The next morning, George called me right at eight, which given his tendencies to sleep in, meant a lot. He wanted to come up with me. I asked him to meet me the next morning. We compromised on meeting for dinner that night at the hotel where I was planning to stay. He was very excited about driving up to Tahoe the next day to meet my parents.
I sat back in my desk chair. Something was up. George’s behavior was definitely odd, but at least I could pinpoint a reason for it. He was trying to make up to me after our fight before the Baja trip. Sid, on the other hand, was back to playing the distance game. The night before, it had been more like usual with him. That morning, however, he was gruff and didn’t say one word more to me than he had to. He wasn’t mad, at least, I didn’t think so. I decided it was time to find out.
I slid into his office. “Hey.”
“Yes?” he said without looking up from the computer screen. I couldn’t tell what he was reading.
“We’ve got to talk.”
He sighed and turned to me. “About what?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged and flopped into one of the chairs in front of his desk. “You seem off. Did you talk to Angelique?”
Sid’s eyebrow lifted. “Yeah. She called last night. She’s moving out.” He looked at me. “Which I’m assuming you already knew.”
“Yeah. How are you feeling about it?”
“Fine.” He was.
“Then it’s not her that’s bothering you.”
“I never said it was.”
I sighed. “Then it’s something about George.”
“What about him?” Sid went back to reading his screen.
“I don’t know, Sid. That’s why I’m here. You’re avoiding me again. I think you’ve been avoiding the whole issue.”
“I don’t think I have.” Sid paused, pressed a few keys, then went back to reading.
“Not on the surface, maybe. But we’re not really talking about it. You keep dancing around the issue and I don’t know how you really feel about it.”
“What difference does it make, Lisa? I have no right to interfere. I’ve set it up like that and you’ve made your commitment.”
“Sid, you’re my friend and a very important person in my life. If we’re to continue that friendship, I need you to be open and honest.”
Sid sighed, but he turned and faced me. “What can I say? As your husband, George will be taking my place in many ways. How do I feel about it? Not good. What do you expect? But at the same time, I do respect you, Lisa, and it is your choice.”
“But you’re acting like you feel a little jealous.”
“A little?” Sid’s eyes bore into me. “Lisa, I feel a lot jealous.” He suddenly got up and prowled around the room. “More than jealous. I feel incredibly envious.” He paused and looked at me. “Do you realize, my dear woman, that when George marries you, he will be getting from you the one thing I have wanted from you more than anything else?”
“This isn’t just about the sex.”
“It’s a big part of it.” Sid resumed prowling. “It’s just… Look, I have nothing against George. He’s a nice guy. A bit of a goop, to use Nick’s terminology, but a nice guy, nonetheless. I once heard him say you were too good for him, and I must admit, I’m inclined to agree. But I want you to know that I’m not trying to break you guys up. I want to respect your choices, Lisa.”
“I know, Sid, and I appreciate it.”
“I want you to be happy.” Sadly, he landed on the edge of the desk closest to me. “I just don’t think you will be with George.”
I couldn’t help feeling a little defensive. “And if I disagree?”
Sid got up. “Well, you wanted my opinion.”
There was more to it than that. I knew Sid well enough for that to be plain. He continued prowling. I got up and stopped him.
“What do you want, Sid?”
He turned away. “What do you mean?”
“What do you want? What do you want me to do?”
“What I really want you to do. Deep down.” He looked up at the ceiling as if he couldn’t breathe.
“Alright.” Sid turned back to me, his bright blue eyes fixed on mine. He gently, oh, so gently, took my hands in his. “I want you to dump George.” He paused and swallowed. “And I want us to become lovers.”
“Lovers?” I stepped back.
“Yes,” He stepped closer. “I want you to move into my bedroom, Lisa. Permanently. I’m offering a lifetime commitment. I’m willing to go that far.”
My heart stopped and I blinked.
“They why not get married?” I heard myself say.
Sid’s hands slipped from mine and he began prowling again. “You know I don’t believe in marriage. It’s a crock.”
“Are you saying that what Mae and Neil have is a crock? Or my parents? Or any of a dozen other couples I could name?”
