Sewing Men’s Pants

sewing men's pants

Pretty welts on my husband’s new pants

Yeah, I get it. Crazy is one thing, but sewing men’s pants? WTF am I thinking?

I’m thinking my husband needs trousers and I’m not finding any I like and there was this cheap fabric I’d picked up, so what the heck?

Truth be told, it’s not any harder than sewing pants for women. The biggest difference is that I have to put belt loops on my husband’s pants because he always wears a belt, and I can leave belt loops off of mine since I seldom wear a belt. Oh, and the center back seam is wider at the waist to make it easier to adjust the fit later as someone’s waist expands or not. Since we women are more likely to expand and deflate, you’d think you’d see that on women’s pants, but no.

Yes, there is a little more tailoring… Well, I wouldn’t call it tailoring, but you can get fancier with your finishes on the inside. But I’m not going to. It’s not going to show and it doesn’t affect the fit. Why bother?

Besides the belt loops, the big lesson here? If you know a better way to do something than what the pattern instructions say, dump the pattern instructions. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to read them first.

Sewing Men’s Pants Photos:

And here they are:

men's pants

There’s the extra wide seam at the back

men's pants

Waistband interfacing – It did make things easier.

Men's pants

Tah-dah! Men’s pants. And they fit him, too.

 

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Three

spy fiction, cozy mystery, mystery fiction serialOctober 4

It took six more days for me to get my explanation. Mae wanted to know why I couldn’t come out that Sunday. Something told me that telling her what was going on was not a good idea. I made a vague excuse and said I’d try to get out on the following Sunday.

Monday was D-Day. I knew it as soon as Mr. James showed up on the front doorstep. He’s a tall man, somewhere in his late forties, balding and much of the dark hair that is left has gray streaks in it. His shoulders are broad and he has a definite middle age spread. He also has the reddest face I’ve ever seen in my life.

I ushered him into Mr. Hackbirn’s office and didn’t quite shut the door. I stayed near the crack, too.

“Is this what I think this is?” Mr. Hackbirn asked, pleased.

“What the doctor ordered,” said Mr. James. “By the way, I got an interesting report from Highland when they closed down.”

“Yeah.” Mr. Hackbirn sounded caught. “Well. I didn’t have much choice. They sent it there, and Gannett’s been seen watching the place. I didn’t want to chance it. He knows me too well. She’s obviously clean. No harm done, right?”

“You’re just lucky it didn’t blow up. Shall we bring her in?”

Mr. Hackbirn chuckled. “Come on in, Miss Wycherly.”

Flushing, I slid open the door.

“She’s been..?” Mr. James looked at Mr. Hackbirn.

“I told you, she’s bright.” He grinned at me, then turned serious. “Please sit down, Miss Wycherly.”

Puzzled, I sat down on the edge of one of the chairs in front of the desk. Mr. James stood next to it.

“Miss Wycherly,” he said, pleasantly. “Sid has informed me that you have noticed a few oddities about his household.”

I glanced at Mr. Hackbirn. His face was passive and unreadable.

“I have,” I answered slowly.

“And has it occurred to you that Sid might be a little bit more than merely eccentric?”

“Well, I have thought that certain of his little oddities seemed a little too planned to be mere idiosyncrasy.”

“I see,” replied Mr. James. He looked at Mr. Hackbirn.

“She’s bright,” said Mr. Hackbirn.

I decided to be bold. “Am I bright enough to be let in on whatever it is that’s going on around here?”

Mr. James smiled and so did Mr. Hackbirn.

“That’s why you’re here, Miss Wycherly,” Mr. Hackbirn said, becoming serious once more.

“Miss Wycherly, you picked up a package for Mr. Hackbirn last Tuesday,” said Mr. James. “Do you know what was in it?”

“As far as I could tell, paper,” I replied. “I assumed that it was some sort of report.”

“The paper was a blind,” said Mr. Hackbirn. “What really made that ream important was a microdot containing top secret information.”

“It’s beginning to make sense,” I said. “That clearance.”

“Miss Wycherly,” said Mr. James. “Within the structures of the FBI and CIA are several smaller organizations. Organizations so secret that only their members know they exist. Mr. Hackbirn is a member of one called Operation Quickline.”

“He’s a spy.” I swallowed back my fear. “For the US?”

Mr. Hackbirn smiled and nodded. “Yes. I work secretly through the FBI, and now so do you.”

“Me?” The news hit me like a punch to the bread basket. Locked in. He’d warned me off. Something inside me snapped, and it was if I was watching everything that went on from another corner of the room.

“Your security clearance and adoption came through this morning,” said Mr. James.

“You mean you guys want me to be a spy, too.” My voice sounded distant as if another person were speaking.

“No,” said Mr. Hackbirn. “You are a spy.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“You will just have to live with that. I’ve had to do the same. All I can do is offer my sympathies.”

Mr. James stepped forward. “You have to understand, Miss Wycherly, that the only reason Quickline is effective is because it is so secret. Therefore, when we must recruit new members, we cannot ask them without endangering the system, so we draft likely candidates.”

“I can’t believe this,” I gasped.

“It will take a day or two,” said Mr. Hackbirn.

I got up as well as I could. “I gotta get out of here. I’ve got to think.”

“As you wish,” Mr. Hackbirn replied. “But, Miss Wycherly, please keep in mind that my life, and now yours depends on your secrecy. It is that critical. I told you I am a dangerous person to know. This is why. I’m afraid you’ll be risking your life right along with me. I wanted to tell you what you were risking, but I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

“I understand. Sort of.” I looked at him helplessly, then turned. “I’ll see you later.”

I left the house and ran down the streets to the bus stop. I was confused. I was a spy. They hadn’t even asked me, and, oh, that made me mad. But I was also excited. They had chosen me. But for what? Yes, I would be risking my life, but how did I know these guys were telling the truth? I only had Mr. Hackbirn’s word for it that Mr. James was from the FBI. The bus arrived, and I found myself making the long trip to West LA, and FBI headquarters.

I was scared as I paced the foyer, and I realized the thing that scared me the most was that I had no way of knowing if Quickline truly existed and if it really did work for the US. What if it was really an enemy operation?

Oh, was I naive then. That should have been the least of my fears. Of course, I had never laid my life on the line before, and risking my neck didn’t sound that bad in theory. I never really believed that I had no choice in the matter either. I’m not sure I do even now.

A buzzer sounded above the rattle of the young woman typing. She looked up at me.

“Go on back.”

The office was well appointed and comfortable. A woman about my mother’s age sat behind the desk and smiled professionally.

“May I help you?”

I took a deep breath and began the story I’d rehearsed on the bus.

“I’m a writer, doing a story on espionage in the US, and I’ve stumbled across something. I can’t reveal my sources. Is there a spy operation working for our government called Operation Quickline?”

The name phased her for a moment. “Not necessarily.”

“Look. I need to know.”

“You don’t necessarily have the right to know. Can you tell me why this is so important?”

“If I could tell you that, I wouldn’t be needing to ask you!” I felt my voice go shrill and took a deep breath to steady myself.

I don’t know if the woman guessed what was on my mind, or if God merely intervened and made her do something she wouldn’t have normally. I didn’t care then, and I don’t now.

“I can’t really say yes or no,” she said softly. “You should forget you ever heard the name. But I wouldn’t worry about Quickline being a threat to national security.”

“Thank you.”

I left the office feeling somewhat reassured. On a lark, I went to find Henry James’ office. It was there. The secretary seemed vaguely familiar, with brown hair, clipped into a barrette. She must have been expecting me because she sent me right into the inner office.

Henry James was there, too.

“Quite a shock, isn’t it?” he said smiling with paternal warmth.

“Yeah. I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, you’re probably feeling angry, and a little mixed up. Don’t worry. We all do. Any questions?”

“Not right now, Mr. James.”

“Please, call me Henry. We’re going to be seeing a lot of each other. I’d like to be friends.”

I smiled rather weakly at him.

“Sure.” Fumbling for something to say, I looked at him. There was something reassuring about him. “Uh, you can call me Lisa.”

“Thank you, Lisa.”

There was another awkward pause.

“I’d better get back,” I said finally.

“Before you go, Lisa, I’d better say something.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Operation Quickline is one of the most successful spying operations that the U.S. has. It is successful because it is so secret. Even my secretary doesn’t know it exists. Its continued success depends on your ability to maintain its secrecy. Lisa, absolutely no one can know about it except you, Sid and myself.”

