Chapter Seven

That night, it rained, a steady, drenching rain. Fortunately, there was only one guest that evening, and he was able to go into the one room that didn’t have a leak in the roof. Robin found pans for the other leaks.

But when the next day dawned clear and bright, Mistress Ford insisted that Robin and Dean finally repair the roof.

Robin had been putting off the job simply because she had no idea how to do it, and she didn’t want to ask anyone. After all, everybody had roof leaks, so the odds were good that it was a pretty common task.

Dean settled the matter with his usual ignorant grace. He asked Mistress Ford. She was amused, but expected such a reaction from Dean. Robin smiled, and listened.

The job took all of the morning and lasted well into the afternoon. They had just finished repairing the last leak when they heard the shouting. From the roof top Robin saw the men gathering near the church. They carried swords as well as clubs and other tools.

“What on earth?” Robin muttered, and hurried down the ladder.

Mistress Ford and Elizabeth emerged from the kitchen with worried frowns.

“What’s all the shouting about?” Mistress Ford asked.

“I don’t know,” Robin replied.

“I don’t know if I wanna find out,” said Dean, who had come down the ladder behind his sister. “Those guys look like they’re gonna start busting something up.”

Robin explained about the men.

“Dean, fetch your sword. You, too, Robin,” said Mistress Ford. “We’ll pray they don’t come down here, but we’d best be prepared. Lock up the stable. Elizabeth, you and I had better get plenty of water ready from the well. There could be a fire.”

The two guests at the inn were not happy about the approaching riot, but neither felt inclined to do any more traveling that day. They did ask Dean to see that their horses were saddled in the event a quick departure was necessary. Dean obliged.

Mistress Ford forbade Dean and Robin to get involved unless the inn was attacked, although they’d already assured her they had no intention of doing so.

Several of the women slowly made their way to the inn, along with the smallest children. It was almost as if they knew the men were going to stay on the far end of the village.

“Master Leaton died,” said Mistress Loomis, although Robin had no idea which of the two Loomis brothers she was married to.

“Is anyone attending Mistress Leaton?” Mistress Ford asked.

“Mistress Blethen,” replied Mistress Southwood. “And her daughters.”

None of the women, however, were quite sure how the fighting began, just that it had.

The hours eased past slowly. The fighting remained on the far side of the village. Even with all the weapons, there were few injuries. The fight burned itself out late that night, when Master Greenfield at last made himself heard over the noise.

Even with the night’s unrest, Master Leaton’s funeral was still held the next morning and most of the village attended, uneasily at peace with each other for the moment. Pastor Middleton had the decency not to bring up the political issues that had been at the center of the riot. Robin could see he didn’t want another one.

That Sunday, Robin had to give Pastor Middleton credit for finding a topic for his sermon that would unite the villagers. The only problem was the topic he chose: witchcraft. Later that afternoon, Dean scoffed. But Robin was worried. The pastor’s eyes had focused on her during some of the more accusatory parts.

Robin spent the next day completely on edge, just waiting for the townspeople to rise up and arrest her. Or even hang her straight out. But when nothing had happened by Tuesday afternoon, Robin began to relax.

Which was probably why Master Ford’s bizarre behavior caught her so completely off guard. The man had never moved quickly. The times he had wandered off and gotten lost, he had gotten away because no one was watching him, not because he could move with any speed.

Robin was weeding in the garden when the howling began. It came from behind the stable, but by the time Robin was on her feet, Master Ford was tearing into the center of the village, his doublet and boots flying as he went.

“Dean!” Robin called as she chased after. “Bring a blanket!”

Dean had already seen the old drunk’s shirt flying and ducked back into the stable, grabbed the first blanket he could get a hand on and hurried out after Robin.

They caught up with Master Ford near the town well. He’d lost his breeches and was just about to take off his drawers.

“Maggots!” Master Ford screamed, trying to tear the invisible bugs off of him. “Maggots! Get them off of me! Get them off of me!”

Robin approached slowly. “Master Ford, it’s okay. We’ll get them off. Just hold still.”

“No!” Master Ford’s eyes widened in terror as he saw Robin. “Get away from me, demon. Get away!”

“There’s no demon here, Master Ford,” said Dean, with an oddly jovial lilt to his voice. He walked casually up to the terrified man. “Honest. It’s just me and Robin.”

“Maggots,” Master Ford whimpered.

“Nah,” said Dean. “We’ll take care of it. Here, get this blanket on and we’ll get you home. You’ll be fine.”

Master Ford let Dean wrap him in the blanket. Dean picked him up and cradled him as he and Robin walked back to the inn, with Robin picking up Master Ford’s clothing as she went.

The street was empty, but Robin’s skin prickled with the frightened stares of the villagers.

Dean bedded Master Ford down in on of the guest rooms.

“Shit, that was lousy timing for a case of the DT’s,” Robin grumbled as she brought in Master Ford’s clothes.

“Those weren’t the DT’s.” Dean frowned as he looked down at the now sleeping drunk.

“Then what the hell were they?”

Dean shrugged. “I don’t know. But the DT’s happen when you’re in withdrawal, and I saw Master Ford drinking up from one of the cellar casks not an hour ago.”

Robin dropped Master Ford’s boots next to the bed. “Something weird is going on here.”

“I’ll say.” Dean frowned again. “You know, I thought I heard someone talking to Master Ford behind the stable right before it happened.”

“Hm.” Robin turned and went out to the back side of the stable, with Dean ambling along behind.

Sure enough, it was clear that Master Ford had not been the only person back there.

“Look at these two sets of tracks.” Robin pointed them out. “And there’s been something of a struggle here. But where do the hallucinations come into it? Could somebody have doped him, you think?”

“How would I know?” grumbled Dean.

“It would have had to act awfully quickly. You know of anything that acts really quickly?”

“Why are you asking me?” Dean groaned. “I don’t do that shit.”

Robin rolled her eyes. “You volunteered at that rehab place, you said?”

“Oh.” Dean thought, then shrugged. “I don’t know, Robin. I mean, IV works pretty fast, but hallucinations? I don’t know. I mean, they don’t have LSD here, do they?”

“I doubt that.” Robin went back around to the inn’s yard. “But I seem to remember something about some kind of rye mold that caused hallucinations or some kind of craziness. But no one’s growing rye around here. Besides, it would be affecting more people than just Master Ford.” She shook her head. “It just doesn’t make sense, unless someone’s looking for a good excuse to get us in trouble.”

It was Dean’s turn to roll his eyes. “Oh, don’t get started on that witchcraft thing again. Even Mistress Ford says the only people that get accused are poor old women with no one to take care of them.”

Robin sighed. “You’re probably right.”

Still, an uneasy feeling grabbed hold of her gut and wouldn’t let go.

Fortunately, the inn remained empty of guests. Mistress Ford shrugged and sent Dean and Robin to the stable just as it grew dark. Neither of the two were sleepy.

“So now what?” Dean asked, flopping back onto the hay.

“We twiddle our thumbs, I guess,” replied Robin. “There’s not much else we can do in the dark.”

“You know, I don’t think I’ll ever take an electric light bulb for granted again.”

Robin started. “What’s that?”

Dean was about to tease her, when the sound reached his ears.

“It’s someone running,” he said. “Sounds like he’s headed this way.”

“Uh, oh.” Robin sat up. “You hear that rumbling? It sounds like that riot’s about to break out again.”

Dean swung himself down from the loft and looked out the hole in the stable’s back wall toward the village.

“There’s a whole bunch of torches gathered down by the church,” he said.

“Terrific,” grumbled Robin, swinging down to the ground herself. “More trouble.”

Mistress Ford appeared at the other door with Elizabeth, their hair down and flying.

“Robin, Dean, hurry!” Mistress Ford hissed. “You three must flee.”

“What’s going on?” asked Dean.

“You’ve been accused of witchcraft!” Mistress Ford replied. “The men are gathering to arrest you.”

“We’re not witches!” Dean protested.

“That doesn’t mean a damn thing!” snapped Robin. She turned on Mistress Ford. “Are you sure that’s what’s going on? How do you know?”

“Young Master Loomis,” Mistress Ford said quickly. “He just came running.” She stopped and sniffed. “There have been rumors, but most paid them no mind. Then Sabbath past, Pastor Middleton, and then today, when my good husband called you demon. Master Loomis said most think it’s nonsense, but the pastor is insisting.”

Robin scurried up the ladder to the loft and gathered together hers and Dean’s belongings.

“Well, I’m not doing time.” Dean grumbled.

“They’ll hang you, idiot!” Robin growled, lowering the two sacks into Elizabeth’s arms.

Dean swore loudly.

“I agree.” Robin swung herself down from the loft. “But we’d better keep quiet. Mistress Ford, are you sure they won’t accuse you?”

She shook her head. “They won’t. Trust me. But you must hurry. You can take the road toward the coast to the fork, then take the road heading northeast. I’ve a cousin in a town called Charing Vale. It’s on the coast. He runs the inn there, The White Bear. His name is Master John Miller. Tell him I sent you. He’ll take you in and give you work. Here’s bread and cheese and some other things for the journey, and your wages.”

“Thanks,” Robin’s voice suddenly choked.

She reached out and held the matron and kissed her cheek. Dean quickly did the same. Elizabeth was held a minute longer. There was a soft rustle from the back side of the stable outside, and on top of that, the rumble of angry yelling.

“I hear the men!” Mistress Ford started and released Elizabeth. “Quickly!”

“Right,” whispered Robin as she grabbed Elizabeth’s hand.

They ran across the yard and ducked behind the trees on the other side of the garden. Robin had them all lay flat on their stomachs.

