A Little Family Business is Book Eight in the Operation Quickline series. Lisa and Sid are trying to track down a stolen weapons cache. They had enough trouble figuring out how to be a couple. Now, they’re a family. You can read the first chapter here, and follow all the chapters here.
The next few days went by in a blur. There was so much to do, and poor Nick’s heart was so heavy.
Rachel had brought Nick to meet Sid in February 1984. But late the prior fall, in November 1983, Rachel’s mother had died suddenly of a heart attack. Sid and I had good reason to believe that Nick’s grandmother had been the one primarily raising him, and the two had been close. For Nick to lose his mother only a year and a half later must have been utterly overwhelming.
There were phone calls to be made. Jesse agreed to continue taking care of our cats and Motley. He also offered to pick up our mail and send it overnight to us every couple of days, along with some of the files that we were working on. I hated asking for the files, but the truth was, Sid and I still had deadlines to stay on top of. Mae, when I called her, was properly scandalized at Rachel forcing Nick to keep her illness secret. I bit back my response because I didn’t want to say anything bad about Rachel when Nick could possibly hear. I also felt guilty about making Nick keep Sid’s and my secret, but it couldn’t be helped.
Sid was really nervous about calling Henry but needed to let Henry know that we were going to be out of town for however long. He did not want to tell Henry that we were taking custody of Nick.
“You’re going to have to,” I told him the day after Rachel had died. “How are you going to hide it from him that Nick’s around all the time?”
Sid sighed. “I know. I just do not want to get put on Code Five status. Crap, that’s boring work.” He paused. “But Nick is more important.”
I got on the extension while Sid made the call.
Henry got on. “Hello, Benedick, the married man.”
It was a joke I had made, based on the play Much Ado About Nothing.
Sid cleared his throat. “Henry, there’s a problem.”
“What?” Henry’s voice immediately became serious.
“Lisa and I are going to be stuck in Sunnyvale for several days. I’m not sure how many.”
“Sunnyvale. That’s where Nick lives, isn’t it? Are you trying to get custody of him?”
Sid growled. “No. I am taking custody. I don’t really have much choice. His mother passed away yesterday.”
“I’m so sorry, Sid. That must be rough on him.”
“It is. We still have that case with Cat’s Cradle to work, though.”
“Yeah. You’re going to need to check in with Blue Shield. Wait, she’s up in the Bay Area. You can do it while you’re there.”
“But what about Nick?” Sid sounded really confused, and in truth, so was I.
“What about him?”
“Aren’t you going to put us on Code Five status or something?”
Henry laughed. “I couldn’t if I wanted to.”
“But he’s a kid.”
“Sid, I raised my two boys working this business. I know of at least three people in our line whose spouses and kids have no idea what they really do. Yeah, you’re right to be concerned. I spent a lot of time worrying that my kids would accidentally give me away, that someone would come after them, that I wouldn’t be there for them. But people fall in love and create children. These things happen. Just tell Nick as little as possible. He’s old enough to keep his mouth shut.”
“And you can get it cleared upline?”
“It’s been cleared. We set it up when Nick first showed, just in case.” Henry sighed. “Let me guess, you’ve been agonizing about it all this time.”
“We both have. Bringing a kid into this business…”
“It’s scary. But I do wish you’d said something sooner. I could have reassured you, and I probably would have told you to wait to take custody until you had to. Well, you have to now. It won’t be easy, but you’ll figure it out. Let me know what’s going on when you talk to Blue Shield, okay? And… I’m sorry to hear about Rachel. I know you two had some problems, but it can’t be easy.”
“No, it’s not.”
They hung up and I met Sid on the stairs.
“That went well,” I said.
“A lot better than I thought.” Sid let his breath out. “Alright. What’s next?”
We needed groceries – there was next to no food in the house. There were more phone calls to be made, not to mention arrangements for the funeral, plus all the legal work, decisions to be made about what to do about the house, and when Nick would be ready to move. Rachel’s friends kept calling, in shock because they’d had no idea she was sick, let alone that sick.
Sid made a point of calling Whiteman, his lawyer, then faxed the will and Rachel’s other papers to him from the local copy store while we were out for groceries.
