cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Four

May 20 – 23, 1983

The flight from Washington was short. Sid seemed tense but stayed awake for a change. I, on the other hand, dozed. Sid woke me as we circled over Manhattan.

“We forgot something,” he grumbled.

“Huh?”

“We forgot something,” he repeated. “Something critical.”

“Oh, help.” I dove under my seat for my carry on and the huge tan leather purse Sid had talked me into buying the day before.

“It’s something we forgot to get yesterday,” said Sid.

I yawned. “I can’t imagine what.”

“A camera. We’re tourists.”

“I’ve got mine.” I got out my purse and pulled out the black case containing my Canon SLR. “I even remembered the flash.”

Sid all but gaped. “When did you get that?”

“I’ve had it since last November. Jesse helped me get it wholesale.”

“Figures. But how did it get here?”

“I had it on the retreat with me.”

“Oh, great. Don’t tell me you have film with your friends on it.”

“Nope. I’m not that stupid. I shot off that roll in Washington and left it. Hattie said she’d send it back with the rest of my fabric and stuff. Oh my, those skyscrapers are so close. What a great shot.”

I pulled the case off my camera and squeezed off a few.

We landed about ten minutes later at La Guardia. We were on one of those early commuter flights, and so it was only nine o’clock when we got on the bus to Manhattan. We settled into our seats, and I checked my copy of Frommer’s New York City.

“Good lord, look at these prices!” I gasped.

“Welcome to New York,” said Sid.

“Hey, get this, the Algonquin is moderately priced. That’s moderate? Good Lord. Here’s one on 42nd and 8th.”

Sid grimaced. “That’s right off of Times Square. It’s not a nice neighborhood.”

“This says it’s right in the middle of the theater district. Can’t be that bad.”

“True. Alright.”

“It’s the cheapest one there is.” I shook my head. “My daddy would be a millionaire at these prices.”

Sid just chuckled.

At the hotel, we had to store our suitcases and carry-ons. Our room wasn’t ready, but the desk said he’d send our stuff up as soon as it was. In the meantime, Sid and I hit the phones. I didn’t know what he was up to, but I had a drop to arrange.

“So what do we do now?” I asked him when we met again in the lobby.

“Go sight-seeing,” he said. “We’ll come back and change for dinner.”

“Okay.”

As far as I was concerned, he was dressed for dinner in one of the casual slacks I’d hemmed the night before. They were a tweed-like synthetic linen, with a pleated front. The yarns were mixed white and light blue with navy blue slubs here and there. They just happened to match the shirt I had made for him, which he just happened to be wearing, along with the light blue sweater he’d bought the day before, which also just happened to match.

The shirt, itself, was short sleeved with square patch pockets and epaulets. Instead of just throwing his sweater over his shoulders and tying it in front, as usual, he’d buttoned the epaulets over the sweater’s sleeves. The whole effect was stunning, far more so than I wanted to think about.

“You got your sweater?” he asked. “It’s a little chilly out there.”

“Yeah, but maybe I should put it with our stuff.” I looked at the beige shetland wool in my hands. “It’s going to warm up, and this purse is bad enough. I don’t want to be dragging a sweater all over, too.”

I had put on my lavender shirtwaist again, with tan sandals that tied around my ankles. The heels were a modest wedge, and in them were pieces of assorted hardware.

“Wear it around your shoulders,” said Sid.

“They always fall off when I do that.”

“Maybe you’re not wearing it right. Put it on.”

Rolling my eyes skyward, I flipped the sweater around my shoulders. Sid just smiled and shook his head.

“No wonder it falls,” he said, plucking it off. He deftly folded the neckline over. “Here, see how I fold this?” I took my purse in my hands and he swung the sweater over my shoulders. “Then you just lay it on, so that all of the sleeves are over your shoulders, then tie it like so.” He did. “And you’re ready to go.”

There was a strange, but not awkward, pause, as we stood and looked at each other. His lips parted. I felt my heart stutter.

“Uh, yeah, well.” Sid turned from me to one of the mirrors decorating the lobby and ran a reassuring hand over his perfectly arranged hair. “You got plenty of film?”

“Yeah,” I replied softly and gathered my things together.

There is an energy to Manhattan that when you’re in the middle of it, fills you with an exhilaration that goes beyond words. Times Square was ugly, without a doubt, trash all over the place, tacky stores, and crowds like I had never seen before, but I loved it. The only other time I had been in New York City, I was in a cab going through Queens from La Guardia to Kennedy. No matter what the danger was, I couldn’t help filling up with the incredible life of the city around me.

“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town,” I sang. “The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.”

“The people ride in a hole in the ground,” said Sid. He doesn’t sing. [Under certain circumstances I do, just not in public. They arrest people for that – SEH]  “Come on.”

He gently took my elbow and steered me into the hole in the ground. It was dark, dirty, graffiti everywhere, and it stank.

“This is great,” I giggled as we stood on the platform.

Sid laughed.

“Cut that out,” I said. “I can’t help it. I mean this is the New York subway. I’ve heard about it all my life and I’m really here.”

“You get excited by the strangest things, woman.”

We got off at the Battery. At the edge of the park was a wagon vendor. I got out my wallet.

“A hot pretzel, please,” I asked the vendor. Sid cleared his throat. I turned on him. “Don’t start. Don’t even think of starting. I experience the world with all five of my senses, and I’m not about to stop now.” I turned back to the vendor. “I’d like a bag of peanuts, too, and… a strawberry soda.”

Sid winced as I squirted mustard over the pretzel. That was only the start. I basically ate my way through lower Manhattan. From the Battery, we walked up to Wall Street, then over to the World Trade Center, where Sid decided the line was too long for the ride to the top. I got a bagel and cream cheese downstairs.

Then we went up Broadway, past City Hall Park, and walked around the shops in Chinatown where I got take out – marvelous mu shu pork, exquisite egg foo young and a yummy spare rib, then on up through Little Italy where I ate two slices of pizza from two different places, a half pint of tortellini that I’m certain God Himself made, and a quarter pound of an incredibly delicious salami.

“Fats and salt,” said Sid, morosely shaking his head.

“And lots of garlic to thin out my blood.” I stuffed in another slice.

“I know. I can smell it.”

“You can? Maybe I’d better get a breath mint.”

“Oh no. Not one of those revolting peppermints. Please. The only thing worse than garlic on your breath is peppermint and garlic on your breath.”

From Little Italy, we walked through SoHo and up into Greenwich Village where I stopped eating long enough to take some pictures of Washington Square Park.

“So this is the infamous Village,” I said.

“Mm-hm.” Sid nodded. “It’s gotten a lot nicer since I was a kid. I was born not too far from here, you know.”

“That’s right. But you were pretty young when you left. Do you remember a lot?”

“I was only three when we moved.” He frowned, digging up the memory. “We lived over this little Italian grocery. My earliest memory is of the grocer. He was an old guy, with ice blue eyes. I don’t remember much else from when I lived here. Stella and I came back a lot, though. It was a pretty interesting place.”

“I’ll bet.” Then something I’d been looking for caught my eye and I headed for it. “Alright.”

“Where are you going?”

“That hot dog wagon. I’ve been looking for one of those since I got here.”

“You can get one later.” Sid caught my arm and pulled me away. “You may not believe this, but I am actually hungry and would like to eat a responsible, healthy lunch.”

Read boring, but actually, it wasn’t bad. The little restaurant served a variety of organic salads and something called tofu. I had an avocado sandwich with tomato and lettuce on whole grain bread. The salad they put in front of Sid had all sorts of weird things growing out of it. I managed to cop a taste from him, and it was pretty good.

“There, you see,” he said. “Healthy living does not have to be deprivation. This food is as delicious as anything I’ve watched you put in your face today.”

“I never said it wasn’t. I just like the other stuff, too.”

Sid sighed in surrender. We spent the rest of the afternoon ambling up Broadway. I got cookies, more pizza, falafel, gyros, Lindy’s cheesecake and the most heavenly pastrami sandwich it has ever been my pleasure to sink my teeth into.

“This is the pastrami I have been waiting all my life to eat,” I announced, licking the mustard from my thumb.

“Are you finally getting full?”

“You’re just jealous.”

“Not a bit. In fact, I’m rather enjoying the thought of the incredible indigestion that’s headed your way.”

“Not my way.” I patted my tummy. “It’s cast iron. Can handle anything.”

As we neared Times Square again, I spotted another hot dog wagon.

“No,” said Sid. “Don’t you want to save some room for dinner?”

“It depends on whether or not I get to pick out where we’re eating.”

“I’ve already selected a place and made reservations.”

“I’m not eating dinner at any restaurant that serves alfalfa sprouts. I’ve done that once today and that’s enough, so if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get my kraut dog now.”

He caught my elbow. “In deference to your gluttony, we’re going to a very nice little French restaurant that I know of.”

“It’s not that nouvelle cuisine that’s supposed to be good for you, is it?”

“No. It’s traditional French cooking in all its glory.”

“Really?” That sounded a lot better. “Maybe I will wait on that kraut dog.”

It was almost three o’clock then, and time for me to check in, which I did at the first pay phone I could find that worked.

“Well?” asked Sid as I hung up.

“The drop’s set up for tomorrow.”

“Good.”

When we got back to the hotel, Sid grabbed his clothes and the bathroom.

“Put on that black backless dress you got yesterday,” he called.

“Okay.” I also got out my makeup and redid my face. If the place was that fancy, I wanted to look good.

It took me a few more minutes to find my black nylons. I got undressed, put on the black nylons, and had just slipped the black dress up over my hips when the bathroom door opened.

“Sid!” I yelped, pulling the top up over my bare chest.

His face was damp, his five o’clock shadow was gone, and he was equally bare-chested, with a light tan that highlighted his muscles, just enough to suggest power without all that exaggerated bulkiness.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, going over to his carry on. “I thought you’d be dressed by now.”

“But, Sid-”

“Watch that name stuff. You never know.”

“You did that on purpose!” My face was purple with rage and embarrassment.

Sid, who was on his way back to the bathroom, turned back to me with his very bored look.

“Why? I’ll confess to some curiosity, but in the first place, there just aren’t that many variations on the theme, and we both know it would go nowhere, so in the final analysis, looking is utterly pointless. And in the second place, nude bodies in all circumstances aside from immediate sexual pleasure just don’t get me that excited.”

“Huh?”

“I don’t give a damn whether your breasts have clothes on them or not. Your bare breasts are not going to get me all fired up. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just mammary glands, unless I happen to have my hands or my mouth on them, which is a very pleasant thought, indeed, but not too damned likely to happen. I just came out to get my brush, and I’m sorry I caught you.” [Okay, I wasn’t being entirely honest. I found your topless body quite pleasant to look at and was very happy to have had the chance. But it was an accident that I got it – SEH]

I didn’t believe him. He went back into the bathroom and I finished getting dressed. When he came out, we were both dressed.

“Did you shave again?” I asked.

“Mm-hmm. I always shave twice a day. My beard is unfortunately too dark and grows too fast for me not to.”

The topless incident remained unmentioned.

Dinner was excellent. Sid almost ate like a normal person. He stuck with chicken and oil and vinegar on the side for his salad and requested no salt when he ordered. He also refused dessert. I didn’t. While I was happily consuming my pastry, he told me what those other phone calls were.

“Tickets to the theater and the ballet?” I actually stopped eating. “You’re kidding.”

“Not in the least. We’ve got American Ballet Theatre tomorrow, and a nice little off-Broadway show tonight.”

“On a weekend? How’d you do it?”

“I have my ways.”

I leaned over and spoke softly. “You didn’t blow our cover did you?”

He also spoke softly, mocking my tone. “Not even close. I just know who to call.”

I settled back in my seat.

“Wow,” I giggled. “That’s terrific.”

Between dinner and the play, I got down a Hagen Daz ice cream cone. During the play, which was very good, I ate a chocolate bar. After the play, I finally got my kraut dog (perfection).

“I’ve never seen any one person eat so much in one day in my entire life,” Sid said when we finally got back to our room.

“There’s a lot of good food around.” I came in from the bathroom, dressed for bed in nightgown and robe, stirring bicarbonate of soda into a glass of warm water. I handed it to him. “Maybe if you didn’t baby your system so much, it wouldn’t be so hard on you.”

Sid winced at the taste of the mixture. He heaved himself out of the chair and headed for the bathroom to change for bed. I noticed his pajama bottoms and robe folded neatly on top of his suitcase.

“You forgot something,” I called out. I picked them up and handed them through.

“Sorry.”

That was one of the most awkward things about us rooming together. Sid doesn’t normally wear anything to bed. He was very nice about volunteering the pajama bottoms but got a little testy about the robe until I reminded him he didn’t have to sleep in the robe. It was just for between the changing room and bed, as the bottoms were rather sheer and the flies on those things were always popping open. Sid promptly retorted in that case, he could dispense with the bottoms once in bed. I said I didn’t want to know about it.

“I’ll sleep on the floor tonight,” I called. “Since you’re not feeling well.”

“Thanks.”

We had gotten an extra blanket from the hotel. I took the bedspread off the bed, laid it down on the floor, grabbed the second pillow, and taking it and the blanket, made myself comfortable. After taking off my robe, I laid down, trying to silently release the excess gas in my stomach.

The next morning, Sid let me sleep until seven thirty before he nudged me awake with his foot.

“Leave me alone,” I mumbled, pulling the blanket over my head.

“We’re going running.” He was ready to go.

“We’re supposed to be on vacation.”

“In the first place, we are in fact not on vacation, and in the second place, people on vacation do go running in the morning. Don’t you want to be able to say you went running in Central Park?”

“No.”

“Get up.”