“No, but it’s not the piece of paper that does it.”
“But it does make a difference, and probably even to you. In fact, I suspect the whole reason you don’t want to marry me is not because of your principles but because you’d have a hard time justifying any infidelity.”
“It wouldn’t mean anything, Lisa.”
“Yes, it would and we both know it.”
“Alright.” Sid held his hands up. “You’re saying no. That’s that. We’ll forget I ever said anything.”
He looked so forlorn. I blinked back tears and took a deep breath.
“I’m not necessarily saying no,” I said softly.
He watched me as I began to prowl.
“I also have my feelings to consider,” I said.
“In your case, they’re very strong.”
He looked away. “Not strong enough.”
“Sid.” I walked over to him and softly brushed his arm. He turned to me, his brilliant blue eyes questioning me. “What you are asking me to do is something very hard for me to justify. But I’m going to try.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m going to think about it. I’m going to think very long and hard and pray about it.”
“Really?” Sid’s eyes lit up with hope.
“Yes. I’m not making any promises. I can’t.”
“I understand, Lisa. I don’t know that this will be easy for either of us.” He took my hands and gently pressed them to his shoulders. “But I do think we will make very good lovers.”
I smiled. “So, do I. That’s why I’m considering it.”
Tenderly, Sid placed his hands on my shoulders and his lips on mine. My arms slipped up and around his neck. His arms gently held me against him. As we pulled away, my hand rested on his shoulder, his soft hand playing with my hair. He held me as if I were the only person in the world for him, and I suspect that, for the first time in his life, I really was. [It was always you, but, no, that was not the first time. – SEH]
I looked at him uncertainly. He took my chin in his hand and gently, with just a spark of passion, kissed me again. I had touched his passion before and it had frightened me. This time, strangely, it reassured me.
“Sid, I…” I looked at him and then pulled away. “I– I’ve got to get going. I’ve got to pack and…”
I hurried to the doorway, then stopped and slowly turned to him.
“Sid, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think that until I tell you otherwise, I’d better consider myself still engaged to George. I don’t want to tell anyone about this. It’s not you. I just don’t want to upset George unnecessarily.”
“That’s perfectly reasonable,” Sid said. “I’ll see you whenever.”
“Alright. I’ll see you.” I fled.
[And I celebrated. Yeah, I know. Not the most appropriate response, but that’s when I knew you were not going to marry George, and that was the most important thing. Yeah, I wanted you as my lover, but even if you couldn’t, I knew it would happen eventually. But marrying George, that scared me like nothing else. I was afraid that you were running away from me and that if I meddled even the least bit, it would drive you right into his arms. That would have been a disaster for you and a longer wait for me.- SEH]
I left Los Angeles in a storm of mixed emotions. At that point, it seemed like it was Sid or George. I loved George, there was no doubt about that. He was very sweet, practically adored the ground I walked on. Yet Sid was also very sweet and while he did not adore the ground I walked on, he had told me once that I was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
I leaned back in my seat on the plane as it took off and remembered the incident. Sid had compared me to losing his virginity. I had been insulted until he reminded me just how much sex meant to him.
This wasn’t about the sex, though, at least, not all of it. Sid wanted me for our lifetimes, a huge concession for him. Or was it? We already lived together. We already had a strong commitment, thanks to Quickline. Admittedly, it had happened because we both thought that I could not be reassigned. If we hadn’t, Sid would never have let himself get backed into a situation where he was forced to communicate honestly with me. By the time we’d found out that I could be reassigned, our relationship was well on its way. In fact, it was very much like a marriage. About the only thing missing was the sex.
Only now, Sid was asking me to add that dimension. I caught my breath. Angelique had been right. I definitely knew how sexy Sid really was. There was a gentleness about him that was special, and warm, and very exciting. Sid aroused me like no other man could, even George.
Poor George. As much as I loved him, I had to admit, he had no grace. He was like a warm, cuddly teddy bear, and about as awkward, too. As far as I knew, George was still a virgin (and that was something else I should have asked before agreeing to marry him). Even if he wasn’t, that didn’t mean he’d be any good at lovemaking. Sid had told me more than once that good sex didn’t just happen, that it was a skill. I wondered how much time it would take for George and me to learn that skill.