“They’re too close, they’ll see us leave,” she whispered to the other two.

They heard Mistress Ford wailing in the yard.

“Such horrors I’ve seen!” she cried out as the men came up. “Most terrible wonders! They were witches. They heard you coming, and I saw them all mount their ravens and they flew away before my very eyes!”

“Which way?” demanded Pastor Middleton.

“To the north, I think, but only for a moment,” Mistress Ford sobbed. “To London! They flew that way! Perhaps they went to meet their master there.”

“Perhaps they set down somewhere near here,” called out a voice.

“We’ll search the village,” said Pastor Middleton. “Everyone to the inn’s common room so we can decide who searches where and with whom.”

The men trooped into the inn. Robin watched, vaguely aware that somebody was missing from the group. But there was no time to figure out who. She waited a minute longer, then motioned to the others to get up.

“No running,” she cautioned. “We’ll concentrate on being quiet. Come on.”

Robin led them toward the center of the village, although behind the houses.

Dean paused. “We’re going the wrong way. We’re supposed to go to the coast. This way’s towards London.”

“I know,” Robin said. “We’ll make tracks that way, then double back along the stream. Hopefully, that will put them off our trail. Now, be quiet.”

They made good progress to the other end of the village, but as they left the last house behind for the road to London, they heard the pounding of a single man running. Robin pressed herself and Elizabeth into the shadow of a roadside tree. Carefully, she eased around to see who had run up.

“Damn,” the newcomer muttered.

It was Master Neddrick, and Robin realized he had been the man missing from the group that had come to arrest her and the others. Dean shifted and a twig snapped. Master Neddrick’s eyes fastened on the tree.

“You’re lucky I need Elizabeth,” he said, chuckling softly. “Otherwise, I would sound the alarm.”

“You’ll have to sound it, then,” said Robin, slightly amazed at how confident she sounded. “What makes you think we’d give Elizabeth up?”

“This.” He pulled something from his belt.

At that moment, the moon broke through the clouds and Robin rolled around the trunk of the tree. She made out the barrel of a pistol in Neddrick’s hands.

“You got another one of those?” she asked.

Neddrick’s breath caught, but then he chuckled. “You’ll just have to guess.”

There wasn’t time for guessing. Dean crashed out from his hiding place and tackled Neddrick from the side. The two rolled and Neddrick banged at Dean’s back with the pistol butt, but Dean had his arms almost pinned and Neddrick couldn’t hit very hard. Dean got one hand on Neddrick’s face, then he reared back and rabbit punched Neddrick in the side of the head. Neddrick was just stunned enough. Dean kneed him in the breadbasket, then rabbit punched him again to make sure he was knocked out.

Robin and Elizabeth were already running toward London. They had gone almost a quarter mile when Dean finally caught up. Robin looked back toward the village. Small flecks of light – torches – bounced up and down in the distance. They seemed massed at the edge of the village and certainly weren’t fanning out.

“Okay,” Robin gasped. “Let’s get off the road.”

“Yeah,” Dean gasped. “Elizabeth, you okay?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Did you get the pistol?” Robin asked Dean.

“What pistol?”

“Damn. Neddrick had a pistol. We could have used it.”

“I thought you didn’t like guns,” Dean said.

Robin shushed him in reply.

It was a long night. Robin led them across the stream, and they followed it back the way they had come to the inn’s side of the village. It was slow going because Robin did not want to make any noise. Nor did she let them stop until they were several miles away. Even then, she watched while Dean and Elizabeth slept, until the first flush of dawn touched the eastern sky. Then she finally nodded off.

Elizabeth had been so tired when they finally stopped that she hadn’t really noticed where they were. She awoke as the sun cleared the horizon and sleepily noted that the three had tucked themselves into the corner of someone’s pasture, up against the hedgerow. Standing on tiptoe, she could just barely see over the wall of ivy-covered stones. There was another narrow field and then the road. Not far away, and well into the pasture, a stream rippled past. Elizabeth couldn’t quite see it, but she heard it and guessed that it was beyond the small rise that shielded them from the rest of the pasture.

Dean awoke just in time to see Elizabeth walk softly off toward the stream. He yawned, then noted that Robin was still fast asleep. So he followed Elizabeth.

He found her next to the stream, weeping.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, plopping down next to her.

“What do you mean, ‘What’s wrong?’  Isn’t it obvious?” Elizabeth pursed her lips and tried to dry her eyes.

“Well, yeah.” Dean shrugged. “It was pretty scary getting run out of town like that, but we’re okay.”

“We spent last night in a field. And even if we find Mistress Ford’s cousin, there’s no guarantee he’ll be a decent, kind man. He could be horrible and cruel.”

Dean put his arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Aw, we’ll be okay. If this cousin is a jerk, then we move on. It’s no big deal.”

“But we were accused of witchcraft!” Elizabeth wailed softly.

“So? We’re not witches.”

“But, Dean—”

Dean shook his head. “So what’s the big deal about it?”

“It’s witchcraft. Making pacts with the Devil.”

“But we’re not.” Dean shifted around and gently took Elizabeth’s chin. “Look, Elizabeth, it doesn’t matter what they say about us. Well, except that they wanted to hang us for it. Which I think is pretty stupid. I mean, back in my time, we don’t care about who you make deals with, and we’re not going to hang you because of some stupid superstition. Heck, we don’t hang people anymore, anyway.”

Elizabeth looked surprised. “You behead even the common criminals?”

“No! We only kill murderers, and usually by giving them a poison that just puts them to sleep.”

“What do you do with the witches, then?”

“What witches? There’s no such thing as witches, at least, not like the evil spell magic kind. There are some people who call themselves witches, but that’s just a pagan religion thing. Seriously, Elizabeth, people just don’t care about that.”

“This time, which is in the future.” Elizabeth began thinking carefully.

“Yeah.” Dean gave her a quick little squeeze. “So, you see, it’s no big deal.”

“It is here.”

“Well, yeah, but we dodged that rap. We’re okay.”

Elizabeth nodded. She liked the feeling of Dean’s arm around her shoulders and she leaned her head against him.

“I feel better,” she said softly.

“Cool.” Dean grinned, then suddenly shifted. “Yeah, well, we’d better not get too cuddly.”

“And why not?”

“Cause, well…” Dean grimaced and stood up. “I can’t talk about it.”

Elizabeth stood also, but was not to be put off. “You said you could talk to me about anything.”

Dean squirmed. “I know. It’s just about how guys are and all.”

“You mean what passes between man and wife,” Elizabeth smirked.

“Well, yeah. And what do you know about all that stuff? I thought you weren’t supposed to find out until the night before your wedding or something.”

“What?” Elizabeth couldn’t help laughing. “Where on this earth did you learn that? Of course, I know what happens in the conjugal bed. And I know about guys and all. I’ve had to fend off more than one, thank you.”

“Well, you won’t be fending me off.” Dean folded his arms and stood resolutely. “I mean, you are a virgin, aren’t you?”

Elizabeth gasped. “That’s a fine thing to ask me! I am a maid, indeed. That you should even ask!”

Dean caught her as she stomped off.

“Look, Elizabeth, in my time, it’s not unusual for a girl to have sex by your age. Sometimes, it’s more unusual when they wait. I mean, it’s no big deal. I don’t care. It’s just I figured if you knew the facts of life, then maybe you weren’t, which was dumb, I know, but…”

Elizabeth melted under the gaze of his puppy-dog eyes. “I just don’t understand, Dean. I mean, it’s noble that you don’t want to trespass upon my virtue, but to treat me as if I’m an infant in understanding, it’s uncomfortable.”

Dean sighed. “I guess I just don’t know how guys in your time…  You know, what they do when they like a girl, if they want to date or something.”

“Date?” Elizabeth frowned. “What is that?”

“Well, in my time, if a guy likes a girl, he asks her out to do stuff together, like eat dinner or go to a movie. Oh wait, you wouldn’t know what that is. It’s like going to a play. And if they get to like each other more and more, and fall in love, then they move in together and maybe get married and all that. And sometimes even the girl will ask the guy. And a lot of times, it doesn’t work out, so you go out with someone else until you find just the right person. Anyway, that’s how we do it and I was wondering how you do it.”

“We don’t.” Elizabeth looked out over the stream. “If I was still with my father, then he’d be finding me a husband. There were a couple boys that I had my eye on, and my father was a kind man and would have considered them. But he would choose the man and I must needs obey his wishes.”

“But what about falling in love?”

Elizabeth shook her head and chuckled. “What about it? That’s all very nice for fairy tales and other such nonsense, but a good wife learns to love the husband her father finds for her. Falling in love is rash and dangerous and not much good is likely to come of it.” She paused. “Although, the mistress I served before I left my village, she and her husband had fallen in love, and it was quite a happy union.”

“Well, I’m not thinking about getting married yet,” Dean said.

“I didn’t think so.” Elizabeth turned to him, her eyes warm and full in the early morning light. “Some young men do go and court their mistresses to try to win their hearts.”

“I’d like to try this courtship thing,” said Dean softly. “I don’t want to make any promises, Elizabeth. I can’t. I gotta go back to my time sooner or later, and we did come here to bring you back.” He looked away and swallowed. “I just don’t see how I’m going to want to leave you.”

Elizabeth nodded sadly. “You can’t stay here?”

“I don’t know. I could, I guess. But there’s lots of things about my time that knock socks off of this one. Like not dying just ‘cause you got your arm sliced open. We got drugs that stop that from happening. We got more food. You get to keep your teeth.”

