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.
That fucking black van.
I saw it pull up. I knew Lisa had seen it, too.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you see stuff like that, it’s nothing. Absolutely nothing. Lisa and I notice because we do see that one time out of a hundred that it’s something bad.
I shoved Ellen at Mae as I saw the men burst out of the van. Lisa did exactly what I would have expected her to do. She put Eliana Martinez behind her and screamed her head off. I was surprised to see Jesse pull Eliana even further away and reach after Lisa. It didn’t help. The men grabbed Lisa. One put a cloth to her nose, and a second later, they were gone, the van somehow roaring away through the Westwood traffic. Lisa’s raincoat lay on the ground.
Eliana sank to the sidewalk, sobbing. Jesse bent over her, then looked up at me.
“I’m sorry, Sid,” he gasped. “I tried to get her. I couldn’t.”
“You did your best,” I said. I could feel my voice, dull and blank.
John Reynolds put his hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know if it’s any comfort to you, but she’s in God’s hands now.”
Henry was there, too. Being official law enforcement, he took over, making sure that all the witnesses remained close at hand. Lydia, Henry’s wife, led me to one of the chairs lined up outside the restaurant door for people waiting for tables. Mae was already seated there, and Lydia sat me next to her. The children were now wide awake and trembling and Mae held the twins and Ellen in her lap. Darby sat on her other side. Janey, who was eight, slid up to me. I wasn’t surprised. Janey and I… Well, she was special. I choked. Not unlike how special Lisa was.
“It’ll be alright, Uncle Sid,” she said softly.
“Thanks, Janey.” I returned the sweet hug.
Neil showed up a minute later. He and Mae had a quick conference. The kids protested, but Neil took them home and left Mae, who sat back down next to me. Nick showed up at my other side and sat down.
“Dad?” he asked.
“I’m here, Nick.” I wasn’t, but what else was there to say? I held him close.
Angelique Carter, who was Henry’s secretary, came up with Lisa’s raincoat and gave it to me.
“They’re going to do everything they can, Sid,” she said softly. She hesitated a moment, then bent and hugged me tightly.
I held her back and debated asking her to stay, but she slid away before I could, and I realized that I didn’t really want her to, at least, not in my bedroom. Yeah, Ange and I had that kind of relationship. Or we’d had. It had been months since we’d last had sex with each other and I’d heard she’d dropped out of the singles scene. Lisa and she were both very good friends.
The police were there and several others. I was past noticing at that point. I answered what questions I could and gave the cops the license plate on the van. John managed to tell me that there was a group going to their church to say mass. I was glad. That was exactly the sort of thing Lisa would appreciate. John invited me to join them, and I shook my head.
“We have to find Lisa’s truck,” I told Mae at some point.
As soon as the police let us, I headed toward the nearest parking structure with Mae and Nick at my side.
“Can you drive a manual transmission back to our place?” I asked Mae.
“I haven’t in a while, but I could.” Mae, however, looked more skeptical than not.
I sighed and got the key to Lisa’s truck out of my key case.
“We’ll find my car first, then, and you can drive that to the house.” I handed her the key case and Lisa’s raincoat. “That’s the key to my Beemer and that’s the house key. Take Nick with you.”
“Dad!” Nick groaned.
“It’ll be alright, Nick,” Mae said.
Given that we were in Westwood, Lisa’s dark blue Datsun pickup could have been anywhere, but somehow it turned up in the same structure I’d parked my BMW, even on the same floor. I saw the truck and squeezed my eyes shut.
“Sid,” Mae said, putting her hand on my shoulder. “She’s going to be okay.”
I looked at her. “You don’t know that.”
“No. But I have to believe it.”
We went over to my car and Mae got it open.
“Nick, will you show Aunt Mae the other guest room?” I asked.
“Can’t I ride with you?” he asked, plaintively.
“No. I’d rather take Lisa’s truck by myself.”
“I’ll see you at the house,” Mae said, helping Nick into the front passenger seat.
“Yeah.” I looked away. “Don’t wait up.”
Mae put her hand on my arm. “Sid, where are you going?”
“To get laid.”
Nick looked like he was about to burst into tears. I felt like shit leaving him like that but didn’t know what else to do. I waited while Mae got my car going. Then I left the structure.
The bar wasn’t far and in the cool of the night air, the walk felt good. Inside, the haze of cigarette smoke was breathably thin. I surveyed the occupants. Two possibles sitting at the bar, another in a booth alone. I chose her.
Bourbon and water in hand, I headed for the booth. It was time. Play the game, get a conversation going, get into bed. Anything for the release I so desperately needed. It was what I knew. It was what I did.
