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My Sweet Lisa – Chapter Four

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.

WARNING – Given that it’s Sid’s voice, the language in the below episode gets pretty raw and potentially offensive, as does one of the scenes.

Sid’s Voice

The one good thing about having a crowd at the house was that it gave me plenty to do. I was up first, ran and showered, then started breakfast for everybody. The kids played, but you could tell they were upset from the way they kept acting up. Somehow, Mae, Neil, and Althea got them all ready for church, and by the time everyone left the house, my ears were ringing.

I started in on cleaning up the breakfast dishes, trying not to think. I’d done enough of that the night before.

The phone rang and the line for our writing business lit up.

My heart pounded as I picked it up. “Hello?”

“Mr. Hackbirn, this is Ivan Danschenko. I apologize for interrupting your Sunday, but I wished to confirm the time for our meeting tomorrow.”

“Oh.” I took a deep breath.

I’d forgotten that we’d set up the interview for the next day.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel, Mr. Danschenko,” I said, my gut twisting. I so wanted to find out what, if anything, he knew about Lisa’s kidnapping. But Henry had been right about me staying out of it. “We’ve had a bit of an emergency here.”

“I am very sorry, Mr. Hackbirn.” He paused. “Is nothing that serious, I hope?”

“Serious enough. Look. I’ll call you as soon as things settle down.”

“Of course. I am looking forward to our conversation.”

“So, am I. Thanks.”

I couldn’t help wondering about that call, though. I debated calling Henry, but the family came back from Mass and along with them, Kathy and Jesse, and Frank and Esther. Kathy and Althea insisted on helping me make lunch for everyone. Frank and Esther kept the little ones more or less entertained, which helped with the bickering. John Reynolds stopped in long enough to eat and apologized because he couldn’t stay longer. Bill still wasn’t saying much and looked like he would explode at any second. As soon as lunch was cleared, Althea beckoned me into Lisa’s sewing room.

“Sid, um, we’ve got to talk.” She drummed her fingers on the cutting table. “It’s about Bill. Ever since Janey told us where Lisa’s been living, he’s been a little worried. Not about the two of you doing…” She waved her hand in explanation.

“He’s afraid I’ll break her heart.”

“I do think so. I know I was. That’s why I was so glad last summer when she got engaged to George.” Althea swallowed. “Now, I talked to Lisa again last Christmas, and she swears she’s happy with you, and I believe her. And Bill does, too, deep down. It’s just that with her being in such danger, Bill’s upset and scared, like we all are. He just doesn’t know how to express it except as anger.”

“I understand that.”

Suddenly, Bill burst into the room.

“You!” His eyes blazed and he was ready to come after me.

“And here we are,” sighed Althea.

“What the hell are you doing in here?” Bill stepped toward me.

“He’s talking to me.” Althea advanced on him.

You must understand, Bill is a big man, and Althea is tiny. Had the circumstances been anything but what they were, I would have laughed myself silly to see that tiny little woman going hammer and tongs after that huge man.

“He’s done talking.” Bill reached for me, and Althea got right in the way.

“William Wycherly! You just stop that right now. Landsakes, poor Sid is grieving, too, and you starting a fight isn’t going to make things easier on any of us. You need to start talking about your feelings, and your sadness, and stop being so blamed angry.”

“Oh, Grandpa!” Janey came into the room and the tension began to melt. “Come on, we’ve got to talk.”

Bill glared briefly at me, then let Janey take his hand and lead him from the room.

Exhausted, Althea found the big red velvet Victorian couch next to the far wall and sank down onto it.

“I’m sorry about him.”

“It’s alright.” I bent and picked up a straight pin from the carpet. “I’ve been there, myself.”

Althea sniffed as she looked around the room. “It’s such a sweet little room. It’s just like her. Oh, Sweet Mother Mary, have mercy on my little girl!”

“Mrs. Wycherly?” Nick suddenly appeared in the door, then hurried over to her. “It’ll be alright.”

