I slid my thumbnail between the insole and top of the heel on my right shoe. Like magic, it popped open. It hurt like hell, but I twisted so I could see what I was doing.

I wriggled the small serrated blade out of the heel and went to work on the tape. It only took a minute or so to cut it open, and another minute to get braced so I could tear it off. It took my wrist hairs with it, leaving bright red welts across my wrists. But I was free.

I rescued my gun first. Peashooter or not, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I put my heel back together, then slowly got up. The room had two windows, one overlooking a tiny alley festooned with clothes drying on lines, and the other facing the street. Through it, I could see the hotel facing the Beldons’ office and the open window where Sid’s and my room was. So that was how they knew we were there. There was also a skylight, but no way to reach it. Climbing down would be far too slow.

I listened at the door. There was silence on the other side. I tried the handle. It was locked.

Sid swears by spring steel. I have decided it is handy stuff. I pulled the piece from my hair and went to work on the lock. It took me a few minutes, but I popped it open.

The hallway was empty. I silently shut the door behind me and slipped across to the stairs. I could hear the thud, thud of feet climbing, and a second later, my captors spotted me. The pea shooter did a good job on their guns. The men dropped the weapons and grabbed their hands.

They also got mad. I popped the English speaking one in the shoulder. He fell backward onto his partner, and they tumbled down the stairs. I grabbed the two automatics they’d dropped. There wasn’t any other way to go, so I ran after them. They landed in the middle of a flight. One reached up for me and I kicked him in the face. I crawled over the banister and jumped to the next flight.

I hit the ground floor running. The door to the warehouse was barred with a huge metal arm. I could hear shouting above me. Summoning whatever little strength I had left, I slid under the arm and shoved. It scraped on the catch but went over. I danced out of the way, then leaned on the door. Feet pounded behind me. I tripped over the threshold but scrambled out.

I ran as fast as I had ever run, cursing and thanking Sid for dragging me out of bed every morning. I found a newspaper in the gutter, swiped it up and wrapped the three guns in it. I dodged cars, then ran the long way back to the hotel on the Place de la Concorde, checking for tails and finding none.

I had been tapping messages to Sid since I broke free. With no receiver, I had no way of knowing if he’d gotten them. When I got to our room, I checked the transmitter. It had died in the rough treatment. I hoped Sid would find the destruction in the other room and come back to the first hotel. He wasn’t there. I checked the time: eleven fifteen.

I bandaged myself as best I could, then took a hot bath. Sid didn’t come. I slept restlessly, fully dressed. No Sid. Dawn broke and the sun rose slowly into the sky, filling the room with light. Sid didn’t come.

There was no doubt in my mind that Sid was in trouble. Just how much, was the question. The best I could figure, he had gone back to the other room and had been caught by the Beldons or whoever else had figured we were there.

Maybe it was a silly chance, but that’s where I went. I had dressed carefully in jeans and jacket with my armored running shoes. In my shoulder holster was one of the stolen automatics. I put the other in my jacket pocket. The twenty-two was strapped to my shin, and I had various other pieces of hardware stashed all over. In my other jacket pocket were the bug finder and a small roll of duct tape. I also wore my blonde wig and phony glasses. The wig periodically jabbed my burn, but I wasn’t up to taking chances.

Frankly, I was terrified, and felt very lost and alone in a huge city I didn’t know and where I couldn’t speak the language. I dreaded going back to that second hotel, but there was nothing else to do. I checked out the lobby first, then found the stairs and went up that way. The room was shut. I unlocked it. Everything was as it had been the day before. I even found my model thirteen still on the dresser. I removed the automatic in my holster and replaced it with the revolver. I jammed the automatic in the back of my pants.

I checked out the window. I couldn’t see who, but there was definitely movement in the Beldons’ office. I dashed downstairs. Slipping out of the hotel, I looked up. Whoever was still in there. I slid in the building’s door and into the shadows of the tiny foyer.

A woman left the office and came down the stairs. I couldn’t quite see her in the shadows. She wasn’t Carol Beldon, but I wasn’t going to assume that she was on our side. As she reached the door, I put the muzzle of the model thirteen in her neck.

“Move and you die,” I told her as coldly as I could manage.

She froze.

“Hands up and turn slowly.”

