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My Sweet Lisa – Chapter Three

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 discussions.

Sid’s Voice

I ran that next morning almost oblivious to Nick and Motley at my side. Mae, however, was waiting for me at the breakfast table. The look on her face told me that I was going to have to face, once again, what a pain in the ass these Wycherly women were about dealing with The Truth.

“Uh, Sid?” she asked, looking far more contrite than I’d be willing to bet she felt. “Last night, I thought about what you said about not calling our parents. I can’t agree with you. They need to know.”

“Alright. Call them.” I reached for the fruit salad that I relied on for my breakfast.

“I did. Last night. They’re flying in this afternoon.”

I wanted to curse but didn’t. Lisa had shared with me how badly it hurt her that the two men she cared about most were at odds with each other. I mean, seriously, what the hell do you do at that point? Nick came in, ate, then gave me a quick hug and asked permission to watch a movie on the VCR. I gave it and he ran off. Mae was still looking at me.

“Sid, something else is bothering you.”

Oh. Right. As if I wanted to talk to Mae about the night before.

“Isn’t there enough going on?” I asked.

“Yes. But there’s something else, too.”

“What difference does it make?” I said. “We’re both worried about Lisa and that’s as it should be.”

“Don’t try to evade the issue.”

“I’m not evading anything. I just don’t want to talk about it.”

Mae sighed. “I’m willing to listen.”

“I know.” I started pacing. “Really, I do. It’s just not something I’d feel comfortable talking to you about.”

“Would you feel comfortable talking about it with Lisa?”

Damn her.

“Probably not,” I said. I sat back down again.

“But you’d talk to her about it, anyway, wouldn’t you?”

Damn her, she was right. I still pulled away.

“Sid, I’m not trying to replace her. But you need someone to talk to now and I’m the only one around.”

I looked at the ceiling, trying to find a way out of this. “Mae, please.”

“You don’t have to be afraid of shocking me. I am a married woman.”

As if she’d have even the least idea. “Mae, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Sid…”

It was almost as if Lisa, herself, had reached into my soul. I threw my napkin onto the table.

“I have lost interest in sex,” I finally said. “Completely. It’s dried up. I can perform okay. I proved that last night. I just don’t want to. That’s never happened to me before.”

“How long has this been going on?” Mae was, surprisingly to me, way more clinical than I would have thought.

I winced. “Since she was taken. Although, if I’m really being honest, probably since last fall.” I closed my eyes. “Mae, what the hell is happening to me?”

She thought it over. “Sid, what’s different about your relationship with Lisa?”

“No sex.”

“Besides that.”

“I don’t know. We talk. We care about each other.”

Mae smiled. “And your other girlfriends?”

“I care about them. It’s not as deep, but I care.”

“I’m not saying you don’t.” Mae’s smile grew. “But why aren’t things as deep with your girlfriends as they are with Lisa?”

“How the hell should I know?” I found myself pacing around the breakfast table. “You’re obviously trying to get a specific answer out of me. Why don’t you just tell me?”

“Don’t you think it would make a lot more sense if you found it out for yourself?”

“Oh, for cripes sake!” I threw up my hands in frustration. “How the hell should I know?”

Mae sighed. “I guess you wouldn’t. Except that it’s patently obvious to everyone except you, and possibly her, that you two love each other. And I mean real love, way beyond having the hots for each other.”

“Son of a bitch.”

“What’s wrong?” Mae’s eyes bore into me.

“She told me last fall that she loved me.” I closed my eyes and shuddered. “I didn’t take it well.”

Mae laughed.

“What?” I glared at her.

“Oh, for crying out loud, Sid. I did not realize you had your head as far up your ass as you do.” She laughed again.

“What the fuck?” I gasped.

Lisa has a real issue with swearing, and everything I had seen from Mae had led me to believe she and her sister shared that trait.