“That would be nice.” Elizabeth softly touched Dean’s arm. “I could try again. In your world. I mean, your time. There’s much I don’t understand, but Robin has been telling me a little about it and it doesn’t seem so fearful when she explains it.”

Dean grinned. “Nah. It’s just confusing. I mean, when she goes on about her computer and stuff, it’s like she’s talking another language.” He laid his hand on Elizabeth’s cheek. “I still can’t make any promises. About us, I mean. Heck, you could decide you don’t want me.”

“I very much doubt that.”

Dean bent and they softly kissed.

“How about this,” he said when they finally parted. “We’ll hang out here in your time until we’re sure about each other, and in the meantime, we’ll keep this between ourselves. I don’t want to go flipping Robin out until we have to.”

Elizabeth looked back at the corner of the pasture where they’d slept. “Poor thing. She is very lonely.”

Nonetheless, she kissed Dean again, with considerably more heat this time. Dean pulled back, gasping.

“Wo-oh!”

Elizabeth looked down in shame. “I am too forward.”

“Yes and no.” Dean looked away and back at her. “How long do you want to stay a maid?”

She laughed in response. “Until I am your wife and not a minute sooner. Good heavens, Dean, if I should get with child and you were to leave, it would be my undoing and that of the child’s. I am amazed that the girls of your time don’t fear for it.”

“Well, they do sometimes. But we have ways of keeping pregnancy from happening.”

“You do?” Elizabeth mulled that one over, and Dean could see her mentally chalking up another point in favor of his time.

 

Chapter Six

It was late in the day in the middle of the week when one of the farm boys came running into the village with the news everyone had been waiting for – the new pastor was coming.

The villagers filled the town square within minutes, their faces turned expectantly toward the far edge of the village where the road led to London. Even the one guest at the inn had come along with Robin, Dean, Elizabeth and Mistress Ford to take in the festivities.

Mistress Blethen joined the group from the inn, regal and complaining, as usual.

“It’s good that Mistress St. John was able to go back to her family,” said Mistress Ford about the former pastor’s widow.

“But she left the house in such a state,” replied Mistress Blethen. “I’ve been cleaning it all week. I’d just got done yester evening, and thanks be for that. When I came this morning, I found the new pastor’s clerk rooting about.”

Mistress Ford looked shocked. “A clerk?”

“It’s extravagance, I say,” Mistress Blethen replied. “But who are we to judge? I’m surprised that he hasn’t come out to greet his reverence.”

“I’ll send Master Robin to fetch him,” said Mistress Ford.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Robin, who went straight to the pastor’s house.

She found the clerk sitting by the kitchen fire, bent over something.

“Sir?” Robin asked.

The man jumped. He was a little taller than Robin, but not by much. His hair was yellow and his teeth remarkably white. There was something else about his features, something Robin couldn’t quite put her finger on, as if his face could have been one of a thousand different faces, and his skin had a darkish cast to it.

“You’re the new pastor’s clerk?” Robin asked.

“Uh, yes.”

“Then you should come outside. The new pastor is just now coming down the road and should be here any minute.”

The man brushed off his hands. “Uh, yes. That probably would be a good idea. It’s going to be interesting.”

“How so?”

The man smiled and there was something indiscriminate about it. “I’m not sure he knows I’m here. He may not have gotten the letter, you see.”

Robin shrugged. “We’ll see, I guess. I’m Master Robin Parker.”

She held out her hand to the clerk, who took it with a very odd look on his face, indeed.

“Uh, Master Robert Neddrick.”

“Welcome to Downleigh. I guess we’d better get outside.”

Master Neddrick seemed somewhat anxious to hide what he was doing, so Robin left the kitchen first, but waited to be sure the clerk would follow.

The crowd had just begun its welcoming cheer as Robin and Master Neddrick came into the square. The hurrahs diminished slightly as the four men on horses came slowly up the road. Pastor James Middleton was the easiest to spot – he was the one severely dressed in black, a plump man with a haughty, sour look on his face. The three men riding with him, presumably as an escort to protect the minister out on roads filled with bandits, were wearing military dress, but without any of the King’s colors or emblems. Nor did they wear the badge of the city of London. And one carried the flag of the Parliament.

Robin, at first, did not get the distinction. But the rest of the village did, and from there, Robin was able to piece together what was wrong.

Pastor Middleton, for his part, acknowledged the crowd but with the kind of disdain that suggested he tolerated their behavior but did not condone it. He got off his horse, then turned to the villagers.

“Greetings, my fellow sinners,” he announced. “Today, I come before you humbly, as God’s servant, to be your guide and counselor. Let us pray.”

And he began a very long and very pious prayer, thanking God for seeing him safely to the village, and for the villagers, and for a great many things that had nothing to do with anything, as far as Robin could see. She was longing to see what would happen when he came face to face with Master Neddrick, but that young man waited in the doorway to the house until the pastor had greeted Master Greenfield and the other aldermen. As soon as the pastor made ready to go inside, Master Neddrick slipped to Master Middleton’s side and whispered in his ear. The pastor nodded, and the two went inside, followed by the horsemen, who brought in Master Middleton’s luggage.

And that was that. The villagers dispersed, almost in silence, but Robin could almost feel the buzz of comment from behind every house wall.

Like the rest of the village, Mistress Ford kept her comments to herself until they reached the inn and the guest went upstairs.

“Hmph!” Mistress Ford snorted. “I won’t say our last pastor was perfect, but this new fellow does not seem to be much of an improvement.”

Robin shook her heard. “I’d have never believed it, but I honestly think that whoever decides these things actually found the one choice that’s worse than what we had.”

“If I may, I agree,” said Elizabeth. “I’ve known his kind before. They are the sourest Christians that ever trod the earth.”

“Anybody want to put up some money we’ll be getting some hellfire and brimstone preaching this Sunday?” Robin asked.

“Or it will be wives, be subordinate to your husbands,” Mistress Ford sighed, with a glance toward the common room where Master Ford snored peacefully away. “Well, we’d best be ready for this evening. The men will want to talk over the new pastor, and I’d be very surprised if after Sunday, we’ll be having anyone in for the evening.”

That evening the inn was busy, with practically every man in the village there to talk over the new pastor. The consensus was that he was an improvement over the old Laudian, but how much depended on where one stood politically. The tension was almost suffocating, but the men were reluctant to leave. About the only thing they could agree on was that Pastor Middleton was not likely to approve of taking a pint or two at the local inn.

Later, up in their loft, Dean wondered aloud why everyone knew they were going to have to give up visiting the inn at night.

“I mean if everybody disagrees with the guy, why would they bother listening to him?”

Robin sighed. “Dean, have you ever noticed anybody to miss church around here?”

“No.”

“They disagreed with the other pastor, right?”

“Yeah.”

“But they still paid attention to his sermons and did what he said.”

“Well, I guess so, but…” His voice trailed off.

“Dean, religion and government are very closely linked here. The pastor is a very influential man because of his position.”

“And they think this new guy won’t like drinking.”

“Not exactly. Just social drinking, going to the local tavern for the evening. He’s probably like… Well, remember cousin Janet?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Remember when she got converted into that super conservative Christian group?”

“Boy, do I. They wouldn’t let her dance even.”

“That sounds like this guy.”

Dean’s eyes widened. “Oh, wow. Folks around here aren’t going to like being told they shouldn’t go visit the inn.”

“Do they like it back home? Face it, Dean, people haven’t changed all that much over the centuries. Like I said, we’re in for some hellfire and brimstone Sunday.”

Dean groaned as Robin rolled over to go to sleep.

As Robin predicted, the hellfire and brimstone overflowed from the pulpit. The entire service had undergone some radical changes. The altar was now the communion table and in the middle of the church instead of the front. Pastor Middleton wore no vestments. There was almost no ritual. If anything, the service consisted mostly of  Middleton’s incredibly long sermon.

It was not an easy sermon to listen to, nor could one sleep through it. Pastor Middleton, had a very full, loud and grating voice. And he was the only thing that could have been worse than the previous pastor.

He preached from Revelations, showing how the signs were right for the return of Christ. He reminded Robin a little of a preacher she had heard down near Costa Mesa. It seemed both were certain the big event was due within their lifetimes. At least Robin knew Pastor Middleton was wrong.

Still, the man unsettled her and the other parishioners. Part of it was the way Middleton condemned the King. According to him, Charles I was one of the twelve heads of the Beast, if not the Anti-Christ himself. The really unnerving thing about Middleton’s attitude was that he had a good case for it. Only Robin’s historical perspective kept her from squirming with the rest of the congregation, Dean included.

“You think maybe Pastor Middleton could be right about the king?” he asked in a concerned voice as they sat on the hill that afternoon.

“Dean, when we left the twenty-first century had Christ shown up yet?” Robin replied, irritated with the way her own fears were surfacing.

“No. I guess Middleton’s wrong.”

“My father never did hold with people who preached that the Judgment Day was upon us,” said Elizabeth. “He said men have been saying that since Christ first left, and all of them have said the predictions in Revelations were coming true. Perhaps some are. All I know is that one should be as a good a Christian as possible, then Judgment Day can come at any time it wants and it makes no difference.”

“I had a friend in high school who used to say that,” Robin replied. “Or something like that. It certainly makes more sense than scaring people into behaving.”

Dean just shrugged.

For the moment, it appeared that Pastor Middleton was not going to condemn the nightly gatherings at the inn, and so the men came out again the following evening.

But any friendliness was forced, at best. The men quickly broke down into cliques. Tension again made its presence felt. Dean prowled the walls. Robin filled the tankards with one eye on the patrons.

