Sundays, Sid lets me skip running and sleep in. That Sunday I woke up early with a familiar dull ache in my lower abdomen. I tried sleeping through it, but it had to get messy, and wouldn’t you know, Sid had to come back in after his run.
“Awake already?” he asked, with an amused grin. He was wearing a tank top and running shorts instead of a warm up suit, even though it seemed fairly cool out. Then again, that was probably why he wasn’t sweating like a horse.
“Uh, yeah.” I pulled the covers to my chin. “You going to be here long?”
“My appointment’s not ‘til eight, and I wasn’t going to shower until after.”
“I guess if you’re paying, she can’t complain.” I was more interested in my robe, which was at the foot of the bed because I knew I’d stained, and that was more embarrassing than I was ready to handle.
Sid sniffed his armpit. “I’m okay.” He still grabbed a towel and rubbed down.
I wasn’t doing too well. Keeping my covers over me, I sat up and got my robe. It was a bit of a struggle getting it on without sitting on it and making things worse and still not letting Sid see anything, and by that point, he’d figured something was up and was watching. I got my clothes and my carry on.
“Wearing your jeans today?” Sid asked. He rinsed a washcloth out in the sink.
“I can still stay fully armed,” I replied. “I’ll strap my twenty-two to my shin like you do.”
“True.” Sid wrung out the washcloth and turned off the water.
“Don’t!” I yelped as he lifted the covers to my bed.
“I thought that’s what I saw.” He pulled the covers back to reveal the stain. “Well, it’s about time. I was getting ready to put a candle in the window.” He went to work.
“You don’t have to make it any more embarrassing than it is,” I grumbled.
“What’s embarrassing about it?” he asked. “It’s just a natural process.”
“So is going to the bathroom, and I seem to remember you getting pretty grossed out when I unplugged that toilet of yours.”
“That’s…” Sid looked up at me and smiled. “You’ve got a point. However, the one is merely waste.” He pointed at the stain. “This can be considered a celebration of fertility.”
“Since when are you so interested in fertility?”
“Yours I have no problem with.” He chuckled. “You know, you could look at this as evidence that your virginity has been lost. It’s the traditional sign, you know.”
“Hm.” I squeezed my legs together, thinking that I really needed to be going.
Sid looked at me. “Are you still feeling upset about something?”
“I’m not depressed anymore, but my cramps are pretty bad, and don’t lay any psychosomatic BS on me, okay?”
“I wasn’t planning on it. I am sensitive to the needs of women.”
“Then why don’t you have a trash can in your bathroom? That’s why your toilet got plugged, you know.” I started feeling really messy. “Listen, I’ve got to get going. Figures this month would be a gusher.”
“I’ll meet you back here at nine thirty. And stay away from the rim.”
We spent most of the day reading. Around a quarter til three, we found a pay phone and I made the check in call. I swallowed when it wasn’t answered after the first two rings. I let it go a little longer.
“What’s up?” Sid asked, a little nervous himself.
“No answer.” I held on, hoping. “It’s gone at least ten rings.” I hung up. “It’s the second time.”
Sid checked his watch. “It’s early yet. Maybe she’s just not there.”
We called again right at three, then at five after, and ten after. At a quarter after, Sid hung up the phone, his face as pale as a ghost.
“Nothing,” he said softly. He took a deep breath. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
I touched his arm. “Sid-”
Glaring, he laid his finger on my lips. “From this moment on, Sid Hackbirn and Lisa Wycherly are dead. You and I are now Janet and Ed Donaldson.”
He nodded sadly. I managed to hold my tears until we got inside the room. As soon as Sid closed the door, I sank onto my bed and sobbed.
“We’ve got to get packed and out of here now,” said Sid urgently.
“I’m never going to see my family again,” I cried.
“That’s not for certain.” Sighing, Sid sat down next to me and held me. “We’ll find a way to go back to being ourselves. We just can’t count on it is all. I know it’s going to be hard. But you’ll have to cry later. We’ve got to go now.”
“I know.” I tried pulling myself together. “Just give me a couple minutes, will you?”
“Sure.” His lips softly pressed against my hair.
I got a tissue. “I suppose it could be worse. It’s not like we don’t have feelings for each other, but I just don’t want to be married.”