“Sid Hackbirn, you love Lisa. That’s why you don’t want to have sex with anyone else. Every time you try, I’m willing to bet seriously good money, you’re comparing that woman to her and it’s coming up short. And I think you’re finally getting that. You may call it caring and relating and whatever other terms you use. But it’s real love that’s the issue here.”

I sighed. “Is it really that simple?”

“Yes. Not that easy, but definitely that simple.” She came up and laid her hand on my arm. “Don’t sell yourself short. You are capable of a great deal of love. I see it when you interact with my kids. And I really see it with Lisa.”

“But I don’t get it. Any other woman wouldn’t mean a damn thing.”

“Wouldn’t she?” She looked at me knowingly and I turned away.

“I’m not hurting anybody, Mae.”

“How about yourself? Aren’t you cheating yourself out of a full, rich relationship with Lisa by your fooling around?”

“How?”

“If you really love Lisa, and I know you do, don’t you want to give her all of yourself? And how can you if you keep giving a part of yourself to every other woman that comes along?”

I hung my head. “I want to give her my best.”

“And that best is you completely. You know it, Sid. And you know those other relationships do take a part of you. A part I think you don’t want to give anymore. If you didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this talk.”

“Fuck.”

Mae laughed again. “I’ll let you think about this.”

I didn’t get much of a chance to. I went to the command center in my office. Commander Reyes was talking on the phone. My heart stopped. I hadn’t heard the phone ring, which either meant that he’d made the phone call, or that someone had called on the special line that was used only for Quickline business.

“Great. I’ll keep you posted,” he said into the receiver, then hung up. He looked up. “I just called into the office. How are you holding up?”

“I have no idea.” I frowned. “Shouldn’t we have heard something by now?”

“We’re only about thirty-six hours in. It shouldn’t be too much longer, but a lot depends on what the kidnappers are after. Usually if a kidnapper calls right away, he’s either looking for a quick score or has realized that his victim is too hot to handle. Terrorists will sometimes call their demands in fast because they’re looking for the publicity. The really smart guys, they let the families hang for a day or two, so they’re really anxious and ready to pay.”

“But that gives the families time to call the cops.”

“Yeah. And very few kidnappings for extortion happen here in the U.S. for that very reason. They mostly happen in places where the police are ineffective. But we had a public grab. They had to figure someone was going to call the police. So, now they’re letting us twist in the wind.”

I let out my breath and moved into the outer office, which was Lisa’s office. Her photos on the wall, including one of me in silhouette against the sun rising in the Grand Canyon.

The doorbell rang. I went and got it, opening the door as Mae walked up behind me. Eliana Martinez, and presumably her mother, stood on the door mat.

“Mr. Hackbirn, may I come in?” she asked.

“Please.” I stepped aside and pointed. “Why don’t we go into the living room?”

“This is my mother,” Eliana said. “She does not speak English.”

Mae and I smiled and nodded at her. She nodded back. Eliana and her mother sat down on the couch while Mae and I settled into the chairs.

Eliana started crying. “I should have come yesterday. I am so sorry. But they would not let me.”

“Eliana,” Mae said. “We were all traumatized by what happened that night. You came as soon as you could.”

“But is my fault!” she cried.

I could see Mae’s frustration battling her need to be consoling.

“It’s nobody’s fault but the people who did it,” I said quickly.

“No. You do not understand.” Eliana pressed her eyes shut for a moment, then took a breath. “The men. They were coming for me.”

“You don’t know that,” I said mechanically.

“No. Mr. Hackbirn, it had to be.” Eliana got out a linen handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “You see, my father, he is a judge in Bogotá, where we live. The Cartel Medellín, they do not like him. My father sent me and Mama here to keep us safe from them. Only they have found out we are here.”

I got up and went to the intercom. “Commander Reyes, would you please join us in the living room?”

Eliana looked frightened. “We were not supposed to tell anyone about why we came or my father.”

I patted her on the shoulder. “I understand, but now we need to know what’s going on.”