Then there were Rachel’s two brothers. She also had a sister, but the sister had the decency not to descend on us Monday afternoon assuming that Rachel’s affairs were a mess. Her brothers were not only peeved because they were convinced they would have to clean up whatever mess had been left behind (never mind that there wasn’t one), both had a glint of greed in their eyes as they looked over the living room. Marlou almost collapsed, but Sid just quietly informed them that Rachel’s affairs were perfectly in order, which they were, thank God, and sent them on their way.
Rachel’s will clearly gave Sid custody of Nick, with the bulk of her assets going to her son. Nick and Marlou were to split any profit from the house, however. Marlou had been designated the executor and had been given decision making power over the house, the funeral, and a few other things. The problem was Marlou had been Rachel’s primary caregiver since the end of the previous May, as well as taking care of Nick since early that spring, and the poor woman was completely exhausted, not to mention grieving the loss of her dearest friend.
Sid, because he is that kind of man, took up the burden, making sure to always defer to Marlou. I almost got a little jealous of Marlou, but I do know one thing about Sid and that it is he is kind and caring above all else. It’s one of the things that I love about him.
For my part, I focused on the writing and being close to Nick. The kid was devastated, but at the same time, a little relieved. It had been insanely hard watching his mother decline, and I could see there was part of him that was grateful that it was over, even if he didn’t realize it.
Wednesday morning, over breakfast, the pagers went off. Neither Nick nor Marlou noticed because the pagers only vibrated but Sid and I looked at each other.
“I’ll get it,” I mouthed, then said out loud. “To heck with fruit. I think we need donuts. Anybody have any favorites?”
“What’s that one with the swirls on the side?” Nick asked. “I like the ones with chocolate on the top.”
“French crullers,” I said. “I will do my darnedest to find you some.”
Sid gave me half a glare. He is big on the whole health food thing. I’m not. Nick wasn’t enthused about the health food thing, either. I’d seen a donut shop not far from the housing complex where Rachel’s house was and went there first. I bought four crullers with chocolate on top and a couple bear claws for me. Okay. I eat like a horse and can get away with it somehow. It’s one of those things that baffles Sid, because he can’t. I did wait to eat the bear claws until after I’d found a pay phone and called in. I pronounced the caller code, she gave the receiver code.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I need to set up a meeting with Big Red,” she said. “I’m told you’re here in the Bay Area.”
“Yeah.” She sounded vaguely surprised.
I saw a diner down the street and set up a meeting for lunch at twelve-thirty there. She was happy to meet me.
Sid was not enthused but agreed we couldn’t really refuse. The big problem was Nick.
“What do you mean you’re leaving?” the boy cried, his face dissolving into terror.
I glanced at Sid. “I’ll have the meeting. You can stay with your dad outside.”
“I can come with you?” Nick’s face lightened.
“Of course, son,” Sid said.
Poor Nick. He didn’t realize that going meant an extended lecture on meeting protocols, but that’s what he got. However, I was in the diner at twelve-thirty, enjoying a chicken-fried steak in a booth next to a window overlooking the sidewalk. A woman with light brown hair, neatly styled, and wearing a light-colored linen suit slid into the booth across from me. I couldn’t help smiling. I’d met Blue Shield a couple of times, most memorably, when we’d both been on a case the previous fall.
“Good to see you,” she said.
I grinned. “Always good to see you. I see you survived.”
“You cannot know how glad I am to have gotten that transfer here,” she said.
“I’m so happy for you.” I smiled. “So, what have you got for us?”
“Bupkes.” She handed me the piece of paper back. “I even examined the paper for invisible inks or impressions. If that string of numbers is a code, it is the most evil and contrived I have ever come across. In fact, I don’t think it’s a code. It could be a vehicle identification. It could be a geographic location.”
My eyebrows rose. “What if it’s a geographic location?”
“The problem is there’s no punctuation. Without that, it’s impossible to say where it refers to.”
Blue Shield’s jaw suddenly dropped open, and I realized she was looking outside at the sidewalk. “That’s…”
“Big Red,” I said, slightly puzzled. “I’m Little Red.”
“Oh, right.” She groaned. “I always get you two confused. But wait. He’s dead.”