The plane landed at the San Francisco airport. I rented a car there and drove it to the hotel downtown. I must have been out of my mind driving in that city. L.A. is bad enough. San Francisco is twice as crowded and has all those hills, besides. I was glad I’d gotten a car with an automatic transmission.
As I fought my way through the traffic, I couldn’t help thinking about Sid again. He’d grown up there, somewhere near the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. He’d taken me there before but I didn’t remember where it was. He had done all the driving that trip and I hadn’t paid that much attention to where we were going.
I did remember what a hassle parking was. I was glad to pay the valet at the hotel, which is saying a lot for me. I stuck to public transportation after that. I checked in and found that I only had a few minutes to get to the Fisherman’s Wharf, where the restaurant where I was to have my meeting was.
I was a good fifteen minutes late when I approached the desk at the restaurant.
“I’m supposed to meet Mr. Faber-Lloyd here,” I told the man at the desk. “My name is Miss Frye.”
“Miss Frye?” The man smiled. “Yes, Mr. Faber-Lloyd is expecting you. Right this way, please.”
Mr. Faber-Lloyd, a corpulent and elderly man in a cheap dark suit, was not alone at the table. The woman who sat next to him was petite and beautifully turned out. She had fluffy short hair and a pert nose. The last time I had seen her had been in Paris when Sid and I had been on a particularly difficult job, the only occasion I’d had to go overseas so far. She kept her face bland, but I could see that she recognized me.
“So, you’re Miss Frye,” Mr. Faber-Lloyd said, giving me the once-over. He was slurping up the broth of a pot of cioppino, a seafood stew that was the local specialty.
“Yes,” I said, sitting down in the empty chair. “And who is your guest?”
Like most restaurants on the Wharf, the room featured huge picture windows overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The table was at the corner of the room, and both Mr. Faber-Lloyd and his guest had gotten the two chairs with their backs to the wall.
“This is Mrs. Ellis,” said Mr. Faber-Lloyd. He glanced at her, then me. “Although, I get the feeling you two know each other.”
“Darling,” said Mrs. Ellis with a smile. She was eating a salad decorated with tiny shrimp. “You know we don’t discuss those sorts of things.” She looked at me. “I understand that your people have picked up that nasty, fence-walking pest.”
“If you mean the guy that was busted Saturday night in San Diego, then yes,” I said, eying her warily.
“Dearest,” Mrs. Ellis said. “You needn’t be quite so modest about it.”
“No modesty,” I said. “It wasn’t me.”
“Well, the bugger is captured, that’s what most counts.” Mrs. Ellis buttered a small bit of bread and popped it into her mouth. “Mmm. I do love this local sourbread.”
“I was told there were travel arrangements to be made,” I said.
Mrs. Ellis’ eye flew open wide and she glared at Mr. Faber-Lloyd. “Travel arrangements. Good lord, don’t you people bloody talk to each other?” She turned her gaze to me. “No, my darling. I’m afraid we need to get some evidence swapped out.”
I tried not to gasp, but it escaped anyway. Swapping out evidence happened when the real evidence was too sensitive for the public forum of a courtroom. The only problem was that swapping the real evidence with something as damaging but not as sensitive generally meant a break-in.
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t bring my tools.”
She glared again at Mr. Faber-Lloyd. “We’ve got a major operation planned for tomorrow morning to capture one of the associates of your fence-walking pest. We must get the evidence swapped out or it will be a disaster.”
“I get that,” I said. “But I see no reason why you need out of town talent to do it.”
She rolled her eyes and looked at Mr. Faber-Lloyd. “Our friend here is being followed. And I…” She winced. “I have other reasons for not engaging in the actual swap.”
“And there is no one else in the Bay Area who could possibly do this,” I said, glaring at her.
Apparently, there was because Mr. Faber-Lloyd began looking very cross.
Mrs. Ellis looked at me and smiled. “Of course, there are. We wanted you, and/or your partner.”
“I’m so glad you wanted us,” I replied, without any hint of warmth. “I suppose it won’t do any good to ask why.”
