Chapter Eight

Fugue in a Minor Key is the fourth book in the Operation Quickline series, featuring Lisa Wycherly and Sid Hackbirn. Like the others, I’m posting it as a serial first. You can catch up with the earlier chapters by visiting its archive page.

February 18 -19, 1984

A quote from Chapter Eight of Fugue in a Minor Key, a mystery fiction serial

The next morning, Sid was distant, a sure sign that he’s getting antsy for a female. Sure enough, right after lunch, I caught him at the door to the garage dressed in sport coat and tie, his version of Saturday date casual.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Out.”

“But where?”

Sid gave me his “isn’t it blatantly obvious?” look.

“Oh, you mean out out.”

He nodded. “I am going to drop off some film first.”

“I see.” I sighed, half afraid he was up to something a little more sordid than usual. “I didn’t realize you were quite that horny.”

“How horny do you mean?” he asked with a puzzled chuckle.

“Well, you know. It’s a little early for the meat markets to be open, isn’t it? Or are you going someplace besides a bar?”

“Why do you ask?”

I stopped. “I haven’t the faintest idea. Actually, I’m getting the feeling I really don’t want to know. Besides, it’s none of my business. How you meet your needs is up to you.”

Sid chuckled. “As long as I’m not buying it.”

“Sid!”

Smiling softly, he laid his hand on my shoulder. “Relax, Lisa. I have a friend who’s very willing and pretty much available whenever I want.”

“You’re not keeping her, are you?”

“Andrea?” Sid laughed loudly. “I seriously doubt she’d let me, and even if she would, I couldn’t afford it.”

“Even on your pile?”

“Even on my pile. Andrea’s got very expensive tastes, and I wouldn’t want to sacrifice mine to keep her happy.” He smiled gently. “The number’s in my phone book, just in case. Andrea Norton.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Sid stopped. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry. I just can’t help wondering why you’re going out so early.”

“I have to stay with the boys tonight. You have a date, remember?”

“Well, of course. That’s why I was worried about you going out. And…”

“And what?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. You just seem to get hyperactive that way when you’re upset about things.”

“Upset about what things?”

“Well, Nick.”

He nodded, then shrugged. “He’s going home tomorrow.”

“But what are you going to do about him?”

“What’s to do?”

“Don’t you have things to work out with Rachel? Visitation rights, stuff like that?”

Sid looked away.

“Have you talked to Whiteman about it?” Paul Whiteman is Sid’s lawyer.

“I, uh, couldn’t get through.” Sid smiled weakly.

I glared at him. “You haven’t even called him, have you?”

“It’s been busy this week.”

“Not that busy.” Frustrated, I folded my arms and walked away from him. “This is ridiculous, Sid. You can’t leave your relationship with Nick at a permanent impasse.”

“Why not?”

I turned on him. “He’s your son!”

“That.” He let out a huge gulp of air and leaned against the wall.

“You are going to acknowledge him, aren’t you?”

Sid studied a spot a few feet from my left foot, where the wall met the floor.

“I don’t know.”

“Sid!”

“Now, don’t give me the how-could-you routine. I’ve befriended the boy. I’m putting together a trust fund for his education. I think I’ve done a hell of a lot.” He looked at me, waiting for me to yell back. I just glared. “Look, Lisa, it’s not that simple. You’ve seen how manipulative Rachel is. If I acknowledge Nick, we could be in big trouble. We can’t afford to have a kid hanging around here on an extended basis. And Rachel. Frankly, I don’t want her getting her hooks into me.”

I shook my head. “I don’t buy it. Okay, you’ve got a few legitimate concerns. But right now, you’re just making weak excuses.”

Sid sighed. “This isn’t easy for me.”

“I know.”

“Then do me a favor and let me deal with it in my own way.” He checked his watch. “I’ve got to take off. I’ll be late for the drop.”

“George will be here by five thirty.”

“I’ll be home by five.”

Sid actually got home at four thirty, just in time to take over for me at Monopoly. I got up to go get ready for my date.

I was dressed and picking out my hair when there was a knock on my door.

“Come on in. I’m decent,” I called.

Darby opened the door and slid in.

“You going out again?” he asked sadly.

“Yeah. I kind of have to. George wants me to meet his parents, and I’ve already canceled twice.” I put the hair pick down and looked at him.

“Is Uncle Sid going to stay with us?”

“Yes. Is something wrong with that?”

“No. I was just hoping to spend more time with you, Aunt Lisa.”

I sighed. “You poor thing. Everybody’s been making a fuss over Nick and you’ve been left out.”

“No. It’s fine.” He shrugged dismally. “I don’t like it when people look at me all the time.”

“Well, tomorrow you’re going to have all day to spend with your family. When your mom called today, she said they’d come in the morning, and you guys will go out and have fun.”

“Neat.” Darby suddenly smiled wistfully. “You know, I’m even beginning to miss Janey and Ellen and the twins.”

“I know. Come give me a hug.”

I held him for a good five minutes. It was really nice, and I was able to stop worrying about him, about Sid, about Nick. By the time George picked me up, fifteen minutes late, I was relaxed and happy, and we had a really good time at his folks’ place.

It must have been after midnight by the time we got home. I invited him in, and we spent another hour necking in the living room. George was so sweet and cuddly.

I eventually shut the door on him with a blissful sigh.

“He’d better be behaving himself,” said Sid from the end of the hall near my bedroom.

I rolled my eyes. “Of course, he is. He’s very sweet.”

“Have you let him tickle your tonsils yet?”

“He knows I don’t like French kissing and he respects that, unlike someone else we both know.”

Sid moved aside as I came up the hall towards him to go to my room.

“I respect the word no,” he said.

“But George isn’t always trying to push his limits. He doesn’t seem to feel this overwhelming need to get me into bed with him.”

“Like hell, he doesn’t. The only difference between George and me that way is George wants to trip that light fantastic down the aisle first.”

“Oh, for crying out loud.”

Sid spread his arms. “It’s all the same in the end.”

I folded my arms. “Not quite. There’s commitment, for starters.”

“Like the one you say you don’t want to make?”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I just wonder if you’re not leading him on. That man is dead serious about marrying you.”

“No, he isn’t.”

“Yes, he is.”

“Well, he knows I don’t want to get married. I’ve made that very clear.”

“Mm-hm. And you say I can’t face facts.”

“Good night, Sid.” Exasperated, I slammed the door shut behind me.

It was so stupid. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why Sid was so jealous of George.

Both Nick and Darby went to early mass with me the next morning. Mae and Neil and company arrived at the house shortly before we got back. They took off with Darby, leaving Sid, Nick and me at the house. It was a quiet, but awkward day, with Sid and Nick avoiding anything related to the future like the plague.

Sid finally drove us to the airport around three that afternoon. I was flying up to the Bay area with Nick because Rachel had somehow manipulated me into it. There was no way I was going to let Sid go up there.

Just before we got on the plane, Sid handed Nick a piece of paper.

“That’s my phone number,” said Sid. “Feel free to call me at any time.”

“Thanks,” said Nick. He blurted out his. “That’s my number. Can you remember that?”

Sid smiled. “Sure.”

“Great.” There was a pause. “See ya.”

“See ya.”

I sighed. It was a start.

The flight was uneventful. But there was no one waiting for us at the gate. Nick sighed.

“Mom probably got called in to work,” he said.

“Does this happen often?” I asked.

He shrugged.

I rented a car and drove us to Sunnyvale. Nick lived with his mom in a decent-sized tract house with a half-timbered exterior in a gated community, definitely upper-middle class surroundings.

Nick had his own keys and let us in. No one was home. There was a note on the kitchen counter. Nick read it.

“She got called in,” he said. “Car accident.”

“So now what?” I asked.

“You can take off, I guess.”

“I can’t leave you alone.”

“It’s no big deal. Mrs. Coffey’s next door. I can call her if there’s a problem.”

“But…”

He shrugged. “I’ve stayed alone before. It’s no big deal.”

“It certainly is a big deal.” I pressed my lips together. I didn’t want to yell at Nick. I was certainly going to give Rachel a piece of my mind. “Do you know how to get to your mom’s hospital?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s go.”

It was a fairly small community hospital, one story and all spread out like a ranch-style house. Nick took me straight past the admitting window to the back of the emergency room.

“Well, hello, Nicholas,” beamed one of the nurses. “How are you?”

“Great, Mavis.”

She looked at me. “May I help you?”

“She’s with me,” said Nick.

“I work for Nick’s father,” I said.

“Oh.” She turned to Nick. “Well, how do you like him?”

“He’s really cool.” He looked over at a curtained-off section.

“Your mom’s with a patient right now,” said Mavis.

A string of the foulest language I’d heard a long time burst out of the curtained area.

“Three-o silk!” hollered Rachel’s voice between cuss words. “Damn it, stat! Come on, baby, hold on. Clamp it! Clamp it!”

Rachel went on in that vein for some minutes longer until whatever bleeding was under control. Then she hooted and laughed loudly.

“Okay, let’s take him home, team.”

Mavis entered the area and spoke softly. Rachel laughed again.

“Great!” she said loudly. “Hey, Nicholas, how are you, honey?”

“Fine, Mom.”

“Hang on, sweetie. I’ll be done in a few.” There was a pause. “Nah. He was at his father’s. What a piece that guy is… Oh no, he’s okay. Loaded, too… Hell, no. The way he ran when he heard I was p.g.? He couldn’t take off fast enough… I figured it was time Nicholas knew where he came from… They seem to like each other. Nicholas sure liked that girlfriend of his. She supposedly works for him… Yeah, service industry. She can have him… I will say this for him, he is damn good in bed. Hooo, baby. About as hot as they come.”

Rachel managed to turn the volume down after that. I steamed. Nick seemed puzzled.

“Lisa, I thought you said you’re not his girlfriend.”

“I’m not. A lot of people think I am because we’re such good friends and they don’t understand that.”

Rachel finally emerged from the area, in surgical scrubs, masked and gloved. Blood covered everything. She yanked off the gloves, then pulled her mask down and untied her gown with one hand while she signed a clipboard on a nearby counter with the other. With the gown and gloves stuffed into a nearby barrel, she turned to Nick.

“Hey, it’s my main man,” she crowed.

Nick ran and bounded into her arms. She took the hug awkwardly at first, then returned it.

“I am so glad to see you,” she told him. “I can’t believe how much I missed you.”

“I missed you, too, Mom.”

“Did you have a good week?”

“It was great!”

A gurney emerged from the curtain area. With one arm around Nick, Rachel stopped the orderlies and softly touched the cheek of the young man asleep on the gurney.

“You’re gonna make it, kid,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Nick. His eyes were glowing, and it was funny because although he didn’t look anything like his mother, you could tell these two were cut of the same cloth in many ways.

Rachel looked up and saw me. “Well. Thanks for bringing him by.”

“I wasn’t going to leave him at home by himself,” I said acidly.

“I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of options that way,” she replied.

“You don’t look like you’re living in poverty. You could hire a nanny.”

“I did. Five times in the last three months. The longest one lasted three weeks and then I caught her stealing out of my medical bag. Two couldn’t speak English well enough to tell me that Nicholas had a fever at school and needed me to come pick him up. The other two didn’t want to work nights, and guess what? People don’t get hurt on a nine to five basis. I’m an ER doctor. Weird hours come with the territory, but just try to find childcare that can accommodate that.”

I stepped back and swallowed. “I see.”

“Took a little air out of you, Miss High and Mighty, didn’t I?  You’ve got it easy. You don’t know what I’ve been through.”

“No, maybe I don’t. But you’re the one that decided not to tell Sid he had a kid on the way. You’re the one who chose to go it alone.” My voice rose, almost echoing. “And I don’t care what you tell the people around here, you and I both know you didn’t tell Nick’s father you were pregnant. And you and I both know he didn’t have a clue Nick existed until last weekend. And I don’t care how many people need you, your son needs you, too.” I took a deep breath and turned to Nick. “Listen, I’ve got to go. You can call me, too.”

“Great.” Nick bounded over and gave me a big hug.

“You take care now.”

“You, too.”

I tried not to glare at Rachel as I left.

I was a mess by the time I got home. Mae and company were still out. I found Sid in the library, playing Chopin. He was pretty angry when I told all that had happened.

“The problem is, she’s got a point about that childcare thing,” I groaned.

“She’s a doctor, Lisa. She isn’t exactly hurting financially.”

“Sid, she’s an emergency room doctor. She’s probably on salary, and being a woman, she’s probably not getting as much as a man, anyway. Most women doctors don’t. And even if money weren’t an issue, the options just aren’t out there.”

“There are always options,” said Sid. “And I’m sure Rachel’s got the bucks to find them.”

“Sid, there aren’t. Remember that nanny I interviewed for my child care article? She’s making fifty thousand a year and could make more just because there aren’t more people out there like her. Child care is almost impossible to find, especially for kids Nick’s age or to cover the hours Rachel works.” I sighed and shook my head. “She’s just so confusing. One minute, it seems like she doesn’t want him around, the next it’s like he’s the total focus of her life. It was so weird. The way she touched that man’s face, you could tell she really cared about him, and she really cared about Nick. But she’s such a… a…”

“Bitch.”

“Yeah.” I sank into one of the overstuffed chairs. “Did I tell you she’s still spreading that lie about you running out on her?”

“Yes.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, there’s not a whole hell of a lot we can do about it.”

“What about Nick?’

He shrugged. “The ball’s in their court. We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s not as though we don’t have other things to worry about.” The doorbell rang. “Like your nephew. That’s probably them now.”

It was. They didn’t stay long. It was a school night and the little ones were getting cranky. Nobody seemed happy about leaving, especially Darby. I held onto my tears long enough to tuck him into bed, then went to my own room and cried myself to sleep.

Anne Louise Bannon

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