February 14, 1984
morning the sky was overcast. Sid had us eat breakfast first thing. We went
over to the gym, partly because Sid figured the odds of it raining were pretty
good and partly so I could walk on the indoor track while he and the boys ran
on the roof as long as it stayed dry. My back was feeling better, but there was
no point in pushing it.
boys were ecstatic about the plans for the day. They chattered noisily all the
way to Orange County. Mae fussed because Sid and I were in business wear, but
we told her we had a change of clothes in the car.
and my appointment was at nine, so we only had about fifteen minutes to get
over to the defense plant. Thanks to Sid’s lead foot, we made it with several
minutes to spare. I was awed as we drove up.
place is humongous,” I said, as we cruised the parking lot looking for the
building where our meeting was.
thousand employees at this plant alone,” said Sid. “At least, that’s what our
says at least a third of his patients work here.” Neil’s a dentist.
and I were interviewing one of the suspects as Ed and Janet Donaldson, which
was a little risky since we were from the area, but not as risky as letting a
potential enemy know who we were. We also had a bona fide assignment from a
national business magazine, which we’d gotten through normal channels. In the
lobby, the security guard dialed Mr. Wright. Sid lounged against the desk
watching the people coming into the plant, and the few coming out. They all
wore badges with their pictures on them.
Wright will be down in a minute,” said the guard, hanging up the phone. “Sir,
can you come back here, please?”
last was said to a man with a briefcase who was leaving. The man returned,
you open your briefcase?” the guard asked.
sorry. I forgot.” The man yawned again and opened up the case.
guard looked at it quickly, then nodded. The man left.
if I ask a question?” said Sid. “How do you know if he’s removing secret documents
not looking for those. Just cameras and guns.” The guard looked at me. “I need
to see inside your purse.”
held up the monster and the guard glanced inside. As it happened, my model
thirteen was in there somewhere, in a case that matched the purse’s lining. Sid
chuckled. With all the junk I carry around, I could have hidden a cannon in
there. [I have this deep suspicion your purse is that mysterious black hole to
a different dimension whence go all the single socks that get lost in the washer,
the ballpoint pens and paper clips that are never around when you need them and
other such ephemera – SEH]
guard went back to filling out paperwork from our alter egos’ driver’s
licenses. He handed them back, then gave us each a bright red plastic badge
about the size of a playing card.
these at all times in the plant,” said the guard. “The red means you can’t go
anywhere without an escort.”
and I glanced at each other with perfectly straight faces. Inside, we were both
snickering. We have A-1 security clearances, which even the president can’t
get. The highest clearance available at that plant was a C-1. Of course, the
only problem with an A-1 clearance is that it’s for undercover espionage, and
no one is supposed to know you have it.
we clipped the badges to our suit jackets, Mr. Oscar Wright showed up. He was a
pleasant looking fellow in his late forties, growing a belly and losing some
hair. His suit was fairly expensive, but then he was an executive.
good to meet you folks,” he said as we shook hands.
first, I thought I was imagining the shrewd once over he gave us. Being a spy,
you get pretty paranoid. Then the guard handed Sid a clipboard.
you two to sign in,” said the guard.
Wright dug a pen from his inside suit coat pocket.
why don’t you use mine?” he said, jovially.
one right here,” said Sid pleasantly as he took the pen off the clipboard. He
signed and handed the clipboard and pen to me.
Wright pocketed his, chuckling. “What do you know?”
signed and handed the clipboard and pen back to the guard. Wright gave Sid and
me another funny look, sort of. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was
something not quite right about him. He was a suspect, but I couldn’t think of
any reason why he’d be suspicious of us. Since Sid and I had known for a while
about the job to bug Wright’s office, we’d been working on the article we were
writing for a couple weeks already and had even gotten in to see Wright through
an executive from another company that we’d already interviewed.
touchies,” muttered Sid to me as we left the lobby.
took us to his office. It was pretty nicely appointed, with a large modern wood
desk, a couple bookshelves, and some nice
prints on the walls. The metal secured file cabinet in the corner seemed a
little tacky, but not surprising.
went over to a coffee machine on a credenza next to the door and filled three
he said, offering a mug to Sid.
thank you,” said Sid with a congenial smile. “I don’t drink coffee.”
afraid I’m not a coffee drinker, either, but thanks.”
don’t we get down to business,” said Sid. “How long has this plant been
talked for about half an hour, then Wright took us on a tour of the plant. I
have a pretty good sense of direction, but I was pretty turned around in the
labyrinth of hallways and buildings. There wasn’t too much manufacturing going
on. The emphasis was on design work. There were lots of offices and
laboratories filled with engineers who looked pretty busy.
finished up with a demonstration of one of their less sensitive projects. It
didn’t make any sense to me, and Sid’s eyes looked a little blank as he nodded
in response. Michael Shepard, the young engineer giving the demo, was
completely absorbed by his project and didn’t notice. I thought it a little odd
that he was wearing a suit and tie. Hardly anyone else at the plant was besides
“Oscar?” asked a middle-aged woman as she hurried into the
room. “I know you’re busy, but you’ve got to take care of this right away.”
Wright went over to her and they conferenced quietly in the doorway to the lab
we were in. I noticed Michael watching them out of the corner of his eye.
Wright looked up. “Ed, Janet, why don’t you guys hang out here for a few
minutes. I’ve got to take care of this, but I’ll be right back.”
left. Michael audibly sighed in relief.
wrong?” I asked.
Not at all. Um. Any questions?”
shook his head. “I don’t have any.”
went right over my head,” I said, grinning. “I’ve taken a couple classes, but
anything more advanced than running the programs is beyond me.”
laughed and went to another door. “Hey, Rick, come here.”
about those reporter people?” Rick wasn’t any older than Michael and dressed
more casually in shirt and slacks.
here. Why don’t we tell them a little about what it’s really like to work here?”
will fry your butt!” Rick noticed us. “This is really a great place to work.”
an eye out for Wright,” said Michael. He laughed and flipped switches. “Watch
enough, he and the other engineers had designed a game for their project.
actually not a bad way to test it, and it’s sure a lot more fun,” said Rick.
like kicking back,” said Michael.
just curious,” said Sid. “I noticed everyone was pretty busy.”
snorted. “That was Mr. Wright. He comes around, you look as busy as you can.”
not going to fire anybody,” said Rick. “But he can get you on some pretty sucky
projects. Remember Lovett?”
shook his head. “Wright caught him goofing off, and now all he does is heat
testing. He lost six pounds his first week in the heat chambers.”
swallowed. “Hey, you’re not going to use our names, or anything, are you? This
isn’t for putting in your article.”
off the record,” said Sid.
not writing about Mr. Wright, anyway,” I said.
place would be great if weren’t for Wright,” said Michael. “He’s always
breathing down everybody’s neck.”
you never know when he’s going to change people around,” said Rick.
might even have an accident or disappear,” Michael said spookily.
two men laughed, but there was a nervous edge to it.
a vice-president of project management,” said Sid. “What does that have to do
in charge of assigning who goes where,” said Rick. He straightened. “Here he
dashed into the next room. Mr. Wright showed up, smiling apologetically.
terribly sorry about that,” he said. “We’ve had a little administrative
happened?” asked Sid.
serious. My secretary didn’t come in today. I just found out she’s been in a
how awful,” I said.
it is.” Mr. Wright ushered us out of the lab and back to his office. Sid and I
made a mental note of the laboratory’s room number. “Is there anything else I
can get either of you?”
at the moment,” said Sid. “Do have you have any more questions, Janet?”
Not now. We can call you if we have any others, can’t we?”
sure. Be my guest.”
checked his pocket watch. “I believe we have another appointment. I appreciate
than happy,” said Wright.
congenially, he escorted us back to the lobby. Wright watched as we gave our
red badges to the security guard. The guard promptly handed them to a pair of
salesmen waiting to get in. We shook hands with Mr. Wright and took off.
you touch anything?” Sid asked as we got in his car.
except my security badge.”
know, it’s interesting that he wanted our prints.”
shook his head. “With that pen right on the clipboard and the way he poured the
coffee, then offered it to us?”
probably right, but why would he want our prints?”
chuckled. “That’s right. You haven’t been busted yet, have you?”
should hope not.”
happens. In any case, when our prints are run through, a little message comes
up telling the officers to burn the file and cooperate fully with whatever we
want, including letting us go. It doesn’t say anything about who we are, but it
does peg us as undercover operatives. So, if Wright wants our prints, he has
access to some official files, and that is how he found out so quickly about Wintergreen
and whoever else was at that plant.”
right, and since he’s in charge of who’s assigned where, he knows who is new
and where they are.”
big bingo for you.”
I slumped in my seat. “Maybe we should have found a better cover for ourselves.”
think we’re okay. We didn’t make it obvious we were on to him, and we do have a
legitimate assignment. He’s obviously pretty paranoid, but he can’t confirm
anything. The worst he can do is wonder.”
suppose.” Sulking, I glanced out the car window as we passed a bank. “Good
Lord, is it that late?”
not even ten thirty.”
wanted to meet Mae by eleven.”
I remember correctly, Disneyland is not all that far from here.”
we have to change clothes, then get parked and get to Sleeping Beauty’s castle,
which is pretty much dead center in the park.”
Sid gunned the engine and missed running a red light by microseconds.
held my breath. “Um, Sid, take Ball over to Harbor. It’s faster.”
been there tons of times and you haven’t been at all. Trust me for a change.”
never understand what this thing is that men have about directions. It’s one of
the few times Sid behaves like a typical male, although he will own up to it.
He says that it’s a control issue. How much in control can you be when you’re
totally lost? [That’s not the point – SEH]
we changed at a filling station and made it to the park in time to meet Mae and
the girls at the castle drawbridge. Janey found us first, or rather, she found
Sid!” she hollered, running at him.
bent and got his own special hug and kiss.
my favorite girlfriend?” he asked.
good, Uncle Sid.” Janey grabbed his hand as he straightened and led him to where
Mae and Ellen were sitting on a bench.
ran over and attached herself to Sid’s leg. I plopped down next to Mae as Sid
tried to keep up with the girls’ chatter.
too big for the leg routine,” I told Mae softly.
know, but I don’t know how to tell her.”
suppose we ought to let Sid find a way. He usually does.” I looked at her. “You
not bad. But I am so glad you guys are here. Don’t get me wrong. I like Nick.
He’s a very sweet boy.”
noticed he’s active.” I grinned.
looked at me. “He’s the first person I’ve ever met who could keep up with both
of the twins together.”
laughed. “Speaking of, where are they?”
bathrooms. The twins had to go. They should be back any time now.”
me and Ellen go to the toy store with Uncle Sid, please?” she asked. “Can we?”
Mae sent him a meaningful glare.
wasn’t my idea,” said Sid, oh-so-innocently.
bet.” Mae folded her arms. “I don’t want you-”
not making any promises, Mae.”
all knew he couldn’t. Mae has this thing about Sid spoiling the kids. Part of
it’s because she doesn’t want the kids turning into monsters and taking Sid for
a ride. But the other part of it is that Sid is loaded and while Neil’s doing
pretty well, he’s a ways from Sid’s tax bracket.
problem that way is Janey. He has a serious weakness for the cow-eyed routine,
and Janey’s eyes are huge and hazel. If she wants something, she gets it.
remember,” warned Mae. “If you buy it, you carry it all afternoon.”
problem,” said Sid with a grin that said he’d already thought of a way around
the portage problem.
meet you over there when the boys get back,” I said.
you in a few.” Sid ambled off into the castle, holding each girl by the hand.
shook her head.
I asked with a grin.
“Well, what?” Mae asked.
do you think about Nick?”
sniggered. “I told you. I think he’s very sweet.”
Sid get caught or what?” Mae laughed hard. “It’s incredible how much they’re
alike, and it’s not just the looks. They’ve both got this… I don’t know, air
They’re both very gentle.”
huh?” Mae smirked.
I just work with him. We’re good friends. That’s it.”
sorry, baby sis. I keep forgetting you’re sensitive about that.”
But I wouldn’t worry. You’ll get him to the altar yet.”
glared. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe I do not want to marry him?”
on earth not?”
don’t want to get married period. Not to Sid, not to anyone.”
you say so.”
I do not want to get married. I’m very happy as a single person, and I intend
to stay that way, and even if I change my mind, the very last person I would
want to marry is Sid, if for no other reason than that he is not in the least
bit interested in getting married himself.”
believe you.” The corners of Mae’s mouth twitched.
right. How’s it been going with Darby?”
sighed. “He was pretty happy to see us, but at the same time, he was nervous
and tense. He didn’t relax until we got on the freeway.” She sniffed. “I just
feel like I’ve failed him somehow, and I haven’t the faintest idea what I’ve
you haven’t done anything wrong.” I put my arm around her. “Whatever Darby’s
grappling with, we’ll shake it loose sooner or later.”
just wish he trusted me more.”
he’s afraid of hurting you. That’d be like him. But whatever it is, we’ll get
it taken care of. Here they come now. It’ll be alright.”
Lisa.” Mae gave me a squeeze and put on a smile.
four boys were happy to see me and demanded hugs and kisses.
Uncle Sid?” asked Marty.
the toy store with the girls.”
and Mitch shouted their approval, bouncing up and down with joy. Well, Uncle
Sid and Janey is a better combination than Santa Claus and Christmas Eve. When
Janey gets something, the other kids do too.
go!” hollered Darby.
tugged at Nick’s arm. Nick followed, puzzled. Mae and I sighed and followed,
with the twins pulling us on.
was quickly indoctrinated into the art of shaking Sid down for goodies. It can
be a rather subtle song and dance. Janey, unlike her siblings, will not take
advantage of Sid, and also unlike her siblings, she knows how far she can push
him, which is probably why she gets away with as much as she does.
toy store must have been part of the preliminary investigation because nobody
got anything. Ellen wanted to go on the Snow White ride but was worried because
it was scary. Janey blinked twice and got Uncle Sid to take them. When they got
off, Mitch said he was hungry. Janey blinked again and got Uncle Sid to take
them to the nearest hamburger stand. And that’s basically how things went the
made his fatal error around three by trying to get some popcorn directly from
don’t think so,” Sid replied.
not?” demanded Nick.
don’t need it. You’ve eaten enough junk today.”
pouted. “Aw, come on.”
stopped and glared at Nick. “That is not the issue.”
went into a full-blown sulk and stomped off towards the line for Pirates of the
Caribbean. Sid looked at me for help, but I didn’t know what to do either.
Wouldn’t you know, Mae had taken the girls on the Mark Twain riverboat.
Sid called. “Come back here. We’ve got to wait for the others.”
kept walking. Sid went after him.
man, get back here now.”
turned on him. “You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not my boss.”
stepped back. The two pairs of bright blue eyes stared at each other.
I’m not. But…” Sid took a deep breath. I couldn’t help wondering if he’d
actually say he was Nick’s father. “But your mother left you in my care, and I
most certainly can tell you what to do.”
bit my lip, trying to hide my disappointment. Nick, on the other hand, seemed
relieved. He stomped back and tried to stay sullen just to make his point. It
lasted all of one minute. He pulled Darby and the twins to the rail next to the
water as the big white boat came around and they waved at Janey, Mae, and
they got off the boat, Janey did her blinking routine and we all got popcorn.
Then Darby tried to pull me to the shooting gallery. I balked.
used to shoot skeet with my father, but since guns became weapons, I’ve lost my
taste for recreational shooting.
on, Aunt Lisa,” Darby begged. “You should see her, Nick. She’s really good.”
are? Wow. Can you show me how?” Nick’s eyes glowed.
swallowed. “No, thanks. I’ll pass.”
not?” asked Mae, puzzled.
don’t think I should be encouraging the kids that way. This isn’t Tahoe.”
frowned. “Since when have you gotten so down on guns?”
suspect Lisa has picked up my distaste for firearms,” said Sid solemnly. He
wasn’t looking too thrilled with the kids’ interest in the shooting gallery,
what?” asked Janey.
glared at him.
don’t you like guns?” Nick asked Sid.
took a deep breath. “When you’ve had to shoot people, you get to dislike guns
was in Vietnam,” Darby hissed.
Sid shifted. “Where to now?”
that’s neat,” said Nick. “You got any-
Ow! Janey, what are you poking me for?”
had to suppress my laughter. Sid seemed more unsettled than usual. His army
days are something he almost never talks about. Mae caught it, too, and got
that determined look on her face, as if she was going to pry him open.
wanted to intervene but couldn’t figure out how. If I’d confronted her, she
wouldn’t have admitted it and would only have gotten on my case about how
withdrawn I was. I didn’t need that.
it turned out, Mae didn’t get anywhere. Sid is a master of evasion when he
doesn’t want to talk about something. But he and Mae did sort of stick
together, possibly finding some unspoken comfort in each other’s emotional
Tomorrowland, as the sun was setting, Janey blinked and got Sid to ride with
her on the “Adventure Through Inner Space.” She tried to get me to go with
them, but I insisted the ride was a total bore and went shopping in the store
where the ride lets out.
came off with a mischievous grin.
“Okay, which is it?” he said softly to me as I looked over a pile of t-shirts. “Fond memories or you don’t trust me in the dark?”
blushed. “His name was Fred Walsh. We met here at Grad Night. He was a Mater
Dei graduate, he went on to the seminary that fall, and there’s no way I’d
trust you in the dark.”
nodded. “I’d like to cry slander, but there is a great deal of truth in what
eyes and his smile caught me. Blushing even more furiously, I tried to move
away and succeeded in toppling the stack of t-shirts. Sid laughed and helped me
put things right.
twins were getting cranky by the time six thirty rolled around, and a heavy
mist fell around us. Still, the children protested loudly when Mae announced
that it was time to go. We parted ways at the tram stop. Darby took a long time
saying goodbye to his mother. Then the
tram came. Mae had parked within walking distance and watched sadly as Darby
boarded with Sid, Nick and me.
raindrops fell as we got onto the freeway. The car was warm and cozy with the
defroster going. The boys chattered happily about their day as Sid wound his
way through the traffic. We just barely made it to the gym in time for our league
of the women in my Tuesday night racquetball league were still there. I played
Marlene Ramsey and lost the match in two games. I’d expected it. I’d only
joined the C league because you’re supposed to play above your level to get
better, and my friends, Karen Jones and Mindy Robertson, had joined. Thursday
night, the three of us were tearing up the novice plus league.
the match, Karen and Mindy talked Marlene into sticking around and we played
doubles. The game went on a while, and by the time Mindy and Karen had lost,
Karen decided she was exhausted. So, the four of us ambled into the courtside
are two glass-walled courts along the one
end which are generally reserved for the A and B level players. They’re called
the challenge courts, and mostly guys hang around waiting their turn to play
with whoever’s currently winning.
checked out the courts, then nudged Marlene.
babe is here,” she teased.
Mindy and I all checked out the A level
court. Sure enough, Sid was in there, breathing heavily and shaking sweat all
over the place. Marlene and Karen are both happily married and not interested
in cheating. They just like teasing each other about checking out Sid, and he
is good looking.
was playing Steve Wilbur, who is my doubles partner on Saturday mornings. He
and Sid were beating too many people in that league, so they were told to
handicap themselves with less able players or not to play. Steve picked me
because he has a crush on me, or so Sid says. Steve’s pretty cute, but he’s
never said anything to me about liking me.
three friends and I got drinks at the snack bar and settled at a table with a
good view of the A court. Lorna Mornavian, the club pro, wandered by and Mindy
asked her to join us. She flopped into a chair, then glanced at the court.
girls checking out Sid again?” she said, grinning.
others blushed while I shrugged. People at the gym don’t know how close Sid and
I are because they haven’t asked, and we’ve never volunteered the information.
shook her head. “His game’s off tonight. I kicked his butt in league.”
the court, Sid sent a ceiling shot into the floor in front of the wall and
angrily pounded the glass with the butt of his racket.
wonder why,” said Mindy thoughtfully.
let out a deep rolling laugh. “You’ll never believe what I saw in the kid’s
room when I dropped Wallis off.”
The women were all ears.
kid that looks just like him.”
others gasped. I sat back and held my tongue.
didn’t know he had kids,” said Karen. “I thought he was single.”
doesn’t mean he can’t have kids,” said Mindy.
been fixed,” said Lorna.
pounced. “Are you serious? How do you know?”
jaw dropped. “Lorna, you haven’t!”
has it, he’s pretty loose,” said Mindy.
snorted. “You said it, but so am I, so it’s okay.”
is he as sexy as he looks?” giggled Karen.
he?” Lorna laughed and panted. “Scream City, I swear. He is so good in bed.”
long have you been doing it?” Karen pressed.
since I got here,” said Lorna. “Mick Dremmer had a party and we clicked. I
mean, it’s not like we’re dating. The urge just hits sometimes and we go for
shocked,” said Marlene.
shoved her. “Don’t be such a prude.”
I prefer a relationship, myself,” said Mindy, gazing at the court. “But I could
go for him, maybe.”
grinned at me. “What about you, Lisa?”
shrugged. “I’ll stay on the straight and narrow.”
served the ball, a low, mean one to Steve’s backhand. Steve dove and missed it.
The two men shook hands, then Steve left the court. Sid only went to the door,
got a towel from his bag and wiped his face and neck. His hair glistened with
moisture, but it was still perfectly neat.
next?” he demanded.
am,” said Lorna, getting up. “Don’t you want to rest first?”
shook his head and retreated into the court. Steve came over to our table.
out,” he told Lorna. “He is in one foul mood.”
twirled her racket. “I can handle him.”
waited until Lorna was gone, then sank into her chair.
going on?” asked Karen.
me,” said Steve. “Lorna beats him all the time, so I don’t think it was that.
He seemed fine until I showed him that singles article in the newspaper.”
article?” I asked.
was just this little blurb on this new club.” Steve shrugged. “I wanted to know
if he’d been there. He said the club was okay.”
looked at Sid again. He was in a foul mood. I wondered what had been in the
paper that had upset him. I didn’t think it was the club he’d just done his
article on. On Our Own and the newspaper are in two separate markets, so he
wasn’t getting scooped.
got up to get something from the snack bar and I followed.
got that paper still?” I asked softly.
Steve went over to his bag and handed me the section.
the article that got Sid upset?” I asked.
folded the paper back. “Right here. Why do you want to know?”
scanned the page. The club article was benign. The picture next to it belonged
to another article, and I saw why Sid was so angry. Dr. Rachel Flaherty and a
couple other charity types were prominently displayed at a fundraiser for a
trauma center that had taken place the previous Saturday night. So, Rachel had
been out, and by that point, I was
certain she hadn’t been in the room when I’d picked Nick up and left him off.
I said, but inside I was seriously steamed.
the court, Sid lobbed one only to have it slammed into a corner by Lorna. He
shook his head as she got ready to serve again. Some minutes later, he left the
court. He nodded at me, then picked up his bag and stalked to the locker room.
I got up, yawned and said goodnight.
boys were still pretty excited about their day, but they were plenty tired,
too. They didn’t notice Sid’s foul frame of mind as he said goodnight. I tucked
them in, then headed for the library. Sid was at the piano, glaring at the
saw Steve’s paper,” I said.
nodded. “We don’t know anything for sure. Just because she was at that party
doesn’t mean she wasn’t in the room when you were at the hotel. It’s possible
she just took advantage of the fact that you were taking Nick.”
neither of us believes that, and how are we going to find out? I don’t want to
question Nick. You can’t afford to get between him and his mother.”
usual, my dear, you have outlined the difficulty precisely.” Sid put his hands
on the keys, then took them off. “Actually, I do know how to find out. Nigel
Friedman was probably there. He’s been fundraising for that hospital for years.
I’ll give him a buzz tomorrow.”
glanced at me, then picked up a Beethoven sonata from the stack of sheet music
on the top of the piano. He studied it for a moment, then began playing. I went
to my room and found another problem waiting for me on my answering machine.
it’s George,” said the tape. “Where are you? I thought we were going to dinner
tonight before bible study.”
groaned and looked at my watch. It was too close to eleven to call. I got a
book and got ready for bed.