Chapter Four

September 18, 1983

 

Sid must have fainted when he found I’d gotten up early enough to make it to eight a.m. mass the next morning. [Damned near – SEH]  But I was hoping to avoid people I knew at my old church. I still ran into Neff and Mary. Mary tried to make me feel guilty and Neff told me something that had me speeding on the way back to the hotel. (Sid had told me to take the Mercedes the night before.)

I burst into the suite at quarter after nine and went straight into my bedroom.

“There you are,” said Sid, following me. “We may have to vacate. I haven’t checked with the desk yet, but I only reserved this suite through this morning.”

“I’m vacating anyway.” I opened my suitcase and threw the clothes I’d left out into it.

“You don’t have to yet. Check out’s not ‘til eleven, and if the hotel doesn’t need the room, we can stay.”

“You can stay where you like.” I hurried into the bathroom to collect my toiletries. “I’m changing.”

“What’s the matter?” Sid came to the bathroom door.

“My folks are back in town!” I quickly tightened the tops to my shampoo and conditioner before tossing them into the carry-on bag. “They got back last night.”

“So?”

“Sid, Daddy can’t stand you as it is.” I grabbed the carry-on and pushed past Sid into the bedroom. “And you have never seen him really mad. When he catches me in this suite with you, he is going to be really mad.”

“We already live in the same house.” It’s Sid’s house really, and our bedrooms are on opposite ends.

“Well…” Flushing, I jammed my nightgown into the suitcase.

“Oh hell. Don’t tell me you still haven’t told them.”

I had kind of forgotten to tell my parents about living with Sid when he hired me.

“I just haven’t gotten around to it,” I said. “It’s not a simple thing to toss at them, especially since it’s been a year, and you know Mae won’t let me bring it up whenever they’re visiting, and I hate doing it over the phone. And of course, Neff and Mary told them all about the trouble here, and they’re worried, so if you don’t mind, I’m changing rooms, preferably on a different floor, maybe in another hotel, maybe I’ll even change states.”

I looked around for my deck shoes.

“Oh, come on, Lisa,” groaned Sid. “You’re overreacting. We’re in two separate rooms.”

“That’s not near far enough for Daddy.”

“He’s more reasonable than that.”

“Not when he’s mad. Where are they?”

I looked under the bed. The shoes were there, but beyond them was something else. I grabbed a towel that had fallen near the foot of the bed and covered my hand with it.

“Don’t tell me those deck shoes of yours finally started growing something,” said Sid. He hates my deck shoes.

“Real cute, Sid.” I reached and pulled the handgun out from under the bed. “Why do I get the feeling that someone didn’t just forget to pack this?”

Sid shook his head. “I knew I should have wired this place. Whoever visited us last night also dropped a pair of six-inch platform shoes in the coat closet, and while you were at church, I found an extra long pair of black slacks in your suitcase.”

“I’m being framed,” I whispered.

“It’s pretty sloppy except for that gun. What do you want to bet it’s the one that killed Della?”

“I don’t.” I sank onto my bed, feeling a little faint. “But who would want to frame me?”

“Della’s killer, or possibly our friendly neighborhood enemy operative, assuming that’s the gun that killed her.” He took the gun. “I’m taking this and the other stuff to the sheriff’s department this afternoon.”

The door buzzed.

“I’ll get it,” I said mechanically, then went. Sid slid quickly into his room.

I can’t say my father looked happy when I opened the door. Tall and broad shouldered, he has that rugged mountain man look about him, right down to the strong silent demeanor. Mama, on the other hand, was bubbling over. She’s small, with bright, flashing eyes. They’re both from southern Florida and still have fairly strong accents.

“Lisle, baby!” Mama crowed, throwing her arms around me. Lisle is my parents’ pet name for me.

“Hi, Mama,” I said, still nervous.

I hugged her, then Daddy.

“Hi, honey,” he said, then pulled back. “What the hell are you doing here? Why didn’t you call us?”