Reyes came in with the question on his face. I told Eliana to repeat what she’d told me, and she did, weeping, but with a great deal of fortitude. Reyes looked at me, then spoke softly to her in Spanish. Mrs. Martinez also joined the conversation as Mae and I looked on.

A minute later, Eliana and her mother got up.

“Mr. Hackbirn, I am so sorry,” Eliana said.

I sighed. “Eliana, you did not cause this to happen. The men who took Lisa did. The men who are trying to coerce your father into doing whatever made this happen. I saw Lisa push you behind her. I saw Jesse White pull you even further away. Lisa did what she did because that’s who she is. I know it’s going to be extremely hard not to feel guilty, but when you do, I hope like hell you hang on to the fact that you did not cause this. That there were two very caring people in the immediate area who were able to save you, that’s what you be thankful for. That’s what you hang onto. That they cared and you were worth it to them.” I lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. “Do you understand?”

“I think so, Mr. Hackbirn.”

“Good. Thank you for telling us. It may just help us get Lisa back safe and sound.”

Mae came over. “And we’ll keep praying for you, Eliana.”

“I will pray for you, too.”

Mae held Eliana and her mother, then walked them to the door. I looked at Reyes.

“This is an interesting twist,” he said. “Might account for why we haven’t gotten a ransom demand yet.”

“I think I’m going to call Henry,” I said, moving to where the phone sat on the wall next to the hall.

“Your FBI pal? Good idea.”

I dialed Henry’s office, but he wasn’t in.

“Sid, I’m so sorry about Lisa,” said Angelique, who was Henry’s secretary. I didn’t stop to wonder why she was in the office on a Saturday. “We’ve been on pins and needles here.”

“Thanks, Ange. When is Henry going to be back?”

“I’m such an idiot! He’s on his way to your place. Have you heard anything yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Um, I’d offer to stay over, but I’m not doing that anymore.”

I found myself chuckling. “Believe it or not, neither am I.”

“Really? Since when?”

“Since they took her.”

“Oh, Sid. I’m so sorry. You poor thing. Um…”

“Don’t worry about it, Angelique. Listen, why don’t we get together for lunch sometime? Hopefully after things settle down. We’re still friends and I’d like to see that continue.”

Angelique sniffed. “I would, too. Thank you, Sid.”

“Thank you, Ange.”

I hung up the phone, acutely aware that Mae had been watching and listening. She just smiled and patted my arm.

Henry arrived a moment later. He’s a tall man with some skin condition that leaves his face in a perpetual flush. I held him at the door after making sure no one could hear us.

“The phone for the side business?” I asked him.

“Shut off for the time being,” Henry replied quickly. “It’s the first thing I did that night. Your courier line’s also shut down.” He looked up as Reyes came out of the living room. “We’ll talk later. Phil, how’s it going?”

Reyes looked at me and waved Henry to the office. “Come on in. I just had an interesting chat with one of the witnesses.”

I went to my bedroom and locked the door. Then I punched the code and room number into the intercom. Henry couldn’t tell me anything he wouldn’t have told a civilian, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t find out.

“She was sure it was the Medellín cartel?” Henry’s voice faded into the bedroom intercom from the office.

“Yeah. I asked her again in Spanish and her mother said that the cartel had definitely been threatening the family,” Reyes said.

“That’s good. It supports what I just got.” Henry cleared his throat. “I checked out that license plate, like you asked. There’s a reason it came up dead. The van is registered to the U.S. Government.”

“What?”

“According to my contact, it’s an account the CIA and some other agencies use for their undercover operatives.” Henry’s contact, my ass. He would have figured out the plate as soon as Reyes had asked him. “If Medellín is involved, then they’ve got help from our side.”

“Why would the CIA want to help a drug cartel?” Reyes sounded pretty skeptical.

Henry hesitated. “It’s mostly the paramilitary arm, which was formed to protect, among other things, U.S. oil interests.”