“It’s the last damn thing I want,” Sid grumbled.
“Well, you don’t have to make it out to be something really awful,” I snapped.
“It’s not. Except…” He turned away. “You can’t be a real wife.”
I bit my lip. “Can you be a real husband?’
Sid gave me his only too obvious look. “I don’t think there’s any question about my interest in that issue.”
“I didn’t mean conjugally. There’s a lot more to marriage than just sex.”
Sid picked up his suitcase and set it on his bed.
“I suppose there might be,” he grumbled. “What are you thinking of?”
“A relationship for starters.”
“Didn’t you just imply that we have one?” Frustrated, he jammed some socks into the case. “I mean, I’d like to think the past few weeks would count for something.”
“Of course they do.” I fidgeted with my tissue. “It’s mostly just…”
“Will I be the only one?” My voice grew small and uncertain.
Sid stepped back. “Oh. That.”
“Believe me, after what we’ve been through and as close as we’ve become, anyone else wouldn’t mean a damn thing.”
“Then why not just be faithful?”
“If you weren’t around for some reason.” Frustrated, Sid went back to packing. “Why is it so important that I be faithful anyway? I’m not expecting it from you, although I have to admit, I find it a little hard to imagine you sleeping around.”
I grimaced. “I couldn’t. Our sex life should be something very special and unique.”
“What makes you think it won’t be?”
“How will I know it is?”
Sid chuckled lecherously. “You’ll know.”
“Really? And how will I know that the words you whisper to me are not whispered to some other woman? That you don’t touch another woman the way you touch me? And what about whenever something starts itching or dripping and I’m wondering if I’ve got some social disease?”
“I’m very careful about that, and if you want, I’ll be extra careful.” Sid came around the bed and held me. “But don’t ever think for a second that what passes between us could be anything like what I do with another woman.”
“Then why aren’t I enough?” My eyes caught his.
He pulled away. “Enough has nothing to do with it. I don’t even know why we’re discussing the possibility. You’re not ready for sex any more than I’m ready to lock myself up if you’re not there. And that, my dear, is precisely why we’ve got to find a way out of this. We’ve wasted too much time already. Come on.”
Sadly, I hoisted my purse onto the bed.
“Wait a minute,” I said suddenly, digging through the huge leather sack. “We still have the drops.”
“What?” Sid came over to me.
I shoved the envelopes in his face. “The drops for Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego.” I opened one. “I’m going to see what they say. They may give us a clue.”
“We don’t necessarily have the right.”
“Neither of us wants to be married, and I want to see my family again.”
Inside was a second envelope. Sid peered over my shoulder.
“It’s addressed to the floater team,” he said, deciphering the code faster than I could.
I hesitated. “Oh, hell. In for a penny…”
I opened the inner envelope and gave the card inside to Sid. He read it and swore.
“What?” I asked.
“It basically says that upline knows they’re leaking. This was Seattle. What do the others say?”
I ripped away to find exactly the same messages.
“Get finished packing,” ordered Sid, doing the same.
I grabbed my stuff. “What are you thinking?”
“I don’t know yet. It just doesn’t make sense. Obviously, they were looking for whoever was opening stuff.”
“And then setting us up for an attack with that second drop.”
“Which the suspect couldn’t have known was coming, but would probably take advantage of to save his or her own skin.”
“But it’s the suspects that keep getting killed.”
“And these are addressed to the floater team, which is going to be the same for this line, and they knew that second drop was coming in Chicago.”
“But did they in New Orleans? That’s probably why I was followed.”
“But I wasn’t in Chicago, which must mean they were looking for you.”
“And then I had that blonde wig in Yellowstone.”
“Nor was there a second drop.” Sid stopped. “It must be the floater team that’s leaking. That’s the only thing that could account for what’s going on, and they must have gotten a hold of the Dragon somehow.”
“So what do we do?”
“We’re going after that team.”
“We don’t know who they are.”
Sid thought that over. “But we have Amanda Whitefoot’s address. She’s still in the hospital.” He looked at me and smiled. “I think a nice little break-in is in order.” He checked his watch. “We’d better hustle. I’d like to be in and out of there before dark. We’ll need the light to see, and if we make any of our own, it could attract attention out there in the middle of nowhere.”
