Chapter Two

White House Rhapsody started out as a novel that wouldn’t end. The romantic fiction serial was a popular blog site on its own and it’s being featured here on my main blog.

Pull Quote from romance fiction serial White House Rhapsody, "think we can try to just stay friends for the next eight years?"

When Kent Jeffries called to tell Sharon she had an interview at the White House, she was only mildly surprised. She’d heard that the various cabinet offices had been helping the White House hire staffers in their respective fields.

Her first week in Washington had been relatively relaxed. It had only taken three phone calls and two lunches to secure her meeting with Mr. Wallace at the State Department. She’d been a little surprised when Ms. Fritsch had called and requested an interview, but since things were done somewhat differently in the public sector, one had to expect it.

Still, a meeting at the White House. Sharon had to work to keep a professional demeanor as she signed in at the West Gate.

“Mr. Jeffries?” asked the guard, slightly incredulously.

“Yes, Mr. Kent Jeffries.”

“I’ll have to call on that.” He turned and dialed a phone. “Mr. Jeffries, I got a Sharon Wheatly here. Says she’s here to see you… Oh. I’ll do that. Very good, sir.”

The guard turned back to Sharon and started pulling together the visitor badge and all the other necessary paperwork. Sharon wondered why the guard was so surprised that she wanted to see Mr. Jeffries.

Another guard escorted her to the West Wing, and she couldn’t help giggling with excitement as she walked through the majestic corridors. Jeffries’ desk appeared to be in an outer office and Jeffries, himself, was short, pudgy, with dark, curly hair, glasses and the attitude absolutely necessary for a good gate-keeper. He barely glanced up from his computer as the guard introduced Sharon.

“How do you do, Mr. Jeffries,” she began.

“You’re not here to see me,” he said abruptly as if she should have known that. His voice was as sharp and nasal as his appearance bespoke.

“All you said on the phone was that you were from the White House and that I had an interview for today at this time,” Sharon said, putting as much authority into her voice as she could.

It was a considerable amount of authority – she had terrified middle managers all over the world with that tone. Nonetheless, Jeffries remained unaffected.

“You’re here to see the president,” he said, his eyes still glued to his monitor as his fingers rattled the keyboard.

Sharon’s heart stopped. Something tugged at the back of her brain suggesting that she should know why, but the shock of hearing who her interviewer was kept the suggestion at bay. There may have been a small betraying tremor, but her outward appearance remained cool. She’d been swimming with the corporate sharks far too long to give anything away that she didn’t need to. That didn’t mean her insides weren’t roiling.

She took multiple, discreet, deep breaths, which didn’t help at all when the intercom buzzed.

“Kent, I’m ready for the candidate now,” said a voice that was more than a little familiar.

Mark was trying to get a couple more seconds in on the latest briefing on pork belly subsidies when Kent announced Ms. Sharon Wheatly and shut the door. He glanced over the top of his tablet and saw legs. Shapely legs. He lowered the tablet and looked over the new candidate. She was wearing a suit, a lighter blue than you mostly saw on The Hill, and while it looked perfectly business-like, there was something else about it. The shape of the jacket was different – which Mark guessed meant it had style, something his sister, June, would have thumped him for missing.

Wheatly looked to be in her early 30s, and her blonde hair was pulled back instead of cut short and hair-sprayed out. But it was her eyes and her face… Standing on the other side of the room, it was hard to tell what color her eyes actually were, just that they were dark. But there was something about her.

Sharon, for her part, saw him appraising her and began to bristle, only to realize she’d been looking him over, too. He was so much better looking in person. Tall, broad-shouldered, brown hair that was just long enough on top to run her fingers through. And his eyes, which were a rich green, and something about the square jaw.

A third voice cleared itself.

“It’s good to meet you, Ms. Wheatly,” Mark said, coming around the desk. “This is Johnetta Washington, my chief of staff.”

Sharon propelled herself forward to shake hands first with the president, then with Ms. Washington.

“Good to meet you, sir. Ma’am,” Sharon replied.

“Please have a seat,” Mark continued. “Would you like some coffee?”

He dashed to the credenza next to the door. Sharon followed his gesture to the sofa in the middle of the room and sat down next to Ms. Washington.

“It’s Ethiopian,” Mark continued, painfully aware that he was chattering and helpless to stop himself. He filled three cups from a thermal pitcher on the credenza. “One of my guilty secrets. I get my own custom roast done.”

“K Street Koffee?” Sharon smiled, relieved and excited. Coffee geek-speak she could do.

“Yeah. Who else?” Mark grinned.

“I love them,” Sharon said. “It’s the only place in town I can get Kenyan Double-A that hasn’t been roasted to within an inch of its life.”

Mark handed her a filled cup. “Cecil is amazing. He did some Sumatran Mandheling for me that is beyond belief.”

Sharon sipped as he gave Johnetta her cup. Johnetta glared at him meaningfully as she reached for the cream and sugar on the coffee table in front of her.

“This is so good,” Sharon said. “Maybe just a little sugar to bring out the berry notes?”

“Please.” Mark grinned again, then turned to his desk. “Let me get your resume.”

Sharon noted that there was no paper on the desk and wondered where the resume was. Mark grabbed the tablet computer, then bringing his cup, came around and sat down in a chair on the other side of the coffee table.

“So, you’re looking to join us from the private sector,” he said, after tapping the tablet and giving the resume a quick glance. “Why the change?”

It wasn’t the question he’d intended to ask and he caught Johnetta looking at him quizzically. Sharon, however, had expected that question, and had her answer ready, but it wasn’t what came out of her mouth.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said instead. “I mean, public service. Growing up, all my friends wanted to be models, actors, CEOs. I wanted to be a diplomat, work all over the world, bring people together.”

“And you can’t do that on the corporate side?”

“Not really.” Sharon shrugged. “I guess you can. I just got so tired of the petty egos, the power games.”

“And you’re coming to Washington to get away from that?” Mark looked at her, bemused.

“Naturally.” Sharon laughed. “I know it sounds a little out of the frying pan into the fire. But at least, here, I can pretend that I’m doing some good, making the world a better place.”

“Indeed.” Mark looked over at Johnetta and nodded.

“This is a report on some trade issues with Kuwait,” Johnetta said, handing Sharon another tablet computer. “It was prepared by one of our staffers.”

Sharon looked it over and shook her head. “Well, someone’s not watching Al Jazeera.”

“I’m sure my staff does,” said Mark.

“Yeah, the English version,” Sharon said, looking him square in the face. She pointed to a spot on the screen. “This is a common mistranslation. It’s not at all consistent with what I’ve been seeing in the original Arabic.”

“That’s right.” Mark looked at the resume again. “That’s one of your ten languages.”

He looked over at Johnetta.

“What she’s saying makes sense given the intel we got this morning,” Johnetta said.

“So how many of those ten languages are you fluent in?” Mark asked.

“All of them,” Sharon said. “That’s why I put them on the resume. I haven’t taken the proficiency tests at State yet, so I don’t know if I qualify as an official translator.” She paused. “But I’ve been able to run circles around most of the embassy translators I’ve run into.”

“Fluent in ten languages.” Mark smiled and looked over at Johnetta, who was smiling. “And I thought I was doing well, fumbling through with high school Spanish.”

“For most Americans, you are,” Sharon said. “I’ve just been multi-lingual all my life. My mom’s from the French-speaking part of Belgium. My dad’s American. And we had a Mexican nanny. So I’ve been speaking English, French and Spanish as long as I can remember. Then we moved to Germany when I was seven, so I learned German, and Italian, when we moved there. By that point, I realized I wanted to join the diplomatic corps, so I learned Russian and Japanese. And started taking Chinese around then, too. And learned Hebrew and Arabic. My biggest weakness is the African languages. I’ve only got a smattering in a couple. Although I’m working on learning Igbo. Nigeria is one of those up and coming areas.”

“Oh, it is,” said Mark, somewhat ruefully.

The suggestion that had tugged at Sharon’s brain earlier suddenly popped up front and center.

“Is this about taking Andy Shepherd’s job?” she asked suddenly.

Johnetta sat up straight. “You mean you didn’t know what this was about?”

“No. No one said anything about any specific job,” Sharon said. “When I went in to talk to Mr. Wallace, over at the State Department, last week, it was just an informational interview. Then Mrs. Fritsch called, but she never said anything about any specific job, and all she wanted to talk about was my past work. So I thought she was just trying to place me, and since I wasn’t going after any specific position, I didn’t ask. So I didn’t know what to think when Mr. Jeffries called. He didn’t even say who I’d be interviewing with.”

“Really,” said Mark, looking over at Johnetta.

“I’ll speak to Kent,” Johnetta said. “I’m sorry about that, Ms. Wheatly. Since our process is geared at finding the right people, we try to strip any potentially prejudicial information off resumes and the like. Although in the effort to not get too much information, we sometimes let out too little. More to the point, are you interested in the position?”

“Are you kidding? Talk about my dream job!” Sharon sat back and paused to gather herself together.

“It’s more a research position,” Mark said. “I’m afraid it’s not to advise on policy, per se.”

“I understand. That’s why you have the Secretary of State.”

“Right. The World Affairs Advisor mostly just keeps me updated on what’s going on around the world,” Mark said. “We’ll be meeting twice a week with the other advisors, plus whenever I need additional briefings.”

“Pure research,” sighed Sharon. “Sounds wonderful.”

The intercom buzzed. “Mr. President, the members of the River Barge Commission are waiting in the Map Room for their meeting with you.”

“I’ll be right there, Kent,” Mark addressed the air behind him, then looked at Johnetta. “River Barge Commission?”

“Essay contest grip and grin,” she replied.

“Oh, right.” He stood and Sharon and Johnetta stood with him. “Well, Ms. Wheatly, it really was a pleasure. I’ve got to go through channels, but we’ll be in touch.”

“Thank you, sir,” Sharon answered, shaking his hand. “I’ll look forward to it.”

He buzzed the intercom. “Kent, will you escort Ms. Wheatly to the gate, please?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Thank you.” He looked up. “Thank you, Ms. Wheatly.”

“Thank you, sir.” Sharon turned and left the room.

