Chapter Six

February 15-16, 1984

Pull quote for the latest chapter of Fugue in A Minor Key, a cozy spy novel, or serialized mystery fiction.
Quote: The peace was shattered when I went to get ready for bed.

One of the ways Nick takes after Sid is that they are both very curious and very observant. Another is that neither of them is above a good practical joke.

Wednesday morning, the boys were giggling as I staggered to the front door for our run. Sid was watching them with a glare that said he knew darned well something was up and was only waiting until things blew up to give them hell.

Only first, the boys nearly fell over a vase of red roses on the porch. Darby looked at the card.

“They’re for you, Aunt Lisa.” He handed me the vase.

I blushed. “Sid, you didn’t.”

“You’re right,” he chuckled. “I didn’t.”

“What?” Puzzled, I opened the card and really blushed.

“El Amador?” Sid asked with a mischievous grin.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Who’s he?” asked Nick.

“Lisa’s boyfriend,” said Sid.

“You got a boyfriend, Aunt Lisa?” asked Darby excitedly.

“His name is George Hernandez, and we’re just dating.” I put the vase in a corner on the porch.

“Come on, let’s start stretching out, guys,” said Sid.

Later, at breakfast, the boys giggled every time I let out a yawn, which was more often than usual because I hadn’t slept very well the night before. As we finished, Sid neatly folded the paper, then glared at the boys.

“I’d like to know what you two have been up to,” Sid asked quietly. “And I wonder if it happens to have anything to do with why the intercom in my bedroom was on this morning.”

It finally sank in through all the fuzzy sleepiness.

“You little brats!” I snapped.

The boys roared with laughter.

“Gentlemen.” Sid’s voice, calm but sharp, silenced them. “What exactly did you do last night?”

Darby and Nick looked at each other.

“It was Nick’s idea,” said Darby.

“You’re the one who told me about him talking in his sleep,” said Nick.

“You’re the one that was playing with the intercom.”

“What did you do?” Sid pressed.

“They broadcast your nightly monologue into my bedroom,” I replied. “It woke me up at two fifteen this morning.”

“I see.” Sid turned to the boys. “That was extremely rude. You boys owe Lisa an apology.”

“I’m sorry,” mumbled Darby.

“I’m sorry,” Nick echoed.

“Apology accepted,” I said.

“Very well.” Sid took his napkin from his lap and put it next to his plate. “There will be no further disturbances of anybody’s rest in this house, aside from legitimate emergencies.”

“Or nightmares,” I added quickly.

“Or nightmares.” Sid looked at the boys. “Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” said Nick.

“Yes, sir,” said Darby.

Sid got up. “Good. Shall we get to work?”

The boys shuffled off to the rumpus room, where their schoolwork was, and Sid and I went to the office.

Around ten that morning, the doorbell rang and George was there.

“I was going to call,” I told him as he came into the hall. “But you sleep so late, I was afraid I’d wake you.”

“What’s been going on?” he asked. George was tall and broad-shouldered, kind of like an over-sized teddy bear with Aztec features. He didn’t have a regular job because he was from a wealthy family and was very invested in his art photography.

“All you-know-what has broken loose again. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to call you about the other night.”

Nick came tearing through the hall from the rumpus room.

“Forgot something in my room,” he explained as he rushed past.

“Fat chance,” I muttered, blushing.

George’s mouth hung open. “You know who that kid looks like?”

“That’s a good part of the you-know-what,” I said. “It’s really been crazy, George.”

“I’ll bet.” He grinned his cute shy grin. “You haven’t forgotten about Saturday night, have you? Mom’s really looking forward to it. She was so disappointed Friday.”

I nodded. “Well, you know how things come up for me. By the way, thank you for the roses. They’re gorgeous.”

“They’re not as gorgeous as you.”

“George, you’re embarrassing me. Listen, I’ve got a ton of work to do.”

“Oh. I was hoping you could come to lunch.”

“It’s only ten and I’ve got work to do. I’ll see you later, okay?”

I reached up and gave him a warm, cuddly kiss, only to hear giggling in the background. As I whirled around, I caught a flash of dark hair ducking into the library.

“Nicholas! Into the rumpus room. Now.”

Slumping, he stomped out of the library, walked past me, then ran to the rumpus room. As soon as I was sure he was gone, I turned back to George.

“Is he..?” George asked.

“Sid’s? I’ll eat my hat if he isn’t.”

“I didn’t know Sid was married before.”

I chuckled weakly. “He wasn’t.”

“Oh.” George shrugged, then scooped me into a big hug and kiss.

I finally had to push myself away to get him out the front door. Back in my office, Sid was waiting.

“Don’t you have a rewrite on that stock market piece to do?” I grumbled.

“Mm-hmm. What was George here for?” Sid idly looked over a printout.

I shrugged. “He said he wanted to go to lunch. He was probably worried. We were supposed to go to dinner the other night before bible study and I forgot to cancel it. And he reminded me about going out to his folks’ place Saturday night. Speaking of that, can I count on you to watch the boys then?”

“Sure. He’s got wedding bells on the brain, you know.”

“So what? What about that stock market rewrite?”

Sid dropped the print out on my desk. “All done. Listen, I’ve got to go to lunch with Henry.”

“Lunch? That’s different.”

“He’s bugged about something.”

I motioned towards Sid’s office, then checked the hallway for spying boys.

“We’ve got to set up a second buy on that defense plant thing,” I said once Sid’s office door was shut.

“Well, we don’t want to be too eager. Why don’t we wait until after we plant those bugs? Who knows, we might even catch something.”

“True. What time are you going to be back?”

“Around one, one thirty. Why?”

“Mail. And you’ve got a check to sign if you want to keep the phones on. I should have it all together by the time you get back.”

“Great.” He paused, then headed out. “I’ve got a couple errands to run before lunch. I’ll see you later.”

[Now, a couple things happened on that lunch with Henry that have a direct bearing on later events, and… Okay, I forgot to tell you about them. Let’s see…

We met at a restaurant up in Westwood Village, kind of noisy and very trendy. More of a social gathering type place, which was the point.

“We’re going to have to be really careful about what kind of contact we have,” Henry told me as soon as our food was in front of us.

“What do you mean?”

“We’ve got a leak in the office somewhere.”

“Yeah, that.”

Henry frowned. “You mean you know about it?”

“All I know is that someone is selling out.” I told him about our little escapade with Oscar Wright.

“Oh, hell.” Henry twiddled his fork and shook his head. “At least, that much is making sense.”

“You mean like how they found our people so fast?”

“Yes. And what one of our operatives found out before her cover was blown.”

“What?”

“That the ring is using outside help to keep tails on their people, intimidate them and sometimes rough them up a little.”

“Huh.” I thought it all over. “You know, two of the guys we talked to at the plant accused Wright of causing accidents or even making people disappear. They were joking, but I got the feeling that they didn’t think it was all that funny.”

“Interesting. There’s a rumor going around one of the plants that some employees are being forced to sell secrets by their co-workers.” Henry glared at his plate, then took a bite of salad. “We confirmed that those thugs Lisa phoned in Monday night were definitely professional hit men. Turns out they’re wanted in five states. But how much outside help the ring has been using, we have no way of knowing.”

I mulled that over. “That rumor might account for the large size of this ring. They must have something really good on those guys to keep them in line, or it’s one hell of a security risk.”

“I know. But a lot of the people there are scared. Now some of it is that company’s being bought out.”

“Yeah, I remember reading about that. Some private concern.”

Henry nodded. “Well, there’s a lot of talk about heads rolling, which is where the rumor comes in. People are getting scared about their jobs, and if heads do start rolling, a few discreet dismissals won’t be noticed.”

“That’s possible, I suppose. It still seems pretty risky.” I took a sip of water.

“Who knows?” Henry frowned. “And just to make things more complicated, CID is poking their noses in.”

I all but dropped my glass. “What the hell do the British have to do with this?”

“Beats me, but I’ve been informed that they have a couple agents on the case.”

“Something tells me I’m glad Lisa and I are working this one from the outside.”

“Well, don’t get too cocky. Your game seems to be the only shot we have at cracking this baby.”

I stared down at my lunch. “By the way, did you, uh, happen to get anything on that civilian I asked you about Monday?”

“That Flaherty thing? Not yet. You know, Sid, I wouldn’t for the world tell you how to run your life, but you might want to consider settling down. All these women, it could be asking for trouble, you know.”

“Henry, Henry, Henry.” I chuckled. “How many times have you made that little suggestion since I’ve known you?”

“I’m just concerned. You’re a good friend, and you’re damned good at what you do.”

“Well, Henry, I may just do as you suggest.” I leaned back in my chair.

Henry’s jaw dropped. “What? You mean you’re actually thinking about getting married?”

“Married? Hell, no. But I am going to ask Lisa to move into my bedroom.”

Henry laughed. “You think she’s really going to go for that.”

“If I do it right. She’s open to compromise.”

“I thought there wasn’t anything going on between you two.”

“It depends on what you call going on. She’s special, Henry. There’s something there.”

“I won’t argue with that.” Henry snorted good-naturedly. “But I’ve got a feeling you’re going to have to give up a whole lot more than closet space to get her to move in with you.”

“Probably. But it’s going to happen, I can guarantee that.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’m serious. It’s just a matter of time.”

Henry chuckled. “I think you’re right, Sid. Your days as a bachelor are numbered.”

I shifted. “Henry, I’m not getting married. Lisa and I will just be lovers, that’s all.”

“Whatever you say, Sid.”

Of course, Henry had been after me to get married almost as long as I’d known him. But he did not know the situation like I did, or more accurately, like I wanted to think I did – SEH]

I had the mail opened and ready by the time Sid got back. He seemed pretty preoccupied, so I shut his office door when I brought it all in to him.

“What happened with Henry?” I asked.

Sid shrugged. “He’s pretty worried about that leak, and he was not happy to hear our version of it.”

“Why should he be?”

“I think he has a pretty good idea where it’s coming from, but no way to prove it.”

“Then he’ll nail it that much faster. We can’t do anything about it.”

“True.”

I put a check in front of him. “The phone bill. Also, Eric Watson over at Fortune called. They want the foreign car piece and they want it by the end of next week.”

“Slave drivers.”

“Here’s the outline. I’ll need it by next Tuesday, sooner if you don’t want to pay overnight shipping on it.”

“You’re not much better.” Sid signed the check for the phone and handed it back.

“The stock market piece is ready to go, you just have to sign the cover letter. And here are the corrections on your singles column.”

“Great. Anything else sneaking up on us?”

“Not really. I’ve more or less got the outline on the toxics piece laid out, with a few suggestions for interviews.” I laid another sheet in front of him. “I’ll leave you to write the query letter on it. I’ll need your column back by tomorrow. Also, we’ve got to rough out the draft for the defense plant piece.”

Sid grimaced. “I guess it wouldn’t do to let Ed and Janet get a bad rep. When’s that due?”

“First of March, but you’re paying me to keep you from letting things slide ’til the last minute.” I bit my lip. “One last thing, Nigel Friedman called back about Rachel. He said he’d be at this number for the rest of the afternoon.”

“Great.” Sid all but pounced on the message slip.

I slipped out of the office, leaving the door open. A few minutes later, I heard him slam the phone down. I was back in front of his desk in a second.

“What happened?”

Sid glared at the blank computer screen. “According to Nigel, Rachel was part of the organizing committee. She got to the party before five to help Nigel and his friends set up and was there well past midnight.”

“That no good-”

“Not necessarily,” cut in Sid. “Apparently, Rachel’s been working on this trauma center thing for a couple years now. It’s her big cause.”

“And she’s sacrificing Nick?”

“Hold on. That’s the problem. Nigel says that trauma centers have saved a huge number of lives. But they’re expensive as hell to run, and because Rachel was at that party Saturday, schmoozing and giving a talk, Nigel’s group met their goal and will be able to finance a center down in Watts, where they desperately need one. Nigel called her a hero and a life-saver.”

I flopped into the chair in front of the desk. “You mean, they might not have if she hadn’t been there.”

“Yep.”

“But what about Nick? What if I hadn’t asked him to the movies? He would have been alone all night in that motel room.”

Sid nodded. “Precisely. On the other hand, I can’t condemn Rachel for what she did.”

“Well, I can.” I sighed. “Maybe I can’t. I don’t know.”

“In any case, I don’t think we need to discuss it with the boys. There’s really not much we can do about it.”

“Not now, at any rate.”

Depressed, I went back to my office.

There really wasn’t much to be done about the situation. Sid was still trying to avoid the responsibility issues, and I certainly didn’t have any authority. I had interviews to transcribe anyway, so I concentrated on that for the rest of the day.

Thursday, Sid and I concentrated on writing. Sid and Darby got into a very in-depth discussion on music. Right around four, Sid took off to run an errand, coming back just in time for dinner. Then Sid and I had racquetball leagues.

We got back to the house by eight o’clock. Sid and Darby went straight to the library and the piano. Nick and I wandered in after them. Nick had a book and flopped into one of the deep burgundy overstuffed chairs. I got out my knitting.

“All I could find was a violin part for an orchestra version,” said Sid, pulling some sheet music off the piano.

“Here it is.” Darby pulled a sheet out of the folding rack on the floor. “Little Fugue in G Minor, by J.S. Bach.”

“Yeah. It’s an adapted piano score from the original organ music, but it ought to be alright with this violin part.” Sid traded sheet music with Darby. “Can you read that okay?”

Darby frowned. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Great. Why don’t you get tuned up?”

Darby got out his violin. It took them forever to get it tuned, and even then, they weren’t satisfied.

“I think it’s the piano,” said Darby.

Sid ran his fingers across the keys.

“You’re right.” He played one note against the other. “That A’s a little flat. Let me get my tools.”

He propped open the lid on the ebony grand and went for the box of tuning forks and wrenches.

Sid was dirt poor as a kid. His aunt, a former Julliard student, taught him to play, and while they’d always had a piano, paying for a professional tuner was out of the question. So Sid had learned to do it himself. He could pay for a whole crew now, but can’t find anyone who will do it to his satisfaction.

Darby hovered, fascinated as Sid went to work.

“Our piano’s really out of tune.”

“I know.” Sid grunted. “Hit that A, will you?”

Darby played the key. “I wish I could tune pianos.”

“You ought to learn. It’s a good way to make some extra bucks.”

“But how? Do I take lessons?”

“I suppose I could teach you. But you’d better learn to play a little better first. Try that A again.”

“I guess I could ask Mom and Dad if I could take lessons again. But they were boring.”

“You just need practice, Darby. A again, now the B.”

“The songs they give you are so stupid.”

“Hm. Try A and B again. I think I know the book to get for you. It’s a bunch of beginner exercises written by good old J.S. Bach. I don’t know. I think that peg’s loose. I’ll have to get the repairman in. Think you can live with it as it is?”

“Sure. Can you?”

“I’ve lived with worse.”

Nick looked up from his book. “I can’t hear anything wrong.”

Sid and Darby looked at each other and shook their heads.

“Don’t worry, Nick,” I said. “Neither can I.”

“You’re not trying, either,” said Sid.

Nick put his book down. “This is boring.”

“It’s not so bad,” I replied, my needles clicking peacefully away as Sid and Darby slowly worked their way through the fugue.

“What are you making?” asked Nick.

“A baby afghan for a friend.”

“What’s a afghan?”

“A sort of blanket that’s either crocheted or knitted.”

Nick pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Darby says you make sweaters.”

“I make all sorts of things.”

“Why?”

“Because I like to. It’s very relaxing.”

“Is it hard?”

“It can be. But I’ve been knitting for a long time.”

“You got a lot of needles.”

“They’re all different sizes, so I can do different things.” I stopped working a moment. “Would you like me to show you how?”

“But isn’t knitting for girls?”

“Why?”

Nick shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Anyone can knit, Nick. It’s a matter of liking it, not whether you’re a boy or a girl.”

“Yeah. But the guys I know, they’re not so nice about stuff like that.”

“So don’t tell them. They’re the ones missing out.” I put down my afghan and picked up an empty pair of needles and a stray ball of yarn.

Nick sat at my feet. I bent over and showed him how to cast on. Sid and Darby plodded on through the fugue, debating the merit of adding a third part. I smiled, enjoying the peace.

The peace was shattered when I went to get ready for bed. As I pulled my nightgown from underneath my pillow, four spiders fell out of it. My scream was short but high-pitched and it apparently carried because shortly after I noticed that the spiders were rubber, Sid came running in.

“You alright?” he gasped.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, chuckling. “It’s just the boys again.” I held up the spiders. “They didn’t disturb my rest.”

Sid grumbled and shook his head.

“It’s just youth,” I said. “Why don’t we just ignore it?”

“It’s up to you,” he said skeptically.

“Why give them the satisfaction?”

Sid nodded, then paused. He shook his head and left.

Anne Louise Bannon

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