It started with an argument. Master Leaton and Master Dimsdale were certainly loud enough, but even though it concerned the conflict between the King and the Parliament, loud arguments were common and no cause for alarm. Then the two men jumped up and Leaton grabbed Dimsdale by the throat.

Dean happened to be on the other side of the room at the time. He hurried over, but not before Dimsdale’s friend came to his aid. Then Leaton’s friend joined in.

The whole thing snowballed in seconds. Everyone was fighting. Dean and Robin frantically tried to push the combatants into the street before they tore the inn down. Then Elizabeth screamed. Weapons remained outside or Mistress Ford guarded them in the kitchen. Still someone had brought in a hunting knife. The knife’s victim, Master Leaton, sagged to the ground clutching his arm as the crowd pulled back. The errant knife was on the floor and no one claimed it. Dean drew his sword.

“All right!” he bellowed. “I don’t care what side you’re on, get out before I use this!”

The common room emptied out within minutes. Elizabeth and Mistress Ford tended to the wounded man. It wasn’t a serious cut as cuts went. But Robin fretted. The conditions weren’t exactly sanitary, and no one knew that was even an issue. Worse yet, saying so could get her, Dean and Elizabeth into trouble.

“We’ll need bandages,” said Mistress Ford.

“I’ll prepare them,” Robin volunteered and hurried into the kitchen.

Elizabeth appeared a moment later.

“We need boiling water,” Robin told her.

“Don’t be silly,” said Elizabeth. “We just need some cloth strips to wrap it with. Boiling water will only scald the man.”

She picked up a cloth used for covering rising bread and returned to the common room. Robin shook her head, but there was nothing that could be done.

 

Across the road from the inn, Donald Long watched the exodus from the inn. He’d heard the yelling and had debated going in, but decided against it. It would be unseemly for the pastor’s clerk to be seen in such a sinful place, and Donald didn’t like being seen in the first place.

If only that Blethen bitch hadn’t caught him in the pastor’s house. He’d managed to stay hidden easily enough to help that other old fart to his eternal reward, and to recover the bottle before anyone had noticed it, even with half the village there to see. Still, he was in an excellent position with the most powerful man in the village.

Donald faded quickly into the blackness as the door to the inn opened. He watched as Mistress Ford, Dean Parker and the girl brought out an injured man. Donald sniffed. It was that hot-head Leaton, probably had gotten what he’d long deserved. On the other hand, Donald found himself musing, if there was some way he could blame the innkeeper’s servants, maybe that would force the trio onto the road where there was less cover and easier access to Elizabeth.

And even if he couldn’t get the village riled up over Leaton, there was his old favorite stand-by, the witchcraft charge. Not that it was easy getting people riled up about a young woman. Fortunately, Elizabeth was just a little too intelligent for her own good. It had been a stretch convincing her previous pastor that she had taught herself to read the Psalms by the power of the devil. Donald couldn’t help savoring that little triumph once again.

But now Elizabeth was a stranger, and there were the Parkers to deal with as well. He watched as Robin Parker came outside and emptied a bucket. As clever as that woman was, she never seemed to notice when he was watching her. He’d watched her arrive from the drop outside that B&B in Windsor. And she never saw him in London. But this time, she didn’t know who he was, let alone that he was watching her. Donald grimaced. Travelling backwards along her timetron’s path did make the continuity a little confusing.

Robin returned inside. She and her brother were fitting in among the villagers rather well. Master Robin had even caught the eye of the town’s prettiest maid.

Donald paused and smiled. Although others also considered Mistress Smith far too froward to be a worthy wife, “Master” Robin had far better reason to avoid marriage. But would simply exposing Robin for the woman she was get him Elizabeth? After all, more than one woman of the seventeenth century had taken refuge in the guise of a man. No, better to cast suspicion on all three, get Elizabeth long enough to get the job done, and save his ultimate revenge on Robin and Dean for the future.

 

The next day, Robin could almost smell the gloom as she walked through the village to the pastor’s house with one of Mistress Ford’s best cheeses for the clergyman.

Robin stopped first at Master Leaton’s house to inquire after him. Sure enough, he had taken sick from his wound. Robin could see that his fever was quite high. His arm was swollen and Robin didn’t want to think about what it looked like underneath the bandages. She wished the family well, and sighing heavily, left the cottage.

Master Neddrick opened the door at the pastor’s house and seemed strangely pleased to see Robin. He ushered her into the common room where the pastor was reading a pamphlet.

“Good morning, sir. Mistress Ford, from the inn…” Robin began.

“You are Master Robin Parker, are you not?” Pastor Middleton interrupted.

Robin shifted under the older man’s odd scrutiny.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“Good sir, I’d like to talk to you.”

“Yes, sir?” Robin noticed that the pastor was gazing at her chin. She fought the urge to hide it.

“I’m told you are not interested in wooing Mistress Mary Smith.”

“No, sir. And I’m not the only one.”

“But you’re the only one without a beard.” Middleton’s eyebrow lifted.

Robin nodded. “I know, and I suspect you’re wondering about that. There was an accident when I was a babe, and I lost my, uh, testes.”

Middleton nodded and Robin hoped that he was not going to pants her.

“You are too big to be a woman,” Middleton noted, looking up at her. “But not fully a man. You have been cursed, you know. But should you repent of your evil, you might be able to find favor again with God.”

“Evil?”

“Serving ale to drunken fools. You are the tapster, are you not?”

“Yes, sir. But I don’t serve to drunks. We escort them out if they get too much.”

Middleton shook his head. “It is an evil practice, drinking ale at an alehouse at night.”

“We are an inn.” Robin fought to contain her temper. “Surely you stayed in one on your way here. The highways are full of bandits. We are a necessary service.”

“But to tempt your fellow villagers with the evils of too much ale in rude company, that is sinful.” Middleton prowled around Robin.

“Then we won’t anymore,” Robin said. “Mistress Ford was saying this morning that it would be better to not serve after supper. The inn has been a meeting place for the village, especially since we couldn’t use the church. But the men can meet elsewhere when needs be. Mistress Ford said that. She is a godly woman.”

“Who rules her husband?” snarled the pastor.

“He’s incapacitated. And she still takes good care of him.”

“He is the prime example of what happens to a man who succumbs to the evil of strong drink, no doubt driven to it by his wife.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Robin snapped.

Middleton stepped back. “Shall I have you flogged for insolence?”

“No, sir.” Robin stepped back. “In any case, Mistress Ford sent you one of her best cheeses, here.”

“Take it back. I’ll not take the offering of a sinner.”

Robin glared. “You don’t even know her. I assure you, if someone is sick in this village, or ready for childbirth, she is the first one there after Mistress Blethen. If there is anyone who wants for anything here, they go to her and do not go away empty handed. When beggars come, they stop at her door. They don’t waste time going elsewhere because they will be turned away. How does that make Mistress Ford a sinner?”

“I know who is a sinner and who isn’t,” Middleton snapped, pulling himself up to his full height.

Robin dropped the basket with the cheese at his feet. “Then it should be easy to find Mistress Ford’s tithe this Sunday and return it to her. And I assure you it will be in the collection basket. You can’t miss it. It’s the most generous one.”

Middleton glared at her. “I suppose it is commendable that you show such loyalty to your mistress. But take care, Master Parker, that you do not end up following her into the gates of Hell.”

Robin turned walked out of the house, not daring to say another word.

Back at the inn, she tried to avoid telling Mistress Ford what had happened, but Mistress Ford took one look at her and knew.

“So, what has gained me the pastor’s ire?” Mistress Ford asked philosophically. “That I serve ale to the men of the village or that I rule my husband?”

“Both,” grumbled Robin. “I’m sorry.”

Mistress Ford shrugged. “I’ve friends enough in the village, and I shan’t be serving after supper. It will take time, I suppose, but I’ll prove myself the godly woman I am.” She smiled at Elizabeth, Dean and Robin. “I just hope you three won’t look for a riper situation. I’m afraid I won’t be able to be as generous with the wages.”

“As long as I have food to eat and a roof over my head, I’m staying,” said Elizabeth.

“And you boys?” Mistress Ford asked.

Dean looked at Robin, as did Mistress Ford and Elizabeth. Robin nodded reluctantly.

That was another problem. She and Dean couldn’t promise to stay. They had to go home before they aged too much. It would be too awkward trying to explain completely the faded tans, wrinkles or gray hair that would be sure to occur if they waited around for Elizabeth to die of old age. Robin had no intention of remaining in the seventeenth century for the rest of her natural lifetime.

That afternoon, as the barley roasted for the ale, Robin stood just outside the kitchen in the yard, kicking at the small stones on the ground. Elizabeth appeared at her side.

“You are sad,” the younger girl observed. “Your errand to the pastor?”

“No kidding.” Robin grumbled. “I swear that son of a bitch is more conservative than Jerry Falwell.”

“And who is Jerry Falwell?”

“A pastor in my century that is very moralistic, just like Pastor Middleton.” Robin let out a soft rueful laugh. “It’s amazing how little people change. Yeah, I know there’s a lot that has changed, and we do look at some things differently, but the basic human personalities sure as hell haven’t changed one iota.”

Elizabeth frowned.

“Robin, in your land,” she asked slowly, “is there an England?”

“In the U.S., where Dean and I live, there’s a New England. That’s what we call what you call the Colonies.”

“Is it the same land as the Colonies?”

“Yes.” Robin looked puzzled.

“I’m trying to understand,” Elizabeth explained. “You keep talking about centuries and time, and it seems strange that you should identify a place by a name that also means time.”

Robin suddenly understood Elizabeth’s confusion.

“Where’s Dean?” Robin asked.

“Watching the barley.”

