cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Five

May 24 – 28, 1983

 

We were up early and ran, as always. I got the bathroom first, dressed, then repacked the bags. Our flight to Orlando wasn’t leaving until two, so I figured I might as well.

“Damn it! Lisa!” Sid suddenly bellowed.

“I thought we weren’t supposed to be using names,” I said as he came to the bathroom door.

He was wearing his jeans, but no shirt, and his face was half covered with foam. His left forefinger was pressed against the dimple in his chin. He spoke quietly, but he wasn’t happy. “Did you remember to change the blades on my razor?”

“Well, I remembered, but…”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I left the new one right beside it so you’d see it. I was going to tell you, but you were asleep and I kinda forgot.”

Sid sighed and looked at the blood on his fingertip.

“You just slide the blade assembly off the base.” He replaced his finger. “It’s very simple. You can’t even misalign it.”

“Oh.”

“Please remember that. I don’t like cutting myself.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” Sid sighed and withdrew to finish shaving.

When he came out, I had to look for the cut to find it.

“Do you cut yourself often?” I asked as we left the motel. “I mean with that dimple and all…”

“Almost never. Of course, it took a certain amount of practice. My aunt was fond of saying she was surprised I had a chin left.”

“Why didn’t you grow a beard?”

“I don’t like beards, or any facial hair, for that matter. I did have a mustache in high school, though, one of those thick Sergeant Pepper things. I graduated with it. I was one of the few guys my age who could grow one.” Sid chuckled in reminiscence. “I shaved it off at boot camp and haven’t grown one since.”

I sat back in the rental car and tried to imagine him with a Sergeant Pepper mustache and then with a beard. I decided I liked the cleft chin more, though I didn’t tell him. He was vain enough as it was.

We still got to the airport by ten fifteen that morning. We went ahead and checked our luggage, then Sid phoned our contact.

“I was afraid of that,” he grumbled, as he left the booth.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, worried.

“The drop’s set for Disney World.”

“How fun. I’m excited.”

“You would be. I suppose you’ll be dragging me on all those silly rides.”

“Oh come on. Loosen up a little. Do me a favor and dump the dignity for a while. You might even have some fun.”

“Are you implying that I don’t know how to have fun?”

“Not at all. You’re just limited.”

He sighed.

We still had an hour or so to kill. I talked Sid into the cafeteria. He opted for an early lunch. I pored over some brochures I’d found.

“Let’s see..,” I mumbled between bites of polish sausage and french fries. “They say here Epcot costs extra, but they have combined passports…”

I dug a pen out of my purse and did some figuring on the paper placemat. Sid shook his head. He was eating a chef’s salad, but had picked out the ham slices and set them aside.

“How long do you think we’ll be there?” I asked. “May I have your ham?”

“At least through Friday and no you may not. It’s not good for you.”

“That’s just a myth.” I reached over and took it anyway. “There is no trichinosis in that meat.” I continued with my figures.

“Maybe not, but there is an enormous amount of fat, and even if there’s isn’t, it’s probably salt cured. That’s not even count—”

“Shut up. I’m trying to divide.” I worked at the math a few moments longer and then smiled at the results. “Okay. The four-day passport is the best buy, but it hardly seems worth it if we’re probably leaving Friday. So we should probably get the three-day passport.”

“I’d like to keep our time at the parks to a minimum.”

“Oh, come on. Disneyland is about as safe as you can get.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Sid said, bored. “I’ve never been there.”

“You’ve never been..?” I was aghast.

“Nope.”

“But you’ve lived in California all your life. Heck, my parents weren’t rich and we still managed to make it down from Tahoe at least once a year.”

“I couldn’t afford it.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m serious. I was dirt poor as a kid. I didn’t come into my money until my second year at Stanford. Being a communist made my aunt rather hard to employ.”

“I suppose but… well, how’d you learn to play the piano so well? That takes years of lessons and that’s not cheap.”

A faraway look came over Sid’s face, he quietly laid his fork by his plate and wiped his mouth with his napkin. Slowly he placed the napkin by the fork.

“Stella taught me,” he said finally. Stella was the aunt who had raised him, and as far as he knew, his only living relative. They hadn’t spoken since Sid was nineteen because he allowed himself to be drafted instead of going to Canada. Sid had never been close to Stella. According to him, she’d never wanted him in the first place. So this sudden emotion over her surprised me a little. “She was a student at Julliard when she broke with her family and changed her name. I don’t know if she continued there after that, or not. I’m not even sure if she graduated.”