Mark looked over at Johnetta. “What the hell just happened there?”

“You don’t know?” Johnetta smiled. “Well, I’m not going to tell you, then. But the bad news is, you’ve got to hire her. She’s the only one who’s stood up to you.”

“I know,” Mark said softly.

“Come on.” Johnetta gently took his arm. “Let’s go smile pretty for the river barge people.”

Sharon managed to hang onto her cool just long enough to get out on the street and down the block. She checked the time on her mobile phone and did some quick math. It was mid-morning in Washington, so it was evening in New Delhi and likely that Niecy was still up.

Sharon and Niecy were best friends at the all-too-exclusive Swiss college prep they’d gone to. But unlike most of their classmates, she and Niecy had remained close over the years, in spite of usually being on two different continents at any given time. Sharon briefly debated calling her mother, but it was too early in California for Madeleine to be awake enough to hear her.

Sharon dialed and hoped like crazy Niecy wasn’t out raiding brothels for underage sex slaves that night. Niecy’s day job, as she called it, was as assistant minister of education for India. But being the idealist she was, Niecy was just as likely to be out trying to save as many young girls as she could.

Niecy picked up at the first ring.

“Hallo, Sharon,” she said, cheerfully. “Did you have your interview?”

“Yes,” Sharon warbled in spite of herself.

“Was the White House as exciting as you thought it would be?”

“Way more.” And Sharon gushed out what had happened in the interview. “It was horrible, Niecy! And wonderful. I mean, there he is, checking me out and all I can think is that he’s so gorgeous and so sweet. There’s just something about this guy.”

“And what did he think about you?”

“How should I know?” Sharon groaned. “Wait. He said he had to go through channels, but that we’d be in touch.”

“That sounds very good for you, then.”

Sharon froze. “Niecy, I can’t take that job.”

“What do you mean you can’t?” Niecy was trying not to laugh. “It is your dream job. You have to take it if it’s offered.”

“Not that it will be. It’s totally the sort of job for old men with PhDs.”

This time, Niecy did laugh. “Sharon, you have out-witted any number of old men with PhDs, and a host of other credentials, too. You should take the job.”

“But I can’t. There’s just something about him. It’s begging for disaster. I can so see myself falling for him.”

“You’ve done that before and it worked out quite nicely, as I recall.”

“This time, it’s completely different. I’ve never had a man affect me this way. It’s scary, Niecy.”

“Are you afraid he won’t feel the same about you?”

“That would make it so much easier.”

“Then what’s the trouble? It’s easy if he doesn’t like you. And if he does, well, you could do a lot worse than a very handsome president of the United States, who, I have heard, is also very kind and very intelligent.”

“He certainly lived up to that.” Sharon found a bench and flopped onto it. “It would be a disaster. All my privacy, completely gone. I told you about that time with Michael’s video. It was horrible. People look at me enough, Niecy. Imagine if they had reason to look”

“That would not be very nice, I agree. But, Sharon, you will never get a better opportunity than this. It would be absolutely crazy to turn it down. And just think, you can work a couple years at the White House, and after that, you can do whatever you would like to for the rest of your life. You might be able to get an ambassadorship, or join a think tank. My goodness, dear, the world will be lining up to take you on, and you can entirely dictate your own terms. You can’t turn that down.”

“All I wanted was to travel a bit and then settle down with my books and some cats.”

“Or you could do that, too. But it will be a lot more comfortable after working at the White House, I assure you.”

“You can say that again. He’s a coffee geek.”

“And there you have it. You have something in common.”

Sharon sighed. “Just what I don’t need.”

On Sundays, after attending the obligatory church service, Mark made brunch for his sister, June, who was in residence at the White House to do all the things a first lady would do had Mark been married. It was a not entirely satisfactory arrangement since June was the very successful owner and designer of a clothing company based out of New York, which meant she had other things to do besides open pre-schools and champion non-controversial causes. So Mark, who enjoyed cooking, made his sister a nice brunch every Sunday morning.

The Sunday after his meeting with Sharon, he put together a ham steak, with asparagus and hollandaise sauce, some stone-ground grits, and a maple brioche.

“You look happy,” June observed as they began to eat.

Her hair was blondish and short and her eyes deep blue. Although June had never modeled, her face had the sort of symmetry one associated with fashion models. She also had the stature and figure of a runway model. Rumor had it, she had an eating disorder, but the rumor was only partly correct. She was a recovering anorexic, and even though she was over fifteen years into her recovery, she still did not eat a lot.

“Okay.” Mark scrunched his face as he tasted the asparagus. “I don’t think I put enough butter in the hollandaise. It tastes too lemony.”

“The hollandaise is perfect, as always. I said you look happy.”

“And…?”

“Well, not so happy, so I know you’re not getting any.”

Mark glared at his sister. “No, I’m not getting any. And I wouldn’t discuss it with you if I were.”

June looked him over more carefully. “But something’s going on. You’re happy. I noticed it Friday, at the press conference.”

“So?”

“If I noticed, then you know who else did.”

“Oh.” Mark stopped eating as he considered what June had really been saying.

It was something they seldom talked about and when they did, it was almost always in the most oblique terms.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said finally. “And if I don’t, then she doesn’t have anything to go on.”

“Since when has that stopped her?” June delicately cut a bite of ham. “I’m already hearing whispers about Kelly Won.”

“I haven’t seen her in over five years.” Mark turned back to his meal, his appetite somewhat soured.

June shrugged. “Well, like I said… And besides, the way you’re claiming to live like a hermit while you’re in office, she may be assuming you’re bluffing.”

“She’ll have to assume. There’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t stop seeing someone that I’m not seeing in the first place.”

“Okay. But don’t be surprised if it gets ugly again.”

“I’m never surprised when it gets ugly,” Mark sighed.

He tried to stay cheerful, but June’s observation had him nettled. He really wasn’t seeing anybody. It was true that it did tend to show when he was, even when he didn’t say anything. But there was no woman in his life at that moment.

Except the previous Thursday morning, he had met a very lovely – he corrected himself –

a very competent, amazingly intelligent, very sweet woman. June was watching him.

“I’m not seeing anyone,” he said.

But he had been vaguely concerned about hiring Ms. Wheatly. Johnetta was pushing him to make it final and he had been putting her off, saying the final background check needed to be completed. And there was no question, she was the best for the job.

But there was something about her that just made him feel good. The trouble was, if June could see it, then to let Ms. Wheatly anywhere near him was to leave her vulnerable and exposed. He’d seen it happen before, even as far back as when he was in the state legislature, and it had been bad. And those kinds of attacks were the sort that would seriously compromise her effectiveness as an advisor.

He was still debating what to do about the situation on Monday morning when Johnetta cornered him after their first briefing of the day.

“Sir, you’ve got to make a decision and you know Wheatly is your best candidate,” Johnetta said.

“Yes and no, Johnnie,” Mark said.

“What are you talking about? The background check came through and she’s as clean as a whistle, even with past relationships.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Mark started twisting the buttons on his suit coat sleeve.

“Hands in your pocket, Sir.”

Mark sighed and put his hands on the desk. “It’s just… I’m not sure how to say this.”

Johnetta’s eyes rolled. “We always said, the best person for the job, no matter what. You’ve got to hire Wheatly.”

“I don’t want to see her made into a target for the media.”

“Well, there is that.”

“It won’t help her effectiveness.”

“Possibly.” Johnetta sighed, getting up and heading for her special door. “I think you oughta just let the media and Ms. Wheatly work it out on their own. Anyway, it’s time to get going. You’ve got the milk lobby coming in and I’ve got a ton of phone calls to make.” She opened the door and paused. “Jugs, go ahead and hire Wheatly. I’ve got a feeling she’ll be good for you.”

Mark smiled at the use of his old nickname, then sighed. “Good for me, huh? I’m afraid that may be exactly the problem.”

“Then make it the solution,” Johnetta said, then left the office.

Mark took a deep breath, then had Kent summon Sharon Wheatly to the Oval Office that very afternoon.

Sharon knew she was definitely more nervous as the guard escorted her from the guard house. Kent barely glanced at her from his desk, then pushed the intercom.

“Mr. President, Ms. Wheatly is here.”

“Please send her in.”

That raised Kent’s eyebrows, but he just glanced at Sharon and nodded toward the door.

He was alone in the office and standing behind his desk. Sharon tried not to gulp, but her insides were going again, only this time it had nothing to do with nerves.

“Hi,” Mark said softly.

There she was, this time in a dark gray dress. Her hair was up and her eyes, yes, her eyes were definitely a deep, rich brown.

“Hi,” she replied.

“Uh, please sit down.” He gestured to the couch, then waited for her to sit before sitting in the chair across from her.

“Thank you,” Sharon said.

“Well, about this job thing,” Mark started slowly, looking everywhere but at her.

“Yeah, about that.” Sharon sighed deeply.

“Yeah.” Mark swallowed. “I think we both know we have a little problem with that.”

Sharon nodded. “Without question.” She looked at him and the words came tumbling out. “Look, it’s not you. I mean, obviously, it’s you. But you, as a person, are not why I can’t do this. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

“I think so. You don’t want to date the boss.”

“Oh no. I don’t care about that.” Sharon flushed. “I’ve dated my boss before. It wasn’t any big deal and we broke up and worked together for another year before I left. Everybody knew about it and nobody cared.”

“Only this time, it’s different.”

“Way different. You’re… It’s all this.” Sharon waved her hands to indicate the office. “I couldn’t take the publicity. It’s happened before. I’ve had my fifteen minutes of fame and it was the worst time of my life, bar none. I never want to go through that again.”

Mark nodded, suddenly feeling very relieved. “I can understand that, I think. And you’ve got a point. Which has really put me on the horns of a dilemma. Ms. Wheatly, I need the work you can do. You are my top candidate several times over.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Sharon blurted out. “Your personal advisors are almost all PhDs and older.”

“And not one of the folks I’ve been considering has your breadth of interest, your language skills, and most importantly, your sense of humor and your willingness to stand me down.”

“Mr. President, I can’t take this job!” Sharon squeaked, then fought to get control again. After all, she was a professional, an executive who had faced down CEOs all over the world. So what was it about this guy that had her acting like she was in high school all of a sudden?

“Yes, you can,” Mark said. “Because I don’t want you to get any publicity, either.”

“What?”

Mark got up and started pacing. “I’m not sure how to say this. But I think it’s a fairly safe and objective observation that you are an attractive woman. And, as you have just pointed out, when an attractive woman gets around me, people tend to talk about it and she gets photographed and well, you know how it goes.”

“All too well.”

“Which is why putting you in the public eye would not be good. That kind of talk can be very hard on your credibility and I can’t have that in an advisor.”

“Which is why I can’t take the job.”

“That’s exactly why you need to.” Mark turned and grinned at her.

Sharon felt her mouth open and then close. “That makes no sense whatsoever.”

Mark returned to his chair and leaned forward. “I’m laying the cards on the table, consequences be damned. There’s something going on here. You. Me. I can barely breathe, there’s so much electricity going on.”

“Me, either,” Sharon said softly.

“And obviously, there are some significant obstacles for both of us in terms of a personal relationship. For you, there’s the publicity. For me, well, let’s just say it’s a similar issue. But if we were working together, it would be out there. It would be public, true. But there would be witnesses that nothing is going on. We’re co-workers and nothing else. No story. And it will be very hard to sustain those kinds of rumors for any length of time.”

“I doubt that,” said Sharon.

Mark shrugged. “Maybe not. But without concrete evidence, it would be very hard for the media to keep it going.”

“Possibly.” Sharon felt herself weakening. “But, since the cards are on the table, what about a personal relationship? Is that definitely out?”

“How do you mean?”

“I don’t know.” Sharon winced. “I mean, I guess, this whole frisson thing between us. That’s sweet and romantic and all. But… I’m really messed up. There’s part of me that could easily do the whole romantic, falling in love thing. And I’d really want to if it weren’t for the fact that this will not be an easy breakup.”

Mark sighed. “I’m at least as messed up. I wasn’t joking during the debates when I said the last thing I was interested in was getting romantically involved while I was in office. This job is 24/7. It’s consuming like nothing else on the planet. I literally have to turn the lights out in the West Wing so folks will go home.” He paused. “But then you walked into my office, and if this is what a ton of bricks feels like, then, yeah, I got hit with them.” He looked at her. “I can’t do a relationship right now.”

“And I don’t want to risk it.” Sharon sighed. “The only thing worse would be giving you up.”

“I know.” Mark looked at her hopefully. “Think we can try to stay just friends for the next eight years?”

Sharon laughed sadly. “Do you honestly think that’s possible?”

He shrugged. “It’s possible. The work is pretty consuming, and I can’t imagine having that much time to, well, do the relationship thing, in the first place.”

“I suppose. And my Tante Berthilde always says if it’s going to last, no need to rush into it.”

“Fine. We’ll just take things really, really slowly and focus on keeping a platonic friendship between co-workers.” He stood. “So, you’ll take the job, then?”

She stood. “I guess so.”

He grinned. “Then, in the name of platonic friendship, let’s have some coffee.”

Sharon looked over at the credenza where the thermal pot was. “Ethiopian Harrar?”

“Nope. Sumatran.” Mark showed her a white ceramic crock and popped open the seal.

Sharon sniffed the beans and sighed happily. “That’s Cecil’s work, all right.”

“Yep. I’ve got the burr grinder right here. And I’ve got to buzz Johnnie. Do you mind doing the grind? For French press?”

“No problem. Where’s your water?”

“There’s an instant heat kettle.” Mark went over to his desk and buzzed. “Johnnie, need you to come in with Ms. Wheatly’s paperwork, please. And bring your mug.”

Johnetta appeared moments later, then stepped back in shock as Sharon expertly operated the grinder.

“Perfect,” Mark said, readying the carafe with the special plunger attachment that would separate the coffee from the grounds. “Sumatran mandheling, Johnnie.”

“Sumatran? And you let Ms. Wheatly touch your grinder?” Johnnie said.

Mark paused, looking guilty. “Uh, kindred spirits on the coffee front.”

Sharon caught his eyes and nodded. Discretion was in order. Already.

Inez Santiago angrily snapped her mobile phone shut and glared out at the New York City traffic.

“Mi amor?” Michael Wheatly asked, softly.

He was sitting next to her in the back seat of the limo, gently strumming his six-string classical guitar. Tall, broad-shouldered, brown eyes in a perfectly balanced face, topped off by blond hair that he was wearing a little on the longish side for the time being. Inez smiled softly at him in spite of her profound irritation. As stunningly handsome as Michael was, people were always going to be looking at him. But as long as he kept his shirt on and his hair straight, people were not as likely to recognize him.

“That was Bryce,” Inez told him.

“I got that.”

“He’s going to release that song for Sharon as the single off the new album whether we want him to or not.

Michael nodded. “I got that, too.”

Inez rolled her eyes. “Your sister is not going to like it.”

“It doesn’t mention her by name.”

“But you know how skittish she is.”

“Better than you do, amada.”

Inez shook her head and looked out at the traffic again. She hated limos and Michael did even more than she. But trying to drive through Manhattan after a very long flight was madness and a limo was more comfortable than a taxi.

It had been a dream trip. Michael’s career – which had never completely stalled – was bouncing back to life again, and the previous year had been jam-packed, at best. Then there had been the holidays – a tense week with her family, and after that, the happy, noisy chaos of his. Getting away, just the two of them together, for a month in Australia had been heaven.

Only now, they were home. Not her home. Not even his, really. They had bought a new place together – Michael’s idea. After five years together, it was about time.

“Bryce is an asshole,” Inez said quietly.

“We’ve known that for years,’ Michael replied.

“Thank God you’ve only got one more album on that contract.”

Michael shrugged. “And then what?”

“You’ve got a name. We could go independent and you’ll still get air time on the radio. Maybe we could get a special website going. Besides, by the time you get that last album made, who knows what the business will be like by then? You may never have to make a whole album at a time again.”

Michael strummed some more. “Who cares? I’m betting it’s not Bryce that’s got you on edge, anyway.”

Inez fidgeted with the cell phone.

“Am I right?” Michael asked.

“Close enough.”

“We don’t have to do this. I can buy you out of your share of the apartment.”

“And then what?” Inez smiled softly at him. “We can’t go back to the way it was before, Miguel, even if I wasn’t managing you. If I wait ‘til I’m ready, we’ll both be in our graves.”

“I thought you not being ready was why we’re not married.” Michael grinned.

Inez lightly punched his upper arm. “One step at a time, amado. Let me get used to living with you, first.”

And, sure enough, the limo pulled up in front of the Upper East Side apartment building and stopped. Inez caught her breath as Michael smiled and took her hand.

“There’s no getting used to me,” he chuckled. “But we can and will make it work.”

White House Rhapsody Chapter One

Quite a few years ago, I had a problem. I had a sweet romance novel, filled with engaging characters. But it was pretty long and the story refused to end. Plus it was really episodic in nature. Enter the Internet, and I turned it into a romantic fiction serial blog just for the fun of it.

Then I started serializing some of my fiction here on my main site and eventually it just didn’t make sense to keep a whole different site just for this one serial. So, I’m moving it here and to celebrate and help my newer fans catch up, I’m starting the story over – not in short episodes, but in chapter format. I’ll be alternating this blog with the Operation Quickline series and perhaps some of my science fiction and fantasy.

But now, for your reading enjoyment, I present Chapter One of White House Rhapsody.

At the sound of the mechanized gong, Sharon Wheatly looked up from her book and saw that the “fasten seatbelt” sign was on.

“Ladies and gentleman,” announced the flight attendant’s voice. “The captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign for our final descent into Ronald Reagan National Airport. At this time, will you please make sure your tray tables are locked and that your seatbacks are in the upright position. Thank you for joining us on our flight and we hope you have a pleasant stay in our nation’s capital.”

A pleasant stay, indeed. Sharon thumped the cover of the paperback in her hand and looked out the window at the frozen ground below. Washington, DC, was having a rather mild February and there were patches of dirty earth between the white patches of snow on the mall and around the Jefferson Memorial. The barren cherry trees along the Potomac looked black against the steel-gray water.

The man next to her glanced at the Flemish title of her paperback again and smiled at her in that dumb way people did when they couldn’t speak a language. When he and Sharon had boarded in Los Angeles, he was on his mobile phone, talking to Steve (whoever that was) in such a way as to make sure both Steve and Sharon knew that he was a terribly important person. For someone in his early 40s, it was more than a little pathetic. Sharon got out her book promptly. By the time the man had hung up, she was engrossed in the silly romance and he had decided she didn’t speak English. The book had done its job well.

Normally, when reading for relaxation, Sharon preferred reading English, French or Spanish – her first languages, as she often joked, since she couldn’t remember a time when she couldn’t speak all three. But Tante Berthilde had sent the Flemish title because of Sharon’s younger sister Susan, who had been going on for over a month now about the stars aligning in Sharon’s favor. And the romance was based on a bunch of stars aligning, which was why her aunt had sent the book, even though most French-speaking Belgians pretty much had no use for Flemish, Berthilde included.

And if Sharon actually believed in such things, she would have had to agree that if not the stars, then something was aligning itself right in her life. The recent election, her old company deciding to re-structure, her friend Carla’s new job, even Susan’s accident, as devastating as that had been, all had worked together to make it an auspicious time to make the move to D.C. and the public sector.

Sharon braced herself as the plane bounced down onto the runway and shuddered as the jet engines reversed themselves to slow down. The man next to her already had his mobile phone out, then suddenly bent over toward her.

“Look, we could meet,” he said suddenly, and slowly. “I could show you…” he pointed at her. “Around Washington?” He twirled his finger.

Sharon smiled, trying to make up her mind whether to respond in English, which would make him feel appropriately stupid for making assumptions but would open up the possibility that he’d continue hitting on her or to continue to play dumb. Apparently, playing dumb was the right move, because he smiled back weakly and started dialing his phone. A minute later, the plane had barely docked at the gate and he was out of his seat and grabbing his carry-on from the overhead compartment.

Sharon sighed. Hers was the kind of problem it was impossible to complain about. Men saw her slender figure, naturally blonde full hair and her soft face and inevitably assumed she had no greater desire than to be hit on. Which is why the stupid ones inevitably did. The geeks usually stared openly, which was embarrassing enough. But the covert appraisals were the most annoying. And the jealous glares from the women.

She mostly ignored the looks while waiting for her luggage. She was used to ignoring them, but it still felt uncomfortable to be looked at.

Sharon heaved her two suitcases off the conveyor and then paused just long enough to get her coat on. She was wearing a fairly heavy sweater over her jeans and boots, but she already knew how chilly D.C. was in comparison to Los Angeles. Coat on and her carry-on slung over her shoulder, Sharon Wheatly stepped out of the air terminal and into her new life.

Mark Jerguessen, on the other hand, was taking a moment to wish fervently for his old life. He gazed out over the frozen White House grounds – a view limited to the chosen few. And now he was one of them. In fact, at not quite 40, he was among the youngest and one of the few that were single when they got elected.

“Mr. President?”

Mark winced inwardly, wondering if he’d ever get used to being addressed that way.

“Yeah, Johnnie.” He turned to his chief of staff.

Johnetta Washington, slender with dark, dark skin and short cropped hair, generally had the attitude of an established church mother about to give the young new pastor what for. Mark had chosen her as his chief of staff precisely because he could count on her to give him what for at any given time. But ever since he’d taken the oath of office, Johnnie had been treating him with the correct deference most of the time. He was trying not to mind.

“Did you hear what I said just now?” Johnnie asked.

Mark turned into the Oval Office from the window. “We were talking about replacing Andy Shepherd, and yeah, two weeks is enough time to show respect for his passing, especially since we really, really need a world affairs advisor. Go ahead and call the State Department and get the interviews started. Same process as we did last December.”

“Call State about interviews.” Johnnie finished the note on her tablet and became a little more relaxed. “You doing okay?”

“Me? I’m fine.” Mark stopped and shrugged. “Mostly. You know, I expected the pressure. But I didn’t get the isolation, all the protocols.” He shook his head. “It’s just getting used to it, is all.”

Johnnie’s eyebrows raised mischievously. “Be careful what you wish for?”

Mark chuckled. “You’re the one who always told me to dream big. And now we’re both paying for it.”

Johnnie laughed. “And how. I’ve got a meeting with Jean and the rest of the media team in about…” She checked her watch. “Five minutes ago. Any extra thoughts on the education proposal?”

“Yeah. I was making some notes before the photo session earlier.” Mark looked at his desk and sighed. “They cleared it off for the session.”

In spite of Mark’s best efforts to be transparent, his staff had a whole list of deep, dark “secrets” that it would be better to keep from the American people, not the least his tendency to keep a host of electronic gadgets and other toys on his desk. Mark punched the intercom.

“Ms. Forrest, I need my desk stuff back, please,” he announced.

“Yes, Mr. President,” replied his personal assistant. Fresh out of college and almost annoyingly eager, Gen Forrest’s job was to hold his coat, open doors, pay for things, run errands and do all the things the leader of the free world used to do for himself, but could no longer do because he was the leader of the free world.

Another line buzzed on the intercom. “Mr. President, Senator Mendoza is here.”

“And I’m leaving,” said Johnnie, heading for the door that led to her office.

“Thank you, Kent,” Mark said to the intercom. “Would you have Mr. Arlen join us, please? And hold the Senator until Mr. Arlen arrives.”

“He’s here now, Mr. President,” replied Kent. “Please remember you have a meeting with the Farmer’s Union in half an hour.”

“Thank you, Kent.”

Mark sat down at the imposing desk that had served numerous other presidents since the mid-19th Century as Ms. Forrest brought in the laptop, emailer, e-reader, tablet computer and other such items that had been earlier removed for the photo session

IM Session

swheatly531: Hi, Carla. So, have you gotten over your jet lag yet? How is Lagos?

ladycarla: Smelly, crowded, impossibly rich and heinously poor all at the same time. We have our work cut out for us. The government corruption alone is a massive obstacle – it’s probably the worst I’ve ever seen and you and I have seen some seriously corrupt governments.

swheatly531: That is scary.

ladycarla: The good news is there are several folks open to micro-loans. But it’s sure going to take the whole five years to get things up and going. Did you find the place ok?

swheatly531: No problem. Right on top of the Metro stop. It’s gorgeous, too. I don’t even think I’ll mess with the bedroom.

ladycarla: You may as well. I’ll be re-doing it as soon as I get back, and five years is an awfully long time to put up with someone else’s taste.

swheatly531: Your taste is great. I will have to add some cooking equipment to the kitchen, though.

ladycarla: So I don’t cook.

swheatly531: How come there’s a door in the basement? It looks like it goes through a tunnel.

ladycarla: lol. Forgot to tell you about that. It’s a secret entrance from the back alley. The guy who built the house was this senator who liked his women. He had the secret entrance built so he could get his hookers in and out. The real estate agent said other members of Congress have taken advantage of it over the years.

swheatly531: lol. I’ll keep that in mind if I meet any members of Congress. Off to make phone calls. Already have a lunch scheduled for tomorrow.

ladycarla: You go get ‘em.

Five days later, in an office at the State Department, a junior-level human resources officer cringed in front of the deputy secretary of state.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Wallace,” the young officer said. “But when I saw her resume, I thought it was for the White House position.”

Wallace growled. “But I sent it down in an inter-departmental envelope.”

“Like all the others.”

“But it was from me.”

“I know, sir. But everyone has been offering candidates. All the note said was that the resume was to be verified and the security background done.”

“I wanted the resume verified so that I could write up an offer of employment.”

“Well, it did get verified and the security background was done. And Ms. Fritsch did the initial interview.”

“So? Can I write up my offer?”

“Well, see, that’s the problem, sir. Wheatly made the cut. The president is supposed to interview her tomorrow.”

It’s Launch Day for Death of the City Marshal!

Cover art fpr the historical mystery Novel Death of the City Marshal by Anne Louise Bannon, the second in the Old Los Angeles series

Think I’m a little excited? This is the second in the Old Los Angeles series. The first is Death of the Zanjero.

In Death of the City Marshal, Maddie Wilcox gets drawn into trying to find out who really killed Marshal William Warren. Okay, I massaged the history a touch. Marshal William Warren was L.A.’s first official police chief. He was also the first officer to be killed in the line of duty. I kid you not, he was shot by his own deputy Joseph Dye in a fight over the bounty on a prostitute.

Even though in real life, Warren did die of his wound from the gun battle, I did need a mystery, so in the book (it is fiction), Warren is actually killed by someone else. But I really worked hard to get all the facts straight surrounding the gun battle and the events of the next few days.

The book is available through Barnes and Noble, Apple, Google Books, Smashwords, Amazon, and Kobo.

Anthology Fun with Alison McMahan

This is kind of a fun post for me since my guest is one of the authors whose short story is in the new anthology, Fatally Haunted, from the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter. I happen to be the chapter president at the moment. Fatally Haunted was officially released just yesterday and we’re really excited about it. And a big thank you to Alison McMahan, who wrote the story King Hanuman, for sharing the experiences that led her to write her story.

Cover art for the mystery anthology Fatally Haunted, short stories of revenge and obsession in Los Angeles, put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime

In 2004 I made the first of several trips to Cambodia to produce a train-the-trainer film for an NGO. We filmed in a remote jungle village called Veal Thom, carved out of the jungle by landmine survivors. As Chhem Sip, a Khmer-American lawyer and social worker said to us, “they created this village with their bare hands and wooden limbs.”

Gradually we understood something even more special about Veal Thom: it was half made up of people connected to the former Lon Nol government, and half former Khmer Rouge. In other words, the two groups that had been killing each other for the previous several decades had set their enmities aside. Rather than fight each other, they work together to eradicate and survive the landmines (placed by every party involved in the war) that made them amputees.

In addition to the educational film we’d been hired to make, we made our own documentary that highlights their challenges and their struggles toward economic, emotional, and psychological recovery: Bare Hands and Wooden Limbs, narrated by Sam Waterston, now available on Amazon. https://barehandswoodenlimbs.com/

It took me years to complete the documentary, but finally Veal Thom’s example of how to heal and reconcile was out there for all the world to see.

I moved out of film production and wrote screenplays and fiction. I stayed friends with Chhem Sip, who had returned to the US to raise his family. Every time I visited him I learned a little more about the Khmer-American communities in Rhode Island, Florida, and Long Beach, CA.

I was born in Los Angeles. My maternal great-grandfather brought his family from Missouri in a covered wagon and settled in Long Beach in 1908. I’d toured the Queen Mary with my tenth grade class. Now I was learning about things that had happened in Long Beach after I’d moved away.

The Khmer-American community in Long Beach inspired me. Some built Buddhist temples and opened Cambodian restaurants and grocery stores. Some brought their guerilla savvy with them and formed gangs that competed with the already established gangs.

I wanted to write about someone who, like Chhem, who had experienced the war in Cambodia as a child, the forced labor and refugee camps as a teenager, then somehow made it to America. Someone, who, like Chhem, wants to give back but also has to work through her own war trauma. But unlike Chhem, my hero would have to do that emotional work in a Long Beach ripped apart by gang wars. A devout Buddhist who carries a gun.

That’s how Thavary Keo was born. The theme of FATALLY HAUNTED pushed me to clarify my thoughts, do more research, get a clearer picture of Thavary. My story, “King Hanuman,” is test, to see if I can pull it off, to see if readers want more before I commit to a series. I’m very grateful to the editors for the opportunity.

You can pick up your own copy of Fatally Haunted by going to our chapter’s website and clicking through to the Anthology page.

Fugue in a Minor Key is Now a Book

book cover for mystery serial Fugue in a Minor Key, #4 in the Operaition Quickline series

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the serial version of Fugue in a Minor Key. If you missed out on some of the earlier episodes, or if you really just liked it a lot, you can buy it as a book.

Coming up next in this space is the beginning of White House Rhapsody, the popular romantic fiction blog. I’m reprising Book One to celebrate moving the blog to my site. I’ll be interspersing sections of that story with other Operation Quickline stories.

Chapter Twelve

February 25 – 27, 1984

Pull quote: I didn’t think it was possible to get any colder. From Fugue in a Minor Key, a cozy spy novel

The next day, Sid left early to pick up Nick at the airport. When the two got home, it was clear Nick had picked up on the tension Sid and I were both still feeling from the day before. So, I had Sid join me in the living room and we told him what had happened to Darby. Nick seemed reasonably sympathetic but mostly unconcerned. Then Sid explained that if anyone did anything similar to Nick…

“I got it!” Nick groaned. “I’ll be sure to tell you.”

“Nick, this is important,” Sid growled.

“What is it with you grown-ups?” Nick shot back. “Every time some kid comes into the emergency room after doing something stupid, my mom gets out the big lecture about wearing my bike helmet and looking both ways before going into the street. Sheesh! I’m not stupid.”

I bit back my laughter, as did Sid. Neither of us looked at each other.

“No, you’re not,” said Sid, after swallowing. “But kids your age can get careless, which is how they end up in the emergency room. Besides, Darby’s parents and Lisa and I, we really care about him, and we thought we were watching for what happened to him. But it got by all of us. And we don’t want that to happen to you. So, we want to be extra sure that you know that if someone threatens us or your mom or somebody you care about to buy your silence, they can’t really hurt us. Or if someone tells you no one will believe you, it’s not true. We will believe you. The bottom line is that no one, but no one, should touch you sexually unless you want them to. Nor should you touch anyone else that way.”

Nick sighed deeply.

I smiled. “We’re only lecturing because we care.”

“I know,” he said, rolling his eyes.

We let the matter rest, and spent the rest of the day hanging out at the mall. Sid was clearly still feeling the effects of the day before, and instead of going out as he usually did on Saturday nights, he went to dinner with George, Nick and me. I got the feeling George wasn’t too thrilled, but he refused to say so. [Are you kidding? He was pissed to hell. – SEH]

Sunday, we went to the La Brea Tar Pits, which was a lot of fun, then I drove Sid and Nick to the airport since Sid had decided he wanted to talk to Rachel in person. He and Nick had obviously found some time alone to come to terms. I waited at the gate with them until they called the flight. Nick bounced up.

“Come on, Dad,” he said, grabbing his overnight bag. “That’s us.

I looked at Sid, who shrugged. I was not going to hear what happened until the next morning. I still don’t know what time Sid got home, but he apparently decided to make up for not going out Saturday night.

The next morning, we didn’t say much during our morning run, which we seldom do. Nor did we talk during breakfast. We both read the newspaper, silently handing off the different sections in turn. As it happens, neither of us are real communicative first thing in the morning.

The next step was a quick conference on what needed to be done that day in Sid’s office, with a look at upcoming deadlines and such. Life was pretty much back to normal.

“I’m just curious,” I said, shifting in the chair in front of Sid’s desk. “What happened with Rachel yesterday?”

Sid shrugged. “The lawyers should be working it out as we speak.” He looked at me with an odd frown. “I am acknowledging Nick, so you got what you wanted there.”

“I was more worried about Nick.”

“I know.” He sighed. “I just don’t entirely trust Rachel. I mean, I can tell that she genuinely loves Nick and he loves her, as he should. But, at the same time, I get the feeling that she sees him as an inconvenient reality. He’s all right to have around if someone else is doing most of the work and she can just do whatever she wants.”

“That’s the way she’s always had it until her mom died,” I pointed out.

“That’s the way she’s had it her entire life, I’d bet.” Sid shook off the thought. “In any case, I thought I’d better make it very clear that she can’t just foist Nick off on me whenever it’s not convenient to have him around. If we have to go on an investigation for an extended period of time, I don’t want Nick left hanging in the wind.”

“No, we don’t want that.”

“At the same time, I want to be sure that Nick gets the care he needs and that will probably mean more time with us. Which is a good thing.” He made an odd face. “It’s just trying to find a balance is all.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Oh, that’s all.”

“So, that’s why the lawyers are involved. Got to get everything in writing and ironclad.”

“Yeah. That makes sense. I guess I was more curious about Nick calling you Dad yesterday.”

Sid chuckled. “Yeah, that. It was Nick’s idea. He told me that he didn’t want another parent any more than I wanted a kid.”

“Oh, dear,” I said.

“That helped, actually.” Sid looked a little smug. “As Nick pointed out, it wasn’t anything personal. It’s just the way things happened, so we might as well just deal with it. And if I was going to get all bossy and lecture him like a parent, then he should call me Dad.”

I laughed. “Okay. How are you feeling about that?”

Sid shrugged. “It was probably inevitable. And it did give me some significant leverage with Rachel.”

If there was anything to be said beyond that, it didn’t get said. At that moment, the Quickline phone rang. Sid picked it up almost immediately, listened, then gave the receiver code, then listened for some time more.

“Alright,” he finally said, scrambling for a pen and paper. “Yeah. Got it.”

He hung up.

“Well?” I asked.

“We’re not out of it.”

“What?” I yelped. “We can’t make another buy. That pegs us as agents.”

“We’re not,” Sid said. “We’re doing an evidence swap. They’re moving in on Tony and the rest of the gang tonight.”

An evidence swap was essentially a break-in where we got the more sensitive evidence out of wherever the Feds were expected to raid and substituted less sensitive evidence.

“Whew,” I said. “That’s no big deal.”

“Except that we don’t know whether we’re swapping the goods”

I looked at Sid. “I don’t understand.”

“According to some of the agents who have been keeping Wright and Tony under surveillance, they seem to be getting ready to bolt. They’ve got someone doing the swap on Wright’s office, but Tony’s already stashed his share of the goods somewhere or he’s keeping them on him.”

“That is so totally not going to be easy.”

“And they don’t know which conveyance Tony’s going to use tonight. He apparently has a plane and a boat. We’re staking out the boat. If Tony comes our way, then we get on board, give it a quick sweep, plant the goods, and get the heck off. We’ll be monitored, mostly to keep us out of everyone’s way.”

“What about Wright?”

Sid shrugged. “Don’t know. With that other team doing the swap on his office, I’m assuming someone else is watching him. We, apparently, don’t have need to know on that one.”

I got up and started pacing. “I do not want to think about all the ways this could go bad.”

“Nor do I,” grumbled Sid. “Not a lot we can do about it, though. And it could be worse.”

It could have been a lot worse, I had to concede.

Henry came by late that afternoon with extra small and strong tracking radios and to help strategize, not that there was much strategy to consider.

“I don’t understand how they expect us to come out on top if they don’t tell us anything,” I complained as Sid and I ate dinner with Henry.

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Lisa,” Henry said. “There’s almost always someone at the top keeping an eye on all the chess pieces.”

“Any news on that leak in your office?’ Sid asked, more casually than he felt.

“None that anyone is going to share with me,” Henry said glumly. “They’ve apparently decided that it’s someone close to me and they don’t want me acting funny around him.”

“You’re kidding,” said Sid.

“If only I were.” Henry shook his head and sighed. “I’ve been pretty much shut down for the last week or two. Haven’t heard a word about what you two have been up to, except what you’ve told me.”

I frowned. “But wouldn’t knowing who they’re suspicious of make it easier for you to dig up the proof on this person?”

“In most cases, yes,” Henry said. “But my guess is that it’s someone with an undercover persona and they don’t want to risk blowing his cover until they’re sure.”

“They don’t suspect us, do they?” I asked.

Both Sid and Henry laughed.

“No, Lisa,” Henry said. “You guys are too busy. If they suspected you, you’d have noticed by now.”

“Then do they suspect you?” I asked, feeling very afraid all of a sudden.

“He wouldn’t be monitoring us if they did,” said Sid, with a glance at Henry.

Henry chuckled. “I wouldn’t have told you as much as I have if I were a suspect.”

We finished dinner talking about other things, like the current season at the L.A. Philharmonic, some movies we’d recently seen and other stuff like that. Still, that ugly thought about Henry kept nagging at me.

Sid and I got into our break-in clothes and then we took my truck to Marina Del Rey, where Tony’s boat was. Henry was behind us somewhere. We would check the monitoring equipment closer to the harbor. At a stoplight, I got out my bug finder and checked to be sure no one was transmitting from my truck. Sid had a funny look on his face.

“What’s that about?” he asked.

“Just wanted to be sure no one is listening in at the moment,” I said.

“Why?”

The light changed to green and I put the truck in gear.

“I’m bugged about Henry,” I said, trying not to cry. “What if he is the leak?”

“I’d say it’s pretty darned unlikely.” Sid gazed forward. I could tell he was wondering, just like I was.

“I know he’s our friend,” I continued. “But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done something terrible.”

“I know.” Sid shook his head as if trying to rid it of the thought. “I’ve known Henry a lot of years and he’s the last person I want to suspect. But it’s always possible. There are all kinds of reasons why someone goes bad in this business.” He sighed. “That being said, I don’t think he’s the leak. Usually, there’s some sign or other. If Henry were up to something, he’d be closing himself off to us, not being as open as he is. Not to mention the fact that we would have been warned off him in some way.”

I shuddered. “I sure hope not.”

“Lisa-pet, I know how hard it is to trust anybody in our business. It’s the nature of the beast. But we can’t live that way. It’s too crazy-making. Yes, I’m keeping an eye out, but I have a hard time believing that Henry James is selling us out.”

I nodded. Sid was right and I certainly had no good reason to doubt him, as he’d been in the business for over ten years by that point. I’d only been in for a year and maybe a half at that point. And I really hated suspecting Henry. He’d been a rock for me when I really needed him.

Sid patted my knee, trying to be reassuring. I appreciated it but didn’t really say anything more. We had a job to focus on and I had only so much mental space for paranoia. Well, it was possible we had a job. We wouldn’t know what was going to happen until it did. Which did not help my paranoia one little bit.

I parked the truck in the marina lot at the far end from any buildings and in the dark. A heavy drizzle left tiny drops lit by the marina lights on my windshield. The drops began getting heavier.

“Was rain in the forecast?” Sid grumbled.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t watch the news last night.”

He fiddled with his earpiece and I fiddled with mine.

“This is Big Red,” Sid announced to whomever. “We are on the air.”

“We got you, Big Red,” said a voice in my ear. It sounded like Henry’s. “Is Little Red there?”

“Little Red checking in,” I said.

“Red Four, this is Base Unit One, do you copy?” Another voice, backed by a lot of static, broke in.

“Base Unit One, I copy,” said Henry’s voice. “Red team is in place.”

“Red Team, subject is in motion.”

“Copy that, Base Unit One,” said Sid.

I glanced over at him, feeling somewhat heartened that Tony appeared to be on the move. There was no guarantee that he would leave that evening. He could have waited weeks, even months and that would mean endless nights, parked in the marina lot waiting for him.

“So, what do we have on the docket for tomorrow?” Sid asked, settling into the seat.

I shrugged. “I don’t remember, offhand. But we probably need to get some queries out to get some more work in. And I think there was something on cars that someone okayed. I don’t have the schedule with me.”

Sid glanced over at me. My memory for the status of our various writing projects was usually pretty good. But I just wasn’t up to thinking about it at that moment.

“You’re right about those queries,” Sid said. “Why don’t we do a brainstorming session?”

It was as good a way to pass the time as any, so we did. Until Base Unit One broke into our ears.

“Red Team, stand down. Subject is heading to the airport.”

Sid and I looked at each other and smiled. Tony was not going to be our problem that night and we did not mind that at all.

“We copy that, Base Unit One,” said Sid. “Subject heading to the airport. We are standing down.”

I stretched and grinned. We were not technically released but we were close. It was not to be.

“Red Team,” the Base Unit called. “Subject has changed direction and is now heading toward the marina.”

Actually, the subject changed directions a few more times after that, probably trying to ditch whatever tail he thought he had. He hadn’t figured out that he had some sort of tracking device on him.

“Red Team, go ahead and move in,” Base Unit One finally said. “We are not going to wait for the subject to make up his mind.”

Sid and I glanced at each other and swallowed. That meant we were going to have to search the boat with no idea of how much time we had to get it done, drop the lesser evidence and get off. We got out of the truck and sauntered down toward the docks as if we belonged there. We did have fake FBI ID cards, but no one challenged us.

We got to the right slip in record time. Tony’s boat was one of the smaller ones, but still big enough to make it to Catalina Island. Sid and I slid on our all over ski masks, zipped up our black sweatshirts and got our gloves on. We started our search from the top of the deck, went through the pilot’s area, and found nothing. Everything was wet from the rain, but fortunately, it had stopped for the time being, so we weren’t wet.

Then we went below to the hold area. It was a small living space with two seats along the sides of the boat. Forward, underneath the pilot’s area and into the nose of the boat was a small galley and in the back was a closet. Sid pulled up the long seats while I searched the galley. The place could have been riddled with microdots and we’d have never seen them, but you can’t really do anything about that.

“Red Team, this is Base Unit One. Subject is on the marina now. Do you copy?”

My heart froze and Sid and I looked at each other.

“Copy,” said Sid.

I held my hands out. Sid pointed at the closet. It was actually a tiny bathroom, but we managed to squeeze ourselves into it. Soon, we heard footsteps above us as two people got onto the boat. We could hear two voices arguing about something, one of which stuttered. That had to be Tony. The stuttering got louder as his steps came down below.

“…Heading N-n-north,” he was saying. “And that’s f-f-f-final!”

The steps retreated up top and soon we heard the motor start up. It was too dark to see anything, but I heard Sid cussing under his breath and I could just imagine the look of dismay on his face. My face probably looked the same way. It wasn’t a disaster. With the Coast Guard presumably on the lookout for the boat and the tracking devices aboard, it would only be a matter of time before they picked us up and figured out we were on the same side.

Until our communications died. There was a great crashing of static in our ears, then dead silence. Sid pulled the earpiece from his ear and shone a light on it from his pocket flashlight. He signaled me to listen from my piece, then spoke directly into the body mike he had on. I shook my head.

“Everything’s working,” he said. “They must have a signal jammer turned on.”

“On a night like tonight?” I groaned. “That’s suicide.”

“Only another reason to get off this boat as soon as we can.”

We slid out of the closet. The boat rocked as it left the harbor. I swallowed, but as the boat turned, we could see the lights of the shoreline as it passed. For whatever reason, Tony was hugging the coastline. Actually, it made sense. If he was jamming signals, he wouldn’t be able to use his radar to see where he was, not to mention being able to avoid the Coast Guard, who were more likely further out. Sid spotted something on one of the row seats and grabbed it, sliding it under his sweatshirt.

We pulled our guns, then carefully poked our heads up and looked at the helm. Tony stood next to a young man steering the boat. Tony had night vision binoculars and was busy scanning the waters to the front and sides. The younger man concentrated on what was ahead. The water was very choppy and the boat was not moving very quickly. Fortunately, it also rode fairly low to the water surface. The roar of the boat’s engine filled my ears and made it pretty easy to sneak around without attracting attention.

I found the life raft first. Sid nodded, his gun on the two men, as I got it roped, then inflated it. I had the raft roped fore and aft to the boat we were on, so Sid and I could get on without getting too much water in the raft. It wasn’t easy, but we managed it before Tony noticed. As we pushed off, we heard a yell, then the ping of gunshots. But the boat was moving too quickly and the current was already pulling us toward the beach. Sid and I started paddling for all we were worth.

It was freezing cold, miserable work. We were about a mile out from the shore, maybe less, but the current alternated between pulling in closer and pulling us out. Every minute or so, Sid would try to get a signal out. It only took four tries, and I can tell you, I was ecstatic to hear Henry’s voice in my ear.

“Big Red, Little Red, we copy,” he told us through the static. “We thought we’d lost you.”

“We’re on a life raft, rowing for shore,” Sid hollered. “We’re about a half-, three-quarter-miles out.”

“We’ve got you, Big Red, Little Red,” Base Unit One cut in. “You’re a quarter-mile north of the Santa Monica Pier. Can you see it?”

I looked to my right and saw the lights. “Yes, Base Unit One. Thanks.”

Gasping, Sid dug in with his paddle. “Subject boat is heading north, hugging the coastline. They’re moving slowly, and they have night vision binoculars.”

“Copy that.”

Gasping, we kept paddling. It felt like my arms were going to give out, but paddling was warmer than resting.

“Doing okay?” Sid gasped, as the shore inched nearer.

“I can make it. You?”

“I’m okay.”

“Big Red, Little Red, this is Red Four,” came Henry’s voice. “I have eyes on you.”

That was the best news I’d heard in some time.

We had just broken the wave line when I paused to flex my fingers. A second later, a wave caught us and flipped the raft. I didn’t think it was possible to get any colder as the wave slammed me into the sand, then threw me up to the surface. Choking, I somehow got oriented, spat out some salt water, then headed for the shore. A smaller wave helped me along and I was able to get to my feet before it pulled me back out.

I couldn’t see Sid anywhere. Panicked, I turned back toward the ocean. I was breathing so hard and coughing, I could barely stand up straight. But the sound of coughing several feet to my left energized me like nothing else. I ran in that direction as Sid ran toward me.

We fell into each other’s arms, gasping and coughing.

“I thought I’d lost you,” I gasped.

“I thought I lost you.”

He coughed, then suddenly we were kissing like we had never kissed before. We only broke apart when Henry ran up.

“There you two are!” he hollered over the surf.

He plopped warm, dry blankets over our shoulders, then all but dragged us up the sand to where his car was parked. We got into the back seat, while Henry got the engine on and the heater going. He passed back a Thermos of hot coffee. I hate coffee, but that night that hot liquid tasted better than anything I had ever tasted before.

Henry drove us straight to a covert medical facility, where doctors were waiting with heating pads and clean, dry scrubs. They put oxygen masks on us with heated air, then IV drips of warm saline. It took a bit, but we both finally stopped shaking and began to feel normal.

I fell asleep somewhere in there. When I awoke, shortly after six a.m., Sid was asleep, as well. The nurse let me go to the bathroom after taking my temperature yet again. When I got back, Henry and Sid were chatting in the curtained cubicle. It sounded like Henry was teasing Sid about something because Sid chuckled.

“I told you it was only of time,” he told Henry.

“What’s only a matter of time,” I said, parting the curtain.

Henry flushed even redder and Sid had the grace to smile at me fondly.

“Oh, Henry just thinks he has one on me,” Sid said. “Ready to go?”

The doctor told us to take it easy for a couple days. But Sid made a point of driving me to the marina to get my truck before someone had it towed.

There was good news/bad news when we got back. The good news was that the Coast Guard had picked up Tony and the younger man, who turned out to be his son. They’d also caught Wright trying to pull evidence from his office. So, the defense plant ring was completely shut down. Both Tony and Wright ratted out everyone they could. The only person they couldn’t say anything about was the leak from the FBI. As we’d guessed, this person was providing information on raids, plus checking fingerprints for federal agents and things like that. And Wright and Tony couldn’t tell the Feds who that leak was because they didn’t know. They didn’t even have a description.

And that proved to be very bad news, indeed. We spent into that coming summer chasing down leads and trying not to tell Henry anything. We’d been ordered not to and Henry said he didn’t want to know. I wish we had, though. Things ended up getting very messy, but that’s another story.

Mr. Jefferson, the man who was abusing Darby, saved everyone a lot of grief by pleading guilty and got a lot of jail time. I don’t know what happened to his family. I did try to do some research, but they went deep underground, apparently, and while I could have pressed it, I decided not to. Darby and his family got lots of counseling, which helped, but the scars would be there forever. Darby does come over every other weekend or so, and he, Frank, and Sid play music for hours together.

Nick is a regular feature. He comes almost every weekend and he and Sid are getting really close. Life went back to normal, not that there is anything normal about life around here. Which, as I think about it, is how I like it.

Essays, general essay

Death of the City Marshal is Coming Soon!

I am seriously excited to announce my May release, Death of the City Marshal. It’s the second in the Old Los Angeles series, featuring Maddie Wilcox.

City Marshal is based on the real shooting of City Marshal William Warren by his deputy Joseph Dye. At least, that part is real. I may have massaged the actual history just a bit to get a story out of it.

It’s October, 1870, and once again, violence erupts on the streets of Los Angeles. City Marshal William Warren gets into a gunfight with his deputy Joseph Dye, and is severely wounded. Fortunately, winemaker and physician Maddie Wilcox is on the scene to take care of the marshal. But the next day, she finds that the marshal has been smothered in his bed. The morning after the marshal’s death, red paint is splashed all over the front porch of his home, and a list of his sins posted on the front. The list of people with grievances against the fiery-tempered marshal is long. But then another prominent citizen has his sins posted and house front splattered. Maddie takes an interest in the vandalism in the hopes of finding Marshal Warren’s killer. But she soon finds out that she is up against a killer driven by a profound longing, and who is prepared to do the worst to keep that most basic of human desires: a home.

And now, here it is, the cover for Death of a City Marshal.

You can find out more about the novel and pre-order it on its landing page.

Chapter Eleven

February 24, 1984

Pull Quote: "Lisa, you'd find a way to feel sorry for Adolf Hitler." From cozy spy novel Fugue in a Minor Key

I was perfectly happy to be out of the investigation. It was a little frustrating that I was not going to know how things eventually fell out. Then again, there had been plenty of times when I did not “need to know,” and then did, and I would have been happier not knowing.

In any case, I was in a much better mood that morning. I sent Mae off, reassuring her that we would get to the bottom of what was bothering Darby. Then I went to my office and caught up on work, rode herd on Sid to get his work done, then got Darby focused on school work. In all, it turned out to be a particularly productive morning. So productive that Sid and Darby decided to work on music that afternoon.

I still had one project going when three o’clock arrived and it was time for music.

“You guys go on,” I said. “I’ve just got some edits to do.”

“Come on, Aunt Lisa,” Darby said.

“You may as well join us,” Sid said with a chuckle. “You might learn something.”

“Please?” Darby asked.

I sighed and followed them into the library. They got busy at the piano and I got out my knitting. But those last few edits kept niggling at my brain, and after a bit, I realized Sid and Darby were so focused, they’d never know I was gone. So, I snuck out and went back to work.

Sometime later, Darby began screaming. I hurried to the office door in time to see Darby bolting for his room. I started after him, but Sid pulled me back. Sid’s face was ashen and he was trembling slightly.

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

“I think I know what’s going on with Darby.” Sid swallowed and faded back into the library.

“What?” I followed him.

Sid sank onto the piano bench. “He’s being abused.”

“How?”

“Sexually abused.” Sid put his hand to his mouth. “And probably by a man he once trusted.”

I sank onto a chair, trying to make sense of what Sid was saying.

“Neil?”

Sid shook his head. “He’s not afraid of Neil. But he has been afraid to be alone with me. That night I was alone with the boys, Darby spent the entire time in his room.”

“But he knows you would never hurt him,” I said.

“Maybe he doesn’t.” Sid shuddered. “We were working on his scales, and I put my hand on his back. He snapped at me not to touch him, then he noticed that you weren’t there and that’s when he came unglued. If he originally trusted the person abusing him, I can see where what I did would scare the snot out of him.”

“Yeah. It would.” I got up, my legs shaking as I did. “I’d better go talk to him.”

“Yeah.” Sid swallowed again, then looked at me. “Would you make sure he knows I’m not mad at him?”

I smiled weakly at Sid. “Yeah. I will. Thanks.”

At the door to Darby’s room, I took a deep breath, then knocked and went in. Darby was sitting on his bed, tears streaming down his face.

“I’m sorry,” he cried.

“For what?” I sat down next to him and held him. “For being afraid because somebody’s been hurting you?”

“I can’t talk about it, Aunt Lisa.” His shoulders shook. “I really can’t. He’ll hurt the girls.”

“Nobody can hurt your sisters,” I told him. “We’ll take care of them.”

“He hit Mandy Watkins with a car last year. He told me. He needed to warn somebody. And nobody’s going to believe me, anyway.”

“I believe you. And so does Sid.” I squeezed him even tighter. “And we will make sure that whoever is doing this to you can’t hurt your sisters or anyone else. Okay?” I sniffed and tried to hold back my own tears. “I will not let anybody hurt you. I promise.”

Darby nodded and cried even harder. By the time the two of us were choking on our sobs, I had half a plan formed.

“First off, Sid wants you to know that he is not mad at you. Got that?”

Shaking Darby nodded. I gave him a tissue from the bedside table and took one myself.

I took a deep breath. “The next thing we have to do is tell your parents. That’s only fair. They’ve been worried sick about you. And nobody is going to do more to help you and keep your sisters safe than they will. You know how your mom gets when somebody says something mean to you or your sisters.”

Darby was forced to laugh. Mae does have a pretty strong mama bear streak.

“All right. Let’s get you packed. We’re going to take you home and talk to your mom and dad and get everything settled so that you and your sisters are safe. Of course, it will help if you can tell us who’s doing this to you. You don’t have to do it right now. But if we know where the fire is coming from, it will be a lot easier to keep you guys safe.”

Shaking, Darby nodded.

“Now, do you want me to stay with you, or do you mind if I go tell Sid what’s up?”

“You can go,” Darby said, swallowing. “Can he come with us? I mean, I still like him. I don’t want him to think I’m mad at him. I was just scared.”

“He understands. And, yes, I’ll see if he can come.”

By the time I got back to the library, Sid had gotten over his shock and was well into his rage phase. He didn’t say anything, but his face had taken on a really grim cast.

He agreed to my plan. I called Mae while he packed an overnight bag for me. Darby came out from his room with his bag and we were on the freeway within minutes, Sid driving his car. We got to Orange County in record time.

Mae had called Neil home. The other kids surrounded us happily, then Mae insisted they all go upstairs. I nodded at Darby and he ran upstairs with his siblings.

Then we broke the news to Mae and Neil, sitting in the living room.

“Sexual abuse?” Mae gasped. “Of course. It’s obvious. Why didn’t we see it?”

“Because nobody wants to think about it happening to them,” Sid said. “Besides, from what I’ve read, these predators make it pretty hard to suspect them.”

“Do you know who it is?” Neil asked.

I shook my head. “Darby hasn’t said. He’s been pretty invested in protecting his sisters. That’s how the monster got his cooperation and probably his silence. He threatened Janey and Ellen and was darned convincing. I think Darby’s still processing that we’ve figured out what’s going on.”

“Well, he’s going to tell me right now,” Mae snapped and started to get up.

“Wait!” hissed Neil, holding her back.

Mae sank back on the couch and burst into tears. “My brave little man. Carrying all this around so that his sisters wouldn’t get hurt.” Then all of a sudden, her rage exploded. “I’m going to kill whoever did this to him. I swear to God, I will!”

Both Sid and Neil had to hold her down.

“Mae, you don’t want to mess up the court case,” Sid told her.

Mae sank back again, shaking.

“Look, Mae,” I said. “We’re all upset and really angry. But let’s try and get a grip on it so that we can take care of Darby. Okay?”

Still crying, Mae nodded. “I should have known.”

“You had no way of knowing,” I growled. “So feeling guilty is not going to help either.”

“Mom?” Darby called from the top of the stairs. “Can we talk?”

“Yes, darling!”

Darby flew down the stairs and into his mother’s arms. Neil wrapped his arms around them as they all cried. I saw Sid blinking back tears and I found the last tissues in my purse and held them ready, even as I mopped up my own tears.

A few minutes later, Darby pulled back and looked at all of us.

“It’s Mr. Jefferson,” he said quietly. “He told me he’d hurt Ellen and Janey if I didn’t do what he wanted. He touched me and made me touch him. On his, you know.”

It was as if a heavy pall of suppressed rage fell on all of us, except Darby. He, finally, looked so relieved to have let down his burden.

Mae swallowed. “Darby, you were right to tell us. If we are mad right now, we are not mad at you. You did the best you could and I’m proud of you. But I am really, really mad at Mr. Jefferson, and I can’t help feeling that way. He hurt you and I will be damned before I let him anywhere near you or anyone in this family again.”

Darby hugged his mother. We eventually got enough control to call Sister Jerilyn. She showed up within minutes and helped Mae and Neil call the police. Then she helped us tell the younger ones what had happened and what was going on.

The police arrived and had to question Darby alone. They almost had to hold both Mae and me back again. At least, they’d found a social worker to bring with them. But Darby did pretty well, apparently. Two of the detectives left. The social worker stayed behind to talk to the other kids. Sister Jerilyn told us it was probably a relief for Darby to finally be able to talk about what had happened.

Then the phone started ringing with neighbors calling to let us know that there were all these police cars at the Jefferson place and asking if we knew what was going on. Sid took over the phone and told everyone he didn’t know. A while later, things really got buzzing as people began hearing about Mr. Jefferson’s stash of child pornography. The neighbors started suspecting that it wasn’t just a coincidence that Mae’s sister and their friend were visiting at that moment. Sid didn’t tell them anything.

We found out later that evening that at least a couple more kids had come forward, one a college junior. There was plenty of shock and dismay going around, too.

“You know,” I sighed as Sid and I finally drove home that night. “The person I really feel sorry for is Mrs. Jefferson. And her kids. There’s no way they can continue to live here. And I’ll be they didn’t even know what was going on.”

Sid chuckled. “Lisa, you’d find a way to feel sorry for Adolf Hitler.”

“Well, who wouldn’t? I mean, anyone carrying that much hate around is seriously hurting.” I sat back and thought. “Kind of like Tony.”

“You’re buying his story all of a sudden?”

I frowned. “Not entirely. I mean, I think he’s playing more stupid than he is. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he really did have a son who needs an operation.”

“Well, we’re out of that one. So, it doesn’t matter, does it?”

“No, I guess it doesn’t.”

And, no, duh, we weren’t out of it. But we wouldn’t find that out for another couple days. In the meantime, Sid had one more hurdle to get over.

