Chapter Nine

September 23, 1983

 

Friday morning, Sid decided he wanted a change of pace, so we ran up the road towards town, instead of south towards Meyers. Motley tagged along as usual.

“The hard part will be dismantling those bugs,” said Sid. “We’ll have to do that before anything else. The problem is that Lehrer is wondering about us.”

“Why?” I grumbled, still not awake.

“I would imagine the missing coke. He’s got a point about that, and there was the tape in your purse.”

“It’s not that strange a thing to carry.”

“But you’d question someone who had it, wouldn’t you?”

I just yawned. Sid sighed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Nothing much,” he said forlornly. “Just the usual. Last night, when you mentioned the possibly of your stripping and running naked, I naturally began thinking about it, and remembered that Tuesday was the last time I got any.”

“So go out tonight.”

Sid winced. “It’ll be a little awkward with your family around. I was thinking I could make it through the weekend, but…”

His voice trailed off as his gaze settled on a young woman jogging towards us on the other side of the road. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Sid’s eyes weren’t exactly going up and down, but you could tell what they were focused on.

“She’s doing horrible things to her chest,” I said.

Sid wrenched his eyes away. “I keep thinking what I’d like to be doing to it.”

“We could run to the lake and I could dump you in.”

“No thanks. I think I’ll just run some errands by myself this morning.”

“How are you going to do that at this time of day without buying it?”

Sid sighed. “That could be somewhat problematic. But don’t worry. I will not be patronizing any brothels or hookers.”

I shook my head. I didn’t doubt it.

We had just turned around when two more women, both rather plump and wearing pastel running suits turned the corner and jogged towards us.

“Oh my,” gasped one. “Sarah, look. It’s Lisa Wycherly. Hi, Lisa!”

I smiled, but inside I groaned. I wasn’t quite sure who they were, the two having gained some since high school. Sarah had to be Sarah Jefferson, and her partner looked a lot like Rhonda Stadtler. I wasn’t too thrilled to see either of them.

The girls I went to high school with tended to run to extremes. Either they went all the way with their boyfriends or they believed that you didn’t kiss a boy until you were engaged to him. Rhonda and Sarah were from the latter extreme. In fact, their big hobby had been planning different ways to avoid sleeping in the same bed as their husbands on their wedding nights. I noticed they both wore wedding bands.

It would have been rude not to stop, and I have to admit I didn’t mind that part of it.

“Hello, Lisa, it’s so good to see you,” crowed Sarah.

Rhonda was giving Sid the once over. Actually, so was Sarah, but there was something different about the way Rhonda ogled. She was almost hungry.

“Hi, you guys,” I said. “It’s nice to see you. Um, this is my boss, Sid. I’m sorry, I don’t know your married names.”

Rhonda smiled at Sid. “I’m Rhonda Jefferson, and this is Sarah Carter.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Sid, his gaze lingering on Rhonda.

Sarah didn’t notice. “You haven’t changed a bit, Lisa, except for that perm. It looks great. I wish I could say the same.” She giggled. “I put on so much weight with my last baby.”

Apparently, she’d resigned herself to sleeping with her husband somewhere along the line.

“How many do you have?” I asked politely.

“Five.” She giggled proudly.

“When did you get married?” I gasped.

“August after we graduated. You knew I was engaged to Fred Carter, didn’t you?”

“Oh, that’s right.” It had been the ideal engagement for Sarah. Fred had been in the army the whole time, and they had courted each other through the mail. “Is Fred out of the army?”

“Oh, yeah. We bought his parents motel, and Fred’s talking about expanding.”

“How nice.”

“You look like you’re doing really well.”

“Pretty good.”

Sarah giggled again. “I’ve heard all the rumors. Lynn Fremont, you know, she used to be Lynn Raines, met me in the supermarket the other day. Her husband works at that hotel, so she heard everything first hand. She said she couldn’t believe that you, of all people, would be involved like that.”

I sighed. Lynn was from the other extreme and had always put me down because I wasn’t.

I smiled weakly. “I guess I still get the last laugh. There’s nothing going on.”

Sarah glanced over at Sid, who was talking quietly with Rhonda.

“There isn’t?” She giggled.

“There isn’t.” The frost crept into my voice.

Motley whined.

“We’d better get going,” said Sid suddenly.

We said good-bye and resumed our run.

“What were you and Rhonda talking about?”

Sid chuckled. “I don’t think you want to know.”

“You don’t mean you and her..?”

“It was her idea, and it is pretty convenient.”

“You’re kidding. I mean, I saw her looking at you, but it just doesn’t make sense. Rhonda’s always been one of the most uptight prudes I’ve ever met.”

“She’s changed a lot since you knew her.”

“She’s married.”

“So she said, to Sarah’s brother, as a matter of fact.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“That she’s married?” Sid shrugged. “You know I believe marriage is a lie, and if she agrees, why should it bother me?

“What about her husband?”

“According to Rhonda, he doesn’t care, and there was just enough bitterness in her tone to tell me he doesn’t. If my guess is right, he’s probably running around himself.”

“Possibly because he can’t get it at home.”

Sid laughed. “I stand warned. But I’m not worried.”

“Well, I hope he doesn’t catch you. You’ve already got one black eye.”

“That’s why I usually avoid married women. Violence is so messy.”

I glanced at Sid, suddenly very glad he had no interest in marriage. I could see the two of us trapped in a loveless union, taking lovers to get back at each other. Or I tried to see us that way. Somehow, I just couldn’t. [Probably because neither of us really wanted to be married at that point. The cold, hard truth about Rhonda was that she was raised to look to men for validation, and married the first man she could find to get away from her parents. Pete Jefferson had been fooling around on her almost from the start. Rhonda got into it shortly after when one of the managers at the store where she worked seduced her. It was technically sexual harassment, but he ended up making her feel so good, she kept it up and found other lovers, too – SEH]

When we got back to the house, Sid went straight for the shower. The kids were up and dressed and playing outside with Richmond and Murbles. Motley and I played with them for a while, then I wandered into the kitchen. Mama and Mae were also up and dressed and cutting up fruit for breakfast.

“Oh, you’re back,” said Mama. “How you doing this morning?”

“Fine.” I went over and kissed her cheek. “How are you?”

“Real good, honey,” she replied without her usual enthusiasm.

“And how are you, sister the elder?” I hugged Mae from behind. “Sleep okay?”

Mae yawned. “Uh-huh.”

I grabbed a chunk of cantaloupe and popped it in my mouth.

“Lisa Jane,” scolded Mama. “You keep your hands out of that bowl.”

“Yes, Mama.” I grabbed the last banana and peeled it part way down. Taking a bite, I flopped into a chair.

“Why don’t you get a knife and help us?” Mama asked.

“I’ve been helping all week. It’s Mae’s turn.”

“Young lady, that is so childish. Landsakes. Mae works hard all the time, feeding all those kids. You just have yourself to feed.”