She did. I almost dropped the gun.

“Dragon,” I gasped. She looked at me, cool but unsure. “I’m Little Red, Division 53Q, code 6-A. Come on, you saw me in Washington. I’m wearing a wig.”

“You also have a gun in my face,” she pointed out.

“I’m sorry.” I lowered the gun but hung on just in case.

The Dragon headed out the door with me following.

“What are you doing here?” I gasped. “We thought you’d gotten it.”

“No. I had to intercept Yellow Ribbon and Yellow Knife before they left.” She went across the street.

“The Beldons you mean?”

She smiled. “Very good. How did you find that?”

“We searched Amanda Whitefoot’s place before we left the Canyon. It was in her phone book. We recognized their number.”

The Dragon led me into the hotel and went straight to the elevator.

“We got background on them from the Company when we got our passports,” I continued.

“Excellent. I was hoping you’d come here.” The elevator opened and we got on. “Where’s Big Red?”

I swallowed. “Missing.” I tried not to sniff. “He left the room here, and I got captured and got away, but he never returned to the room where we’re staying or the room here. Something’s wrong, and I can’t get through on my transmitter because it died.”

“And it seems our friends have slipped through our fingers again. They know we’re watching the office. They’ve got a second hiding place, but we haven’t been able to find it.”

“It’s a warehouse down the street. That’s where they took me, and you can see this hotel, and their office just fine from there.”

We got off the elevator on the fourth floor.

“That makes sense.” The Dragon got her room key out and unlocked the door.

She let me in first. I kept a good grip on the model thirteen, which was a good thing because in the room was a largish man with a horsey profile and a small almost fluffy woman – the Brits from the night before. I braced and aimed.

“What in heaven’s name is going on here?” demanded the woman.

“Enough,” the Dragon told me. “They’re with us.”

I lowered the gun, still wary. “They crashed in on the Beldons last night in their office.”

“That was you in the mask?” asked the man.

“We were there to capture them,” said the woman.

“You were there to kill them,” I said.

The Dragon glared at the couple. “We have the assurances. They won’t be back.” She waited as the couple basically ignored her. She looked at me. “Little Red, this is A12 and A45. They’re CID, and have an interest in this case.”

A12 was the woman and A45 her partner.

“We’ve been watching that office since we heard the Yellows were on their way,” said A12, looking me over shrewdly. “I can’t imagine why they chose last night to return. They had to have been here a few days.”

I squirmed. “Big Red and I made contact with them the day before yesterday. We found them in the neighborhood. They bugged us, and when we got rid of it, they must have figured that we were the ones watching them and that they’d better get to the office and get their records.”

“That can’t be it,” said A45. “We searched that office. There weren’t any records.”

“There was a file of surveillance photos on their line,” I said.

“There’s nothing unusual about that,” said the Dragon.

“We found microdots on the photos with the payoffs to the hired assassins listed.” I bit my lip.

“They are clever, aren’t they?” said A12 with a lady-like chortle.

“The question is, where are they now?” said the Dragon, going over to a table spread with more photographs. “We can try staking out that warehouse, but I doubt that will do any good.”

“I suppose we’ll have to continue identifying and interrogating their acquaintances,” said A45.

I went over to the table.

“That’s rather awkward security-wise,” said A12.

I picked up a series of photos of Harry Beldon and a blonde woman that looked vaguely familiar. They were in various attitudes on the streets of Paris, including some rather passionate ones.

“Have you identified her?” I asked the Dragon.

She looked bored. “She’s a hooker. Owns a stable not far from here.”

“Oh no.” My mouth went dry as my heart stopped. I looked at the back of a single shot of the madam. “Is this her address?”

“Yes.” The Dragon picked up another photo. “This fellow bothers me.”

“That’s where he is.” I tossed the hooker photos onto the table and headed for the door.

“Who?” asked the Dragon. “And where are you going?”

“Big Red,” I said, leaving. “He’s got to be at the brothel. I’m going after him.”

The Dragon hurried after me, followed by A12 and A45.

“You don’t know that,” the Dragon said.

I pounded the elevator button. “The last time I saw him, he was with that woman.”

“Sounds like it might be under control then,” said A12.

