Chapter Nine

February 20-21, 1984

Pull quote "I almost got busted by two of your guys this afternoon." From cozy spy novel, Fugue in a Minor Key by Anne Louise bannon

Monday morning, I noticed Darby heading into the library with his guitar. It was the perfect opportunity. I slid into Sid’s office and locked the door.

“What’s up?” he asked, turning towards me from the computer.

“That second buy,” I said, picking up his phone. “I’ve got to set it up and I’d rather do it on the secure line. Darby’s in the library practicing.”

Sid nodded, then started writing again. There are actually four phone lines coming into the house, Sid’s and my private lines, the business line, and the one we use for Quickline. That one is only hooked up to the phone in Sid’s office.

While waiting for the other end to pick up, I watched Sid as he stopped writing. Grimacing, he went over the papers spread out on his desk, then pulled a sheaf of binder paper to him. I chuckled as he unscrewed the top to his fountain pen.

“So I’m more comfortable,” he snarled.

I would have answered, but Tony picked up.

“You got anything new for us?” I asked.

“Y-yes,” he replied. “I-I-I can bring it to you tomorrow. There’s a hotel on-on Century Boulevard.” He named it.

“What are you trying to do? Set me up for a bust?”

“No! No. No. I-I just thought it would b-b-be easier to t-talk.”

Sid, all of a sudden, put aside his project and started scribbling in big block letters.

“Talk about what?” I asked.

“About d-doing more business.”

“Oh, really.”

Sid held up the paper he’d been working on.

“You’re too nice,” it said. “Cuss, damn it.”

A string of obscenities followed. I blushed, but he was right.

“L-look, I’ve got g-good stuff. It can’t hurt your b-b-bottom line.”

“Getting arrested can,” I said as Sid pointed, then added the epithet he’d suggested. “I’ve got a better idea, we’ll meet in the lobby, near the concierge’s desk. I know what you look like. Unless you’ve got any other surprises for me.”

“F-f-fine. Twelve- twelve thirty.”

“Twelve thirty, tomorrow,” I added the name of the hotel and hung up.

Sid leaned back in his chair with his arms folded. He was smiling, but he wasn’t that happy.

“Lisa, Lisa, Lisa.”

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t raised that way. It’s not in my nature.”

“I’m just as happy it’s not. But it doesn’t make you very convincing in this sort of situation.”

I giggled. “I guess it doesn’t. It just seems so strange, after hearing all my life that you just don’t use that sort of language, being told I have to.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll have to hold the obscenity workshop later. What are you going to do about that photograph business?”

I sighed. “I do have my wig. I’ll re-do my make up with all the different contours and stuff.”

“What if Darby sees you?”

“That.” I thought. “Wait. That hotel’s right near the airport. I can do my make up there. Nobody will think twice about it.”

Sid shrugged. “Probably not. I don’t like it, but it’s probably our best shot. See if you can set up a meeting with his boss. Maybe we can set up a sting.”

“Okay, but I don’t want to push it too fast. It might scare him off.”

“Well, we’ll see.” Sid went back to the computer.

I went back to my office. Outside, hanging on the sliding glass door, was Frank Lonergan. I stuck my tongue out at him and he went back to work.

Frank’s a musician trying to make it, and in the meantime, he has to do other things to eat and pay rent, like gardening. He works for a contract company and is pretty much able to come and go as he pleases or picks up gigs.

Well, last fall, Sid’s gardener retired, and I got the job of finding a new one. It worked out really well. The company turned in a nice low bid, Frank got a bonus for picking up a new client, and Sid doesn’t have to think about his yard, which is why he has a gardener.

Frank makes a point of grabbing Sid’s place when the job assignments go out. He usually eats lunch with us, and as often as not, dinner, after which he and Sid get together and play flute and piano works. Frank plays guitar, mostly as a matter of economics he says, but he’s primarily a floutist, which is why he’s also a gardener.

At lunch, Frank, Darby, and Sid, of course, talked about music, and the next thing I know, Darby’s all excited, and the guys are talking fugue. Frank agreed to finish up by three.

The hall clock had barely chimed the hour when Darby dragged me into the library to listen. I concentrated on my knitting instead.

Frank stayed to dinner. I usually do my weights on Monday, between dinner and the teen bible study Frank and I help lead. I tried to talk Darby into staying with Frank and Sid so they could keep playing, but Darby insisted he wanted to stay with me. So I took him to the gym with me, and then on to bible study.

The next day, I left early for the airport, wearing slacks with heels. In one of the restroom stalls, I changed to a dress with flat pumps and put on my wig. I did my make up over one of the sinks. It wasn’t easy, but no one paid any attention to me. After sliding on my glasses, I put the duffel bag I was carrying into one of the lockers next to the restroom and headed out.

I took a cab over to the hotel. Tony was at the concierge’s desk, looking out at the bar. I slid up behind him and squeezed his elbow. He jumped.

“We’ll talk in the lobby,” I said quietly.

“B-b-but, we c-c-c-can get a d-drink in the b-b-bar,” he said, then he saw me. “You’re not-”

“Yes, I am. I’m just not interested in giving certain people a description to pin on me.” I nodded at some sofas around the corner from the check-in desks. “We’ll talk over here. Now, what have you got?”

“C-c-complete schematics, radar, g-guidance systems, you name it.”

“And how much are you asking?”

“Th-that depends. We-we need a regular b-b-b-buyer.”

“Really.” I stayed calm even though my brain was racing. On one hand, it was almost too easy. We could set up a meeting with our respective bosses and spring the trap. Then again, trap was the key word. What if they were setting a trap for us? On the other hand, this guy was so obviously an amateur, what if he didn’t know about the implications?

“It would m-m-make things a lot easier.”

“True. I don’t know. I’d have to get it okayed first, then you have to show good faith.”

“We-we can set up a m-m-meeting. Y-your people and ours.”

“And what can you give me now to prove it’s worth our while?”

Tony slid a five by seven envelope into my hands. “L-l-look that over. It’s only one p-part, b-but I think you’ll f-f-find it interesting.”

“Fine. See you later.” I turned and headed for the exit, jamming the envelope into my purse. It wasn’t my regular monster, but a smaller briefcase style affair in tan leather.

Tony sputtered behind me. Something was definitely up. As I passed the concierge desk, I stopped momentarily. Two men in dark suits were headed my way.

I wanted to head for the door, but Tony was there by then, and I didn’t want him following me. I headed for the back of the lobby and the service doors. The two dark suits trotted up.

One, a sandy-haired fellow about my age, flashed an FBI ID. It said Rick Tanner.

“FBI, ma’am,” he said.

I smiled at them. “Yes, gentlemen?”

A waiter with a cart full of wine glasses came out of the service door. I smiled again as the cart rattled my way, then ducked behind it and through the door. The two agents bolted after me.

I had one advantage besides a small but decided lead on those guys. I grew up in South Lake Tahoe on the resort my parents own up there. All my friends’ parents were in the tourist trade one way or another. I’ve spent plenty of time in the bowels of hotels. While every hotel is different, there is a certain feel to the layout of the service halls, one that I’m fairly familiar with.

“Freeze! You’re under arrest!” called Tanner’s partner.

I slid around a corner just in time to miss the crash of gunfire that followed me. I grabbed my gun and fired back randomly, praying I wouldn’t hit anyone. Then I ran for the kitchen figuring that with all those innocent bystanders around, they wouldn’t be as likely to start shooting again.

I found it easily enough and hid behind a stack of produce boxes. The agents came through, and I ducked out of there, unfortunately taking a stack of pans with me.

The clatter alerted my pursuers, but the pans also stalled them some. As they dodged around them, I ran full out. I lost them in the corridor, but as luck would have it, they entered the lobby barely minutes after I did.

I was already in the cab. As we pulled out, I could see the agents spot me.

“I’m late for my flight,” I gasped at the driver. “Please hurry.”

He stepped on the gas. “Which terminal?”

“Uh, Western.” My hands were shaking as I slid my gun into the shield for the metal detector at the airport.

Good old LAX was jam-packed, and all the construction they were doing for the Olympics wasn’t helping any. The traffic kept my pursuers at bay but also trapped me.

We were near the first terminal when I spotted the blue light of a police car flashing.

“I’ll get out now,” I told the driver, handing him a couple bills.

I opened the door, and keeping low, I slipped out of the cab and between the cars. I made it across the parking lot okay but Tanner and his partner were moving through the cars, looking.

I swallowed and tried to be calm and casually walked towards the terminal. As I hit the door, I glanced behind me to see Tanner in the middle of the parking lot suddenly point at me and take off running.

I took off for the planes, thanking God there hadn’t been a line at the metal detectors. I ran down the moving walkway, then cut through the crowd on the escalator to the gates.

At the top, I looked back. Tanner and his partner had just reached the bottom and were fighting their way through the people. My key snagged in the locker, but I got it open before the Feds reached the top of the escalator. I yanked my duffel bag free and ran for the bathroom. I took one last look around before sliding through the door and didn’t see anybody looking for me.

I changed in the stall, cold creaming my face and taking off my wig in there, too. I was afraid I was going to stop up the toilet with all the toilet paper I used, but it flushed okay when I was finally ready to go. I went to the sink and finished washing my face and casually re-applied my normal make-up, basically just lipstick, mascara and blush.

I was giving my cheeks a final dusting when Tanner and his partner came in. He was so embarrassed.

“What are you doing in here?” I asked, letting my voice shake as I backed away from them.

“We’re FBI, ma’am,” said Tanner’s partner, an Earl Weisman according to his ID.

I made a point of examining both ID’s.

“Well, these look like they’re on the level.” I swallowed and backed up again. “I don’t mean to be rude, but you know how it is with airports. All sorts of weirdos running around.”

“Yeah, well, we understand,” said Weisman. “Um, we’re looking for a blonde lady, a little shorter than you. She was wearing a blue dress with a gray tweed jacket over it. We think she may have come in here.”

“Oh. She may have. There’ve been a couple ladies in and out. I wasn’t watching. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” sighed Tanner.

The men left. I gave my face a final once over, sighed in relief, then left the bathroom. Weisman and Tanner got on the down escalator just ahead of me but apparently didn’t see me. I heard them.

“She’s got to be on that plane,” grumbled Tanner. “Don’t ask me how, but that’s the only place she could be.”

“Okay, okay. But you call Chicago,” said Weisman.

“Why don’t I get Powers to do it? He’s got the pull.”

“You really want to tell Len we lost her?”

“What else are we going to tell him? Geez, how the hell did she get past the metal detectors with that cannon she had?”

“She must have ditched it. I say we get a search detail out on the trash cans in the ticketing area.”

“You want to get that past Powers?” Tanner laughed.

“Well, the cab was clean.”

“That driver sure was happy. Forty bucks for a five-minute ride.”

Weisman chuckled. “I thought that was the going rate.”

They got off the escalator and walked quickly through the crowd. They didn’t see me as I walked past them out of the terminal and to my truck.

As I swung my duffel bag into the back, I decided I wasn’t going to go home just yet. I went straight to the Federal Building in Westwood first.

Since everyone knows I’m just as much Henry James’ friend as Sid is, no one gave me a second glance as I went past security and upstairs to Henry’s office.

In the outer office, Angelique Carter was behind her desk with a stack of flyers and a bottle of Liquid Paper.

Angelique is also a good mutual friend of Sid’s and mine. She and I go to lunch and chat whenever I’m there to see Henry. I would imagine she and Sid chat, but they also, you know. She’s one of Sid’s very few re-occurring girlfriends. Every now and then she moves in with him and moves out two weeks later.

“Hey, kid, where you been?” she asked, grinning as she tossed her dark brown full hair back from her face. She’s confessed to a stint as a model some years back and still keeps in shape.

“Running, what else?” I looked over at the door to Henry’s office behind her. It was closed as usual. “Is your boss busy?”

“Of course. When isn’t he? But he should be done in a few minutes, so why don’t you go ahead and sit down and keep me company.”

“Sure.” I plopped down into the chair next to her desk. “What on earth are you doing?”

“Corrections.” Angelique made a face at the pile of papers. “Some dope down in printing messed up the date, so now I have to correct every single one of these by hand.”

“Can’t they reprint them?”

“Budget cuts. It’d cost too much. Personally, I think my time is more valuable, but this is the Federal Government we’re dealing with.”

“You can say that again.” I smiled casually, but inside I was steaming about getting shot at by the guys on my side.

“So, how’s your boss? Keeping you busy as usual?”

“Naturally. Except you wouldn’t believe what we’ve got going on now.”

“Yes, I would. I’ve known Sid longer than you.” Angelique smirked.

“Why don’t you call him? He could use someone to stroke his ego right now.”

“Or just to stroke him.”

“He always needs that.”

Angelique sighed lustfully. “He does indeed. And you won’t provide. You’re so cruel, Lisa.”

I shrugged. “So I’ve got morals.”

“Frankly, I’m glad you do. You’re enough competition as it is.”

“What?”

Angelique looked me straight in the eye. “Darling Lisa, Sid is hung up on you. Should you ever consent to sleeping with him, he will, for the most part, not be sleeping with anyone else.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m not saying he’ll be completely faithful. We both know him better than that. But there are a lot of women in this city, myself included, hoping against hope that you never move into his bedroom.”

“I suppose if I was available all the time…”

“Availability has nothing to do with it,” Angelique snorted a little bitterly. “It would be by preference.”

“Yeah, right. Ange, you haven’t got a thing to worry about. It’s not going to happen.” I stopped. “What makes you so sure he would?”

“Little things.” She sighed, looked at me, then back down at her papers. “A lot of little things, but they add up.” She looked at me again. “It’s okay, Lisa. It’s not like it’s your fault. You know what a fool I am over him. Just do me a favor and stay upright and true to your morals, will you? If sex is all I can get from Sid, I can live with that. It’s plenty, believe me.”

I squirmed. “Well, you can have it. And don’t worry about me. If Sid has more than the hots for me, it won’t make any difference because that’s the only way he can express it and I need more than that in a relationship.”

Angelique just laughed softly.

“What?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I’m even more worried about you.”

I would have demanded an explanation, but the door to Henry’s office and a young man stepped out, followed by Henry, himself. He’s a tallish man and balding with a very red face. The young man said goodbye, then Henry turned to me.

“Is this a lunch date or are you here to see me?” he asked pleasantly.

I looked at Angelique. “Both, actually. I came to say hello to you, then, Ange, you want to go?”

She frowned. “Lisa, it’s already two-fifteen.”

“Just hoping. I’ll just have to say hi to you, Henry.” I got up. “Let’s go talk.”

Henry followed me into the office, shutting the door behind us.

“This is not a good idea,” he said sternly. “Didn’t Sid tell you?”

“About the leak in the office? Yeah, of course. But no communication at all isn’t going to help, Henry. I almost got busted by two of your guys this afternoon.”

“When?”

“When I was making a second buy from that defense plant contact. I took off and sure enough, here come the suits. They must have been following my guy, which with all due respect, I think is a little stupid considering how antsy these guys are.”

“Something’s not right here,” Henry grumbled, bothered about something.

Still steamed, I wasn’t paying attention. “I’ll say it’s not right. It’s downright ridiculous. Good Lord, we were shooting at each other and we’re on the same side!”

“Did you return fire?” he asked anxiously.

“Well, yeah,” I said, suddenly sheepish. “I’m sorry, Henry, but darn it, they shot first.”

“You think you got one of them?”

“No, thank God. There were only two of them and I ran into them later, and that’s pretty complicated, too.”

“Damn.”

“What?”

“Well, if you’d gotten one of them, it’d be easier for me to track down who they are, or even have an interest in them without spooking anyone.”

“I can tell you who they were. Rick Tanner and Earl Weisman.” I explained the whole mess and included the badge numbers just to show off.

Henry wrote them down. “Len Powers, too, huh. That makes a little more sense.”

“Why?”

“He’s N.S.T.” (National Security Team, sort of like the uniform cops of counter-espionage because everybody knows about them.)  “Used to work out of this office, but he got promoted to running the San Diego team a couple months ago, and not a minute too soon, if you ask me.”

“I’m asking. Why?”

“He’s a hot dogger. Damn good man, but one of these days, he’s going to push his luck too far and somebody’s going to get killed.”

“Yeah, like me.”

“I’ll take care of it, Lisa.”

“Maybe you’d better not, what with that leak and all. We can’t afford to let anybody get a hint about me.”

“That might be taking a chance you don’t want to. Powers can get a little overzealous at times.” Henry frowned. “So be very careful about any meetings. Make sure they’re in a public place with multiple exits.”

I swallowed. “You don’t think we’re being set up for a bust, do you? Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know. It’s doesn’t make sense.” Henry shrugged. “Unless somebody’s trying to eliminate some competition.”

“But then it would be someone else besides the defense plant guys.”

“I know and that’s the part that doesn’t make sense. Just play it cool and let me deal with the stuff in the agency.” He sighed. “I’d pull you guys off this one, but Dragon says we can’t.”

Dragon was the agency head. We heard from her now and again and had even worked with her, but she mostly stayed in the background. Dragon knew things we didn’t, which meant that we didn’t tend to question her.

I sighed as well, then got up. “Alright. I’ll head back to the house.”

Henry glared down at his desk. “Oh, wait. I was going to send this some other way, but now that you’re here. I’ve got something for Sid.”

He handed me a big manila envelope. I debated opening it but decided that Henry would have told me what it was if it was okay for me to look at it. Besides, I’d probably know what it was soon enough, anyway.

I got back to the house to find Darby hidden in his room.

“He wouldn’t come out,” Sid told me. “I decided not to press it. He got his schoolwork done.”

“Okay,” I said, looking down the hall with a worried frown. I looked down at my purse and pulled out the envelope Henry gave me. “This is for you and we need to conference. It’s getting even uglier.”

“Wonderful,” Sid replied, glancing at the envelope.

“Do you mind if I check on Darby first?” I asked.

Sid nodded, and I hurried down the hall to his room and knocked softly on his door.

“Darby, it’s Aunt Lisa,” I called.

He opened the door. “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. I’m done with my schoolwork. Can I watch TV?”

I looked him over. He seemed to be acting normally again.

“Sure,” I said.

He ran off to the rumpus room and I went back to Sid’s office and shut and locked the door.

“He seems normal,” I told Sid.

“Hm.” Sid was scowling.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing I didn’t entirely expect.” He picked up a small set of papers. “I had Henry run a profile on Rachel and Nick. I had to.”

“Did you tell him why?”

“Uh, no.” Sid winced. “But he’s probably already figured it out.”

“Oh?”

“Take a look at Nick’s birth certificate.”

I took the piece of paper from him. Under father, it listed Sid Hackbirn.

“Yikes,” I said. “How are you feeling about it?”

Sid shrugged. “People have lied on birth certificates before.”

Something inside me just snapped. I don’t know what, exactly, but his attitude really made me angry.

“Why can’t you just accept it?” I snarled at him. “For Heaven’s sakes, Sid. You know what it’s like to not be wanted and don’t give me any nonsense about him not wanting a father. He wants you. And there’s no good reason you can’t just own up to being his father. None! If Nick really doesn’t want a father, then he’ll get used to having one, just like you’ll get used to being one.”

“It’s not that simple, Lisa.”

“Yes, it is! You don’t need a blood test to prove that he’s your kid. He looks just like you! So quit pretending that you don’t have to acknowledge him and get it taken care of. You’re his father. Get used to it.”

I was about to storm out of the office when I realized the door was locked and then why it was locked.

“Shavings!” I groaned and sniffed.

“I take it there’s something else to discuss?” Sid’s tone was acerbic at best.

I sniffed then nodded. “Yeah. And none of it is good.”

I repeated my conversation with Henry, which did not help Sid’s mood in the least.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Sid grumbled.

“No kidding.” I flopped into the chair in front of his desk. “But what are we going to do about it?”

“Be very careful, I guess. Let’s get that next buy set up.”

“I’ll do it tomorrow. Don’t want to seem too anxious.”

Sid nodded. I looked at him sadly for a moment, then got up, unlocked the office door and left.

I tried to focus on my usual work but didn’t get very far. I couldn’t tell what was bothering me more. Sid’s attitude toward Nick was frustrating, but I had good reason to believe he’d come around eventually. The case was getting pretty scary. On the other hand, Sid and I had survived some pretty tight situations before. So, while I wasn’t happy about the way things were going, I wasn’t freaking out or brooding.

No, I was mostly worried about Darby. It really wasn’t like him to hold onto secrets. But he was holding onto something. It wasn’t something he was happy about, more like he couldn’t tell, even if he wanted to. In fact, I suddenly realized he was acting a lot like me when my family or friends wanted me to be more open about the things I cannot talk about for their safety, let alone mine.

That was not a comforting thought. It meant Darby was holding onto his secret because he thought someone else’s welfare depended on it. Which, in turn, meant that he was not going to share it. Period. That definitely made things a whole lot more ticklish.

Anne Louise Bannon

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