“Yeah. I heard about all those executives getting kidnapped.”

“Not to mention a host of other elite types in the Colombian government who were not friendly to the cartel. The cartel is pretty brutal, but they’ve done a lot to get roads paved and plumbing to outlying areas, and they’re anti-Communist.”

“Which makes them our friends.” Reyes grunted.

“More or less.” Henry paused. “I might be able to call in a favor or two, but it’s going to be tricky.”

“I’ve heard those CIA guys are a royal pain in the ass.” Reyes snorted again. “Well, the kidnappers have to know by now that they got the wrong target. Fortunately, your friend has money, and if what they really need is the girl, they will probably want to try for a trade.”

I felt like throwing up. If they had gotten the wrong target, it was just as likely they’d killed Lisa and run. I’m not sure what they said next, but Henry was saying that he wanted to talk to me privately and goodbye.

I slapped the intercom off and opened the door. Henry was in the hall outside the office.

“Henry,” I hissed and waved him to me.

A moment later, he came into the room, and I locked the door. He took one look at me and shook his head.

“You were listening in.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“Hell, yes.” I tried to hold myself up.

“You know, Sid, that’s why we don’t talk about stuff like this with the families. Besides, Reyes is right. Lisa is still worth more to them alive than dead.”

“Uh-huh.”

“He knows his stuff. Hell, my office has even called him for hostage situations. He’s one of the best in the business. So, you can stop panicking.”

“I am not panicking!” I looked away.

“Like hell, you’re not.” Henry put his hand on my shoulder and gripped it hard. “Now, I need you to get your shit together. This CIA thing is a massive problem for you and me. You’ve got to stay out of things and keep your nose extra clean.”

I shook my head. “No. I am not staying out of this.”

“You’re too close to the case. I’m too close to the case. And we’ve got to be extra sure those Company rat bastards don’t find out the kidnappers got one of our operatives.” He looked away, then back at me. “Look, as soon as I found out about that license plate, I talked with my Company liaison. He’s not sure what the hell is going on but thought there might be some KGB activity connected to it, and the problem is, he’s the one who asked me to have you two check out Danschenko.”

“Fuck.” I could feel the color draining from my face. “Danschenko’s not onto us, is he?”

“Not as far as I know, and I don’t see why he would be anything more than suspicious. Besides, you two are checking him out under your cover names, right?”

I sank onto the bed and shook my head. “We can’t. Donaldson got blown last fall and we haven’t been assigned new names and IDs yet.” Lisa and I had alter egos as Ed and Janet Donaldson and I’d been posing as Ed Donaldson when my cover had been blown the previous fall on a case. “But I’m just interviewing Danschenko and a bunch of others for a legitimate story. What’s suspicious about that? I haven’t even talked to him yet.”

Henry frowned. “I though Lisa said you were talking to him last Thursday.”

“It was a blind.” I shuddered. “I told Lisa that to get her to the party at the right time.”

“Oh.” Henry looked me over, then sighed. “Terrific. Just one more reason for you to keep your nose out of this and looking as much like a civilian as possible.”

“What about your liaison? Does he know about Lisa?”

“I don’t think he knows she’s the victim.” Henry looked away. “And I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t find out. We can probably get the Company to cooperate if she’s a civilian. Otherwise, she’s just an asset.”

“And expendable.” I was finding it hard to breathe again, but I had to.

Henry was right. I was losing it and that wouldn’t help Lisa.

“I know it’s hard just sitting tight,” Henry said softly. “And knowing what you can do and not being able to do it is murder. But you’ve got to, Sid. For Lisa.”

I nodded. We left the bedroom and went back to the living room. Mae took one look at me and turned pale.

“News?” she asked, putting her hand to her mouth.

“No,” said Henry. “Sid just got a little shook up. Perfectly normal and right on time.”

Mae sniffed. “Yeah. I believe it.”

“What time is it?” I asked.

As if in answer, Mae’s kids burst through the front door without knocking or ringing. They swarmed me, then their mother. Darby found Nick within minutes and the two of them ran off to the rumpus room. Ellen glued herself to my leg, as she so often did. Janey stayed close to my other side. Neil followed.

“Any word yet?” he asked.

“No. I would have called you,” Mae said.

“I thought you had the kids farmed out,” I said.

Neil laughed. “I’m going to keep Mama from her grandkids? Not a good move, Sid.”

“Ah. Point taken.”

I did have to wonder how Lisa’s parents were going to take Nick. He hadn’t met them yet. Lisa and I had planned to introduce Bill and Althea to the boy the previous Christmas, when we’d all be at the O’Malleys’ house, but Nick had wanted to spend the holiday with his mother. Given how rambunctious the O’Malley kids could be, I did not think that Nick’s hyperactive energy would faze either Althea or Bill. But the bastard offspring of the last man on earth they’d wanted to see their daughter with? I was worried.

I decided not to go to the airport, though not to delay the inevitable.

“Someone has to be here if they call,” I told Mae and Neil.

“But—” Mae started.

“He’s right, honey,” said Neil.

I was later told that Nick performed at his sterling best, even engaging Bill in a conversation about fishing. I must say, this did not surprise me. Nick was, and still is, an amazing human being.

But that was later. After everyone had left for the airport I was alone in the house, not counting the police in the office, and I was at loose ends. I did have to think about food and rooms. I checked the kitchen and realized I would need some extra groceries for the crowd and called in an order for delivery.

Thinking about the room situation, assuming I could get Bill and Althea to stay at the house, I realized I was running short on space. There was only one guest room and Mae was in there. What had been the other guest room had been taken over by Nick. That left Lisa’s little suite of rooms. Which probably meant I had some work to do.

When it comes to what I call the mundane trivialities of life, Lisa is amazingly well-organized. It was her job when I initially hired her, and she knocked it out of the park. But as far as her personal space was concerned, she was a bit of a slob. She called it creative chaos. I begged to differ. Given how many things the two of us disagreed about, it was hardly surprising.

When it came to our bedrooms, we both seldom trespassed. That was personal space. Still, Lisa had found a way to bring an afghan or two into my room. And I had reorganized her sewing and bedroom before that day. There was something about organizing things that appealed to me, and as I tried to make sense of her closet that afternoon, I felt some of my panic ease.

But first, I stripped the sheets from her bed, found fresh ones and made that bed with perfect hotel corners on the mattress. The closet took only a few minutes, except for the shoe situation. That was a bit more difficult. Lisa loves shoes and she had quite the collection in there, all jumbled together. I got everything back in order, choking as I found her deck shoes. They had once been white but were stained in varying shades of gray from who knew what. I hated those shoes, they were so ugly. Lisa loved them and had even found a way to get some armor hidden along the sides. I got myself back under control, then went into her sewing room.

It had been less than six months since I’d reorganized it last, and it was already in chaos. I went through, section by section, getting spools of thread on the appropriate rack, patterns organized by manufacturer and number (forgetting that Lisa preferred organizing them by type of garment), fabrics and scraps in piles according to color. Balls of yarn I grouped together by the labels and then by color. The tools went on the peg board she’d had installed and usually forgot to use.

As I worked, I couldn’t help thinking about the last time I’d organized her sewing room. We’d worked a case that previous fall that had taken us to Wisconsin for a couple months. I’d been sent home in late October. Lisa was still in Wisconsin when I wandered into her room feeling utterly lost.

I had tried to give up sleeping around. I’d been trying, and failing, since the previous summer. Getting the room organized that November got my brain in some order. I was still desperate for an answer to our impasse, but I did get one idea. I went to see Father John Reynolds. I lucked out and he was in his office that afternoon when I called, and he told me to come right over.