I laughed. “He most certainly is not. The cops put it out there at the behest of upline that he was. He got out okay.”
Basically, Sid had escaped having his apartment blown up by an enemy, then had his cover blown by upline to distract the KGB agents in the area.
Blue Shield looked out the window again and clearly saw Nick. As I have remarked before, Nick looks a lot like his dad, even with longer hair and wearing glasses.
“You’ve got a kid?”
“He does. A real sweetie, too, I might add.”
Blue Shield’s eyes narrowed. “You know, our systems kid always said you two had a thing for each other.”
I blushed. “Yeah. More than a thing. The wedding’s in March.”
Blue Shield laughed long and loud, then her face sobered. “Wait. How are you dealing with him, you know?”
“Sleeping around? He gave it up last spring.”
“Has he been tested?”
I sighed. “Yes. And we’re waiting to test again, then we’ll worry about me. The reality is, he is at risk, but it’s not as bad as you might think.”
She shuddered. “I live in San Francisco now. I’m a lesbian and I worry about it.”
I reached over and squeezed her hand. “I don’t doubt. But I’m confident we’ll be okay.”
I wished I could have gotten her name and address. That was kind of a problem Sid and I had with our guest list. There weren’t a lot of people associated with our side business that I’d want to invite, but there were a few, and I had no idea what their real names were, nor whether I should reveal Sid’s and my names. Still, I was glad when she left the restaurant with me and said hello to Sid and Nick. Nick looked at us a little strangely when Blue Shield mentioned how glad she was to see Sid alive. Well, Nick didn’t know what that was about and couldn’t.
When we got back to Nick’s house, Whiteman had finally called and left a message to call him. Sid called right away.
“Okay, we’re cleared legally to take Nick home whenever we want,” Sid said to me quietly after dinner, while Nick was occupied with Marlou.
“Yeah, but…” I sighed. “Sid, we’ll be taking him away from everything he knows. All his friends.”
“I know.” Sid’s voice got high and tight. “I’m just hoping like hell a quick, clean break will help. We know he wants to live with us.”
“True.” I closed my eyes. “Oh, shavings! I forgot to call Dr. Heilland’s office to let them know we’ll miss tomorrow.”
“Dr. Heilland.” Sid grinned. “That’s it. We’ll call him first thing tomorrow. We have to cancel anyway. He’s gotta have something we can do.”
Dr. Heilland was a psychologist that Sid and I had been seeing since the previous spring to help us deal with our respective trauma issues. It had been helping, and one of the blessings was that Dr. Heilland had the kind of security clearance that let Sid and I talk about our side business without worrying.
Then Nick asked Sid if they could watch a movie on the VCR and Sid agreed and the two went to choose one from the huge collection of tapes in the TV room. Nick chose The Last Starfighter, which I was happy with. But I was also worried.
Nick had gotten clingy, and it was understandable. He didn’t like being apart from either me or Sid, but he really didn’t like being away from Sid. That, of course, meant that Sid and I had very little time to be alone together.
After the movie ended, Sid insisted that it was time for bed. He was still sleeping in Nick’s room, and I supported that.
“I want to see another movie,” Nick groaned.
“Nick, it’s almost ten and we have to be up early tomorrow,” Sid said, sounding more annoyed than the situation warranted.
The next day was the funeral.
“I don’t care. I’ll be okay.” Nick glared at us.
“Go get ready for bed.” Sid wasn’t just annoyed. He was getting mad and grumpy. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
Nick stomped defiantly upstairs. Sid looked at me.
“We have to expect some acting out,” I said, weakly. “He’s probably getting into the anger phase.”
Sid just grunted. Suddenly, I realized what was driving Sid’s mood and it wasn’t Nick’s grief. In fact, I was feeling the same thing.
“I’d better get upstairs,” Sid said, and left the room.
I followed and went to the guest room and got into my nightgown. I listened for the sounds of Sid and Nick getting ready for bed and sighed. Once they’d left the bathroom, I did all the usual nighttime things and went to the guest room feeling decidedly out of sorts. A half hour later, I was not even close to sleeping when Sid slid into the room.
“It’s about time, but he’s out,” Sid said.
He had on a pair of jeans, and I had good reason to believe nothing else.
“Oh, thank God,” I sighed. I patted the bed next to me. “Sid, I think I owe you an apology.”
He sat down next to me and touched my face. “For what?”
“For all the times I made fun of you for getting grumpy when you were horny and stressed out and couldn’t do anything about it.”
“I think I’m beginning to know how you felt.”
Sid chuckled and kissed me. “We do have to figure this one out. I do not want Nick coming between us.”
“He’s not going to come between us.” I smiled up at Sid. “He’s part of us.”
“Yeah.” Sid’s smile was so tender and sweet. “You’re right.”
The ensuing session helped a lot. But Sid was right. We were going to have to figure out how to deal with our mutual desires and the reality of having Nick around full-time.
The funeral was dismal, and for me, at any rate, it wasn’t that it was a secular service. My friend Rick had died the month before of AIDS and his funeral was secular and had been terribly sad, but still filled with peace or even a bit of joy.
Rachel had chosen to be cremated, which, apparently, had not gone over well with her siblings. Her friends were still trying to figure out how they’d missed the signs that she’d had cancer and given that most of them were in the health industry, you had to give them credit for their befuddlement. It did make Sid and me feel better. However, we were both so worried about Nick, it did not entirely help.
Nick handled it all reasonably well. He did cry several times, and I was glad he did. He decided not to go to the podium to talk about his mother. Rachel’s brothers tried to challenge Sid about taking custody of Nick, but Sid reminded them in that tight, but scary tone of his that meant he was getting seriously angry, about the will and that Sid’s name was on Nick’s birth certificate as the birth father. Rachel’s brothers backed off.
There was a reception at a local restaurant after the funeral, itself. That didn’t last long. When we got back to the house, Marlou told us that she was going to go visit her parents in Walnut Creek, a suburb north of Oakland, but that she’d be back the next day so that we could start packing up Nick’s belongings and whatever else he wanted from his soon to be former home.
It came as no surprise that emotions were running high, making the packing up a difficult and protracted process. Marlou had moved into the house that previous spring to help care for Nick, and into Rachel’s room after Rachel had moved to the hospice center. After checking with Nick, we told Marlou that she could keep anything that Nick didn’t want, then she could either sell or donate the rest, as soon as she was ready to deal with it. Sid also told her that she should stay at the house until it was sold because it’s harder to sell an empty house.
Poor Marlou was still completely exhausted, and again, Sid had to gently help her along. We did have to get home. Besides, Nick knew he was going to have to leave, and I found it hard to believe that it was doing him any good trying to get through his grief with the reality of moving looming over him.
Nick wasn’t much help, either. He’d make a few decisions, then change his mind, then make a few more, then change his mind again. Worse yet, his mood was all over the place. One minute, he’d be smiling at a fond memory, or even laughing. The next, he’d be crying. A few times he got downright surly, and Sid and I had to gently, but firmly, let him know that while we understood he was feeling angry, he was not allowed to be rude or mean.
The problem was, Nick couldn’t find several things that he wanted, such as the Christmas tree ornaments (we’d found the other decorations in the attic) and several of the books he’d had as a small boy. Marlou didn’t think there was a storage unit, and Nick was pretty sure there wasn’t. We did find his baby pictures, fortunately. I also got the feeling that either Rachel or her mother had thrown a lot of Nick’s baby toys and clothes away, because there wasn’t anything like that in the house, anywhere, even among the few boxes I’d found in the attic. Those only held some moldy men’s clothes and a couple empty whiskey bottles. Nick thought the contents had probably belonged to his grandfather, who had abandoned his grandmother when Nick was just a baby.
I also had a tough time getting Nick’s academic records from his prior school, let alone his medical records. It being summer, almost nobody was in the school’s office, although I did finally get through and got an official transcript on Friday. His pediatrician’s office was not much help at all. Because Rachel was a doctor herself, Nick told us that she seldom brought Nick in beyond getting him his vaccinations and the occasional physical. Worse yet, Nick had only seen that doctor a couple times because he’d had another doctor who had retired shortly before his grandmother had died.
We did have a small going away party at a local pizza place for Nick and his friends on Sunday afternoon. I’m glad we did. I made sure to get everyone’s address and phone number so that Nick could keep in touch, but I seriously doubted they would. They weren’t trying to be mean or anything. They were just twelve, which means they weren’t the most sensitive beings in creation. They had no clue what Nick was dealing with and kept chattering about all the cool things they were going to do to finish out the summer and then at school, completely forgetting that Nick would no longer be part of their activities. Nick seemed to take it in stride, though. He talked about how cool his dad’s place was or would be if they ever got it finished. Still, my heart ached for him.
We finished packing on Monday. Tuesday was utter chaos. The movers showed bright and early, and while Sid and I were showing them which items were going to our storage and what few were going to the condo, our pagers went off. Sid insisted on taking his turn over Nick’s protests and left to find a pay phone. In the meantime, I had to supervise because Marlou had gone back to her job at the hospital where Rachel had worked as an emergency room doctor. She said she’d be back in time to get the keys from Nick.
There really wasn’t that much coming down south for us, although most of Nick’s bedroom was. Sid’s and my belongings, and the few things Nick would need in case the movers were not as prompt as they’d promised, were already stowed in the rental car.
Sid returned with less than happy news.
“It’s another meeting,” he grumbled. “This time with a potential suspect. We need to set it up for tomorrow.”
“Terrific,” I muttered back and looked over at Nick. “What are we going to do?”
Sid winced. “Do you mind taking it? You’re the better shot if it goes that way.”
“You’re right.” I reached over and kissed him quickly. “I’ll go set it up and bring back some lunch.”
“We’re going wired and under our alter egos,” Sid added.
I gave him a brief update on where things were with the movers and slipped out.
I came back less than an hour later with hamburgers for Nick and me and a salad for Sid.
Nick’s room was empty by the time Marlou arrived. She looked around, then closed her eyes for a minute.
“This is it, then,” she said softly.
Sid nodded. “Marlou, Lisa and I want you to continue to be a part of Nick’s life.”
“Okay.” Marlou gasped.
I smiled at her. “We love him so much.”
“I know and I’m glad. It’s what Rachel wanted, too.” Marlou sniffed. “I have to admit, the way she talked about the two of you, I had my doubts. But you’ve both been so great.”
“Thanks,” Sid said. “Marlou, feel free to take your time with the house. Given the mortgage, we can’t take forever, but I can spot you a few months.”
“Thanks, Sid. I appreciate it.” She took a deep breath, then reached out to Nick. “Come here, sweetie. Let me give you a hug.”
Nick ran into her arms and sniffed.
The two just held each other for several minutes. Then Nick gave her his keys, took both mine and Sid’s hands, and we walked out the door.
We went up to San Francisco, to the nice little hotel that Sid and I liked, on Powell off Union Square. Sid got us a double room, meaning we had two beds. We checked in as the Devereaux family. Sid went through all of Nick’s belongings and either destroyed or hid anything that had Nick’s real name on it.
“You’re entering into a new life of secrecy,” Sid solemnly told his son. “What keeps us safe is that no one knows who we really are.”
“So, what’s our son’s name?” I asked.
“Do I need one?” Nick asked. “You keep saying we’re not supposed to use each other’s names when you’re working.”
“We’re undercover,” Sid said. “And when you’re undercover, nine times out of ten, what will trip you up are those little details. It would look pretty funny if we didn’t know the name of our own son.”
We both looked at Nick and grinned.
“Don’t I get to pick?” he asked.
“Parents generally name their kids,” Sid said.
“Why don’t we give him veto power?” I said.
We settled on Ryan David Devereaux for Nick’s alter ego. Nick was bemused that he finally had a middle name.
He was not happy to see Sid crawling into bed with me rather than him, but Sid whispered to me that he was going to have to get used to it. We both waited until his deep, even breathing told us he was asleep. At least, I hoped he was. It was really hard keeping things quiet enough so that we wouldn’t wake him.
Thanks for reading. And don’t forget to check out the How I Wrote it post on My Sweet Lisa, which is now available as a book. You can also find more on the whole Operation Quickline series here, and check out the first book in the series, That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine.