Monday morning, we got a call from Upline. I needed to go to Las Vegas to look at some videotape to see if I could identify our contact. Sid couldn’t go because he wasn’t yet cleared to return to work after his injury, and also, they were worried about him being recognized. I was instructed to change my appearance, which meant my blonde wig and makeup, which I took with me.
I put on the wig and the makeup at the airport while I was waiting for my flight. It seemed a little ridiculous that I had to go all that way just to look at some video, but that was the job, at times.
I met my counterpart, Blue Moon, at the Las Vegas airport. He was a smallish man, of nervous mien, or so it appeared. He drove me to an industrial park only a few minutes away from the airport.
“I was on the team when they nabbed Big Red,” he said, referring to Sid’s code name. “I want to grab this schmuck so bad my teeth hurt.” Blue Moon glanced over at me. “I heard he came out of it okay.”
“He did,” I said.
By that point, Blue Moon was pulling into a parking space in front of a box-like building with a white stucco exterior and dark glass doors at even intervals in the wall.
He pulled me into a spacious room filled with player pianos. Three of the walls held shelves filled with long red and white boxes. Several of the pianos had boxes scattered on their tops, and piano rolls falling out of them.
“Welcome to the Code Factory,” Blue Moon told me as I looked around.
“Impressive,” I said, trying desperately to hold onto my cool exterior.
I’d heard about the Code Factory before. Its name notwithstanding, it was mostly about breaking codes and the crew had a phenomenal record.
“Wasn’t this one of the groups that got scuttled when the Yellow Line went down last summer?” I asked.
“It just changed lines,” Blue Moon said with a chuckle. “They weren’t going to let this place go.”
I didn’t doubt it. Blue Moon led me into the inner office where a VCR was hooked up to a small TV. Videocassettes littered the desktop. A second man and a woman looked up as Blue Moon and I entered the office.
“Meet Little Red,” Blue Moon said, jerking a thumb at me. “This here is Blue Nun and Blue Shield.”
Oddly enough, Blue Nun was the man and Blue Shield was the woman. They nodded at me, then Blue Shield pressed a button on the VCR.
“There was a break-in here last night,” she said. “The video caught this man going through the file cabinets. We think he might be our suspect, but as you can see, it’s a little hard to see.”
I watched the grainy black and white video as the man opened drawer after drawer. He looked pretty ordinary, but then I spotted something.
“Stop!” I yelped. “Can we back it up a little?”
Blue Shield pressed the buttons and the video slowly went in reverse.
“There,” I said.
Blue Shield ran it forward, frame by frame.
“That’s it,” I said, pointing it out on the screen. “That’s the scar, down the outside of his left hand.”
“Good,” said Blue Moon.
“But that doesn’t answer why he was here,” I said.
The others shrugged, but I suspected at least one or more of them knew why.
Radio static suddenly filled the tiny office.
“Blue Nun, we’ve got the suspect holed up in a house northeast of your location.”
Everyone in the office tensed. Blue Moon pressed a button on a microphone next to the TV.
“Give us your location.”
The address made no sense to me, but to the others, it was crystal clear.
“Let’s go,” said Blue Shield.
Blue Moon grinned at me and nodded. We ran for his car while Blue Nun and Blue Shield ran for another one. It didn’t take long to get to the address from the radio. It was a small ranch-style house, badly in need of paint. Another car pulled away as our two cars pulled up. Blue Moon put on an all-over ski mask and pulled his gun.
Now, I want to point out that my fellow agents are incredibly brave and have amazing skills when it comes to a wide variety of espionage-related activities. However, apprehending suspects is not something we do very often. In fact, leaving someone hog-tied for the normal authorities is about the extent of it, and that’s usually because we were already fighting with the suspect, not because we were trying to arrest him or her. So when I write that Blue Moon went charging up the driveway to the front door of the house as if he were leading the charge up San Juan Hill, it’s not that he was being stupid. He just wasn’t very good at that kind of extraction because it wasn’t what he did.
I scrambled after him, terrified that he was going to walk right into the contact’s fire. That didn’t happen, thank God. Blue Moon crashed through the front door, and I covered him. We all but fell into a large, empty living room. Blue Moon went running for the kitchen. I heard a window scraping open from the back and slid down the short hallway.
