Skip to content
Home » Blogs » A Little Family Business – Chapter Three

A Little Family Business – Chapter Three

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.

In spite of being newly engaged and, um, sharing the bed full-time, it actually felt like a fairly quiet week. Monday’s pick up was more information about Cat’s Cradle. He had apparently located an arms dump of stolen U.S. weapons and was trying to get that information to his colleague, Player Piano. Player Piano had gone silent, however, which meant either dead or deeply hiding. Sid got the feeling that we’d get tagged to find him or her. We looked at the piece of paper that I’d gotten from Cat’s Cradle, but it was just a series of numbers. Sid made a copy, then sent the original upline to a code specialist we knew in San Francisco.

Pull quote from A Little Family Business: If you know about us, you're part of the team.

Tuesday, Conchetta Ramirez, our housekeeper and cook, came by to clean and to bring us our mail and our three cats and Motley, my liver-colored springer spaniel, whom she’d been babysitting, along with the two cats belonging to Jesse and Kathy. Conchetta is in her mid-forties, with black hair sporting several silver hairs throughout. She mostly wears jeans and concert t-shirts from hard rock bands. Long John Silver is a one-eyed gray short hair and had given birth to four kittens the previous fall. Sid and I had kept two, Fritz, a gray tabby, and Blueberry, a fluffy female so gray she looks blue. Jesse and Kathy had adopted the two black and white kittens, Viola and Chin-Chin.

Conchetta was only coming by two days a week, since there really wasn’t that much to keep clean and Sid is pretty neat, anyway. The cats were not happy. At the house, our three were indoor/outdoor cats, and at the condo they had to stay inside all the time. We weren’t sure which one did it, but one of them expressed profound displeasure by pooping in one of Sid’s favorite dress shoes. We put out litter boxes everywhere. Motley was simply happy to see us and begged for walk after walk.

Jesse came over from across the hall to return Fritz who had gotten out and offered to walk Motley again for us. Jesse, a photographer, is a little taller than Kathy with cocoa-color skin and his hair in a round cut. Kathy still worked as an accountant. They had inherited their condo from Jesse’s former roommate, George Hernandez, along with George’s substantial assets, so neither technically needed to work, but they did, anyway.

The four of us had gotten into the habit of walking across the hall and into each other’s place for lunch or occasionally just to chit chat, especially in the evenings. Several times a week, we ate dinner together, too. Kathy and Jesse’s place is larger than ours, with an extra bedroom and a deeper living and dining room. They also don’t have sewing stuff all over their dining room table. They were my primary ride to church. Since parking was a premium at the building, my truck had been put into storage at the garage where Sid kept his beloved, but retired, Mercedes 450SL.

While Jesse was walking Motley, Sid and I talked Henry James, our immediate supervisor, and his secretary Angelique Carter, into coming to an early dinner with us. They met us, along with Henry’s wife, Lydia, and we told them about the wedding. Henry is a public information officer for the local FBI office. No one else knows that he’s also a floater operative for our part of Quickline. Henry, Lydia, and Angelique are good friends with us. Angelique was ecstatic, which relieved me no end. She’d been in love with Sid for a long time, but eventually realized that wasn’t going to happen and gave him up.

Henry just laughed and shook his head.

“You were right, Sid,” he said, chuckling. “It was only a matter of time.”

Sid laughed. “Well, you were right, too, Henry.”

I had no idea what that meant, but let it go.

That night, Sid joined me at the end of the Single Adults Bible Study, made up of mostly recently married adults, to announce that there was going to be one less single person in the group. I also made it clear that the second someone got anywhere near out of hand, that I was going to cancel the wedding. That seemed to stave off Janet Weinstock and Sylvia Perez, who were wedding-crazy and did not get that not everyone felt the same.

On Wednesday, Jesse, Kathy, Sid, and I concluded at dinner that night that maybe just walking into each other’s place was not a good idea. This was after Jesse walked in on us just as Sid had gotten under my skirt. Jesse and I were both humiliated. Sid didn’t see what the big deal was. Kathy thought it was hysterical. I was glad we hadn’t gotten too far in the proceedings, as I remembered that in the bad old days before Sid gave up other women, he was not prone to stopping what he was doing just because someone else showed up in the room. I was also annoyed, although it hadn’t been Jesse’s fault. It had been my idea for Sid to get under my skirt. The four of us agreed that knocking and waiting for an answer was a good idea.