I did, growling and grumbling and fumbling my way around. I wake up very slowly. As I became more alert, I made several pointed remarks about the possibilities of encountering the muggers, rapists, and other assorted violent types generally associated with Central Park. Sid pointedly ignored me. I also complained about running the twenty blocks up to the park through all the crowds of people trying to get to work when we could have taken the bus or subway. Sid ignored that too.

Two hours later, over breakfast, Sid briefed me on the small, coded dossier on our suspect that we’d found in the envelope with the drops.

“His name is Merle Wadkins, Jr.,” said Sid. “He’s caucasian, six one, brown hair, green eyes, no distinguishing marks. Cover is a freelance salesman in the greeting card and novelty business. He lives in a fourth floor walk-up in SoHo. He was adopted in 1969, has a good solid record, including several investigations, but nothing spectacular. He’s considered the least likely source of our leak, but you know how that goes.”

“I can imagine.” I was nervous. Sid and I were wired, but that was small consolation.

We took a cab to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sid ditched me just after we got in the entrance. Around eleven, I found myself in the European Artist’s Gallery looking for someone looking at Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Looking at a Bust of Homer.” Wadkins arrived precisely on time at five after. He wore a dark tacky spring overcoat. I casually came over to inspect the Rembrandt. Standing close to him, I quickly glanced around. People milled about the room but paid no attention to us. I slipped an envelope out of my purse and into the pocket of the overcoat.

“Thanks,” muttered Wadkins and then moved off.

I stayed looking at the painting a minute longer, then sauntered off to meet Sid in Arms and Armour.

“Mission accomplished,” I said slipping up to him.

“Great. Let’s make tracks out of here.”

“Do we have to?”

Sid looked at me and shrugged. “I suppose we could stay if you want to. I was thinking of taking in the Statue of Liberty, myself. It may be our last chance before all you know what breaks loose.”

“Oh. That’s right.” I sighed. “Alright, let’s go.”

We had a lovely day. The Statue was great but extremely crowded. Sid absolutely refused to stand in line to walk to the top. The Dragon had nothing for us when we checked in, so we goofed off and window shopped at the South Street Seaport and just barely got back to the hotel in time to change for dinner and the ballet. Then I almost made us late by insisting on checking the times for mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The next morning, I told Sid he could stay at the hotel if he wanted to, while I was at church. He insisted on walking with me.

“It’ll look better if I go with you,” he said, as we started off.

“Well, you don’t have to stay.”

“So I’m bored for an hour.”

“You’re not bored, you’re bugged. Why the sudden interest?”

“Strictly for appearances.” His tone told me he’d been bracing himself for this. Attending mass was the last thing he wanted to do. I took pity on him.

“If that’s the only reason you’re going, then don’t. Mixed marriages aren’t all that uncommon. Nobody would think twice about a man dropping his wife off at church.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“How long will you be?”

“About an hour. Tell you what. Sak’s is right there. I’ll meet you there in two-and-a-half hours.”

I was surprised when he didn’t argue or insist that we go wired.

I was looking at a dress in Sak’s Fifth Avenue when it happened. I didn’t have to meet Sid for another half hour, and so I was more absorbed in whether or not I should try the dress on than I should have been. A pair of hands slipped from behind to cover my eyes. I didn’t scream but rammed my knuckles into the tendons above the wrists. The hands gave way, and I whirled around with my elbow looking for a place to connect. One of the hands stopped me.

“Hold on,” Sid said wincing and chuckling at the same time. “It’s just me.”

I turned on him, utterly furious.

“You,” I gasped, then continued in a low angry voice. “You of all people ought to know better than to pull a stupid stunt like that.”

“Did I scare you?”

“I only tried to jump right out of my skin.”

“Well, you got yours back.” Grinning, he held up his wrists, then rubbed the spot where my knuckles had hit home. There was something funny about the way he was acting.

“You seem to be in an awfully good mood,” I said.

“I am. I just resolved a problem that I thought was going to make things difficult for us, especially if this fiasco turns out to be a long-running affair.”

“I don’t get it.”

Sid grinned and brushed my nose with his forefinger.

“You’re not thinking again, my dear. What’s a supposedly happily married man supposed to do when he’s horny and his wife won’t co-operate and nobody can know why she won’t?”

I blushed. “I think I know what you were doing while I was at church.”

“Each of us to our own first loves.”

“That is disgusting.” I stopped and looked at him. He laughed. “But apt.”

“So what are you looking at?”

“This dress. I was debating trying it on.”

“Go ahead.”

“I don’t know. It’s very expensive.”

“Oh no.” Sid groaned. “Must you..?’ “

“That is why I wanted to meet you out front, to prevent this argument.”

“How much is it? It’s probably not that bad.”

“Details…”

Sid looked at the price tag.

“It’s not that bad,” he said. “You could afford it.”

“I suppose,” I sighed. “But I don’t know if it’s my style.”

I took it off the rack and walked over to the three-way mirror. Sid followed me over.

“I don’t know,” I said again putting it up to myself and looking into the mirror. “What do you think?”

“Looks nice.” He nodded.

“Maybe.” Without thinking, I put the dress up to him. “Here, hold this.”

“What?” He took the hanger as I stepped back a few paces and looked at it.

“I can’t tell.”

“I should hope not, up against me.” He handed the dress back. “Here, go try it on. Please?”

“Alright. Will you take my purse?”

Sid feebly took the strap, gazing skyward and asking, “Why me?”

Needless to say, we bought the dress. As the salesgirl was wrapping it, I sniffed at my wrists, trying to make up my mind about the two perfumes I’d tried on them. I noticed Sid raise an eyebrow at me, so I asked his opinion. I stiffened and tried to calm my racing heart as his soft, gentle hands took each wrist. He sniffed expertly at one, then the other and pronounced judgment. Our next stop was the perfume counter, where we bought the approved scent.

“We should get something for you,” I said as we left the store.

“Maybe we will.” Sid held the door open for me. “Why don’t we make this our shopping day? I’d just as soon keep moving.”

“Why?”

“We’ll be harder to hit.”

We spent the day walking up and down Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. We didn’t buy much. We knew we’d have to carry it. Sid spent a lot of time smiling and shaking his head at what he called my “childlike delight” over anything I liked.

“It’s utterly fitting for you, innocent one.”

We were in front of Tiffany’s and I had more or less glowed at finding myself peering into its windows. We’d already been to Cartier, which I know is a classier store. But there was something special about Tiffany’s.

“Please,” I replied, blushing. “I prefer to think of myself as a more sophisticated woman.”

“But you are in your own way. That’s part of your charm. You, my dear, are a fascinating woman of contrasts.”

“Oh, I am?” I blushed even harder. “I suppose you’re waiting for me to tell you what a dashingly clever, charming, and handsome fellow you are.”

“I already know I am.”

“Then I won’t tell you.”

Sid laughed. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

“Better not.” I looked at the door longingly. “I’ll fall in love with something and you’ll get mad at me because I won’t buy it.”

Sid leaned back against the building, with his arms folded and looked out at the traffic.

“Maybe… I think I will.” He nodded and looked at me. “This is a promise. I don’t know how yet, but someday, I am going to find a way to put you in a position where you cannot protest and I am going to drag you in here and I am going to twist your arm until you tell me exactly what it is you want and I shall buy it for you.”

He was smiling and his tone was light, but he was serious. I don’t know why it made me feel so uncomfortable.

“Well,” I said, desperately trying to break the moment. “The only position you’ll be able to get me in is standing or sitting.”

Sid’s eyebrow lifted and his hot little smile sent my heart racing.

“I can do that.” There was not the least trace of lechery in his voice, and yet those four words were the most sensual and steamy that I had ever heard.

My face went vermillion.

“I should know better than to say things like that to you,” I said, walking off.

Sid chuckled. “And I should probably have let it pass, but a set up like that is just too tempting.”

“I suppose.” We walked in silence for a minute. “You know, I really am not saying anything.”

“Believe me, I’m well aware of how innocent you really are. I guess I do it because A- It is funny. Even you laugh.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“And B-” He looked out at the cars and people. “There’s a certain safety in keeping you mad at me.”

I had to admit there was that.

Then there was the problem of all the stuff I saw for my five nieces and nephews back home.

“Anything we buy that we cannot personally use represents clues that an enemy might use against us,” said Sid.

“We can’t send it, I suppose.”

“And give an enemy an address to latch onto?” Sid shook his head. “I’ll admit the odds are pretty low that we’re being watched right now, but we’re not going to stay alive by being careless.”

“I’m going to have to call Mae sometime. She’s going to start wondering, and that could be dangerous, too.”

Sid sighed. “You’ve got a point. Let me think about it and I’ll figure something out. But we’ve got to stay on our toes every step of the way.”

“You certainly know how to set a person at ease.”

Sid softened. “Let’s not worry about it too much. I don’t want us to be miserable, just alert.”

I tried cheering up, but it took more of Sid’s teasing to jolt me out of it. It was my idea to stop at the t-shirt shop.

“This looks nice,” said Sid, holding up a beige one with the city’s skyline silk screened onto it.

“Yeah.” I managed a half smile, then a thought hit me. “You know we could get matching shirts.”

“No way in hell. I wouldn’t be caught dead.”

“Thanks.” I sulked.

His hand softly landed on my shoulder. “Hey, matching you isn’t the problem. It’s matching.” His face scrunched up in disgust. “It’s so cutesy and juvenile.”

“It might help our cover.”

Sid rolled his eyes. “We’re not a couple of junior high kids going steady.”

“True. Why don’t I get this other one, and you can have that.”

“I don’t particularly want it.”

“You have no problem with me getting it.”

“You have more up front to fill it out with.”

I glared at him. “That was tacky.”

He grinned. “You walked right into it.”

By that point I knew he was pushing my button deliberately to get me out of my depression, so I decided to play along. I looked at the t-shirt again.

“Of course,” I said slowly. “If you keep working out like you do, you could have more than me. I mean some of those guys at the gym could wear D-cups.”

Sid laughed. “I, however, am not about to take the steroids to do it.”

“Are you serious? They do that?”

“Hell, yes.”

It was my turn to make a face. “Who would want to take drugs to get all distorted looking? Yuck.” I looked at the t-shirt again. “You’d still look good in this. Or I could cut out the arms and neck for you and make it a tank top.”

“Don’t bother. There’s a rack full of tanks right here. I guess I could use a couple new t-shirts to play racquetball in.”

“You only change shirts three times a game.”

Sid sweats like a horse when he plays.

“I didn’t think you’d noticed.” Sid looked up at me with one of his sly smiles.

We belong to the same gym because that’s where Sid signed me up when I first started working for him. But when we’re there together, we don’t really cross paths much. Most people would be surprised we even know each other.

I’m only a beginner at racquetball and Sid’s a thousand times better, and I’m on a different weight program again because Sid’s been there a lot longer and is more advanced and because I’m a woman. Strangely enough, Sid doesn’t go to the gym to pick up women, although he doesn’t turn down offers. He says it’s his time to be with the guys.

“Well, Karen and Mindy have spotted you,” I said referring to the gals I hang out with. “They talked me into watching that tournament last month.”

“Really.” Sid’s eyebrow lifted.

“Don’t waste your time. Karen is happily married and Mindy is too busy with law school to bother. We just like ogling the meat, that’s all.”

“Meat. Hmmm. Alright. As the current representative of the male sex, I accept your point and concede that it is well put.”

Laughing, I licked the end of my finger and chalked up my point on the air.

At check in time, the Dragon told me to make a pick up near the U.N. and drop it with our suspect the next morning. I got the pickup, then Sid and I took advantage of where we were and toured the facility. We were not happy about the drop. Sid called us cheese for the mousetrap. But that was why we were there.

Later, I talked Sid into tickets for that night for one of the big musicals. We got back late, completely exhausted. It was my night for the floor, and I was so tired, I didn’t care. It was the only reason I slept.

We were both tense the next morning. We went to the drop wired. Sid scoped out the set up first. Of course, I didn’t think anybody would be crazy enough try a hit in the toy department at Macy’s, but after that restaurant in Washington, we weren’t taking any chances. We’d made it a code one, which meant no contact at all, to make it even harder for someone to get in close enough for a knife, or even a small pistol.

I’d been told about a doll in a doll bed, and sure enough, it was there.

“You’re clear,” said Sid’s voice in my ear. He was within reach, but not where he could be seen. “Anyone hiding would have to be a leprechaun.”

“I don’t want to chance them, either,” I grumbled, going over to the doll bed.

I put the drop under the doll and retreated quickly.

Nothing happened. I browsed through the games. No one went near the bed. I waited for five minutes.

Sid came out from behind the luggage department.

“Keep an eye out,” his voice said in my ear. “But I’ll watch here.”

He looked over the stuffed animals. A woman in a business suit wandered through. She picked up a toy gun and eyed Sid. I moved in quickly, but she went back to the register. Sid moved out of range. The toy clerk came out from the stockroom. The woman bought the gun and left. The toy clerk went over to Sid.

“Help you today?” asked the clerk.

“Not today.” Sid backed off quickly and slid around the corner.

We waited another five minutes, then I went over to the doll bed, got the drop and we got out of there fast.

“Something’s wrong,” I gasped as we hit the street.

“Keep moving,” said Sid. His eyes were everywhere. Suddenly, he darted onto a bus, pulling me with him. The bus pulled away downtown. I watched out the door as Sid paid our fares.

“Well?” he asked as we made our way to the back.

“Nobody noticed or cared,” I said. “Typical New York.”

“Lucky for us,” said Sid. The bus took us down Broadway and we got off in SoHo. We found the brownstone where Merle Wadkins lived without problem. The front door was locked and had a buzzer on it. We lucked out and someone left the building and all we had to was slip in after.

