February 25 – 27, 1984
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.
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.”
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?”
“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.