“Which is a monumental task in itself,” said Sid, grinning. He’d come in while Mama was talking, wearing a suit and tie.

“All dressed up again, Sid?” Mama said with a disappointed sigh.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some business to attend to. I just came in to tell Lisa I’m through in the bathroom.”

“Well, you’re not leaving on an empty stomach. Here.” Mama dished fruit into a bowl. “I’ve got toast in the oven. I’ll get it.”

“Thanks.” Sid found the last spot at the table.

“Lisle, why don’t you hurry and get dressed so you don’t hold up Sid,” said Mama, laying a placemat in front of Sid.

“She’s not coming with me.” Sid spread his napkin on his lap while Mama put a plate of toast next to the bowl of fruit.

“She’s not?”

“Nope.” I finished my banana.

Mae snickered at Sid. “What are you up to?”

Sid grinned. “I’ll never tell.”

“Now you two stop it,” scolded Mama. “‘Tisn’t nice to talk like that. What if one of the kids heard you?”

“Mama, are you sure you’re okay?” I asked. “You seem a little snippy this morning.”

Mama glared. “Just never you mind about me. I’m fine.” She looked out the window, then strode over to the back door. “Darby! I told you to stay out of that wood pile.”

The screen door creaked and slammed as she went out, hollering at the kids.

“It’s the cops,” sighed Mae. “Daddy talked to Detective Frisch for a long time last night after that Lehrer guy left. I guess South Lake Tahoe P.D. didn’t know anything about any drugs connected to Murray’s death until Lehrer showed up with the warrant, so Daddy called Douglas County Sheriff’s this morning. They don’t know anything about any drug shipments, either. I overheard Mama hollering at Daddy about sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, and that he should let the DEA handle it.”

“They’re involved?” I asked casually, avoiding Sid’s eyes. “What’s going on?”

Mae shrugged. “I don’t know. Mama won’t say.”

The screen door creaked and slammed.

“Well, that’s enough of that,” grumbled Mama.

“Althea, I’m inclined to agree,” said Sid, wiping his mouth. “And so I really must be off.”

“Are you sure can’t take care of your business here?” Mama asked as Sid got up.

“I’m very sure.” Sid brought his dishes over to the sink.

“Well, Sid, you’re perfectly welcome to bring a guest here, if you like.”

“Mama, why don’t you just let him go?” I said quickly before Sid could reply.

“I’ll be back by lunch.” Sid grinned and left.

“He’s sure starting early,” Mae whispered to me.

“He figures it’ll be too awkward to go out tonight,” I whispered back.

“But how’s he going to pick up somebody at this hour of the day?”

“He’s got it all arranged.” I sighed. “I’m glad he’s going, frankly. He’s a terrible grouch when he gets horny, and it’s been a while.”

Mae snickered. “That’s not what I’ve been hearing.”

“He hasn’t been out since Tuesday, and for him, that’s a while.”

Mae giggled.

“What are you two whispering about?”

“Nothing, Mama,” said Mae. “‘Tisn’t nice.”

“Well, I’m going to get dressed,” I announced, grabbing another piece of cantaloupe and getting a piece of toast from the oven. “Save me some breakfast, will you?”

I showered and changed in record time into jeans and a shirt. I pulled my Shetland wool sweater on as I headed for the kitchen. I paused outside the door, pulling my collar out.

“I know what you mean about them,” Mama was saying on the other side.

“But you’re not going to get them to admit it,” said Mae. “Even to themselves.”

“Well, the way things stand right now, I think it’s just as well.”

[Were they talking about us, by any chance? – SEH]

I pushed open the door. “What’s just as well?”

They both colored up and looked at each other with guilty starts.

“Nothing,” said Mae, too quickly.

[I guess they were. It’s interesting how they picked up on our feelings for each other so early. Too bad we hadn’t – SEH]

I was puzzled but decided not to pursue it.

“Where’s the food?” I asked instead.

“I’m sorry, Lisle,” groaned Mama. “They went and ate up everything before I could save you some.”

“You probably wouldn’t have saved enough anyway.” I grinned. “Besides, I happen to know there’s something in the cupboard that I like and now that the boss is safely occupied elsewhere…”

I all but danced to the cupboard and opened it.

Mae groaned. “Lisa, I hope that’s not what I think that is.”

“Oh, yes it is, Mae.” I hugged the fuschia colored box. “Lucky Charms in all its sugar-coated glory. Fortified with artificial preservatives and colors.”

I grabbed a medium-sized mixing bowl out of the other cupboard, a soup spoon, and the milk. I put the bowl at my spot at the table and emptied the box into the bowl.

“Are you going to eat all that?” asked Mae, utterly disgusted.

“You bet I am.” I picked a coupon and a plastic wrapped toy out of the cereal and poured on the milk. “And I am going to enjoy every bite, without lectures on what it’s doing to my insides. You wouldn’t believe what a time Mama and I had getting this past Sid. Frankly, Mama, I think Sid went to the grocery store with us just to keep an eye on me. He’s such a control freak.”

“He’s just looking out for your own well-being,” said Mae.

“Mae, shut up.” I shoveled it in.

“Lisa Jane, you don’t talk to your sister like that,” said Mama. “She’s just concerned.”

“I know. But there’s nothing to be concerned about. Really.” I went back to my cereal.

I didn’t see it, but I could tell Mama and Mae were shaking their heads. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, so I went on eating my cereal.

When I finished, I washed my bowl and put it away and wandered back towards my room. I was in the front entry when the phone rang. Mama got it, then hollered for Daddy.

“In the living room,” he hollered back.

“It’s that DEA guy again,” called Mama.

“I’ll take it in the bedroom.”

My parents’ bedroom is right next to mine, and mine was bugged. I beat it out of the hall and to my room, where I turned on the radio and tuned it to a rock and roll station. Then I slid into the hallway to the closed door to my parents’ bedroom. I had no idea why Daddy was talking to someone from the Drug Enforcement Agency, but I was going to find out.

“Aunt Lisa!” Janey hissed. She tugged on my arm. “This way.”

“But-”

I glanced at the door, then took a chance and followed her back to the hall phone. Mama and Mae had the extension off the hook and their ears pressed to the receiver. Mama quickly put a finger to her lips. I shoved my way in, dislodging Mae, who glared at me furiously. I didn’t care. She didn’t have priority need to know, and I did, even if I couldn’t tell her that.

“Douglas County said they didn’t know squat about it,” said Daddy’s voice. “It just seems kind of fishy to me, and Lehrer was awful anxious about finding it.”

“You think he knows something?” asked the DEA guy. His voice sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it.

Mae squeezed in. I held my ground and put my finger in my free ear.

“He’d almost have to,” said Daddy. “Neither of us said a word about the stuff from the store, even with Murray dead, and Lehrer was very clear. There were two missing shipments.”

“If we could just figure out where the one Riordan had went to.”

“Lehrer sure as hell doesn’t know, and he wants to, bad.”

“And he’s looking for a second shipment. The question is, did it come in before or after Murray died?”