“I notice you’re alone.” I forced the smile onto my face.
She was a shapely blond, although her eyes were dark and somewhat small. I really liked Lisa’s big, round eyes.
“More or less,” she said. “I could be looking for some company.”
“So could I.” I slid into the booth next to her.
She wore standard Dress for Success, although the bow on her blouse had been undone. Her fingernails were short and painted in a dark color, which meant she worked in a business context, but probably in a clerical capacity.
“So, how do you like secretarial work?” I asked.
She laughed. “How did you know I’m a secretary?”
“Observation and deduction.”
“Oh, I get it.” She giggled, damn her. “You’re one of those fancy detectives.”
“Not quite.” I sipped my drink.
“What do you do for a living?”
“As little as possible.”
The same flip line had slipped out before I could stop it. The night I’d met Lisa, she’d asked the same thing and had not been amused by my response. At the time, I’d put it down to the fact that she’d been out of work for a year. I’d had no idea then that Lisa’s tolerance for bullshit was pretty low, in general. As we’d grown to know each other, her tolerance for my bullshit morphed into no tolerance for it at all. She could be more forgiving of others.
The blond grinned. “So, what are you doing the rest of the night?”
I tried to smile but couldn’t. I didn’t feel any of the usual stirrings. If anything, my gut clenched. I put my glass on the table and left. I didn’t hear what the blond shouted after me, but didn’t really care, either.
I didn’t even go into the next bar. I tried to think of how it would feel. Instead, my mind filled with the soft curves of Lisa’s breasts, her hips, her round eyes gazing at me. Her high school class ring all but burned in my right pants pocket. I could not understand what was happening to me, but the thought of another woman sickened me.
I pulled the white gold ring with the light blue stone out of my pocket and slid it onto the little finger of my right hand. She’d called it reassurance when she’d given it to me after I’d given her my high school ring. I am not one for superstition, but I knew her ring was not coming off my hand until Lisa was safe in my arms again, and maybe not even after that. I twisted it a couple times, then walked back to where her truck was parked.
It was midnight when I got home. I briefly debated going to bed, but I knew sleep would not come. I went into the library. I shouldn’t have. It was one of Lisa’s favorite rooms in the house, even though it was mostly given over to my ebony baby grand piano. Lisa had made the pillows on the burgundy velvet wing back chairs. Her books were mixed in with mine, although I was the one who had organized them the previous fall. The music rack next to the piano overflowed with sheet music that Lisa had bought. I sat down at the keys of the piano, not needing the sheet music for Chopin’s Prelude Number Fifteen. It was Lisa’s favorite.
I only got a few bars in when it all overwhelmed me. The tears came slowly. I don’t cry easily. But there was nothing else to do.
“Dad?” Nick’s voice came from the door.
He was wearing his pajamas, but clearly had not been able to sleep, either.
“Oh. Hi,” I said.
“You’re crying.” He came over and sat on the piano bench next to me.
“Yeah.” I wiped the tears from my face.
“I’ve been crying, too.” He leaned next to me and pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Dad, what’s going to happen to Lisa?”
That was the last thing I wanted to think about.
“I don’t know, Nick,” I said. “The FBI and the police are working on it. I was able to give them the license plate on the van. But that’s all.”
“So, am I.”
“Dad, can I stay here ‘til they find Lisa? I think Mom would be happier if I was here, anyway. Can I?”
“Sure, Nick. I’d like that.”
“Dad, why can’t I live with you?”
I squeezed my eyes shut. The truth was, I really did want Nick to live with us, with Lisa and me. But there was Quickline. I couldn’t tell him about that, and it wasn’t a safe environment for him. How had Lisa explained it to Jesse and Kathy when they’d confronted us?
“Nick, there is a really good reason why you can’t right now. The problem is, I can’t tell you what it is. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s a really good reason, and if it weren’t for that, I would have you living with us right now.”
“Okay.” Nick looked downcast but hugged me anyway.
And, at last, I found the release, the comfort I’d been looking for. I hugged him back.
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, Nick.”
How the hell was I able to say it? I definitely meant it. I loved Nick almost as much as… That was the problem. I couldn’t say the same to Lisa. I’d known her longer and there was no question she meant more to me than anyone had. Hell, if Lisa hadn’t been there when Rachel, Nick’s mom, had dumped him on me, I would not have had a relationship with my son.
“Dad, I don’t want to sleep by myself tonight. Can I sleep with you?”
I smiled and nodded. “Sure. Why don’t you?”