“Gloves,” said Sid softly. I dug the two pairs of black kid leather gloves out of my purse, and we put them on as we went upstairs. Sid had drilled it into me that anytime I was someplace I wasn’t supposed to be, I wore gloves.

We knocked on the door to Wadkins’ apartment. There was no answer.

“I don’t like this,” said Sid. “I hate daytime jobs.”

But he scratched his hair and pulled out of it a small piece of spring steel.

“Keep your eyes open,” he said working on the door. “And get your hand on your gun.”

I already had my hand on the S and W model thirteen revolver in my purse. The bolts slid back with a clunk and the door creaked open. Sid stepped back. We checked the landing for people. I drew my gun and, with my back to the door, eased myself into the apartment. Behind me, Sid bent down and retrieved the twenty-two automatic he keeps strapped to his left shin.

Utter quiet blanketed the destruction in the tiny room. Papers and greeting cards were everywhere. Cushions and pillows had been torn apart, chairs had lost their seats and drawers were upended.

“Damn,” muttered Sid.

“What now?” I whispered.

“Better see if somebody found something.” Sid moved past me towards the back.

I went over to the turned over couch and righted it and gasped loudly.

“What?” Sid was at my side in a second.

He doesn’t swear often, but when he does, it can peel paint off walls. In rare form, he pulled papers away from the corpse and checked it. I turned away, feeling nauseous.

“Damn it. What’s the matter with you?”

“Is he dead?”

“As stiff as they come. Jesus, will you pull yourself together?”

“Don’t use that name in vain.”

Sid groaned. “Go check the kitchen.”

I stumbled into that room, but couldn’t get through the door. Every cupboard had been emptied as had the refrigerator, and the floor was completely covered with pots, pans, broken glassware, limp vegetables and thawing tv dinners and meat. I hesitated but pushed my way in. Even the safe at the back of the cupboard had been broken into and cleaned out.

“Well, well,” said Sid. He came to the kitchen door and showed me a used syringe.

“Was Wadkins a junkie?” I asked.

“No, but that’s who we’re supposed to think did this. Come on. Let’s go.”

“What about…?”

“It’s just a dead body. It can’t hurt you.”

I took a deep breath and scrambled through the front room.

“You are going to have to do something about that,” Sid said as we hit the street.

“About what?” I grumbled.

“You and corpses.” He headed uptown.

“I’m sorry. But you’ve got to admit my experience with them hasn’t exactly been the best.”

He sighed. “No. It hasn’t, damn it. But past trauma or no, you’ve got to find a way to stop panicking every time you see a stiff or you’re going to end up one.”

I shuddered. “Are you sure it wasn’t a junkie who tore up that place?”

“Positive. There were no forced entry marks on the door, and that place was too clean. No junkie would have found that safe, or taken the time to crack it. That was a professional job.”

“Terrific. What killed Wadkins?”

“Probably the ever-popular blunt instrument. There was a nasty soft spot at the back of his skull.”

“Do you think the police will be fooled?”

“Not likely, but it won’t do them any good. Even if Wadkins didn’t keep his tracks covered, a job like that is going to be mighty hard to crack, and it just might throw someone off.”

Sid hailed a cab and told him to take us back to our hotel.

“We’re leaving,” he told me in the elevator. “Don’t waste time trying to figure whose stuff is whose. Just jam it in the first open spot and let’s get out.”

“But what about check in?”

“We’ll stay in town long enough for that, but not here. A moving target’s harder to hit.”

Sid took the bathroom while I removed bags from purchases and started cramming. We were out in ten minutes with nothing left behind. It took us longer to pay up at the desk.

We stored our bags at Grand Central Station, then went to find lunch.

That afternoon we had the first of a series of remarkable talks that popped up periodically throughout the trip. After lunch, we went to Central Park. We ambled along the path, heading for the zoo, each of us lost in our own thoughts. It was a pleasant, comfortable silence, and much needed given all the tension we were working under.

“Do you ever think about dying?” I asked suddenly, without even thinking about what I was asking.

“I try not to,” Sid replied, casually. “Generally, I’m successful.”

“And when you’re not?”

“I try to think of something else.”

I stopped walking, turned and looked at him.

He shrugged. “It’s not one of my favorite topics to dwell on.” There was a pause as we continued our walk. “How about you?”

“I never used to, at least not much. I’ve been thinking about it a lot more recently.”

“That’s one thing that’s always puzzled me about you.”

“What?”

“You say you believe in God and all his promises about going to Heaven when you die, and you’re afraid of dying. I would think you’d have thrown yourself under the wheels of some car long ago.”

“Well, I believe life is a gift from God, like a sacred trust and you don’t go around throwing gifts back in people’s faces.”

“No.”

“Besides, I believe there’s a purpose for my life and when I’ve fulfilled it, God’ll take me.”

“Then why are you so scared?”

That was a hard one to answer. I knew Sid just wanted to know. I don’t think I wanted to convert him. I knew that was almost impossible. But I was anxious that he not get a bad impression. I stopped walking and looked at his face. There was something about the look in his eyes that made me decide to just be myself and not worry about bad impressions.

“Sometimes, it’s the process itself that scares me, the actual act of my soul leaving my body.” I paused. “Most of the time though I’m scared I won’t measure up somehow.”

“It’d have to be a pretty cruel God, not to let you in. I’m surprised you still believe.”

“I believe because intellectually I know it’s not God, nor my perception of him that’s the problem. It’s my perception of myself. Most of the time, I’m aware of my goodness, if you will, but there are times when I’m not terribly convinced emotionally. I guess it’s the sin in my life.”

“Sin?” Sid smiled. “I don’t see how your occasional petty misdeeds could be classified as sin.”

“I suspect my so-called petty misdeeds are worse than your so-called grand scale sinning. I know better.”

“You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”

“Maybe not. I may be a Christian, but like the bumper sticker says, I’m not perfect.”

“Just forgiven.” Sid chuckled. “That’s always sounded like a cop-out to me.”

“For a lot of people, it is. That’s why I don’t like it. It’s too easy to just sit back and forget about growing. I don’t want to live that way. If I’m not growing, I’m dying.” I paused and blushed. “Oh, geez, listen to me. I sound so holy.”

“I wish more people were holy like you.”

I swallowed and blinked back the tears that had come rushing to my eyes.

“Thanks. That was the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“You’re welcome,” Sid said, softly.

We stood there silently for a moment, looking at each other, stymied by the one barrier left between us. A breeze wafted by, carrying on it a light friendly scent that delighted my nose and gave me the graceful escape I was looking for.

“Popcorn,” I said, sniffing and turning. “Where is it? I can smell it popping. Where is it? I’m hungry.”

Sid burst out laughing. “You’re hopeless, woman. Utterly hopeless.”

I spotted the bright red wagon some ways away. I grabbed Sid’s hand and pulled him after me.

“Come on. I want to get it while it’s fresh out of the popper.”

“I shouldn’t be supporting this, you know.” Sid pulled his hand away to save himself the indignity of being dragged more than anything else. I smiled as he hung his thumbs in his belt loops and sauntered after me.

Sid checked in that afternoon. The Dragon said she’d find what she could on Wadkins’ murder and told Sid we were not to go to Orlando until the next day. Sid told her in no uncertain terms that we were not staying in New York that night.

So we went to Kennedy airport and to Atlanta, Georgia. We stayed at a small motel near the airport. I decided to take a shower and shave, so I let Sid have the bathroom first. While he was changing, I made up the “bed” on the floor and then gathered together the toiletries I was going to need that I could find.

“It’s all yours,” said Sid, coming out of the bathroom.

“Thanks,” I mumbled, and then to myself, “Where is that blasted thing?”

“What are you looking for?”

“Oh, you’d know. You packed the stuff in the bathroom. I can’t find my shaver.”

“That little cheap white supermarket job?”

“Yeah, where is it?”

“I left it.”

“How am I going to shave my legs?”

“Go ahead and use mine. Just make sure you change the blades when you’re done.”

“Thanks, where is it?”

“It’s in my kit. I left it on the toilet tank.”

“Um, there’s nothing embarrassing in it, is there?”

“Shouldn’t be.”

I retreated to the bathroom. Sid’s black leather shaving bag was where he said it was. I rummaged through it.

“I can’t find it,” I called. “Oh, never mind.”

I saw the top of the razor and opened the section. All sorts of necessities were strapped onto the wall of the kit.

“Oh, my god,” I groaned.

“Honest,” I heard Sid call. “Whatever it is, I promise I did not know it was there.”

“Oh, you knew about this.” I opened the bathroom door and leaned in the doorway. “Honestly, Sid, a gold-plated tortoise shell razor?”

It was his night for the floor and he was already under the covers. He rolled over onto his stomach and squinted at me, grinning. Sid’s very near-sighted and had already taken his contacts out.

“I have expensive tastes,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows. “Besides, it’s weighted very nicely, has a good comfortable feel to it.”

“I’ll bet. How ostentatious can you get?”

“Plenty. Don’t forget to change the blades.”

“I won’t.”

I didn’t forget. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. I left the refill right on top of the razor where he could see it and went to bed.

Anne Louise Bannon

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.