cozy mystery, spy novel, serial mystery fiction

Chapter Seven

June 1, 1983

 

Wednesday morning I woke up stiff. Sid made me do stretching exercises to relieve it.

“So what now?” I asked after we both were dressed.

“Nothing.” Sid picked up the phone and dialed. “This is room two-eighteen. I’d like to order breakfast… Yes, the fresh fruit with whole wheat toast for two, a glass of prune juice.” He glared at me as I giggled. “And a glass of orange juice. Oh, and I want the toast dry with butter on the side… Thank you.” He hung up. “You need to recover so you are staying put today.”

“Then you are, too. It’s not fair that I have to stay cooped up, while you’re out having a good time.”

“I suppose.”

Room service showed up pretty quickly.

“We’ll leave the dishes in the hall,” Sid told the waiter, tipping him.

After breakfast, Sid pulled out the deck of cards.

“Gin today?” he asked, shuffling them.

We were almost evenly matched. He never really slaughtered me, but he did usually win.

“Let’s not keep score,” I said, setting up the little night table between us. We sat on the edge of our beds, facing each other.

“Why not?” Sid shuffled and began dealing.

“I’m tired of seeing how badly I’m losing.”

“You’re not that bad.”

I wasn’t. But Sid is very good at gin rummy because he has a good memory for details, which helps him remember which cards have been played. A plan formed in my head. If I could break his concentration…

“Maybe not,” I continued. “But what difference does it make if we keep score or not? I thought you communists were supposed to be noncompetitive.”

“I’m not a communist anymore. But alright. You can start anytime.”

I rearranged my cards and discarded the two of clubs. Sid picked it up. No big deal. He did that a lot of times, just to bug me.

“What was it like?” I asked.

“What was what like?” He dropped the ace of spades. I grabbed it and discarded the four of diamonds.

“Your education. You keep saying it wasn’t terribly structured. I know you went to a lot of private schools, and if you were so poor, I don’t know how you could have afforded it.”

“Stella taught at almost all of them. That’s how she supported us.”

“They were all communistic, too, weren’t they”

“Not all. Just radical. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I was normal.”

“Was it really different? I mean you read all this stuff about the sixties and everyone’s doing all sorts of strange things and taking their clothes off and all.”

Sid chuckled and absently drew from the pile.

“Some of that’s exaggerated,” he said, looking at his cards. “But I did spend a certain amount of time in the buff. Sex was no big thing either. If you felt like it, you did it. If not, you didn’t.”

“I bet you were at it all the time.”

“Not at first. Actually, I started relatively late.”

“How late?”

“Thirteen.”

“That’s late?”

“Well, you’ve got to bear in mind, I knew lots of kids who started as early as eleven. I think my initial indifference had a lot to do with Stella’s attitude. That, and well, with most people, puberty just sneaks up on you. With me, it was an explosion. One day, I couldn’t have cared less and the next day I couldn’t get enough.” Sid smiled as he lapsed into the memory. “Paula Frost. She came up to me one day and asked me why I was still a virgin. I said it just didn’t seem worth bothering with. Then she asked me if I wanted to know what all the excitement was about. I was a little curious at that point, so I said okay. After that…” He sighed.

“Gin,” I said, presenting my hand.

“Huh? Oh. Alright. It’s your deal.”

I dealt the cards. “So how’d you learn to read and all that stuff?”

“I don’t know. Depending on the school, we studied various things. Usually, they just let us learn what we wanted. I was rather fond of math and science. I guess I was desperate for structure. I’ve always been the well-ordered type. I didn’t get too much of it, though. That is one area radicals are notoriously weak in. That last school I went to had a good math teacher. He was gay. Tried coming on to me once, but I was having too much fun with the girls. He had a pretty steady lover, anyway.”

“How come you went to so many different schools?”

“They kept folding. Usually, there weren’t enough rich kids enrolled to support the ones that couldn’t afford it. Fortunately, Stella had enough idealistic friends to keep me steadily enrolled somewhere. Of course, the last school I went to before high school was closed by the Health, Education and Welfare Department. I don’t remember exactly why, but I think it had something to do with the fact that most of the kids couldn’t read.”

Sid discarded.

“Was that the ten of hearts you just dropped?” he asked, suddenly.

“I’ll never tell.” I reached over and lightly slapped his hand as he tried to remove the card he’d just discarded to see the card underneath. “No peeking, that’s cheating. So that’s why you ended up in a public high school.”

“That and the fact that Stella couldn’t get another job and had to go on welfare. Was she mad about that. Then the social worker butted in and said I had to go to a properly accredited school or they’d put me in a foster home. So I ended up at San Francisco High School. Talk about a culture shock. When I saw all the rules and regulations that came with the enrollment papers, I about died. Fortunately, the dress codes were still pretty strict, so I didn’t look that different when I arrived, which probably saved my neck. Before that, I had long hair and was generally pretty sloppy. Before school even started, I had to get my hair cut, get shoes, all that stuff. I remember reading the student handbook about a week before school started and thinking I was never going to make it.”

 

{This is from a creative writing class that Kathy dragged me to, but it’s all based on the original journal entry – ljw}

 

San Francisco High School. He’d passed by it many, many times before without giving it much thought. But now, the building seemed very imposing. Shaking his head, a very scared fourteen-year-old Sidney Hackbirn pushed his black horn-rimmed glasses up on his nose and swallowed. Being a freshman on the first day of school was bad enough. Being a freshman that was short, nearsighted, and (he thought) a little on the chubby side with a background totally different from the whirl of students around him, a background that had had no rules, that had been totally unstructured, was sheer misery.

Sid wasn’t entirely alone. Three other kids from his old school were in the same predicament. But what good were three people in a freshman class of over four hundred? That wasn’t even counting the students from the other three years.

Sid let the crowd of students carry him along and shuffle him through to the right spot to pick up his schedule. He already knew some jerk in an office somewhere had taken one look at where he was from and had dumped him in a remedial program, assuming he couldn’t read, write, or do math. It wasn’t an unfair assumption. Sid knew his three friends couldn’t. But Sid could, even if he didn’t know how well. Of course, they hadn’t bothered to test him.

Sid looked at the schedule with disgust. For the first time in his life, he had not chosen what he was going to learn. He’d had two electives, but Stella had chosen them for him: orchestra and French. He didn’t get to take French. He was a remedial student and had been given wood shop instead. First period was homeroom/social studies; second, math; third, English; fourth, orchestra; fifth, P.E.; and sixth, the despised wood shop.

He got through homeroom okay. A couple of girls giggled at his first name, but that had happened before. Mrs. Gridley was okay, even if she did get a little perturbed when Sid spoke out in class without raising his hand first. It wasn’t that he didn’t raise his hand that bothered her. It was that he asked her why he had to. He backed down when she threatened something called detention. He wasn’t trying to be rude, he just wanted to know.

Mr. Carson, the math teacher, promptly announced the homework for the next day. When the books were passed out, Sid opened his and started right in.

“Mr. Hackbirn,” growled Mr. Carson. “You do not write in your book.”

“Oh. Sorry. I’ll erase it.” Sid erased the pencil marks and then rewrote the problems on a sheet of binder paper.

“Mr. Hackbirn, in class you listen to the lecture and you do your homework at home.”

“But I know how to do the problems.”

“We’ll talk about it after class.”

After class, Sid got a lecture on not talking back to the teacher and on doing things at the right time.

English was a bore, but at least Sid didn’t get into trouble. In orchestra, Sid was told they already had a piano player, he would have to learn violin. Sid did not want to learn violin. For once, he did not say so. Mr. McCready did decide to find out how well Sid could play in the event they needed a backup. Upon assuring Mr. McCready he could sight read, Sid was presented with a piece of unfamiliar, but easy music. Sid played it through halfway as it was written, then began to improvise in a jazz style, something he did when his aunt wasn’t around. If it wasn’t classical, Stella frowned on it. Mr. McCready asked Sid to transpose it. It took a couple of seconds, but he did. Feeling like he was getting somewhere, Sid started showing off and launched into Flight of the Bumble Bee. Mr. McCready asked Sheila Warner, the piano player, if she’d mind working on the violin. Sid ran an appraising eye over Sheila. After class, he made a pass at her.

“Sidney Hackbirn, what to you think you’re doing?” she replied to him in shocked anger. “I’m a nice girl.”

“Yeah, I thought so too.” Sid was totally baffled by her reaction. “That’s why I…”

Sheila was on her way. He sighed and went to lunch. In the cafeteria, he met Doris Ames, the only girl he knew from his old school.

“Where’s Frank and Hector?” he asked, as they carried their trays to a table.

“I think they chickened out,” said Doris, in utter disgust. “I don’t blame them. What a bunch of clods they’ve got around here. All the guys are looking at me, drooling practically, and not one of them’s made a pass at me.”

“I believe it. I made a pass at a girl just now and she was furious. These people are weird.”

“Not one lousy pass.”

“I’ll make a pass at you after school.”

Doris smiled. “We’ll go to my house.”

“Okay.” Sid smiled. The day wasn’t going to be a total loss.

Sid got even more disgusted, as he sat listening to the other boys talk in the locker room before Mr. Quickly called the class to order. They were rank amateurs, most of them probably virgins. Even in the relatively short time he’d been fooling around, Sid had done more than the boys had ever dreamed of. Sid sighed and shook his head. There was no point in even bothering.

Mr. Quickly was a former Marine who hadn’t gotten it into his head that he had left the service. After a lecture on the importance of keeping fit, Mr. Quickly gave a pep talk on the armed forces, the Marine Corps in particular, and how great serving your time could be, especially in Viet Nam, where our boys, etc. He had all the boys except Sid, cheering.

“You’re not cheering,” Mr. Quickly growled at Sid.

“I’m a pacifist.”

“Oh, you are, are you?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

Sid was completely baffled. “Yes, I am?”

“Are you trying to be smart?”

“No.”

“No what?” Mr. Quickly bellowed.

“No, I’m not trying to be smart. I don’t know.”

Mr. Quickly was scribbled furiously on a piece of paper which he shoved at Sid.

“Get to Mr. Frye’s office. Right now. Hop to it.”

Sid all but ran. He was completely frustrated and confused. Somehow he’d managed to get himself into trouble again and he didn’t even know what he’d done.

Mr. Frye was the principal, a kind, gentle man. He knew about the four radical kids who’d been recently enrolled. He wasn’t surprised to find one of them in his office.

“What happened?” he asked, after reading the note.

Sid told him. Mr. Frye nodded.

“Do you prefer Sid or Sidney?”

“Sid.”

“Alright, Sid. I think you know you’ve got a problem.”

“I just wish I knew what it was.”

“Nobody ever taught you how to behave in a classroom situation. It’s not your fault. But you’re going to have to learn and learn fast. It’s yes, sir or yes, ma’am; or no, sir or no, ma’am. That’s what Mr. Quickly wanted to hear.”

“Sir?”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“That’s another thing you’re going to have to watch. Asking why. In many ways, it shows you’re alert and trying to find out. But a lot of people don’t like it when you ask that.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“A lot of things don’t and you’re going to have to accept that, I’m afraid. Sid, you can waste a lot of time knocking the system, or you can work within it to change it. It’s up to you.

“Alright.”

At least the rules in wood shop made sense. The tools were dangerous if used improperly. Sid still couldn’t see any reason for being there in the first place. He was less than enthused about making a wooden trivet and correctly guessed that his aunt would be even less thrilled about having one.

After class let out, Sid headed for Doris’s apartment. About two blocks from the school, several boys from his P.E. class caught him and roughed him up. Later that night, as he mended his glasses with tape, Sid decided pacifism would be the first thing to go.

In the days that followed, Sid found himself tagged as gay. He also spent several afternoons sitting at his desk in various classrooms after school, enduring detention for a variety of misdemeanors, most of them involving the question “why”, and others involving comments that were either implied or directly sexual. When this first happened, Sid couldn’t figure it out. Nobody had ever told him there was anything wrong with sex. Mrs. Gridley explained, with much blushing, that one just didn’t talk about such things and that sex was for marriage. Sid decided not to mention that he’d always heard that marriage was a crock.

Life was getting more and more miserable for Sid. Being called a fag wouldn’t have bothered him, except that he knew he was considered the scum of the earth because of it, not to mention being beaten up all the time. The worst part, though, was that none of the girls would come near him and he was horny. Doris helped, but she wasn’t terribly interested in being associated with a fag, not when she was happily getting a reputation herself.

Then there was Stephanie. She was a junior. The Friday of the first week of school, she stopped a group of boys from picking on Sid. She innocently took him to her apartment, so he could clean up and have a snack. After she very innocently mentioned her parents were gone for the weekend, Sid had her. She had no idea what was happening until it was over. Then she cried and insisted Sid tell no-one. She was a nice girl and didn’t want a reputation. Sid finally found out what being a nice girl and having a reputation meant. He thought it was pretty stupid, but went along with it. He also got into the habit of stopping by her apartment every now and then.

By the third week of school, Doris was struggling with her work and about to go under. In desperation, she asked Sid for help.

“I’m sick of this,” she groaned after they’d been studying for a couple of hours. “Come on Sid, make love to me.”

“You’ve got to learn this stuff first. You want to stay with those clods forever?”

“No. I’m going to drop out anyway. I’m going to get pregnant.”

“Not by me, you’re not.”

Doris showed him her diaphragm. “See, I’m covered. Don’t worry. I’m going to really cause a ruckus when I do.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think I’m going to let one of the senior football players be the father. Can you imagine the scandal?”