I thought it was going to be tricky getting onto the reservation, but Sid pulled out an F.B.I. ID and said we were there to question some people about some antiquities that had been stolen from them. We found the house without problem, and it was pretty isolated. Someone else had found it first. The place had been trashed, naturally after every trace of Whitefoot’s double life had been removed.
“It’s not an unusual procedure when one of ours goes down,” explained Sid with a frustrated sigh as he looked around the room.
I picked up an address book and flipped through the pages.
“I doubt you’ll find anything in there,” said Sid.
I stopped flipping. “Care to put some money on that?”
“You got something?” Sid came over.
“Recognize that phone number?”
Sid took the book. “I’ll be damned. Harry and Carol Beldon. I wonder who they are.”
“How about Whitefoot’s floater team?”
“It wouldn’t be out where anyone could find it.”
“Why not? Don’t you have Henry James in your address book? You had him in the Rolodex when I started working for you and had a reasonable excuse for knowing him.” Henry is our floater. Sid ostensibly knows him as a contact for his writing. “Why wouldn’t Whitefoot have a visible reason for knowing her floater?”
“That makes sense, and it’s about all we’ve got.” Sid thought it over. “There’s a CIA base in Manhattan. We’ve got to get our passports through them, anyway. Let’s see what they can do with this.”
We had to fly to Denver first and spent the night there. Neither of us felt up to saying anything. Sid got us a double at the hotel next to the airport, neatly avoiding any discussion about who would sleep on the floor. [Or whether one of us would – SEH]
We caught an early morning flight out to New York. As usual, Sid boarded the plane, took his contacts out and went to sleep, waking up just long enough to recline his seat after the captain said we could. I read the magazines I’d picked up at the airport in Denver. I didn’t want to think about being married, let alone to Sid. As for never seeing my family again, I found that even harder to face.
We hit some nasty turbulence about two hours into the flight.
“What? Help,” Sid muttered, then snapped awake. He swore and blinked.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he gasped and blinked again. “Just had a bad dream. Why aren’t we landing?”
“We’re not there yet.”
The plane took a sudden dip.
“What the hell..?” Sid gripped the armrest.
“It’s just turbulence.”
Sid snorted. “I was dreaming there’d been an explosion and everything was blown all over.”
“Good timing.” I smiled briefly, then gazed out the window.
Sid leaned back and tried to go to sleep again, but the plane kept bouncing. He squinted and leaned over me towards the window. He always gets an aisle seat, which is fine with me because I prefer a window seat.
“Is that the wing bouncing up and down?” he asked.
“Wonderful.” He settled back into his own seat.
“I’ve been told it’s supposed to do that.”
There was a pause. I looked at the magazine in my lap. About five minutes before it had seemed incredibly inane. One of the headlines promised me “Fabulous Sex Secrets To Keep Your Man.”
“Your cramps feeling any better?” he asked quietly.
“Good.” There was another pause. “What are you thinking about?”
“Things. Trying to get some perspective.”
“On me, you. Our relationship. I don’t know. It’s like what you said about it counting for something. These past three weeks have been pretty intense. The day you came to get me at the retreat, Father John suggested I try to understand you a little better. It’s kind of weird how important that is all of a sudden.”
“If I believed in that nonsense, I’d call the man psychic. He had a little chat with me before I left.”
“What did he say?”
“Not much. He just expressed some concern for you and said that you needed my support.” The plane lurched. I slid my hand into Sid’s. His grip tightened as the plane bounced again. “I told him I was doing what I could to give it to you. Then he suggested I try to understand you better. That’s why he talked me into sticking around through dinner.”
“I wondered about that.”
“Well, I owe that man one, assuming I get a shot at payback. If I’d known what trying to understand you was going to do to me…”
“If I’d known the same thing.” I looked at him warmly. “It hasn’t been easy, and I can’t say I’ve gotten very far, but it’s been worth it, at least to me.”
“To me, too.” Sid smiled. This time his squeeze was gentle.
“I don’t want to stop trying, either.”
“No, we can’t afford to.” He looked away for a moment. “You know, yesterday afternoon, what I said about being married, it really wasn’t you.”
“I know. But I couldn’t help thinking so.”
“I was a little rough about it. In a way, I’m still in shock. I don’t like the idea of leaving my life any more than you do.”
“Are you sure we’ll have to?”
“We’d better assume so.” He looked me over with a warm smile. “I don’t mean to balk so much on the fidelity thing. I really don’t mind the idea of being faithful to you. I’m just not sure I can. I haven’t been faithful to one woman for more than two weeks at a time in my life.”
“Two and a half weeks. Remember Kathy Preving?”
Sid chuckled, then squeezed my hand as the plane jolted.
“That was something altogether different, and I wasn’t faithful. There was that trip to Washington. I figured she’d never know.”
I picked up a second magazine. “Maybe you’d better read this article.”
Sid put the page in his face. “Sex addiction? Oh, come on. Sex is not an addiction.”
“I don’t know. There were some things in there that reminded me an awful lot of you.”
“Well, maybe. But it’s harmless.”
“Not when it starts messing up a relationship. And besides, when you get horny, it distorts your judgment.”
“I couldn’t have survived this long if it distorted it that much.”
“You don’t let yourself get that horny that often.”
“True. But there were times…” His voice trailed off and his grip on my hand changed. I could see him trying to deal with memories that were very painful. “Maybe it was my fault after all.”
“What?” I asked very gently.
“Decisions I made a couple times while I was in Viet Nam. I can’t say they were bad decisions. But I knew, even then, they weren’t the best. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Three weeks on patrol in those jungles and no women at all. Nothing helped.”
“That’s in the past. There’s nothing you can do about it now.”
“Except learn from it. But, damn it, I can’t change who I am, and I’m not sure I want to.”
“That’s why you can’t change. And I don’t know if you should try, except that…”
“Except that now we’re a married couple, and unless I change, we’re not going to have much of a sex life.”
“We could still catch these Beldon people and everything will go back to normal.”
“More likely we’ll spend six weeks wandering the continent, then settle in somewhere as that nice couple next door.”
“And then I can get myself reassigned.”
“Don’t do that.” His hand didn’t squeeze but tightened in such a way that I knew he wouldn’t let go easily. “Look, if I have to be married, I’d rather it was to you than anyone else.”
We fell silent for a few minutes.
“It’s not like we have an option,” said Sid finally. “But if you can put up with me, then I guess I can find a way.”
“I can put up with you.” I gave his hand a little squeeze.
He reached over and kissed my mouth.
“You think we could get it blessed after we get settled?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Get married again in the Church. Lots of couples do. They get married in a civil ceremony for all sorts of reasons, then years later have a priest bless it. I suppose we could draw up some fake annulment papers for you, just to make it look more legitimate, and I’d have to get another baptismal certificate, but that shouldn’t be too hard.”
Sid sighed. “It sounds time-consuming. Do we get to share connubial bliss before or after?”
“If you want it official, why can’t we just visit a judge?”
“Why? Our business has done it for us. As for the connubial bliss…”
“Is it my imagination, or are you saying that the moral issue is resolved?” Sid chuckled.
“I guess I am. But it’s by no means definite that we’re forever doomed to new identities.”
Sid gazed at our hands. “You’re still not ready.”
“Don’t be. After a lifetime of saying no, you can’t just turn around and say yes. We’ll take our time getting you used to the idea.”
“Don’t worry, my darling ice maiden. We’ll take it very slowly.” His free hand reached over and touched my cheek. “I’ve done a fair amount of work as a surrogate partner for women in sex therapy, and I’ve dealt with a lot of trauma. I’ll take very good care of you.”
“Can we wait until we’re sure who we are?”
“Sure.” Sid sighed. “It’s probably just as well. If we don’t, we’ll for sure have to go back to our own lives and you’ll be feeling guilty as hell, and I’ll never get you back in my bed.”
He leaned back in his seat and was out cold within a minute. He didn’t even fully wake up when it came time to straighten his seat for landing. But he didn’t let go of my hand until the plane had stopped at the gate and the seatbelt sign was turned off.
Manhattan, which had seemed like such a great place three and a half weeks before, suddenly grated on my nerves. We checked our bags at Grand Central Station and went straight from there on the subway to the C.I.A. offices, which were on the east side near the U.N. Sid flashed his phony F.B.I. ID, which got our thumbprints taken and then into the back office after a twenty-minute wait.