“No,” said Mrs. Ellis, smiling. “But I am glad you asked. You said you didn’t bring any tools. What will you need?”
“What am I breaking into?”
Mr. Faber-Lloyd jumped in. “It’s a jewelry store on Pier Thirty-Nine, lower level.” He pulled out a small map of the pier, which had been refurbished some years before as a tourist shopping area. “You’ll need keys. I’ve already put those in your purse.”
“What about lock picks?” I asked. “Keys will help, but I’ll need something if I run into something you didn’t expect.”
“They’re on the ring with the keys,” Mr. Faber-Lloyd said. He pointed to a spot on the map. “Here is where the burglar alarm for that block of stores is. That key is on the ring I gave you. It’s basically a circuit breaker box. Each store has its own switch, so if somebody wants to work late, they can without calling in the cops on it. The target store switch will be the third on the left. Do not override all the alarms or that will bring in the cops. Are we clear?”
“Third on the left,” I repeated. “Should be.”
“Now, you’re going to want to stage this as a regular burglary, otherwise our targets might get wise and pull out before we can bust them.”
I sighed. “Of course. What do you want me to do with the jewelry I steal?”
Mrs. Ellis chuckled. “Why not wear it, darling? You’d probably look better in it than most of their clientele.”
I shook my head. “Not my style.”
Mr. Faber-Lloyd cleared his throat. “Most of the really valuable stuff gets put in the store vault when they close, anyway. You’ll probably find some watches and rings in the cases, but that’s it. They have regular locks on them, so they should be easy to get into and clear.”
“Okay,” I said. “But where’s the evidence and what do I swap it with?”
“There’s a file labeled November 1983 in the back room file cabinet. That’s where the evidence is. I also put a plastic bag in that purse of yours. Put the file in there. There’s a possibility we can get some latent prints off of it, in addition to the contents, themselves. I put the stuff to swap in the bag.”
I sighed. “Now I just have to find an all-over ski mask in the middle of July, not to mention a dark hooded sweatshirt and my other tools.”
“I saw a nice variety of knit caps in a store over that way,” Mrs. Ellis said, nodding toward the front of the wharf. “You should be able to get the sweatshirt there, as well. As for tools, I’m not sure.”
Mr. Faber-Lloyd nodded his head. “There’s a couple hardware stores in Chinatown, up on Grant. Not sure what you’ll need, though. Just be remember the third switch down on the left for the burglar alarm, and you’ll be good. You’ve got keys and no one is going to be investigating any burglaries after tomorrow’s operation, anyway.”
“I only have to get out of there before tomorrow’s operation,” I said, a little glumly.
“You’ll do quite all right,” Mrs. Ellis said with a smile. “And we’ll make sure there’s some backup.” She favored Mr. Faber-Lloyd with an irritated glare.
I gave her a quick irritated glare of my own to register my disapproval and got up.
“I’d better get going, then,” I said, feigning a bright tone.
“Good luck,” grumbled Mr. Faber-Lloyd.
I left the restaurant. As Mrs. Ellis had indicated, there was a souvenir store across the street that sold all kinds of knit caps and sweatshirts and the like. Fortunately, San Francisco gets pretty nippy at night, even in the summer. I even found an all-over knit cap. I couldn’t find any zip-front hooded sweatshirts that didn’t have anything printed on them. Although, I did find a nice black one with “San Francisco” embroidered in shiny gold thread on the upper left front. I figured I could pull those threads out and mentally added a seam ripper to my list.
I checked my watch. It was just after three o’clock. George would be at the hotel at six. I didn’t have a lot of time but went first to the Pier to check things out.
I really liked Pier 39. Both times I’d been there, I’d been with Sid. Sid isn’t big on shopping and Pier 39 isn’t quite up to his income and tastes but he loves watching me. At the same time, I drive him nuts. I’m always falling in love with things, which amuses him no end, then refusing to buy them, which he can’t understand at all. It’s not like I’m broke.
I could almost hear Sid’s gentle chuckle as I looked at a pair of small emerald earrings at the jewelry store that I was going to break into. I couldn’t help feeling irritated that he was haunting my thoughts so completely. Well, I had promised to think about his proposal. However, I had something more immediately important to think about.