“He’ll get off scot-free and you’ll get all the blame.”

“Not if I play my card right and I will. Come on, Sid, let’s forget about these books. You don’t study afternoons.”

“That’s because I’m ahead of everybody.”

“You poor thing. And they think you’re gay. What a joke.”

“It’s not funny. Being called gay really kills a guy’s love life. I just wish there was something I could do. Can’t you do some talking?”

“They won’t believe me. But I know who they will believe and she’s very good about talking. I’ve also heard she’s very good.”

“Who?”

“Liz Warner. She’s in your home room.”

“I’ve heard about her. Easy Lizzie. Aw, she wouldn’t look at me.”

“Screw her and your troubles are over, Sid. She’s probably dying for somebody decent, anyway. And you’re better than decent.”

“I am, huh?” Sid grinned and reached for Doris.

But how to get to Liz. That was the problem. Liz avoided Sid like the plague, as did everybody, terrified of guilt by association. Finally, Sid came up with a plan. A little research provided promising results. All he had to do was wait.

He didn’t have to wait long. One morning, near the end of September, Liz got herself put on detention by Mrs. Gridley. All Sid had to do was get on detention also. It wasn’t hard. All it took was one well-chosen comment about his mother’s unmarried state at his conception and birth.

That afternoon, Mrs. Gridley, as usual, spent her time correcting papers. With her thus occupied, Sid had plenty of time to work on Liz. She sat across the room from him, but no matter. Sid knew what he was doing. He spent many minutes just staring at her ample bosom. When Liz finally noticed him staring at her, he made a couple of insinuating gestures with his tongue. She looked at him like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Sid maintained the same maneuvers through the whole half hour.

Mrs. Gridley dismissed Sid first. He waited outside the door for Liz. She came out five minutes later.

“Come here, Liz,” said Sid, taking her arm and pulling her around a corner. “I’ve got to talk to you.”

“No way, faggot. I don’t want to be seen with you.”

“In the first place, I’m not a faggot. In the second place, there isn’t anybody here to see us. This place is deserted. I ought to know. I get on detention more than anybody.”

“Alright. What do you want?”

Sid backed her up against a wall and leaned over her.

“You.”

She gaped. “You were coming on to me in there.”

“You bet I was. I’m so horny even old Gridley’s looking good.”

“What are you? Bi?”

“No. I’m hetero. Very horny and very hetero. Give me fifteen minutes to an hour of your time and I’ll prove it to you like you’ve never had it before.”

Liz glared at him.

“Quit trying to act so cool,” she growled. “I know what you are. You’re just another horny freshman trying to lose his virginity on me. Well, I’m getting sick of it.”

“I bet you are. But who says I’m a virgin?”

Sid moved in and French kissed her.

“Does a virgin kiss like that?” His hands wandered confidently. “Does a virgin move like this, huh?” He slipped a hand underneath her blouse.

“Not here, you idiot,” she hissed pulling his hand out. “You want to get us suspended?”

“Come on, I know a place.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her. She followed willingly.

“Fifteen minutes to an hour, huh?” she asked.

“That’s up to you. How long you want it is how long I take.”

“You sure know how to talk.”

“I perform even better.”

Liz was impressed, very impressed, and she talked, too. Two days later, when Sid came into the locker room for P.E., the guys were waiting for him.

“Liz Warner says you’re no fag,” said Tom Freeman, the spokesman for the group.

“Uh-huh.”

“She also says you laid her.”

“Uh-huh.”

“She said you’re no virgin, either. In fact, she says you’re pretty good.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So what gives, Hackbirn?”

“I laid Liz Warner, several times. I’ve laid lots of girls.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not. You guys are all talk and I know it. I’ve messed around with more girls in one month than all you guys together have in all your lives. And you guys are calling me a fag?” Sid twirled the combination to his locker.

“How come you never talked about it?”

“In the first place, you wouldn’t have believed me. In the second place, when you’re doing it, you don’t need to talk about it.”

[This is also a corrected version, and it wasn’t that creative. That’s the way it happened – SEH]

 

“Gin,” I said, laying my cards down.

“Again?” It was the fourth hand I’d won since he’d started talking. He picked up the cards, shuffled and dealt them. “Anyway. I got invited to a party that weekend and needless to say, further developed my reputation. After a while when I’d disappear, someone would see which girl was missing and look for which bushes were shaking. I still got into trouble with the teachers a lot. But as long as my love life was secure, I didn’t care.”

“You sure got into a lot of trouble.”

“I only got suspended twice, once when Quickly had a surprise inspection of the P.E. lockers and found my, uh, birth control hidden there. That was spring, my sophomore year. Mr. Frye was happy I was being responsible but had to suspend me because Quickly was making such a fuss. Then I got suspended when I was caught with Liz Warner. We weren’t really caught in the act, just the preliminaries. But it was Mrs. Gridley who caught us and she nearly had a heart attack.”

“Did you ever get out of the remedial classes?”

“Are you kidding? I was there less than two months and I was promoted to the gifted program. I got out of wood shop then, too. Didn’t get to take French, though. Not that I minded. I TA’d for Mr. McCready and ended up playing keyboard for a student jazz combo he put together. I also accompanied the choirs and the school plays. Outside of class time, if I wasn’t chasing girls, I was playing piano. The girls still didn’t want to be seen with me. I had a reputation and they didn’t want one. I found out, though, that most of those nice girls, including Sheila White, were perfectly willing to submit to me as long as no-one knew about it. Except for Stephanie. She really was a nice girl and would have stayed one if I hadn’t caught her off guard. I felt kind of bad about that. She said she only slipped with me, but that I was worth it.”

“That’s nice. Gin.”

“Okay. Your deal. And now you can spill your guts.”

“What?” I shuffled the cards.

“You’ve distracted me long enough. It’s your turn to lose a few hands.”

I smiled. I should have known he was on to me all along.

“So what do you want to know?” I asked, dealing.

“About your life, I guess.”

“It was pretty boring compared to yours.”

“I doubt it. There were a lot of things that I consider boring about my life.”

“Maybe. But my life, except for the resort, was very conventional.”

“Conventional is a little outside my experience.”

“I don’t know. It was pretty much like your high school days. Only I was a genuine nice girl. I didn’t even go to a parochial high school, cause it was too far away. We had a Catholic elementary and I went there, but I went to South Lake Tahoe High. Actually, a resort town is kind of an interesting place, especially Tahoe, which doesn’t really have an off-season. There’s always a lot of people around there, but very few of them live there. Everything revolves around tourists. My life centered on Daddy’s business. Not that I was working all the time. I did a lot of things, and I had several friends. I liked to read a lot. Mama, Daddy, and Mae used to take turns reading to me when I was little, especially when I was sick. Then I started reading to them. Mama also taught me how to knit then. I was probably pretty young to learn, but she couldn’t think of anything else to keep me occupied and quiet at the same time while I was getting well.”