“Not even my family?”

“Not even your family.”

“I’ve never held anything back from my family before. Well, I haven’t told them where I’m living right now. I haven’t gotten around to it. But I will.”

“That doesn’t matter. Quickline does, for their safety as well as yours.”

“I suppose. Is it really as deadly as Mr. Hackbirn says?”

“The risk is always there. That’s why you can’t tell your family, Lisa. No one must know about this but you and Sid.”

“Are there any restrictions on friends? I’m meeting some very nice people at church.”

“That’s fine. Just be careful, and don’t let them get too close. If you need support, I’m always here, and you’ve got Sid.”

I had to chuckle. “I don’t know if I’d trust him that way.”

Henry chuckled, too. “Maybe, maybe not. Lisa, he’s a very lonely man. He uses Quickline as an excuse not to reach out. Your life may have been turned upside down today, but so has his. The sad part is, he doesn’t even know it yet.”

“I guess.” I got up. “I’d better get back to the house.”

“Fine. See you around.”

“Sure, Henry.”

I left his office deep in thought.

“Excuse me,” said the secretary. “Have we met before?”

I looked at her again and flushed pure vermillion.

“Oh, my god,” I groaned. “The clothes.”

“What? Oh!” She recognized me and laughed. “You’re Sid Hackbirn’s secretary. You didn’t recognize me with my clothes on, did you?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Boy, you sure put Sid off his paces.”

I turned to her. “I did?”

“Yeah. He couldn’t believe you’d never seen a naked man before. He kept saying you were a genuine innocent.”

“Oh.” I paused. “I hope I didn’t mess things up too much.”

She purred. “You can’t mess up Sid that badly.”

“Oh.”

She held out her hand. “I’m Angelique Carter.”

“Lisa Wycherly.” We shook. “It was nice meeting you… Uh, again.”

She laughed. “Yeah. Again. To many more meetings. With our clothes on.”

I laughed also. “Right.”

I hurried out. Once on the street, I paused. No one seemed to be following me. I decided to test it. I walked up to Westwood and went into the first burger place I found. I knew lunch would be waiting for me at the house, but I’d had one heck of a morning. I deserved a real meal for a change. I got a double chili burger with fries, cole slaw, onion rings, a chocolate milkshake and a piece of cheesecake for dessert. [Oh, Lisa! – SEH]

I suppose I should have been more upset. Mr. Hackbirn had radically changed my life without doing me the courtesy of asking me. Well, he had tried to warn me, and he did give me a chance to back out.

At first, I was too numb from the shock to protest. As the shock wore off, I became caught up in the romance of being a spy. The danger seemed very unreal to me. Later, when I realized just how real the risks were, I was too caught up in other problems to feel much outrage at my fate, and I’m not the type to spend much time brooding about things I can’t change, anyway.

It was almost two when I got back to the house. Mr. Hackbirn was waiting for me in the living room.

“Well?” he asked.

“I guess I’m in,” I replied, brightly.

“That goes without saying. Any questions?”

I thought. “Why me? Why even have a secretary?”

“As I said before, you are a woman who sticks to her standards, even when it’s hard not to. That takes a lot of strength. When I told you I needed someone with guts, I meant it.”

“That’s not very reassuring.” I sank onto the couch.

“No, it isn’t.” He sighed as he sat in the easy chair. “Ours is a very dangerous business, I’m afraid. Anyway, as to why a secretary, that was my idea. I’ve always wanted someone who could handle those mundane little trivialities of life that are so time-consuming and dull, yet must be done. Because of the nature of my business, any secretary I’d hire had to have a security clearance. The people upline didn’t want any more people involved than necessary, so they put the krabbatz on that.”

“What made them give in?”

“Business got good. I’m not physically capable of making all the drops and pick ups they want made. So when they said they were going to give me an associate, I said I wanted a secretary. They, in turn, replied they didn’t have one and if I wanted one that badly, I could recruit the person myself. It’s policy to keep recruits under twenty-four-hour surveillance, which is why you’re living here.”

“And why you followed me to church that Sunday. And why you wouldn’t let me out of the house.”

“That was because you ditched your tail that Friday you went shopping.”

“You mean he was part of the surveillance?”

“Yes. They caught up with you at the church because of the list I had you give me. However, since you kept ditching them, I couldn’t keep you under surveillance, that’s why I kept you in.”

“Except for last Tuesday. Was that also surveillance?”

Mr. Hackbirn winced. “No. I was glad you ditched him. I wasn’t supposed to send you. You weren’t cleared yet, nor did you have any training.”

“You mean he really was a bad guy.”

“Yep. You handled it well, though.”

“Thanks.” Something else occurred to me. “I wasn’t followed to the FBI offices. Does this mean no more surveillance?”

“You’re on your own.”

“So I suppose I could move now if I wanted to.”

He made a face. “You could. I’d rather you stayed. It is convenient.”

“There’s that. I’ll have to think about it.” I leaned forward. “Tell me about Quickline.”

“We mostly pass information around, hence the name. However, we occasionally take real packages and sometimes act as a safe house.”

“We don’t do any of the actual spying?” Believe it or not, I actually felt disappointed.

“It depends on what you call actual spying. We do sometimes have to break into places to get things, and sometimes we handle investigations. But we are a domestic operation. Only under very rare circumstances will we do any foreign work.”

“How long have you been doing this?”

“I started in the army when I got drafted. Intelligence first got me in boot camp and kept me undercover. After my discharge, I was transferred to Quickline.”

“So what now? I assume you’ve got me in the self-defense class because of this.”

“Right.” His smile turned ominous. “Tomorrow your real training starts.”

I swallowed. “Oh dear.”

“By the way, Amalgamated Paper Company will be augmenting your salary from now on.”

“So that’s what those checks were.”

“Precisely. And you’ll be getting them, too.”

“You mean I get a raise?”

“It’s a promotion. You are now my associate.”

I grinned. “Not bad for two weeks work.”

“To all outward appearances, you are still my secretary, and you’ll still be performing all the same functions.”

“I was afraid of that.”

Mr. Hackbirn laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m still paying for the mundane trivialities.”

“You don’t have to.”

“That is my decision, and I will continue to pay.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

We looked at each other. I was filled with that warm cozy after the storm feeling, the kind when you know everything is going to work out just fine. The kind when you know you’ve just found a very good friend.

How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

Organizing Your Kitchen

kitchen organization, cooking, how to cookIt has been a while since I’ve done a Dark Side of the Fridge (how to cook) post. But I’m working on a whole new scheme to post regularly and…

I’ve got my fingers crossed, too.

In any case, if we are going to talk about learning to cook, rather than simply read recipes, then we’ve got to think about the space in which we do it. Okay, even if we mostly prepare recipes, how our kitchens are organized will have a massive impact on how easily things get done. Which if we’re not wild about cooking, in the first place, is not generally something we want to be thinking about, let alone spending money on.

But, but, but. A reasonably well-organized kitchen can make it a lot easier to get in and get out before you go nuts or die of hunger. Seriously. Some folks come to this conclusion quite naturally. Some folks ain’t me. I have to think about these things, such as realizing the reason the damn circuit breaker keeps blowing in the mornings is because the toaster oven and the coffee maker are on the same circuit and both draw a lot of power.

Now, the thing the so-called experts recommend is to look at your kitchen layout and imagine the Food Prep Triangle. That’s the triangle made by your fridge (where most of your food is kept), your sink, and your stove. You want to line things up so that they’re included in this magic triangle to reduce steps. Sounds really nice and can help get you started thinking about how you move in your kitchen. But it doesn’t always take into account how kitchens are really laid out. Or that maybe it makes more sense for your pantry items to be in the pantry, which is just outside of your kitchen. Or that, as the diagram of my kitchen shows, the stove needs to be in the far corner because there are a bunch of kitchen cabinets in positions 1 through 6 and the port for the gas line is in that far corner. Or that directly across the kitchen from the door to the dining room is the door to the utility room and pantry and the back door to the house.

Movement in my kitchen is profoundly affected by that back door because we have to go through the kitchen to let the dogs out, get the laundry hung out on the line, hang out in the back yard, things like that.

The fridge is in the opposite corner because there’s nowhere else to put it.

That being said, even with the supposedly bad layout, my kitchen is pretty darned efficient. Why? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about where and when I use things and putting the appropriate tools and/or dishes near those locations. For example, I have a stand-up mixer which I keep on my counter at position 5. All my baking ingredients are in the cupboard underneath. My pots and pans are on the baker’s rack next to the stove. My dinner dishes are in the top cupboard at position 1, where I can grab them and head straight to the dining room, where I will use them.

Not everything is perfectly placed. I had to put the toaster oven on a different circuit and that ended up being on the counter at position 1 because the coffee maker, at position 4, is next to where the water for it is. But most things are where I can get them easily. Knives in blocks on the counter at position 6, close to the fridge, where the veggies I will chop are. I also have my cutting boards next to my knives. Wooden spoons and whisks are in a jar on the baker’s rack, next to the stove where I will use them to stir soups and sauces. The microwave is next to the fridge, so I can pull something out and heat it quickly.

So, when you have an off day and a lot of extra time, look at your kitchen and ask  yourself if the tools you use all the time are out next to where you use them. Ask whether the ingredients you use are stored near the place where they are prepped. Can you shift something around on your counters so that you can get to it when you need it, rather than having to shuffle through a drawer or two first?

These may seem like minor things, but making your kitchen as efficient as possible does make it a lot easier to get the cooking done. I promise.