I looked around the store for about five more minutes, noting where the two video cameras were. Given what was going to happen the next day, a video recording of me doing the burglary wasn’t going to make much difference. As I left the store, I got that creepy sensation that meant only one thing. I had a tail. Mrs. Ellis had said Mr. Faber-Lloyd was being watched. The tail must have shifted to me, which meant ditching it would only identify me as an operative. That meant browsing the pier a while longer, as if I were, indeed, a tourist.
As I did, I couldn’t help thinking about those emerald earrings. George would have simply bought them, in spite of my protests. Sid would have just groaned. He might have gone back later and bought them, depending on how close it was to a holiday and how much I really was in love with them. Sid could tell if I really wanted something or not. He was generous but he was also selective about it. George just spoiled me randomly and had a definite talent for overkill.
I ambled down to the street and caught a bus to Chinatown. I settled into my seat, then looked out the window. We passed one of those flower stands that are all over San Francisco. I remembered the first time Sid and I had gone to San Francisco. We’d gone for the fun of it, supposedly. But the case we’d just wrapped up had both of us dealing with our respective youths, and Sid had decided to share some of the places of his past with me.
We’d been walking around downtown that afternoon when we came across a flower stand. Sid bought me a small bouquet and presented it to me with a small bow. Then, for a joke, he took a couple of the blossoms and put them in my hair. I didn’t connect the gesture to the ‘60s song about San Francisco until later, but it was exactly the sort of thing Sid could and did pull off beautifully. We had such a lovely afternoon, only to end up fighting after dinner. I don’t even remember what the fight was about.
I thought about what Angelique had said and Sid’s inability to sustain a relationship for more than two weeks. I had been with him longer than anybody. He fought with me. He wouldn’t fight with Angelique or anyone else. He wouldn’t bother. He’d just wait until they got fed up and took off.
I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I almost missed my stop. I came back to earth with a start and got off the bus at the last second. No one got off after me, so if someone had been following me that way, I had shaken him. Which, as I thought about it, was exactly what I did not want. I checked around me and didn’t see anything worrisome.
I had landed in the heart of Chinatown. The sidewalks were crowded with tourists and also with locals. That was the nice thing about the neighborhood. Real people lived there, so while the shops carried a lot of touristy stuff, there were shops with stuff for everyday life. Painfully aware of time slipping past, I window-shopped, buying the occasional trinket, some silk fabric, and a seam ripper, when I finally found a hardware store.
There I got a gift set of screwdrivers, a set of wire-cutters, a flashlight and a navy blue canvas backpack. It was just past four-thirty when I got to the street again. I continued down the street, shopping and trying to figure out how to get back to the hotel without a tail. I wanted to change clothes before George got there and George would be on time.
That was a very nice thing about George. He was not only very prompt, he was because it was only kind and respectful of others to be so. George recognized everyone as his equal or better. He was a very humble man, in a very healthy way. Sid’s ego was phenomenal.
The gun in my back took me completely by surprise.
“No screaming now, sister,” hissed a rough voice with an accent I didn’t recognize. “Just come along with me.”
His hand on my arm tightened, and he pulled me into an alleyway. He was a small man, wearing a nice wool suit. He slammed me face-first into a wall. I whimpered and kept struggling. He clipped me on the head with the butt of the gun. The blow dazed me enough to knock me to my knees. Confident that I was down, the man turned back to my purse. I had only a second, but I pulled myself together and sprang at him. He dropped the gun and my purse and staggered. When he came at me, I was ready and his groin went straight into my knee. He doubled over and I put him out with a solid blow to the back of his neck. I grabbed my things and ran.
By the time I was certain that I had lost my tail, I was hopelessly lost, myself. It was just after five, too. There was only one other option. I stopped in the lobby of a skyscraper and found a payphone. I dialed home and Sid answered on the first ring.
“Sid? It’s me,” I said. “We’ve got trouble”
“What’s the matter?”
“Those travel arrangements aren’t. It’s an evidence swap and I picked up a tail from the meeting. Is there any way you can come up here tonight and help me with the break-in?”
“No, I can’t.” He sighed. “There’s a big meeting tonight. We’re going to set up the prisoner transfer to the Feds.”
“Oh, damn!” I bit my lip, trying not to cry.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
“Nothing and everything. I’m lost. I don’t know how to get back to the hotel.”
“Alright,” he said soothingly. “Where are you?”
“Gill and Columbus.”
“Gill. Hmm. Not sure where that is, but you’re on Columbus. That’s good.”
He proceeded to give me the directions.
“Okay. I got it,” I said when he was done.
“You going to be alright now?”
I swallowed. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. The tail’s gone and I can handle the break-in.”
“Of course, you can.”
“It’s just… Well, the Brits are back. I mean, she is, whatever her name is. The one we met in Paris.”
“Oh. Her. Huh. That makes sense.”
“It doesn’t to me. Anyway, she specifically requested us for this little job.”
“That does not make sense.”
“She said the San Francisco guy was being followed, and I’m guessing they passed a tail onto me.”
Sid sighed. “Okay. Listen, why don’t you call me when you get in after the break-in? I’m not worried about you, but things do go wrong and I’d like to bail you out as soon as possible.”
“Well, there will be back up. What kind, I have no idea.”
“That’s something, I guess. Either way, don’t forget to call.”
I smiled, in spite of myself. “I won’t. Thanks.”
“You’re very welcome, honey.”
I hung up. I followed Sid’s directions and even caught a bus that got me to Union Square. The hotel was just south of there, plus there was a Macy’s on the square, itself, and I still had a couple more items to purchase, namely, a pair of black jeans or work pants, and a pair of black leather gloves. By the time I had gotten my shopping done and myself back to the hotel, it was, sadly, just after six. I hurried up to my room, then called George from there.
“I’m so sorry,” I said when he’d picked up. “The meeting ran long. I couldn’t help it.”
“Oh,” he said. I could tell he was feeling a little irritated. On the other hand, I was there on a business meeting and if that ran long, he couldn’t really complain. “Well, that’s okay. Our reservations are for the eight o’clock seating.”
“Eight?” I yelped. My stomach gurgled. It had been a long time since I’d eaten last.
“Yeah. It’s one of those dinner shows,” George said, very pleased with himself. “Then we can go out and see the town at night.”
I have to give George his due. If I hadn’t had to break into a jewelry store before midnight, that plan would have sounded like a lot of fun. That was one of the things that George and I had in common, we were both night owls. Sid was an early bird from the word go and expected me to go along with it. Admittedly, if Sid had been planning the evening, there probably would have been dancing, which George absolutely refused to do.
“That sounds like fun, George,” I said. “Great. That will give me time to get a shower and clean up a little.”
“Okay. Maybe not. What were you expecting, George?”
“I wasn’t expecting anything.” He sighed. “I was just looking forward to seeing you is all.”
My heart melted. “Oh, George. That’s so sweet. I’m sorry. It’s just been a really, really tough day. The interview went really badly. Then I got sent on a wild goose chase, and the final meeting was a complete waste of time and it wouldn’t end and it wouldn’t end.”
I could almost hear George biting his tongue, and had to hand him even more credit for that, given how little he wanted me to be working at all.
“That’s too bad,” he said softly.
“Thanks. Listen, why don’t we compromise? We’ll go to your dinner show, but make it an early evening. In the meantime, I’ll get dressed as fast as I can and then we can have drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the bar downstairs.”
“That sounds good,” George said.
So I took a quick shower, patched up my scrapes as best I could, then put on a dress and headed downstairs. George was waiting for me and had ordered a bottle of what turned out to be pretty decent bubbly. As I walked up to the table, George scrambled to his feet and pulled me into a warm, loving hug. I snuggled in until he hit the spot on my scalp where I’d been hit earlier that day.
“Ow!” I jumped away.
George looked panicked. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” I said, sitting down. “I just hit my head there today.”
“You’ve got a scrape on your cheek, too.”
I sighed. “I fell. Okay? You know what a klutz I am. Only one more thing to make a lousy day really lousy.”
“I’m so sorry, Lisa.” George settled into the padded chair next to mine.