“Well, the police say he died Friday night.”

“Hm.” The DEA guy thought for a moment. “Do you know if you got anything from Sunland on Friday?”

“I don’t think so. But they ain’t sending it through the stock. We got the winter order in this past Tuesday and there wasn’t anything there that shouldn’t have been, or anything missing, either.”

“Who unpacked it?”

“My daughter and that boss of hers. She would have said something if she found it.”

“I agree, but there’s her boss. He was humping Riordan when the stuff she had disappeared.”

“I don’t think he’s messing with drugs. He’s too busy chasing tail.”

“I’ve heard he’s got money. You know where it comes from?”

“Well now, they’ve never said.” Daddy mused. “Nah. Lisa’s been with him for a year. She’d have noticed by now if he was up to something funny.”

“What if he’s got some kind of hold on her. Is she scared of him at all?”

Daddy snorted. “I sure wish she were. Look, the stuff’s got to be coming in through some kind of courier. We’ve been over and over that stock thing, and there’s no way Murray could have kept finding it faster than we could, not without radar.”

[Or a good dog – SEH]

“All I know is that Riordan told me she was to deliver a back order to the store. It’s possible it was a code to someone else in the store, maybe that Martin kid.”

“I’m inclined to think not. I think she knows something about what’s going on, but she just ain’t that bright.”

“Well, Bill, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess we’ll have to try checking out Lehrer. Tell you what. He’s on duty tonight. We’ll go over to his place after he’s on and check it out.”

“Ain’t that illegal?”

“There’s ways around it. That’s why I need you there.”

Daddy cleared his throat. “If I’m under oath, I’m going to say what really happened.”

The DEA guy laughed. “I just need you to set Lehrer up. It’s not going to blow the court case, and you probably won’t have to testify, let alone perjure yourself. Even then, chances are, we’ll get him to name names, and plea bargain it. Let’s see. Lehrer’s night shift. I think those guys have roll call at eleven. Why don’t you meet me at the store at eleven thirty and we’ll go over from there.”

“Eleven thirty, alright. I’ll meet you in the back.”

“Hey, with luck, Lehrer’ll be able to tell us who killed Murray, and maybe even Riordan. Talk to you later.”

They hung up. Mama all but slammed the phone down and pressed her lips together.

“I don’t like it,” she hissed, hurrying into the kitchen. “I just don’t like it.”

“What’s Daddy been doing with the DEA?” I demanded, right on her heels.

“And what did you think you were doing pushing me out?” snapped Mae, grabbing my shoulder and spinning me around.

“I needed to hear,” I said.

“I was there first.”

“Well, nobody’s trying to pin a bum drug rap on you.”

“Everyone knows that’s just hot air. You were just being selfish again.”

“Girls!” snapped Mama. “Landsakes, you’re both grown women. It’s about time you stopped bickering with each other.”

“Mama, I was there first and she pushed me off,” groaned Mae.

“What’s Daddy doing with the DEA?” I pressed. “Come on, Mama. I need to know.”

Mama sank down into a chair and leaned against the table with her head in her hand.

“Somebody’s been smuggling drugs through your daddy’s store,” she said softly. “We don’t know who. The only reason they think it’s Murray is ’cause he got killed. The fellow from the DEA said it’s through Sunland Products, and that’s why it’s Daddy’s store. It’s the closest place to the state line that carries sporting goods, and it carries Sunland year-round.”

I sat down next to her. “How long has this been going on?”

“Don’t know about the smuggling. Daddy and the guy from the DEA have been talking for about a month now.” Mama shook her head. “I’m just so afraid he’s going to get his neck in too deep.”

So was I, knowing that espionage was involved, too.

“Oh, Mama,” said Mae, sitting down on her other side. “Daddy’s not stupid, and he knows how to handle himself. He’ll be fine.”

Daddy walked in. “Lisle, what are you doing in here? I thought you were in your room. And why are you playing that damn radio so loud?”

“I just had it on.” I shrugged with a guilty smile. “And then, well…”

Daddy’s eyes narrowed. “You girls were listening in. Don’t think I didn’t know.”

“Well, Bill, I think we needed to.” Mama got up, spitting mad. “With that DEA guy and his midnight meetings. You’re going to get yourself killed if you’re not careful. These drug dealers don’t play nice. Landsakes, you read in the papers every darned day about one of them fellows getting themselves murdered, or what have you.”

“I know what I’m doing, Althea.”

“Oh, you do. Since when did you join the DEA?”

“If the man needs help and I can do it, it’s the least I can do. He won’t let me do anything dangerous anyway.” Daddy sighed and held Mama. “Honey, I’m going to be careful and stay out of the way. I know my limitations.”

“Oh, Bill, I just don’t want to see you hurt.” She looked up at him. “I know you can handle yourself, but you be careful now.”

Daddy gave her a squeeze and released her. “Well, it’s getting on for time. Where’s Neil? We need to fire up the barbecue.”

There were steaks and chicken, grilled, and Mama’s special potato salad and green salad, and potatoes roasted in the coals, and vegetable kebobs. The only thing missing was the corn on the cob, but it was too late in the year for that. Sid showed up just in time to change into jeans and sweater and eat. I did manage to signal him that we needed to talk as soon as possible and slipped off into the woods the minute I was done eating. Sid found me in a nearby clearing some minutes later.

“Well?” he asked.

I told him about the phone call. He was, as I expected, thrilled.

“Jesus,” he swore.

“Sid!”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry. But this is one complication we can’t afford.”

“No kidding.” I picked up a twig and started peeling its bark off.

“We’ll have to work around it. The first priority will be to dismantle those bugs.”

“There’s always the radio. I think mine is still on.”

“Someone’s bound to turn it off at just the wrong moment.” He shook his head. “We’ll find a way. We just have to think about it. I did get a good look at the one in my room last night. It’s more Company equipment.”

“It is?” I frowned. “At least, we know who got the stolen equipment.”

Sid nodded.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Another excellent question.”

“So we’re stuck.”

“For the moment.” He smiled at me. “I hear you’ve got sugar on your breath.”

“Mae ratted on me, didn’t she?” I viciously tossed away a piece of bark.

“Yes.”

“Well, I don’t want to hear any more about it. For once, will you just leave me alone?”

“What’s the matter, Lisa?” His gentle eyes gazed at me.

“It’s my dad.” Trying not to cry, I turned away. “He doesn’t know what he’s getting into, with the spy stuff and all. And I can’t tell him. And I couldn’t tell Mae why I had to hog the phone this morning. And she’s been on my case about being withdrawn. She’s really worried about it. Okay, I never was that open, but I could at least say things if I wanted to. Now, it’s like there’s a barrier between me and my family and it hurts. You know, I really like this business most of the time. But there are days when I wonder if it’s worth the sacrifices.”

“Sometimes I wonder, too.”

“Yeah, but it’s easier for you, Sid. You don’t have a family. You keep telling me you prefer being a loner.”

