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From This Day Forward – Chapter One, Part Eight

Welcome to From This Day Forward, book ten in the Operation Quickline series. It’s Sid and Lisa’s big day – their wedding. But in the weeks leading up to the event, something strange is going on. The only thing scarier will be their honeymoon. You can read the first episode here and see all the episodes that have run here.

Kathy and Jesse showed up at Mae’s house right on time. Kathy looked gorgeous in the dusty rose Victorian top with the white and blue roses and the navy-blue skirt. Mae and Janey were wearing similar skirts and tops. The big difference was that Kathy and Janey’s tops were belted at the waist. Mae’s wasn’t to accommodate her pregnancy. Neil had already left with Darby and Mama to meet Sid.

Jesse shot at least two rolls of film. I was a little sad that Esther wasn’t there, but Mama said she’d be happy with just the shots we could get at Mae’s. By eleven, we were all in cars. Daddy drove the O’Malley’s van with Mae in the front passenger seat, me, Grandma, and Janey in the middle seat, and the twins and Ellen in the back. My overnight case was under one of the seats.

Daddy steered the van through the light Saturday morning traffic to the freeway through downtown Los Angeles. I took a deep breath. This was it. I was really getting married. Yes, it would be a relationship that Sid and I defined, but still… I had never wanted to get married. That was probably why I’d found Sid so attractive initially. Marriage, as far as he was concerned, was not going to happen. And yet, there we were. I closed my eyes and tried to think of something else. After all, there were other things going on in Sid’s and my lives, such as the weird business with the unprocessed drops. Two weeks into February, right before Nick’s birthday.

(Wednesday, February 12)

The freezing wind stabbed through me as only a winter Santa Ana wind can, piercingly cold and dry. The sky was a brilliant blue and completely clear. From where I stood in front of the old mission, I could see the San Gabriel mountains, intricately detailed in the icy air. A cab on the street just barely slowed down. The window slid down, and a tiny missile flew from inside the cab, landing near my feet. It was a cannister of film. I picked it up and stashed it in my purse. A moment later, another car slammed to a stop alongside the curb and a man jumped out. He ran straight at me.

Now, a lot of the time, attracting attention is the last thing I want to do. However, there are times when one wants to create the illusion that one is a civilian and, in those cases, it pays to act like one. Which this time meant screaming like a banshee and running away as fast as I could. It’s one of the reasons why when I’m working, I tend to wear low-heeled pumps. I had on a wool A-line skirt, and heather blue jacket over a light blue flower-print blouse.

I was barely around the corner when I felt the hit. Almost three hundred pounds of pure muscle landed on my back and knocked me face down.

“Help!” I screamed. “I’m being robbed! Help!”

The man rolled me over and whacked me in the face. “Where is film?”

“Film? What film? Help!”

“In your purse. I saw you put.”

“I don’t have any film in my purse.” I, nonetheless, slid my hand inside, reaching for my key chain and the mace can there. “Wait. Is this it?”

My hand flew out, the spray blowing in the breeze. I shut my eyes just in case. It caught my attacker full in the face. I got my leg up and kicked him where it hurts, then rolled him off me. Gasping and coughing, I ran through the small suburb, changing directions and looking for that second car. I seemed to have ditched it. Well, I thought I had. But as I pulled my truck out of the parking lot where I’d left it, I saw it coming after me. Almost cursing, I drove fast, weaving through the traffic, until I found Interstate 10. I made a last second turn onto the freeway and saw the car behind me skid and slam into another. I kept my foot on the accelerator, weaving through the traffic with one eye on my rear-view mirror. But I had well and truly lost the tail.

By the time I staggered into the office, I was a little winded.

“You okay?” Sid asked, looking worried.

“Yeah. I just got tackled.” I looked down at my skirt. There was a gaping hole in the wool. “Drat! I liked this skirt.”

“So, what do we have?”

I dropped my purse on the desk and started digging through it. “Another unprocessed drop.” I found the film cannister and showed it to Sid.

He shook his head. I went upstairs and changed clothes while he called Jesse. We got Nick from school and took him with us to Jesse and Kathy’s condo on Wilshire Boulevard. Nick knows about our side business, even if he doesn’t know all the details.

Jesse had the film developed and printed in a relatively short time. He laid the pictures on their dining room table.

“It looks like different angles of some sort of fortress,” he said. “Look. See that hole behind those rocks.”

“Here’s one with some writing on it.” I picked up the print.

“That’s a Company code.” Sid frowned. “Jesse, why don’t you go ahead and make a couple extra prints of this one? And get everything on a microdot, please.”

“Sure. Do you want me to package it? Once you get me the route, it won’t be a problem. It’s Kathy’s turn to run.”

“We’ll call you when we know something,” I said. “And let me keep the prints. We may want to look at them again.”

I stashed the prints in my purse, then we collected Nick and headed home, very puzzled, indeed.

“The question is, do we break the code or not?” Sid asked.

I shrugged. “We could send it up to Blue Shield.”

“Let’s see what Henry has to say first.”

Henry agreed that we wanted to send the microdot to New York and suggested a route. He didn’t say anything about the code. We called Jesse and Kathy.

The funny thing was, after that, there was no more business, period, for the next couple weeks. We had gotten cleared to take a honeymoon after the wedding. We couldn’t help but wonder if someone upline had gotten the dates wrong. If they had, there wasn’t much we could do about it.

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