“It’s been too long,” I groaned. “Come on, you stupid machine.” I ran for the stairs, then stopped. “It’s… He was horny. He wasn’t thinking straight. He’s in trouble and I’ve got to get him out of there.”

I flew down the stairs with the others after me. They nearly ran me over as I stopped short on the final landing. Downstairs, Carol Beldon handed a note to the desk clerk.

“My, isn’t she the brazen one,” said A12.

“It’s rather encouraging, actually,” said A45. “She must have a hostage, and if it’s your Big Red, he must still be alive.”

“That’s our room number,” I said as the clerk filed the note in a pigeon hole. I looked over at the Dragon. “Why don’t you follow her?” I pointed to A45, then A12. “You can keep an eye out in the lobby, and you can keep the desk clerk occupied so I can get a look at that note without anyone knowing it’s been seen.”

“Of all the ruddy-” began A12.

“Marian, do it,” said the Dragon as she took off.

A12 and A45 ambled down the stairs together. While A12 addressed the clerk in rapid-fire French, I also ambled down. A12 directed the clerk to a room in the back. As soon as they had disappeared, I scrambled over the desk to the pigeon holes and the note.

“If you want to see your lover again, bring the file to the Place St. Germain at 6:00 tonight.”

Disgusted by the assumption, however valid, I replaced the note, hurried over the counter and to the front door. A45 held me back.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded.

“That was a ransom note for my partner,” I said. “I know where he is and I’m going after him.”

I headed for the sidewalk. A12 came back into the lobby. She joined A45 as he followed me out.

“What on earth?” she asked.

“It was a ransom note,” explained A45. “For her partner.”

“They want us to take the file we have to the Place St. Germain at six o’clock,” I said. “It’s ten forty-five now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hurt him in the meantime.”

A12 caught my arm. She had quite a grip for such a small woman.

“Why not just wait until six and get them at the Place St. Germain?” she asked.

“It’s a setup,” I said. “Wednesday night, they arranged to meet us there yesterday morning. After that, we found we were bugged. They recognized us from some drops we’d made in the States. That’s why they went to their office that night, to get their file before we got it.”

The Dragon quietly walked up. “Good work, Little Red. She went right to the whorehouse.”

I thought quickly. “We’ve got to find a way in there. If there’s an alley near there, I could climb a wall and get in through the roof.”

A45 smiled. “Actually, there’s a vacant building two doors down. We can get to the roof from there.”

“Great.” I turned to the Dragon. “Why don’t you and A12 go check out the Place St. Germain? If we miss them at the brothel, we can still get them there.”

“What is it about Americans?” asked A12, but she tapped the Dragon on the shoulder and turned. “Let’s be off, Lillian. Are all your people like this?”

I looked at A45. “Come on.”

“Perhaps we should cover ourselves better,” he suggested as we headed down the street.

“Perhaps, but I’m wearing a wig, and it wasn’t in any of the surveillance photos.”

A45 held me back before turning the corner. We slipped into the doorway of an old, old building of gray brick, long gone black with soot. Inside was layered with centuries of dust, it seemed. We got to the roof without a problem, and made our way over it to a building two roofs down. The buildings were literally side by side, so it was no trouble.

A45 stopped at a small dormer window and forced it open. He crawled in first, then helped me into a nice little bedroom, complete with sink and worn towels. We slid out and down a flight of stairs.

Near the next floor, A45 waved me back into the shadow of the stairwell. He went ahead casually and tried to embrace a young woman in drab gray clothes carrying a pile of towels. They went back and forth in French for a couple jovial minutes, then she went on her way and A45 waved me into the hall.

“Well?” I asked. “I don’t understand French.”

“I didn’t get much,” he said. “The girls are angry with Madame because she has locked them out of her room, and there’s a new favorite in there.”

“Which room?” I asked anxiously.

“It’s a customer. Quite a man, too. The girl said they haven’t heard Madame scream like that in quite some time.”

“That’s him,” I sighed, somewhat chagrined. It figured Sid would find a way to get relief before he got captured.

“Dark haired fellow? Rather handsome?”

“Yes. Which room?”

“This way.”

It was down the hall. A45 listened at the door and shook his head. I pulled a piece of spring steel from my hair and went to work on the lock.

It was a fairly small room, and not at all what I expected for a madam. There was a sink, and a huge wardrobe that I’m certain was an antique, and a brass bed with a flowered spread and Sid, barechested, laying face down on it. His hands were bound behind his back.

Fighting tears, I rushed to the bed and carefully turned Sid over. He groaned. His eyes were huge and black and puffy, and what I could see of the whites were blood red. There was dried blood all over his upper lip, and fresh bruises on his arms and chest. He groaned again and sort of squinted.

“Who..?” he asked.

“It’s me,” I said quickly. “Are you alright? I mean how bad are you?”

“Li-” He stopped and swallowed and sighed. “You found me.”

A45 broke open the wardrobe and began a methodical search.

“It’s okay. I’m here now,” I told Sid. I looked at his wrists. “Good lord, there’s this big heavy cable on you.”

Sid nodded. “I heard a church bell ring ten o’clock, and a little after that, they came in and put it on me, as if I was in any shape to do anything.”

“It sounds about the right time,” I said, picking at the heavy coated wire to untie it. “I cut through some tape, must have been an hour or two before that.”

“They got you?”

“Not for long. Here it comes.” I pulled the cable away, then popped open the sole on my left running shoe. “You’ve got duct tape on you, too.”

“Goody.” He grunted as I helped him sit up.

I slashed it. “Listen, I’m going to have to pull this off now. It’s going to hurt.”

Sid snorted. “That’s like telling the Ancient Mariner he’s walking under a ladder.”

I yanked and Sid swallowed his yelp. I put the knife back in my shoe and closed it. Groaning, Sid slowly moved his arms around front. I rubbed his shoulders. Sid groaned some more.

I stopped. “Am I hurting you?”

“Yeah, but it’s what I need. Got to get the circulation going again.”

“I believe I’ve found your things,” said A45 suddenly.

Sid stiffened and tried to make him out.

“He’s CID,” I explained, still rubbing. “A45. He’s helping the Dragon.”

“The Dragon?” asked Sid.

“She’s here.”

A45 brought over Sid’s running shoes and shirt. Sid groaned as he lifted and rotated his arms, then leaned into my hands as I massaged his shoulders.

“Think you can walk?” I asked softly.

“Do I have a choice?” he returned. I slid around and looked at him. He gazed softly back. “I’ll make it.”

Sniffing, I bent forward and carefully kissed his lips. He returned it generously, carefully wrapping his arms around me.

“Hep,” hissed A45 suddenly.

He stood with his ear next to the door. On the other side, we could hear Harry Beldon yelling in French and a young woman crying. It came closer.

Sid put his hands behind his back and laid down on them. I grabbed his shirt and shoes and dove under the bed. Harry burst into the room and went straight for Sid, swearing like a Marine. He reached for Sid’s arm and got a good solid kick in the chest instead.

Harry recovered quickly, and I rolled out from under the bed right into his legs as he started for Sid again. Harry fell onto the bed. Sid dodged, then jumped on him. Harry threw him. I charged Harry from the side while Sid recovered, and the two of us caught Harry in a squeeze play. I swung my elbow up and into Harry’s nose. His head jerked back and the blood flowed freely. Sid shoved his elbow into Harry’s stomach, then pulled Harry forward onto the floor. Together, Sid and I got Harry’s hands behind his back.

I got the duct tape from my jacket, and ripped off a piece big enough to cover Harry’s mouth, then handed the roll to Sid. Sid whipped the roll around Harry’s wrists, then held his head still so I could tape his mouth.

Gasping, Sid and I got up. I groaned and doubled over.

“You alright?” Sid asked his hand on my shoulder.

“I got knocked around yesterday, too,” I whispered. “I guess I’m not entirely recovered.”

Sid nodded. He looked at A45. “Can we count on CID to help us take care of him?”

“There’s a simpler way to deal with it,” said A45.

Taking a switchblade from his pocket, he walked over to Harry, popped the blade open, lifted Harry’s head, and I didn’t see the rest.

The room started spinning and I slipped into the hall. Swearing, Sid joined me.

“You might consider that he won’t be haunting you now,” said A45 calmly, handing Sid the shoes and shirt I’d left behind.

“Let’s be thankful for small favors,” grumbled Sid. He eased into his shirt. “How do we get out of here?”

“His partner should still be in the building,” said A45. “I recommend we find her.”

“I’m not big on your tactics, buddy,” growled Sid, getting into his shoes.

A45 shrugged. “Nonetheless, unless you are more seriously injured than you appear, it would not be a good idea to forgo the opportunity.”

I handed Sid the automatic I had in my jacket pocket.

“Why don’t we keep going through the house?” I suggested. “At the rate things are going, she’ll find us soon enough.”

Sid checked the clip and took off the safety. “Sounds good. Let’s just be careful.”

“Do you speak French?” A45 asked him as we moved down the hall.

“I only kiss,” said Sid.

A45 shook his head. “Why don’t you two have any language skills?”

“It’s a fluke we’re here,” said Sid, getting irritated. “We’re strictly domestic.”

“Seriously? Well. You’ll need to stay with me, then.”

“Sh,” I hissed.  I nodded at a nearby stairwell.

We faded into a doorway, but the steps on the stairs continued up. It was just one of the girls. She paid us no mind and went into one of the rooms.

We found Carol on the bottom floor. The three of us peered out of the stairwell and across a hall at her as she paced alone in a well-appointed living room. A45 raised a small automatic.

I put my hand on it and shook my head. He withdrew. Upstairs, a woman screamed. Carol tensed, listening. The hysteria grew. She marched into the hall, right into three handguns.

“It’s over, my dear,” said A45. “You couldn’t expect to keep it up forever, could you?”

Behind us, more screaming erupted, and the hall filled with young women and a few men in various states of undress. Seeing the guns, one drunk fellow decided we were the source of the trouble and jumped us. In the confusion, I lost my model thirteen. I reached for Carol and got one of the hookers.

The fighting escalated into a full-scale brawl. I elbowed my way through the crowd and suddenly found myself in a headlock. I tried to flip the one who had me and nearly choked myself. She gripped tighter. I stopped struggling.

The fight slowed and stopped as everyone watched Carol drag me to the hall table. Keeping a tight grip on me, she opened the drawer and removed a knife.

She loosened the choke hold, but with the knife against the skin of my neck, I wasn’t too inclined to do much beyond what she wanted. She turned me toward A45 and Sid.

“I want cash,” she told them coldly. “Fifty million in francs and I want a plane ticket to Argentina.”

A45 raised his gun. “My dear, you know the policy. I dislike losing such a good operative, but I will not bargain with a terrorist.”

I can’t say my life flashed before my eyes. Things went down too quickly. Sid slammed into Carol’s side. My forehead stung as I pushed myself away and toward the front door. Carol slammed Sid in the breadbasket, knocking him back, and dashed after me. A45 grabbed her knife hand and forced the blade from her. He tried spinning her back but got kicked where it counts by one of the young women, who wasn’t convinced that we were the good guys.

As I opened the door, Carol grabbed me by the hair. I yelped but plunged forward. The wig gave, and Carol stumbled back. I landed on my face. I started up but got tackled.

I screamed for the police as loud as I could. Passersby stopped and stared at the little drama. Blood dripped into my eyes. I wiped it and struggled forward on the sidewalk. Carol desperately tried to pull me back.

“Police! Gendarmes!” I screamed. “Gendarmes!”

I heard a whistle in the distance. It got closer and I blacked out.

I awoke to darkness.

“You are alright,” said a woman with a French accent. “Calm now.”

“No,” I moaned. I felt something brushing my nose, but couldn’t feel the rest of my face.

“Lie still. You are fine.”

I still struggled.

“She has no head injury. We’ll give her something to make her sleep.”

“No,” I protested. “I don’t want it. I don’t.”

Something pricked my arm. I tried fighting it, but soon I was out.

The light seemed incredibly bright when I awoke. My forehead burned and I felt really nauseous. I didn’t feel like getting up, but my stomach left me no choice. I struggled upright. The Dragon sat down next to me.

“It’s alright,” she said. “You’re safe.”

“Barf,” I got out through gritted teeth.

“Oh, here.”

She pulled a waste can to my face and I tossed it. By the time I was done, Sid was there with a glass of water and a washcloth. He held me as I rinsed out my mouth and wiped up.

“I thought that doctor said she didn’t have a head injury,” Sid growled at the Dragon.