“True. But I have my moments. Frankly, Lisa, I envy you. If something happens to you, there are people who will notice you’ve gone. Me, I’ll fade away and no one will know the difference.”

“Sid, that’s not true.”

He smiled. “Well, not anymore. I’m very grateful for your friendship, and for the way your sister’s family adopted me. But in the circle of people I generally move in, one only exists for the moment you’re there. And I don’t want you feeling sorry for me. I like it that way. However, it has its drawbacks, just like having a family does. I do understand how you feel, Lisa. The business is a barrier, but a necessary one, and if you don’t make the sacrifice, who will?”

“That’s sort of what Father John keeps telling me. I’m in this situation because I can handle it better than anyone else. It just gets hard sometimes.”

“Well, I’m here, and we have no excuse for a barrier.”

I smiled softly. “No, we don’t.”

“By the way, I ran a couple errands while I was out.”

“Either they were real quick ones, or Rhonda was.”

Sid chuckled. “Somewhere in between.” He sighed and shook his head. “Actually, she’s involved in one sordid mess.”

I went back to picking at my stick. “That’s too bad.”

“What is it about her that has you so bugged?”

“I wonder what could have happened to make her change so drastically, and I wonder if it could happen to me.” I looked at him nervously. “It seems sometimes like I’ve got the perfect opportunity.”

Sid smiled and shook his head. “If by that, you mean giving in to me, then no. Rhonda’s problem has a lot more to do with an insensitive husband who made a promise he wasn’t about to keep. I keep my promises, and I do my damnedest to be sensitive.”

“And you’re very successful. Still…”

“Lisa, it won’t happen to you. You’re much too strong. I can’t think of anything that could happen to you that you couldn’t rise above. You and Rhonda have very little in common that way.”

“Thanks.”

“Anyway, regarding those two errands. The first was a brief meeting with Tom Collins to see if he could confirm if our bugs were the stolen ones.”

“And?”

“Assuming I described them accurately, they’re pretty standard equipment.”

“Oh, goody. A generic listening device.”

Motley chose that moment to come trotting into the clearing. He barked once, then whined softly as I bent to pet him. I suddenly smiled.

“Sid, why don’t we let Motley find those bugs for us?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, last night, when I was looking for them with the bug finder, Motley found them before I did. I pretended not to notice. But we could set it up to look like we finally did.”

“Hm. That’s a possible, but it might be a little tricky.” He smiled down at Motley. “It would appear the mutt has his uses. Which brings me to my second errand. You may not have heard, but I found out that Murray’s ex is in town with the children for the funeral tomorrow. Anyway, I sought her out, told her we had the dog, and she made it quite clear that the last thing she wanted was another dog around.” He pulled a folded paper from his shirt pocket. “Anyway, here are Motley’s papers. I do believe you have to sign and mail them in.”

“Oh, Sid, thank you. How much do I owe you?”

“You don’t.”

“But-”

“I didn’t have to pay for him. The former Mrs. Waters decided that between the hassle of paying for an ad and getting a vet to look at him, she was better off giving him away. It’s hard enough to sell puppies. A year-old dog is almost impossible.”

“But you don’t want a dog.”

“Don’t you?”

“Yes, but I thought I was going to have to twist your arm or something.”

He shrugged. “I thought I’d save you the trouble. He’s all yours, Lisa. I’ve even called the fencing people to put in a kennel for him.”

“Oh, Sid, that’s wonderful. Thank you!”

I flung my arms around him and squeezed. He squeezed back.

“I’m so glad I’ve got you, Sid,” I whispered.

“I’m so glad I’ve got you, Lisa.”

We pulled apart. Gently, he laid his hand on my cheek. We gazed into each other’s eyes for a minute, then softly, so softly, he laid a kiss on my lips.

Motley’s barking brought us back down to earth. We could hear the children calling him, and he bounded off back to the house. Sid and I followed separately.

After lunch was cleaned up, the kids talked Sid into playing the piano for them. Darby had his guitar and played along, keeping up pretty well for someone who had only been playing since January.

“We’re getting an orchestra together at school this year,” he told Sid during a tuning break. “Only I won’t get to be in it unless I learn to play something else. Mrs. Gomez says she already has a pianist and that she needs someone who’s been playing a lot longer than I have. She thinks I ought to try violin.”

Sid chuckled. “Boy, do I know how that feels. Almost the exact same thing happened to me when I started high school. Fortunately, my piano skills were already advanced by that point.”

Darby shrugged. “I don’t know. Violin sounds kind of neat, really. I just don’t want to be called a sissy.”

“That can be rough,” said Sid. “But you know, the only real sissies are the ones who have to call others sissies.”

Darby looked over at his grandfather. “What do you think, Grandpa?”

I knew why he asked. Darby and my father have kind of a strange relationship. Daddy was really ecstatic when he found he had a grandson. Even though I’d played substitute son for him, I was still his daughter, and after two of them, Daddy was looking forward to a real he-man to he-man relationship. Only Darby turned out to be anything but interested. Daddy was disappointed but equally determined that Darby should be what he is. Darby is onto him and makes a point of being a he-man whenever he can.

“Well, now…” Daddy struggled. “Darby, I’ve always said you’ve got to follow your heart. If you want to play violin, then you play violin. Sid’s right, and I think it takes a damned sight more guts to do something you want even though you might get called names than it does to do the name calling.”

Darby didn’t get a chance to answer. One of the twins started screaming from the back of the house.

“What now?” sighed Mae as the other twin joined in. Ellen wandered in. “Ellen, why are your brothers upset?”

She shrugged. “Janey’s being mean to them. Motley found something neat in Uncle Sid’s room and she took it away.”

I glanced over at Sid.

He turned around on the piano bench. “What did they find, Ellen?”

She shrugged again. “Motley found another one in Aunt Lisa’s room.”

“Another what?” asked Mae.

Ellen shrugged. “It’s neat.”

“Janey!” called Neil. “Martin, Mitchell!”

“Daddy,” bellowed Janey as she pushed her little brothers into the living room. “I told them to leave the things alone.”

“What did they find, Janey?” asked Sid.

She held out her hand to display the two small round micro-transmitters. Neil picked them up.

“What the heck are these?” he asked. He looked at Janey. “Ellen said one was in Uncle Sid’s room and the other was in Aunt Lisa’s.”

Janey nodded. “Yes.”

Neil looked the bugs over closely. “I wonder if these are listening devices. Look at this wire mesh here.”

“Are you sure one was in my room?” I said, letting my voice shake. Janey nodded. “Oh Lord, somebody’s been listening to me?”

Neil started to show the bugs to Mae, but Daddy snatched them.

“If they are, I know who put them there,” he growled, looking the bugs over himself. “I’ve got a phone call to make.”

“What if they’re broadcasting, Daddy?” I asked, letting my voice go panicky.

Daddy stopped and looked at me. “You got a point.”

“Is there an off switch?” I asked. I knew it was a dumb question, which is precisely why I asked.

“I wonder if I have that magnifying glass in the car,” muttered Neil.

“Not the science kit,” groaned Darby. Janey and Ellen looked at each other guiltily.

Neil’s attempts to get the kids hooked on science are the family joke. The kids like science, especially Ellen. It’s just that Neil thinks he is taking good advantage of serendipitous occasions, and the kids think he’s a total bore. To be honest, Neil’s lectures are a little on the dry side. [Dry doesn’t begin to describe them. Sawdust has more flavor – SEH]

Neil sent Janey after the magnifying glass, which meant he knew darned well she and Ellen had hidden the science kit again. Meanwhile, I went to my room and checked my bug finder. Those adorable little brats had done their work well. Nothing was transmitting.

I went back to the living room. Neil had the eyeglass kit out, with the tiny screwdriver and pliers. Janey brought in the magnifying glass and everyone except the kids and me converged on the coffee table. Sid looked up and saw me standing in the doorway. Surreptitiously, I made a slicing motion across my neck. He nodded and slipped out of the pack.

We went back to his room.

“It’s a pity we can’t hire those kids to do our work for us more often,” he said, shutting the door.

I stood next to it, listening for anyone coming.

“No kidding. Does this mean we go check out Lehrer tonight?”

“With your father and his friend from the DEA out to do the same? You’d better believe it. We’ll just run a basic search and switch. I’ll call Tom Collins and see if he can get us some less sensitive evidence.”

“Maybe we ought to check out Donny Severn’s place, too.”

“Why? He couldn’t have killed Murray. He was in Reno, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” I felt deflated, then… “Sid, didn’t Officer Burke say Stripkin said Donny was with him at the critical time?”

“That’s why Donny’s out of the running for Murray’s murder.”

“Except that Alice called Donny’s friend Mike Friday night, and Mike said Donny wasn’t there, that he was staying there but was out all the time.”

Sid sat down on the bed and mused. “And that was before we said word one about Murray, which gives her even less reason to be lying about it.” He looked at me. “Donny was supposedly in Reno since the previous Wednesday.”

“Which was when Lehrer took Donny with him to do a job for him.”

Sid snorted. “The problem is, with the gun that killed Della turning up the way it did, there’s no way of proving that Donny did it.”

“Unless that room service waiter identifies him.”

Sid shook his head. “We have to get Donny arrested first. Actually, we need to get Lehrer arrested.”

“Too bad we can’t do it.”

“Technically, we can.” Sid got up and paced.

“A citizen’s arrest, but anyone can do that.”

“No. We have the authority to make a regular arrest for any crime under FBI jurisdiction. We just don’t use it because it would blow our cover.” He stopped pacing and gazed at the closet without seeing it. “Now, are you sure this DEA character plans to bust Lehrer tonight?”

“He said he needed Daddy to set Lehrer up, and the plan is to meet tonight.”

An almost evil grin spread across Sid’s face. “How about if we help the set up along?”

“How?”

“I still have Della’s cocaine in the trunk of my car, and I seem to remember suggesting some drug charges might help things along.”

“But don’t we want him busted for espionage?”

“Yeah.” Sid went back to pacing. “That would be preferable since they won’t set him free quite as easily. But at the moment, I’ll take any charges I can get. Did I give you the code nine phone number?”

“Yeah.” Calling in a code nine brought out the nearest FBI agents who would make any arrests we needed made.

“Good. I’ll put them on alert. With the DEA hanging around, it could get sticky if they butt heads. Now for the rest of the details.”

It wasn’t easy. We had to pull together all our equipment without anyone seeing us. We had to formulate a good excuse for being out that night without everyone else. I had to get Mama and Daddy to let me drive the jeep since Sid’s car was a little too recognizable.

Sid got the stuff in from his car just as soon as it got dark, by hiding it under his ski jacket. It was also right on top of dinner, which is why there was no one around to see. I helped with the cleanup, then Mama sent me to get ready to go with Sid to a local nightclub that he was going to review for his article, which he also wanted my opinion on. Mae tagged along.

“Why aren’t you staying here?” she asked softly. “You know Daddy has that meeting tonight.”

“I know.” I glanced at her bedroom, where Sid was checking over the guns and lockpicks and masks and gloves. “But, um, Sid didn’t know anything about it when he set up the interview at the nightclub, and you know how Mama is. This past Wednesday, Sid told me to take off and she was really mad that I went riding instead of sticking around to help him. She doesn’t need to worry about me losing my job on top of Daddy playing cops and robbers.”

“I suppose. What are you going to wear?”

I squirmed. “Mae, I’d really rather get dressed by myself. Okay?”

Mae gave me the kind of look that said it wasn’t but left me alone. I dressed quickly in a light pink handkerchief linen shirt I’d pressed and starched that afternoon, and my black break in pants. They were still pretty new, and the fabric hadn’t faded yet, so they looked casual but nice. I also put on my armored running shoes. They were black, so I still looked a little dressed up. I pinned my hair up, then folded up the collar on my shirt to look stylish. I picked up a gray herringbone twill bomber jacket and with a deep breath, left the room.

I made sure the hall was empty and slid into Sid’s room. He looked up from the bed where he was loading one of the S and W model thirteen three fifty-seven revolvers.

“You look good,” he said.

He was wearing a white dress shirt, his shoulder holster and revolver, tight, dark jeans and his armored running shoes. A tweed sports jacket sat next to him on the bed.

“Thanks.”

Sid rolled the clip, then clicked it in place and handed the gun and its holster to me. I slid it on. Sid slid into his sports coat.

“I’m almost tempted to put the model thirteen in my purse,” I said, wriggling the holster around to where it was almost comfortable.

I pulled up the right leg of my pants and strapped on my twenty-two automatic.

Sid shrugged. “Anyplace you’ll be carrying your purse, you won’t be able to use it. You can’t carry that monster with you on the break in, and I don’t want to leave it out in an open car. We can’t afford to lose it.” He looked at me as I slid into my bomber jacket. “That’s different. Where did you get it?”

“International Fabrics on Beverly.” I zipped up the front just high enough so I could get at the gun and still keep it hidden.

“It looks nice.” Sid tried not to sigh.

He knows one of the reasons I sew most of my own clothes is because I’m basically cheap, which bothers him. It’s not like he’s underpaying me, and there’s also my salary from Quickline. He can’t understand why I won’t spend one penny more than I have to. Neither can I, really. I’ve always been that way. [On the other hand, you do very good work, and I concede the therapeutic benefits are considerable – SEH]

I finished distributing lockpicks, miniature flashlights, glass cutters, wire cutters, screwdrivers, duct tape (a fresh roll I’d filched from the barn), and the box of cocaine among the many pockets in my pants.

“Are we ready?” Sid asked.

I took a deep breath. “Yeah.”

We announced our departure and left quickly before anyone decided they wanted a hug. I’d seen to putting our ski jackets in the jeep earlier. I looked at Sid, then started the engine.

Not that we were really on our way yet. It was only eight o’clock, and we couldn’t go near Lehrer’s place until eleven. We did stop by a bar up the road in Stateline, just to back up what we’d told my family, and decided pretty quickly it didn’t have anything to offer. We went back to the big casinos next to the state line, itself.

I made the pickup in the Keno Lounge. Tom Collins hid the microdots in a cocktail napkin which I slid into my pants. Then Sid and I hit the blackjack tables.

“I hope we have better luck tonight,” he muttered as he busted again, and with twenty-two.

I crossed myself. I was doing okay, pretty much staying just a little bit ahead. I hit a blackjack the next hand.

By ten thirty, Sid was ahead fifty bucks, which wasn’t much when you consider he’d been playing with twenty-five dollar chips. I was ahead twenty dollars, which was pretty darned good since I only bet the two dollar minimum. We cashed in and took off.

Lehrer’s cabin was in Tahoe Village, off by itself at the end of a longish street. We drove by, then I parked the jeep in a real estate office’s parking lot, behind some trees at the bottom of the hill. Sid and I slid out of our jackets and into our ski jackets and walked up the hill to Lehrer’s place.

The cabin was dark, without even an outside light. In the trees next to the place, Sid and I put on our gloves and masks. We slipped onto the deck and over to the front door.

It was ajar. I glanced at Sid. He already had his revolver out. I drew mine. He backed up against the open side of the doorway. I backed up against the door side. We could hear nothing inside.

Sid nodded. I pushed the door open a little further. Sid slid in and braced. I rolled around and went in. The cabin was dark. Braced and ready, we waited. The only sound was the whisper of the wind in the trees outside.

Sid glanced at me, then shut the door. I holstered my gun and got out the flashlights. In the tiny circles of light they produced, we could see that someone had gotten in first and started trashing the place. Several cushions from a Herculon couch were scattered over the floor, and about two desk drawers had been emptied. But the rest of the room was intact.

I checked the kitchen. It was fine. A stairway led to a loft over the kitchen and living room. Sid was going through the desk. I went up the stairs.

A dark, wiry form leaped out at me. I dropped the flashlight and tried to dodge, but the stairs were too narrow. I stepped back, my foot hit air then slammed onto the next step. I was twisting to the side at the time, so I didn’t go down. The form did.

Sid was waiting for him at the bottom, but the young man was quick and bounced up. He jumped at Sid, who dodged. The man clasped his hands and swung.

I was still trying to get my balance and over-corrected myself right into the banister. My side ached with the impact, but I didn’t have time to worry about it because I was going over. I caught the railing just in time, then dropped safely to the ground.

Sid took a punch to the stomach, then landed two good ones in the young man’s jaw. It didn’t faze him. He came back, swinging wildly. Sid ducked, then worked in close and got the man in the stomach. I charged, and Sid and I caught the young man in a squeeze play. He struggled and almost broke loose.

We had a heck of a time wrestling him to the ground. I fumbled for the duct tape and tossed it to Sid, who had his knee in the young man’s back. I got one arm. Sid got the other, and between the two of us, we forced them together. There was a ripping sound as Sid whipped the duct tape around the young man’s wrists. I had to sit on his legs while Sid wrapped his ankles. I taped the mouth, while Sid found the flashlight I’d dropped.

He rolled the young man over and shone the flashlight in his eyes. Sid nodded at me and rolled the young man back onto his stomach. I took the flashlight, and as I did, I realized that the young man was wearing a blue and black flannel shirt, and near the bottom, a piece had been torn off.

Sid pulled me over to the desk.

“That’s Donny Severn,” Sid whispered.

“What’s he doing here?”

We looked over the cushions and empty drawers.

“Looking for something,” said Sid.

“Remember that scrap I found in my clearing?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“He’s wearing the same fabric shirt and there’s a piece missing.”

“Hm.” Sid glanced over at Donny. “We’d better hustle. Your dad and the DEA will be here any minute.”

I hurried up the stairs. I found a couple hidey holes in the wall next to the bed, and after a quick search brought the contents down to Sid. There were about three microdots and a three by five looseleaf notebook, and a heavy metal briefcase. I opened the briefcase and found a black box with dials on it and strapped to the case’s lid, a disk.

“The transponder, I think,” I whispered.

“I guess,” Sid whispered back. “Let’s take it anyway.”

I showed him the notebook

“Records,” he hissed, pulling a small camera from the pocket of his ski jacket. “You hide the box next to the cushions on the sofa, while I get this.”

I set the box on the bottom of the sofa where the seat cushions should have been, then exchanged the microdots with three of the ones we’d gotten earlier. Sid snapped photos of the loose leaf notebook. I thought I heard a twig snap. I slipped to the front of the cabin and looked out a window. My father’s large form slid onto the deck, next to another, equally tall, but slighter fellow.

I tagged Sid’s arm as he took the last photo, and, grabbing the briefcase, we ran up the stairs. A second later, the front door opened and the lights went on. We dove for the floor.

“Hell,” cursed the DEA guy.

“What happened?” grumbled Daddy.

“Somebody was looking for something.”

With the lights on, Sid and I didn’t dare look. We just hugged the floor as close to the edge of the loft as we could get.

The DEA guy cursed.

“That’s Donny Severn,” said Daddy. “What the hell’s he doing here?”

“Leave him,” ordered the DEA guy.

“What?”

“Obviously, another agency wants him. Look at this. Lehrer wouldn’t leave a shipment out where anyone could find…”

“What you looking at there?”

“This box. It’s the one Riordan was bringing up. She marked it. See, here’s the serial number she put on it.”

“I don’t get it.”

“She was supposed to drop it off at the store Thursday night or Friday morning after making contact with me, so I could tail whoever it went to. I had her mark the box to make it easier to trace.”

Daddy cleared his throat. “Then how, pray tell, did it get here?”

“Della’s room was searched. I checked that out Friday night. Damn it. There’s counter-espionage people involved in this somehow.”

“In drugs? How can you be so sure about that?”

“The tape. Lehrer didn’t wrap Donny up like that. He’d use handcuffs. They’re harder to get out of, and Lehrer has a legitimate reason for carrying them. Most undercover operatives can’t get away with cuffs, but a roll of tape isn’t going to raise too many questions.”

“Huh.” Daddy mulled that over. “So that’s what Lehrer was talking about.”

“When?”

“Last night, when he was putting in those bugs. He found a roll of strapping tape in my daughter’s purse and asked if she knew what it was for.”

“You mean Lisa?”

“Yes.” Daddy’s voice cooled considerably.

“That’s… Yes.” I could all but see the wheels turning in that guy’s head. “It’s about the only thing that really makes sense.”

“What are you getting on about?”

“The tape in your daughter’s purse.” He laughed. “Bill, I think you’ve got a spy right under your nose.”

“What? Lisa?” It was Daddy’s turn to laugh. “You’re talking nonsense. The girl couldn’t even look at the body bag when they brought Murray out.”