“Maybe we’d better wait and go keep an eye on him.”

Elizabeth laughed. “I wouldn’t worry. Dean likes his ale too much to let the barley burn.”

“You’re right,” Robin smiled. “Come on. Let’s go to the stable. We won’t be overheard there. We don’t want anyone thinking we’re witches.”

Elizabeth shuddered, but Robin didn’t notice.

In the stable, Robin sat down on a bundle of hay.

“Elizabeth,” she said slowly. “Do you remember in the castle where we found you how you said you’d been sleeping?”

“Yes, and while I did, Roger moved the chamber.”

“You also said you’d changed lands. But that wasn’t quite right. You were still in the same land. Have you heard the story of the Sleeping Beauty? She was put to sleep for a hundred years?”

“Yes, I know it.” Elizabeth nodded eagerly.

Robing took a deep breath. “That’s what happened to you, only it wasn’t magic, in the sense that it wasn’t a spell. It was science. You see, a hundred years from now, a man named Ben Franklin is going to find out that lightening can be collected, that it’s power can be transmitted, can be directed to a specific spot. A hundred years after that, a man named Thomas Edison will discover that this collected power, which is something called electricity, can be stored and used to make light, and to make wheels turn and a lot of other things. It’s part of what I call technology, and you call magic.”

“But how do you know these things will happen?”

“Because five hundred years from now, your Roger will find a way to make someone sleep for hundreds of years without dying or growing older. I know because that’s what happened to you. You were sleeping for over three hundred years, Elizabeth. Do you understand that?”

She frowned. “I believe so. But why am I back in England as it was when I left?”

“Because Roger found a way to travel not only across land, but across years and days. He found a way to travel backwards and forward in time. He is from my future, as I am from your future.”

“How long was I asleep?”

“Somewhere between three hundred and sixty, three hundred seventy years.”

Elizabeth did the math. “That’s impossible, and yet, it can’t be, for I know it happened. This is so hard to understand.”

“I know, Elizabeth.” Robin put her hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Most of the knowledge that makes Dean’s iPhone possible hasn’t been discovered yet.”

“But how can one change time?”

Robin shrugged. “I don’t know. As I said, Roger is not from my time. He is from my future, which is even further ahead. In that time, they will know. It was an accident that Dean and I were able to find you and the time machine. All I know is how to work the thing.”

Elizabeth nodded. “It’s still not completely clear, but it’s better. Come. Dean will need help with the mash.” She stopped at the door to the stable. “And, Robin, please don’t be too angry with the pastor. He means well, even if all he does is cause trouble. We do have to live with him.”

“Yeah.” Robin smiled. “That’s the nice thing about you, Elizabeth. You’re at least willing to try something new.”

“It doesn’t seem like it,” she sighed.

“You did fine,” Robin said. “You’d have never made it as far as you did in the twenty-first century if you were as narrow as old Middleton. You should be proud of yourself.”

Elizabeth smiled. “You are so kind, Robin. I want so much to like your magic, or whatever you call it, because you do.”

“I understand. I’m so used to it, I don’t even think about it. I forget how frightening it must be to you.”

Elizabeth nodded. Together, the two women left the stable.

 

Chapter Five

The three young gentlemen soldiers were gone before the sun rose the next morning. Robin wasn’t sure how it happened, but by noon, the entire village knew of the attack on Elizabeth the night before. Perhaps not as surprising was the way the number of attackers grew as the tale was told.

And with each telling Robin’s and Dean’s stock in the village grew. The villagers weren’t ready to embrace the pair as their own. But they were more willing to accept them.

A little over a week after the attack, Robin accompanied Elizabeth to the church to deliver some cheese to the pastor. As they approached the square, where the village well was located, Robin heard the familiar hiss of children whispering behind her.

She whirled, hollering “Boo!”

Screaming, the children scattered, giggling as they pushed each other out of the way.

“You’ve gotten quite popular,” Elizabeth teased.

“And how many men did I fight off?” Robin sighed. “Isn’t the number up to twenty by now?”

Elizabeth laughed. The sound of another young woman’s laughter echoed.

It belonged to Mistress Mary Smith, the tinker’s daughter. Standing next to the well, the pleasantly plump young woman was just dropping the last of a bit of laundry into her basket.

“Good day, Master Parker, Mistress Wynford,” she said.

“Good day, Mistress Smith,” Elizabeth replied. “How fares Mistress Blethen?”Continue reading

Chapter Four

There was barely a flush in the eastern sky when Dean felt Robin prodding him awake the next morning. He grumbled, but it was quickly clear that his sister was in no mood to put up with his complaints. Not sure what was bugging her, he followed her out of the barn and on to their first task of the day, setting the rabbit traps along the nearby stream that flowed between the fields and a small glade of trees.

Robin kept muttering about the time, and sure enough, the King’s messenger and Master Black were already awake and waiting by the time Dean and Robin got back. But it didn’t take long to set up the table for their breakfast. In the meantime, Master Black took some bread and his horse and left quickly.

Robin and Dean joined Mistress Ford and Elizabeth in the kitchen to eat the porridge that Elizabeth had prepared. Then Dean was sent to bring out the King’s messenger’s horse, Elizabeth to tend to the now empty rooms, and Robin to take down the table in the common room. Mistress Ford went to milk the cow, which apparently refused to milk for anyone else.

Dean had the horse saddled and ready by the time the messenger had eaten but got no thanks as the man mounted and rode off. Mistress Ford had also told Dean to clean the stables once the messenger was gone, and so Dean turned to his task.

The mess that was the stable overwhelmed him as he stood in the doorway. His stomach grumbled with hunger and he grumbled about how miserable it all was. He was still grumbling when Elizabeth came out to the stable, looking for an extra broom.

“Doesn’t anybody, like, rest or something around here?” he said, tossing straws from the bench he was reclining on.

Elizabeth pursed her lips and avoided looking at him.

“And I’m really hungry here,” Dean continued, oblivious. “If you want to keep me working, you got to feed me. I mean, I need fuel.”

Finally, Elizabeth could bear no more.Continue reading

Chapter Three

It took almost two weeks to get all the information and clothes that Robin wanted before she felt satisfied that she and Dean were ready to make the jump into the past.

The clothes had been the hardest part. Robin made contact with a historical re-enactor through an e-mail friend of hers. The re-enactor helped her find outfits through her group but was remarkably picky about authenticity. Oddly enough, Elizabeth wasn’t, and in fact pronounced several doublets and breeches as workable that the re-enactor turned her nose up at.

Dean, for his part, complained incessantly and tried again and again to interest Elizabeth in modern life. Again and again, Elizabeth reacted in fear or distaste. She refused to flush a toilet, although she liked toilet paper once she got the hang of it. Dean’s favorite alternative rock and hip-hop groups made her shudder. She refused to wear any less than three layers of clothes and clung tenaciously to her stays. Daily showers were a struggle. Robin and Dean had to be very sure to keep her away from television sets because the “elves in the box” would start her screaming. And while getting her on the Underground was difficult enough, the only thing worse was driving the magic carriage.

Even eating was difficult. Elizabeth would not eat anything that came in a Styrofoam container because she hated the feel of the foam. That made ordering food in almost impossible. But getting her through the streets to restaurants was pretty much running the poor girl through a gantlet of terrors.

The worse part was that Robin insisted the three stay moving to make it harder for Roger to track them. Furthermore, Elizabeth begged not to be left alone in whatever hotel room they were in after the first day because the phone had rung and scared her.

Still, Dean persisted, but as the two weeks wore on, his protests became less strident.

Finally, Robin was satisfied. The night before the three were to leave, she had hers and Dean’s luggage shipped to her office. All they had that night was what they could carry in the two homespun bags they would bring with them into the past.

The next morning, Dean made one last pro forma protest as he tested his saber.

“Are you sure about this, Robin?” he asked, swishing the sword through the air as he lunged forward.

“Put that damn thing down before you hurt one of us.” Like her brother, Robin wore a shirt, breeches, doublet, boots, wide belt and plain, dark cavalier hat.

“I’m not going to hurt anybody,” Dean grumbled, sheathing his sword nonetheless.

Robin tried not to groan. “Look, Dean, the only reason we’re carrying weapons is that we’d get slaughtered without them. With any luck at all, we won’t have to use them. Better yet, let’s try not to.” She looked over at Elizabeth and back at Dean. “Are you two ready?”

“I am,” said Elizabeth, her eyes shining with joy.

“I s’pose,” Dean grumbled as he picked up his bag.

Robin put the room key on the bureau, then, taking a deep breath, picked up the time machine and her bag. “Okay. We should all be touching.”

She waited for Dean and Elizabeth put their hands on each of her shoulders, then focused her mind on the geographic coordinates and date in early spring 1642 that she wanted.Continue reading

Chapter Two

“Oh, dear,” sighed the matron as she looked Elizabeth up and down.

Robin held her breath as she and Dean stood in the doorway to the castle. She glanced over at Elizabeth, who looked more curious than frightened at the moment. Dean was putting on his best “bluff ’em out” look.

“The seventeenth-century group is meeting in York this weekend,” the matron continued. “I do hope you haven’t been terribly inconvenienced.”

“No,” said Robin with a quick grin. “As a matter of fact, we’re just on our way there. Thought we’d drop in and see the castle first.”

“Oh, good.” The matron smiled in relief. “It really doesn’t do to say so, but some of your colleagues are rather disorganized. I was quite afraid I was going to be bombarded with Cavaliers and their ladies.” She smiled again at Elizabeth. “Lovely job, dear, but I do believe ties at the neck are not quite period.”

Elizabeth looked puzzled, but before she could say anything, Robin gently took her arm and turned her toward the parking lot.

“Well, who knows,” Robin told the matron as she pushed Elizabeth past. “Not a lot of portrait evidence among the lower classes, you know.”

“Huh?” asked Dean, following close behind.

Robin glanced behind them. “We’ve got an explanation for Elizabeth for the moment.”

“Explanation?” Elizabeth asked.

“I don’t get it,” Dean said.

Robin stopped to catch her breath. “Historical re-enactors, Dean. You know, like the Renaissance Faire back home? There are clubs all over the place that dress up in historical costumes and make like they live in the past. They’ve got them for all different time periods. That woman just thought we were dressed up for a seventeenth-century group.”Continue reading

Chapter One

IT’S A NEW SERIAL! But World Enough and Time is the first of a trilogy of time travel novels – and the serial starts today. Join Robin and Dean Parker, a sister and brother who travel back to return Elizabeth Wynford back to her native time. Oh, would that it were that simple. Roger York is busy trying to figure out how to get one step ahead of the trio, but he’s not the person to worry about. Donald Long is even more persistently chasing the three with definite intent to inflict harm. Visit this space every Friday for a new episode!

Desperation made people do some strange things. Roger York looked at the sleeping girl, then gently checked her pulse yet again. Endless days mapping DNA strings on the fastest machines in existence. Even more, months carefully searching for the perfect hiding place as others developed the tools to keep prying eyes away. All for an experiment that could take an innocent life that had no reckoning of the risk she was taking. Worse yet, Roger had little hope that it would succeed.

Roger ran his hands through his soft brown hair, not short nor long, cut so he could go as many whens as possible. He looked around the room, double-checking everything, especially the power sources. They would be all right. But what effect would the suspend an have on Elizabeth? Nobody had tried it over a hundred years, and Roger was bringing the girl forward five hundred and fifty plus.

The only thing more dangerous would be to bring her forward through the time drop. He’d drop in and wake her up every fifty years as it was. She seemed a strong, intelligent woman, in spite of her ignorance. Hopefully, her mind would be strong enough.

As he picked up his hand unit, he checked everything once more, then focused his mind on the coordinates for fifty years ahead. It was odd, but the timetron landed him within seconds of the coordinates he entered. It had never done that before. Must have been the power source so close. He brushed Elizabeth’s lips with his own. Her eyes flickered open. She smiled at him. He was smiling back. At least that part of this fool’s enterprise was working.

Each fifty-year jump felt better than before. Elizabeth showed no visible effects from her time asleep, nor did what few instruments Roger had show any. The special locks that prevented anyone from even thinking about entering the room were working perfectly. He left the 1990s almost bursting with joy.

Just a few years into the 21st century, a small ion retainer on the door fizzled and sputtered. The rest of the card flared up and died as quickly. A minute later, the door creaked open.Continue reading

That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine is Now a Book!

 If you’ve enjoyed this serial, but came in late or missed a few episodes, you can now buy the whole thing as either a print or ebook from a wide variety of retailers.

Click here for links to Amazon, Barnes&Noble and others, not to mention some fun facts about how I came to write this story, which is the beginning of a thirteen-book series. Really. And you’re in on the ground floor.

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Fourteen – Finale

January 17, 1983

A week later, I finally got a chance to get the last word on Sid and I was taking it. I wasn’t being completely fair. Sid was suffering the indignity of being in the dentist’s chair and had the disadvantage of dental equipment and Neil’s fingers in his mouth. But Sid had already had his chance at me and had made several snide comments about bad eating habits when Neil had found a cavity and filled it. Of course, Sid didn’t have a cavity in his head, except the ones that belonged there.

Neil had talked Sid into the appointment on Christmas day when I’d mentioned it was time for me to get in. Neil won’t touch Mae’s or the children’s teeth. But he doesn’t mind working on me and he was quite happy to have another patient in Sid.

“Sid, have you been fighting lately?” Neil asked while he was poking around. “The inside of your cheeks are all chewed up.”

“Probably one of his girlfriends,” I said from where I was standing in the doorway. I slurred a little from the Novocaine.

Sid grunted.

“Uh oh,” said Neil.

“Has he got one?” I asked, hopefully.

“Nope, just another crack. And speaking of bad eating habits, you’d better quit chewing ice. That’s what’s cracking your teeth.”

I laughed. Mae came into the office and said hi to the receptionist.

“Oh hi, Lisa,” she said seeing me. “That’s right, today was when you and Sid were coming in.”

“Hi, honey,” called Neil.

Mae went into the examination room and kissed Neil’s forehead.

“Hello, sweetheart,” she said. “How are you doing, Sid?”

Sid grunted.

“Good. You finding any guilty secrets, Neil?”

“Just that he chews ice.”

Mae and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“What is so funny about that?” Neil asked.

“It’s a long story,” I said.

Neil shook his head and put his probe down on the tray. After squirting some water into Sid’s mouth, he fit the polishing bit onto his drill and slid the little pan of tooth polish onto his thumb. I chuckled maliciously. Neil’s tooth polish was peppermint flavored, and Sid hates peppermint. Maybe I should have said something, but I decided to enjoy my revenge. [Thank you, Lisa. I’ll remember that – SEH]

“How was the funeral?” Neil asked Mae over the whine of the drill.

“Funeral?” I asked.

“Ned Harris’s,” Mae replied. “It was this morning.”

“Yeah, I’d heard he got killed.”

There had been a small piece in the paper a few days before about the mysterious desert auto accident of a prominent Fullerton businessman. According to the papers, the mystery was why he was out there and didn’t say anything about how the accident occurred. Nor had it mentioned the raid on Harris’s office. I wasn’t surprised. We had also found out that the Feds had gotten another transmission asking for any information on Harris’s suspect, including the name, so Harris hadn’t been lying that night.

“It was a nice funeral,” Mae continued. “Kind of sad, with his wife being pregnant and all. But she’s doing real well. She’s taking over the agency. I got a chance to talk to her and you know what she told me? She was kind of relieved about the accident. She was still sad about losing Ned, but she’d found out there was some funny business going on out of the agency, stuff the government was interested in, and if Ned had lived, he would have been in real trouble, but since he’s dead, the government’s overlooking it.”

Which, of course, they were because the last thing the government wants is attention on any covert action, even if it’s the good guys bringing in the bad guys.

“No kidding,” said Neil. “You think Janey was right?”

“I’m beginning to think so, Neil.”

“You two should know better than not to trust Janey,” I said. “Sid told me he got busted for drugs in the army. Right, Sid?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, I’ll be,” said Mae. “Did you get your article on the city council finished, Sid?”

“Just the outline,” I answered for him. “He won’t write it out until somebody says they want to look at it. We’ve got a query in to Ladies’ Home Journal, I think.” [Did that ever sell? – SEH]

“A query?”

“A letter asking an editor if he wants to look at a given manuscript.”

“Oh.” Mae looked a little puzzled. “I thought you just sent it in.”

“Some magazines work that way. But most want to see if what you’re writing about is something they’re looking for first.”

“Okay,” Neil said to Sid, hanging up the drill and squirting water into his mouth. “Rinse and spit it out. You’re done.”

Sid did so, wiping his mouth on the napkin around his neck. Neil took it off and rolled back on his stool so Sid could get up.

“Well, that’s that,” Neil said.

Sid ran his tongue over his teeth.

“Thanks a lot, Neil.” He got out of the chair and straightened his suit jacket. “Say hi to the kids for me.”

“I will. Be seeing you two.”

“Bye-bye,” said Mae.

Neil and Mae stayed behind in the examination room. As Sid and I passed the receptionist, he winked at her and told her he’d see her Saturday. I waited until we were outside.

“You picked up on Neil’s receptionist?”

“He isn’t.” Sid shrugged.

“That’s beside the point. Have you no shame?”

“Absolutely none.”

“You reprobate.”

“Ice cube.”

“Reprobate.”

“Ice cube.”

“Repro…”

 

Here ends That Old Cloak and Dagger Routine. Check in next week for a special announcement and look for the sequel Stopleak on January 6, 2017.

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Thirteen

Spy novel, cozy spy novel, cozy mysteryJanuary 11, 1983

I suppose jeans, even nice dress jeans, are not really appropriate for a city council meeting, even if the city is a smallish Southern California suburb. But I was dressing for comfort and mobility that night. We’d learned, through Henry, that Ned Harris had met twice since New Years with a man who had contacts among known Soviet operatives and that preparations were underway to pick up a passenger the night of the council meeting.

Along with my dress jeans, I was wearing an oxford shirt and a camel colored blazer. Unseen underneath the blazer, I was also wearing a shoulder holster and a miniature transmitter and microphone. I also had on my armored running shoes, the ones with the false soles. Mae wasn’t much more dressed up, though definitely unarmed. She would have died if she’d known what I was really up to.

I was supposed to be attending the meeting as part of Sid’s research on the city government article. Sid had gone ahead full steam on it and found himself genuinely interested. He’d already talked to all of the council members. I was at the meeting more or less incognito because Sid wanted as natural a meeting as possible and he was afraid his presence would cause the council members to start grandstanding. Or that’s what he said. Frankly, I think Sid knew it was going to be a dreadful bore and didn’t want to go.

Mae had decided to go also because she was mad again at the overnight parking law (you can’t park your car overnight on the streets in Fullerton). She picked me up at the train station and drove us to City Hall.

“Well, Ned’s here already,” she said as we walked through the parking lot to the council chambers.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“That’s his car.” She pointed to a white Cadillac with a tan top about three cars down from us.

“You sure?”

Mae laughed. “You can’t miss it, or that license plate.”

I began digging through my purse. “Now where’s that pen?”

Sure enough, the Caddy’s license plate read “INFLIT 1.” I stopped, and continued digging, not looking for my pen, but for a round leather case that looked like a compact, but actually held a micro transmitter.

“Can’t you get your pen out inside?” Mae asked impatiently.

“I’ve almost got it. Nope. Besides, I’ve got to be ready before I get in that door. You never know when somebody will say something.” I slid the transmitter into my hand, then dropped a notebook and three pens. “Shavings.”

Two of the pens obligingly rolled under the Caddy’s bumper. Mae groaned and scrambled for the other pen and the notepad.

“Lisa, you are so disorganized.”

I ignored her and quickly stuck the transmitter’s magnet to the inside of the bumper. Mae just rolled her eyes as we got up and got going.

We sat together in the middle, on an aisle. I set my purse on the floor and left it open. Inside was a very good cassette recorder. I was taking notes also, but more on the people than what they were saying since that was being taped. All that was for the article.

The meeting dragged on and on and on. It finally broke up about ten. Sighing with relief, I turned off the tape recorder and put my pad and pen back in my purse. Mae was fussed because she hadn’t had a chance to have her say. She went after Ned Harris, but he had gone. We got outside the chambers just in time to see him get in his car and drive off.

My hand slid under my shirt and tapped out a code on the transmitter I wore. I couldn’t hear it or see it, but somewhere in the sky, a helicopter waited to follow the micro transmitter’s signal. Static filled my right ear.

“This is G-2,” said a voice. I looked over at Mae, certain that she had heard. [I told you no one would — SEH] “We read you, Little Red. Tracer’s working just fine. Over.”

“I’ll just have to call him tomorrow,” complained Mae. “Lisa, are you alright?”

“Oh. I… I’m fine. Did you hear anything funny just now?”

“No. What did you hear?”

“Just somebody’s radio.”

“That’s another thing I’ve got to talk to Ned about. Those stupid ghetto blasters. There must be some ordinance they can enforce on those things.”

Mae drove us back to her house because I was supposedly spending the night.

“What’s Sid doing here?” Mae asked as we drove up. His car was parked in front of the house.

“I have no idea,” I said, although I did. “Probably has some problem for me. I swear he’s just like a little kid sometimes.”

“Wanna trade?” Mae asked, then set the brake.

“Not on your life.”

I took my overnight bag out of the car and followed Mae into the house. Sid was there waiting for us. He was wearing jeans (as always dark blue and discreetly, but very tight) a white shirt, black running shoes, and light blue tweed blazer, which meant he was armed to the teeth, and to the soles. I also knew he had hidden on his person somewhere a transmitter and mike similar to mine, and probably some other stuff. I couldn’t see the receiver parked behind his ear, but I knew it was there.

“Okay, boss,” I groaned. “What’s the problem?”

“Hattie Mitchell called and moved up a deadline.”

“And I thought she was a friend,” I sighed. “Well, so much for spending the night.”

I kissed Mae and Neil good night and followed Sid out of the house.

At the car, we checked before we got in to make sure no one was looking. Sid nodded and we quickly exchanged our blazers for ski jackets. We weren’t terribly sure of where we were headed, but it was probably going to be a long night and January nights are chilly in Southern California.

“Here we go,” said Sid, starting the engine.

I opened the glove compartment and turned on the radio equipment there. I took a deep breath and glanced at Sid as I picked up the microphone.

“This is Big Red/Little Red to G2. Do you read me? Over.” I said into it.

“G2 here, Big Red/Little Red. I read you loud and clear. Over.”

“We are in motion, G2. Over.”

“Affirmative. Your friend is heading east on California 91. Over.”

“We copy G2. Over and out.”

I put the microphone back but left the equipment on.

“The Riverside freeway,” I said. “He’s headed for the desert.”

“It figures. Nice, quiet, flat place to land a plane. It was either that or the beach.”

Once on the freeway, Sid drove fast, eighty miles an hour, dodging between the other cars. The freeway was fairly clear but there are always plenty of people driving somewhere in Southern California, even late on a Tuesday night. The further out we got, though, the less traffic there was.

“I hope the C.H.P. doesn’t pull us over,” I said.

“They won’t,” Sid replied. The way he said it implied that that had been arranged. He looked at me nervously. “It’s going to be rough tonight.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because if and when Harris sees us, he’s not going to let us live unless we get him first.”

“That shouldn’t be any problem.”

“It’s going to be harder than you think, Lisa.” Sid took a deep breath. “The reason I couldn’t go to that meeting tonight was that I had a break-in to do.”

“Oh.” I was hurt that he hadn’t taken me.

“Lisa, break-ins are tough, and you’ve never done one. You don’t want your first to be a high risk, early evening job.”

“I suppose not. So what went down?”

“Harris’s office. Hit the jackpot big time and I had to trigger the alarm. The Feds are all over it by now.”

“What did you find?”

“Satellite equipment, code books and files. In particular, files on each of us.”

“So he did know about us.”

Sid chuckled. “Not quite. He re-opened the file on me in October when he saw us together at the mall. He’d figured that I had courted you because of Mae’s connection to him. He wrote you off as a civilian because of the way you panicked when his henchman attacked you.”

I had to snicker. “And you yelled at me because I didn’t defend myself.”

“That and he didn’t find anything on you.” Sid smiled at me. “The best I can figure is that they were watching everyone who talked to the manager that day. Anyway, Harris couldn’t question Mae about me until Christmas when he met me, and even then, he still wasn’t sure. I was right about him setting me up for that article. Fortunately, with business shut down, there was nothing for him to find on me.”

“That doesn’t mean things are going to be more difficult tonight.”

“Except that while I was in the office, Harris got a transmission which said that if he wanted to ship an extra package or two tonight, there was room.”

“You mean if he had an extra prisoner.”

“Or two.”

“Oh.”

I really didn’t like the sound of that, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I just shrugged and gazed out at the darkness around us.

G2, the helicopter monitoring the tracer’s signal, broke in periodically to tell us our “friend” had changed freeways. From 91 he changed to 60, and then I-10. Sid drove as fast as the traffic and road would let him, hitting over 100 a couple of times. But there’s a very narrow curvy place on the 60 between Riverside and Beaumont where Sid was forced to slow to 65. Still, each time G2 reported we could tell we were gaining on our friend.

It was getting close to midnight when G2 reported that Harris had turned onto highway 62. We had just passed the turnoff to Palm Springs about five miles back.

“Should be picking him up any time now,” said Sid.

I nodded. A few minutes later, just after we turned onto 62, to Joshua Tree, a small red light flashed on one of the consoles in the glove compartment. I flipped the switch and a small monitor came to life with a line drawing of the road ahead, a compass in the upper left-hand corner and a small green flashing blip near the top of the screen. The tracking equipment was basically a combination radar and signal receiver that was tuned to the micro transmitter on Harris’s car.

I picked up the microphone. “This is Big Red/Little Red. We have our friend. See you at the rendezvous. Over and out.”

I put the microphone up. Sid had slowed down considerably, remaining about a half a mile behind Harris’s car. We drove on for another thirty minutes. Neither one of us were tired, having slept most of that afternoon in preparation. The tension and the naps kept us alert.

The small green blip left its place between the lines.

“He’s leaving the road,” I said “Heading south.”

“There’s where he’s going.” Sid pointed to a small orange light burning on the horizon to our right.

I could barely make out Harris’s headlights in the pitch black. Sid slowed the car some. I aimed the light magnifying binoculars at the distant light.

“I can see a campfire and a plane there, but not much else,” I said. “We should probably get in closer.”

“There’s no way we can get closer from here without our headlamps being spotted, and I’m not driving in the dark.”

We drove past the dirt road Harris had taken. A tall hill rose up and blocked the campfire. Sighing, Sid turned off the road and followed the edge of the hill around for about half a mile.

“We’ll hide the car here,” said Sid, stopping and killing the engine.

As silently as possible, we walked around the hill to the side where we’d seen the campfire. We could see its glow but nothing else. Above and behind us, the hill had long ago crumbled, leaving a sheer, rocky face. Sid looked through the binoculars and frowned.

“I can’t see a thing from here,” he grumbled. “The angle’s wrong.”

“We must be lower than the road. What are we going to do?”

He headed for the face of the bluff. “Climb up there and look.”

“That’s awful steep, Sid. Do you know what you’re doing?”

“How hard can climbing a rock be?”

“Plenty. I’ve done a lot of rock climbing in my time. Let me go.”

“Alright, if you really want to. Your wiring on?”

“Yeah.” I pulled out a pair of knit gloves with leather faces and put them on. Sid handed me the binoculars and I was on my way.

“Am I coming in okay?” I heard Sid’s voice in my ear.

“Loud and clear,” I said a little breathlessly. “Am I?”

“Clear as a bell. Don’t go too high up.”

“I won’t.” I grunted and pulled myself a little higher.

It took me about ten minutes to climb to a small ledge where I was reasonably secure. Looking down I could barely make out Sid leaning casually against a rock. I lifted the binoculars to my eyes.

“I can see three men,” I said. “One of them is getting on the plane. There’s another one there, and yeah, it’s Lipplinger. He’s bound and gagged.”

“Good for them,” Sid replied.

“I don’t see Harris, though. His car’s there but I can’t see him. The plane’s moving. It’s taking off. Lipplinger’s still there.”

The plane roared away above me.

“I still can’t see Harris,” I continued. “I don’t think he’s in the car. The men are sitting around, waiting, I think.”

“Someone’s coming,” Sid announced quietly.