It would mean wearing my pajama pants. I normally slept in the raw, but somehow that didn’t seem quite right with Nick there. Yet I knew having him next to me was better than having another woman.
As we slid under the covers on my waterbed, I flipped open the cover on my antique pocket watch to let the music box wind down and kept looking at it.
“Dad?” Nick asked. “Why is that watch so important?”
I closed my eyes. “Lisa gave it to me.”
“Goodnight, Dad. Sweet dreams.”
There were none. When I did sleep, my brain was filled with war and its horrors and Lisa’s beautiful cow eyes looking at me in fear.
The next morning was utterly empty. The sky was overcast and threatening more rain. All I wanted to hear was Lisa’s sleepy grumbling about having to run. Nick was there, as was Lisa’s dog, Motley, a springer spaniel with liver-colored spots. Motley looked at me and whined as if he were asking where Lisa was.
At breakfast, Nick played with the cats. Some months before, Nick had befriended Long John Silver, a stray gray cat with one eye, and named her before we’d both found out she was a she and pregnant. The kittens, about five months old, were still in their cute phase and for all I’d talked about finding them homes, two had become permanent residents, as well. There had been four of them. Fritz, the gray tabby, was the only one I’d named, and he’d stayed with us. Lisa had named the rest. Capuchin, named after an order of monks and called Chin-Chin, and Viola had landed with Lisa’s friends Kathy and Jesse. Then there was Blueberry, who was gray like her mother, but almost to the point that she looked blue.
“Nick, do you know where the pet food is?” I asked. I was vaguely aware that Lisa generally fed the cats and Motley in the morning before Conchetta, our housekeeper and cook, arrived at ten.
“Yeah. I’ll get it.”
Mae stumbled into the breakfast room. I caught my breath. The weird thing was that Mae and Lisa had always seemed to me to be total opposites. Mae was entirely domesticated, a full-time mom, putting her husband and kids first before everything. Lisa, on the other hand, was very career driven. Kids and family were something that she seemed to consider theoretical, as if she might be interested in them eventually, but there was too much life to explore in the meantime. While the two had similar coloring, Mae carried some padding on her figure and had a slightly rounder face. Lisa had always been skinny and her frame was well-muscled, and in spite of being six years younger than her sister, Lisa was the taller of the two. Yet, that morning, as Mae yawned and sat down at the table, all I could see was Lisa doing the same. Lisa is not a morning person.
“Sid,” Mae said through sleepy eyes. “Your friend Henry, he set up a command post in your office last night. I hope that’s okay.”
“What?” I asked. It suddenly dawned on me that I’d seen a light in our offices the night before.
“He wants to be on top of it when the ransom demand comes through.”
I nodded. That would be the appropriate procedure.
“I need to call our parents, too.” Mae looked a little worried.
“No,” I said. “Please don’t. Your dad hates me enough as it is.”
Bill Wycherly and I had achieved a level of detente about eighteen months before, but I was acutely aware of how jealous he was of me. And worried about me, with good reason I had to admit. It wasn’t so much about me seducing Lisa as it was about breaking her heart. We both kind of got that we were worried about the same thing, which is probably why he hadn’t tried to take me apart limb from limb. Still, it didn’t mean that we were a good mix.
“He doesn’t hate you,” Mae said.
I rolled my eyes. “Look, can you hold off? Please? We don’t have anything to tell them. If we get a ransom demand, we’ll be able to figure something out.”
The voice belonged to a tallish man with black and gray hair in a gray polyester suit. However cheap the fabric, he carried himself with authority rather than hubris.
“Yes?” I asked.
“I’m Commander Phil Reyes, LAPD. I’ll be lead on this case. I’m supervising the team in your office. We need to go over the protocols.”
I swallowed and nodded. “Yeah. What do I need to do?”
Reyes was professional but kind and I could see it easing Mae’s anxiety. Mine? Perhaps not as much, still I was glad he was there. There wasn’t much for me to understand. They would monitor all calls coming in and out. When and if the ransom demand came through, we’d discuss and formulate a plan at that time. I told them about Lisa’s special code for her friends.
Lisa had set up the code back when her parents didn’t know she was living in my house. Her parents would call her personal line during the day, when she was supposedly working at my place, and Lisa wouldn’t pick it up because she “wasn’t at home.” When Lisa’s friends called, they’d let it ring once, hang up, then call again. Lisa would pick up those calls. The weird thing was that even though Bill and Althea had found out where Lisa was living almost a year before, the code hung on.
As if to demonstrate, the phone rang on Lisa’s line. Sure enough, the call rang once, then rang again. After getting a nod from Reyes, I picked it up.
“Sid? It’s Esther.”
“Hi.” I had to smile. I really liked Esther Nguyen.
“Look, I know it’s early, and I don’t want to tie up the line, but any word yet?”
“No. It should be okay. Just use the usual signal.”
“Okay. We’re praying for you guys.”
“Lisa would appreciate that.”
I hung up and swallowed. Lisa believed in prayer, often teased me when things worked out in our favor, even though all I could see was chance. But that was one of the things that divided us. Faith. I had none. Hell, I was raised to be an atheist. Reyes grinned as if he was onto us and went back to the offices.
Conchetta Ramirez arrived at ten and was shocked to hear what happened. She was a medium-sized woman, in her middle forties, with strands of gray through her black hair. She had this incredible collection of concert t-shirts from mostly hard rock bands that she wore over her jeans. When she was at the house to work, she preferred to be left alone and would take both Lisa and me to task when we got in her way or got too friendly. She was our employee and did not want to be friends. Still, that morning, she patted my arm.
“This is so terrible,” she said softly. “But I believe she will be all right. I know we can’t say for sure. But I believe. If we all believe, that will be enough.”
She patted my arm again and went off to change the sheets in the guest room. I had to admit, I was somewhat in shock. An hour later, she made a huge buffet lunch, offering some to the cops in my office.
Esther’s call was just the start. A few minutes later, Kathy and Jesse dropped in to sit with me, with Frank Lonnergan right behind. John Reynolds stayed for a couple hours. Then a procession of Lisa’s other friends from church came by, each saying something nice, and most of it directed at me, although they also said nice things to Mae and Nick, too. Jesse was still feeling guilty that he hadn’t been able to do more to stop the kidnappers.
“You saved Eliana,” Kathy finally said, looking apologetically at me.
I shut my eyes and took a deep breath. “Jesse, I saw Lisa put herself between the girl and the kidnappers. That’s who Lisa is. I like to think she’d be happier knowing that Eliana, at least, was safe. And that Lisa would appreciate that.”
“I failed her,” Jesse said.
“So did I,” I said.
Mae groaned. “Neither of you two idiots did. You both did the best you could. Sid, you were taking care of my daughter, which Lisa completely loves about you. Jesse, you took care of a sweet young woman, who, for all we know, could have been taken too. Neither of you failed Lisa. Neither of you is at fault for what happened and whining about it is only going to make it worse for all of us. Now, get over it.”
Apparently, Lisa’s low tolerance for bullshit was a family thing. Frank clapped Jesse on the shoulder.
“Jesse, I think Mrs. O’Malley has a point,” Frank said.
Neil showed up around then with fresh clothes for Mae and the news that the kids had been farmed out.
“Janelle and Doug have the twins and Ellen,” Neil told us. Mae, obviously, knew who Janelle and Doug were. “They’re all pretty antsy, but Janelle swears she understands.” He winced and looked at Mae apologetically. “I, uh, told everyone that Lisa had been in an accident.”
“Thanks,” Mae said, closing her eyes.
“Anyway, Mary Ellen Watts asked to take care of Janey, and Darby is holed up with his buddy Tad Wold.”
“That’s as good as we can do,” Mae said.
I didn’t say so but thought that Darby would have been better off with Nick. They were the same age and good friends. Neil left somewhat later. He’d taken an adjunct position at the USC dental school and had a class to teach.
“I’d cancel it, but there’s going to be an opening for a full-time position next year,” Neil said as I walked him out to his car. “I really want to get it. I’ve always liked teaching.”
In addition to his regular dental practice, Neil had always taught a class at the dental school near them since I’d known him.
“What about your practice?” I asked him.
Neil shrugged. “We’re trying to figure that out. I have to maintain some kind of practice, anyway, so we’ll see. Just a lot of moving parts to re-arrange.” He took a deep breath. “Anyway, Sid, I know we’re all trying to think positive for Lisa’s sake, and I’m confident we’ll get her back. But I want you to know that if the worst does happen, you’ll still be a part of our family. Both you and Nick.”
I almost choked, it was so hard to breathe, and I was so thankful that Neil had pulled me into a firm hug because I could barely stand. It was hard enough thinking about Lisa being gone. But that Neil had the decency and the kindness to reassure me that way. I hadn’t even realized I’d needed to hear it.
Somehow, I pulled myself together. “Thanks, Neil.”
I watched him get into the car and drive away. Then went back inside as another car pulled up out front.
The procession of friends continued. Kathy and Jesse left in the middle of the afternoon. Frank hung on until four-thirty.
“I have to go make dinner for Esther,” he told me. “Have to pay my rent somehow.”
Frank is a damn fine musician. In fact, that’s how the two of us bonded, initially.
Given how much luck plays into making a living in the arts and that Frank had, possibly, the worst luck of any human I’ve known, it was no surprise to me that Esther was, for all intents and purposes, supporting him. Esther, who was an engineer with one of the major defense plants in the area, and her father, a doctor, had bought a duplex in West Hollywood the previous fall. Around that same time, Frank had been hired for what was supposed to be a major tour with some rock star. About two cities in, however, said rock star went on a drug-induced binge for the ages, which resulted in a very well-publicized trip to rehab instead. While public sentiment was all about the poor singer’s struggles, there was part of me that really resented that all the support musicians were suddenly without jobs, in particular, Frank. Fortunately for him, Esther had invited him to move in with her and her cousin.
Frank had taken the reversal of fortune in stride and was learning Vietnamese in earnest. He called it self-defense, although he’d been picking the language up here and there as long as I’d known him. Besides, Frank and Esther were not simply best buddies any more than Lisa and I were simply good friends. They joked around a lot – they both had an amazingly raucous sense of humor that belied their deep commitment to their faith – and they avoided physical affection of all kinds. But those of us who really knew them could see there was more than simple friendship between the two. It was just a matter of time. Kind of like it was for Lisa and me.
I sent Frank on his way and shut the door to the house, then went to the kitchen to see what I would do about dinner.
“I will take care of it,” Conchetta snarled.
I stepped back. “But you’ll have to stay late.”
One of Conchetta’s many boundaries was her hours. She worked from ten a.m. to five-thirty p.m., period. Her granddaughter had some medical condition – Conchetta would never elaborate on what it was – and needed specialized care. By that time, Conchetta’s daughter had gotten a good day job, but the granddaughter needed to stay at a special care center, and Conchetta had to leave by five-thirty to pick the child up. Lisa and I refused to get in the way of that.
“It’s alright.” Conchetta glared at me, then softened a little. “I can come tomorrow, too.”
“Uh.” I swallowed. “That’s incredibly kind of you, but no. Your family needs you and holding down the fort here will give me something to do.”
She glared at me. “You better not reorganize the pantry.”
I put my hands up. “I promise not to.”
“I’ll take care of dinner tonight and then see you Monday.” She paused. “And call me if you hear anything.”
“I will.” I left, amazed at Conchetta’s behavior.
I found myself prowling again, feeling completely mixed up. Conchetta insisting on helping past her work hours, that had filled my heart. Lisa’s friends had helped, too. If only it wasn’t because Lisa was in such danger.
“We’re in here,” Mae called from the living room.
She was sitting in one of the blue velvet wing-back chairs facing the bay window overlooking the street. Nick was nearby, playing with the cats. I sank onto the couch. Long John immediately abandoned Nick and curled up in my lap as she so often did.
“They’re romancing you,” Mae said.
“Lisa’s friends from church. They’re coming by for your sake, Sid. They’ve been encouraging me, too. But they’re mostly coming to share their love with you.”
“That’s ridiculous.” I shook my head. “They don’t even know me that well. Not to mention that most of my dealings with that group have been extremely awkward, at best. They have no reason to love me.”
“But they love Lisa, which means that’s not going to stop them from loving you.”
“It never stopped Lisa, either.”
Suddenly, I needed to be alone. To be anywhere but there, facing what Lisa had shared with me. Facing that Lisa loved me.
I didn’t wait for dinner, but slid out to the garage, dressed in my usual hunting ensemble of slacks, silk shirt, sweater. I hoped like hell that Mae hadn’t seen me, but I needed desperately to go out. There was something drastically wrong, besides Lisa being gone, and I needed to be sure that it wasn’t me.
Andrea Norton was as close to a perfect fuck as I could get. We’d been friends for years. It was uncomfortable that more than a few of the women I’d slept with over the previous few months had noticed that I was hung up on Lisa but not, in retrospect, surprising. Andrea not only didn’t care, she welcomed my fantasies.
Suddenly faced with a lack of interest in sex for the first time since I was thirteen, Andrea seemed the best chance I had at proving to myself that I could still perform. The good news was that I could. The bad news… It was one of the few times I came first. I’d told her I was ready at least twice. Admittedly, I usually lasted longer, and I do concede she had reason to complain in that respect. But she had not been in the least interested in why I was there, and even less in my worries about Lisa. So, I left her very pissed off. Okay, dropping the cash on her dresser didn’t help.