I felt Sid shaking with laughter, and jabbed him with my elbow.

“Trust me,” Daddy continued. “She ain’t got the nerve. The girl’s a mouse. Her boss, maybe, but nah. She’d have noticed.”

“He’s got his hands up too many skirts, anyway. Playing James Bond is a good way to get killed.”

I shook and got jabbed.

“So what now?” Daddy asked.

“We make tracks. They’re obviously busting Lehrer tonight. Damn, I wanted his butt. Wait. I think we’ll still get it. Here’s what I want you to do. We’ll go down to the Sheriff’s station. You tell Lehrer you want to talk to him someplace quiet, and you want to do it tonight. Above all, you let him set up where it’s going to be. I’ll let you come with me to the meeting, but only to draw him out. I’ll draw the attack. Come on.”

A second later, they were gone. Sid and I got up. I headed down the stairs. Sid grabbed the briefcase and caught me at the bottom.

“Where are you going?” he hissed.

I wrenched my arm free. “After them.”

Sid signaled me to wait, gave me the briefcase, then picked up the phone and dialed.

“Code nine,” he hissed, and gave the address, and hung up. “Alright. We’re done here.”

He waited until I had dumped the transponder in the back of the jeep and got it going before saying anything.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Saving my dad’s butt.”

“Get a grip on yourself, woman. We can’t do a damned thing. If he sees either one of us, we’re blown.”

I thought. “Not necessarily. They’re going to my spot. I’ll just say you and I got in a fight and I was upset. I’ll put the model thirteen in my jacket pocket. It should fit, and I’ll be able to ditch it if I have to.”

“Why don’t we just let the DEA handle it?”

“Because it’s my father!” I yelped.

“You don’t even know if that’s where they’re headed.”

“It is.” I glanced over at him. “That piece of shirt. Motley knew it. Murray was the one who showed me that place. I’ll bet anything, he had Lehrer meeting him up there, and that’s where Donny got roughed up, and alright, I’m guessing, but I’d say it’s pretty safe that it was Lehrer roughing him up one way or other, possibly over Murray’s death.”

Sid sighed and leaned back in the seat. “Alright. It makes sense. And we haven’t got anything else.”

We parked off the road at the foot of the drop. The jeep blended in with the lighter colored rock, although it was screened from the road by pines. As we put on our other jackets, Sid kept watch.

It was cold. I shivered and folded my arms across myself. Down on the road, an engine thrummed and a set of high beams whitened the sky above the trees. Sid and I sat up, waiting. The car didn’t stop.

Another car, coming from Nevada, went by. In the still following its wake, Sid gazed up at the sky.

“Look at all those stars,” he whispered. “When I was a kid, I used to think that was where the other side was.”

“What other side?”

“Death.”

“You believe in life after death?”

He shrugged. “The first law of thermodynamics. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. There’s been some interesting stuff coming out on out of body experiences. On the other hand, who knows for sure?”

Behind us, a small rock tumbled. We both swung around, Sid’s hand reaching inside his jacket, mine for my jacket pocket. Another car hummed its way down the road from Nevada and kept on going.

Silence.

“He’s not coming,” said Sid, after we’d been sitting about ten minutes.

“Lehrer or Godot?” I asked.

Sid chuckled. Something rustled ahead. Sid tensed.

“I thought the mountains were supposed to be quiet,” he grumbled.

“That doesn’t mean silent.”

The bushes ahead rustled again. I caught a bouncing flash of white and sat back.

“What do you think that was?” Sid asked.

“A deer. Must be pretty confused to be this far down. It happens.”

Sid pondered the skies again. I shivered.

“It’s so clear,” he said.

“No clouds. That’s why it’s so cold.” I shivered again and pulled my jacket tighter around me.

Below us, a car slowed. Its lights went out as its tires crackled against the rocks and dirt next to the pavement. The sedan parked next to the trail leading to the clearing. Starlight glinted off the light bar on top.

“You win your bet,” hissed Sid.

He was already out of the jeep. I jumped out after him and tagged his arm.

“This way.” I nodded at the other side of the rock.

We heard the sedan’s door open and close. Sid put his finger to his lips. I nodded. He took the lead, keeping me close enough to direct him and showing me how to get through the brush without making too much noise. I felt a little miffed. After all, I was on my home turf and he wasn’t. [But you had never walked night patrols in a Vietnamese jungle, and I had – SEH]  However, with Lehrer out there somewhere, there was no way I could argue.

The clearing was empty when we got to the edge. Sid’s lips brushed against my ear. Thinking it was one stupid time to get romantic, I tried brushing him away.

“I’m going to the other side,” he whispered so softly I could barely make out the words. “You watch from here.”

Shaking, I put my hand on my model thirteen. Sid disappeared into the shadows. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. The clearing remained empty.

The brush to my right erupted in crackling and rustling, and I heard an “ooph.” It was a fight, and someone had connected. Fearing the worst, I drew my gun and ran for the noise.

I saw the barrel flash almost before I heard the crack of the shot. Bark from the tree next to me exploded in a shower of slivers. I dove to the ground, aiming for the flash point, but before I could squeeze off my shot, the other gun flared three more times, with the shots getting closer and closer. I rolled, then lay still.

Wheezing, the stout heavy form crashed through the brush. I tried to get a fix on the shadow, but the next thing I knew, a rubber soled foot came down on my right hand. I swallowed the yell, then swallowed another as Lehrer fell on top of me.

I wriggled around, trying to get a grip on him. I caught polyester double knit and little else. I hung on and pulled myself along it. White light blinded me. Lehrer’s hand clamped onto my sore right wrist. I gasped as he yanked me up.

“Well, what do you know?” he sneered. “I come up here trolling for Bill Wycherly, and what do I get in the net instead, but his kid.”

I cried and struggled, but Lehrer’s grip was like iron, and the flashlight felt like iron as it clipped my head. I sank to my knees. Laughing, Lehrer jammed the light under his arm and roughly cuffed my hands behind me.

“Don’t hurt me,” I sobbed, playing into my fear.

He backhanded me. “Shut up. You want to stay alive, you stay quiet.”

He yanked me to my feet and all but dragged me to the clearing, keeping me at his side. He had a pump action shotgun under his arm with the flashlight. He dropped me on the boulder, then sat down next to me. The flashlight he propped up on his other side. Chuckling, he opened the gun and popped three shells in.

“Your dad should be here any time now. I was going to waste him from the brush, but now that I’ve got you, I might not have to.”

The flashlight suddenly flew down the drop, and Lehrer was under Sid. [The dope had blinded himself with that flashlight right next to him – SEH]  They rolled, then Lehrer landed on top of Sid, with his hands around Sid’s neck. Sid popped Lehrer’s triceps with his knuckles, then bucked and sent Lehrer flying over him.

In a second, Sid was on his feet. He dove at Lehrer, grabbing Lehrer’s collar, then rabbit punching him. Lehrer went limp. Sid dropped him.

I staggered to my feet.