I could just barely make out the sound of an engine and wheels turning over rocks. I turned the binoculars on where Sid was. The sound died out. Sid stiffened and I could see his right hand reaching into his open ski jacket.

“Where are they coming from?” I asked.

“About two o’clock.”

The night was moonless, but the stars were out in force in the clear desert air. I maxed the magnification on the binoculars and scanned the desert in front and to the right of Sid. Ned Harris and another man, both carrying handguns, slid around brush and rocks and over the rise that had blocked our view of the campfire. Behind them, several yards away in the gully, was an open white Jeep 4×4.

“It’s Harris and another guy.” Gasping, I slung my binoculars around my neck and started down the bluff. “I’m on my way.”

“Stay put.”

“But—”

“Damn it, stay put. Aah!”

My heart in my throat, I looked down at Sid. He recoiled, blinded by a bright, white, light. I could just barely make out Harris behind the flashlight.

“…that hand slowly out,” said Ned Harris’s voice. Sid had managed to turn up the transmitter so I could hear what was going on. “Now, Corporal, nice and easy, get those hands on your head. I’ll be damned. I had just written you off as legitimate. Didn’t even bother turning your name in. You’re slick, Corporal, I’ll give you that.”

I held my breath. On one hand, I wasn’t sure what Sid would do if I disobeyed orders, but I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant. On the other hand, it didn’t look too good for him. On the other hand, he’d probably had a very good reason for telling me to stay put and it probably had a lot to do with my inexperience. [Yes and no – SEH]

“Get him frisked and cuffed,” ordered Harris.

The second man did the honors quickly, pulling the gun from Sid’s shoulder holster and another smaller handgun that Sid had strapped to his left shin. The man cussed when he found Sid’s transmitter.

“He’s wired!”

“Damn it.” Harris scanned the sky. “I thought I heard a chopper.”

I heard a ripping noise as the man pulled the transmitter off Sid’s shirt, then a crunch, then silence. The man finished grinding the transmitter into the dirt, then grabbed Sid’s ear for the receiver. A minute later, Sid’s hands were cuffed behind his back. I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing, but I didn’t think I could plug both of them quickly enough to keep them from killing Sid, not with a revolver from that height and with Harris either behind the light or right next to Sid. With a rifle, maybe, but not with a revolver.

Below me, Harris gestured and pointed to the other side of the hill. I strained for their voices. It was faint, but I made out Harris.

“It’s got to be around here someplace,” he said. “He didn’t walk here.”

So they were looking for Sid’s car. I reached out along the ledge to find a foothold that would take me towards the Mercedes. On the ground, Harris’s companion had also gotten a flashlight and scrambled along the rocks around the other side of the hill from the car. Harris knocked Sid onto his seat and kicked him.

It was slow going on the bluff’s face, but I wouldn’t have thought Harris’s friend could get around that hill faster than I could get up it. He did. I had just crested it when I heard the man holler that he’d found the car.

I heard scuffling behind and below me and guessed that Harris was having a hard time getting Sid to his feet. [I was out of the cuffs and jumped him. He lost the gun, and I kicked it away. Then it was just your basic fist fight — SEH] Silently, I made my way down the hill, creeping behind the rocks. The man went through the car.

“Damn it,” he yelped, dragging out the two blazers. I ducked behind a bush as he swept the light over the hill. The light passed over me, then returned and stayed. Drawing my gun, I blinked several times, trying to adjust to the new brightness. He was about twenty feet from me when I jumped out and aimed right at the source of the light.

The revolver cracked, and the man howled. I dove for the bush, my hand stinging with the kickback. All was darkness again. The flashlight rolled down the hill, somehow still on. It rested near the front tire of the Mercedes, lighting up the edge of the bluff. Still blinking, I listened.

The scuffle on the other side of the bluff had turned into a brawl if the sounds were any indication. [They were – SEH] The man glanced that way, then back towards me, searching for me. Nearby, a rabbit scurried away. The man whirled at the noise and shot. Dirt flew where the rabbit had been.

Near the edge of the bluff, Harris staggered backward into the light. He dove forward, only to run into Sid, who beat him back. They wrestled for a moment, then Harris dove behind the bluff again. Sid dove with him.

The man looked anxiously around for me again, then back at the fight. Behind the bluff, a gun went off. Sid dashed around the hill right into the light. In a second, the man had his gun raised, but a split second before, I had squeezed the trigger. He howled as the bullet sparked against his gun. Sid shot at the spark and the man collapsed.

Just in case, I stayed put. Sid ran for the light. He swept it across the hill. Slowly, I stood up. He saw me and quickly jerked the light away. I hurried down the hill.

“I don’t think there’s any more,” I hissed as I reached his side. “How’d you get out of those handcuffs?”

Sid gasped and leaned against the side of the car.

“You can always hide something,” he said, wincing. “I had a piece of quarter inch spring steel in my hair. Got it out when they frisked me.”

“Oh, my god, are you shot?”

“Nah. Just roughed up.”

Harris’s friend groaned.

“We’d better get over to that campfire,” said Sid. “With all the shooting, they’ll be wondering what’s up. Did Harris have a car?”

“Yeah, a white Jeep over in the gully.”

Sid stumbled over to the wounded man and checked him.

“He’s not going anywhere any too soon,” said Sid. “Let’s go.”

I pointed at the wounded man. “What about him?”

“He won’t peg out before help gets here, and dragging him around won’t do him any good.” Sid started off for the bluff.

“And Harris?” I scrambled after him, then stopped.

There in the glare of Harris’s flashlight lay his corpse. The shadows emphasized his wide open eyes and his tongue stuck out around the dark blood that had spilled from his mouth. The sob leaped from my throat as I stood transfixed.

Swearing, Sid trudged back. Gently, he covered my eyes and led me away from the grisly spectacle.

“Again,” I whispered, trying not to weep.

“The gun went off while we were struggling with it,” said Sid softly. “I couldn’t even tell who pulled the trigger.”

We found the keys still in the Jeep’s ignition. As I started the engine, Sid opened the sole to his right shoe and signaled G-2 with the transmitter he pulled out. I drove because I’d driven offroad before and I didn’t think Sid felt like it anyway. He was silent as we drove, and had a hard look on his face as he sat with a rifle he’d found in the back of the Jeep on his lap. I had the lights on as we pulled out of the gully and towards the camp. Sid pulled one of those ski caps that covers the whole face out of his pocket and put it on.

“When I tell you to, turn on the brights and cover me. If you stay behind the lights, they won’t be able to see you. But if you have to come out, try to keep your face hidden.”

We were just on the edge of the ring of firelight when Sid told me to stop and turn on the brights.

“Police. Freeze,” he yelled in that deep tone unique to cops. “We’ve got you covered.”

The two men jumped up, startled. Between them sat Lipplinger, bound and gagged. Both had rifles in their hands. Sid had his seat belt off and his rifle trained on them but didn’t move.

“Drop those rifles. Now.” The men dropped them. “Kick them away.” They did. “Face down on the ground. Move it. On your bellies.”

Sid waited until they were completely down before moving. Handing me his rifle, he took a roll of duct tape from his jacket pocket. One of the men started crawling. I fired and the bullet glanced off a rock next to his head. The man froze.

“My partner only misses on purpose,” Sid announced as he walked over to the men. “I wouldn’t try anything else.”

He gave each man a quick pat down search, then bound them with the tape.

“Sorry, gentlemen, but I lied,” he said calmly. “I’m not the police.”

I heard a helicopter approach. As Sid smoothed down the last bit of tape, he looked up and signaled. The chopper set down on the other side of the campfire. The noise drowned everything out, but I watched as Sid handed Lipplinger over to one of the two men who had come out of the chopper. Sid talked to the other man and motioned toward the hill. After a moment, Sid swung into the Jeep next to me.

“Okay, kiddo, let’s make tracks,” he said grimly buckling his seat belt.

“What about the wounded guy?” Slowly, I started the engine.

“We’ll park the Jeep next to him, and they’ll get to him as soon as we get out.”

It didn’t take long to get back to the Mercedes. As we drove past the face of the bluff, I sighed.

“In a way, he did get what was coming to him,” said Sid.

I shrugged, keeping my eyes straight ahead. “I was just thinking about his wife and kids. She’s pregnant, you know.”

“I know.”

I pulled up next to Harris’s friend. We sat there silently for a moment. Then Sid undid his seat belt.

“Let’s get back to L.A.” He groaned as he got out of the Jeep.

“Sid, why don’t you let me drive back. I don’t think you’re feeling up to it.”

“No, I’m not. Thanks.” He handed me the keys, then walked stiffly to the passenger seat. “Boy, am I going to be sore tomorrow.”

“You’d better take a hot bath when we get home.” I climbed in behind the wheel.

“Sounds like a good idea.”

Daylight was just breaking when I pulled into the garage. We both yawned at the same time, too tired to move.

“You did a good job tonight, Lisa,” Sid said quietly. “I was afraid after they knocked out my transmitter that you would stay put on that cliff, but you did exactly what I was going to tell you to do, and you did it smart.”

“Thanks, Sid.”

He opened the door and groaned as he tried to get out.

“Hold on, I’ll help you.” I ran around the car and helped him out and into the house.

We stumbled to his room in the semi darkness. Once there, I removed his arm from my shoulder.

“Sorry,” I said. “This is as far as I go.”

“It’s far enough.” Sid took off his ski jacket, laid it on the bed and started unbuttoning his shirt. “Don’t worry about running this morning.”

“Thanks. Don’t forget your shoulder holster.”

He looked down and chuckled. I left, shutting the door quietly.