The man behind the desk was not particularly little in size, but seemed little, and had that prissy, bureaucratic attitude one finds a lot of in government clerks.
“Clearance?” he asked us.
“A-1,” said Sid. “Division 53-Q, code 6-A.”
I turned away and hummed so I wouldn’t hear Sid give his. A second later, he tapped me on the shoulder, and started humming, while I softly gave mine to the clerk.
“Code names?” he asked.
“I’m Little Red,” I said. “He’s Big Red.”
Sneering, the clerk double checked our info against a printout.
“Well, your thumbprints match,” he grumbled, then smirked. “I hear you 53-Q guys are having a little trouble with security.”
“We’re working on it,” said Sid. “We need passports.”
“Oh, hell,” said the clerk. “Where do you people get the idea that we can just snap our fingers and produce decent documents? We need descriptive info, we need photos. We’re not the State Department.”
“How long will it take?”
“You can have them by eight thirty. You’d just better hope we can get your pictures done now.”
“While we’re waiting, we need a priority one background check on some names.”
“Why don’t you just ask for the moon while you’re at it?”
Sid leaned over the desk. “We have a priority one need to know. Our offices are down. Last I heard, we’re ultimately working for the same boss. Why not cooperate?”
“What’s the name?”
“Harry and Carol Beldon.”
“Beldon, Harry and Carol. Fine. But I’m telling you, you domestic people with your attitudes can blow it out your ears as far as I’m concerned. We’re out there doing the real work.”
Sid hung onto his temper while I bit my tongue. The clerk had to take our passport photos himself and complained every step of the way.
“I’d like to blow it out his ears,” said Sid as we left the building. [Correction, I wanted to blow it out his ass. What is it with you and swear words? The religion thing I understand, but the rest of it… – SEH]
He hailed a cab, which didn’t stop, all the while complaining about the lousy attitudes of CIA personnel in general, punctuated with an assortment of swear words.
“What do we do now?” I asked as a third cab passed us by.
“Go shopping. We need to look a little more affluent if we’re going to be bumming around Europe for a while.”
“If we’re bumming, why can’t we just go the poor student route?”
“Because, as the saying goes, poverty sucks. I know. I’ve done it.”
“What about alterations?”
“This is New York City and we don’t have a credit limit on our cards. We can get alterations.”
We also found a twenty-four-hour laundry and dry cleaning service and were able to get the clothes we had cleaned. By eight thirty, we each had two suitcases, a carry-on, and I still had my cavernous purse. We also had passports for Ed and Janet Donaldson, some extra equipment, and a file on Harry and Carol Beldon.
“Well?” I asked as we sat down at a coffee shop at Grand Central, our luggage gathered around us.
Sid opened the file. “Let’s see. They’re floaters, alright. We’ve got a note here dated the other day that they were cleared to go to Paris and another date yesterday that their line is officially down and that they’re under suspicion. Their basic cover is as clothing importers. Apparently, Harry has an office in Paris. And looky here, Carol has contacts among the Red Brigade in Italy.”
“Aren’t they communists?”
“Definitely, and there are not a few rumors that there’s Soviet money behind them. It could be the Beldons are just taking advantage of an opportunity and playing double agent.”
“But if they’re the source of the leak, then that’s less likely.”
“Not necessarily. You never really know what side a double agent is on. It looks like that was why they ended up domestic, though. According to this, they were doing some good work in the early sixties, but were suspected of walking the fence and ended up charter members of Quickline.”
“I guess the next step is to go to Paris, then.” I sighed. “Just how are we going to catch up with them?”
“We’ve got the address to Harry Beldon’s office here in the file. We’ll just wait for them to show. We’ve got six weeks.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson take up residence in Podunk, Iowa as that nice couple next door.”
I crossed myself. “Dear Jesus, please let them be there.”
We found a travel agent in the station to get our plane tickets. The only two flights to Paris left that night were booked solid. I suggested going stand by and the agent giggled. Sid booked us on a flight that left the next afternoon at five.