Nick sat down next to her and put his arms around her as she sobbed.

“I know, honey. I guess I’m still scared for her.”

“So am I.”

“Then we’ll just hang on and somehow together we’ll be brave.”

Darby came in, too. “Can I help, Grandma?”

“You sure can, sweetheart.” She put her arms around both boys and held them.

I still had the pin in my hand and poked it into the cork top of the cutting table in the center of the room.

“Grandma!” called two very young voices. “Grandma!”

The twins came running in.

“Grandma,” said Marty. “We got boo-boos and Mommy’s crying with Daddy, and we got no one to kiss them.”

“I hurt here.” Mitch pointed to his knee.

Althea sniffed and released the older boys. “Well, now. We’d better take care of that right away. Come here.”

The twins crawled into her lap, probably looking for attention more than anything else. Althea immediately dispensed kisses.

“You were crying.” Marty touched her cheek.

“Yes, I was.”

“Is Aunt Lisa coming back?” Mitch asked.

“Honey, I’m afraid I don’t know. I sure hope so, and I’m praying that she will.”

“Teach me to pray!” Marty demanded.

“Okay, I suppose I could. You know prayer is talking to God.”

“I want to pray like the ladies in church with the necklaces that they don’t wear,” Mitch said.

I slid into Lisa’s bedroom.

“That’s the Rosary. It’s a very powerful prayer, so why don’t I teach you that?”

“You don’t have your necklace,” Mitch said.

I picked up Lisa’s beads from where they hung on the brass head frame of her bed.

“That’s okay, honey,” Althea said. “You can still pray the Rosary without your beads.”

“You don’t have to,” I said.

I handed her Lisa’s beads.

“Why, thank you, Sid.” Althea smiled up at me. “Where did you get this?”

“It’s Lisa’s. She keeps it on her bed.” I smiled weakly. “It was an accident that I saw it there.”

In truth, it was one of Lisa’s nightmares that had started the previous summer. The beads were part of the glue that held her together.

I left the room. There was nothing I had to add.

Neil took his kids home shortly after dinner. Frank, Esther, Kathy, and Jesse left around then, too. Nick stayed, refusing to go with Neil with a surprising belligerence. Mae and Althea returned to the living room. Mae had asked about their relatives in Southern Florida and Althea went off on some tirade about how troublesome they were, and that her niece Maggie was coming in for trouble for not being married, and felt really bad about it, and Aunt Amanda, Maggie’s mother, had tried to berate Althea because Lisa wasn’t married, and I really did not want to hear any more.

Fortunately, Henry called and asked to speak to me privately. Commander Reyes had told me he wouldn’t monitor obviously personal calls, so I took the call in my bedroom after locking the door.

“Well?” I asked.

“The Company liaison is acting really hinky, but I’ve got a feeling Lisa is still with us.” Henry paused. “How good is she at jumping on an opportunity?”

“Terrific at it. In fact, I’ve been wondering if the reason why we haven’t gotten a ransom demand is that she’s escaped.” I stopped, my heart pounding. “Henry, has she?”

“Uh, no. That much I’m sure of. I’m sorry, Sid, but I can’t say more, and really don’t even know that much more. Just that we’re working on it, okay?” He paused. “It’s even more ticklish than I thought, and don’t ask.”

“Listen, Danschenko called this morning. He wanted to confirm our interview tomorrow, but I don’t know.” I repeated the conversation we’d had.

“Oh, shit.” Henry sounded exhausted. “That’s yet another wrinkle. Listen, you did good. Just keep watching your ass around that guy. We know that he’s trying to make all kinds of friends, which probably means that he’s going to screw half of them.”

“Is he involved in this?”

“I have no way of knowing. I just know not to trust him. Period.” Henry paused again. “I don’t want to get your hopes up because things could change at any time. There are no guarantees here. But last I heard, Lisa is still alive.”