“Are you better?” the Dragon asked me. I nodded. “How does your head feel?”

“Fine. My forehead burns.” I reached up and touched gauze. “My stomach feels better, too. I still feel pretty fuzzy, though.”

“It must be the after-effects of the sedative,” said the Dragon. “The doctor gave you one when you came to and panicked while she was stitching you up.”

“A sedative?” I thought back. “Was it a barbiturate?”

“Why?”

I looked at Sid. “Wasn’t that what you gave me when I panicked that time, and I almost threw up when I woke up?”

“I gave you a barbiturate tablet,” said Sid.

“Don’t ever give me a sedative again,” I said.

Sid gave me a gentle squeeze. If I didn’t notice his puffy eyes right away, it was because he was wearing his glasses.

“Did something happen to your contacts?” I asked.

“Yeah. I lost them almost immediately,” he said. “I went back to our hotel after they patched you together and got our stuff, including that file.”

“Where am I?”

“In a safe house,” said the Dragon. “We thought it might be a little more comfortable, and it’s certainly more discreet.”

It was more comfortable. The bed was soft and covered with lavender silk sheets. The room was decorated with purple and lavender flowers.

“What about Carol Beldon?” I asked. “I mean with Harry upstairs, why didn’t we get arrested?”

“Our friends from CID,” said Sid. “They have some pull, apparently.”

“They do indeed,” said the Dragon. “Carol’s been arrested.”

“But Harry. I mean, he just killed him.”

“He doesn’t like traitors.” The Dragon fidgeted with the lavender flowered quilt I was under. “Those two can be very Medieval. It’s understandable, given who they are.”

I knew better than to ask. The door suddenly swung open and the Medieval pair walked in.

“Well, the extradition papers have been signed,” she announced. “They’re being delivered Air Express. Should be here first thing tomorrow morning. She’ll be shipped out then.”

“We can’t thank you enough,” said the Dragon.

“No thanks needed,” said A45. “If it hadn’t been for your team here, we wouldn’t have gotten them at all.”

“It was getting very nasty at our end,” explained A12. “But Arthur tells me you two work strictly in the States. What division?”

“53Q,” said Sid. “Code 6-A.”

“Couriers?” gasped A12. Even A45 seemed taken aback. “Lillian, do you mean to tell me you sent couriers on a job like this?”

“The division frequently handles counter-espionage investigations,” said the Dragon. “They haven’t been together long, but they’re already one of our best teams. In fact, they’re the ones that made sure you got that care package we sent you last January.”

“Well, if that’s the caliber of people you hire for your couriers, it’s no wonder.” A12 ran an appraising eye over us.

I flushed. A12’s gaze lingered on Sid, however. He turned to me, sliding his hand into mine. The Dragon got up.

“I think it’s time we let you two alone,” she said.

“Quite right,” said A12. “Mustn’t intrude on two lovers.”

“But we’re not,” I said.

“I should be so lucky,” said Sid.

The others laughed and left the room. Sid leaned back on the bed.

“Now where did they get the idea that we’re lovers?” he asked, puzzled.

“You didn’t say anything…”

“No.” He shrugged.

“How are you feeling?” I asked softly.

“Stiff and achy, but much better, thank you.” He reached over and kissed the end of my nose. “We sure make a pretty pair, don’t we?”

I laughed, then looked at the door, feeling rather puzzled. “I wonder why they decided to kill their operatives. You’d think they’d have just run like heck when it got obvious someone was onto them.”

“I don’t think we’ll ever know,” Sid said. “Just like we won’t know who they were waiting for here and why they decided they needed that file. I’m guessing they were trying to raise some cash to disappear. And by the way, the Dragon confirmed it. With the way we cleaned things up here, we can go back to being ourselves.”

“Oh, wonderful. I can see my family again.”

“And we’re not married either.”

“Yeah.” I sighed unexpectedly. “I was kind of getting used to the idea.”

“Me, too.” He looked at me. “It’s probably better that we’re not, but however relieved I am, I’m also a little sorry, too.”

“So am I.” I smiled at him. “We could still get married, I suppose.” I shivered. “I don’t want to.”

“Me, neither.”

We laughed, then he reached over and kissed my mouth.

 

Anne Louise Bannon

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