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Two

cozy mystery, spy fiction, spy novel, cozy spy novelSeptember 14 – 28, 1982

For the rest of that week, I was pretty busy. Monday afternoon I spent playing with the computer, and most of Tuesday morning. He had a database program he wasn’t even using. Just for the fun of it, I indexed his clippings on it, then cross referenced it all to the file folders. Mr. Hackbirn can’t find a thing without me. Talk about making yourself indispensable.
Tuesday afternoon I got my first article to word process, a piece on the F.B.I. The sheets of binder paper were a mess. Not only was the handwriting cramped and angled funny, any crossed out words were completely blacked out. At least there weren’t any arrows. When I finally deciphered it, I saw why he didn’t do a lot of writing. The points were logical and flowed well, but his grammar and spelling stank. I knocked on his office door and entered.
“Uh, Mr. Hackbirn, would you mind terribly if I cleaned this up a little?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he asked back.
“Just little things like spelling corrections.”
He let out a rueful chuckle. “It’s not so good, is it?”
I winced. “Your grammar’s pretty bad, too. It’s mostly just sentence structure. You state your case well, and it flows together beautifully.”
“That’s right. You got your degrees in English.”
“Well, literature. But… Yeah.”
The phone rang. There was something funny about the way the line on his phone lit up.
“Miss Wycherly, would you please excuse me?” Mr. Hackbirn put his hand on the phone but waited to pick it up. “And make sure the door is shut on the way out.”
I left, shutting the door. Sitting back down at my desk, I looked at my phone. None of the lines were lit. And there were only three hooked up. I picked up the fourth line. Nothing. Yet a fourth line had lit up on Mr. Hackbirn’s phone.
Mr. Hackbirn came out of his office in a hurry.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be gone,” he told me as he rushed past. “Go ahead and eat dinner without me.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Out.” And he was gone.
I shouldn’t have. It was his office, and how he chose to live wasn’t really my business. On the other hand, I was dying to know. I told myself that it could affect me. I went into his office and picked up the phone, and pressed the button for that fourth line. I got a dial tone.
That was as far as my nerve got me. The next day I noticed something else that was funny about the phones. It was Wednesday night, really. Mr. Hackbirn has the same three line phone that I have on my desk in every room in the house. I was in my sitting room and picked up to call my sister without noticing which button I’d pushed. The conversation I heard was intimate. I slammed the phone down, then fretted because he had to have heard me slam it, and then had to explain, and…
The next morning at breakfast, I apologized.
“For what?” Mr. Hackbirn asked.
“Well, I accidentally picked up your line, and you were talking. I didn’t listen very long.”
He chuckled. “I can imagine. Don’t worry about it. I had no idea you were on.”
“You must have heard me slam the phone down.”
“No.” He went back to his paper.
“You mean you can’t tell if an extension is picked up?”
“Can’t hear a thing. Unless you speak, of course.”
I mused. “Makes it real easy to spy on someone. Hey, you’re not listening in on my calls, are you?”
He flipped down a corner of his paper to look at me.
“What do you think?” he asked in a bored, but amused tone, and went back to reading.
It was odd, but, hey, the guy was an eccentric. I let it pass. That morning, I stumbled onto all his personal papers, like his birth certificate. He was born in New York City to Sheila Hackbirn and an unknown father. A death certificate had been filed for his mother when he was two. She’d died of massive cranial injuries. There were papers giving Stella Hackbirn, aunt and only living relative, custody of him. Those all had been filed in New York.
There was a report card from a kindergarten in San Francisco. Mr. Hackbirn was a bright little kid, and definitely had a mind of his own, much to his teacher’s chagrin. I found a few notes from what I guessed were schools. They were all called Free-something-or-other and were not too interested in structure. Well, that accounted for the lousy grammar and spelling. Then there was four years’ worth of report cards from San Francisco High School. His grade point average was none too shabby. The comments, for the most part, decried his inappropriate behavior. [Gee, I wonder what that could have been – SEH]
Then I found his draft notice. He served two years in Viet Nam, which surprised me. He made corporal and was honorably discharged. There were some more grade reports, this time from Stanford, with a diploma. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in business and a minor in journalism. I don’t know how he did it with his grammar and spelling. [There were several girls who didn’t mind helping me – SEH] And finally, the deed to the house in Beverly Hills.
Was it nosy? I figured it was my right to gather basic information on my employer. Not that it told me much about the man, himself. He kept me at arm’s length, responding to my questions without answering them.
Friday morning, Mr. Hackbirn asked me for a detailed list of my plans for my shopping trip.
“Why?” I asked.
“I might be able to drop you and meet you some places,” he said. “It’ll be faster than taking the bus.”
“Okay.”
We set out at about twelve thirty, right after a fabulous gazpacho, with wheat toast and melon for lunch. Good food, just not enough of it. We stopped first at his bank so I could open my accounts. Then we went to a discount office supply store. Mr. Hackbirn was appalled until we went to the regular price place to get the stuff we couldn’t get at the first place. He remained appalled but admitted it was kind of silly to pay full price for the same items offered at the discount store.
Then we went to Adray’s on Wilshire, where I bought a sewing machine. I tried using my Master Card to get it on installments, but they wouldn’t take it. Mr. Hackbirn offered to buy it for me, which I refused. I did let him co-sign, though, threatening dire consequences if he even tried to pay it off.
Next stop was the Beverly Center. It was Mr. Hackbirn’s idea to go there. He groaned when I went straight to the Broadway sale racks.
“You don’t have to stick around,” I told him. “I’d just as soon shop by myself.”
“I can stay,” he said, then saw something. “On second thought, I think I will take off.”
I looked in the direction he had but didn’t see anyone, male or female. He went in the opposite direction, anyway, so he wasn’t chasing someone. I couldn’t figure out what he’d seen that had changed his mind.
The man was pretty unobtrusive, sandy hair, glasses, sport shirt and jeans. In fact, I couldn’t be sure he was the same guy I’d seen at the food court. I left the mall and went across the street to the fabric store. I was so absorbed there, I didn’t notice him. But I did as I paid.
I walked up the block to the bus stop. He watched the shop windows. I changed my mind and walked down Beverly Boulevard. He just happened to be coming my way. I did an about face and went back to La Cienega. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him scramble into a doorway. At the corner, I put on a sudden burst of speed and just barely caught the bus. Through the window, I saw my shadow running up, looking for me.
I changed buses twice. I had planned to visit some shops I knew of in Westwood but changed my mind. Instead, I ended up at a strip center in Brentwood, and there was no way I was going to pay those prices. That left only one more errand.
It was a nice, conventional little church, with a school and a hall. The sort of church your parents grew up at. It was also several blocks in from Sunset, and some of the hills there are steep. I was gasping and sweating as I registered.
I didn’t see him that time. Just an odd glimpse or two, but someone was again following me as I left. I could have cried. I had that big, heavy bag from the fabric store, and a couple others from the mall, too. I all but ran down to Sunset.
I had to wait for the bus. No one approached me. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. Mr. Hackbirn’s house is a good hike in from Sunset, also, with really steep hills. I was so tired, I didn’t care if I was being followed. I promised to save my next paycheck for a car.
Mr. Hackbirn was in the front hall, waiting for me as I entered.
“Where have you been?” he demanded.
“I gave you a list this morning,” I gasped. I dropped my bag and stumbled into the living room. I could see the street from the window. It was empty.
“What are you looking for?”
I flopped onto the couch. “It’s weird. Ever since I met you, people have been following me. All last Saturday and Sunday, I kept seeing something that looked like you. Then today, at the Beverly Center, someone else starts in. I ditched him, go to register at church, and then someone else again is following me. Either I’m getting paranoid, or something strange is going on.”
“You seem awful short of breath.” Mr. Hackbirn looked me over thoughtfully.
“It’s a hike up that hill.”
“What kind of exercise program do you have?”
I looked at him. “Me? I attribute my excellent health to a complete avoidance of physical exercise and a steady diet of junk food.”
Mr. Hackbirn winced. “I was afraid of that. Well, Miss Wycherly, that changes tomorrow morning. After breakfast, I will drive you over to my health club and sign you up. Monday, you will start martial arts training.”
“What? Don’t I get any say in this?”
“No. It’s a condition of your employment. I need you in top shape.”
“Why?”
He paused. “So you can keep up with me. Dinner is ready. Let’s eat.”
True to his words, Saturday morning found us first at the sporting goods store for workout clothes and shoes, then at the health club. I was in pretty bad shape. I used to hike a lot, and camp, and ride horses when I lived in Tahoe. While I was in college, I worked up there during the summer and did all that stuff then. I hadn’t done much of anything since my first year teaching. I was pretty stiff Sunday morning.
I made it to mass on time. Walking home, I got that creepy shadowed feeling again. I turned a corner, then hid. Sure enough, around the corner came Mr. Hackbirn. I whirled around and almost smashed into him.
“Alright. This is too much,” I shouted. “What are you doing, following me?”
“Uh…” He fumbled for an answer. “You said you were followed Friday. I was just seeing if you had reason to be concerned.”
“You are so lucky that the last thing I want to do is go back to Tahoe.” I stalked off towards his house. “What is going on with you? I mean eccentric is one thing, but this is ridiculous.” He walked next to me and didn’t answer. “Don’t you trust me? What am I going to do to you? Am I supposed to be setting you up for a robbery?” He still didn’t answer. “Well?”
“It seems to me that is a rhetorical question.”
“Hmm.”
“Perhaps it would be better if you just remained at the house. I appreciate the inconvenience. But in the first place, you won’t have to worry about being followed, and in the second, I won’t have to worry about you being followed.”
“For how long?”
He sighed. “I wish I knew, Miss Wycherly, but it shouldn’t be too much longer.”
Monday morning I started running with him. Mr. Hackbirn runs for an hour every morning. I walked. He shook his head, and walked with me, pushing me to a run every so often.
After breakfast, we visited Mr. Fukaro at his dojo on Melrose. That seemed ridiculous, too. So did getting a mace can for my key ring, including the certification. Mr. Hackbirn insisted. It beat stifling in Tahoe, and it was nice to know I could fend Mr. Hackbirn off, should he try anything. He wasn’t about to.
That afternoon, he hovered over me at the UCLA research library. Wonder of wonders, someone wanted to look at an article he’d offered them. He told me a friend of his had typed the query letter and cleaned it up.
Wednesday morning Mr. Hackbirn showed up for our run very stiff and with a nasty bruise on his left cheekbone.
“What happened to you?” I asked, very concerned.
“Never mind,” he grumbled.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.”
“What did you do? Run into a door or something?”
“No,” he replied curtly.
“It wasn’t one of your girlfriends, was it?”
“No such luck.” He stopped as he saw my shocked look. “I told you, I’m not into S and M.”
“I wasn’t thinking that. I just figured you must have been mugged. Did you call the police?”
“Miss Wycherly, enough. I do not care to discuss it.”
“But…”
“No more.” He took off.
And he meant no more. I’d learned that much. Right after lunch, we were working on the article he’d written the day before.
“I’ve never heard it before,” I told him. We had the article laid out on his desk, and I leaned over him. “And I can’t tell what it means from the context unless there’s a word missing in there. Either your pen leaked or you didn’t write in the word you decided to use instead.”
“Mont Blanc makes the finest writing instruments and inks in the world,” he said. “Nor is there a word missing. It’s a basic concept when it comes to funds.”
“Yeah, but would your audience know it?”
He thought. “Good point. How to define it…”
He leaned back in his chair. The phone rang. It was that fourth line. I dove for it. His hand got there first.
“Miss Wycherly, you are not to answer that line, under any circumstances, even if I am not here.”
“What is it?”
“A private line. Now, leave, and shut the door.”
I left. He didn’t seem angry, but there was something deadly serious in his voice. It scared me. I wanted to know, and I didn’t want to ask.
I did my best not to think about it. I had a job. It paid well. The food was good, if sparse. And it was a nice place to live. The rumpus room had a large screen TV, and a VCR, and a superlative stereo system that could be piped throughout the house, thanks to the intercom system. There was a full wet bar in there, too, which I didn’t mess with. My rooms were lovely. The library was great. The living room had a fireplace and cozy overstuffed furniture.
I did spend a lot of time sewing. Patterns and pieces of fabric don’t get you much cash, so I’d hung onto those. Friday night, it was getting late. I stopped sewing, and got into my nightgown, then poked around in one of the boxes I had yet to unpack. I found several cassette tapes and an old Panasonic cassette recorder. Laughing, I put in the tape I’d made of the Sergeant Pepper’s album way back when I was in high school. It was my best friend’s record, and we taped it on her dad’s hi-fi set.
I danced as the guitars twanged, and beat on air drums. I took the tape recorder with me into the bedroom, only to find that the Nero Wolfe novel I was reading was not on my bedside table. I’d left it in the living room. I didn’t want to stop my tape. I was having too much fun regressing. I found the ear plug, and plugged it in, so I wouldn’t disturb Mr. Hackbirn if he were hanging around somewhere.
It wasn’t likely. He was out most evenings. I assumed he was off chasing women. I didn’t expect to find him in the living room, and I really didn’t expect to find him naked as a jay bird with his hands all over an equally naked woman with really full brown hair. See, the living room is open, with a really wide doorway and no door.
I yelped and scrambled into the hallway. Mr. Hackbirn’s date also screamed.
“What the hell?” yelped Mr. Hackbirn. “What are you doing up?”
“What are you doing in there?”
The woman laughed.
“What does it look like?” asked Mr. Hackbirn.
“I meant why are you there? There’s no door.”
“I thought you were asleep. Why the hell aren’t you? It’s after midnight.”
“I came to get my book.”
“It’s no wonder you’re so dead in the mornings.”
“Can I have my book? It’s on the coffee table.”
“Come on in. We’re not doing anything.”
“You’re in your birthday suit!”
“You’re a grown woman. Haven’t you ever seen a naked man before?”
“No. And I don’t want to.” I put my hand in the doorway. “Will you just hand it out?”
I didn’t look. The book ended up in my hand.
“I’m sorry I surprised you. I hope I didn’t stop anything.”
Mr. Hackbirn snickered. “You wouldn’t have.”
My face flushed fire hot as I fled.
I spent most of Saturday afternoon trying to convince Mr. Hackbirn to let me go to Fullerton to visit my sister and her family. He wouldn’t budge.
“Miss Wycherly, please,” he said finally. “It’s just for a little while longer. Why would you want to go to your sister’s, anyway?”
“To relax.”
“How can you relax around five small children?”
He had a point, but I wasn’t going to let on. Besides, I enjoy my nieces and nephews.
“I manage,” I replied. “I get the feeling you don’t like children.”
“Not really.”
I sent him a snide glare. “Surprise. You spend so much time starting them. I can’t believe you haven’t produced a few by now.”
He didn’t seem in the least perturbed. “I had that fixed a long time ago.”
“Fixed?”
“A vasectomy, Miss Wycherly.”
My face went red. Mr. Hackbirn just chuckled and sauntered off to his room.
Sunday, instead of following me, he drove me to and from church. Monday morning, he threw (figuratively) his household accounts at me. The stocks and stuff that made his money were all handled by his broker and accountant. Getting it into his bank account and keeping track of what happened to it from there was my job. I’d been wondering where his money came from, i.e. was it legal? Everything in the shoe box he handed me seemed legit. Did it all make sense?
The checks from Amalgamated Paper Company didn’t. All the other check stubs were quarterly, and the amounts varied. The APC stubs were all monthly, and payroll checks at that. Admittedly, that wasn’t much to worry about, except for all the other stuff.
At lunch, I told Mr. Hackbirn there wasn’t any way I could get the information he wanted over the phone, so he insisted on driving me to the library. He hovered over me, claiming he was interested in how I did my research. He wasn’t. I finally sent him to get some microfilm reels.
The moment he was gone, I slipped out of the viewing room, and downstairs to the reference floors. I checked all the business abstracts. No Amalgamated Paper Company. I checked through the Yellow Pages for the city in which it was supposedly located. It wasn’t listed, nor was it in the BusinesstoBusiness supplement. I thumbed through Dun and Bradstreet once more.
“Why the hell did you sneak off like that?” Mr. Hackbirn’s voice snapped behind me.
I slammed the book shut. “I, uh, wanted to double check something.”
“Dun and Bradstreet has nothing to do with drug smuggling.”
“Well, not that. I’m sorry, Mr. Hackbirn. I’ve just been noticing things, and you’ve got a whole bunch of check stubs from a company that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist.”
“Oh.” Mr. Hackbirn pressed his lips together and thought. “Miss Wycherly, there is a logical explanation for that. Give me a few more days.”
“It’s not only those check stubs. There’re all sorts of other things.”
“I know. Now is not the time to discuss it. Please, Miss Wycherly, in a few more days you will have a full explanation.”
“Are you involved in something criminal? Because if you are”
“Miss Wycherly,” he interrupted, “now is not the time. You will know in a few days.”
When we got home, he went straight to his office and shut the door. The line on my phone lit up a second later. I went to the door and put my ear against it. I couldn’t hear a thing. It’s a sliding door, too, on a track, so nothing could escape through a crack at the bottom. For all intents and purposes, that office was soundproof.
I went to my desk and picked up the phone, and pressed the lit up line.
“Sid, what can I do for you?” Henry James’ voice asked. A director at the F.B.I., he called fairly often.
“Hasn’t that paperwork come through yet?” Mr. Hackbirn complained.
“Sid, have patience,” replied Mr. James. “The adoption has been approved. The clearance should be through any day now. We’re dealing with a bureaucracy, remember?”
“I know. But Wycherly is pretty bright and she’s asking questions. Not to mention that business is booming. I need the help and she’s sitting there completely impotent.”
“I’ll try to redirect a little of your business.”
“I’d rather have that clearance. What’s taking so long?”
“Who knows? Can you just hang tight?”
“I’m hanging fine. It’s Wycherly I’m worried about.”
“Well, worry about Lipplinger, too.”
“Aw, hell. Is that finally breaking?”
“Gannett’s putting the feelers out.”
“Push it some other way. Gannett saw me.”
“We’ll need you for the other phases, so stay ready.”
“When aren’t I? I’ll talk to you later. Call me the second that clearance comes through.”
“I will. Bye, Sid.”
“Bye, Henry.”
I put the phone down quickly and spread my notes out over my desk. Not that it mattered. Mr. Hackbirn didn’t leave his office until dinner. I decided not to say anything about what I’d heard. He was definitely up to something. Still, it could have been related to his writing. Mr. Hackbirn did do a regular feature on the F.B.I. for a newsweekly magazine. That could be why I needed a clearance. Which really didn’t make sense, but I was too worried about going back to Tahoe to question it until it was obvious Mr. Hackbirn was doing something illegal.
I was surprised the next morning when Mr. Hackbirn sent me by myself on an errand. That mysterious fourth line had rung again, and he’d kicked me out of his office. Five minutes later, I was called in.
Mr. Hackbirn wanted me to pick up a package for him at an address on Highland Avenue.
“Tell them you want the package for Big Red,” he told me.
“Big Red?” I asked, trying not to laugh.
“It’s an old joke,” he replied without any sign of humor.
I made the hike down to Sunset and picked up an eastbound bus, connecting to a southbound one at Highland. I got off at Santa Monica and went half a block south.
As I approached the building where the package was, I noticed a man leaning up against the building watching the door. He was the sort you see every now and then. He had longish stringy dirty hair and a half-grown beard with patches of gray in it. His denim pants and bomber jacket had both faded but not at the same rate. Something about him bothered me. By that point, I was convinced I was paranoid, so I ignored the feeling and went into the building.
The package turned out to be a ream of eight and a half by eleven paper in a brown wrapper without any markings. At least that’s what it looked like. I assumed the paper inside had some information on it. It seemed rather unlikely even for Mr. Hackbirn to go to so much trouble just for plain paper.
I left the building carrying the package and headed south again for a different bus stop. I wanted to go to the bank to deposit my check, which I hadn’t done Friday because Mr. Hackbirn hadn’t let me out of the house. I stopped at a window to look at something and noticed the man in denim about half a block away staring at the traffic. I wasn’t paranoid. I was being followed again.
I ducked in front of a stopped bus, then dashed across the street to a northbound bus, and got on board. How I wasn’t hit, God only knows. My guardian angel must have been working overtime. I changed buses three times, then stood for an hour at the bank. Well, it seemed like it. I didn’t see anyone in denim, let alone potential vagrants, although I kept looking. I was exhausted by the time I got back to the house.
“What took so long?” Mr. Hackbirn asked as I handed him the ream.
“Call me paranoid. I was followed again.”
Mr. Hackbirn became deadly serious.
“When?” he asked quickly.
“After I picked up the package.”
“Terrific!” He took off for the living room. “Did he follow you all the way here?”
“No. I grabbed a bus and it left before he could get on.” I followed him. He glared out the bay window to the street below. “I didn’t see him after that.”
“Tell me exactly what you did.”
So I told him. I even described the man.
“Who was he?” I asked when I was finished.
Mr. Hackbirn turned from the window and shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Why would he be following me?”
“He was probably just some weirdo.”
“Then why are you so bugged about it?”
“Miss Wycherly, why don’t we just forget it happened?”
“No,” I snapped. “Something pretty darned strange is going on around here, and if you don’t tell me what it is, I’m leaving.”
“Miss Wycherly, please. I promise. Just a few more days.”
“Not good enough. See you.” I started for my rooms.
He grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face him.
“I can’t tell you now. Please. Trust me. I will tell you the very second I can.”
Man, his eyes were gorgeous. Dumb, I know. For all I knew, this guy could be signing me up for the Mafia, and there I was getting hot and bothered over his eyes. Definitely hot and bothered. I pulled away quickly, my face blazing.
“The very second you get that clearance?” I blurted out and regretted it. “Yeah, I can listen, too.” Terrified, I burst into tears. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have. But there’s too much weird stuff going on. But if it’s something criminal, you’ll kill me before you let me go, so I don’t testify against you, and I gotta find a chance to escape before I know too much, cause you know too much about me.”
“It’s nothing criminal,” he said softly. He was upset, also, but not angry at me. If anything, he looked guilty. “If you want to escape, go now. You already know more than you should, but if you want out, trust me, get out now, and forget you ever knew me.”
“I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”
“Oh, hell.” His laugh was short and cost him. “Lisa, you’ve done more right than you could possibly know. That’s why you’re so confused, damn it. But I can’t clear it up without locking you in. I’m sorry I got you into this.”
“Do you really want me to leave?”
He turned away. “No. I want you. You’re good.” He looked at me sadly. “But in some ways, I want to warn you off, and I can’t tell you why.”
I bit my lip. “You’re not like into murder or something?”
“I promise you, it’s nothing criminal. I don’t give my word lightly.”
“I won’t find myself undressed, or… You know.”
He laughed. “No. I don’t go around trespassing upon the virtue of innocents unless they ask me to.”
“But you’d like to talk me into it.”
“I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind.” He came over and laid his hand on my cheek. “However, I do respect the word no.”
His touch was so light, so gentle and caring. My breath was coming shorter than after running. I pulled away and started for the office.
“Mr. Hackbirn, I-”
“Call me Sid.”
“Mr. Hackbirn, I think… I don’t know what to think.”
“Lunch is ready.”
I turned to him. “You say I’ll be locked in. I have to admit that’s pretty scary.”
“Then why don’t you think about it. You can take off any time tonight. Assuming you want to.”
I shook my head. “Thinking about it isn’t going to change anything. This might sound pretty crazy to you, but I’m not afraid of taking risks. You’ve given me your word. That’s good enough for me. I’ll stay, that is if you really want to put up with me.”
He smiled. “I think I can take my chances.”

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter One

cozy mystery, serial mystery fiction, spy novelSeptember 10 – 13, 1982

My name is Lisa Wycherly. I live with my boss. I’m not sleeping with him. He’s got enough girls in and out of his bedroom. He doesn’t need me.

Oh, Lord, that sounds defensive.

It’s just that, thanks to my boss, my life has radically changed, and I still don’t know how to make sense of it all. Things got just plain scary last weekend, not to mention that horrible fight, and I’m still more freaked out because I’m sharing a house with a man. Okay, maybe not that I’m living with a man, but this man, a guy whose values are so totally opposed to my own when it comes to sex and relationships.

Maybe I should just start at the beginning. It started because I was hungry.

Neither of us knew what we were getting into that night. [And let’s be thankful we didn’t – SEH] We were in a bar, the absolute last place you’d find me under normal circumstances. He sat down across from me.

“Ditched your date?” he asked, pleasantly casual.

He was very nice for someone so obviously on the make, and good looking with dark wavy hair, a cleft chin, and very bright blue eyes. He wore a silk shirt with a sweater neatly tossed over his shoulders. Later, I found he was on the small side of average, about three inches taller than me, but just barely.

“Yes,” I replied, as coolly and politely as possible. “And thank you, but I don’t care to be picked up by anyone else.”

He glanced into the restaurant of which the bar was a part.

“Well, I suppose getting grabbed while starting your salad is enough to sour an evening.” He started to get up. “My apologies for presuming, Lisa.”

“Wait.”

He sat. “Yes?”

“How did you know my name?”

“You’re wearing it around your neck.”

My hand flew to the necklace as I let out a sniff.

He gazed at me softly. “Are you in trouble?”

“I’m alright!” I snapped, then blushed. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude.”

“But you are in trouble.”

“It’s nothing life-threatening.”

I felt the tears well up again. And I’d thought I was past crying about it. I blinked them back and looked at the man across from me. There was something about him…

“I’ve been out of work for a year,” I heard myself say. “My unemployment’s run out, and things are getting tight.” I touched my necklace. “This is the only thing I haven’t pawned.”

He nodded. “No money for a taxi, I presume.”

“I’ll be alright. I can call my sister.”

“Who is not currently home, at least I assume that’s who you called earlier.”

“They won’t be home ’til eleven, and they’re in Fullerton.”

“And we are in Hollywood.” He checked his watch. “Which means you’ve got a long wait. Why don’t I buy you dinner and take you home?”

I sighed. It was certainly my night to fend off aspiring Don Juans. Except the current one was anything but sleazy. In fact, he was the first genuine threat to my honor that I’d ever known. Wouldn’t you know, that’s the moment my date decided to show up.

“Wo, there you are, Lisa.” Larry was not wearing a leisure suit, but he might as well have been. “You were taking so long. I thought I’d better make sure you didn’t fall in.”

“I survived the restroom, Larry,” I said.

Even though I wanted to fend off the man across from me, I still felt embarrassed by Larry.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Larry,” said my nameless friend. He got up smoothly and shook Larry’s hand. “Lisa and I go way back. We haven’t seen each other in a while, and I just had to have a chat with her.”

“Well, the waiter brought dinner,” Larry said to me.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” said the nameless one. “Lisa’s coming to dinner with me.” He signaled the maitre d’. “In fact, our table’s ready now.”

“Now, wait a minute!” protested Larry. “Lisa-”

Larry made a grab at me. My benefactor stepped between us and put his arm around Larry’s shoulders. They spoke together quietly for a minute. I couldn’t hear over the music. [I told him blind dates were a drag, and that I’d take you off his hands, and put him onto Sue Wilkins if I remember correctly – SEH]

“Happy hunting,” my friend said, and slapped Larry on the back, then slid around and took my hand. “Come on, Lisa. He won’t hold that table forever.”

I went with him. I don’t know why I did, but I went with him. Larry gaped at me, then at some redhead. I didn’t see what happened next. The maitre d’ seated us in a nice, secluded booth, and my friend slipped him something.

The maitre d’ grinned. “Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome.”

I put my face in my hand. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

“What about Larry?”

“That desperate little dork is getting the fate he so richly deserves.”

“What do you mean?”

“The redhead at the end of the bar.”

I peeked around the booth. I couldn’t see the bar.

“She isn’t going to dump him, is she?”

My friend laughed. “Hardly. In the first place, she’s so easy he won’t know what to do with her, and in the second, should he figure it out, she’s into S and M.”

“That’s… Oh no!” I started to get up.

“Let him be.”

“But…”

“The jackass drove you from a salad you desperately wanted, felt you up in a public place, he’s crude and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

“Just because he’s a jerk doesn’t mean he deserves to get hurt.”

He looked at me. “Are you serious?”

“Of course, I’m serious.”

He shook his head. “Well, relax. She won’t hurt him. Unless he asks, and that’s a different matter, isn’t it?”

I slumped back into my seat. “I guess it is. I don’t know. I’d always heard pleasure was the idea.”

“It’s not how I get my kicks, but who are we to judge?”

“True.” My face felt fever hot. “Do you know if he’s left yet?”

“They left just as we were sitting down.”

“Good. I’d better be getting back to the bar.”

“Why? Don’t you want dinner?”

I swallowed. “Yes. But I don’t want to get any deeper in.”

“It’s nothing.” His smile was genuine and warm.

“A maitre d’ at a place like this does not grin at nothing.”

“You’re hungry. I saw you attack that salad with the ferocity of a starving child.”

“How do you know that’s not the way I always eat?” Which, in truth, it is.

“I also saw you slide two dinner rolls into your purse.”

I blushed again. “Alright. I’m hungry. Like I said, things are tight. But I’m not hungry enough to compromise my standards.”

He shrugged. “This is merely a philanthropic gesture.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“I don’t doubt it. Well, I’ll confess to ulterior motives.”

His manner was relaxed, his grin casual. But his eyes had an intensity that made me catch my breath. I could see he would not trespass without my permission, but he would be happy to convince me to give it.

“Look, it’s not you,” I stammered. “You seem really nice, and I really appreciate your being honest about it, and the way you got rid of Larry, and it’s very sweet of you to offer, but I just don’t believe in sex outside of marriage.”

“Don’t you want dinner?” He seemed genuinely surprised.

“Yes, but… Well, I just can’t. Larry was a blind date, and the friend who set me up knows how I feel, and I told him how I feel, and he ignored it, I guess. Anyway, I don’t have any money, and I can’t give you my body, so…”

“I can accept that.” He looked at me again. He was considering something, unrelated to the messing around, for once. “Can you accept dinner and a ride? I promise I won’t touch you.”

“Sure, if you really want to.” I shrugged and he nodded at the waiter.

“What’s your name?” he asked after I’d ordered.

“Lisa Wycherly. Yours?”

“Sid Hackbirn.”

“Oh. What do you do for a living?”

“As little as possible.”

I grimaced. “Not funny.”

“I suppose not. Apologies. I do some occasional freelance writing and dabble in the stock market. Just enough work to maintain a comfortably high standard of living. And you?”

“Well, I was a teacher.”

“Was, huh? Hmm.” He considered again.

I don’t why, but it made me nervous.  After I’d eaten, he put me in a taxi, gave the driver my address, and I thought that was the last I would ever see of him.

I was wrong. Still, I didn’t regret it when Mr. Hackbirn showed up on my doorstep three days later.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, with the door opened only as far as the chain would let it. I wasn’t particularly surprised that he was there. I’d thought I’d seen heads of dark wavy hair following me in the previous days. I continued to write it off to my imagination, but it did make his appearance less of a shock. Besides, I had other problems just then.

“I’d like to talk to you,” he said.

“Right.”

“I’m serious. I have a business proposition for you, and nothing more.”

“Alright.” I shut the door, removed the chain, and let him in. “The worst you can do is kill me.”

He chuckled. “I like that attitude.”

“The place is a mess,” I said, sighing over the boxes and stuff all around.

“You’re packing.” He shifted the vest of the discreet three-piece suit he was wearing.

“I’m being evicted.” I choked and grabbed for a tissue.

“Going to your sister’s?”

“For a couple days. Then, Neil, he’s my brother-in-law, he’s going to help me move to Tahoe. I’m fleeing to the security of the womb.”

“Not your preferred option.”

I fought back the tears. “Well, Mae and Neil don’t have the room. They’ve got five kids. It won’t be so bad. I’ll be working. My dad has a business up there.”

“A resort and a souvenir store, I believe.”

“You’ve been there?” I was a little more surprised at that, but I’d met people who’d been to my parents’ place before.

“Not really. I stay on the Nevada side when I’m there.”

I turned on him. “You’ve been poking into my private affairs!”

“I prefer to call it research.”

“I call it nosy.”

“I reserve the right to gather basic background information on a prospective employee.”

That caught me. “Mr. Hackbirn, are you offering me a job?”

“Yes. I need a personal secretary to take over the mundane trivialities of life.” He smiled. “You impressed me last Friday with your backbone.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You are a person who sticks to her convictions even when there’s strong temptation not to. That’s a very difficult quality to find in people.”

“I don’t type very well.”

His eyebrow lifted. “A master’s degree, and you don’t type?”

“Not very fast. I stayed up late a lot of nights.” I looked him over again. “Just how much do you know about me?”

He shrugged. “Basic facts. Your college background, your year of community college teaching, things like that. You got excellent references from your former employer, by the way.”

“Let’s hear it for budget cuts.” I sighed. “What makes you think I’m going to take a chance working for you?”

“I’m offering an excellent salary and a place to live, neither of which you have at the moment.”

“I do so.”

“Independent of your parents?” He shook his head. “That is what you find most galling about going back there, and don’t think I don’t know it.”

I looked away. “So where is this place to live?”

“My house. I will need you to live in.”

“Sure.” I snorted. “Now, I get it.”

“Miss Wycherly, I assure you, I have no time to waste on virgins with standards. This is a business proposition, nothing more.”

“I still feel like it’s an elaborate plan to seduce me.”

“If you really want to think so.”

He smiled a truly sensual smile. I blushed and swallowed and tried to control the way my heart was racing. He was mulling over the possibilities of bedding me by sundown. He could have done it. But he wouldn’t unless I said yes. And the really strange thing about it was that I knew I could trust him.

I smiled. “Alright, it’s not. Why don’t we talk some terms?”

They were attractive, to say the least, and included my own rooms and guaranteed time off to go to church on Sundays. We dickered for an hour. Finally, I shook his hand.

“I guess I can take my chances with you,” I said, happily.

Mr. Hackbirn sighed. “Miss Wycherly, before we call this final, I’d better tell you. I wanted you in particular because I need someone with guts. I can be a dangerous person to know.”

“Mr. Hackbirn, I’m not a thrill-seeker. But danger beats stifling hands down. Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents, and they wouldn’t hold me back intentionally, and I’ll probably end up running their businesses when they retire, or whatever. But with them… Well, you get the idea.”

He got it. I was the one who didn’t have a clue. I called my sister and told her about the eleventh hour save.

“What are you going to do about your landlord?” Mae asked.

“Well, I’m moving.” I looked over at Mr. Hackbirn. “I found a new place right away.”

“What about first and last months’ rent?”

“Um. My new boss said he’d loan me the money. He’s taking it out of my check.”

Mr. Hackbirn smirked. Maybe he had a right to. All I knew was that I didn’t want Mae talking me out of it. I told her I’d phone her with the address and phone number as soon as I was settled in, and hung up.

“Mae’s a nice person,” I explained awkwardly. “But she gets judgmental sometimes, and you never know when.”

“I see. Well. Why don’t I call the moving company? We’ll get them straightened out, and then you can come over to my place and start today.”

I took a deep breath. “Okay.”

There really wasn’t much left in the apartment except my clothes, my books and other odds and ends. Anything of value I’d pawned or sold, even my trusty old sewing machine. The movers arrived a half hour after Mr. Hackbirn called them. While we waited, I tried to find out about my new employer. He was pleasant but evasive. I didn’t realize it until some days later when it dawned on me he hadn’t answered one question I’d asked him about himself.

His car is a dark slate blue Mercedes Benz 450SL, one of the first ones they ever built. I had expected something a little newer, although not necessarily flashier. One thing that was obvious about Mr. Hackbirn, he had excellent taste.

He also has plenty of money to spend. His house is in Beverly Hills. I was in awe as we rolled up the steep driveway to the gray ranch-style house at the top of an ice plant covered slope. The place had been built in the early sixties and looked like it. There was a Japanese garden in the tiny front yard.

We went in through the bare garage. Inside looked like a model home or something out of a magazine. Mr. Hackbirn, or his decorator, really likes period furnishings. The formal dining room was Eighteenth Century, the rest of the place tended towards Victorian and lots of oak. The library was sheer heaven. Books lined all four walls, and there were two red velvet wing-backed chairs, each with a good reading lamp next to it. There was also an ebony baby grand piano.

“Do you play?” I asked Mr. Hackbirn.

“Sometimes,” he said.

The offices were also oak paneled. I think they must have been one room in the past because to get to Mr. Hackbirn’s, you have to go through mine. My desk was modern, and it had a computer to one side, with two printers next to it. There was also a green leather couch on the opposite wall, sliding glass doors to the front yard on the side, and four oak filing cabinets with five drawers each.

The phone rang. Without hesitation, I went over and picked it up.

“Mr. Hackbirn’s residence, Miss Wycherly speaking,” I told the caller.

“Already?” answered the man on the other end. “Is Sid in?”

“I’ll see. May I tell him who’s calling?”

“Mr. Henry James.”

There was a hold button, and I pressed it. It was a multi-line phone, and it looked like Mr. Hackbirn had three lines hooked up.

“It’s a Mr. Henry James,” I told him.

He sighed in relief. “Miss Wycherly, I appreciate the way you screened that call, but in the future, under no circumstances are you to identify yourself, or this place as my residence.”

“Should I call it your business?”

“Don’t identify it at all. A simple hello will do. I’ll take the call in my office. Why don’t you start getting the files in order, then I’ll show you how to work the computer.”

The file cabinets were empty except for the first one. That was loaded with papers randomly tossed in. Almost all of them were clippings of articles from magazines and newspapers. Mr. Hackbirn was certainly well read, and given the number of different newspapers I found, got around. Traveled a lot, I mean. He gets around a lot the other way, too. But that has nothing to do with the clippings.

After his call, it was lunch time. Mr. Hackbirn introduced me to Conchetta Ramirez, his housekeeper and cook. She doesn’t live in. She works from ten to six, Monday through Friday and that’s it. My rooms were technically hers, or would have been if she lived there. I have a small suite off the breakfast room, with a sitting room, full bath, and bedroom.

Lunch was chicken salad with butter lettuce, whole wheat toast made from homemade bread and a fruit compote. The portions were on the small side, but I was in no position to complain. We ate in the breakfast room, a bright, cheerful space off the kitchen, furnished in white French Provincial. We also ate dinner there at five o’clock, grilled mahi-mahi, salad with vinaigrette, fresh steamed zucchini, brown rice and small portions. Mr. Hackbirn, it seemed, was on a diet.

Not that he said so. Nor did he comment on the fact that I was done eating in a few short minutes. It’s not really obvious because my mother did pound good manners into me, but I tend to wolf my food down.

“You should feel free to watch television in the rumpus room if you like,” said Mr. Hackbirn, trying not to notice how fast my food was disappearing. “Or if you prefer, I can arrange to have a television put in your room.”

“I don’t watch much TV,” I said between bites. “I was wondering about the library, though.”

“Help yourself. To any of the common areas. I’d just as soon consider you a housemate outside of business hours.” He paused. “Although, you might be more comfortable if you make a habit of knocking first before opening any closed doors.”

“Well, of course. I-”  I stopped. “Oh. Yeah, you might be right.”

Mr. Hackbirn chuckled, then looked at me. “One more thing. I would appreciate if you’d not leave the house for a week or two. Just until we’re settled in with the arrangement and all.”

“Oh.” I frowned. “I was going to go shopping on payday. All I have is one suit, and you did say business wear during office hours.”

“That’s right. I did. I think I can arrange that. Why don’t you go Friday afternoon? We can put together a more detailed plan that morning.”

I nodded. It seemed a little weird. So the guy was kind of eccentric. I didn’t have anyplace to go, anyway. I agreed to stick around.

Later that night, I found a Complete Works of Shakespeare in the library and thumbed through just for the heck of it. In the second scene of Julius Caesar, a line jumped out at me. It was Cassius’: “Therefore it is meet that noble minds keep ever with their likes, for who so firm that cannot be seduced?”

Well, me, for one. Then I thought back to that morning and that really hot little smile of Mr. Hackbirn’s. Alright. Maybe it was possible. But I wouldn’t go down without a fight. And what the heck was I doing there in the first place?

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine – Prologue

I’m trying something new on the blog today – a fiction serial. That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine was a novel I wrote in the early 1980s. I’ve kept it in its original time period. It’s not your usual spy novel, but I hope you enjoy it.

Prologue

spy novel, spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery‘Twas Glasnost what done us in. That and a CIA mucky-muck with a chip on his shoulder. All those years of guarding our secret, and now we’re on overt status. Quickline has folded, a victim of the thawing cold war.

At least my journals can see the light of day. I started them shortly after I was first adopted by Quickline. It was a dangerous and perhaps even stupid thing to do. But my life had suddenly and profoundly changed. I needed some way to make sense of it, to understand it and the person I was becoming. The things I was doing were so unlike the person I’d always thought I was and the values I’d spent so much time working out. As it turned out, my values weren’t challenged. Just me.

Anyway, all the names have been changed, and some of the places. Secrecy remains a habit with us. Still, as I look over the pile of tattered notebooks and binders stuffed with pages scrawled over with cipher, I’m glad I wrote it all down. [Dear Lisa, so am I – SEH]

Essays, general essay

My Mystery Novel Bring Into Bondage is Due July 31

Bring Into Bondage, cozy mystery, Historical mystery, romantic mystery, mystery fiction, mystery novelIt’s here! Well, almost. My mystery novel Bring Into Bondage is finally ready and will be officially released on July 31.

This is the sequel to my Roaring Twenties novel Fascinating Rhythm, which features socialite author Freddie Little and his editor Kathy Briscow. In Fascinating Rhythm, the two meet and realize they really like each other. In fact, when we leave them, they’re deciding to go on dates together. (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler)

As we begin Bring Into Bondage, Freddie’s setting up a very special date with Kathy, but it does not go as planned. Turns out, Kathy’s mother has summoned her home to Hays, Kansas, because Kathy’s father is seriously ill. That’s not the only bad news. Vandals have been attacking the family farm. Freddie talks Kathy into letting him fly her home in his airplane, and once there, the vandals strike again. So Freddie and Kathy decide to try and figure out who’s out to get the Briscow family and put a stop to the trouble.

There are lots of secrets in the tiny town, not to mention an orphaned boy with tell-tale bruises on him. Some of the attacks almost turn deadly. But there’s even bigger trouble afoot. Freddie and Kathy get caught spooning behind the barn and Pa gets the shotgun out.

The fun part about all of this is that the ebook version is available for pre-order both on BarnesandNoble.com, for your Nook or other e-reader, and on Amazon.com. If you haven’t read Fascinating Rhythm yet, you can get it at both places (including a print version) at both sites.

Finally, I want to thank all the nice people who weighed in on my book cover concepts. This is what my designer did with the winning choice. I really appreciated all the input. I think the cover rocks. Special thanks to Helen Kim, of The Think Farm, for all her hard work.

Chalk Ink Makes Marking Easier

Chalk Ink  So it was a few months ago that I received the Chalk Ink marker samples. Come to think of it, it’s been a few months since I did a Sewing Report. Mea culpa. My sewing machine broke down. Life was uncommonly nuts this past spring. I didn’t have any time to sew.

But what got me interested in the press release from the Chalk Ink people was that the ink is opaque and meant to be used on dark surfaces. Which got me thinking…

Chalk Ink

A nice clear line for a dart

One of the problems working with a dark fabric is that it’s really hard to mark the positions of darts and pockets with something you can see. I’ve used the traditional tracing paper, but I often lose the marks because they steam out when the fabric is pressed. Or if I take too long to get around to making the garment. And tracing paper can’t always get to where I need it. Chalk usually makes too thick a line and it also either fades or steams out with pressing.

When I’m using lighter-colored fabrics, I use Flair pens – the old felt-tipped pens. They’re skinny enough that I can get precise marks and the ink is very water soluble, so it almost always washes out (usually with a bit of stain remover). The problem is that with very dark fabric, the pens don’t work because they’re not opaque. Even lighter colors just blend right in.

Chalk Ink

No bleed through

But the Chalk Ink is opaque, so the white pen makes nice, easy to see marks. It didn’t press out and washed out of several samples that I put it on without using any stain remover. The tip I had was a bit thick. But then I discovered that they do make markers with fine points. Nor did I take the time to see how long the marker lasts. The extra fine tip costs $4.99, which isn’t too bad unless the marker won’t last for more than a project or two.

I would test the ink on any potential fabric before using it to make sure it does wash out and that it doesn’t bleed through to the right side. It didn’t on any of the samples I tried, and one of them was fairly light weight fabric. But a nice, easy way to mark a dark fabric? Hey, I’m down with that.

Wooly Got Adopted!

Pet rescue, basset hounds as pets, dog rescue, dog adoptionJust wanted to post a quick update from my post a couple months ago, in which I shared how my husband and I were fostering a basset hound named Wooly Boy for Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California.

Were fostering. The good news is Wooly got adopted over the weekend. It was not easy letting our boy-o go. I felt like a nervous mommy, sending her precious little one to day-care for the first time. I didn’t get to meet Wooly’s new parents, but I did talk to his new mom and bent her ear, rattling off all of Wooly’s little quirks and how to handle them.

There will be another foster hound in this space. But we’re going to give it another couple weeks, first.

Essays, general essay

Mother’s Day Gifts Suck

Mother's Day Gifts suck, gender roles, gender stereotypingIt started with a press release for scotch. What annoyed me was that it was about buying gifts for Dad. And it really reminded me of just how badly Mother’s Day gifts suck. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen ads and press releases touting pink standing mixers, flowers, chocolates, fashion accessories, and all sorts of ephemeral, often purely decorative stuff.

Whereas the stuff for the guys tends to be useful and/or substantial. Even the scotch. Premium quality scotch is not something you drink in one sitting. It’s something that hangs around a while. Ties may be decorative, but they’re usually worn when you want to be serious about, say, a job interview or an important meeting.

When we honor mothers at church, the women get a flower, which is usually half dead before we get it home. At our church, the guys get a pen, which is useful.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Mother’s Day gifts, in general, or against Mother’s Day. If we’re going to truly stand behind the idea that parenting is the most important work we do, then we should be honoring mothers, however defined. And fathers, too. I’m not even bugged about the gender distinction of the honor, because each gender brings something unique and necessary to the process of parenting and helping our kids build their identities. Please note, this is not a knock on same gender parents or single parents – they do even more work to help their kids build healthy gender identity.

What bugs me is how our advertising community and the larger society insist on reinforcing rigid gender roles, particularly the ones that present women as decorative and insubstantial. We get the flowers, which last maybe a few days. We get the chocolates, which also last a few days. We get kitchen appliances, because we’re the cooks, and we get them in “pretty” colors, especially insubstantial pastels.

In my household, I’m the scotch fan. My husband doesn’t like grain-based spirits. I’m the household geek. My husband puts out the fresh flowers. I may be the primary cook in the family, but my husband cooks almost as often as I do. My dad is the chocolate hound in my parents’ household.

And then there are the power tools. One time, years ago, my husband and I were waiting in an insanely long line at one of those home-improvement centers. I left to find some light bulbs and took quite a while to do it. When I got back to the line, the neanderthal in front of us began poking fun at me for going off and drooling over all the wallpapers and window treatments. My husband just grinned and said, “She was drooling over the power tools.”

And that’s exactly what I want for Mother’s Day – a power sander. I’ll have to wait ’til June, of course, because that’s when power tools go on sale. For Father’s Day. And I’ll probably buy my husband’s Father’s Day gift now, while the standing mixers are on sale. Assuming I can find one that isn’t a pastel color. Because it’s the assumption that’s so annoying. I don’t care if you want a pastel standing mixer for Mother’s Day. That should just mean you need one to do what you do and you happen to like pastels. I simply resent that all women are assumed to want one and that it’s assumed that what we want is largely decorative and insubstantial.

Because the bottom line is, I’m not decorative or insubstantial. And neither is my husband. We worked hard to bring up my daughter to be a responsible adult. We both deserve honors that reflect that work. I’m just saying is that the honors accorded me do not really reflect all that women are. And I’m more than a little tired of it.