“Why don’t you know? Didn’t she tell you?”

“Stella never told me anything about her 24background or mine. What little I know, I pieced together from various stories I heard from people who knew her at the time.”

“Could you tell me what you know?” I leaned forward and smiled warmly.

Sid looked at me for a moment and returned the smile. He leaned back in his seat and took a deep breath.

“As far as I know, Stella had been a communist and was broken off from her family for some time, when my mother got pregnant. She got disowned and sought out Stella. Stella took her in, very unwillingly, and managed to convince my mother that an abortion would just be asking for trouble.”

“That’s right, they were illegal, then.”

“Mm-hm.”

“Do you know what your mother was like?”

“I don’t remember her at all. I have heard that she wasn’t exactly an innocent victim. Stella was rather fond of hinting that my mother didn’t tend towards chastity, even after she was pregnant.”

“Like mother, like son.”

Sid laughed. “That’s exactly what Stella said when she found out I was into fooling around. But that’s another story. Anyway, Stella took pretty good care of my mother, but when she went into labor, Stella panicked. She took my mother to the hospital, but couldn’t get her admitted. I’ve heard all sorts of reasons, such as my mother had never been married and wouldn’t name the father, or more likely, Stella just didn’t have the money and got unpleasant about it.”

“Oh no. You were born on the sidewalk.”

“Almost. Apparently, it was quite a scene. My mother sitting on the curb in labor and Stella standing over her screaming Communist propaganda. Finally, they were rescued, by of all people, a priest and Stella was furious about that.”

“How wild.”

“It’s not necessarily true. The man that told me all this was prone to big lies, especially when he was stoned, which he generally was.” Sid smiled. “Donovan Smith. Sheesh, I haven’t thought about him in years. He was the closest to a father figure I ever had. Used to pop in and out of our lives periodically. I hitchhiked cross-country with him several times. Sometimes Stella came with us, too. He was the only man I ever suspected of being her lover. She was strange that way, not gay, just completely indifferent, like it was a nuisance.”

“What happened to Donovan?”

“He died, in `67, I think. I heard he took a bad trip on LSD and jumped off a building.”

“How sad.”

“I suppose. It was no surprise. Stella always said he was headed for it.”

“But what got you started on the piano?”

“Oh that. That was Stella’s idea. I remember that day. It was my sixth birthday. I was also excited because kindergarten was almost over. I hated it. I was always in trouble and the teacher was always making me do stupid things, like building houses out of blocks, and they had to be just so and when I asked her why, which I did often, she had fits.”

“My teacher did that too. She always made us put roofs on our houses and I got mad because we couldn’t play with them that way.”

“I wonder if it was the same lady.” Sid laughed, while I shrugged. “Back to the piano. I came home from school and Stella told me that the time had come for me to receive my legacy. Neither she nor my mother had anything to give me in material goods, they belonged to the people, anyways, and the Revolution was not Stella’s to give. But Stella said she could give me music and that would be my legacy.” Sid paused. “I didn’t even know what the word meant. For years I thought it was playing the piano. Anyway, she sat me down at this old battered upright and started me playing scales. That’s how it all began and every day after that for years I worked on my music for hours. When there wasn’t a piano available, I was drilled on theory. It was the only thing we shared.” Sid fell silent for a minute, then looked at me. “So tell me about your childhood.”

“I was basically happy. Very comfortable. I was sick a lot as a little kid, though. I got pneumonia every year without fail until I was seven, then I got double pneumonia. After that I was healthy. I always said I got it out of my system early. But when I was well, I had a good time. I was Daddy’s girl. Don’t get me wrong. He never played favorites. He loved Mae very much. But I was special because they almost lost me so many times.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, Mama said her obstetrician was surprised I lived at all.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, Mama never had any trouble getting pregnant, she just couldn’t keep them. She miscarried twice before Mae, carried Mae to term, then had five miscarriages in four years before she got pregnant with me and I showed up two months early. I barely weighed four-and-a-half pounds at birth.”

“Is that bad?”

“Average is seven to eight.”

Sid whistled low under his breath.

