Chapter Two

spy novel, cozy mystery, serial fictionSeptember 16, 1983

 

The sound of a buzzer pulled me awake. Silence reigned. I looked at the room’s clock radio. Three forty-one glowed back at me. The buzzer went off again, and I realized it was someone at the door of the suite. Yawning, I got my robe and went to answer it.

I wake up slow, and I really hate having my sleep interrupted, so maybe I was a little surly, to begin with.

“Yeah?” I grunted as I opened the door.

A short portly man in a badly cut suit flashed a badge at me.

“I’m Investigator Lehrer, Douglas County Sheriff’s,” he announced, walking in. “I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“It’s a quarter til four in the morning,” I said.

“We’ve gotta get on this thing fast. You been here all evening?”

“I got in at one-thirty. Why?”

The coat closet door was open and Lehrer looked closely at Sid’s overcoat.

“This your coat?” he demanded.

“No. It’s my boss’s.”

“Where’s he?”

“In his room, asleep.”

“Has he been here all evening?”

“He was here when I got in. What is this all about?”

“Did you see him?”

“No, I heard him. Why are you here?”

“I’m investigating a crime, lady. Trot your boss out here. I gotta talk to him.”

There didn’t seem any point in antagonizing the jerk. I went over to the bedroom and rapped on the door.

“Sid? You want to wake up?”

I heard faint mumbling inside, but that didn’t mean anything. Sid talks incessantly in his sleep.

“He’s a very deep sleeper,” I told Lehrer.

“So go in and wake him up.”

I tried to remember if there was any due process that Lehrer was violating, but was too tired and fuzzy to think. The last thing I wanted to do was go into that bedroom. I knocked harder.

“Sid, wake up,” I yelled. I turned to Lehrer. “I’m sorry. He’s not going to wake up.”

“Lady, go in and wake him. In the meantime, I’ll have a little look around.”

“Do you have a search warrant?”

“Not yet.”

“Then wait until you do.”

Taking a deep breath, I cracked the door and peeked in. Della had gone, but that wasn’t the only reason I hesitated. Sid sleeps in the raw, and I wasn’t interested in getting an education.

He was laying on his stomach on one side of the bed, with the blankets up to his shoulders. I went in and turned on the lights, leaving the door cracked open.

“Sid? Will you wake up?” I asked.

“It was worth it,” he muttered, still out.

I went over and prodded his shoulder. “Come on, Sid, wake up.”

He giggled. I shook him. “Sid, wake up.”

I shook him again. It was no use. He was out cold. I debated pulling him out of bed and presenting him to Lehrer that way, but it would have humiliated Sid, not to mention me having to face him in his birthday suit.

I went into the bathroom and got a glass of water. In the bedroom, Sid rolled over onto his back. I sprinkled a few drops onto his chest.

“Try it again,” he mumbled, not knowing what he was saying.

I did.

“Where is she? Where is she?”

I flicked water into his face. He grimaced, rubbed at it, then slowly opened his eyes and sat up.

I turned my back quickly.

“Della?” he mumbled fuzzily.

“It’s me, Lisa.”

“I must have fallen asleep.” He yawned, then sounded a lot more alert. “Why am I wet? And turn around. I’m covered.”

And not one hair on his head was out of place. Even when he sleeps, it stays perfect.

I turned around. “I’m sorry. There’s a sheriff’s investigator out there who wants to talk to you. He insisted I wake you up.” I put the glass of water on the nightstand.

“Cops?” He picked his pocket watch up off the nightstand and squinted at it. “It’s almost four a.m. What the hell is he doing here?”

“I don’t know. I asked, but he won’t answer.”

“Alright. Tell him I’ll be out as soon as I get something on.”

I nodded and left.

“He’ll be out in a minute,” I announced shutting the room.

“Lisa!” gasped a tall sandy-haired uniform officer.

Jimmy Roth had been one of the seven or so kids I mostly hung out with in high school. We’d lost touch shortly after graduation.

“Jimmy,” I gasped back. “You’re a cop?”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s called making a living with a sociology degree. What are you doing here?”

“Shacking up,” sniggered Lehrer.

“I’m sleeping in the other room,” I snapped. Blushing, I looked at Jimmy. “I’m here with my boss.”

“Why aren’t you staying at your folks’ place?”

“They’re out of town.”

Lehrer looked more closely at me. “You’re local.”

“Was,” I said.

“Bill Wycherly’s her dad,” said Jimmy.

“Well, I’ll be,” muttered Lehrer.

Sid came out of the bedroom in a robe provided by the hotel, and it was a safe bet, nothing else. It had probably taken him all that time to find it.

“What can I do for you?” he asked calmly.

“You Sid Hackbirn?” demanded Lehrer.

“Yes.”

“Investigator Lehrer, Officer Roth, Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. What time did you get back to your room tonight?”