I closed my eyes as my gut wrenched and my heart leapt. “Okay. Thanks for saying so.”

“Just don’t tell anyone over at your house, especially the cops. We can’t have them getting over-excited and trying something. Just between us, right?”

“Right.”

We hung up after that and I tried to start my breathing again.

Once again at loose ends, I made my way to the library. Bill was there, sitting in one of the wingback chairs and staring off into space. I went, instead to the rumpus room. Nick was there, knitting as he watched television. I swallowed. Lisa had taught him when he’d first come to us a little over a year before, yet another example of the profound effect she’d had on mine and Nick’s lives. Nick had decided that he really liked knitting, although he’d told me he didn’t do it up in Sunnyvale, where he lived with his mother. He didn’t want to get teased by his schoolmates.

“How are you doing?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Everybody keeps talking about how Lisa will be okay. I’m scared, Dad. I keep trying to pray, but it doesn’t help.”

I sat down next to him. “Why not?”

“Well, my grandma.” He meant on his mother’s side. I didn’t have a mother. “It was really bad. They called me out of class that day, and Mrs. Corea, the school secretary, told me that they’d taken my grandma to the hospital and that Mrs. Corea was going to bring me there. She said I should pray that Grandma would be alright, so, I did. Only Grandma died. She’d had a heart attack. Mom was really mad, at first, but then she said that Grandma had gotten the best care she could have.” Rachel, Nick’s mother, was an emergency room doctor, so she would have been in a position to know that. Nick winced. “Grandma always said to plan for the worst.”

I sighed. Being an atheist, I didn’t have much to say. Still, I had to say something.

“I don’t know about praying, son. You know that. But I do know that finding some way to hold onto hope is a good thing. The truth is we don’t know for sure that—” I choked, then swallowed. “That the worst has happened. And until we do, we have to focus on hoping that she’s alive.”

Nick nodded and I held him for several minutes more. I so wanted to give him the small ray of hope that I had, but Henry was right. It was better not to say anything.

Nick went back to knitting and watching TV, and I remembered why I’d come into the rumpus room. I got up and unlocked the cabinet where the liquor was, then pulled out one of my better bourbons, got two snifters, and one ice cube in each, and took it all to the library.

I wasn’t sure what reception I’d get, but it was time to at least attempt peace. After all, the one thing that tore Lisa apart like nothing else was seeing her father and me at odds with each other. I sat down in the matching chair to the one Bill was in and put the bourbon and snifters on the lamp table between us. Bill looked at me.

I lifted the bottle. “It’s a single barrel.”

He shrugged. I poured for each of us. Bill took the drink, sipped, then blew out his breath.

“That’s good,” he muttered.

“I get being angry,” I said after a minute’s silence.

“Really?”

“Yeah. I remember you telling me how hard it is to watch your kid suffer. I had no clue then. I didn’t know I had Nick yet.” I looked at him. “But I also know how hard it is to see Lisa suffer.”

“You know, I wanted a fight.” Bill stared straight ahead.

“So did I.”

“You could have taken me on.”

I chuckled. “Possibly.”

There was an extended pause.

“That is the problem with these Caulfield women.” Bill sighed.

Caulfield was Althea’s maiden name. Her mother, Bessie, was, well, yet another force of nature.

“Yeah, I’ve noticed.”

We didn’t finish the bottle, but we did get a snootful.

It did not make running the next morning any easier. I managed it, with Nick and Motley beside me, as usual. I went, showered, and got dressed, then went to the breakfast room to find that Mae and Althea had already made breakfast. Nick fed Motley and the cats.

Bill staggered in and Althea glared at him.

“Just how late did you two stay up?” she demanded.

Given that I was on the edge of a headache, I grunted.

“Don’t make no difference, Althea,” Bill said, sliding into a chair.

I got up. “I think we could both use some menudo.”

“What’s that?” Bill asked.

“A Mexican soup that actually does some good for a hangover.” I went to the kitchen, got the cure out of the freezer, and put the container in the microwave.

Shortly after that, I checked in with Commander Reyes and his crew. There was nothing to report. I pulled Reyes aside.

“How bad a sign is this?” I asked him, figuring that would be the logical question to ask, assuming I didn’t know what I did.

Reyes sighed. “I don’t know. Look. You’re not stupid. We both know this could go either way.”

I nodded.

There wasn’t much else to do. Around ten, Conchetta came in, wearing a Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt and bearing the mail, and I went through it, sitting at Lisa’s desk. There were three checks, including one for Lisa, several rejections, and one acceptance. Fortunately, the due date on the acceptance was a month out. The electric and cable bills were there, too, plus one for Lisa’s sole department store charge card. Bills were something Lisa took care of, but I needed something to do. I called the bank where we had the joint account for the household expenses and verified that we had enough in it to pay the electric and cable bills. I hadn’t really needed to. Lisa had made sure that there was plenty in our account to pay our expenses.

The joint account was relatively new. I had told Lisa that fall that I really didn’t want to consider her my employee anymore. We were, in fact, a team. Lisa, as usual, had called me on it early that December when my accountant had sent the payroll checks.

“This is why we are not fully a team,” she had said, holding up the check.

The problem was that it felt really unfair to put that big a hole in her income, especially since she was still doing a lot of the chores that I’d been paying her to do. So, that January, we put together a partnership agreement and had set up the joint household account. Lisa had asked me a couple years before to help her make some investments, and we were both surprised to see how well they’d done. Which is when I’d put my foot down and insisted that she make a will. I also had her get signed in as co-owner to all my financial accounts, just in case, and she had insisted on getting me signed in as co-owner to her accounts.

So, now we were at just in case. I did not want to think about it, but I knew I had to. As Henry had said the night before, there were no guarantees, and just because he’d had reason to believe then that Lisa was alive, he could not promise that had remained the case.

Mae was Lisa’s primary beneficiary. I had told Lisa that since I had more money, it didn’t make sense to make me the primary. I wondered how much paperwork there would be involved in getting Lisa’s accounts transferred to her sister. Since I was co-owner, I hoped that would mean I wouldn’t have to do much. Lisa had made me executor, so that might make things easier.

Henry would probably handle whatever paperwork would be involved with Quickline. I would have to get a new partner. That one hurt. I got too much business. I needed a partner. But the thought of working with someone else besides Lisa… I just couldn’t imagine it.

I put the thought aside. Lisa’s purse sat next to her desk. I’d brought it in from her truck, well, I wasn’t sure when, but I’d done it. It bulged with photocopies, and I realized she’d gotten them earlier that awful day of her birthday. I pulled out the papers and put them on top of one of the file cabinets behind her desk. I could go through them later. It was a sizeable stack. Lisa was nothing if not thorough, one of the reasons she did most of the paper research.

Still, there were bills to be paid and Lisa had control of the joint checkbook. I finally found it in her purse. Aside from the fact that paying bills was primarily Lisa’s responsibility, there was also the reality that Lisa could get fussy about how the checkbook was handled. I made sure that I put the liner between the copy paper and the next check underneath, desperately hoping that she’d have a chance to take me to task over it. I also made a point of recording each check in the register. I went ahead and paid the bill for her Broadway store charge card, too, even though it would really piss her off. Assuming she’d get the chance to be pissed off that I had.

Bill wandered into the outer office.

“Anything yet?” he asked, knowing full well I would have said so if there was.

“No.” I opened the top drawer in her desk, looking for stamps.

He picked up one of the checks I’d written. “What the hell?”

“It’s for paying bills,” I said.

“Why the hell are you two not married?”

I sighed. “Apparently, we’re not ready.”

He looked at me, his big brown eyes piercing in the same way Lisa’s did. “It’s about you being faithful, isn’t it?”

“It is. Although, it’s probably less of an issue now than it was.”

Bill’s eyebrows rose. I looked away. He wandered off. Finished with the bills, I found myself wandering through the house yet again. There wasn’t a room that Lisa hadn’t touched. Even in my own bedroom, she’d left signs of her presence in the two afghans that she’d made and brought in when I’d been sick. We were partners in business. Our assets were, technically, mingled. Bill’s question had been dead on. Why weren’t we married? If I had to be honest, it seemed like we were, except for the sex, and that was my fault.

I kept thinking about the previous Valentine’s Day when we that fight. It was the night after Valentine’s, actually. Nick having been born on February fourteen meant that any more romantic celebration was put on hold until after I’d taken him back to Sunnyvale and come home. Strangely enough, I didn’t mind the postponement.

It was that dress she wore. I said formal. I got out my tux, and she wore this red sequined number. It had a turtleneck and was long sleeved. It hugged every inch of her down to her hips, then flared slightly into soft drapes around her ankles. And the back was open. I know Lisa was thinking it was very modest. Maybe it was. Maybe it was just her.

I knocked on the door to her room, she opened it, and my excitement grew. She had her hair up, and her eyes glowed.

We went to dinner and the opera. Lisa’s not an opera fan but had bought the tickets for me. So, no surprise, she got fidgety. That was okay. I was pretty itchy, myself, though for a different reason.

We kissed at the door to her room, and I just followed her into the sewing room.

“You are one persistent fellow,” she said, laughing.

She turned away and dropped her cape on the end of her couch.

“Persistence will out,” I said.

I stepped up behind her, kissed her ear and slowly did what I’d been aching all night to do. I slid my hands into her dress.

She gasped and leaned back into me. I whispered her name, then kissed her just below her ear and then the back of her jawbone. At the same time, I pulled one of my hands free and slid partway out of my tux jacket.

When one is on a roll, one doesn’t stop. I switched hands, and still kissing her, got the rest of the way out of my jacket, untied my bow tie, then undid the back of her turtleneck and kissed the back of her neck to the top of her spine. She moaned softly and leaned into me, then slipped around and kissed me, our tongues mingling. She’d been kissing me that way since the previous summer. All I could think was that she’d gotten over her distaste for French kissing in a big way.

I moved us over to the couch and we sat, still kissing, still exploring. She undid the top button to my shirt. As we necked, I carefully, carefully pulled the front of her dress down. She slid herself out of the sleeves. And there she was.

“Oh, babe,” I heard myself whisper. “These are the most beautiful breasts I have ever seen.”

It didn’t happen immediately, but she cooled rapidly.

“Sid,” she said in a pained voice.

“Damn,” I muttered as I pulled away. “Alright, we got carried away. I’m sorry.” Lisa pulled her dress up. “Look, it’s not like I haven’t seen your breasts before.”

I had caught her by accident, although she’ll never believe that.

“You said they were just mammary glands.”

I chuckled. “I believe I made one very important distinction.”

I reached for her chest, but her hand stopped me. Her eyes were angry now and hurt.

“Most beautiful you’ve seen?” she asked.

I sighed. “Alright. You caught me. That’s not the first time I’ve said that to a woman. But, Lisa, you know I don’t just say things to you.”

“And you honestly expect me to believe that?” She slid back into her sleeves and refastened the turtleneck.

“Yes, I expect you to believe that. Lisa, you know how I feel about you. You are everything.”

“Then why is it the first time you get really juiced up, what that pops out of your mouth is a line?”

“Oh, shit.” I hated it when she got me like that. “Look, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

She got up and scrambled around the couch. “Like that’s really going to stop me from wondering.” She was crying and trying to hide it from me. “I feel so cheap and used.”

“You don’t understand. You’re different.”

“Oh, I’m really special,” she snapped, the sarcasm pelting me. “I can see that.”

“Lisa, what am I supposed to do? Swear out an affidavit? You are the only woman in my life—”

“No, I’m not, Sid,” she cut in. “Not by a long shot, and we both know it. And I don’t care if you say I’m different, if whatever we share is nothing like what you do with all those others. I don’t know it. I have no way of knowing that what you say to me, you’re not saying to some other bimbo, and I’m certainly not going to watch.”

“If that’s what it will take, I don’t mind if you do, assuming you wouldn’t be too embarrassed.”

She laughed bitterly. “I could probably handle the embarrassment. What I couldn’t take would be watching you make love to someone else, caressing her and loving her, and telling her how beautiful her breasts are!”

I shook my head and swallowed back the rage. “You know, Lisa, you’re the first woman I’ve known who didn’t buy into that, and the truly ironic thing is, for the first time in my life, I really meant it.”

She turned away, sobbing full out. I went over to her and held her, then softly kissed her mouth.

“Goodnight, Lisa,” I said.

“Goodnight, Sid.”

And I picked up my jacket and tie and left her because there really wasn’t anything more that could be said. She was right, damn her. No matter how different it was to be with her compared to someone else, she would never know that, and there was no way I could make her understand that because she would never sleep with anyone else. Lisa couldn’t sleep around. She placed just as high a value on sex as I did. But for her, it was rare, something to be savored and treasured. She couldn’t understand that for me, it was something to be indulged in, to enjoy as often as possible. And yet, she was so desperately jealous, and I had to admit, she had cause.

It seemed selfish to want me all to herself, but it hurt her so badly to think of me with someone else, giving another woman what was, in truth, hers.

I was near the living room when the phone rang. It was my personal line. I went into Lisa’s office to get it.

“Hello?” I asked, my heart in my throat.

“We have your girlfriend,” said the voice on the other end.

I closed my eyes. “She’d better be alive.”

“Oh, she is.”

“Prove it.”

The man chuckled. “I will, but first, we need two million dollars cash and the girl, Eliana Martinez.”

“It’s going to take a couple days to pull that much cash together.”

Reyes had opened the door to my office and gave me the thumbs up. He had the phone to his ear. He’d told me that I had two jobs. One was to keep them talking as long as possible so that the call could be traced. The second was to avoid making any promises. I did not want to think about what Henry had told me the night before.

“You have until Wednesday. We’ll call you then.”

“I want to talk to her.”

“Of course.”

There was a shuffling.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m scared.”

“Are they treating you okay?”

“Yeah. But I’m scared. I’m really scared.”

“It’s okay. They’re all praying for you here. Be strong, honey, and… I—” The line went dead. “Love you.”

I put the phone down. Mae, Nick, Althea, and Bill all crowded the doorway of the office.

“She’s alive,” I said. “She’s still in a lot of danger, but she’s alive.”

The celebration was subdued, at best. Things were still very much touch and go. Worse yet, was the call I got from Henry right after dinner. I took the call alone in my bedroom.

“Sid, what did you do?” he demanded.

Sadly, he had cause to jump on me. My record for insubordination was rather well-known.

“Nothing,” I said. “I actually did exactly what you told me to.”

“You?”

I took a deep breath. “Henry, it’s Lisa. Do you honestly believe I’m going to take a chance on losing her?”

“What the hell happened? They weren’t supposed to make a ransom demand.”

“Why not?”

Henry coughed. “You don’t have Need to Know.”

I couldn’t help but think of Lisa. She seriously hated the whole Need to Know thing, with good reason many times.

“Fuck that shit. I have plenty reason to know.”

“You do and you don’t.” Henry took a deep breath. “Sid, things are being worked out. Like I said, things have gotten more ticklish than they should have.”

I closed my eyes. “She was alive this afternoon. Is she still?”

Henry paused while my heart beat out of my chest. “I have every reason to believe so.”

The good news was Henry had called my bank for me and called back to let me know that the ransom money would be ready Wednesday morning. A little later, Frank and Esther came by and stayed. Kathy and Jesse came by after the Teen Bible Study. There wasn’t much to say, but we did have a faint gleam of hope.

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

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