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.

spy fiction, mystery fiction, cozy mystery,

Chapter Twelve

16-1104-cdr_pullquoteDecember 26, 1982 – January 1, 1983

The next morning after breakfast, I took the long way to the front door, going past Lipplinger’s room.

“Good morning, Professor,” I called after pounding on the door.

No answer. That wasn’t surprising. Lipplinger never said anything to me unless he absolutely had to. I went on to Sunday mass without thinking about it.

When I got back, I found Sid hadn’t lost any time calling Henry James.

“Well, I’d appreciate it, Henry,” he told the living room phone as I entered the house. There was a pause as Henry spoke. “No, she’s doing real good. We had some tense moments, but she came out okay… What do you mean you can reassign her if she wants?”

“I don’t,” I said, going into the living room.

Sid looked at me.

“I see… When was this..?” Sid sighed in response. “That’s been settled. She’ll stay with me… No, she’s standing right here.” He handed me the phone. “He wants to talk to you.”

“Hello, Henry,” I said into the receiver.

“Sid says you’ve patched things up.”

“A long time ago. Really. I’m fine.”

“Well, the option’s there. Getting rid of Quickline you won’t be able to do, but if Sid’s a problem I can get you reassigned.”

“You haven’t done anything yet?”

“No.”

“Please don’t, then. I’m very happy where I’m at.”

“That’s a different song than the one you were singing last November.”

“I know, Henry. But we settled it.”

“Alright, goodbye.”

I handed the phone back to Sid, who hung it up.

“I didn’t know you called Henry during that fight,” he said, hurt.

“I was pretty upset. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t do anything anyway.”

Sid sighed.

“It looks like we’re not as stuck as we thought.” He looked like he wished we were.

“Maybe not by the business.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“Even then it won’t be that easy.” He paused, then looked away. “Which, perhaps, is just as well.”

I just smiled and left the living room. Sid and my daddy were very much alike in that neither one could admit emotion.

Later that afternoon a call came through on the business line. (The other two lines are Sid’s and my private lines.)  I didn’t listen in, being busy with a new dress I was putting together. When I saw that Sid had hung up, my curiosity got the better of me. After all, people hardly ever called us on the business line on Sundays. I went looking for Sid and found him in his office. He sat behind his desk with his chin in one hand. He glanced at me briefly and went back to staring into space.

“Something’s up,” he said. “Harris is being a little too chummy.”

“Is that who called just now?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Couldn’t he be wanting to bury the hatchet?”

“That’s what he says. But I seriously doubt it. Last fall when we were at that mall with the kids, I saw him there. I’m pretty sure he didn’t see me. I thought he might have been talking into a radio. I tailed him just out of curiosity, then saw you in trouble, so I dropped him. At the time I thought I was just being paranoid. But now I’m really wondering.”

“I’m more than wondering. I ran into him just outside of the toy store.” I frowned. “Wait. He knows me. He wouldn’t have had any reason to think I was up to anything.”

“Unless he saw us together,” said Sid. “That, in itself would be enough to arouse suspicion.”

“Why?”

Sid snickered. “What would a nice girl like you be doing hanging around a guy like me? Ned and whoever he’s working with must have pegged the drop at the toy store. The hard part is knowing whether or not Ned knows you weren’t using your real name when you picked up those keys. I’m inclined to think not.”

“I don’t get it.”

“If they know you, then they know me, and they would also be watching us and that means they would have to have seen Lipplinger. But nobody has come for him, and we haven’t had any tails.”

“That makes sense. But what about Ned?”

“That is indeed the crucial question. We’ll have to keep an eye on him. That’s another thing that bothers me. He practically paved the way.”

“How?”

“We were talking about city government and he suggested it might be a good magazine article. I said it would take some research and he said he’d be happy to help me.”

“Oh.”

Sid lifted an eyebrow. “It would make a good piece if I can get the right angle on it. I think I will play Harris’s game.”

“What if it’s a trap?”

“It’s quite possible. But I get the impression Harris is trying to feel me out more than anything else. He had no reason to suspect I was an operative back in ‘Nam. He’s definitely wondering about me, but if he was certain, he’d be more likely to set up an attack or just watch us and try to blow up our operation. Which is why I’m taking his bait. If I were only a freelance writer, I’d think Ned’s being a little pushy and trying to grandstand, but I’d still do the article.”

“Well, be careful. I don’t want to end up in the unemployment lines again.” Then a thought hit me. “You mind if I do some research, too?”

“Your sister?”

“Uh-huh. I don’t know what she could tell me, but it couldn’t hurt.”

“I think it could. We don’t want her to get suspicious.”

“If she’s going to get suspicious, then she already is by now. She noticed you were a little put off track when you met him. I wrote it off by telling her it was Viet Nam. With all the current concern over about Viet Nam vets, she won’t think twice about Ned Harris bothering you.”

Sid frowned, then sighed. “That does make sense.”

“Good. I’ll call her in a little while. No sense in pushing it.”

A little while turned out to be the next day. Mae was very happy I called.

“Any chance I can get to sit down,” she sighed.

“Knee bothering you?”

“Just a little. So what’s up? Did Ned Harris get a hold of Sid?”

“Unfortunately. Sid’s been real moody since he did.”

“The Viet Nam thing?”

“I think so. Listen, Mae, what can you tell me about Ned?”

“Well, I don’t know. He’s a very nice, very active man. What more can I say?”

“He’s a travel agent, isn’t he?”

“Mmhm.”

“How does he strike you, as a person?”

“Just a good All-American type, I guess. A little pushy sometimes. He seems a little closed, too, like he’s not quite willing to let you see him. Hold on a second, Lisa.” Then more softly, “Ellen, you stay out of that or I’ll paddle your seat.”

I heard a soft chuckle. Sid was listening in.

“What was that?” asked Mae. So she had heard it, too.

“Just some interference on the line, I expect.” I got up from my desk and walked over to the doorway where I could see Sid with the phone to his ear. I felt a little like my privacy was being invaded, but decided he had a right to listen this time. “Do you know much about Ned’s business?”

“Not really, except that it’s doing very well. They’ve got plenty of money and a nice place up in Sunny Hills.”

“He’s on the city council, right?”

“Yeah.”

“When’s the next meeting?”

“Sometime the week after New Years. Why do you want to know?”

“Ned kind of hinted that Sid should do an article on city government and Sid’s thinking about it. He also thinks Ned’s grandstanding a little.”

“That may be. I wonder why Sid’s so bugged about him.”

“I have no idea.” I looked away from Sid. “Bad wartime memories, I guess. Sid absolutely refuses to talk about it. The only reason I found out he was in Vietnam was that I was cleaning out his files and found his army papers.”

I said goodbye to Mae shortly after and hung up. Sid came into my office.

“So, now what?” I asked.

“We wait.” He seemed bugged.

“Sid, did I say anything wrong?”

He paused. “Not per se. If anything, you were a little too accurate. I, uh, really don’t like remembering that time in my life.”

“That bad, huh?”

“There are no words to describe it, Lisa.”

He looked back at his office, then ambled out into the hall. A few minutes later, I heard piano music from the library. I later found out that the piece was the first of Chopin’s Twenty-Four preludes, Opus 28. Sid played all twenty-four.

The next day, Harris took second place for a while to a greater concern: Lipplinger. He’d been very good about staying in his rooms before Christmas, so neither Sid nor I thought anything of it when we didn’t see him after. Until Conchetta came into the office.

“You have sent the old man away again?” she asked.

“Not ’til after New Years,” I said. “Why?”

“I haven’t seen him.”

“He has been staying in his room since he came back.”

“No he hasn’t. I see him different places. But I haven’t seen him since Christmas. No food is gone either.”

“Well, then…” I thought, then called out, “Sid. We’ve got a problem.”

“What?” He came out of his office.

I was on my way out. “Conchetta thinks Lipplinger’s missing.”

“I haven’t seen him since Christmas,” she said, as she and Sid followed me to Lipplinger’s room.

I opened the door. The room looked alright except for the fact that Lipplinger wasn’t in it. Sid came in past me and went straight to the bathroom.

“He’s not there,” he said coming back in.

I noticed a piece of paper lying on the dresser. I picked it up.

“That idiot,” I grumbled, and handed it to Sid.

“’I’ll be back after the holidays.’  What does he think he’s doing?” Sid slipped the note into his pocket. “He must have gone to Hattie’s. I’d better call her.”

In the office, I listened in. The butler answered.

“Yes, may I speak to Hattie Mitchell?” said Sid. “It’s rather important.”

“Just a minute.”

There was a delay before Hattie’s voice came over the wires.

“Hello?” She sounded particularly cheerful.

“Hi, it’s me, is your brother there?”

“Oh, hello, Sid. I thought Miles was with you.”

“Not at the moment. Have you heard from him at all?”

“Actually, I haven’t. I was a little surprised when he didn’t call Christmas, but I didn’t think anything of it. You know Miles.” Her voice caught. “Sid, if you don’t know where he is…”

“We’re on top of it. Don’t worry. In the meantime, you are under surveillance by the other side. I’d be careful.”

Hattie laughed. “Oh, don’t worry. My phones are clean, and so is my house. I’m very certain of that.”

“There are other ways to listen in.”

“Sid, it’s sweet of you to be concerned, but believe me, half my business is electronic surveillance. I know what’s out there and how to thwart it.”

“Alright. We’ll get back to you as soon as we know anything.”

He wasn’t happy as he hung up. I walked into his office.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

“There goes Mammoth.” I’d been planning on spending New Years skiing at Mammoth Lakes with my church group.

“I think you’ll make it.”

The phone rang. This time, it was Henry. I went back to my office and debated what to do next.

“Lisa,” Sid called.

I went back to his office. He scribbled something on a notepad.

“Yeah, thanks a lot, Henry.” He hung up.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Sit down. We’ve got a hot one this time.” Sid dropped his pen on the desk and leaned back in his chair. “Henry was digging up whatever they had on that operative in Fullerton. They know he or she is brokering information, basically, putting people who want to sell out into contact with people who want to buy. Who that person is, we have no idea, but he or she stays very clean, and may even be fairly visible in the community.”

“Is it my imagination, or does that sound like Ned Harris?”

“It does indeed.”

“But Fullerton?” I shook my head. “It’s a nice little suburban city. There’s nothing there.”

“There is one major defense plant in the city and several others nearby. Lisa, Southern California is a veritable hotbed of covert activity. The better part of the defense industry is based here. Henry’s friends have been trying to pin down a number of transmissions beamed to the North Orange County area and they’ve got it pinned down to Fullerton, but where they don’t know. And just to make things interesting, another transmission was received not half an hour ago from Washington, D.C.”

“Lipplinger?”

“They haven’t got the code completely broken yet, but there was something about a special traveler in two weeks.”

“You know, Ned Harris is a travel agent.”

“Mighty convenient, don’t you think?”

I sighed. “It is. It just seems so weird. I mean we’re only guessing at this point. How can we know for sure?”

Sid smiled. “That, my dear, is the difference between knowing what has happened and proving it in court.”

“I don’t know, Sid. Why two weeks? If they’ve got Lipplinger now, why don’t they ship him right away?”

“Traveling with a prisoner, especially when you don’t want anyone to know he’s a prisoner, is not an easy thing to do. And then there are arrangements to be made. You don’t just charter a Soviet plane or boat on a moment’s notice.”

I nodded. “I guess this really puts the clamps on Mammoth.”

“Why? We’ve got two weeks.”

“They could have gotten it wrong, or they might move it up.”

“We’re making arrangements. If Ned leaves Fullerton or has any guests, we’ll know.”

“And what about Lipplinger?”

“They’ve got him, for the moment. Let them deal with him.” He looked at me for a moment, thinking something over. “I think you’d better go to Mammoth as originally planned. It’s possible we’re being watched and I want us to stay as clean as possible, which means we’re shutting down business. Any plans we’ve made I don’t want to change unless something legitimate comes up. It might arouse suspicion if we do.”

There was something fishy about that. Shutting down business, I could see. But letting me go running off to Mammoth..?

“Are you trying to get rid of me that weekend for some reason?” I asked.

“Well.” Sid’s grin was guilty as all get out. “I have been planning a small party here.”

“Not the kind I’d like, I take it. Okay. I’ll lock all my doors before I go. Don’t get too drunk.”

“I won’t be drinking that much. Alcohol doesn’t do much for lovers either.”

“And heaven forbid you should not always be in peak form.” Then another thought hit me. “There won’t be any illegal substances floating around, will there?”

Sid shrugged. “It’s not unlikely. That’s one thing you can’t always control. I don’t think there’ll be much pot. It’s out of style. I try to discourage it. It doesn’t do much for the sex drive, besides being hard on the lungs. But coke is a whole other kettle of fish. This town is loaded with it and you can’t get around it, even though the stories are exaggerated.”

“You don’t…”

Sid snorted. “Lisa, you know better than that. It’s far too dangerous in our business, and I probably wouldn’t anyway. Sex is my only vice.”

I looked at him, my curiosity getting the better of me again.

“Did you ever do drugs?”

“A little marijuana. It was as common as tobacco among the people I grew up with. When I was in high school nobody could understand why I was so bored about it. A few kids thought I was doing the hard stuff. But I wasn’t. I’d seen too much of what that does to people. I just smoked an occasional joint to be part of the gang.”

Sid’s reminiscent mood infected me also.

“I was just the opposite. I knew there were drugs around, but I never really believed it. In a resort city, you get all kinds of people. I was still very sheltered. I remember once this girl I knew told me drugs were to be had as easily as asking for them. I never believed her. I was in college before I saw my first joint.”

“Such innocence.” He chuckled, then got serious. “You know, there are times when I could kick myself for getting you involved in this business. You’re too good. You don’t deserve guys shooting at you.”

“So what do I deserve?” I asked smiling.

“Something like what Mae’s got. A husband and family, a nice peaceful life.”

“Did it ever occur to you I don’t want that?”

Sid was surprised. “You don’t?”

“No. Sure I like being at Mae’s, and, sure, I love the kids. But I’ve got a good thing going. When those kids get cranky, Mae and Neil get them. When diapers had to be changed, Mae and Neil did it. When the kids have to be disciplined, that’s Mae and Neil’s job. I get to share all the good times and only rarely do I have to deal with the bad. That week I spent babysitting only reinforced that. In some ways, I’d like to get married and settle down, and maybe there’ll come a time when I will. I’m not ready to close the door on that option yet. But the more I think about it, the more I want to stay single. That’s mostly the reason why I didn’t want to work for my dad. If I had gone back to Tahoe, or even to Florida, I would have worked for a while. But it wouldn’t have been a career. It would have been just marking time until I found a husband, and I don’t want one. I like my freedom. Of course, I couldn’t tell that to my parents. Even as independent as Mama is, she’s in the resort business because Daddy is. With them, it’s either the convent or the home, and I won’t be settled to them until I’ve chosen one or the other. Even if I’m eighty.”

“I hope you don’t choose the convent.”

“Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. It would be nice and there’s certainly a great deal of job security in it. But I really don’t think I am, if you’ll pardon the expression, called to it.”

The jangling of the phone totally shattered the mood. It was Mae, calling to give me the date of the next Fullerton city council meeting. It was approximately two weeks away.

New Years Day, I entered the house very cautiously. Well, it was closer to the day after New Years at that point. The lights were still on, so I knew Sid wasn’t in bed yet, or rather asleep for the night.

“Sid?” I called loudly. “I’m home.”

There was no answer, but that wasn’t surprising. As I dropped my luggage in my room, I thought I heard glassware jangling from the rumpus room. The door was open, so I went to investigate.

He was straightening up the bar. There was a pile of dirty glasses on one end and next to it a dust pan with a broom on the floor.

I yawned and flopped down into a bean bag.

“Have a good time?” Sid asked without looking up.

“Uh-huh, and yourself?”

“Quite nice, thank you. Any casualties?”

“Just a couple of sunburns. Myself included. Dummy me forgot my sunscreen.”

Sid looked at me and smiled. “You look like a raccoon.”

“I know. They changed my nickname from Teacher to Bandit.”

“Teacher?”

“My past has been haunting me. I used to be, among other things, a ski instructor in Tahoe. There were several people with us who had never skied before, so guess who got elected to teach them.”

“Elected? If I know you, you told them not to spend the money on lessons as you could teach them just as well.” His blue eyes glittered with mischief.

“Better than the twit they had. I have my pride.”

“Oh, well, my condolences on not getting to the good slopes.”

“Oh, I did. How do you think I got sunburned so badly? Even got a little night skiing in.”

Sid yawned and came around the front of the bar for the broom. I noticed that not only was he just wearing a shirt and dark pants, he was in his stocking feet. His hair was still perfect, though. I shook my head and smiled.

“I take it your party was a success.”

Sid nodded and began sweeping behind the bar. I yawned again and stretched. I noticed something with lace on it sticking out from underneath the beanbag next to me. I reached over and pulled it out. It was a pair of women’s bikini underpants.

“One of your friends left something.” I tossed them at him. He caught them and looked at them, lifting an eyebrow.

“Whosever these are, I’ll bet it’s not the first time it’s happened to her,” he said. He looked at me. “If I had them washed, would you want them?”

I think he was being tacky just to tease me.

“No thanks,” I said, for once playing it cool. “Lace itches me.”

Sid dumped them in the waist can and went on sweeping. I got up, walked to the door and turned back to him.

“It might amuse you to know, “ I said, languidly leaning against the door jamb. “That yours truly has a genuine real live date, scheduled for the end of this month, provided my boss doesn’t cart me off on one of his infamous capricious whims.”

“Congratulations. With who, may I ask?”

“I don’t ask who your dates are. Of course, it’s impossible to keep track. His name is George Hernandez and he’s a class A-one sweetheart. He’s part of my church group.”

“Well, if I have to behave, he darned well better.”

“I’m sure he will. Good night, Sid.”

“Good night, Lisa.”