“Roughly ten p.m.”

“I understand you were not alone.”

“No.” Sid was acting completely bored.

“Who was she?”

Sid smiled. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Real cute,” Lehrer sneered. “I’m investigating a crime here.”

“Obviously. Which crime?”

“The murder of Ms. Della Riordan.”

I crossed myself. Sid stared at Lehrer.

“Della?” he whispered. “What happened?”

Completely satisfied, Lehrer read from his notebook. “At approximately two a.m., a room service waiter and some of the other guests heard a gun shot. The waiter saw someone leaving Ms. Riordan’s room in a big hurry. The waiter investigated and found Ms. Riordan’s body in her room. One of her co-workers, who had an adjacent room and also heard the shot, said Ms. Riordan accompanied you to this room around ten. That’s why we’re here.”

Sid sank slowly onto the couch.

“You’ve confirmed the times,” I said coolly. “Now will you please excuse us?”

“Not so fast,” snapped Lehrer. “The suspect was wearing a tan overcoat, and I just happened to notice a tan overcoat hanging in that closet there. I’d like to look around here a little more closely.”

“If a tan overcoat is the only probable cause you’ve got, then you’re on very shaky ground,” I growled, hanging onto my temper with both fists. “That overcoat has been hanging there since six thirty this evening. As for searching the room, we will be happy to let you once we have been duly served with a search warrant.”

“Listen, lady, I can make life plenty tough for you.”

“That goes two ways, Investigator.”

Lehrer glared at me, then left. Jimmy looked after him then back at me.

“Lisa,” he said, worried. “It doesn’t pay to get on Lehrer’s bad side. He’s a real S.O.B., and he plays tough.”

“So do I, Jimmy.”

Jimmy looked at me funny. “You’ve really changed, Lisa.”

“In some ways. Haven’t we all?”

“I’d better get going. Listen, uh, call me, huh? I just got married two months ago.”

“Congratulations. Anyone I know?”

“Nah. A girl I met at Sacramento State.” Jimmy swallowed. “You’d like her. See you.”

He hurried out. Sighing, I turned to Sid, still sitting in shock on the sofa.

“Sid?” I asked softly.

He glanced at me, then shook his head.

“She’s dead,” he said quietly. “We made love. God, it was better than anything I remember, and…”

He swallowed. I sat down next to him and put my hand on his shoulder.

“Sid, go ahead and let your grief out. I’m here.”

He looked at me and laid his hand on my knee.

“Thanks, but I’ll be fine. I know you’re just trying…” His voice broke, then he recovered. “Just trying to help, but I’ll be okay. Really. I will.”

“It’d be a shame if you didn’t shed a few tears for the one woman you really loved.”

He shook his head. “I don’t cry, Lisa. I just don’t.” His eyes closed and he swallowed. “Oh, Christ, I just rolled over and fell asleep.”

I put my arms around him and held him as the grief took over. His arms found their way around me and he laid his head on my shoulder. The tears came slowly and the sobs that shook him were silent. I kissed the soft, dark wavy hair.

“Let it out,” I whispered softly and rocked him. “I’m here. Just let it out. It’s alright.”

It was a good long cry. Finally, Sid lifted his head from my shoulder. He sniffed once and wiped the tears from his face.

“I haven’t cried since I was a small child,” he said, embarrassed by the emotion.

“It’s about time you did then.”

“I don’t know. It’s such a shock.” He paused. “They suspect me, don’t they?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t think Jimmy does, and Lehrer’s just too taken with his own self-importance. I’m going to file a complaint tomorrow.”

Sid took a deep breath. “We’ve also got some equipment to dispose of.”

“That’s right. All those guns we have won’t look too good.”

“We’ll have to be very careful about how we sneak them out. We can’t get caught with them on us. Damn it. I hate working unarmed.”

“Let’s not worry about it now. The courts don’t open ‘til ten, and the nearest one is in Carson City, I think. Lehrer won’t be able to do anything until after that. We’d better get back to bed. It’s been a long day, and sure as shooting, tomorrow will be just as long.”

Sid yawned. “You mean today.”

I got up and stretched. “Come on.”

I pulled him up off the couch and pushed him to his room. He stopped at the door.

“Lisa, will you just hold me?”

I did. He shook ever so slightly, then rested. I almost didn’t want him to let me go. When he did, he put his hand on my cheek.

“Lisa, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Sid. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Lisa.”

I reached over and kissed his cheek, then went back to bed.

Sid let me sleep until seven thirty before banging on my door to get me to go running. Sid runs for an hour every morning and it’s only on rare occasions that he lets me out of running with him. He was waiting for me when I finally stumbled out of my room in my warm up suit. I yawned and stretched.

“How are you feeling?” I asked softly.

“Better,” he replied. “Fortunately, I’ve got other things to concentrate on. Let’s get going.”

His warm up suit looked pretty bulky, but I wasn’t going to say anything.

“You know any place on the California side where we can run along the lakefront?” he asked as we went down the elevator.

“Not really. We could try the marina, but you don’t really get any long stretches.”

“Damn. I was hoping we could do this in California.”

Downstairs, we found the Mercedes ourselves and drove up Highway 50 a ways further into Nevada. Sid parked near a stand of pines.

“I don’t get it,” I said, following him to the back of the car. “Where are we going to put everything?”

“In the car.” He opened the trunk.

“But the search warrant will probably cover that, too.”

Sid smiled. “That doesn’t mean he’ll find anything.”

He felt for a minute under the rim.

“Got it.” The floor of the trunk popped up. “Behold, my dearest ice maiden, a very good false bottom.”

“That’s pretty neat,” I said smiling.

Sid double checked for passersby. There were none. He removed the warm up top. Underneath was all our equipment: two model thirteen revolvers with shoulder holsters, two twenty-two automatics with leg straps, lock picks, a miniature camera, two pairs of night binoculars, the transmitters and receivers, even a roll of silver duct tape.

“I left the strapping tape in your purse,” said Sid handing it all to me. “And the viewer and the bug finder. We can explain those. Get this put away while I get my top back on. We don’t want someone to see me like this.”

“That and it’s cold out here.”

Our breath made little clouds, while in the sky, big clouds, some dark and threatening, floated across. Sid zipped up the front of his top and put his keys in his pocket.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “We won’t run too long.”

We were both a little tense as we stretched out. Neither of us is very fond of guns or using them. But being without them and on a job was pretty unnerving. We weren’t completely unarmed. Both of us had a fair amount of equipment stashed in the soles of our shoes, and we both hid things in our hair, but it didn’t have quite the same security firepower did.

There was also that pick up to check out. It was still in my purse. I had checked for it the night before and hadn’t seen anything. That didn’t mean it wasn’t there. I hadn’t looked very hard, and my purse is huge and things get lost in it. I figured Sid must have seen it when he got my gun and had decided that it wasn’t anything suspicious. I decided to wait until he brought it up.

Back at the hotel, Sid called room service while I was in the shower. I know because the door buzzed just as I finished dressing and there was the waiter with breakfast. The tip was on the coffee table. The waiter put it all on the conference table and left with a smile on his face.

“Is that breakfast?” Sid called as I said grace in five seconds.

“Yep.” I helped myself to fresh fruit salad.

“I’ll be there in a minute. Do me a favor and don’t start eating without me.”

“Too late.” I took advantage of Sid’s absence to spread the butter extra thick on the whole wheat toast.

“Lisa, must you inhale everything within reach?”

“Not everything.” I drained my glass of orange juice. “I’m leaving you your prune juice.”

“Very funny.”

“I thought so.”

“Just leave me something to eat, will you?”

“Don’t worry. I will. What I wouldn’t do for a bowl of Lucky Charms right now.”

The door to Sid’s bedroom opened, and he stood in the doorway wearing a dark pinstriped three-piece suit with a white shirt and dark tie. The only thing marring his appearance was the look of utter disgust on his face.

“In the first place, Lisa, if you are going to make an offer like that, the least you could do is make it for something a lot more worthwhile, or at minimum, more palatable. In the second, must you turn my stomach so early in the morning?”

I shrugged and picked up my glass of milk. “Yuck! This is warm.”

It was also non-fat, which I’ll drink, but I don’t like it.

“With all the fussing you do over waste, I’d think twice about leaving it.”

I held my breath and swallowed. “This stuff is bad enough cold. Warm, it’s positively vile.”

I checked my watch. It was a little after nine. We had an appointment with the hotel manager at nine thirty.

Sid ate, completely distracted.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Fine,” he replied, coming alert.

“Anything special you want to focus on during the meeting?”

He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his temple.

“I suppose I’d better start thinking about that.”

“You want to reschedule it?”

“There’s no point in it.” He opened his eyes.

“Thinking about Della?”

“Yes and no. I’m thinking about that pickup. I can’t help wondering if Della’s murder isn’t somehow connected to that job we’re supposed to do.” He got out his pocket watch and popped it open. A soft smile crept onto his lips as he checked the time to the quiet tinkling of the music box. “Why don’t we go over the notes for the interview one more time? And remember, if you have any questions or ideas, I want you to make sure you ask.”

“Right.”

I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Sid usually does his interviews by himself, although I get stuck transcribing the tapes. But this time was different. When the Tahoe job came up the week before, he mentioned that having a legitimate reason to be up there wouldn’t be a bad idea. So we brainstormed out some article ideas, and I came up with one on how the casino was doing a lot to support arts and other community projects in the area. Sid really liked it, made a couple calls and had the article sold within an hour.

Then he insisted that I work on it, too, partly to make my presence more legitimate and partly because it was my idea, and well, I’d been doing some writing myself and was doing okay. [You were doing very well – SEH]  Sid had been helping me a lot, but this was the first time we were technically collaborating.

I got out the file and the cassette recorder from my purse. I handed the file to Sid, then went rooting around for the batteries. Instead, I found an index card and a box about the same size wrapped in brown paper. I pulled them out.

“Sid, don’t you think these look a little suspicious?”

He looked over at the box. “Where did that come from?”

“My purse. Didn’t you see it when you got my gun this morning?”

“There are some things no man in his right mind will do, and one of them is examine the contents of a woman’s purse. I grabbed the gun and got out.” He took the card and box. “There’s a cipher on this. Looks like you’ve got a meeting tonight. He says he can’t afford to play guessing games, so it’s got to be you. It’s at one forty-five a.m. at a place called Road Show.”

“Oh, help.”

“You know it?” He tore the card into tiny pieces and stuck them in his pants pocket.

“Everybody knows the Road Show. No one would be caught dead there, but we all know it.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a bar down in Meyers, basically Tahoe’s version of the wrong side of the tracks. A lot of truckers hang out there.”

Sid grimaced. “Sounds lovely. Well, we’ll have to table the logistics on this until later. We’ve got some interviews to do.”

“What about the package? We can’t leave it with Lehrer coming.”

“We’ll just have to find a place to hide it.”

“But where?”

“For the moment, where you found it. We’ll find someplace else as we go.”

“Terrific.” I put the box in my purse, my enthusiasm at a very low ebb.

Mr. Fred Jackson, the hotel manager, was middle-aged with sandy hair, a nice tan, and a trim figure. He greeted us congenially and made no objection to taping the interview.

“I just wish I could give you a little more time,” he said. “Something came up with the office staff last night.”

“Really? What?” asked Sid.

“Oh, nothing big. The cleaning staff is supposed to be out of here by ten at night, and they were goofing off again. It throws the security people off.”

Sid mused. “Must be pretty tight up here.”

Jackson chuckled. “Tight enough. But we’re a lot more worried about all the cash downstairs. Mostly, the guards just have to wait for the cleaning staff to get out so they can lock up the offices. Listen, why don’t you two make yourselves comfortable? Would you like some coffee? Tea? Mineral water?”

“Mineral water sounds good,” said Sid. “Thank you.”

“Miss Wycherly?”

I swallowed a yawn. “A cup of tea would be great. Thanks.”

“Great. I’ll be right back.”

He left quickly. I took the box out of my purse and looked for a good place to hide it.

“Lisa, caffeine is a drug,” Sid said, scowling as he dumped the pieces of the card he’d torn up into Jackson’s waste basket.

“At the moment, I need it. I don’t know how you’re managing with so little sleep. Behind here?” I pointed to a small Native American statue on a shelf next to a window.

“Sure. Let’s just hope Lehrer serves us quickly and we can get back here today.” He turned out his pocket to be sure he’d gotten all of the torn-up pieces out.

“If we can’t, I only saw a couple surveillance cameras, and they were pointed at the file cabinets.”

“Let’s keep an eye out for any others.”

Jackson came back at that point, and we did our interview. It was close to ten thirty when Lehrer showed with the search warrant.

“Now hold on here, Carl,” said Jackson. “I don’t want you harassing my guests.”

“I’ve got the warrant,” said Lehrer. “Due process is being served. Come on, you two.”

We went down to our suite. Two uniform cops, one a young woman, were already going through the sitting room.

“I want these two patted down,” ordered Lehrer. He went into Sid’s room.

“Okay, hands on your head,” said the young man.

Bored, Sid did as he was told, and the young officer went over him. The woman came up to me. I nervously put my hands on my head. Sid smiled at the woman.

“Aren’t you going to pat me down?” he asked her, his eyes twinkling.

“Only on my own time,” she replied with an amiable grin.

“You’re clean,” said the young man to Sid.

“What’s your name?” Sid asked the young woman.

“Marcia Alwitz.”

Lehrer came back into the sitting room. “You two take the room apart. I want to look at his car.”

“I’ll take you down,” said Sid. He winked at Marcia. “Let me know when you’re off.”

She chuckled, then went over me quickly.

“Doesn’t that bother you?” she asked as she finished. “Purse.”

I handed it to her. “What?”

“Him picking up on me like that. I mean, I know he was only joking.”

“Oh, he was serious.”

Shaking her head, Marcia emptied the purse out onto the conference table.

“Sheez. If my boyfriend did that to me, I’d drop him on his can so fast his eyeballs’d spin right out of their sockets.”

Her partner laughed. “That’s if he was lucky.”

I checked the name on his badge. It was Shockney.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I sighed. “I just work for him.”

“That’s not what Lehrer says,” snickered Shockney.

“Hey,” growled Marcia. “It’s bad enough the guy’s suspected of murder.”

“He didn’t do it,” I said. “He loved Della.”

“Don’t worry,” said Marcia. “Lehrer’s just got some ax to grind is all. They haven’t got a thing on your boss. The waiter said the suspect was tall and dressed real ratty.”

“Great, Marcia,” said Shockney. “Discuss the case with the suspects.”

“Have you found anything?” she returned. “Do you honestly think we’re going to?”

She had her hand on my bug finder, only it looks like a beeper, so she paid it no mind. Shockney tossed a pillow back onto the couch.

“This is pointless,” he grumbled and went into my room.

Marcia swept all my stuff back into my purse. A few minutes later, Lehrer and Sid returned. Lehrer was not happy.

“Find anything on her?” he snarled at Marcia.

“‘Fraid not, sir,” she replied.

“Where’s Shockney?”

Marcia pointed. Lehrer went into my room. Marcia smiled at Sid.

“I’m told you weren’t joking,” she said.

“I do and I don’t,” he said, his smile lecherous.

“Sid, must you?” I groaned.

He sighed, then smiled at Marcia. “We’ll talk later.”

Lehrer stomped out of my room grumbling. He glared at Sid and me.

“You’re clean. I don’t know how the hell you did it, but you’re clean.”

“It might be because we didn’t do anything,” said Sid.

“You’re not off the hook yet,” said Lehrer. “And I’d watch the smart remarks, Hackbirn. You’ll only make trouble for yourself.”

He nodded at Shockney and Marcia, and they left. Sid took a deep breath in the silence that followed. He pulled his pocket watch out and popped it open. The tinkling of Bach’s Minuet in G slowly eased the tension in the room. He smiled softly, letting it play, then popped it shut.

“We’ve got just enough time to make our next interview,” he said. “Let’s go.”

We spent the rest of the morning interviewing the president of the Lake Tahoe Cultural Arts Alliance, then various other civic group leaders. All of them knew my parents, and several knew me.

“What I want to know, Lisa,” asked my old drama teacher, who also ran the community theater company, “is what is all this nonsense I’m hearing about you and that murder in Stateline last night?”

I looked over at Sid. He shifted but remained calm.

“It’s a long story,” I said. “Sid and I really didn’t have anything to do with it. It was just bad luck that the victim was… Well, she and Sid had been visiting.”

Mrs. Roberts gave Sid the once over and smiled. “Oh.”

“Why don’t we start with how the casino has been helping your group?” said Sid.

That, more or less, kept her distracted, and the subject didn’t come up again.

We tried meeting up with Mr. Jackson at the hotel around one, but he swept us out of his office and took us to lunch in his private dining room. After we finished eating, Jackson shook our hands and explained he had other business and went running off. We went back to the suite.

“Just great,” grumbled Sid.

“I guess we’ll just have to break in and get the box,” I said.

“Yeah. That’s only one more thing to worry about.”

“We’ve got it pretty well staked out. It shouldn’t be too bad, and I brought my break in pants.”

“But there’s always that element of risk, and on top of that, there’s that dive where the meeting is.”

“Now that’s going to be problematic. I’m going to have to drive there, but if you still want your Mercedes, I don’t recommend parking it in that lot.”

“Is it that rough?” Sid frowned, and I wasn’t sure if he was more worried about me or his car. [You could defend yourself, the Mercedes couldn’t – SEH]

I shrugged. “It is, in a way. It’s a dirt parking lot, and with the rain we’ve had, it’s probably mud now. And the clientele, if they don’t drive eighteen wheelers, they drive four by four’s. A slick foreign machine like that four fifty SL is just begging to get hit.”

“And even if it wasn’t, it would undoubtedly attract attention. Why don’t you rent a car?”

I shook my head. “Why would I? I have yours, and we’ve been driving all over the place, so there’s no way I could say we don’t. Even if they don’t recognize me at the rental place, they know my name.”

“Which has been all over the place with Della’s murder.” Sid paced. “But where are we going to get a second set of wheels?”

“I’d suggest saying your car isn’t starting, but then everyone would wonder why we don’t take it to one of the local garages. They’re already wondering why I’m not staying at my folks’ place as it is. Wait.” I sat up and got my keys out of my purse. “I am, at long last, vindicated.”

“What?” Sid looked at me.

I jangled the fully loaded ring at him. “You have made your final cut on all my keys. On this ring are the keys to my parents’ store, house, garage, truck, and jeep, namely, our second set of wheels.”

“Wouldn’t people recognize your parents’ cars?”

“Not necessarily.” I grinned. “There must a couple hundred white jeeps in this valley alone. And it’s got to be there. Mama and Daddy flew out according to Mae.”

Sid mused. “Can you get it without anyone knowing?”

“No sweat. Neff and Mary are the closest neighbors, and they live on the other side of the horse barns. One of the guests might hear something, but I doubt they’d do anything, and the house is set a good ways off from them anyway.”

“I guess you’re on then.” Sid paced. “I’ll help you break into the office, but then you’ll have to go the rest of the way by yourself.”

“Why don’t I just pull the break in by myself? If you’re there, it’s just another person to get caught.”

“I suppose. I’ll take care of getting your guns and the lockpicks. I don’t want you unarmed.”

I sighed.

“I know you don’t like it,” said Sid. “But I don’t want anything to happen to you, Lisa. You be very careful.”

“You be careful, too. I don’t want to end up filing for unemployment again.”

Sid smiled at me. “You’ll never have to worry about that again.”

“I suppose the business can keep me, but I’ll have to find some sort of visible job. I can’t very well work for you if you’re dead.”

Sid started pacing again.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to be so blunt. I know you don’t like thinking about it.”

“I have to occasionally.” He stopped and sat down next to me. “Lisa, if something happens to me, I’ve seen to it that you will be provided for, so you’ll never have to worry about unemployment or a visible job again.”

I got up. “Sid, I was just joking. What I meant was that I care about you and that I don’t want to see anything happen to you. So, don’t go and do something silly.”

“A- It’s not something silly. I’ve got to leave it to somebody, and B-…” He looked away. “It’s already done. It’s been done for a long time. You’re not getting all of it. I’ve got a couple charities and a friend or two, and you will be required to pay for educating your sister’s kids so they won’t have to worry. But you are the primary beneficiary.”

“I don’t want to be, Sid.”

“Well, you are. Admittedly, it’s not until after I’m gone.”

“I don’t want it. Sid, if something happened to you, I’d be crushed. But I don’t want your will hanging over me while you’re alive. I appreciate the thought, really, I do. I just don’t feel right taking your money.”

“Who else am I going to leave it to? I don’t have any relatives.”

“What about your aunt?”

“Stella? Hell, no. I’m not going to leave my money to someone who A- doesn’t need it because I found out she received a similar bequest, B- never wanted me in the first place, C- absolutely refuses to see or talk to me; you wouldn’t believe what a time I had just getting her lawyer to let me know when she dies; and D- could very well die before I do anyway, our business notwithstanding.” Sid got up and laid his hand on my shoulder. “Lisa, I’m not saying you should be dancing on my grave. But if you’ll excuse the Republican attitude, if you don’t get it, the government will, and they’re already taking too much now, not to mention the chunk they’ll take when you do get it. Besides, you’re the only person I’ve ever really been close to. Even Della, who got closer than anyone, wasn’t as close to me as you are. I care about you tremendously. Things happen too easily in our business. I don’t want to see you left out in the cold, especially when you could be comfortable.”

I flopped onto the couch. “You don’t understand, Sid. I don’t want to be a kept woman. If I’m going to have a fortune, I want to earn it myself.”

“I didn’t earn mine.”

“Maybe when the time comes, I’ll feel differently. Right now, I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

He smiled softly. “Sometimes I wish you would.”

“Are you insinuating again?”

“No.” Mischief lit up his face. “But I could.”

Relieved that the more serious moment had passed, I decided to try something I’d been thinking about doing for some time.

“You could try sitting next to me,” I suggested coyly, or what I hoped was coyly.

“Why?” Sid was suspicious, and well he should have been. But he walked over.

“Because.”

“This is not a come on.”

“Never.”

“And you say you don’t believe in teasing.”

“It depends on what kind.”

“So, what do you want?”

“A little something.” I patted the couch next to me.

He sat down really close. “Maybe a little something that I promise will go no further.”

He moved in, his head tilted, his lips just barely parted.

“Maybe not!” I yelled, messing up his hair.

Sid bounced back. “What? What the hell did you just do?”

He got up and went straight for the mirror. “Lisa, what in heaven’s name is this? I don’t get it. Where’s my brush, damn it.”

“Here, use mine.” I got my vent brush out of my purse and tossed it to him.

He caught it, looking at me like a wounded puppy.

“Are you mad at me?” I asked, suddenly uncertain.

He slid his little piece of spring steel out, then brushed everything into place.

“No,” he said finally. He tossed the brush back to me and replaced the steel, with a sneaky little smile. “I don’t get mad. I get even.”

I nodded and got up. “I think I’ll take a nap.”

I went to my room, making sure I had all my personal belongings in there with me and bolted the door. Sid’s ability with locks is such that it was technically pointless, but I was hoping he’d respect the gesture.

I woke up around five, really hungry. [The sound you hear is me biting my tongue – SEH]  After putting on some jeans and a sweater and grabbing my purse, I went into the sitting room to look for Sid. I found him in front of the door to the suite, necking with some woman I’d never seen before. At least they were dressed.

“Uh, Sid?” I asked.

She jumped and yelped. Sid, the slob, took it all in stride.

“Hello, Lisa,” he said smiling. “This is Doreen. Doreen, Lisa, my secretary.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

“Same,” said Doreen, still recovering from her shock.

“Is there anything you need, Lisa?” asked Sid.

“Yeah. Dinner.”

Sid bit his tongue. We have an agreement that we don’t make fun of each other in front of his girlfriends.

“Um, I’m sorry, but I wasn’t sure when you were getting up, and…” He glanced at Doreen.

“I’ll go by myself,” I said, then nodded at the door and Sid and Doreen in front of it. “If you guys will just excuse me.”

“Oh.” Sid gently escorted Doreen out of the way. “By all means. Excuse us.”

I couldn’t help being disgusted by Sid’s super smooth persona, but I had to admit it was one of the things I had originally liked about him. I guess I knew him too well to buy it anymore.

There’s a coffee shop next door to the hotel that offers dirt cheap meals in the hopes that patrons will leave lots of change in their slot machines. I paid for the more expensive chili burger, partly because I love them and partly because I wanted to get Sid back.

I had just tucked in when Fletcher Haddock slid into the booth across from me.

“I’ve been looking for you all day,” he said.

“I’ve been working.”

“Well, of course. Look, I want to apologize for last night.”

I didn’t answer.

“I understand if you don’t want to talk to me anymore,” he continued, just this side of pathetic. “I really am a nice guy. You know how these places can get to you. I really wasn’t going to try anything.”

I shook my head. “Fletcher, do we have to go through this B.S.?”

“I’m serious. I’m not trying to put the moves on you.”

“You know, if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that line from a guy, I’d have more money than my boss.” I glared at him. “Did it ever occur to you guys that you might get a little respect if you were just upfront about the whole thing? You’re not going to get any, anyway.”

Fletcher got out a business card from his sports jacket.

“I’d like to start over again,” he said, scribbling on the back. “That’s my home phone on the back. If you ever want to just talk. Maybe you’re in trouble or something. Give me a call.”

He put the card next to my plate. I glared at it. But inside, I was puzzled. Why had he said that bit about being in trouble? He left. I put the card in my purse.

I slummed around the casino for a bit, but I knew I was going to have to go back to the room and change for the break in. I got there around eight, and the radio was on in the other room. I turned on the TV in my bedroom and turned it up loud.

I don’t know what time Doreen left. Sid knocked on my door at eleven thirty and helped me get together everything I needed for the break in. I wore the special black pants I’d made with lots of extra pockets, which carried the case of lock picks and a miniature flashlight, and a long sleeved white shirt, with a dark ski jacket. I also had on my shoulder holster and my twenty-two strapped to my shin. In the pockets of my jacket were black kid leather gloves, a dark all over ski mask, and my key ring. My feet were clad in my armored running shoes, the ones with all sorts of goodies hidden in the soles.

“Go get ’em,” said Sid as I opened the suite door.

He paused for a second, then lightly punched my arm.

Sliding around the view of the surveillance cameras was more nerve-wracking than difficult. Getting the door to Mr. Jackson’s office open was not easy, but then I’m not that good with locks. I slid in and found the room faintly lit by the lights outside. The little box was right where I’d left it. I stashed it in my pants and left.

I got the Mercedes out of the parking lot and headed for California. The streets were still pretty crowded, which wasn’t surprising. I checked for a tail and found none.

It only took a few minutes to get to my parents’ resort. I parked the Mercedes in a dark corner of the guest lot, next to the creek. I circled around the horse barn, keeping my distance. The horses still nickered and raised a mild fuss, the sort we usually blamed on cats. I had to pass pretty close to several guest cabins. A late arrival in number three was just bedding down. Number one had a party going, with people spilling out the door. I made another wide circle. The moment I stepped into my parents’ yard, Murbles and Richmond, my parents’ two over-sized mutts started barking like crazy. I slid to the front door.

“Murbles, Richmond, quiet!” I commanded.

They yipped and whined, and I could hear them sniffing at the door. I went over to the garage, digging out my keys. It took a minute to find the padlock key, and by that time, I could see two flashlights coming my way. I ran back to the house.

Murbles and Richmond started up again as I unlocked the door. I slid in and got pounced on. They were delighted to see me.

“Down!” I hissed. “Shut up! Quiet.”

They quieted. I scratched their heads trying to listen out front. It was Neff and Mary, alright. They’re the elderly couple who have been caretaking for my parents since they first bought the place. Daddy’s offered them retirement, but they keep saying no. They prefer working.

“What do you think, Neff?” Mary’s voice asked.

A flashlight’s beam passed across the front windows.

“The dogs are quiet. I don’t see any sign of a break-in,” said Neff. “It was probably one of those kids in number one.”

“But the horses were spooked. I think we ought to check inside.”

“What for? Nobody’s gotten in that I can see. You’re just being skittish, honey.”

“I don’t mean to be, but with all that trouble in Nevada.”

“That can be explained.”

“I just don’t understand…”

Their voices faded out as they returned to their place. I waited, disgusted. It figured Mary would have heard the dogs. She’s a nervous woman to begin with, which is why I usually avoid her and Neff. She always makes me feel like I’m about to break something, and complains constantly when I’m around. Of course, when I don’t make a point of visiting her right away, she acts hurt until I do.

I waited about ten minutes before leaving the house. It was getting very close to one fifteen, which didn’t leave much time for getting down to Meyers. I got the garage open, and let the jeep roll down the drive. I had originally planned on starting the jeep in the garage to make sure it was running, but I didn’t want Mary getting her back up again. After closing the garage door, I tried the engine. It roared to life without a problem.

I have to admit, my mouth was dry and my hands were all but shaking as I pulled up to the Road Show. In other communities, kids terrorize each other with haunted houses. With all the gold mining ghosts, those were no big deal to us. We had the Road Show for horror stories, and there was no doubt that it was real.

It looks like any roadside dive you’ve ever seen, with a cheap white lighted sign in front, and big rigs and four by fours in the lot. There may be a sedan or two, but you can bet they’re American made or they don’t have windows.

I found a straw cowboy hat in the backseat of the jeep and put it on, pulling the brim down over my face. Inside, was dim, with red lights, and noisy and filled with cigarette smoke. Two heavy guys wearing flannel plaid shirts were playing pool, the cracks in their behinds showing every time they bent over for a shot. What few women were there wore western shirts open to expose their cleavage and tight jeans. The men wore their toughness like a red flag. I caught more than a few furtive, calculating stares.

They were mostly white with a few Hispanics, so I was surprised when my arm was tapped by a young black man, also in a flannel shirt and jeans. He was also the bartender in the Keno Lounge.

“Out back,” he muttered at me and went to the bar.

I looked around once more, then left and headed around to behind the building, stepping over another flannel-shirted man face down in the mud. A friend of his groaned and wretched.

The bartender was waiting for me.

“You Little Red?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Tom Collins, Division 11B.” Which was a CIA division.

I swallowed. “Why aren’t you overseas?”

He chuckled. “You got need to know on this?”

“No,” I sighed.

“It’s a domestic division. We coordinate with our overseas operatives when something starts over there and winds up here.”

“Then why are we being pulled in?”

“I may have been spotted.”

I nodded. “That’s what we heard. What’s going down?”

“There’s an enemy transponder up here. Somebody, probably local, is getting in secrets from the Bay area and uploading the info to a Soviet spy satellite. The problem is that the signal is real random and the transponder is mobile, so we can’t pin it down. He’s getting the stuff in through some hired help, and we figured we could use the recreation goods group that’s meeting here this weekend as cover. That’s why you’re here now.”

“Let me guess. Our job is to flush the sender and his people out.”

“Exactly. We’ve tracked the secrets to Sunland Products.”

“Oh, my god. The murder.”
“Yeah, it may not have been so coincidental. Which means we need to know who killed Della Riordan and why. And it gets better. The transponder was ours.”

“Oh. So someone’s selling out.”

“Was selling out. We got her, just not before she’d passed the transponder and a bunch of other equipment on. We just don’t know to who, just that it was up in this area.”

“Great. So, what do you want done with the box you dropped last night?”

He looked at me. “What box?”

“The box I found in my purse with the card.”

“I just dropped the card.”

“I see.” About as well as Stevie Wonder. “Alright. You got anything else for us?”

“Not at the moment. You can make contact with me at the Keno Lounge.”

“It’ll have to be code two. This job’s going to be tricky enough, with me being a local.”

He gaped. “What?”

“I grew up here. Someone up top goofed, either that or they figured my nice girl image would cover up a lot. You said an operative no one will begin to suspect.”

“That stinks.” [Is that really what he said? – SEH]  “Alright. We’ll avoid contact as much as possible, and I’m stepping out of the picture completely.”

“Fine. Um. Later.”

I went back to the parking lot. The bar was just emptying, and not a few of the patrons were fighting with each other. It was tricky getting the jeep out of the lot and up the highway in one piece around all those drunks, but I did and replaced it in my parents’ garage without trouble. The dogs started barking again, but the party in number one was still going, so Neff and Mary didn’t show.

The radio was going in the other room when I let myself back into the suite. The coat closet was open, too, and next to Sid’s overcoat hung a green bomber jacket with a patch on the shoulder that read Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy.

Anne Louise Bannon

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