Chapter Ten

February 22 – 23, 1984

Pull Quote: "I think they were there to take us out." From Fugue in a Minor Key, a cozy spy novel or mystery

The next morning, I managed to keep a straight face when Sid told me that he’d called Rachel the night before and had agreed to have Nick down for the coming weekend. [Not by half, kiddo. You pulled a smirk for the ages – SEH]

Shortly after that, we got a call from the Dragon directly, asking us to set up a meeting for the next night. She explicitly told us not to set it up as a sting. Just to make the purchase quietly and try to get a look at the other side’s big boss. So, I made the calls, then got worried because Dragon had also insisted that both Sid and I go together. Since I wanted to call Mae, anyway, I went ahead and asked if she’d mind watching Darby while Sid and I went on our separate appointments. Mae agreed to come late that afternoon, then spend the night.

The rest of the day passed quietly. Sid wanted to go out that night, so I talked George into coming over and watching a movie with Darby and me. Darby went to bed after the movie. George and I were going to watch another, but we got caught up in a little necking. Finally, George got up, flushing a deep red.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah,” he said. “I just…” He laughed guiltily. “It’s nothing. I guess it’s time for me to get home. Are we going out on Saturday?”

“Unless something comes up,” I said, following him through the front of the house. “You know how that goes. Nick’s supposed to be here. Maybe we can take the boys out to a movie.”

“Sure.” George didn’t look all that enthused about the idea.

“Well, if you don’t want to,” I said.

“No. If you want to, we’ll do it,” he replied.

I kissed him good night and went to bed.

Mae and I had a good chat when she arrived the next day. I told her about my suspicion that Darby felt that he had a good reason for keeping his problem a secret.

“That seems to make more sense than anything,” she said. “But how do we get it out of him? It’s clearly not something that he should be carrying around.”

“I know.” I sighed and chose my next words very carefully. I did not want Mae trying to pry my secrets out of me. “But I have no idea what to do next. Maybe Sister Jerilyn would have an idea. It is her area of expertise.”

“You know, you’re right,” Mae said. “I should have thought of that.”

“Maybe not,” I said.

Sid stepped in to say that he was leaving, and Mae, Darby and I all ate dinner together shortly after. Then I went off to my meeting.

Sid had parked his car at the gym, and I met him there. We both played some racquetball, then showered. I got on my wig and makeup. Sid met me in the parking lot and we took my truck. The meeting was in Century City, so we parked the truck under the Shubert Theater, then walked to the garage at the Century Plaza Hotel. Sid had put on a fedora and held it on in the brisk wind. As we approached the garage, he pulled the hat down low over his face. We’d gotten there somewhat early, certain that the people we were meeting had gotten there early, too.

I spotted Tony standing nervously near a pillar, deep in the middle of the ground floor. I looked at Sid. He nodded and we moved into a shadowed recess closer to the entrance.

“Tony?” I called. “I can see you, but I’d really rather we met over here.”

“I- I- I was told to meet you at this pillar,” he whined looking for us.

“And what makes you think we’re that stupid?” I said. “We’ll meet where we’ve both got clear sight lines and a fast way out.”

“I w-w-w-was hoping you t-t-trusted me,” Tony said, slowly coming near the entrance. He couldn’t quite see us, but it was interesting that he wasn’t looking around for other bad guys.

As he neared the entrance, I slid out of the shadows. He was trembling.

“I hate this,” he said sniffing. “I only d-d-d-did it so that my son could have an operation. He n-needed it t-t-to save his life, b-b-b-but the insurance wouldn’t c-cover it. They said it was experimental. We c-couldn’t afford it otherwise.”

My heart melted, but fortunately, I didn’t let down my guard. Tony may have been an amateur, but he was being handled by some established professionals.

“Is your b-b-b-boss here?” Tony asked.

“I am,” said Sid, stepping out of the shadows behind me. “And I don’t like doing business with rank amateurs who have the Feds on their backsides every five minutes. It’s almost not worth doing business with you. You’re just lucky that my client wants what you have so badly.”

“The F-F-Feds aren’t m-m-m-my fault,” Tony whined.

“I don’t give a crap,” Sid growled. “I’m not going to risk my backside because you’re an idiot. Now, what have you got that’s worth so damn much?”

“Uh, uh, full g-guidance systems specs. Your c-c-c-client will know what we’ve got c-cooking for the next t-t-t-ten, no, t-twenty years.” Tony swallowed.

I rolled my eyes for effect.

“Federal agents,” barked a voice at the far end of the garage. “We’ve got you covered!”

Tony ducked and hid behind a car as Sid and I slid into the shadows and crept our way through the bushes planted next to the garage. There didn’t seem to be any agents behind us, and there were only two men advancing toward us. One held a rifle and was sweeping the area. The other had his revolver out, with his arms braced.

Sid and I soon hit a wall but spotted a door into the hotel. We hurried inside, then walked through the lobby. Sid stashed his fedora in a trash bin along the way. We put on our most casual faces and smiles then had the doorman at the entrance summon a cab for us. Fortunately, the cab took the long way around to the Shubert. Sid paid the driver, then we headed out across the plaza in front of the theater. We waited just long enough for the show inside to end, then blended in with the crowd.

Finally, in my truck, we joined the crowd of cars winding their way out of the garage. Sid and I looked at each other but neither of us felt comfortable talking yet, even though we were probably safe. As we finally got out of the garage, Sid directed me to drive by the Century Plaza. I was a little surprised but did without arguing.

“There’s nothing going on,” I said.

“Exactly,” Sid said. “That’s what’s wrong. Why aren’t there vans and swarms of guys sweeping the snot out of that place? Where are the cops? This defense plant leak is a huge deal and they send only two guys to make the bust?”

I frowned as I made the left on Olympic to head back to the gym. “That’s true.”

“Those two guys in the garage weren’t Federal agents,” Sid said. “I’d stake my life on it.”

“The guys in the airport most certainly were,” I said. “Or they had really, really good IDs.”

“Then why hasn’t Tony gotten busted?” Sid asked.

“Maybe he’s not such an amateur,” I said slowly.

“As in he’s playing your game.” Sid’s eyebrow lifted. “Which means if those guys were Feds, a) they don’t believe he’s got that much going or b) they’re using him to land us. But that doesn’t make sense. They should know we’ve got a sting operation going on.”

“Or maybe they are Feds, but they’re the leaks,” I said.

“They could be,” said Sid. He closed his eyes for a moment. “Either way, I don’t think they had a bust in mind. I think they were there to take us out.”

“How comforting,” I grumbled.

Sid shrugged. “We’re out of it now. If we were for real secrets brokers, we wouldn’t be dumb enough to set up another buy with Tony. So, setting up another buy would tag us as Federal agents.”

“From your lips to God’s ear,” I said.

Linda O. Johnston on Being Flexible

Linda O. Johnston has been one of my Sisters in Crime buddies since I got active with the group a few years ago. Today, she’s writing about how being flexible has helped her career.

Image of author Linda O. Johnston, who is writing about being flexible as a writer
Linda O. Johnston

I’m a fiction writer.  I’ve been a fiction writer for a long time, and I’m almost entirely traditionally published, although that’s changing somewhat and may change even more. 

In fact, a lot about my writing is subject to change, depending on which publisher is interested in what.

 I’ve had fifty novels published so far, with more to come.  My genres are generally mystery or romantic suspense, and no matter what the main genre is, nearly all of them contain elements of romance and suspense or mystery.  That’s what I love to read.  That’s what I love to write.

 Oh, and I nearly always include dogs, too.

 But what I want to talk about here is flexibility in writing… mine, and yours. 

Of course there are writers who prefer choosing one genre or subgenre and sticking with it, using it as their entire writing career.  And for some writers, that works out fine, whether they’re traditionally published or self-published.  But that’s not me.  Is it you? 

I started out with mystery short stories (and won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for best first mystery short story of the year with the first one!), then added time travel romances, then moved into romantic suspense, mysteries and paranormal romance.  That has worked out well over time since my time travel romance publisher, Dorchester, went out of business long ago, one of my mystery publishers, Midnight Ink, is no longer going to be publishing mysteries after this year, and the publisher of my paranormal romances, Harlequin, stopped publishing the Nocturne paranormal romance line. 

Is that going to happen to every traditionally published writer?  Hopefully not, but one never knows.  And flexibility in what I write has allowed me to continue on. 

Does a writer have to be that flexible?  Nope.  If there’s a particular genre you love above all others and want to write only in it, go for it.  Especially these days.  There are a lot of publishers out there now, both large and small.  If you get something published by one of them, you’ll hopefully develop a relationship with them that will result in your publishing a lot of books in the same genre with them.   Or not.  But if you like that genre above all others, you can hopefully find a different publisher if that first one doesn’t continue to buy from you. 

Or you can write in multiple genres as I do, and therefore write for different publishers at the same time, if that’s what you choose.  

And then there’s self-publishing!  When I started out, editors and writers looked down their noses at self-published authors, as if they turned to that because they weren’t good enough for traditional publishing.  Not today!  Today, self-publishing is respected and revered, and it’s a different form of successful publishing.  Plus, those who are self-published can certainly earn a lot more per book than those who are traditionally published. 

Oh, and by the way.  I mentioned that my self-publishing is changing now, and that’s mostly because I got my rights back to my first two mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries and its spinoff Pet Rescue Mysteries, and I’m currently working on having them published again as bundled e-books. 

Image of book cover For a Good Paws, but Linda O. Johnston

So–should you be flexible in your writing?  Only if you choose to.  But there are a lot of options out there for writing in one genre only, or in multiple genres–whatever works best for each author. 

Me?  At the moment romantic suspense and I are best friends… and in the future I hope to branch out yet again, particularly into mystery. But for right now–well, I’m celebrating the May release of my fifth and last Barkery & Biscuits Mystery for Midnight Ink:  For A Good Paws.  It’s obviously a mystery, and the whole series features dogs and baking.  And yes, romance is included, too–my protagonist Carrie Kennersly has been developing a romantic interest throughout the series.

So please check out my website: http://www.LindaOJohnston.com   and friend me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaOJohnston

I’m somewhat remiss in other social media, though I do blog elsewhere.  Maybe that will change one day, too.

Do check out Linda’s website. Frankly, I’m impressed. I thought I was prolific!