I had been dreading my mother’s visit, but I have to say, it turned out to be a good one. We saw several places that looked promising and that had openings. But it didn’t go entirely smoothly.

“Have you even started your guest list?” Mama asked me at lunch that day.

“I tried to yesterday afternoon but got distracted.”

“Well, honey, we have to have an idea of what people you want to invite so we know how big a space we need.”

“Can we limit it to fifty people?”

Mama laughed. “Lisle, baby, that will barely cover our relatives.”

“But they’re in Florida. They won’t want to come all the way out here.”

“Oh, yes, they will. Some of them are already making plans.”

“Do we have to?” I blinked back tears.

“I’m afraid so. They’ll never let me hear the end of it.”

“Maybe I should cancel the wedding.”

Mama looked worried. “You’re still going to get married, aren’t you?”

“Oh, of course. We just won’t have a wedding.”

“Well, if you think that canceling the wedding will shut your relatives up, you can think again. They’ll probably be even more tiresome.”

“Okay. We’ll figure something out.”

I must admit, once Mama and I stopped by the condo to pick up Sid so that we could go out to eat, I was almost excited about things. We went in the side entrance, as usual, but Mama called Sid from the lobby and asked him to bring down the address book. He did as he was requested. Then, at the restaurant, Mama sweet talked him into putting together the initial guest list. He finally started showing some interest. We had just over one hundred names by the time we were done, though fortunately, that included my aunts and uncles. I did get to put my foot down on inviting cousins.

“You know, Sid,” Mama said, putting her hand on his arm. “When Lisle told me that you had asked Nick to be your best man, I thought that was the sweetest thing ever.”

“He’s pretty special, Althea,” Sid said, and I could have sworn he swelled with a touch of pride.

“He is such a darling. Just like his daddy.”

I smiled, relieved that my parents were ready to accept Nick as one of their own.

[Seriously? Lisa, you and I had just been played by a true master. I love your mother. She is the kindest, sweetest human being I have ever met, besides you, and I’m sure she meant what she said about Nick. Still, I remember some months later, it had to have been Christmas, when she twisted my arm into calling her Mama. Neil saw me standing shell-shocked and clapped me on the back.

“Mama got you, didn’t she?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s a reason we love her daughters.”

“I’m afraid so.” – SEH]

Later that night, as Sid and I cuddled before going to sleep, I had to ask.

“How are you doing?”

He shook his head. “I’ll be fine. Your mother was right. We needed to get the guest list taken care of. Now, you two can take care of the site and everything else your mother wants.”

“I’m not doing everything her way.”

“I know, Lisa. It’ll work out.”

The next morning, I drove Mama to Pasadena, where she, Mae, and I were going to have lunch.

“You okay, Lisle?” Mama asked.

I shrugged. “Good enough.”

“Lisa! Be careful!”

I was driving Sid’s Beemer and dodging around cars. Truth be told, more than one car chase has had its effect on my driving habits.

“I am careful,” I said.

“You never used to drive this way. Anyway, what’s bothering you?”

“Sid’s just not as interested in the wedding as he was last night.”

“Oh, honey. You can’t expect much more than that. He is a man, after all.”

“Sid’s not your average man.”

“I’ll give you that. But I have never met a man who was interested in weddings. He’s probably just trying to figure out what it means to be married and all that. You’ve said how many times he was raised to believe it was a crock. Change like that isn’t easy for anybody.”

The problem was, Mama was right. Sid probably was having some trouble adjusting to the idea of being married. Lord knows, I was having trouble with it, too.

We met Mae at a restaurant, and she was bubbling over with news about the kids and the house. I let it all wash over me, then drove back to Los Angeles.

Sid got me out the next day to go antiquing. One of the problems we’d had over the previous few months had been that Sid had suddenly found himself with all sorts of time on his hands. He’d been going out to chase women four to six nights a week, and often all day and night on Saturdays. So, what was he supposed to do instead? He’d been cooking dinner more often, one advantage to being out of the house. Dinners with Kathy and Jesse had also helped. Then there was the house. We’d gotten rid of a lot of things when we’d moved out, including the everyday pottery ware and the fine china. But that meant we needed to replace it, and I needed to be there because part of the whole reason we were remodeling was to make the house more our house, rather than Sid’s.

I didn’t mind too much, until Sid got into extended discussions with the various dealers on provenance and signature marks and other stuff that made no sense to me and bored me to tears. Still, it was better than trying to finish a sewing project with him looking at me balefully. He felt about fabric roughly the same way I felt about watermarks.