“William Wycherly, you can just stop that right now,” said Mama. “Lisa has a right to do as she pleases.” She looked at me. “But, honey, I really wish you would have called.”

“I did, Mama,” I said. “But you guys were out of town, and the assignment came up so fast and we couldn’t wait.”

“Oh, Sid, there you are.” He was coming out of his bedroom. Mama went over and gave him a warm hug. “How are you, honey?”

“Just fine, Althea.” Sid smiled back. He and Mama really like each other. “How are you?”

“Real well.” She wandered around the sitting room. “Bill, isn’t this nice? I been dying to see inside one of these suites for years. Lisle, no wonder you wanted to take advantage of us being gone. Isn’t this nice, Bill?”

“Nice enough,” grumbled my father. He shot a brief glare at Sid, who mercifully ignored it.

Daddy, unfortunately, is not very tolerant of effeminate males, and he considers Sid’s urban polish sissified. He is also convinced that Sid is going to turn me into a fallen woman. But the really weird thing is that Daddy is extremely jealous of Sid.

“Two bedrooms, too,” said Mama. “See? I told you, Bill, there wasn’t a thing to worry about. It was just people talking. Landsakes, can’t trust your own daughter.”

“Oh, I trust Lisle.” Daddy sent another quick glare Sid’s way.

“Well, Sid, how long y’all got this room paid up for?” asked Mama.

“We’re fine here, Althea,” said Sid.

“Uh-huh.” Mama gave him a shrewd once over. “I don’t want to hear any arguments. You two just pack yourselves up and head on over to the house. Lisle, put Sid in Mae’s old room.”

“I don’t want to impose,” said Sid.

“Landsakes! You’re not imposing.”

Sid looked over at Daddy.

“Won’t take no for an answer,” Daddy said, which surprised me. I mean Daddy wouldn’t have said no, but I got the feeling he really wanted Sid at the house. [He wanted me where he could keep an eye on me – SEH]

“Honey, I’d never forgive myself if I let y’all stay at this big expensive hotel, eating bad hotel food.” Mama smiled and took Daddy’s arm. “Now, Bill and I gotta get to mass. We’ll meet y’all back at the house.”

“Alright, Mama,” I sighed. “Oh, wait.” I looked at Sid for help, but he had no idea what I wanted. “Um, it might take a bit. We- we’ve got an errand to run.”

Sid shot me a puzzled glance, then played along. But Daddy caught him. Glaring at me, he folded his arms.

“Young lady, what the hell is going on here?”

“Nothing, Daddy.” I swallowed nervously.

“Oh, really now. Not when I been hearing all sorts of rumors, even people saying you went and killed somebody.”

Mama glared at Daddy. “Now, Bill, you know that’s hogwash.”

“I never said it wasn’t.” Daddy’s big, round, angry eyes fixed themselves on me. “But something is going on around here, and, Lisle, you’re acting just a hair too guilty not to owe me an explanation.”

“Well, I…” Frantic, I looked to Sid for help, which was pretty stupid given how sure Daddy was that Sid was the cause of it all.

Sid took a deep breath. “There’s very little to explain, really. It was just an unfortunate coincidence. Thursday night, I ran into an old acquaintance, who I entertained here in the suite. She left to her room and was, sadly, killed there. The sheriff’s investigator working the case has proven to be very ill-mannered and has not only accused me of being the killer but Lisa as well. The word has spread, and someone, either a prankster or perhaps even the killer, decided last night to leave some potential evidence in our suite, in order to frame us. And by the way, Lisa, we’d better get on over to the sheriff’s department pretty quickly before a search warrant arrives.”

Daddy’s eyes narrowed. “Which sheriff’s investigator?”

“Carl Lehrer,” I said.

Daddy swore. “I wouldn’t put it past him if he put the stuff in here himself.”

“What do you mean, Daddy?”

“Never mind.”

“Oh, that Lehrer has had it in for your daddy since he was a motorcycle cop,” said Mama. “Remember that deputy who tried to accuse him of taking a bribe?”

“That was Lehrer?” I asked.

“Oh, yes.” Mama turned to Sid. “It was about five or six years ago. We found out after it had all happened that Lehrer was short on his ticket quota. He pulled Bill over for an unsafe lane change, only Bill hadn’t changed lanes at all. So he took it to court, and of course Judge Davis knew Bill, and he knew Lehrer, and when it looked like Davis was going to find for Bill, Lehrer got all up in arms and accused Bill of offering him a bribe, which made him look even more ridiculous because everybody knew Bill was the last person to do that, and Lehrer’s had it in for Bill ever since. Well, y’all better get to the sheriff’s station, and we’re late for mass. Come on, Bill.”

She took Daddy’s arm and steered him out of the room.

“Let’s get going ourselves,” said Sid, heading into his room.

“What about packing?” I followed him to the door.

He picked up a laundry bag off of his bed. “You can worry about that when we get back. Come on.”

I grabbed my purse off the sofa and scrambled after him. The elevator opened just as we arrived, letting off a bellhop and an elderly couple.

“What do you mean I can worry about the packing?” I asked as the doors closed. “You’ve always preferred doing your own before.”

“I’m not packing,” he said quietly, then sighed. “I’m sorry, Lisa, but there is no way in hell I am going to stay at your parents’ house.”

“I knew this was going to happen,” I groaned. The elevator opened on the ground floor and we got off. “Sid, can’t you please? Just to keep the peace?”

“No.” His pace quickened as a sheriff deputy wandered up to the check in desk. We slid around him out to the parking lot and the car.

“Why not?” I asked, getting in.

Sid backed quickly out of the space and took off.

“It has nothing to do with you,” he said finally. “But there is no way I can have company at your folks’ place.”

Doing without was out of the question.

“Do you have to have your own place for that?” I asked.

“Of course not, but I hate presuming on the hospitality of others. The only time it doesn’t make things difficult is buying it.”

I groaned. “Please, Sid, whatever you do, don’t do that. I’ll… I’ll…”

“Provide services yourself?” Sid asked, with one eyebrow raised and this little smile he has that is about as arousing as a smile can get, and I know he’s mentally doing it with me, and I still get goose pimply and hot and bothered over it.

“That’s not fair,” I grumbled, flushing candy apple red. “It’s just that if you buy it, someone will find out, and that much talking, I’m not ready to deal with.”

“Lisa, you know I don’t unless I’m desperate, and with the offers I’ve been getting, it’s not likely I’ll be anywhere near desperate.”

“Well, you could rent a room for the evening.” I shrugged. “It sounds kind of tacky, but I’ve heard there are a couple places around that rent by the hour.”

Sid laughed. “That’s about as tacky as visiting a hooker, and will probably create just as much talk.” He shook his head. “I’ll just stay in the suite.”

“Oh, Sid, please? Mama won’t think anything if you just tell her you’re visiting someone, and I’ll keep Daddy off your back.”

“I don’t want to stay with your folks.”

“For my sake?”

He glanced my way. I blinked twice.

“Alright,” he grumbled. [Those beautiful cow eyes of yours strike again. Have I mentioned what a weakness I have for that routine? – SEH]  “But we do have a case we’re supposed to be investigating, not to mention your friend Murray’s disappearance, and remember we do not want your parents to suspect that we’re doing anything beyond visiting.”

“So that’s what we’ll tell Mama we’re doing,” I replied. “She’ll believe us, and Daddy will believe the worst no matter what, so if we just stay out of their way, we’ll be able to pull it off. There isn’t any overt investigating I can do without raising questions as it is.”

“True. But that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.”

“Neither am I.”

Everyone was really nice at the sheriff’s station. We turned the gun into Lieutenant Larry Roth, my friend Jimmy’s uncle.

“It sure has been a long time, Lisa,” he asked going over the stuff. “You like it down there in Los Angeles?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

Uncle Larry picked up the gun and shook his head.

“Where did you find this?” he asked.

“Under my bed at the hotel.”

He grinned and shook his head. “I’d almost say Lehrer is up to his old tricks, except this could be the real gun.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Sid.

Uncle Larry chuckled. “Lehrer’s so lazy he’d make up evidence sooner than work on finding it. Of course, no one can prove he actually has. That’s why he’s on night shift. He can manage a crime scene okay, but he’s not big on routine, just competent enough to keep his job. You can’t fire someone for being a jerk. It sure is nice seeing you again, Lisa.”

“Nice seeing you, Lieutenant.” I paused. “You wouldn’t happen to have Jimmy’s home phone number, would you? I only ran into him that once, and it wasn’t exactly a good time to sit down and chew the fat.”

“I’ll bet.” Chuckling, Uncle Larry scribbled onto a piece of scrap paper. “Here you go, but he’s usually sleeping during the day.”

“No problem. I’ve got work. Thanks.”

Sid waited until we were back on the road before he asked about Jimmy’s number.

“Are you hoping to reignite something?”

“Nothing had ever ignited, to begin with, and he’s married now.” I shrugged. “You just have your inside source. I have mine.”

“Not a bad idea.” Sid glanced over at me with a mischievous grin. “But how are you going to coax him into talking?”

I folded my arms and grinned. “If you’d ever turn that incredible imagination of yours over to something besides carnality, it might occur to you that there are other ways besides physical gratification to gather information.”

“You’re too cheap to bribe anyone.”

“So obvious, Sid. I’m referring to much more subtle tactics.”

Sid chuckled. “And I’ll bet you’ll manage to pull it off one way or another.”

By the time we were done packing and paying off the hotel and got out to my parents’ house, my parents were already back from mass. As Sid parked the Mercedes in the driveway, Murbles and Richmond came running up, barking their deep roaring barks. They’re so huge, they can be pretty intimidating. Sid at least had the sense not to let on if he was. He did hesitate before getting out of the car until he saw me getting out.

“Here, Murbles. Here, Richmond,” I called. They came running over and bounced and pranced around me. I cuddled each one. “How are my sweet puppies? Huh? How are my sweet little babies?”

“They are hardly babies,” said Sid, shutting the door.

Murbles whined a little as he went over and sniffed at Sid. Sid hesitated then gave Murbles a quick scratch behind the ears. Richmond came over to investigate and got the same perfunctory scratching. I looked at Sid, puzzled.

“You don’t seem to dislike dogs,” I said.

“I neither like nor dislike them,” he replied. “Dogs are dogs. I haven’t had that much contact with them, really.”

“You poor deprived urbanite.” I cuddled my sweeties some more. “I always figured you didn’t have any pets because you didn’t like animals.”

“I have no problem with house pets. It just never occurred to me to acquire any.”

“There you are,” called Mama, coming out onto the porch. “Bill! They’re here! Bill will help with the luggage, Sid.”

Sid opened the trunk. Daddy appeared from around the corner of the house.

“This all yours?” Daddy asked picking up the two suitcases.

“No. That one’s Lisa’s.” Sid pointed.

“Matching luggage.” Daddy glared at Sid.

It matched because Sid and I had had to travel as husband and wife on other Quickline business, but I was really going to tell my dad that.

“Daddy,” I groaned. “Sid just loaned me one of his because my stuff was so beat up. Just friend to friend, okay?”

Daddy looked at Sid. Sid smiled back, even if it was forced. Daddy went on into the house and we followed.

“Welcome to the Hotel California,” muttered Sid, and promptly received one of my elbows in his ribs. He nearly stumbled as Murbles brushed past him onto the porch and to the door. “Are the dogs allowed in?”

“Of course they are, Sid,” said Mama, petting Murbles. “They’re part of the family. Aren’t you, Murbles, baby?” Richmond nosed his way in for his share of the affection. “We’ve had Murbles since before Lisa got out of high school, and then she brought us Richmond four years ago. Poor little puppy had been abandoned. Lisle, why don’t you show Sid around the house, then y’all get settled in and we’ll go to lunch.”

“It’s very kind of you to put me up,” said Sid politely.

“Well now, it’s my pleasure, sweetheart, and Lord knows, we don’t get to see near enough of Lisa. You two take your time settling in, and for heaven sakes, Sid, get out of that suit and into something more comfortable. Landsakes, you look like you’re going to a funeral.”

“Funeral,” Sid groaned. “Bless it all. I’ve got to go to Della’s funeral tomorrow. How long does it take to drive to San Francisco from here?”

“Oh, not even five hours,” said Mama.

“Driving speed limit, of course,” I said.

“Well, of course, he does, Lisle,” said Mama.

Sid shook his head. “I’ll confess. I’ve been known to press my luck and the accelerator a bit.” He figured in his head. “Five hours at fifty-five, that would be… Let’s see, the funeral’s not til eleven. I should be able to make it if I leave by seven.”

“Oh, goody. No running,” I said.

“‘Fraid not,” said Sid with an evil grin. “We’ll just run at five thirty.”

I groaned. Mama laughed.

“Bill and I will be waiting for y’all in the kitchen.” She wandered off.

“Well,” I said, taking his arm. “Welcome to a bit of my personal history.”

We went into the living room first. Sid spotted the piano and went over to it.

“That’s from when Mae and I took lessons,” I explained. Mae is my older and only sister.

Sid played a major scale. He’s been playing since he was six, and he’s really good.

“Hm. Still in tune.”

“You can play later. I’m sure Mama will insist on it.”

“I’m sure she will.” Sid smiled and followed me into the dining room. I pointed out the kitchen, then led him back through the entry into the back of the house.

“This is our bathroom over here,” I said, pointing to the door at the end of the hall. “And my parents’ room is in here.”

We poked our heads in.

“One bed,” Sid observed dryly. “What a surprise. Of course, that doesn’t mean he still does.”

“Sid! That is out and out insulting.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, you’re not. Things aren’t going to get any better between you two if you insist on keeping that kind of attitude.”

“Things aren’t going to get better as long as I’m around you.”

“You’re not helping, and you might at least make an effort.”

“What about him making an effort?”

“I’ll talk to him, but it goes two ways, remember.”

He sighed. “I’ll try. What’s next?”

“My room.” I led him down the hall. “Mama’s changed the curtains and bedspread and repainted, but it’s still my old furniture, and some of my old Shakespeare posters are still on the walls. She had them framed.”

The phone rang, but I ignored it. Sid nodded, then followed me to Mae’s room.

“It’s technically the guest room,” I said. “Mae’s been gone for over ten years, but we still call it her room. There’s a trick to the closet door. You have to lift it onto the track like this or it sticks.” I demonstrated. “It’s been like that since I was eight. Mae caught me pasting ape pictures from National Geographic all over her Tiger Beat Magazine. You know, the one that had all the teen heartthrobs in it? She got so mad she knocked me right into the closet. I got five stitches right here.” I pulled up my hair and showed Sid the spot. “And Mae got grounded for a week.”

“Didn’t you get punished? After all, you were the instigator.”

“I had to buy her all new magazines. I was hurt so bad, Daddy said it was punishment enough and I deserved what I got, even if Mae had no right to do it. Daddy’s tried time and again to fix the door, but it just won’t stay fixed.”

Mama came in.

“I hope you two can stay through the end of the week,” she said. “That was Mae on the phone just now. Darby and Janey have off Thursday for a teacher in-service day, and Neil decided they might as well skip Friday, too, and come on up for the weekend. They’ll stay Wednesday night with Neil’s aunt in Sacramento, then be up Thursday.”

Neil is Mae’s husband. Besides Darby and Janey, they also have Ellen, Marty, and Mitch.

“Will there be room?” Sid asked. The O’Malleys adopted Sid a couple months after I had started working for him, which was a little surprising since Sid is not overwhelmingly fond of children. But Mae’s kids adore him and he’s very close to them.

“We’ve got a couple vacant cabins,” said Mama. “We’ll give one to Mae and Neil, and the kids can camp out in the living room. They always think that’s such a treat. I just hope y’all can stay. The kids’ll be so thrilled to see you. Of course, I do hope all that trouble is cleared up by then.”

“I think we can stick around even if it is,” said Sid.

“That’s perfect. Now, come on, Lisle. Let the poor man get changed in peace so we can go to lunch.”

Sid showed up in record time wearing a shirt, sweater, and tight designer jeans. Mama piled us into the jeep as Daddy gazed thoughtfully at the fenders.

“Althea, didn’t you take this to the car wash before we left?” he asked, puzzled.

“I sure did, Bill. What’s the matter?”

“There’s mud all over the fenders.”

I swallowed. “Didn’t you drive the jeep to church this morning?”

Daddy shook his head. “Weren’t anyplace to get mud on it then.”

“It must’ve happened on the way back from the car wash,” said Mama. “That’s right. I stopped at Raley’s to pick up some Tylenol and it was raining when I got out.”

Daddy didn’t seem convinced, but let it go.

“There’s a new little Mexican place we’re going to,” said Mama. “It’s really nice, and your Daddy loves it ’cause they have those jalapeno peppers and those nasty little serrano things.”

“Really?” Sid’s interest was definitely piqued. So was mine. We both love spicy food, the hotter the better.

It had come as a bit of a surprise to us since Sid’s system is pretty touchy and while I’ll eat almost anything, I don’t really come across as someone who would enjoy eating fire. But earlier that July, we found a bag of different chiles on our doorstep. It turned out one of Sid’s girlfriends had brought it over as a joke. She plants chiles to keep pests out of her garden, but can’t stand the product. She figured Sid would laugh, then throw them away. Sid and I arm wrestled each other for the last serrano.

At the restaurant, the waiter brought us a bowl of raw jalapenos and serranos right away. Daddy helped himself, but Sid hesitated.

“What’s up?” I asked him.

“Party tonight,” he said quietly.

“Oh.” I knew what the problem was. “I’ve got the Alka Seltzer in my purse. It should be out of your system in time.”

Sid took a couple jalapenos while I munched on a serrano. Daddy had already broken a sweat.

“Landsakes, Lisle,” said Mama. “The things you got in your purse. Why are you carrying Alka-Seltzer?”

I laughed and swallowed some water. “It’s from last week. Sid took me for Indian food. I swear, Daddy, you would have loved it. We were swimming in sweat by the time we were done.”

Daddy’s eyes narrowed. “Are you two dating?”

“I take Lisa specifically because we are not,” said Sid, his voice getting that angry edge to it. “The after effects of such a meal not exactly being conducive to romance.”

“You can say that again,” I replied laughing. “Between the two of us, it’s worse than the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles.”

Sid glared at me. Little beads of perspiration had popped out all over his forehead.

“Sorry,” I said quickly.

“Lisle, ’tisn’t nice,” said Mama.

“Well, it’s not that big a deal,” I said, eating a jalapeno.

Sid chuckled in spite of himself. “It is when I’m stuck in a closed car with you.”

“You’re no bundle of roses yourself, pal,” I replied, wiping my forehead. “At least I give you some warning. Those SBD’s of yours are beyond description.”

“I’ve about had enough of this,” growled Daddy.

The waiter brought us killer salsa, made with fresh chiles and tequila, and took our orders. I scarfed, Sid ate more than usual, and Daddy glowered.

“Bill, y’all planning on going in to the store tomorrow?” Mama asked as we finished eating.

“Oh, my god,” I gasped. “Daddy, we’ve got a problem.”

“What’s the matter?” he asked, glancing at Sid.

“It’s Murray,” I said. “He’s disappeared. I went by the store yesterday at eleven and it was closed. I went ahead and opened and called around, but no one knows where he is.”

“Any cash missing?”

“No, and the night deposit bag was still there. I checked it, and the deposit balanced with the register tape. Are those gambling rumors true?”

Daddy stifled a belch then nodded. “‘Fraid so. He weren’t too bad about it, but he did have a problem. I told him the first time any money’s missing, he was out the door.”

“But the money was all there, and the police said his car was at his apartment. They even broke in, just in case he was hurt or something, but he wasn’t there.”

Daddy shook his head. “I guess I’ll have to go down and take over. He sure picked a lousy time to run off, with winter changeover on the doorstep.”

I grinned. “I already started that yesterday. Sid helped. We got a lot done.”

“That was real nice of you, Sid,” said Mama. “I hope Lisa didn’t push you into it.”

“He volunteered, Mama,” I said quickly. “I even told him not to.”

“Well, that was really sweet,” said Mama. “Wasn’t that, Bill?”

Daddy reluctantly nodded.

“Listen, Daddy,” I said. “Why don’t I just keep running things down there while I’m here, or you can find Murray or someone else.”

“If you don’t mind, Lisle,” he replied. “I’d just as soon have you as anyone else.”

Sid, on the other hand, would just as soon have had someone else. But he didn’t say anything. He quietly pressed the back of his hand to his lips. I got out the Alka Seltzer.

“It’s time for the toast,” I said, opening the box. “Daddy, you want some?”

Chuckling, Sid placed his water glass in front of me. Daddy hesitated but added his glass. I fished out the ice, then dropped the tablets in. We waited a moment for the tablets to dissolve, then Sid and I each took our glasses and clinked them together.

“Cheers,” I said.

“Bottoms up,” he said.

“Daddy?” I asked.

He just clinked my glass, and the three of us drank and grimaced.

“Man, this stuff tastes aw-” I didn’t get any further because this horrendous belch took over.

“Lisle!” gasped Mama.

Sid sat back and laughed quietly. Daddy laughed loud and hard.

“It was an accident,” I groaned, beet red.

“Of course it was, honey,” said Daddy, wiping his eyes.

“Let’s just be thankful for open cars,” said Sid.

We looked at each other and laughed. Daddy’s eyes narrowed and he glared at Sid even harder.

Back at the house, Mama coaxed Sid into playing the piano. Daddy disappeared. I started to go after him, but Mama stopped me.

“He just needs to be left alone,” she said.

She and Sid spent the afternoon chatting, while I fretted. But there wasn’t much I could do. Daddy showed up for dinner and was less than enthused when he found Sid had been helping Mama. He disappeared again right after eating. Sid and I cleaned up while Mama went to talk to him. She came back, shaking her head.

“Well?” I asked.

“He’s as stubborn as they come,” sighed Mama. “Just pay him no mind, Sid. He’s always been this way about anyone who comes near Lisa, and he figures you’re closer than most.”

“We’re just good friends, Althea,” said Sid.

“Of course you are, honey.” She patted his arm. “That’s the best way to be. Lisle, you gonna wear what you got on to that party tonight?”

“What party?” I asked.

“The one you and Sid are going to.”

“I’m not going,” I said quickly before Sid could. “I’d really rather visit with you and Daddy.”

“Now, honey, you got all week.”

“Mama, trust me. I’d rather visit.”

Mama frowned, puzzled. “I’m happy to have you, sweetheart, but… Sid, are you alright with that?”

“Perfectly alright.” He smiled warmly, then checked his watch. “I’d better get going.”

“I’ll walk you out,” I said.

We were silent until we hit the porch.

“You’re welcome to come if you want,” said Sid, mischief in his eyes as always.

I smiled. “I might except for one thing.”

“What?”

“When you say party, it generally translates orgy to the rest of us.”

Sid chuckled. “Group sex can be a lot of fun.”

“It doesn’t sound like it.” I grimaced.

“Actually, I’d almost rather be visiting here, myself.”

“Even with Daddy around?”

It was Sid’s turn to grimace. “He does put a cramp in what would be an otherwise very pleasant evening.” He looked at me fondly for a moment. “That’s kind of why I’m taking off. Tonight should afford me an opportunity to satiate myself for a while.”

“Is that even possible?” I smirked.

“Good question.” Sid’s hot little smile slipped out. I swallowed. Sid dropped the smile and picked up my hand. “I would like to give your father as little room to carp as possible, if only for your sake.”

“Thanks,” I said softly.

“But I would like to know why he got so teed off by all those gas jokes at lunch.”

“Oh, that.” I laughed. “Passing gas is kind of an old family joke. That’s why Mama was so uptight. You just don’t talk about things like that in front of people who aren’t your family. Then there’s Daddy’s Aunt Aggie. Back in the Twenties, she ran away to New York City and became a Bohemian. That’s why Daddy went to New York to college. Anyway, Aunt Aggie was into free love and very earthy, and she always used to say that the best lovers were the ones you could blow a fart around because then you could be totally honest with them and still be friends.”

Sid nodded. “There’s some truth in that.”

“There’s a lot of truth in that. Daddy said all you had to do was substitute the word spouse for lover, and Aunt Aggie was right on the mark.” I looked at Sid and shrugged. “He gets jealous of you for some reason.”

“Why?”

“I haven’t the faintest. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to take me away from him.”

“But I could stain his precious little lamb.”

I laughed. “You’d like to think. However, even the ones with the purest of motives have caught hell from him. You’re not in bad company, Sid, and the last laugh is on him because I don’t want to get married.”

Sid smiled warmly and squeezed my hand. “Well, it’s time for me to take off. Would you mind doing me a favor while I’m in San Francisco and stay out of Nevada?”

“I wasn’t planning on going,” I grumbled sourly.

“Lisa, I know you can take care of yourself. But I still worry. It’s only because I care about you.”

“I know.” I smiled softly at him. “I care about you, too. You be careful tonight, and if I don’t talk to you tomorrow, you watch out in San Francisco.”

“I will.” He reached over and kissed my forehead. “I’ll meet you at the store, or come here if you’re not there.”

“Sure.”

He left, and I watched while he backed the Mercedes out of the driveway and drove off.

“I’m going to take a walk down to the horse barns, Mama,” I called into the house, then took off myself.

Behind the barn, Daddy was stacking bales of hay onto a rack of pallets under a shelter and cursing to himself about that snake.

“Daddy?” I asked, pretty sure which snake he meant.

“Oh, Lisle.” Sullenly, he dumped the last bale.

“What are you so upset about?”

“I’m just worried is all.” He sighed. “Honey, why are you so thick with that man?”

“We’re friends, Daddy. That’s all. Close friends, yes, but nothing more.”

Daddy snorted. “He can hurt you so bad. You’ve had enough man trouble in your life.”

“I haven’t had hardly any,” I said, laughing. I went over and hugged him. “I may have lots of men friends, but there’s nobody like you and never will be. Okay?”

“Oh, Lisle.” Daddy hugged me back. “You just don’t understand, honey.”

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you too, honey.” He squeezed me, then let go. “Why don’t you help me get the tarp over this hay. We might get some rain tonight.”

“Sure. Think we can talk Mama into playing Monopoly with us?”

Smiling, Daddy nodded. “That sounds like fun.”

And for the moment, all was right with my world. Who cared about spies and jerk investigators and mysterious packages of cocaine? My Daddy loved me and wanted to play Monopoly with me and that was all that mattered.

 

Anne Louise Bannon

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