“Anyway, Mama miscarried three more times after I was born. Then I kept getting sick, which was to be expected, I guess.”

“You must have been one tough little girl.”

“Yep. Of course, part of that was Daddy’s fault. You see, I doubled as his son. He was disappointed when he found out I was a girl. But he told me when I was eleven that when he saw me in the nursery struggling just to breathe, he knew I was going to be a very special baby and he loved me very much because of that.”

“Is that why he’s so protective of you?”

I laughed. “Yes, that’s part of it. Of course, he’s very protective of Mae, too. Neil used to work for Daddy, put himself through dental school that way. Daddy almost fired Neil several times because he thought Neil was making moves on Mae and that was before they fell in love with each other.”

“He seems to like Neil well enough now.” Sid’s tone was a little rueful.

Daddy has never liked any man that Mae or I have dated. He really can’t stand Sid. He considers Sid’s urban polish effeminate, which bugs him. He’s convinced Sid has designs on my body and is going to lead me straight into living in sin. [The man had a point there – SEH]  Worst of all, Daddy is insanely jealous of Sid, more than he’s ever been of anybody I’ve dated, which I can’t figure out for the life of me.

“Well, Neil is his son-in-law,” I said.

“How is the old cuss, anyway?” Sid asked. He’s not terribly fond of Daddy, either.

“Just fine. I didn’t get to talk to him when I called in Washington. But that reminds me, if we go any further south, we’ll have to drop the Donaldson’s. There are parts of Dade County where I can’t spit without hitting a relative.”

“Dade County?” Sid grinned. “As in Anita Bryant?”

“Yes,” I groaned. I hated those jokes. “My parents are from Dade County.”

Sid chuckled. “It figures.”

“Will you please? He is my father.”

“Alright. But what are the odds of us running into them?”

“Almost nil. They’re already back in Tahoe. Summer season starts this weekend. It’s Memorial Day, you know.”

“Ah, that’s right.” Sid looked up as they announced the flight to Orlando. “That’s us. Let’s go.”

We had a pleasant afternoon. We got checked in at the motel outside Disney World without a hitch, then went to change into our swimming gear.

At first, I was a little nervous. The time had come when I had to face Sid in my swim suit and him in his. I was afraid he would have one of those little knit bathing suits that leave nothing to the imagination, but he came out of the bathroom wearing, brief, but sufficiently modest, trunks out of a blue Hawaiian print and an open short-sleeved shirt out of the same fabric. He, in turn, was surprised when he saw me. My new bathing suit was discreet, but just barely, a halter with a front that plunged and closed just before you could see anything and a back that dipped becomingly low.

“I thought you’d be wearing something that covered a lot more,” Sid said.

So I told him what I thought he’d be wearing.

“I’m not an exhibitionist,” was his reply.

Sid brought a magazine with him to the pool, but when he discovered there was no shade, he decided to swim with me.

“Didn’t you want to work on a tan?” I asked. “Not that it’s much work.”

Sid chuckled. “I can’t out here. We don’t want people to complain to the motel management.”

“At the risk of further inflating your ego, I can’t see anything to complain about.”

“I can’t either. But you see, I don’t believe in tan lines, and some people find that objectionable.”

“Oh.” I could feel my face growing hot. “I thought you said you weren’t an exhibitionist.”

“I’m not. Just because I don’t exhibit my body for show doesn’t mean I am uncomfortable in my natural state.”

I confess I did briefly try to imagine him that way, but it was just too embarrassing. Sid noticed and laughed.

Disney World and Epcot were a blast. Okay, the Magic Kingdom was almost just like Disneyland, but that didn’t bother me because I love Disneyland. Sid made the drop without trouble. He even went on the rides without complaining.

By Thursday, however, Sid was getting a little touchy, and made a few pointed comments about the number of frozen bananas, orange juice bars, hamburgers and boxes of popcorn I consumed. It didn’t help that we were given a second drop to make the next day. By then, Sid was positively distant.

“I just don’t feel like communicating right now,” he told me after breakfast.

“Okay. But the last time that happened, we ended up in that really awful fight and it just made it harder when things blew up.”

He sighed. “Alright. Point taken.” He turned to me and gently touched my cheek. “But the only resolution for what I’m feeling at the moment is something you don’t want to get into. Can you bear with me until Sunday?”

“Oh. Yeah.” I felt guilty, but Sid was right. I didn’t want to get into that.

He was still sulking at lunch.

“We’ll have to take time out from your food and ride fest to make that second drop,” he grumbled. “The layout is pretty good from our standpoint. I’ll be at the hotel bar, and she’ll talk to the bartender. It’ll be pretty hard to pop me with someone right there. I want you to be extra careful on the perimeter sweeps.”

I was, but there was nothing to be seen. Nobody was in the bar in the middle of the afternoon. The bartender was very friendly and I could hear Sid chatting pleasantly with him. I moved around behind the bar. Static crackled in my ear, and instead of Sid, I got the radio from the monorail. I stepped into the ladies room and took off my transmitter. Fat lot of good that did. I whacked it a couple times.

“Approaching station,” said the professional voice. “All clear.”

I went back to the bar. Sid met me out front.

“Let’s go,” he said.

“Everything go okay?” I asked. “My transmitter cut out and picked up the monorail.”

“So did mine.” He paused. “Listen, is your heart still set on another run through Space Mountain?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why don’t you spare me? I’ll meet you over there after check in.”

I wondered what was up, but decided to take advantage of it. While in line to Space Mountain I ate a bacon cheeseburger. [So that was what I smelled on your breath – SEH] As it happened, I did feel for him, but there just wasn’t much I could do about it, besides the obvious, and no matter how I tried to justify it, I couldn’t.

Sid just got grumpier and grumpier. We flew to New Orleans the next day. As usual, Sid slept the whole way, so I didn’t say anything about the problem.

In New Orleans, we found a nice little motel in the French Quarter. At the desk, the clerk said all they had was a double (a room with two queen sized beds).

“That’s it?” Sid asked.

“Oh, darling, let’s take it,” I butted in quickly. “I know it’s more expensive, but it’s Memorial Day weekend. I don’t want to take a chance on not finding a place to stay.”

“Alright,” replied Sid, quietly.

He paid for the room and gloomily followed behind the bellhop and me. It was a very nice little room with a private bath and a balcony overlooking a courtyard and, of course, the two beds. I waited until the bellhop had gone before I bounced onto the bed closest to the balcony.

“No sleeping on the floor,” I crowed, flopping backward and gazing at the ceiling. “How wonderful.”

I thought I heard a faint sigh. I looked at Sid, who was sitting down with his back to me on the far edge of the other bed.

“Isn’t this just perfect?” I asked.

“Yeah, “ grumbled Sid. “Too bad I can’t have company.”

“Well, I could make myself scarce.”

“I’m not bringing anyone here, anyway. It’s too dangerous.”

I rolled over onto my stomach and looked at him.

“Are you sure there’s not something else bothering besides you know what?”

“I’m fine. Just leave me alone will you?”

“Come on, what’s eating you?”

Sid let out a short high-pitched sarcastic laugh, and I thought I heard him mutter the Lord’s name, but I chose to let it pass.

“I’m sorry. I just find it a little hard to believe you are this upset because you’ve missed a few nights.”

He turned around and glared at me.

“I am not upset, but I am that horny. I’m also trying very hard to remain civil and pleasant, but it’s not easy.”

“Well, hang on, Sunday’s coming. Better yet, I’ll go do something by myself today.”

“No, I don’t want you wandering around on those streets by yourself. I’ll make it til tomorrow.”

“You could always try running twenty laps around the French Quarter and then a cold shower.”

“Very funny.”

“I thought so. Maybe you ought to pretend you’ve got V.D., something drastic, like Herpes.”

“Mention not that dread name, even in jest.” Sid was deadly serious.

“Sorry.” I rolled over onto my back again.

“Will you cut that out,” Sid snapped turning away from me.

“What?” I folded my hands underneath my head.

“What you’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything. I’m just laying here, looking at the ceiling.”

“I only have so much control.”

“What do you mean?”

“You laying on your back. Don’t you have any idea how inviting that is?”

“Oh, Sid,” I gasped as the light dawned. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Look, I’m not even laying down anymore. I’m really sorry. I didn’t even think…”

“I know.” Sid turned to me. “That’s the problem.”

“I can’t help it. I just don’t think that way.”

“Maybe it’s better that you don’t.”

There was a pause.

“That bad, huh?” I asked.

Sid nodded. “Your presence isn’t helping any, either.”

“Well, that settles it.” I stood up and grabbed my purse. “I’m taking off, and by myself, too. You do what you want.”

“No, I’ll go with you. I don’t want you out there by yourself.”

“Enough with the chauvinism. It’s broad daylight, I can take care of myself and I’m not going to take any stupid chances. I’ll be fine.”

“So will I. Let’s go.”

“No. Sid, I don’t want to make it any harder on you than it already is. I’ll go. You can do whatever and I’ll be back by four. Okay? See you.”

“Alright.”

I had to pass him to get to the door. As I did, he goosed me. I turned on him angrily.

“Do you want me to sock you in the jaw?”

“Might help.” He shrugged, helplessly.

“Don’t tempt me.” I shut the door. The poor thing.

There was another reason I didn’t want Sid around that day. While on the plane, I had remembered his birthday was the following Wednesday. Now, obviously, Sid isn’t exactly the type to appreciate being reminded that he is getting older. But I felt I had to do something. He had been very generous to me on my birthday earlier that spring.

So, happily rid of him for several hours, I explored the French Quarter stores, searching for just the right gift. It wasn’t easy. If Sid wants something he just buys it. Back home, in Los Angeles, I had a sweater half-way knitted for him, but Sid hadn’t thought to bring my knitting. I don’t knit fast enough to have started from scratch again. There was also the problem of carrying it.

Most of the stores carried tourist-oriented goods. The stores on Bourbon Street carried a lot of items that were along the lines of Sid’s extracurricular activities, but I decided I didn’t know enough about what I was doing. I was too embarrassed anyway.

Towards mid-afternoon, I went into a little antique shop off of Andrew Jackson Square. They had a lovely collection of antique jewelry. I found Sid’s gift sitting in a case with some china. It was a gold pocket watch with a chain and fob attached. It was open, and I could see the time was the same as on my watch.

“How much is this watch?” I asked the shopkeeper.

“Hundred and fifty dollars, ma’am.”

I bit my lip. On one hand, it was a lot of money for me to be spending on Sid and we were supposedly on a budget. On the other hand, Sid wouldn’t like anything cheap and a hundred and fifty dollars wouldn’t seem like a lot to him.

“Um, could I see it?”

“Certainly, ma’am. Nice little piece.” The shopkeeper opened the case and pulled it out. He wound it up and gentle music came tinkling out of it. “Has a music box.”

“How enchanting. I know that piece.”

I was entranced, but the money it cost made me hesitate.

“I’ll have to think about it.”

I knew as I left the store that I wouldn’t find anything better. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that Sid should have it. I continued shopping but was utterly preoccupied with the watch, until a sharp female voice jolted me alert.

“How’d you like to see yourself as a blonde, honey?” she screeched.

I stopped. She leaned in the doorway of a wig shop, a heavy set blonde with a style like Dolly Parton’s. I had a feeling she was wearing her stock.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“How’d you like to see yourself as a blonde?” she repeated. “Got a piece of hair’d suit you right nicely.”

“Oh,” I giggled. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try it on.”

“Course not.”

The effect was incredible. I couldn’t believe the stranger with the ash blonde shag cut I saw facing me in the mirror was me. So, impulsively, I bought the wig. After all, what’s a spy without one good disguise? Still in that frame of mind, I also bought a pair of indoor/outdoor sunglasses with nice contemporary frames.

Then I went right back to the antique shop. As I entered, my heart stopped. I heard the gentle music of the watch and saw another couple looking at it and smiling. I didn’t breathe again until they sadly shook their heads and started out.

“I want that watch,” I told the shopkeeper before the couple had even left. I dug frantically through my purse for my wallet. “Chain and all. You have a box for it?”

“Yes, I do, ma’am.”

“Great. What do you want? Master, Visa, American express?”

“Whatever you wish, ma’am.”

I don’t know which card I gave him. I was just glad I’d left my real I.D. in Washington. Knowing me, I’d have given him a card with the wrong name. While he wrote up the sale, I inspected the watch once more.

“Do you gift wrap?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Could you wrap the watch for me? How much extra will it cost?”

“Not a cent, ma’am.”

“I’m going to tell my friends about this place. Thanks.”

Checking my watch, I saw that it was getting close to four. I hid the gift-wrapped box in my purse and hurried back to the motel.

“I’m back,” I called, coming in the door. I shut it firmly.

The room was empty. The bathroom door was shut, and I heard the whine of the blow dryer coming from behind it. Underneath the blow dryer, I thought I heard singing. Puzzled, I slowly put down my bags. The blow dryer clicked off, but the singing continued. It was Sid’s voice, alright. But I’d never heard him sing before. He was singing “All Day, All Night, Marianne.” At least that was the melody. He’d rearranged the lyrics and they were filthy. It figured.

I noticed his suit jacket and vest laid out neatly on the bed. On the dresser was the matching tie, a pair of cuff links and tie pin.

“Sid?” I called again, more hesitantly. “I’m back.”

“Great,” he called back, over the sound of water running. There was a pause then, “Enjoy yourself?”

“Yeah.”

“Terrific.” Pause. “Why don’t you get on your black dress? I’ve got reservations for us at…” pause “…one of the nicest restaurants in the French Quarter.”

“Do you think that’s wise?” I asked.

“Sure…” Pause. “…We can afford to splurge a little.”

“Alright.”

I got out the dress, wondering a little. He seemed to be in a lot better mood. The bathroom door opened and he came out humming “Marianne” and buttoning the top button on his dress shirt. Flipping up the collar, he crossed over to the dresser, picked up the tie and began tying it around his neck.

“I get the feeling you went out also today,” I said leaning on the doors to the balcony.

Sid snickered. “This city’s reputation is well deserved, I’m happy to say.” The tie finished, he inserted the pin into the collar underneath the knot.

“I don’t know. I can’t tell if you’re easier to deal with when you’re horny or when you’re satisfied.”

“Satisfied? Me? Never.” Sid grinned and faced me. “Like the song says, I can’t get no… And how are you, my little ice cube?”

“Confused.”

“About what?”

“You. I’m sorry, Sid, I’m really trying, but I just can’t understand what the big deal is.”

“What big deal?”

“Sex.”

Sid couldn’t have been more astonished.

“What do you mean you don’t understand what the big deal is?” He sat down on the dresser. “It’s…uh…my god, child, I know you’re untouched, but haven’t you ever been horny?”

“Of course, I have. I’m normal.”

“I wasn’t saying you weren’t.” Sid got up and started prowling about the room. “How can I explain it?”

“I know sort of what’s supposed to happen. I guess part of the problem is that I’ve been hearing some conflicting reports.”

“Such as..?”

“What my Grandma Caulfield told Mae right before she got married.”

“And..?”

“She told Mae to close her eyes and lay still and it wouldn’t take long.”

“That’s rubbish and you know it.”

“I know, but what about all the horror stories I’ve heard from my aunts?”

“They’re probably a bunch of gossipy frigid ladies with husbands who are only interested in slam, bam, thank you, ma’am. A decent sex life does take a certain amount of sensitivity.”

“I’m sure it does, but…”

Sid settled on his bed. “How can I tell you? If I try to show you, I’ll get my teeth knocked out. If I use graphic detail, you’ll probably crawl under the bed and stay there.”

“Sid, please. I guess what I don’t understand is I’ve gone all my life without sex and you can’t go a week without it.”

Sid looked at me thinking.

“Well, I am hornier than most,” he said, finally. “I guess it’s largely because I never say no, except for the occasions when I pick up a little V.D., and that’s rare, believe it or not. When I do and I see a likely woman I start reacting like I would normally. I start thinking about how it would feel. Under normal circumstances, I either move in, if the time’s right or forget about her. But there’s something about not being able to have her, for whatever reason, that locks her into my mind. I work at thinking about other things. But you know how it is when there’s something you don’t want to think about, inevitably that’s what you find yourself thinking about. And when I think about it, I get horny. Having to say no only aggravates it. Worse still, I rarely run across just one woman. Anyway, that’s why I get so grumpy. I like to think I’ve got better control over my thoughts than I do.” Sid sighed, looked at me intently and then looked down at his feet. “Of course, you add a whole new dimension to the problem. Not only have I got you in my brain, I’m working with you, closely. Normally, I get hot, I transfer it to some other woman.”

“You mean you think about me when..?”

“No. It’s just when I look at you and the urge hits, I work it out with someone else. But now it’s a lot harder to do that because there’s supposedly no need for another woman, which makes her harder to come by. So I get horny. Do you realize you are the only woman I have really wanted that I have not made love to?”

“Oh, dear, I knew it.” I bit my lip, trying not to cry. “I knew I was making it worse.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“It’s not? Come on. If I wasn’t such a prude, you wouldn’t need to be that way. When the urge hit, you could just have me.”

“That part of it might be easier, but I think we’re still better off as we are. One of the reasons you and I work so well together is because we’re forced to take the time to talk with each other because we do believe so differently. If we were sleeping together, I don’t know that we’d take that time.”

“I still feel responsible, and guilty. I’ve always felt that teasing a guy was incredibly cruel. And here I am driving you nuts because I can’t say yes.”

“Be careful. You sound like you might be rationalizing yourself into a position I can tell you don’t want to be in.”

“And you’re cheering me on.”

“Oh no. If I was, I wouldn’t have warned you. I’d have let you dig your hole and crawled in after you.”

I looked at him, surprised, then smiled.

“Who’d have though my virtue would be safe with you?”

Sid chuckled. “I’d like to think it isn’t entirely safe. I do have my pride, you know.”

“Well, it does get shaky, sometimes, but I have a pretty firm grip on my resolve.”

“Good.” Sid’s smile was tender and warm, then he looked at his watch. “Uh, oh, it’s getting late. You’d better hurry, or we’ll miss our reservation.”

“Oh dear, yes. Let me see, here are my nylons. I’ll need my…where’s my makeup bag?”

“In the bathroom, in your carry on. I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed your shampoo.”

“You got dandruff?”

“No. I ran out of my own.”

“That figures. You wouldn’t allow dandruff.”

“Very funny.”

“I thought so. Where’s my dress?”

Sid handed it to me and I retreated with it into the bathroom. I was a little mad at myself for not remembering that Sid already had a watch. Then I wasn’t so mad because I remembered that he had several different watches that he coordinated with what he was wearing and not one of them was a pocket watch. Then I got depressed because that probably meant he didn’t like pocket watches. Then again, it was possible it just hadn’t occurred to him. I bit my lip. I really hoped he would like it.

“By the way,” I heard Sid call as I slid into my dress. “By any chance, did you buy anything today?”

“You can be proud of me. I did.”

“What did you buy?”

“Now, don’t laugh. You promise?”

“No way.”

“Sid.”

“I’m not making any promise unless I know I can keep it.”

“Well, it was very impulsive. The second most impulsive thing I’ve done in my life.”

“What was the first?”

“Coming to work for you.”

“Real cute. What is this thing?”

“It’s in the tall round box.”

“I was wondering about that.”

Then I heard him laugh, very loudly and very hard.

“What on earth?” he gasped.

“The lady practically dragged me off the street to try it on. I was fascinated. I looked completely different. I thought it might come in handy.”

“Come on, disguises are for Inspector Clouseau and B-rate spy thrillers.”

“Well, you never know.”

“Are you ready yet?” He was still laughing.

“I’m not coming out of this bathroom until you stop laughing. I don’t care if our reservations are at the White House.”

“Alright, alright. I’m not laughing.”

“I still hear a little snicker.”

“No, you don’t. I’m as straight and sober as can be.”

I opened the door a crack. He wasn’t even smiling. I came out. He didn’t crack. I went to get my purse. He started breaking up.

“That does it.” I fled towards the bathroom but Sid caught me before I got there and held me by the upper arms. “Will you please stop laughing? I admit it was a little silly, but for heaven’s sake.”

“Okay, I’ll try.” Sid’s eyes sparkled merrily. “It’s just so unlike you and at the same time very much like you. I love it, I really do.”

He reached over and kissed my forehead.

“Come on,” he said, sympathetically. He turned me around, put his arm around my shoulders and started walking me out of the room. “We shall now go and be terribly sophisticated and dine in elegance at our leisure. Then you can show me how to be utterly frivolous and childlike.”

“Oh, Sid.”

 

Dinner was marvelous, and oh, we laughed together. Then when we went walking and window shopped. A dress in a children’s boutique stopped me.

“That dress.” I pointed it out to Sid. “I made one almost like it for Janey when she was a baby.” We moved on. “I was so excited when she was born.”

