My Sweet Lisa is Book Seven in the Operation Quickline fiction series – Lisa’s kidnapping spurs a host of changes in both hers and Sid’s lives. Yep, it’s finally Real Love. Now what? You can read Chapter One here, or check out all the episodes so far here.
Getting up that Wednesday morning was harder than hard. I’d had the nightmare not once, but twice, and after the second time, it took even longer to get back to sleep. Sid still insisted on going running that morning, and by the time we’d eaten breakfast and gone to our offices, we’d both gotten snippy with each other.
Sid got a call on the Quickline phone within minutes of eight. Then an hour later, both our pagers went off.
“I’ve got to pick up that film from yesterday from the Code Five,” Sid told me, looking up from his pager. “Then lunch with Angelique. You want this one?”
I went to the Quickline phone and made the call. When the other line picked up, I gave the caller code and got the receiver back.
“Got a Code Three, Priority Two going all the way to the Red Ten stop,” said the caller, a woman whose voice I recognized. She named a Mexican restaurant out in Orange County. “Why don’t you get lunch at the bar?”
“Oh, I was told to tell you that Red Light is standing by. Just page him when you get the goods. He’ll get you his location for the drop.”
“I’ll do that.” I hung up and looked at Sid. “Looks like this is going to be an all-day one. I’ve got to get out to Orange County by lunchtime, then wherever Red Light is.”
“That’s the new guy on our line. Interesting.”
I shrugged. “I suppose. Anyway, I’ll call when I’m heading home.”
“Thanks.” He looked at me. “You doing okay?”
“Why do you ask?” I snapped.
Sid stepped back and I tried not to cry.
“Dang it!” I sniffed. “I did it again. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so snippy.”
He reached out and touched my face. “We’re both pretty beat.” He shrugged. “Maybe this means we’ll be too tired to do anything but sleep tonight. Listen, I’ll buzz your pager when I get home.”
“Thanks.” I smiled at him. “Well, if I’m going to be in my truck all day, I’m going to change clothes.”
Sid winced but let it go. He believes firmly in business wear during the working day, and it’s a legitimate position, which is why I usually go along with it. We work at home and that makes it easy to let things slide. However, one of the reasons my original career plan had been to become a college professor was that I could wear jeans to work. Since my work ethic is solid no matter what I happen to be wearing, Sid knew he had little room to complain when I decided that I did not want to Dress for Success, and the fact that we were now partners made it even harder.
I did wear an Oxford shirt rather than a t-shirt to go with my jeans, and a nice calico print vest. The sky was cloudless and bright blue, and the temperatures were in the low eighties already. I had my beloved dirty gray deck shoes on. They didn’t have as much armor hidden in them as my running shoes, but the running shoes had been of little use recently. I still had a bit of spring steel in my hair and a couple other surprises, not least of which was the Smith and Wesson Model Thirteen standard-issue FBI revolver in my purse.
It was not a good day to be doing a lot of driving, however. Even though I tried to distract myself with multiple cassette tapes, I couldn’t help thinking. Sid and I were now “a couple.” In some ways, it was everything I had hoped it would be. I loved the man desperately, was utterly committed to him. He’d offered me a lifetime commitment the previous summer. The only reason I’d refused it was because I couldn’t handle him sleeping around. But he said he was done with sleeping around, and I believed him. He was far too weirded-out by it for it not to be genuine. So, now what? It seemed like both of us were dancing around that question.
I arrived in Orange County well before lunch, so I hung around at the local mall until it was late enough, then went to the restaurant in question. I got the drop in my purse as I sat in the bar. My contact and I could have said hello, but it’s better when you don’t. She did give me a wink after she’d gone past the chair where my monster of a purse had been hung. I continued munching on the rather lame salsa and ate enchiladas, rice, and beans. After double checking the manila envelope that she’d left, I paged Red Light to the phone at the back of the restaurant. He wanted to meet me at the lunch counter a truck stop in Ontario. He did not mean the Canadian province, but a city on the western edge of San Bernardino County, California. I told him to look for my vest.
I groaned. More driving and trying not to think. Still, there wasn’t much else to do. I got to the truck stop in time to enjoy another late lunch. I had chicken-fried steak and thoroughly enjoyed it. The thing is, I eat like a horse and do not gain weight. Sid can’t. I do not know why his system is so delicate, but there’s a reason he’s so fussy about healthy eating. His system does not handle fats and other junk food like mine does. So, I wait until he’s not around to indulge. It’s only fair.
I was sopping up the last of my gravy with a few French Fries, and wondering why I hadn’t seen my contact yet, when a youngish man with straw-colored hair cut in a mullet and an overfull mustache plopped himself on the stool next to where I was sitting. I cringed. I knew this idiot. We’d worked a case earlier that fall and he’d totally messed up. Even Sid had conceded that the kid did have some skills when it came to disappearing when he needed to. Nonetheless, the kid was cocksure and asking for trouble.
“Big Red,” he said softly. “Good to see you.”
“I’m Little Red,” I growled. “He’s Big Red.”
Big Red was Sid’s code name. Mine was Little Red.
Red Light shrugged. “You two are a package deal from what I’ve heard.”
I tried not to push his face into the counter where we sat. “You’d better not let Big Red hear you say that. He still wants to take you apart after last fall.”
At least Red Light trembled. I put the manila envelope with the drop into his lap.
“This is going all the way to Red Ten,” I told him.
I sincerely hoped he had. I signaled the waitress that I was done while Red Light ordered a burger and fries. I got my check, paid, and found a pay phone in a secluded corner.
“I’m in San Bernardino,” I told the answering machine. “Have no idea when I’ll be back home, but I’m on my way.”
That was another part of the weirdness that I was dealing with. Somehow, over the previous winter, Sid and I had gotten into the habit of making sure the other knew where we were. Maybe it was the pagers. We weren’t supposed to be using them for personal business, but Sid and I paged each other relentlessly with our respective whereabouts. We did check in calls to let the other know what was going on. If Sid was doing a drop or pick up, he’d call to let me know that he was on his way home. I did the same. It was almost as if we were married.
I cringed. I had always thought that Sid and I had the kind of emotional intimacy of a married couple. Only now that it seemed like we were about to be the real thing, I was backing off. Which totally did not make sense. Marriage, in a way, was what I had always wanted from him.
I put Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man album in the cassette player and focused on singing along as I fought my way through the traffic on Interstate 10. The only thing that saved me was that the worst of the traffic was going the other way.
I got home in time for dinner, but not by much. After we ate, Sid asked if I wanted to go out.
I made a face. “I’ve been driving all over the place. I’d really rather just stay here and read.”
He nodded, but with a surprisingly forlorn look on his face. I decided I could compromise, and we both landed in the library, me with my book and he with that same classical piece he’d been working on earlier the night before. When it came time for bed, I did leave my bedroom to say goodnight. Sid held me close and pressed his lips against my forehead.
“You know,” he said. “I’m really liking this.”
I couldn’t help smiling. “I am, too. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, my sweet Lisa. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Sid.”
The nightmare arrived right on time. I sat up in bed, gasping, as Sid slid in through the bedroom door.
“You okay?” He sat down next to me.
“Yeah.” I swallowed. “It wasn’t as bad this time.”
Metal scraped and clattered. It came from the back of the house. Motley growled from the floor.
“What the hell?” Sid whispered, getting up.
“Motley, sh. Now, come.” I followed Sid to the offices, the dog at my heels. “It sounds like something’s in the trash cans. Could it be a cat?”
“Not the way Motley’s acting.”
Sid shut the door to his office, made sure the blackout curtain was in place, then turned on the bank of monitors inside the wall unit. He squinted at a screen in the middle.
“Someone’s going through our trash,” he said.
“Could it be a homeless person?” I said, trying to see around his head.
We’d had a couple come into the neighborhood, but never at night.
“No. He’s dressed for a break-in.” Sid looked at the other monitors. “He’s gone.”
Then everything went black. Motley growled and barked fiercely.
“He cut the power,” I said.
Sid opened his bottom desk drawer and got out our night goggles. “I want to see what he’s looking for.”
We left Motley in Sid’s office, still barking. The intruder was in the kitchen, going through the refrigerator. Light from the neighbor’s security system reflected against the kitchen garbage can in the middle of the floor. Sid motioned me back into my sewing room.
“So, are we civilians or operatives?” he whispered.
“He looks like an operative. Could be KGB checking us out.”
“Good point. Civilians we are.” Sid took my goggles and presumably stashed them someplace.
Just in time, too. I heard the sewing room door open and let out a loud scream. Whoever was on the other side scrambled back down the hall to the kitchen. I stumbled around my cutting table and found the flashlight I kept in the sewing desk. As I turned it on, we heard the kitchen garbage can go over. Sid and I hurried through the hall.
“Who’s there?” Sid yelled. “I’m calling the cops!”
The back door hung open and in the beam of the flashlight I could see garbage all over the kitchen floor. Sid went over and shut the door. A minute later, someone banged on the front door.
“Police!” called the man outside.
I followed Sid to the front of the house. Sid opened the door a crack.
“Beverly Hills P.D., sir. Your neighbor called, said there was a prowler in your yard.”
Sid glanced back at me, then opened the door all the way. “Uh, yeah. He cut the power to the house. Looks like he came in and out of the kitchen.”
The officer turned to his partner and pointed to the side of the house, then got his own flashlight out.
“He probably flipped the breakers,” I said. “I can get them on in a second.”
“Stay here, Ma’am.” The officer pulled his gun. “We’ll verify that the place is clear first, then you and your husband can see if there’s anything missing.”
I felt Sid’s warning squeeze and didn’t protest. Okay, it was reasonable to assume that we were married.
I heard a cat yowl, then Long John came bolting in toward the library, followed by Blueberry.
“Fritz is out,” I grumbled.
We kept the cats inside at night partly because at five months old, the kittens were still too young to be out on their own and partly because Mrs. Hemphill, the neighbor who had probably called the police, had complained to us more than once about how Fritz seemed to be eying her prize Persian. I made a mental note to contact the vet about how soon Fritz could be neutered. Motley was still raising hell inside Sid’s office.
The two officers came down the other hallway, then checked the outer office quickly.
“The place is clear,” the first one said. “Looks like you scared him away. Can you check and see if anything is missing?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Let me get the lights on.”
I went out to the side yard where the circuit breaker box was and flipped everything on. A moment later, the light went on in the kitchen, and when I went in, Sid was telling the officers that we’d been asleep when Motley began growling and barking. Someone went into our room, and I screamed, and the person left. We’d put Motley in the office before calling the police, only they’d already been called.
The cops took our information, gave us their number to call if we discovered that something was missing after all. As soon as they were gone, Sid let Motley out of the office. The dog ran straight for the kitchen and began sniffing around. I had to pull him out of the garbage can before he ate some of the chicken bones from that night’s dinner. There was a trail of something disgusting on the floor with cat paw prints in it, as well.
“Oh, Sid, Fritz got out.”
He yawned. “I’ll get a tuna can open.”
Tuna was about the only way we could get Fritz, or any of the cats to come when they were called. As soon as Sid had the can open, the other two came running in and demanded tuna. He dished it out, then went to the back door and waved the can around. A minute later, Fritz came trotting in, demanding his share.
Watching the cats suddenly gave me an idea.
“Sid, that guy. He was going through the trash and the refrigerator,” I said slowly.
Sid yawned again. “People do hide things in their fridges.”
“Yeah, but that’s assuming he was a regular burglar. He went through the trash outside first.”
“Right.” Thinking, Sid rinsed out the tuna can. He grinned at me. “Lisa, what would most people do if they got a jar like we did yesterday?”
I grinned back. “They’d eat the caviar, then throw the jar out.”
Sid nodded, then put the tuna can into the garbage can and placed that back under the sink where it belonged.
“Or they would put it in the fridge to save for a special occasion,” Sid said.
“Or they might eat the caviar and save the jar as a souvenir.”
“What they wouldn’t do is check for a microdot.”
“Where’s the jar?” I asked. Motley finished lapping up whatever the cats had tracked through on the floor and whined.
“I gave it to Henry.” Sid gazed unseeing toward the office. “Could it be possible that Danschenko gave us that jar on purpose, figuring we were civilians, then sent someone to retrieve it?”
“That makes sense. But why do something like that?”
Sid shrugged. “If he’s being watched by somebody and needed to get that microdot to someone else, that would be a convoluted way to do it, but probably safer than keeping it on him.”
“Or maybe he’s setting somebody up.” I bit my thumbnail.
“That’s probably more than likely.” Sid yawned again and stretched. “Just who is he trying to set up?”
“That’s a good question. Should we call Henry?”
“Sure. I’ll have to try and crack that code tomorrow, too. Or… This morning, actually. What time is it?”
I looked at the read out on the microwave oven. “Three-thirty-seven.”
“Oh, crap. So, what do we have on the docket?”
I yawned. “Dr. Heilland at ten, then writing work, then I’m serving at Holy Thursday mass at seven.”
“Tell you what, honey. Do you mind coming to bed in my room? The bed’s bigger and we’ll get more sleep.”
My heart did flip flops and I swallowed as the warmth filled me. Sid, however, saw something different.
“Your virtue will be safe.” He put his arm around my shoulders, and we staggered toward his room. “I’m too tired to do anything.”
“Okay.” I said, feeling a little disappointed, but also kind of excited.
I had been in Sid’s bedroom before. If he got sick or something, or if Conchetta hadn’t emptied his laundry hamper when I needed some extra clothes to wash with some fabric I’d bought. I had never, however, been in his bed, even without him in it. Sid’s room was tastefully decorated in dark colors, with rosewood modern furniture, and the bed was a king-size waterbed.
The waterbed, by the way, was not about his sex life. [Though it didn’t hurt. – SEH] Sid had gotten hooked when he’d stayed at someone else’s place, and she’d had a waterbed. He said it was the most comfortable bed he’d ever slept in.
Sid pulled up the covers and helped me in, then went around to the other side. The bed rocked as he climbed in.
“Oh, wow,” I gasped.
“Goodnight, honey.” The bed rocked again as Sid rolled over and gave me a warm kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you. Goodnight.”
I wanted to keep kissing, but Sid rolled away and was soon chattering in his sleep as he always did.