I rolled into the bedroom where I thought I’d heard the window. Sure enough, the contact was just outside the back window. He lifted his revolver and I ducked behind the door. The gunfire roared and two bullets slammed into the door jamb. I eased myself out from behind the door. The contact ran across the huge, barren backyard toward the back fence. Blue Moon came running into the yard from the kitchen. I didn’t take any chances and fired. The contact faltered, but got over the fence a second later and disappeared. Blue Moon chased after but returned a moment later.
“We, uh, probably should have waited a moment later to cover the back,” he gasped.
“Yeah. We should have,” I said.
Blue Shield and Blue Nun came running up and reported that the contact had, indeed, gotten away.
We hurried back to the Code Factory before the police could find us on the scene, although Blue Nun made sure the house would be watched. At the Code Factory, I looked at the others.
“So, what would the contact be looking for?” I asked.
Blue Shield sighed. “We don’t know. He was going through the files for our visible business, which would have made sense up until last summer. We used to hide things in plain sight. It was just easier that way. But last year, there was that leak. I don’t know if you heard about it.”
“Yeah.” I couldn’t say so, but Sid and I had been instrumental in plugging that particular leak.
“Anyway, when we changed lines, we found a way to better hide our sensitive files.” She sighed again. “Moon, why don’t you drive Little Red back to the airport?”
Blue Moon nodded and away we went. He apologized over and over for screwing up the apprehension, which was really annoying. There wasn’t anything I could say. He had screwed it up. Once at the airport, I made sure he’d left, double-checked for tails, then bought my flight home. While waiting, I sulked and sank ten dollars in change into the slot machines. Not my brightest move, as the slots at the Vegas airport are notoriously stingy.
I got home in time to give Sid a quick report before dinner. We agreed that it was curious, but that there wasn’t much to be done. Nick talked extensively about his day over dinner, then George arrived to take me to the teen bible study.
We got back around eleven. George helped me into the house as I was pretty queezy.
“I’m proud of you, Lisa,” George said, as we stumbled through the hall to my rooms.
“Ugh.” I held onto my stomach. It figured he’d be proud of me.
“Really. I am. It was a valiant effort.”
“George, you’ve said that five times in the last hour. I don’t care how valiant it was, I still lost.”
“But second place–”
“I hate second place!” I yelped.
Sid came slowly down the hall from the rumpus room.
“Lisa, are you alright?” he asked.
“Just suffering the effects of my ruinous eating habits,” I said. “And I don’t want a lecture.”
“We had the pig trough tournament tonight at the youth group,” George explained.
“George, shut up,” I groaned.
He continued without mercy. “Lisa did really well. She was up against high school football players. Didn’t even bother with the ladies’ competition. She almost beat Jeff Childs. He’s huge, too. He just barely won.”
“By three lousy seconds.” I sniffed. That hurt worse than my stomach. “Goodnight, George.”
I shrugged George away and went into my outer room. A few minutes later, Sid knocked on the door.
“Are you dressed?” he asked.
“Yes.” I hadn’t left the couch.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked as he came in.
I shook my head. “Don’t bother. I’ve got Pepto in my medicine cabinet. I’ll get it in a minute.”
“Okay. Do I want to know what a pig trough tournament is?”
“A pig trough is a double banana split,” I replied. “A long time ago, it was determined that to eat two pig troughs in one sitting was no big deal for Jeff Childs, Father John, Frank, me, and a few other young men, all of whom play football. So we decided to see who could eat two pig troughs the fastest.”
“That competition being tonight.”
“Mm-hm. Don’t tell me I deserve what I got. I know I do. I guess the thing that really irritates me is that I could have beat Jeff a couple years ago.” I snorted. “A couple years ago, my stomach would be giving me this much trouble. I’m getting old, Sid.”
He chuckled. “You have no right to make that statement until you are on my side of thirty. Of course, if you’d learn to take care of yourself…”
“Sid, please. I just can’t handle a health lecture right now.”
“I only lecture because I care.”
“I know. I appreciate that.”
“Alright. I’ll spare you. I guess I can forgive an occasional binge for the sake of competition. My sympathies on not quite making it. I know how you feel about second place.”
“By the way, what was your time?”
“Twelve minutes, forty-eight seconds.”
“Pretty impressive. Makes it all the more frustrating, doesn’t it?” Sid came over and began massaging my shoulders.
“Yeah.” I shook my head. “George thought it was terrific.”
“I get the feeling that George would have thought it was terrific if you had come in last place.”
“He would.” I made a face. “It’s funny. I used to think it’d be wonderful to have someone think I could do no wrong.”
“It is rather draining to be put on a pedestal, isn’t it?”
“Yep. I’m going to have to talk to George about that.”
“Do that,” Sid said, then gently kissed the top of my head. “Goodnight, Lisa.”
As he moved away, I caught his hand and squeezed it.
The next morning, I took Nick with me to buy the camping gear that I didn’t already have. He had recorded “Sad Lisa” off my album onto a cassette tape and played it at least three times on my truck’s tape deck while we were out. We didn’t get back until well after lunch. Sid left the office and the two went back to piano lessons in the library while I tried to get caught up on the writing work. Nick was picking it up, though slowly, and was trying to learn “Sad Lisa.” I have to give Nick a lot of credit for sticking with it. He was usually too hyper for anything like that. But he was determined to learn how to play that song and banged away at it for over three hours, at which point, both Sid and I told him that was enough.
George came by in time for dinner, then hovered as I tried to pack.
“Why can’t I go with you?” he asked for the third time as I hauled my clothes out to the duffle bag on the cutting table in my outer room.
“I told you, George. It’s women only.” I glared at the collection of shorts, t-shirts, bras, underpants on the cutting table.
“But, Lisa, you shouldn’t be going by yourselves. It’s too dangerous.”
“We’re not going by ourselves. There’ll be four of us.” I looked at him. “Both Angelique and I have taken self-defense, and Kathy and Esther can keep their heads. We’ll be fine.”
“I don’t like it. You’re going to be in Mexico, you know.”
“Someplace you go all the time,” I pointed out as I shuffled around tops and bottoms.
George blushed as I set out a stack of bras. “Your Spanish isn’t so good.”
“Neither is yours, George. Will you quit worrying?”
“I can’t help it. I love you.” He put his sweet teddy bear face.
I stopped and had to smile at him. “I know, George. I love you, too. I just… I don’t know. You’ve been so overprotective lately, hovering all the time, and flowers every other minute. I don’t understand.”
George looked puzzled. “But, Lisa, we’re engaged.”
“So? I’m still the same girl you were dating. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. It’s that you’re overdoing it. It’s like Nick and ‘Sad Lisa.’ It’s my favorite song and I love it, but I’m getting tired of hearing because it’s on all the time.”
“I guess.” George looked down at his feet. He looked at me, then pulled me into his arms. “It’s just that I love you so much and I’m so excited about getting married. I want to be with you all I can. Yesterday, you were gone and I missed you. Lisa, you are literally the woman I’ve always dreamed of marrying. I knew it the night I met you. I’ve been so patient waiting for you. Now that I have you and will always have you, I don’t want to be away from you. Do you understand that?”
I sighed. “I suppose I do. But do you understand that I need room to breathe? I’m not the clinging vine type. I’m too independent. That’s why I’m going to continue working after we’re married.”
“If you really want to.” George took a deep breath and let it out. “I do want you to be happy. I still don’t like it. I was us to be able to share completely. I’m so glad I don’t have to work, we can do everything together. Complete oneness and unity. That’s what marriage is all about.”
“That doesn’t mean glued to each other.” I slid out of his arms and went back to perusing the list I had set beside the duffle bag. “We can be apart sometimes and still share completely.”
“But you don’t.”
I stiffened. “I share.”
“No, you don’t. Like yesterday. Where were you all day? You never said. I had to ask Sid.”
“What did he say?”
“That you were in Las Vegas doing research.”
“That’s where I was.” I moved around to the other side of the cutting table.
“Then why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I didn’t want you following me there.” I glared at him. It was a lot closer to the truth than I’d really wanted.
George stepped back as if I’d hit him in the stomach. I blinked back tears.
“I wouldn’t have done that,” he said, obviously very hurt. “All you had to do was ask.”
“But I did ask, at least twice, when I was in Ventura, and you still came.”
“Didn’t we have fun?”
“That’s not the point, George.” I took a deep breath. “It’s that you don’t listen, and so, when I need to do things, I can’t tell you what I’m doing. It’s why I didn’t tell you where we were going camping.” I hadn’t, initially, told him that I was even going, let alone where. But George had found out about the trip from Jesse, who, of course, had been told by Kathy. “I don’t know where you got this cockamamie idea of marriage meaning two people glued to each other, but it’s not my idea of marriage. I love you, George. You’re sweet, you’re kind, you’re a good man. And if I’m your perfect woman, then why can’t you just let me be who I am?”
George looked away. I could have sworn there were tears in his eyes.
“Jesse said I was getting a little pushy.”
“You were.” I went over to him. “George, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I get that you’re excited and I’m glad you are. It was just too much, is all.”
He shrugged haplessly. “I just want everything to be perfect for us.”
I slid into his arms. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be us.”
“This is why I love you, Lisa,” he said softly.
We kissed and I felt such a strong rush of love for him. We lingered for several minutes, then George left and I finished packing my bag and began the process of packing the truck.
The trip was an incredible success. I suppose I should have been a little more concerned when I checked in with Upline at a payphone near the Mexican border and Kathy gave me a funny look. But I was with friends, I was having fun, and I was more relaxed than I’d been in a very long time. We didn’t even do that much four-wheeling, only to where we’d set up camp. We spent most of the time sunbathing, swimming, eating, talking, and even reading.
Until Friday evening when Kathy began longing out loud for civilization, and the others agreed that it was time to head back to San Diego and find a hotel. That was going to be a bit tricky for me. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to change plans like that. So, I found a moment to get into my truck’s glove box and tapped out a signal for my Upline person. I got the signal back to radio near midnight.
Fortunately, we’d all bedded down by that point. I slipped out of the tent and slipped over to my truck. I opened the door, got in and shut it as quietly as I could, then put my key in the lock and turned the battery on. The radio was in the glove box and looked pretty much like your basic Citizens Band radio, but was a lot more powerful.
“This is Little Red to Red Base, come in,” I said into the mike.
“Red Base to Little Red, we copy.” The voice on the radio blasted out loud.
I quickly turned it down. “The civilians want to change plans. We’re headed back to San Diego in the morning. Over.”
“Copy that, Little Red. Thanks for the update. Over.”
“Over and out.” I reached over and turned the radio off.
I slipped back to the tent as quietly as I could. Kathy was awake.
“What were you doing in your truck?” she asked sleepily.
“Just checking something,” I said. “It’s okay.”
Kathy yawned and went back to sleep. I started breathing again.
We got back into San Diego in the early afternoon, got a couple rooms next to each other and that first delicious shower after camping. By that time, it was getting close to six. Angelique said she knew of a really good Mexican restaurant, not far from the downtown FBI offices, but by the time we got there, the wait for a table was at least an hour.
“I’m starved!” I groaned.
“You’re always starved.” Esther grinned.
“Well, I’m hungry, too,” said Angelique.
“It’s not going to be any better anyplace else,” Kathy.
That we had to agree was true. Kathy gave her name to the hostess and we went into the bar to wait. Fortunately, there was a table near the back. I grabbed the chair facing the room and then noticed Angelique was checking out all the men.
We ordered a pitcher of margaritas and Esther added a round of tequila on the side.
“They always make the margaritas too weak,” Esther said.
“Uh, guys,” Angelique said, hesitantly. “Would you be terribly upset if I broke off and returned to the hotel a little later?”
I pressed my lips closed.
“Ange!” Kathy said, her voice dripping with mock outrage.
“Ange, Ange, Ange.” Esther shook her head. “I say we throw the book at her. She is really violating the pact. She’s not only talking about a man but threatening to go off with him. Despicable.”
“How low can you get?” Kathy asked.
“I stand convicted. Guilty as charged.” Angelique laughed. “My deepest apologies, and to make it up to you, I’ll not only stay, I’ll pay for the drinks.”
“I move we reinstate her,” Esther said promptly.
“I second the motion,” I said quickly.
“All those in favor, say aye,” Kathy said with a grin.
Which we all did.
The waitress arrived with the pitcher glasses, and a big basket of chips, salsa, and a plate of serrano chiles. Angelique tried the salsa and pronounced it far too spicy for her. I tasted it and shook my head.
“Not near spicy enough,” I pronounced, grabbing a serrano.
“And speaking of spicy,” said Esther. “Can we talk guys now?”
“Why?” I asked and Kathy began shaking her head.
I should have known better.
“Because I want to know, is Sid Hackbirn really as sexy as they say?”
Kathy looked at me reprovingly. Angelique laughed.
“What do you think, Lisa?” Angelique asked me, still laughing.
I stammered. “Me? I’m not sleeping with him.”
“We know that,” said Esther, dunking a chip.
“So. That doesn’t mean you don’t know how sexy he is,” Angelique said, toying with her glass. “You’re closer to him than any of us. You can’t tell us you don’t want to sleep with him.”
“Yeah, I can,” I said, then blushed. “Okay, I’ve been tempted. But I want a real relationship. I don’t want to have to wonder what he’s saying to someone else or if I really am the best or whatever. I want a real commitment, and we all know Sid is simply not up to that. I deserve a real commitment. We all do.”
“Yeah,” said Angelique thoughtfully.
“So, Ange, is he really that good in bed?” Esther demanded.
“You’re not going to get her to give up until you spill,” Kathy said.
Angelique laughed, then sighed. “Okay. Yes, he is that good in bed. He has this way of making you feel like you’re the only person in the world and it’s incredible.”
“Too bad he can’t sustain it,” I said. “But that’s the tragedy of his upbringing. He wasn’t taught about relationships and has no clue how to make one work.”
“Sadly, that’s true,” said Angelique. “In fact, that’s why I’ve never really understood you two. I mean, I can see you’re friends, but I just don’t understand how he kept you around long enough to become friends.”
“Oh, he told me upfront he didn’t have time for virgins with standards,” I said, munching on another chile. “But I was working for him and he got dependent on that, and then he realized he’d lose me if he did get me into bed. And we both had to work at it. I didn’t have a lot of respect for his values, either. We eventually worked it out and that’s how it happened.”
“Blech,” said Esther. “I didn’t want a goopy answer.”
Then she said something so obscene, I’m still blushing about it. Kathy, at that point, gave up trying to keep Esther in rein, and the whole conversation devolved rapidly into a discussion on meeting one’s more intimate needs. I couldn’t even begin to keep up, and the worst of it was, I was getting hot under the collar and hearing Sid laughing his fool head off at my naivete. The only thing that saved me was that my pager went off. I excused myself and went to the restrooms, where there was a payphone on the wall.
I listened at both the men’s room, then the ladies’ room doors and didn’t hear anything. I dialed the phone number on my pager and gave the receiver code.
“I saw that you were down here,” the man on the other end said. “We’re calling everyone in. That suspect you guys on the Red Line have been after, we’ve got orders from Upline to bring him in, and we’re doing it tonight.”
“That’s good news.”
“We need you to meet us in thirty.”
“Uh, no can do. I’m with civilians and they’ll notice it if I take off.”
The man cursed. “What are you doing with civilians?”
“My line is down, remember? I’m on vacation.”
He cursed again. “Look, is there any way you can get your pals to this restaurant? It’s a popular one with the Feds in the area.”
“We’re already here,” I said, mentally snarling at Angelique for suggesting it.
“Great. We’ll need an extra lookout in case it goes sideways. Say you saw a friend and went running after, if you need to.”
“Hmmm. Alright. We should be getting seated at any time, though, and it’s really crowded.”
“That’s one of the reasons we want to do it there. Can you stay in the bar?”
“No promises,” I said, thinking of George and his complaints about me holding out on him.
There wasn’t much the man could do. I couldn’t blow my cover. I hung up and went to the bathroom. When I got back to the table, the hostess was standing there with an apologetic look on her face.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“It’s going to be another hour,” Esther grumbled.
“I’m afraid we have a couple large parties tonight and people aren’t leaving,” the hostess said.
And Sid wonders why I pray.
“Is there any way we can have dinner in here?” I asked.
The hostess smiled in relief. “Of course. I’ll get you some menus.”
She returned quickly and we took even less time to order.
I kept an eye on the crowd as the conversation between the others lumbered over other areas. Even as I did, I began to feel a little resentful. Sid and I had become exceptionally close because of Operation Quickline. It’s how we survived and that was not something I could share with George. I didn’t even want to, really, not because I would have minded working with George, but because of what I was watching out for: danger. I didn’t want to expose George to that. I didn’t want to expose anyone I cared about to it. Operation Quickline had become a barrier between me and everyone I loved, and at that moment, it made me angry.
As our dinners finally arrived, the mood in the bar shifted very subtly. Angelique noticed it first.
“I wonder if something’s about to go down,” she said, looking around.
Esther looked around the bar, too. I spotted at least two men and a woman I’d seen from drops and the like.
“What do you mean?” Kathy asked.
“It’s a weird vibe, like the guys in the office get when they’re about to go on a major operation.” She nodded at one of the two men. “That guy there has a gun.”
“Should we leave?” Kathy asked, looking a little forlornly at her plate.
Angelique scrunched up her face. “Nah. It’s probably not going to happen here.”
No sooner had she said that when the contact slid into the bar from the back. His eyes flitted everywhere and I put my head down as he looked our way.
“I think I know that guy,” Angelique said, nodding at the contact. “Now what’s his name?”
“Oh, they’re going after him,” Esther said.
The three Quickline agents surrounded the contact and squeezed him between themselves. The contact was having none of it. He struggled and yelled. The agents drew their guns.
“Get down!” I hollered, diving under the table as the bar filled with screams.
Angelique kept down but started toward the struggling group. Terrified, I scuttled after her and caught her when she just a few feet from the struggle.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I hissed at her as a tall table went over, spewing glassware and margaritas everywhere.
“I know him. He’s a good guy.”
“But you’re not an agent and there’s three of them and only one of you!” At that point, I realized why they’d needed me at the restaurant. If Angelique knew the contact as a good guy, then he was probably a Fed, which meant there might have been other Feds mistakenly defending the contact, thinking he was their colleague.
The Quickline agents took advantage of the chaos to subdue the contact somehow and spirit him out of the bar. Seconds later, FBI Special Agents filled the bar, taking statements. I dragged Angelique back to our table.
“What did you think you were doing?” Esther screamed at Angelique. “Did you want to get yourself killed?”
“But he’s one of ours and he’s just been kidnapped.” Angelique started crying.
“Did you want to get kidnapped too?” Esther demanded, her fury making her face red. “They had guns. I don’t see a gun on you. You think they were going to stop just because you said so? You think you were going to put them out? You watch too much TV!”
“Easy, Esther,” Kathy said, more out of force of habit than anything else. She was trembling all over. “Oh, my god, that was scary.”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice strangled. I did not want to think about what could have happened to these, my dearest friends.
“What are we going to do?” Angelique cried.
An older man in a suit approached, showing his badge and ID.
“Evening, ladies,” he said gently. “We need to get a statement on what you saw.”
“He’s a good guy,” Angelique sobbed. “And they just took him out of here.”
“I’m afraid he wasn’t,” the older man said.
“Let me see your ID,” Angelique demanded.
The man handed it over. Even in the dim light of the bar, it looked good. The name on it was Charles Wyzecki.
“You’re Charlie Wyzecki?” Angelique asked.
“Yes, ma’am. And you are?”
“Angelique Carter. I work for Henry James in the L.A. office.” Angelique grabbed her purse and dug her own ID case out. “I know that guy they dragged out of here. I just can’t remember his name.”
“It’s always hard when it’s one of our own,” Wyzecki sighed.
“But what about due process?” Angelique asked.
“He’ll get it. He was just stealing a lot of sensitive information, so we have to debrief him first so that we can present a case without betraying secrets.”
Angelique shuddered. Wyzecki got each of our statements and our names and addresses in a remarkably short time. The restaurant offered us replacement meals, but we were too shook to really eat them. Or, rather, the others were. I ate even more than usual, but as I pointed out, being upset made me eat more.
We returned to the hotel after that. Angelique and I were sharing a room. She was still very upset.
“You just think you know somebody,” she sighed after we’d climbed into bed. “Not that I knew this guy that well. But he was around a lot. And, you know what, it was something involving covert operations. Sheez.”
“Really?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t start asking questions about Sid or me.
“Yeah.” She sniffed. “I’m sorry I spoiled everything.”
“You didn’t spoil anything,” I said. “Who knew something like this would happen? I mean, come on. Agents taking some enemy in a crowded bar? How often does that happen?”
“Given some of the phone calls I’ve gotten, probably more often than you might think,” Angelique said. She paused. “I’ve been thinking, too. About what you said about Sid and what I deserve. You know, you’re right. I deserve better than what I’ve got with him.”
“Good. Um. Please don’t tell him I said that, though.”
Angelique chuckled weakly. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” Another pause. “Your friends are pretty special.”
“All my friends are pretty special, Angelique.”
“That’s me, too, huh?”
“Good. Thanks.” There was an even longer pause. “I’d kind of like to stay friends with Sid, too. You think that’s possible?”
“I don’t know. It depends on how easy you find it to stay out of his bedroom. As we both noted, he’s pretty tempting.”
“Maybe I’ll go cold turkey for a while.”
We laughed softly and it wasn’t long before I could hear Angelique’s soft breathing as she slept. I fell asleep fairly soon after that.
We spent Sunday goofing off in San Diego, shopping and generally trying to relax after the night before. Around five, we found a payphone at another restaurant, nowhere near the local FBI offices. I called George, Esther called her father, Kathy called Jesse, and Angelique called Sid. The message was essentially the same: We were going to leave San Diego when we were darned good and ready and not to wait up for us.
That being said, it was only a bit after eleven when I finally pulled my truck into the garage in Beverly Hills. Angelique had gone back to her place and would pick up her things later. I was surprised to find that Sid was still up.
“I hope you had a good time,” he said as he helped me unpack the camping gear, which we stowed on the side of the garage for the time being.
“Very nice,” I replied. “Somewhat more eventful than we expected, but still good.”
“Terrific.” He looked over the gear, then nodded toward the door. “We need to talk.”
I yawned. “Now?”
I followed him into the house. He led me to the office.
“We’ve got some good news, bad news,” he said as we went. “They captured our contact over the weekend.”
“I know. I was there,” I said. “Angelique wanted to go to this restaurant near the local FBI office, and guess where they wanted to stage the bust?”
“Angelique was pretty messed up. She recognized the contact and thought he was a good guy.”
Sid’s eyebrow lifted. “Does this have anything to do with why she went to her place tonight?”
“Ummmm. Possibly?” I winced.
Sid looked at me for a moment, then shrugged. “Whatever. We will be hosting the prisoner after the debriefing until they can get the charges together.”
“Okay. Any idea when that’s going to happen?”
“Not really.” Sid sighed. “And that’s the bad news. You need to go to San Francisco tomorrow to finalize any travel arrangements.”
Sid shrugged. “I don’t understand it, either. But I have to be here to pick up our contact when he becomes available, so that leaves you.”
“Alright. How long do you think I’ll be gone?”
“The meeting is set for two. You’ve got an eleven-thirty flight. With luck, you could be home for dinner. But I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Okay.” I frowned. “George is not going to like this.”
“He already knows you’re going.”
“He called you again.”
Sid shrugged. “After you called him to let him know you were coming in late tonight. He wanted to be sure I didn’t worry.”
“Does he know where I’m going?”
“Terrific, Sid. Do you realize he’ll probably follow me up there?”
“Even if you asked him not to?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. I had to get on his case pretty hard about the Baja trip. But that doesn’t mean he actually heard me. I’m a little worried that he decided to call you after I told him I’d be late.”
“What the hell.” Sid waved his hand. “Get him to delay his arrival until tomorrow morning. Then why don’t the two of you hop over to Tahoe so he can meet your folks? You can afford to.”
I looked at him carefully. “Why do I smell a touch of something rotten in the state of Denmark?”
Sid smiled, oh-so-innocently. “If you are implying that I have ulterior motives, then rest easy. Mae called this morning so Darby could talk to Nick before he left.” (Mae is my older sister and Darby is her son. Darby and Nick are the same age and good friends.) “Before the boys talked, we got to chatting and Mae let on that your folks are a little concerned that they haven’t met George yet.”
I glared at him. “And there is not even a hint of sadistic glee on your part at the thought of George meeting my father?”
Sid and my daddy just barely got along. By all accounts, it was because Daddy was jealous, which made no sense whatsoever.
“Well, it will be interesting to see how they get on,” Sid said. “But I do not doubt that there will be no problems. George is a fine, upstanding, well-intentioned, young man. In short, he is everything I am not. He and your father should get along famously.” Sid smiled then turned to the office door. “I assume you are very tired after your little trip. Time for both of us to get some sleep. Goodnight, Lisa.”
I sighed. “Goodnight, Sid.”
[I will interject here. There was a certain amount of glee at the thought of George meeting your father, but not sadistic glee. When Mae suggested that I set up the meeting, I was a touch put out.
“Why?” Mae asked. “Daddy will love George.”
“Nice of you to rub it in.”
Mae laughed. “For someone who says he knows my baby sister so well, you are not getting it.”
“How stubborn Lisa is and how if Daddy wants her to do something, she’ll turn around and do the opposite.”
I chuckled. “You’re right.”
“Besides, Daddy doesn’t like you because he’s jealous of you. He is not going to be jealous of George.” She paused. “Get it?”
Unfortunately, when Angelique called to let me know she was moving out again, she suggested that I try to break you and George up and go for you, myself. Which I absolutely, in no way, was going to do. But, damn, I wanted to. – SEH]