That Sunday, Kathy needed to get to church extra early to talk to the nine o’clock mass about the parish festival that was coming up in September.

“Is it that time already?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so. Do you mind?”

We left the house around nine-thirty, which would get us to church around quarter ‘til ten. Kathy wouldn’t be doing her pitch for volunteers until near the end of mass, when the announcements were read. She and I were both scheduled to serve at the ten-thirty mass, I as a Eucharistic minister, Kathy as a lector. Jesse stayed in the assembly. Kathy and I were chatting in the sacristy behind the altar about ten minutes before mass was due to start when Sid poked his head into the room and waved at me. I was startled but went over to him.

“What’s going on?”

“Nick called right after you left. Rachel’s in the hospital. We’ve got to go up to Sunnyvale now.”

“What’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you in the cab.”

I looked back at the group of ministers and the priest who would be saying mass. He was a visitor who showed up about once a month or so. Kathy saw us and came over.

“I’ve got to leave,” I told her. “It’s an emergency. Can you guys take care of the animals, please?”

“Sure. What’s going on?” She looked at both Sid and me.

“Something with Nick,” Sid said. “We’ll call you once we know what it is.”

“Oh, dear Jesus,” Kathy replied, crossing herself. “We’ll pray for you. Take care.”

I ran after Sid to the cab that was waiting. We’d barely settled ourselves in the back when the driver pulled out.

“What’s happening?” I asked Sid.

He closed his eyes, then opened them again. “Rachel’s game. She’s been sick this entire time.”

“What?”

“She has leukemia. She was diagnosed in January last year, right before she brought Nick to us. According to Nick, she was confident she could beat it, but wanted to find his father just in case.”

“Why didn’t Nick say anything?”

“She swore him to secrecy. She didn’t want anybody to know. Not her colleagues at the hospital, not her family, and especially, not us.” Sid trembled.

“That witch!” I snapped.

“Lisa, she’s also dying. That’s why Nick has been so anxious to get home these past couple months. He wants to be with her.”

“But to dump a secret like that on her own kid?” I groaned. “How could she?”

“I know. On the other hand…”

Sid looked at me and I nodded. If Nick could keep a secret like that, he could keep our secret. I desperately hated the thought of dumping that on him, but it did make it possible for us to take custody.

“Oh, no,” I said. “That’s why he’s been so worried about the custody thing.”

Sid nodded. “No doubt.” He paused. “So, are we?”

“He’s your son.”

“You’re just as involved as I am.”

I swallowed. “What do you think?”

“We should be able to pull it off.” Sid stared straight ahead. “But I’m not doing it without you.”

I put my hand on his knee. “We’ll do it, then. You know how much I love Nick.”

Sid smiled softly and put his hand on mine. “Thank you, Lisa. You have no idea how much I appreciate that.”

We didn’t say much on the flight up to San Jose airport. Once there, Sid rented a car and got a map and directions to the care facility where Rachel was. When we found the room, Nick sat at his mother’s side, watching her. Marlou Parks, a small, moderately round woman with brown hair and bags under her eyes, sat nearby on the bed’s other side. Rachel lay on her back in a still sleep I’d seen in people during their last days. I had brought the Eucharist to several families keeping that fearful watch. Most times, it was sad, but still the peaceful winding down of a long, fruitful life. Occasionally, it was a life ebbing away far too soon. I closed my eyes.

“Nick,” Sid said softly.

He bounced up. “Dad!”

He ran up and hugged Sid hard.

“I told you we’d get here as fast as we could.” Sid held him back.

“Lisa!” His voice filled with tears as he held me. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Nicholas,” whispered Rachel’s weak voice, so unlike the formidable woman I’d met before. “Who’s here?”

Sid went over to the side of the bed. “It’s Sid and Lisa, Rachel. We’re here and we’ll take custody of Nick when the time comes.”

She half-smiled. “Thanks.”

“I wish we’d known.”

“I didn’t want you to take my boy too soon.” Rachel swallowed. “Nicholas, take your father and his girlfriend to our house and get them settled in.”

“Mom.” Nick frowned.

“You can come back.”

Marlou looked up. “I’ll be here, Nicholas. You take care of your dad and Lisa, and then you can come right back.”

Nick looked downcast but nodded.

“Nicholas,” Rachel whispered. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you, Mom.” He kissed her cheek and held her hand with that special gentleness I often saw in his father.