“Gin.”

“Oh. Your deal. Anyway, I was half a tomboy. I liked hiking and water sports and skiing and horseback riding. But I liked my dolls, too. Mama also saw to it that I learned to cook and clean and housewife stuff, in general. I guess that’s why I come off so domesticated.”

“You do indeed.”

“It’s kind of a problem for me. Everyone thinks I want to get married. But I don’t. There was a time when I did. When I was in seventh and eighth grade, I wanted to be a housewife and mother. That was when Women’s Lib started getting big. I looked at what they were saying and I realized I didn’t want to be a traditional housewife. I still planned on getting married, but I also planned on running Daddy’s business for him when he retired.”

“Was he going to let you?”

“I never told him my plans. I just started helping out more. From the time I was twelve and a half, I did a little bit of everything on that resort. The summer between my sophomore and junior year, I worked in my daddy’s gift shop on the main drag, and every summer after that, until I got my teaching job. Then I was a ski instructor in the winter. I enjoyed it.”

“What changed your mind?”

“My literature course in college and I guess my high school days did, too. I liked school and planned on going to college, preferably one away from Tahoe. Mae and Neil got married when I was fourteen and I used to go down and visit sometimes. I think that had a lot to do with it. I began to realize that all these people who came to our resort came from real places. I got curious and wanted to see the world.”

“That’s funny. You never struck me as the world traveler type.”

“What type do I strike you as?”

“I don’t know.” He gazed at me thoughtfully. “A nice girl, I guess. But you’re not the popular cheerleader type. I know their kind a little too well.”

“Hey, watch it. My best girlfriend was a cheerleader and she was just as well behaved as I was. I had friends in high school. But I still felt lonely a lot of times. I used to blame it on the fact that my daddy’s place had horses and all the girls only liked me for that. Looking back I can see now that was true only in a very small number of cases. I was different than most of the girls at school. They tended to run to extremes. About half the girls were fast with the boys, and they looked down on me because I didn’t believe in going all the way. The other half were even worse prudes than I was. I mean these girls were ridiculous. There was a group of them, and I promise you, this is true, that were so hung up that they spent their time trying to think up different ways they could avoid sleeping in the same bed with their husbands on their honeymoons. Sex wasn’t even a possibility.”

“They didn’t.”

“They did. I listened to them once at a slumber party and asked if that was all they talked about. They were flabbergasted. They couldn’t even think of anything else. I was considered a wanton woman because I let guys kiss me.”

“Oh my, such a loose woman. I wouldn’t have thought that you even dated.”

“I’ve been known to neck a little. Of course, I made it very clear from the start what the limits were. That still didn’t stop a lot of guys. Sure, I had boyfriends. I remember my first one, Les Rickert. He was a dog. But I was just a freshman and totally thrilled that a boy actually liked me. It lasted two weeks. I realized I was more in love with having a boyfriend than him so I told him to get lost. He was the first guy that ever kissed me. It was pretty bad. He was also the only guy I ever broke up with. After Les, they broke up with me.”

“Why?”

“Come on, Sid. How long would you have gone steady with a girl that showed no sign of going all the way?”

“I never went steady. But I get the point. No performance, no boyfriend.”

“Precisely. It was very depressing. I began to wonder if anybody liked me for me. It didn’t take long before they gave up trying. The only reason I don’t hate men now is that I always had a fresh supply of guys readily available during vacations.”

“Who?”

“The guests at the resort. Actually, it was an ideal situation. I could fall in love knowing darned well he’d be gone before any of the more difficult complications set in and I never had to worry about the rejection when we broke up because I wasn’t being rejected. His cruel parents insisted on taking him back with them. It was great. I had more summer romances. By the time I got to college, I had a very good idea of what kind of guys I liked. I dated a lot in college, somehow managing to avoid getting serious. High school was fun. But my college years were the prime of my life. I had finally found my niche. Academia. I loved it. I loved the research, the BS sessions, I didn’t even mind all the all-nighters. You know, not only was I supposed to have my Ph.D. by now, but I was supposed to be well on my way to becoming the head of an English department somewhere.”

“What happened? Got tired of it after your Master’s?”

“Oh no. I had to support my education habit and myself. My parents footed the bill through my B.A., but after that, I was supposed to get married, or the convent, or something, and if I wanted to go on, fine, but I had to do it on my own. Fortunately, I was able to live with Mae through my M.A. but that house was getting full and I wanted to be on my own anyway. That’s why I took that teaching job. I was also hoping I could get the college I was teaching at to fund my Ph.D. They might have, too. But the cutbacks came. I had no seniority and ended up on the unemployment line and you know the rest of the story.”

“What made you change your mind about marriage?”

“The guys and my goals. Being a graduate student doesn’t leave you much time for a husband. And the same problem that I’d had with the guys in high school popped up again in college, only in a different way. I stopped dating guys who weren’t Christian because all they wanted was my body. But after a while, the Christian guys got to be a drag too, cause they wanted to get married and I wanted to head up an English department. It’s even worse now. Men my age are looking to settle down and if they aren’t, you know what they’re after. Very, very few guys are just looking for companionship.” I looked at him. “I guess that’s what I value about our relationship. We’re just friends. I can be completely honest with you.”

“Would you mind being honest with me now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you still want to head up that English department?”

I thought about it. “Not really. I’d still like to go for my Ph.D. eventually. But not right now. I really like what I’m doing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it was no accident that things fell out the way they did.”

“Who knows?” Sid absently discarded.

I looked down at my hand. “Oh. I’ve got gin.”

Sid looked at me, a little stunned, then started laughing. “It’s not my day for cards.”

“So let’s give it up, then.”

“Alright. What do you want to do now?”

“How about telling me some more stories of your wild and wanton youth?”

“They’d only embarrass you.”

“I haven’t been so far.”

“That’s right, you haven’t. I wonder why?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you’re not purposely trying to embarrass me. You might want to edit a little anyway.”

“I suppose I could.” Sid adjusted the pillow on his bed, then leaned back against the headboard. “Let’s see. How about the time I single-handedly started the biggest riot my high school ever knew.”

“How did you do that?”

“By doing what came naturally, of course. It was at a football came with our crosstown rivals, South High. Let’s see, I was sixteen so that makes it junior year. Anyway, the South High guys were just plain mean, knives, chains, the works. But their cheerleaders, well, they were all stacked and wore the tightest sweaters, the shortest skirts, and you know those little leotard panties they always wore?”

“Yeah.”

“Pulled up very high. Before the first quarter was over, I was visiting the other side. I returned during the middle of the third quarter to find fights breaking out all over the field and the bunch of guys I hung around with panicking. They had noticed how one of South’s cheerleaders had turned up missing and when they couldn’t find me, figured out where she had gone. Of course, the South football players on the sidelines knew their girl was getting it from a San Fran guy. They’d heard the girls talking. The subs told the players on the field, who started fights with our players. They did get through the fourth quarter. I think we won. But as soon as the gun blew, there was the biggest fight on that field you ever saw.”

“What did you do?”

“I made it with another South cheerleader. The South guys never found out I was the one who did it either. I think it took ten squad cars to break up the fight. When they finally did, it was after midnight. South got sat on for starting it all, even though the cops knew why they’d started fighting. The cops just didn’t know who and nobody on our side was going to say, even though they knew there was only one person with that kind of nerve. I got called into Mr. Frye’s office the following Monday and he told me that the only reason I wasn’t being suspended was because they couldn’t prove I was the one who’d been playing with the South Cheerleaders. I, of course, admitted nothing. Stella taught me that.”

“What? To admit nothing.”

“Mh-hm.”

“Was she mad when she first found out you fooled around?”

“Yeah, but not because I was fooling around.”

“Then what was she mad about?”

“Well, I’d never told her, even though I think she suspected. Then one day about a month before school let out my freshman year, she got a phone call from an irate father. The inevitable had happened.”

“What? You got caught in the act?”

“No.”

“V.D.?”

“No.”

“Then what..? You got a girl pregnant.”

“Bingo. Stella denied any responsibility for my actions and said he couldn’t prove it, and even if he could, the most we were going to do was give him the name of a safe doctor. When he hung up in disgust, she turned on me, wanting to know why I hadn’t been using any birth control. I had to make the stupid comment that it was the girl’s business. Stella promptly retorted that it was stupidity like that that had resulted in my being in existence. If I was going to fool around, I was an idiot begging for paternity suits if I insisted on assuming someone else was going to be responsible. Then she told me I was a bigger idiot if I ever admitted that I had slept with someone. That lecture stuck very well. I think the timing had something to do with it. Diedre had told me she was pregnant before her father called and I was pretty scared. I don’t think I ever believed it could happen to me. Anyway, Diedre got her abortion and after that, I kept myself covered. It was a nuisance, but I wasn’t going to let it happen again. After I got to Stanford and got my money, I had my minor surgery. I still had to stay covered for a couple months, but I was so relieved afterwards.” He looked at me. “I guess all this sounds pretty bad to you, abortion and self-mutilation.”

I shrugged. “Not really. I don’t agree with it. But what’s done is done, nor am I here to pass judgment.”

“Thanks. What else do you want me to tell you about?”

“I don’t know. You sound like you were pretty popular.”

“I was, especially my last two years. Radicals were in vogue then and I was a genuine, real live radical. I was the only kid who got excused from school to attend peace rallies and sit-ins and civil rights marches. I didn’t go all that often. It depended on whether or not Stella was on welfare. If she was on welfare, I was left to keep the social workers happy. If Stella was working, she brought me with her. She had to be careful either way not to get arrested, cause then I’d end up in a foster home and Stella didn’t want that. I guess she was making one last ditch effort to keep me from becoming a capitalist. She could see I was leaning that way.”

“What made you change your mind?”

“Three things. In the first place, there were the peace rallies themselves. As you know, they weren’t always peaceful and it was a little too easy to get yourself hurt or even killed. Hell, look at Kent State. The tear gas was the worst part for me, though. That stuff is miserable.” Sid shuddered at the memory. “In the second place, my civics teacher held me after class one day and pointed out that while I questioned everything else, I had never questioned my aunt’s philosophies. So I did and I found out that I didn’t really agree with them. Of course, the thing that really did the communism in was good old-fashioned adolescent rebellion. Most kids then were rebelling by speaking out and taking action. I rebelled by becoming indifferent.”

“You’re not indifferent, Sid.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve noticed that the things you’re indifferent about are often the things you care about most.”

He thought about that.

“Maybe,” he said. “Probably. I guess I’ve gotten very good at fooling myself.”

“We all have. Look at all the years I spent thinking I wanted to get married. You wouldn’t believe what a shock it was to me when Rory Scheidler proposed to me and I turned him down.”

“Who was Rory?”

“A guy I met while I was working on my B.A. We went together for about eight months. Oh, he was sweet. I really loved him. He was an art major, a very sensitive guy, but crazy. He wore an earring in one ear. You think Daddy doesn’t like you, you should have seen the fits he had when I brought Rory home. Daddy almost made me quit school. I still went with Rory for another four months after that and then he proposed. When I turned him down, he really thought I was too scared to tell Daddy I was marrying him.”

“Were you?”

“No, I don’t think so. I spent a good long week deliberating before I gave Rory my answer and during that time, Daddy never once entered my mind. A lot of other things did, but not Daddy. I thought it was Rory I didn’t want, at first. But I really loved the guy and I knew we could have had a good marriage. It was the idea of being stuck, not just with Rory, but with anybody that bothered me.”

“You don’t seem to mind being stuck with me.”

“I know I can be reassigned.”

“You didn’t always know that and you still didn’t mind.”

“But we’re not married. You still have your life and interests and I have mine. I know there are a lot of similarities. Sometimes they scare me, but I guess there isn’t that sacramental element. We share and are close to survive, not because it’s demanded of us. That doesn’t sound quite right, either.”

“I don’t have any answers. I vote we change the subject to something on safer ground. I don’t mean to pull away, but I’m not ready to deal with where this conversation is headed.”

“Me neither.” I looked at the cards still laying spread out on the night table. I put them into a deck. “How ‘bout some fifty-two card pick up?”

“If you want to pick them up.”

We ate lunch after that, ordering from room service. Then Sid decided he had an idea he wanted to develop. He took a nice leather covered clipboard/folder out of his suitcase and got out his fountain pen. He kicked off his shoes and lined them up neatly next to the bed. Then, after propping up the pillows against the headboard again, he sat down and stretched his legs out.

I just sat, thinking. It looked like my plans were going to be ruined. I was going to talk Sid into having dinner at a nice restaurant and present him with his watch then. But Sid showed no sign of leaving the room. I figured I could make do with room service. The reason I didn’t want to do that was that I was afraid of what could happen if Sid’s birthday present really touched him. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him. I didn’t trust myself. The very real threat of the thugs somehow diminished next to Sid’s hold on me.

I knew going out that night would be taking a stupid, silly chance, but it seemed worth it.

I picked up the cards and shuffled them. Then, sitting cross-legged on my bed, I dealt myself a hand of solitaire. I thought if I could get Sid antsy enough I could get him to take me out that night. Fortunately, I knew all the right buttons to push. I also knew I was asking for trouble at the same time. Sid knew exactly what buttons to push on me.

I played absently, whistling an old forties tune in sharp piercing tones. After a few bars, I knew Sid was glaring at me, even though I hadn’t looked up to see. He let me continue for another minute.

“Lisa,” he said finally, in a controlled, but irritated tone. “In the first place, you are not In the Mood. In the second place, your whistling, in general, is bad enough without you trying to imitate the entire Glen Miller orchestra.”

“Huh? Oh. Sorry.” I returned to my game.

A few minutes later, I hummed a Dan Fogelberg melody, then I added what words I knew.

“Lisa,” Sid said after about five minutes of my singing only half the lyrics. “I’m trying to concentrate.”

“Oh, was I singing again? I’m sorry.”

“Why can’t you control that mindless humming of yours…”

I decided I was losing my card game, so I shuffled the cards and dealt another hand.

“Sid,” I asked, plaintively. “Is there anything you need me to do?”

“No.”

“What are you writing about?”

“Hookers.”

“You’re just saying that to tease me.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re not really going to write an article about prostitution, are you?”

“Why not?”

“Who are you going to sell it to?”

“Depending on how I handle it, several places. In fact, I may develop two articles.”

“Why?”

“Because you write differently for Playboy and Cosmopolitan than you do for Ladies’ Home Journal. You ought to know that.”

“Sorry. There won’t be anything to embarrass me in the one you send to Playboy will there?”

“Have I ever sent anything to Playboy that’s embarrassed you?”

“No, but…”

“Will you get it through your head that there’s some very fine writing in that magazine and that they’re very nice to freelancers?”

“I know. But that’s not why people buy it.”

“Well, it’s why I buy it.”

“That’s what you say.”

“If I want to look at women, I don’t have to waste time looking at pictures. I know where I can find plenty of the real thing.”

I didn’t have an answer for that. I hadn’t been all that fair to him in the first place. I knew darned well that ninety percent of the many magazines he subscribed to and read, he wrote for. Besides, I couldn’t see him leering over the pictures in Playboy. It just wasn’t his style.

“So what are you going to say about prostitution?” I asked.

“I haven’t made up my mind.”

“Then what are you working on?”

“Making up my mind.”

“Getting very far?”

His “no” was rather pointed. I returned to solitaire. I lost two more hands, then gave up.

“I’m bored,” I announced.

“Why don’t you read? I packed a book for you.”

“I noticed. You had to bring Victorian poets, didn’t you?”

“I thought you liked poetry.”

“I do. But I’ve only got a minimal tolerance for Shelly, Coleridge and Wordsworth et al. ‘In Xanadu, did Kubla Kahn/A stately pleasure dome decree…’  Do you know why that poem was never finished?”

“I never knew it wasn’t.”

“You’ve read it, haven’t you?’

“I believe so.”

“You know why it wasn’t finished?”

“No, and I don’t care to, either.”

I flopped onto the bed on my tummy and continued reciting “Kubla Kahn”.

“I’m trying to work.” Sid was getting angry. “Will you put a cork in it?”

I got up and paced back and forth across the length of the room. I really was bored silly by that point. Sid let me go for about ten minutes, then it began to get to him. Sighing, he put down his pen and closed the folder.

“Alright, I give up,” he said.

“I’m sorry, Sid. I’ll sit down and let you go on working.”

“And five minutes from now, you’ll find something else to bug me with.”

“I’m sorry. This room is getting on my nerves.”

“Mine, too. But hang in there. Hopefully tomorrow they’ll let us go to Chicago.”

“Maybe. In the meantime, I get to go stir crazy. You think maybe we could go out tonight? Just to dinner?”

“You want to get yourself killed?”

“It’ll be dark out and if we stay together, I won’t be spotted so easily. We don’t have to go anywhere where there are bright lights.”

Sid shook his head and looked at me bewildered.

“I don’t understand you. You were almost raped and killed last night and the guys responsible are still out there looking for you. Why on earth do you want to go out? You’re safe here.”

“Am I?”

“I am not-”

“I know,” I interrupted. “I’m not worried about you. Really. I’m not. I just feel like a sitting duck is all. Do you realize how easy it’d be to poison our dinner when room service brings it?”

“It’s not all that easy. Besides, they don’t know we’re here.”

“How do you know they don’t? I’m not talking about Mutt and Jeff, either. I’m thinking of whoever hired them.”

“I’ll admit it’s possible, but we can only afford so much paranoia. We have to assume no one knows we’re here.”

“Why?”

“We’ll go nuts otherwise. If someone really wants to do us in, there’s only so much we can do to prevent it. More than likely, that’s enough.”

“I suppose. But I still feel terribly exposed. I’d feel better if we were moving around, a moving target and all.”

He sighed. “Unfortunately, this room is getting to me, too. Alright, we’ll go out to dinner.”

“Hooray. Thank you.”

“On the condition we go armed, wired and you stay right by me except to go to the ladies room. You’ll be harder to spot as part of a couple.”

“I’ll drape myself all over you. I’ll be a regular clinging vine.”

“I never did like clinging vines.”

I grinned at him, bubbling over with excitement.

“I know exactly where I want to go,” I said, bouncing onto the bed. “We can get really dressed up for it. Oh please let me make the reservations.”

“Alright. But make them for eight or later. We’re waiting for the dark to cover us.”

“I will.”

I made the reservations for eight fifteen. Then Sid went back to work on his idea and I took up the Victorian poets. Actually, they weren’t really that bad. While reading some of Lord Byron, I got an idea for an essay. I dug out paper and pen myself and became so absorbed I didn’t notice the afternoon slipping away. Sid left to check in and came back and went back to work. I was surprised when he announced he was taking a shower.

“So soon?” I asked.

“It’s six o’clock and I assume you’re going to want time to get ready.”

“Yeah, I will. I think I’ll shower, too. Will you do me a favor and dry your hair out here? I want to get in as soon as you get out. You know it takes longer to dry my hair than it does yours.”

“I suppose.”

It was a quarter to seven when I came out of the bathroom, wearing my robe and with my hair wrapped in a towel. Sid was standing in front of the mirror. He had his suit pants on but was shirtless.

“It’s all yours,” I said to him, indicating the bathroom.

“Thanks.” He gently patted the hair over his right ear, making sure it covered the tiny receiver hiding there, so small, you had to look for it to see it. He tapped the dresser next to the matching transmitter set lying there. “Don’t forget.”

I unwrapped the towel from my head and picked up the blow dryer, looking for the diffuser attachment.

“Lisa, could you bring the blow dryer in here?” Sid called from the bathroom.

“Why?”

“Mirror’s fogged up and not clearing fast enough.”

The lower half of his face was already covered with foam when I handed him the blow dryer. He plugged it in, flipped the switch and began drying the mirror over the sink. I stepped behind him and went rummaging through my carry on for the diffuser so I could dry my hair without trashing my perm. I pulled it out just as Sid finished clearing a good sized space on the mirror.

“Here you are,” he said, pointing the dryer at me.

I grimaced as I got a blast of hot air in my face.

“Very funny.” I grabbed the dryer from him, put the diffuser on the nozzle and started using it properly.

“I thought so.” Sid chuckled as he picked up his razor.

Even in the steamy bathroom, my hair dried fairly quickly. I turned off the dryer as Sid washed off the remnants of the lather on his face. When he turned away to dry off, I looked into the mirror and sighed.

“What’s the matter?” Sid asked.

“I wish I had my hot rollers with me. Then I could do my hair really nicely.”

You’ve got your curling iron, don’t you?” He stepped around me and started poking through my carry-on.

“Yeah, but I can only do my ends.”

“Don’t you know how to do it in layers?” He pulled out the iron.

“No.”

“It’s really easy. Come on, I’ll do it for you.”

I followed Sid out of the bathroom. He plugged the curling iron into the socket over the dresser.

“I don’t know, Sid. You sure you know what you’re doing?”

“Of course, I do. I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t.” He picked up the transmitter and handed it to me. “You go get dressed and made up while the iron heats, and bring me your bobby pins.”

I looked at him, rather puzzled, but did as he asked, although it took a little longer than usual since I had to cover up my black eye. When I was ready, he had put on his shirt, tie and vest, but left the vest open and had turned up the cuffs on his shirt.

“You look like a hairdresser,” I said, smiling hesitantly.

“That’s the idea.” He grinned and pointed to the chair he’d set in front of the dresser. “Come on, sit down.”

“I don’t know. I think I’ll stick with just curling the ends.”

“Sit down.” I sat. “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.” He picked up my brush and started in, brushing with firm, professional strokes.

“Where’d you learn to do this anyway?” I asked, still doubtful.

He clipped a section of my hair to one side with a bobby pin.

“Very first time? At a party. It was a particularly good one, too. I think there were roughly three girls to every guy.” I snorted. “I was, uh, taking a break, when I got to talking with this gal who was a hairdresser. She was just slightly tipsy and had found a curling iron and was curling all the other girls’ hair. So she showed me how and supervised while I did a couple girls. They turned out really nice. Then one of the guys passed out and Shawna and I got hold of a pair of scissors. Between the scissors and the curling iron that poor boy got a shock the morning after that beat his hangover.” Sid chuckled.

“Did you do any other girls after that?”

“No, just Shawna.” He sighed happily. “Nice lady.”

“I was talking about hair.”

“Oops. Sorry. I should have known better. There was this one case. I took the whole training course for that. And at other parties I have. Just to keep in practice. Really impresses the ladies. Of course, it doesn’t usually last.”

“What do you mean?” I was getting nervous again.

“Let’s put it this way. Your hair will stay.”

“I understand.”

I have to admit, I was impressed when he was done. It looked gorgeous. I covered my eyes as Sid lightly went over it with hair spray.

“Not bad,” he said, smiling and stepping back to admire his handiwork. “You look very nice.”

“Thanks. It does look good. I’m impressed.”

“I told you.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of modesty?” I got up and walked over to my purse.

“Me?” Sid grinned as he buttoned up his vest. “Of course, I’ve heard of it.”

“Your ego is so over inflated.” I watched as Sid flipped down his cuffs and slipped the cuff links in place. “I mean look at you. I’ll bet you’re the only person in the country left who still wears cufflinks.”

“What has that got to do with my ego?” He slid his shoulder holster on and adjusted it.

“I don’t know. I’ll think of something.”

He chuckled. But his smile faded as he picked up his gun, quickly checked the clip and put it in its holster. He put on his jacket.

“Ready?” he asked, smiling again.

“Yeah.” I picked up my oversized purse. Sid frowned.

“That bag can be spotted a mile away as it is,” he said. “It really stands out with that dress.”

“I have a smaller clutch,” I said, going to my suitcase. I pulled it out.

“That’s much better.”

“I think I left my lipstick in the bathroom. Would you get it for me, please?”

“Sure.”

While he was gone, I quickly slipped his present and card into the clutch. On top of that, I stuffed in my gun, my wallet, my pen and pad, and my brush. It made things a little crowded, especially when I added the lipstick and the compact Sid brought to me.

Sid took one quick check in the mirror. Satisfied that all was perfect he offered me his arm.

“Shall we, my dear?” he asked in his most pompous tone.

“Certainly, darling.” I affected my best highbrow voice, taking my place by his side.

Dinner was delicious. Sid had broiled swordfish while I had prawns in a Cajun white wine sauce. About midway through, I excused myself to go to the restroom and conveniently “forgot” to turn on my transmitter. I didn’t go to the restroom right away. Around the corner, where Sid couldn’t see me, I stopped our waiter and ordered a fresh fruit plate and split of champagne for dessert.

They did it up beautifully. The busboy had cleared our plates and Sid was shifting liked he usually does when he wants the check. Our waiter appeared with the fruit and cheese.

“What is this?” he asked as our waiter poured the champagne into two flutes.

“Your birthday,” I replied, pulling his present out of my clutch.

“I was hoping you’d forget,” he said, looking at the gift. “Lord knows I’ve been trying to.”

“How could I when you remembered mine?”

He looked up and smiled gently. “I noticed you were wearing your pearls.”

My hand reached up and twirled one of the pearl stud earrings he had given me.

“Yeah, I planned it that way. Aren’t you going to open your present?”

“Alright. It’s too small to be a sweater.”

“You forgot to bring my knitting.”

He opened the card and laughed appreciatively at it. I was on needles and pins as he carefully slipped off the ribbon and undid the paper. I held my breath as he opened the box. He just looked at it.

“You’re an awful hard person to buy for,” I burst out, fearing the worst.

“It’s an antique, isn’t it?” he asked finally.

“Yes. It has a music box too.” I lifted the watch out of the box and wound it.

Sid took it back and opened it. The gentle tinkling music poured out. He smiled.

“Bach’s Minuet in G,” he said softly. “I’ve always liked Bach.”

I took the watch back and slipped it into his vest pocket, carefully leaving the fob to dangle.

“I thought it would be just the right touch. You’re always wearing suits like this.” I swagged the chain and looped it through the vest buttonhole. “There, it looks so dignified.”

“But will it keep time?” Sid was smiling.

“I think so. It was running okay in the shop.”

“Where did you get it?”

“In a little shop off the square.”

Sid pulled the watch out and examined it. Then he set it and wound it.

“You must have sunk quite a bit into this.”

“It wasn’t that much. But I felt it. It was probably more than I should have spent.”

“In more ways than one.” He was still examining the watch. “Places like that usually have quite a markup. Do you mind telling me how much it was?”

“A hundred and fifty dollars.”

Sid was surprised. “Is that all?”

“It was a lot to me.” I was hurt.

Sid started laughing.

“Come here, child.” He pulled me close to him. “I’ve got to do something.” I tightened. “No, I’m not horny. It’s just…” He released me and looked at me fondly. “You did it again. Yes, a hundred and fifty is a lot of money for you to shell out, especially on me. But you’re not out of the bargain basement.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a possibility I’m wrong, but I think this watch could be worth five hundred, up to a thousand dollars.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Of course, it could be worth as little as twenty-five. But I don’t think so. It’s in excellent shape.”

“Oh dear, maybe you shouldn’t carry it.”

“Oh no. It does look distinguished.” He slid the watch back into the vest pocket, making sure the fob was dangling. “It’s just what I needed. Just the right amount of panache to set off my style.”

“Then you like it?”

“I love it. I’d like to get it appraised if you don’t mind, just out of curiosity. But worth twenty-five or a thousand, I still love it. It’s exquisite. Thank you.” He gently kissed my forehead and then hugged me again. “You are a dear friend. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I whispered.

We held each other for a couple of moments more. There was an awkward pause as we released each other. Then Sid reached over and picked up his glass of champagne.

“A toast,” he said, raising his glass. I picked up mine and raised it. “To friendship and to understanding.”

“Amen,” I said as we clinked glasses.

As we left the restaurant, Sid proposed a walk along the river.

“Well,” I replied. “I was planning on going back to the motel and letting you do what you like. I mean I want you to have fun. It’s your birthday.”

Sid gently squeezed me. “I appreciate that, but in the first place, believe it or not, I’d really rather spend the evening quietly enjoying the pleasure of your company.”

“Want to try a different version of gin rummy?”

“And in the second, a second drop got scheduled for you tonight. I found out when I checked in.”

“Oh.”

“I should have told you sooner, but you were working, and then you were so happy about dinner, I didn’t want to put a cloud over it all.”

“That’s okay.”

He smiled softly. “Actually, it’s probably just as well in terms of our relationship. The way I’m feeling right now, the way we’re both feeling, we’re better off on our feet and walking around.”

“If you’re feeling that way, I don’t mind going back to the motel later so you can work it out. Really, I don’t.”

“If it was just an urge, I’d say sure.” Sid stopped walking and faced me, laying his hands on my shoulders. “But it’s more than that, it’s a feeling.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t, either.” Sid shook his head and we continued our walk in silence.

It was near midnight when Sid and I investigated the alley where I was to make my second drop. We hid in the shadows, guns drawn and ready. Down the way, I could see Winters’ form sitting in a doorway.

“It looks clear,” whispered Sid.

Winters flopped over. My stomach tied itself in knots. Sid got a good grip on my hand and all but dragged me along the shadows to the still form. I turned away to face the building. Unperturbed, Sid knelt by the man and began probing.

“Is he..?” I asked, weakly.

“Dead? Yes. I can’t quite tell in this light, but it looks like he was strangled. Rigor’s just passing off.”

“Oh no.” I covered my eyes.

Sid sighed. “I remember last month when you insisted on unplugging my toilet when we could have just as easily called a plumber, you not only looked, but reached in and pulled out a far ghastlier mess than this corpse could ever be in its present state.”

“That was different. It’s the principle of the thing.”

Sid didn’t get a chance to reply. A bullet ricocheted off the building I was facing. Startled, I looked down the other end of the alley. Silhouetted against a street lamp was a short stout figure and a tall one in a raincoat.

“Let’s get out of here,” grumbled Sid, grabbing my arm.

Not that he needed to. I ran very quickly and right behind him. The bullets came fast and kept coming. I still say it was a miracle from God that we didn’t get hit. [It was because they were running after us – SEH] Sid and I came out of the alley at about the same time. I started up the street, but Sid grabbed my hand.

“Into the square.” He pointed across the street to the dark park in Andrew Jackson Square. “There’s cover.”

I looked back as we ducked through the gate. Mutt and Jeff had come to the head of the alleyway still firing. Mutt had one arm in a sling, but it didn’t seem to be stopping him. We ducked behind a park bench. Sid reached inside his coat and pulled out his gun. He turned and took aim. But something I heard made me pull his arm away before he could fire.

“What..?” He looked at me angrily as I placed my hand over his mouth to shush him.

“Listen,” I hissed.

“…completely covered,” a voice was shouting. “Drop your guns or we’ll fire.”

“The police,” I whispered and pointed.

Through the trees, we could see the officers at the head of the street, behind one of the buildings. Mutt and Jeff turned on them and shot. The police opened up and I gasped as they went down.

In the silence that followed, a crowd gathered as policemen filled the street. Sid smiled at me and holstered his gun.

“Good job, my dear,” he said, brushing his forefinger across my nose.

We left the square on the other side, doubled back around and joined the crowd around the two fallen men. From the various comments we heard, we gathered that the cops had no idea who Mutt and Jeff had been shooting at. Mutt wasn’t going to tell them, either. He was dead. Jeff was unconscious and in pretty bad shape.

We left the square very subdued and headed back to the motel.

“That’s one less thing to worry about,” Sid said quietly, as he shut the door to the room.

I sat down on my bed.

“I’d almost rather be worrying,” I replied.

“I know.” Sid came around and sat on his bed facing me. “At least we didn’t do it. In fact, they brought it on themselves. I’m very glad you stopped me from shooting. If you hadn’t, we’d have the cops looking for us now.”

I shrugged. “What a rotten way to end your birthday.”

“Fortunately, I’ve still got a chance at another and so do you.” He briefly smiled that hot little smile of his. “Naw, I won’t.”

“What?”

“I was going to tease you. But I decided that wouldn’t be nice.”

“What were you going to say?”

“Never mind.”

“What were you going to say?”

“You asked for it.”

“Alright, I’m asking for it.”

“Well, I was just going to suggest that we could still end my birthday on a nice high note, that is, if you’re, ahem, willing.” He smiled again.

I caught my breath and then summoned together what little anger I could find, anything to break the spell.

“Oh!” I threw one of my pillows at him. He laughed.

“You had to ask.”

I took advantage of the momentum from throwing the pillow to get myself up and busy with getting ready for bed. I fled with my nightgown and robe into the bathroom.

While I was washing my face, it occurred to me that that was the first time Sid had out and out propositioned me. True, it was strictly in jest. If Sid had been serious about it, he would have been far more subtle. I wouldn’t have known what was going on until it was too late. The fact that he was joking told me that he felt very secure in our relationship. That made me feel good, and strangely enough, safer with him.

I climbed into bed as Sid went into the bathroom.

“Goodnight, Sid,” I called.

“Goodnight, Lisa and thanks again.”

“You’re welcome.”

As I settled in, I thought I heard Sid singing. I listened carefully. Softly from the bathroom came the song “You and Me Against the World.”

 

Anne Louise Bannon

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