“What do I need to do to marry Lisa Wycherly?” I asked him as I sat down in front of his cluttered desk.

He grinned. “You generally start with asking her.”

“Not funny.” I couldn’t help glaring at him. “And, yes, I did.” I paused. “Sort of.”

“How do you sort of ask someone to marry you?” John’s face was serious, but with a twitch I would later recognize as him trying to contain his amusement.

I got up and started pacing. “We were fighting. It was about the fucking fidelity thing.” I stopped and looked at John. The swear word hadn’t fazed him in the least. “I just can’t promise that I’ll be faithful to her. So, I thought maybe if we got married…”

“I’m guessing she saw right through that one.”

Defeated, I sank into the chair. “She said I’d demanded that we get married, and that I’d come to resent it and her eventually.”

“And…?”

“She was right.” I began pacing again. “But what the fuck are we going to do? I can’t take it much more and neither can she.” I shuddered. “The worst of it is, I don’t mind the idea of being faithful to her. I just don’t think I can. What if she’s not around from some reason? John, I haven’t gone without sex for more than three weeks straight since I was thirteen, and it’s not like another woman would mean anything.”

“Isn’t that what you have hands for?”

My jaw dropped. “What? You’re a priest.”

“Yeah.” John shrugged. “Just because I’m celibate doesn’t mean I don’t know how the human body works.”

“But masturbation is evil or something.”

“It depends on the circumstances.” John chuckled, then shifted and looked me in the eye, this time fully serious. “But, let’s face it, Sid. If another woman doesn’t mean anything, then you are essentially masturbating with her. So, why not just use your hands?”

I frowned. There was an issue of intensity, but at the same time, damn him, he had a point. I didn’t know what to say. Fortunately, John did. He invited me out to dinner, and we talked about everything but Lisa.

That March, as I placed the last tool on the pegboard, I thought about what John had said. Or tried to. The sound of children running through the house completely de-railed my train of thought.

“Uncle Sid!” Janey yelled from somewhere near the front. “We’re back.”

That the kids had always referred to me that way was yet another thing that bothered Bill. Every time they did around him, I could swear he winced.

Still, I left Lisa’s rooms and walked up the hall to the front of the house.

“Bill. Althea. Glad to see you.”

Althea, a small woman with what Lisa calls a bird-like quality to her, came right up, and gave me a warm hug.

“Oh, Sid, darling, this is so terrible,” she said. “But Lisle will be alright. I really believe she will.”

Lisa had been named after her German grandmother on her father’s side, and so her parents often called her by the German version of her name. They’re both also from Southern Florida and their accents reflect it.

“Thanks, Althea,” I said.

Bill nodded. A tall, broad-shouldered man with Lisa’s big cow eyes, he was a lot more reserved. We still had detente, but just barely. He nodded at me, then looked at Neil.

“Are we staying at your place?” Bill asked.

“Uh, Bill, Althea,” I said. “You two have been kind enough to extend your hospitality to me. I would like to return the favor. Not to mention that if there is going to be any news, it’s going to be here first.”

“Well, since you put it that way, we have to accept,” said Althea. She looked at her husband. “Right, Bill?”

I had to give Bill credit. He knew when not to argue with his wife, and come to think of it, his daughters.

“Nick? Darby?” I called. The two boys came running up. “Would you put Lisa’s parents’ luggage in her room, please?”

“Sure!” Nick yelled, and he and Darby ran off with the suitcases.

Mae looked at me.

“No word yet,” I said.

It was a somber evening. I made dinner mostly to have something to do. The kids were subdued, and the bickering had increased. The five of us adults took turns refereeing. Finally, Nick and Darby went to bed in Nick’s room. The other children sacked out in the rumpus room, and Neil went in with Mae. Bill still wasn’t talking to me. Althea dragged him to Lisa’s two rooms. I went to my bedroom, and I’ll admit it, I laid in bed and cried.

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