I held him close to me as we left the room and went to the rental car.

I hugged him extra tight right before putting him in the back seat. “Oh, my poor baby.”

“I’ll be alright,” Nick said glumly. “It’s just waiting, you know? Each time I leave, I think it’s going to be the last time I see her.”

Sid put his hand on Nick’s back. “I’m so sorry, Nick. We’ll be here as long as you need us, and then you’ll come home with us.”

“You mean that, Dad?” Nick looked up at him.

“Yes, I do. So does Lisa.”

“I do, Nick. We’re here and we’ll be with you all the way.”

He hugged me again, then got into the car. When we got to their house, Nick insisted on helping with Sid’s and my luggage, dropping it only to unlock the front door.

“Marlou’s been staying in my mom’s room,” he explained, as he let us inside.

“Where do you want us to stay?” Sid asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you show us upstairs?” I said. “Then we can figure out what to do.”

There was a guest room, and Nick’s room featured a bunk bed. I motioned to Sid, and he nodded.

“Nick, do you mind if I stay in your room?” Sid said.

“What about Lisa?”

“I can stay in the guest room,” I said. “Sid, can you help me with my suitcase?”

Sid looked a touch puzzled but agreed. Once we were alone, I turned to him.

“How are you doing?”

He shrugged. “Feeling a little out of my element but managing. I can’t think what Nick is going through.”

“I know. It’s going to be hard for him, but he’ll be okay. He looked pretty relieved when you said we were taking custody.”

Sid nodded. We went back to Nick’s room. He had opened Sid’s carryon bag and was sitting on his lower bunk, looking at a billfold with a pained look on his face. In his other hand, he held Sid’s Model Thirteen revolver. My heart stopped.

“Dad, what is this?”

“Nick, put the gun down.”

“No! Not ’til you tell me what this is!”

“I will tell you when you put the gun down. I promise.”

Nick’s face was creased with pain, but he laid the gun down on the bed. Sid crossed the room and got the gun into the shield that got it past the airport metal detectors, then stashed it back into the carryon.

“Dad!” Nick waved the billfold. “This is an FBI ID, but it’s got your picture on it and some name, Charles Deverux.”

“Devereaux,” said Sid quietly.

He looked up at me. We’d wanted to wait to explain to Nick. He was going through enough. I shrugged. It couldn’t be helped.

“And here’s Lisa, only it says Linda Dever-whatever.”

“Dever-oh,” Sid said. He took a deep breath. “It’s what we couldn’t talk to you about, Nick. Why I was worried about taking custody of you.”

I sat down next to him. “Nick, we are taking custody. We will take care of you. But those IDs make things pretty tricky for all of us.”

Nick looked at me. “Why?”

“The last thing we wanted to dump on you, especially now,” I said. “It’s our secret.”

Sid sat down on his other side. “Nick, within the structure of the FBI, there are several smaller organizations so top secret only their members know they exist. Lisa and I are part of one.”

“Which one?” His face took on an anxious frown.

Sid shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s a pain in the butt known as Need to Know. As in you do not Need to Know.”

I put my arm around his shoulders. “Nick, we cannot tell anyone we do this. My family does not know. Aunt Mae, Uncle Neil, my mom and dad, they have no clue, and they can’t know because it would put theirs and our lives in danger.” I played with the lock of hair that had, once again, fallen over his forehead. “You’ve been carrying around an awful secret these past eighteen months, and it’s killing me and your dad that we must ask you to keep another. But you must. Do you understand?”

Nick took a couple deep breaths. “I hate secrets.”

“I know, Nick,” I said. “I hate them, too. But sometimes they are necessary. You don’t have to hide anything from us, and we will be here to support you, and love you, and take care of you.”

“And maybe even train you,” Sid said.

I glared at him, but he was right. Nick would probably need to learn the skills we depended on to keep ourselves alive.

“Train me?”

“If you know about us, you’re part of the team,” Sid said.

Nick closed his eyes and reached over to Sid. The two of us just held the boy for several minutes.

The sound of the front door opening and closing immediately put Sid and I on alert. Nick looked scared for a second.

“Someone’s come in,” he said.

Sid put his finger to his lips. He nodded at me, then slid out of the room to investigate. A moment later, he returned, his face heavy.

“It’s Marlou,” he said.

Nick looked up at his father and knew. Slowly, he broke down in sobs.

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.

But wait, there’s more. Check out the Old Los Angeles series here, and the first book, Death of the Zanjero here.

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: