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.
When I’d finally gotten to bed that Monday night, I slept for the first time since Lisa had been taken, which is probably why I overslept the next morning. When I looked at the time and realized that it was after eight, my stomach clenched. Neither Lisa nor the rest of her family would have called that oversleeping.
Which meant that I was still the first one up. Conchetta had left the usual fruit salad for breakfast. I went ahead and ate. Around nine, she called to let me know that she would be a little late. She was going to stop by the grocery store to pick up the groceries she’d ordered the day before.
Althea and Mae were up by the time Conchetta arrived. The three of us helped Conchetta put away the groceries.
“Sid, do not move those,” Conchetta said firmly as I tried to rearrange the cans in the pantry. “I am just going to put them back.”
Althea laughed. “Sid, you should know better than to mess with a woman’s kitchen.”
“But it’s my kitchen,” I said. “I own this house. Well, the partnership does.”
Another thing Lisa had objected to when we set it up, but I’d given up paying her, she’d given up paying rent, and the whole point of the partnership was that she contributed equally to the house and its upkeep.
“Mae, please leave the chiles out,” Conchetta said. She looked at me. “I’m going to make chiles rellenos tonight, and enchiladas for the children.”
I smiled even though I was not entirely cheered. Granted, Conchetta’s chiles rellenos were one of my favorites of her dishes. But it was also Lisa’s favorite. Conchetta made them spicy enough to sear a steak. Lisa and I both loved extra spicy food.
I took the mail into Lisa’s office. There wasn’t much, just more rejections. Around a quarter to eleven, I heard the police radio in my office going, then saw the line for the writing business light up as Reyes or somebody made a call. I filed the rejections in Lisa’s tickler file. There was a lot that still could go wrong, but even Reyes had been optimistic the day before.
A little after eleven-thirty, the phone rang. It was my personal line. I picked it up in the living room.
“We’re making a change,” said the voice from the day before. “Bring the money and the girl to the filling station at 115th and Normandie tonight at ten o’clock.”
“The money won’t be ready until tomorrow,” I said.
“Get what you can and the Martinez girl. Tonight.”
“I want to talk to Lisa.”
The line went dead. I went to my office. Reyes was waiting for me.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Reyes glared at the phone. “I don’t think they’re playing games. I’m thinking they’ve lost their hostage.”
Relief spread through my bones. “Lisa’s escaped.”
Reyes looked at me. “It’s possible.”
It was more than possible between what Henry had told me on the Sunday night before and what I knew of what Lisa could do, but I couldn’t tell Reyes that. He looked at me as if I were going a little crazy. Reyes clearly thought Lisa was dead, although he didn’t say so. But he didn’t know how very good Lisa was at getting people off their guard then whacking them. He didn’t know that Henry had asked me about that very possibility two nights before. It had probably taken Lisa some time to get the kidnappers thinking she was harmless, which was why she hadn’t escaped sooner.
“Sid?” Mae called as she came into Lisa’s office. “What’s going on?”
I glanced at Reyes. I didn’t want to get Mae’s hopes up, but figured I’d better tell her something.
“The kidnappers are changing things up,” I said. “I’d better call the bank.”
“Hold off,” Reyes said. “Something came up this morning and we may not need it.”
He returned to the office and made another call, I didn’t know to who.
Around a quarter after noon, there was more chatter from the police radio and a second later the business line lit up. I couldn’t help wondering what Reyes thought was going on. Another minute later, Reyes came out of the office, pulling on a sport coat over his shoulder holster.
“We’re going to keep monitoring your phones for the time being,” he told me as he headed for the front of the house. “But I’ve gotta go. I think we’ve got something.” He looked at me. “I’ll call you as soon as I’ve got some news.”
Mae went to get her parents, and Althea immediately got out her rosary beads. I left the three of them and Nick in the living room and prowled restlessly. Henry called around one p.m., telling the cops that the call was personal. I took it in my bedroom after locking the door.
“I probably shouldn’t give you a heads up,” Henry said. “But Reyes already told me that you thought that Lisa had escaped.”
“They lost their hostage, Henry.” I blinked and shut my eyes.
“They had to. That was the only way that my liaison was going to tell me or the cops where to find the kidnappers.”
I swallowed. “What do you mean?”
“Lisa had to get out of there before they could call in a tip to the cops.” Henry sighed. “I don’t want you to get pissed, Sid, but apparently my liaison has known all along where they were holding her and had a crew surveilling the place. The problem was he was caught between a rock and a hard place because he has been working with the Medellín cartel and can’t lose face with them, but at the same time, his bosses are pretty pissed that he helped the kidnappers out by providing the van and the safe house. He says he was tricked into it. Even odds on that one.”
“Yeah, I know. But the good news is that he was able to figure out a way to make it work. If Lisa escaped, then he could call in the cops on the theory that she would call them for help, then let them know where she’d been held. That way, he doesn’t have to take the heat from the Colombians.”
“Only one more reason why we hate those bastards.”
Henry sighed. “I know, but I have to cut the guy some slack, for a lot of reasons, and, no, you don’t have Need to Know. I hate to keep you in the dark about the rest, but things could still get ugly. Just keep your head, will you?”
“Of course,” I replied, trying to tamp down the sarcasm. “No problem. Piece of cake.”
I hung up and prowled again. So, Lisa had escaped, and that gave me hope. That didn’t mean that she was safe. In fact, I had to figure that she was someplace where she couldn’t get to a phone, or we would have heard from her by then. I had a feeling Henry didn’t know where she was, either, or he would have said something.
We got the first real news from Reyes at quarter to three. I put it on the speaker phone so that everyone could hear.
“We got an anonymous tip this morning about a potential location about fifteen miles north of Gorman,” Reyes said.
“Good gravy, that’s in the middle of nowhere,” I said.
“Pretty much,” Reyes said. “LA County Sheriff’s and LAPD SWAT teams staged a joint operation. Air surveillance confirmed that the van was at the cabin, and we moved in at fourteen hundred, and we got all four of the kidnappers.”
“What about Lisa?” I asked.
“That’s the not so good news. She wasn’t there.”
“Oh no!” Althea gasped.
“It’s not time to panic, Mrs. Wycherly,” Reyes said. “Sheriff’s air surveillance has continued running passes and hasn’t seen any fresh graves and the van was empty. We can’t say for certain she’s alright until we recover her, but there’s room for hope. It could be she was never there. We did find surveillance photos of the Martinez girl, some of which had Lisa in them. There was a room that looked like it was being used as a prison and someone had scratched something into the wall, the letters P, R, O, V, then two seven, colon, fourteen. That mean anything to you?”
I laughed. “Proverbs twenty-seven, fourteen. It’s Lisa’s favorite Bible verse. She was there and I’ll bet she got away.”
“One of the kidnappers had gotten a pretty nasty knock on the head. Wait.” His voice got softer as someone else spoke to him. “No shit!” He laughed as the other voice responded. “Well, I’ll be damned. You were right, Mr. Hackbirn. I don’t know how she got out of those manacles, but the Sheriff’s air unit just spotted her about fifteen miles to the south of the cabin. U.S. Forestry Service is sending out a medevac chopper for her now. Listen, I gotta go. I’ll call you back as soon as I know where they’re taking her.”
“Thank God, oh, thank you, God!” Althea sobbed as I held her and pushed the button to hang up the phone.
Mae also sobbed onto her father’s chest. Tears streamed from Nick’s eyes as he hugged Althea from behind, and Bill’s eyes were wet. My cheeks were, too.
As soon as we’d made the calls to let Neil and everyone know that Lisa was finally safe, I went to her room and got out a small suitcase from her closet.
“I’d better pack some fresh clothes for her,” I told Althea. I looked at her. “We might as well pack some clothes and stuff for us, as well. We don’t know what shape she’s in yet. If she has to stay in the hospital for a few days, I want to be close by.”
“I will definitely want to,” Althea said, and set to work shifting clothes in the two suitcases she and Bill had brought.
We were ready to go when Reyes called and said that Lisa looked to be in good condition, according to the paramedics, but that they were taking her to a hospital in Valencia.
Bill drove Althea and Nick up in Lisa’s truck. Mae rode with me in my BMW. We couldn’t get there fast enough.