Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Relationship wise, Sid and I were doing very well. Lipplinger-wise, we weren’t out of the woods by a long shot.
Friday night, Sid called Henry James and made arrangements for the next day. The next morning I woke up with cramps, bad ones.
We drove to Hattie Mitchell’s estate in our third rented car. The first one, Sid had traded in after the alley incident and the second we’d left behind at the shootout. I’d asked Sid what we were going to do about that second car and he told me it was being taken care of. [The F.B.I. had it towed and Ed Donaldson paid for it all, out of my paycheck. Talk about government fleecing. It’s a good thing we don’t have to live on the pittance they pay us as it is – SEH]
I was nervous and holding my belly.
“We’ve had knives, guns,” I said as we drove along. “The only thing they’ve got left for us is bombs.”
“Will you cut that out?” Sid was still smiling. “You’re making me nervous.”
“I have my moments.” Then he turned serious. “Is, uh, something wrong? You don’t seem to be in peak form this morning. You’re not still mad at me, are you?”
“No. Not in the least.” I winced as we hit a pothole.
“Well, something’s wrong.”
“Oh. It’s nothing.”
Sid glared at me. “I seem to remember getting yelled at pretty soundly yesterday for not owning up to my little infirmity.”
The flush spread over my face. “Sid, it’s real embarrassing.”
“And me getting caught with my pants down isn’t.”
“Alright,” I groaned. “I’m just cramped up, okay?”
“Ah hah! Something you ate.”
I glared out the window. “That time of the month cramps.”
“Oh.” Sid chuckled. “My condolences.” He looked at me, mildly concerned. “Are you going to be up to it if things get rough?”
I shrugged. “I should be. Cramps have never slowed me down. It’s just uncomfortable.”
“Well, I hope you’ll be alright, and not just physically.”
“So do I. But I shouldn’t flip too badly. I’ve been through it before and the emotional strain I was under yesterday has been resolved.”
“Except for Lipplinger.”
“He won’t bother me.”
“Be careful. He knows how to push your button.”
“Uh-oh,” I said. But not about Lipplinger.
Hattie’s estate was just about a block away. Two cars were parked next to the gates.
“Looks like we might have some company,” replied Sid.
Yet we got through the gates without hindrance. Hattie met us at the door.
“He’s packed and ready to go,” she said. “But I want to talk to you two first.”
She led us into the room we’d been in two nights before. She shut the door and faced us.
“Miles told me something about a formula he’d developed.” She was calm, but I could tell she was feeling a little hurt. “He doesn’t think I’m capable of understanding what it’s about, so he just told me it existed and it was dangerous. He also told me about you two.” She looked us over. Sid stayed cool while I squirmed. “Sid Hackbirn. Is that as in S.E. Hackbirn, the one that does the F.B.I. piece?”
Sid watched her carefully. “Why do you want to know?”
“Because Miles, however obnoxious he is, is my brother. I want to stay in touch with him.”
“Whatever my name is, staying in touch with me will not necessarily mean staying in touch with your brother.”
Hattie chuckled. “As owner of two major defense and electronics plants, one of which is involved in highly top secret projects, I have a top-level security clearance. I also have several friends on the House Committee on Intelligence. It will be more trouble to go through them, and I could possibly do some damage to your cover.”
Sid laughed also. “Hattie, I already know what your clearance is, and you’re not cleared on my level.”
“In other words, you’re not going to say so.” Hattie’s eyes glittered with just a touch of mischief. “Well, Mr. Hackbirn and Miss Wycherly, it doesn’t matter. I want to remain in contact. No secrets, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to have friends. Obviously, we’ll need some plausible way to continue. Well, I’ve been thinking about getting into editing.” She smiled at our surprised looks. “Don’t be so shocked. I’ve been accused of playing the dilettante before, and I’ve yet to fall on my face. Yesterday, I bought On Our Own, that singles magazine that was about to go under?”
Sid’s eyebrow lifted. “I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did.”
“Well, it has a new life now, but without the sophomoric content and bad layout. You see, I don’t enter these enterprises without some knowledge of what I’m doing. In any case, Mr. Hackbirn, or may I call you Sid?”
“Call me what you like,” he said with a mildly lecherous smile.
Hattie returned it. “I would like to confirm that your relationship with Miss Wycherly is not of the sort in which exploring the west coast singles scene would cause trouble between you.”
I shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind. It might be fun.”
Sid laughed. “Not the kind of fun you like, my dear. But don’t worry, Hattie, we each have our own lives.”
“Good. Then you’ll be my west coast correspondent. I like your angles on the F.B.I., however, I’ve been warned your spelling and grammar can be a little rough.”
“Not anymore,” I said.
“She’s been cleaning up after me,” said Sid.
“Excellent. I’ll expect your first column on the thirteenth. It’s for the April issue, fifteen hundred words, two hundred dollars.”
“Two fifty and you’ve got a deal.”
“Two fifty, it is.”
They grinned at each other.
“We do have to get out of here alive, first,” I pointed out.
“True,” said Sid.
I added, “I might also say, that while I’m not real good at setting odds, they don’t look too good, considering those two cars out front.”
“Oh dear,” said Hattie. “Maybe I’d better call the police.”
“Please don’t,” replied Sid, getting a little antsy. “We’ll have to make do without. They’ve been involved far too much already.”
“I don’t want to know.” Hattie thought a moment. “You know, there is a path that runs through the woods out back. It goes to the road. I’m sure we could get a car down it.”
“A back way out of here?” Sid’s face lit up. “Hattie, I could just kiss you.”
“Oh, Sid, please do.”
That old reprobate. Sid, I mean. He kissed her alright. Boy, did he kiss her. When they finally got around to pulling away from each other, he winked at her and she let out a prim little sigh.
“Well,” she said, smoothing her dress. “Let’s go get my brother.”
We got him, bad temper, lewd comments and all. The car did go down the path very easily. We got onto the highway without mishap. But to get back to the city and National airport, we had to go past the front of the estate. After we passed it, I heard tires squealing. I looked out the back window.
“Step on it, Sid! They’re coming after us!”
Sid stepped on the accelerator.
“Get on the floor, Professor,” said Sid. He looked at me quickly. “You’d better get down too.”
“I don’t see why,” growled Lipplinger. “It’s undignified and I’ll wrinkle my suit.”
A bullet glanced off the roof.
“It’s a lot safer, that’s why,” I yelled. I reached over the front seat and pushed him down as a second bullet embedded itself in the trunk.
“Get down, Lisa,” Sid yelled.
I slumped down in my seat. I reached into my carry-on and pulled out my gun, then rolled down the window.
“What are you doing?” snapped Sid.
“I’m going to shoot their tires,” I said. I turned around in my seat and started out the window.
“Oh, no you’re not.” Sid grabbed me with one hand and pulled me back. The car swerved dangerously. “Do you want to get yourself killed?”
“You’ll get us all killed,” Lipplinger yelled from the back, “if you keep on driving like that.”
“Shut up, Lipplinger. Don’t worry, Lisa, they’ll stop shooting at us when we get into traffic. Not that there’s ever any around when you need it.”
I shoved my gun back into the special case that would get it past the metal detectors at the airport.
“Got anything you can’t replace in your suitcase?” Sid asked me softly.
“No, I put all my valuables in my carry-on like you said.”
“Good girl. How about you, Professor? Got anything in your suitcase you can’t replace?”
“Of course not. Too many thieves around to carry valuables.”
“Good. We’re ditching the luggage.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’ll make it easier for us to change planes at the last minute. Maybe we’ll lose our tail.”
“Aren’t you going to ditch them before we get to the airport?”
“Not much point in it. They’re probably watching it anyway. With any luck at all, we can put them off our track.”
“Holy Jesus in Heaven, please,” I prayed, crossing myself.
At the airport, we dropped the car at the rental place and ran through three terminals before Sid found a flight he liked. Even then we had to run to catch it. Lipplinger complained every step of the way.
The flight was a puddle jumper to La Guardia airport.
“Think we’ll lose them in New York City?” I asked Sid as we were taking off.
“If you can’t lose someone in New York, you’re in big trouble.” Sid yawned. “Keep an eye on the Professor for me, will you?” And he dropped off.
In New York, Sid promised the cab driver a handsome tip if he could get us across Queens to Kennedy airport in under thirty minutes without anyone following us. I didn’t dare look. Sid was looking out the back window for tails, so I just kept my eyes fastened to the back of the seat.
We still switched planes two more times. We got in to Los Angeles shortly after midnight. I was never so glad to see that house in my life. I was also exhausted. Sid wasn’t. He’d slept most of the way. Cheerfully, he drove Lipplinger downtown to an all-night market to get some of the necessities of life left behind in Washington.
The next day, they went shopping and I went to Mae’s. It was so nice being there. I blithely forgot about Lipplinger and risking my neck in the spy business and happily spent the afternoon risking my neck running around on the roof helping Neil and Darby put up the Christmas lights.
I also told Mae about the fight Sid and I’d had and she agreed it was the best thing for him.
“He’s not going to make you go away for Christmas, is he?” she asked.
“He’d better not,” I said. “Of course it is a little hard for him to understand how I feel. He’s never celebrated holidays.”
“‘Fraid not, Mae.”
“Well, he knows he’s invited here.”
“You’d better confirm that. I told you how he reacted to that letter.”
“It’s not late, I’ll do it now.”
Mae had been back on her feet for some time, and it didn’t take her long to get Sid on the other end of the line.
“Sid?” I heard her say. “This is Mae O’Malley. You got any plans for Christmas Day?… Then I won’t take no for an answer. You’re spending it here and that’s final. You plan to be here at ten thirty a.m. sharp. Any later, and the kids’ll have to wait to open their presents and they’ll be mad… Alright, talk to you later.”
She hung up and smiled. “See? It’s all settled.”