As we waited for a cab outside of the station, I talked Sid into staying at the Algonquin. The room was tiny, but we only stayed there long enough to change into going out to dinner clothes. Sid took us down to the Village to a jazz club there, and then we went dancing. It was a lot of fun because Sid is a good dancer, and how many guys dance at all, let alone well? But it was also a little nerve-wracking because we were drilling each other on our new identities the whole time.
“Is there some reason we haven’t gone back to the hotel?” I asked Sid as we held each other through a slow dance.
“We’ve got a long flight tomorrow with a big time change. Tell me about your parents.”
“Curtis and Lynn Mayfield. They live in a condo on Rosewood Court in Diamond Bar. They moved there three years ago. Dad works in computer sales. Mom’s an administrative clerk in the Diamond Bar school system. I’ve got two younger sisters, Jean and Doris, both still in school. Doris goes to Berkeley, Jean is at U.C. Santa Barbara. Tell me about your parents.”
“Jim and Rhonda Donaldson. They live in Walnut Creek at 1531 Seeley Drive and have for fifteen years. Dad owns Donaldson Printers, Mom helps out. I’ve got a brother, Lee, a resident surgeon at County U.S.C. Medical Center in Los Angeles.”
“Why is it you get to be two years younger and I get to be two years older?”
Sid smiled. “It wasn’t my idea, but I’m not complaining.”
“How did we meet?”
“Larry Everett, a venture capitalist, introduced us five years ago when you were fresh out of college and looking for a business partner with strong sales skills. With your unique approach to service oriented office supplies and my smooth talking, the business clicked, and a year later so did we.” Sid gave me a warm look. “You’re good at the shy routine.”
“That’s because I am shy. I don’t mind getting up in front of a group if I have something specific to say, but I really hate trying to talk to strangers at parties and things. It’s really hard for me to get to know people.”
“You got to know me pretty quickly.”
“That was one on one, and I don’t think I really did know you until these past few weeks. You’re not an easy person to get to know.”
Sid snuggled in closer. “Neither are you. You talk, but you don’t really say much about yourself. It’s one of the reasons you’re such a good spy.”
“Mm-hm. Tell me about our place in Sunny Hills.”
I found out why Sid had been stalling about going back to our room when we finally got there. I started to make up the bed on the floor. He stopped me.
“We can’t do that anymore,” he said sternly. “We’re married now, and even if we’re not physically doing anything about it, we can’t let even the least hint drop that things aren’t the way they appear.”
“I suppose. I’ve never shared a bed with a man before.”
“What’s so immoral about just sleeping in the same bed?”
“Well…” I thought. “Nothing, I guess. But there’s the temptation factor.”
Sid yawned. “Not tonight. I am beat.”
He let me have the bathroom first, and was sitting in the room’s one chair reading a newspaper when I got out.
“Which side do you want?” he asked, getting up.
I shrugged. “I never gave it much thought. Which side do you like?”
“That one.” He pointed to the side of the bed closest to the door.
He stopped as I pulled back the covers. “If it will make you feel any better, I sleep by myself.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m not going to use you as a human teddy bear. Sleeping tangled up in someone else gives me a crick in the neck.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”
I got in and laid on my back as close to the edge as I dared. Sid took his time in the bathroom. [I was trying to give you a chance to get to sleep before I climbed in – SEH] When he finally came out, he turned out the lights, slid under the covers and true to his word, rolled onto his side away from me. Tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep.
“Um…” I looked over at Sid and debated poking him. “Um…”
“What?” grunted Sid.
“While we’re trying to get you know who, are you going to… Well, you know…”
“Have sex with other women?”
“I was more wondering about buying it.”
“That’s the most efficient, and let’s face it, discreet way.” Sid rolled onto his back. “I don’t know yet. Let’s see how long I last.”
“Are you really that bugged about it?”
“In some ways. I guess I’m scared, too. We have to be so careful if we want to stay alive, and it just seems to me that when you’re… I don’t know… Involved with a woman, you’re terribly vulnerable.”
“For a very short period of time, I assure you, and usually, she’s equally vulnerable.”
“You know more about it than I do.”
“I’ve been at this business a long time.”
Sid looked over at me and smiled softly. “I’ll be alright. Goodnight.”
I rolled over, telling myself that cricks in the neck are no fun.