“You okay?” Sid whispered, pulling me off the boulder and leading me to the edge of the clearing.

“I think I’ve got a goose egg on my head,” I whispered back. “Lehrer hit me with that flashlight. I feel kind of woozy.”

Sid got one of the mini flashlights from my pants and waved the light in my eyes.

“Well, your eyes are dilating. You’re probably fine.” He put the flashlight back, then felt around behind me. “Oh, goody. Cuffs. Let’s get sat down and I’ll get you out of these.”

He helped me to the ground, then popped open the sole of his left shoe and got out a tube of spring steel. A minute later, I felt the metal give around my left wrist. I started to wriggle my hand free, then Sid cursed and clamped it back.

“What?” I hissed.

“Your dad. I spring you now, and we’re for sure pegged as operatives.”

A light flashed on us.

“Lisle!” gasped Daddy’s voice.

I couldn’t quite make out the tall, slender form bending over Lehrer’s body. All of a sudden, it dodged back and tripped as Lehrer roared to life.

Lehrer scrambled around, his hands landing on the shotgun. I got knocked flat under Sid as the gun blasted.

“Daddy!” I screamed.

The gun blasted two more times.

“Had enough?” snarled Lehrer. “Hackbirn, get off your girlfriend. Now! Move it!”

Sid slowly moved off of me. Lehrer came over, pointing the shotgun right at me. I howled as he grabbed my hair and pulled me up. He jammed the shotgun muzzle, still hot, under my chin.

“That hurts,” I whimpered.

“It’s not going to hurt at all when I blow your head off,” snarled Lehrer. “Okay, Wycherly, what do you got on me?”

“I don’t,” said Daddy, struggling to keep his voice calm. “I just wanted to talk to you. Find a way to make peace.”

Lehrer swore. “Say goodbye to your girl.”

“Holy Jesus, have mercy,” I gasped.

The gun went click.

I looked up. I was still under the stars, not among them. But before I could breathe to confirm it, I found myself under Sid, falling on top of Lehrer. Somehow, I scrambled free. But Sid and Lehrer were rolling on top of the boulder.

Lehrer pulled free first and got a hold of the shotgun. He swung it like a club. Sid danced back, then realized if he danced back any further, he’d be dancing on thin air. Catching his balance, he swung sideways. The DEA guy, whom I still couldn’t see clearly, caught Sid, while Daddy jumped Lehrer. The shotgun clattered on the rock.

After that, all I could see was this pile of bodies heaving. It stopped slowly. The DEA guy got up first, then Sid, then Daddy. Lehrer struggled on the rock.

I sank to my knees, sobbing.

“Hey, it’s alright. You’re safe.” Arms enfolded me, but they weren’t Sid’s. Or Daddy’s. Nor was the voice.

The face slowly came clear in the starlight.

“Fletcher,” I gasped. “What? How?”

“I’m from the Drug Enforcement Administration. I’m sorry, Lisa. I couldn’t tell you.”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” snarled Daddy. His huge hand landed on Fletcher’s shoulder and he ripped Fletcher away from me. “It’s alright, Lisle baby. I got you.”

“Oh, Daddy,” I sobbed, laying my head on his shoulder.

“What’s wrong with your hands?”

“He put handcuffs on me. Will somebody get these off of me?”

Only they couldn’t. Fletcher searched Lehrer for the keys, but they’d been lost in the scuffle. They had to take me to the Sheriff’s station that way, which was none too comfortable. Then it seemed like forever before they got a universal key up from the jail.

In the meantime, I had to go into another crying fit, explaining about the fight Sid and I had, which had made me so miserable I just had to find my special spot. Sid had followed because he was worried about me and to make up. They bought it.

My arms were really stiff when they finally got me loose. Sid started to move in to massage my shoulders, but Daddy cut him off. In fact, Daddy wasn’t letting anyone near me, least of all, Fletcher.

There was quite a hullaballoo going on, too. Several FBI agents arrived with Donny Severn in custody. They were thrilled to find Lehrer already busted, but then a shouting match broke out between them and Fletcher and his cronies from the DEA over whose charges carried more weight. It was really kind of ridiculous because both the FBI and DEA are under the Department of Justice.

Once Donny saw that they had Lehrer, he kicked in, claiming that Lehrer set him up and Lehrer forced him to kill Della and Lehrer was behind Murray’s death. When things finally quieted down, and someone had gotten the room service waiter from the hotel, Donny was put in a lineup and was positively identified as the gunman fleeing Della’s room. He also confessed to killing Murray that Friday night because Murray didn’t have his coke. He said it was an accident, that he’d hit Murray with the gun to get him to shut up.

I also noticed Sid and Fletcher commiserating and glaring at my father. When I finally got Daddy to find me something to drink, Fletcher came over.

“I want to explain about Thursday night,” he said. “Della Riordan had contacted me about this back order she’d been asked to deliver to your father’s store. It was actually a box of cocaine. I was trying to make contact with her in the bar when she stumbled onto your boss.” He paused. “Yeah, I was trying to get into the suite, but more to get a hold of Della, than to make it with you.”

“Then why did you stick your tongue down my throat?” I grumbled.

“I wanted to make it believable, and well, most women I know like it.”

Sid smiled. “He’s got a point, Lisa.”

I glared at him. “You can stay out of this.”

Fletcher shrugged. “Anyway, I kept trying to stay in contact because the coke had disappeared, and I was afraid Della had dropped it on you or your boss.”

“Then who got it?” I asked. I’d already heard how it had been found at Lehrer’s.

“We don’t know,” said Fletcher. “There were some undercover operatives working the case also. All we can figure is that they found the coke and dumped it at Lehrer’s place. But with the code book that was found, it was more or less overkill.”

Sid rolled his eyes. Of course, when we’d planted the box, we’d had no idea how important the code book was.

“Anyway,” continued Fletcher. “I’d still like to stay in touch. I promise, no more tongues.” He smiled sheepishly. “I really am a nice guy, and I have to admit, you were a nice girl to check out.”

“Except she’s got Atilla the Hun guard dogging her,” said Sid. “And speaking of, here he comes.”

Daddy wandered up and glared at Fletcher. “Here’s a soda for you, Lisle.”

“Excuse me, Bill,” said Fletcher. “What are you so mad at me for? You’ve been raising hell with me since I said I’d met Lisa. I haven’t done anything.”

“You just stay away from my girl.”

“Daddy,” I groaned. “He doesn’t have to stay away. It’s my decision whether or not I want him around. And…” I looked over at Fletcher. Well, he was cute. Sid stood back, watching, with his arms folded and a bemused grin. “And I want him around. So there.”

Daddy growled and shook his head, but let it be.

We left shortly after. Fletcher made sure I had his phone number and I gave him mine. Back at my parents’ place, Mama, Mae, and Neil were still up and worried sick. So we had to tell them the whole tale. It was close to three thirty before my face hit my pillow, and by that point I was asleep.

 

 

 

Anne Louise Bannon

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