“Why?”

“I was there. It was Friday and Mama and I drove down because Mae was due that Sunday. I was still working at Daddy’s store in Tahoe, but I came down with Mama to bring some of my stuff because I was moving in that fall to go to college. Mama and I pulled up at the house at three o’clock that afternoon, but there was no one there. Darby was at the neighbor’s. Mae had been in labor all night and Neil had forgotten to call us. We went right over to the hospital. Mae’s doctor was real progressive, and he had us put on scrubs and go right in. Half an hour later, Janey was born.” My eyes filled. “Mae held her, then Neil, then they plopped her in my arms. I asked what her name was and Mae said Lisa Jane.”

“They named her after you.”

“Yeah. But we call her Janey to prevent confusion since I was living there. Actually, we’re both named after Grandma Wycherly. I was supposed to be Lisle Frobischer, cause Grandma was German, but Mama didn’t want me to have a funny name. She hated growing up as Althea.”

“I can sympathize.”

“So she and Daddy compromised on anglicizing the first name and hadn’t decided about Grandma’s maiden name when I was born. So when I had to be baptized right away cause they were afraid of losing me, Mama couldn’t think of what to do and the nun suggested Jane after St. Joan, who was a strong fighting woman, and Mama said that sounded good, so that’s my name. There wasn’t time to ask Daddy.”

“What did they do, whisk you off to the church right away?”

“Oh no. I was baptized right in the delivery room. In fact, I think Sister did it. They didn’t want to waste time digging up a priest.”

“But I thought only priests did that sort of thing.”

“Under normal circumstances, sure. But in my case, it was a life and death emergency. Heck, in an emergency, any Catholic can baptize somebody.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, if there’s an accident or something and somebody’s dying and wants to be baptized, but there’s a good chance he’s going to peg out before a priest can get there, I, or any other Catholic, could baptize him.”

“What if he doesn’t die?”

“He’s still baptized. Baptism’s baptism. Even in the old days, the church didn’t re-baptize someone who was joining up if he’d been baptized in another faith.”

“I don’t understand. Isn’t that how you guys initiate somebody?”

“In one sense yes. But baptism is a sacrament and that means it goes a lot deeper than the ritual you see. When a person is baptized, he’s washed clean from original sin, which in the case of babies, is their sinful nature and in the case of adults also includes all their other sins.”

“In other words, you have to be baptized to get into heaven.”

“Basically.”

“What if you don’t get around to it?”

“There are provisions for those who believe but haven’t had a chance to be baptized for whatever reason. One of them is martyrdom.”

“Oh.”

“The key is faith. You have to believe in it, first. So I wouldn’t count on having me around when you cash in. Without faith, it won’t do you any good. And besides, I’ll probably get bumped off a lot sooner than you will, anyway. The idea is not to wait to the last minute, because you may not have a chance.”

“Ah, yes. You realize that’s the argument you religious types have in your favor. Death and what comes after.”

“That undiscovered bourn from which no traveler returns.”

“Precisely.” Sid paused, then we walked on. “Back talking about death again, aren’t we?”

“It must be the circumstances surrounding why we’re here.”

Sid smirked. “Maybe I ought to get myself baptized.”

“What?” I asked laughing. “You?”

“Well, that point you made about not waiting to the last minute because you may not have a chance is well taken. You might even want to consider it, as a matter of fact.”

“What do you mean?”

“Earlier this evening you expressed an intense curiosity regarding sexual intercourse.”

My heart racing, I stepped up my pace. The problem was, I was curious and horny, and I realized all of a sudden just how hard he was to resist.

He caught my shoulder. “Hey, don’t worry. I’m not asking. You’re obviously not ready, any more than I am to believe in God. And I refuse to make love to you until you are.”

I looked into his beautiful blue eyes. “It might surprise you, but sometimes I really think I am ready.”

“I’m not in the least surprised.” His fingers touched my cheek. “But until we can overcome the fear within you, it’s not going to happen.”

We went back to the motel from there. I almost took the cold shower. Sid didn’t shower at all, but he sure spent an awfully long time in the bathroom. [You’re kidding. Didn’t you smell it? I was going nuts. I was going to die. That’s what I thought. Either I was going to get myself between your legs, or I was going to die – SEH]

Anne Louise Bannon

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