The bar, like the rest of the hotel, had a comfortable feel. It was a little worn around the edges, but in the dim lighting of the bar, especially, I could see Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and the rest of their buddies, plotting things as they hovered over their martinis.
“We could have stayed up the street,” George said.
I munched on some of the peanuts from the dish on the table. “I like it here. The service is extremely good and way more personal than up the street. The rooms are just as nice. And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
Given that my parents are in the “hospitality industry,” I tend to look at hotels differently than most people.
“The service isn’t that good,” George grumbled. “I tried to send some flowers to your room and they couldn’t find it.”
That was because I was traveling as Janet Donaldson.
“That’s good,” I said, munching on more peanuts. “They weren’t going to let just anybody know I’m here. That’s more secure.”
George looked at me, then nodded. “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Come on.” I grabbed a menu. “Let’s order some appetizers.”
“We’re supposed to get appetizers at the show,” George said. “I don’t want to spoil our dinners.”
I laughed. “George, when was the last time something spoiled my dinner?”
He laughed, too, and we ordered some nice appetizers. I don’t remember what they were, but I do remember enjoying them. It was a good thing, too, because dinner was a complete disaster. The show was one of those living history things, only the history was not accurate, and everyone in the place was simply going through the motions. The food was pretty awful, too. Intermission came none too soon and I told George that I was leaving.
“What do you mean?” he asked, scrambling after me as I headed to the front of the theater.
“I’m not staying,” I told him.
“But we have more dinner.”
“I know. I don’t want it. And if I don’t want it, doesn’t that say something?”
He frowned. “I suppose.”
“George, it’s not your fault. Okay?” I put my arm on his. “How were you to know this place sucks as badly as it does?”
“They’re doing their best, Lisa.”
I rolled my eyes. “No one in this place is doing his or her best. That’s one of the reasons it sucks so badly. The show is awful. It has nothing to do with real history, not to mention the way it keeps bashing Mexicans. I was embarrassed for you.”
“You get used to it, Lisa.”
We’d hit the street by that point. I looked around for a taxi.
“I see absolutely no reason to get used to that,” I said, waving my arm as a cab came around the corner.
“And you don’t see that it’s even more embarrassing for me to leave something like that in the middle?”
I paused. He had a point. The cab passed up by.
“I’m sorry, George,” I said. “I have to respect that you feel uncomfortable leaving early. But you did promise me an early night and it’s already ten. I get the embarrassment thing. I really do. But those feelings are what scammers use to keep you in their control. And that place is a scam. I’m not blaming you. How else would we have found that out except by going? And you know how I love stuff like that usually. So, it was very sweet of you. But if I had to stay there one more minute, I would shoot someone.”
George nodded and waved for a taxi. This one stopped for us. I don’t know if it was my eloquence that had won him over or the fact that at least two other couples were also on the street complaining even more loudly and stridently than I was. Either way, we got back to the hotel before much later. I kissed George good night in the lobby, then went to my room, ripped the stitching out of the sweatshirt, and changed clothes, putting the tools and keys that I’d gotten into the daypack. I slid out of the hotel and back onto the street, trying desperately not to think about Sid.
But as it happens when you’re trying not to think about something, that’s exactly what you end up thinking about. And it wasn’t as though the evening had been an entire loss. George and I had said grace over dinner, which I loved. That was something I’d never be able to share with Sid, who had been raised an atheist and who did not understand prayer. George loved me. Sid couldn’t. George would be exclusively faithful to me. Sid probably would not. He probably wouldn’t see too many other women, but if I wasn’t around, he wouldn’t wait for me. He’d just need to get his hornies out and it wouldn’t mean anything more than that. Still, George was going to marry me. Sid wasn’t about to.
That was the big problem. Sid was willing to make a lifetime commitment and to him that was marriage. Could I accept it as such? I knew that after seven years or so, the government would, and there was always the possibility that I could eventually get him to validate our vows.
The cab ride down to the area near the Pier took me past the theater. I winced. I probably should have been more sympathetic to George’s embarrassment, but if Sid had gotten conned that way (and it was very unlikely that Sid would), he wouldn’t have waited until intermission to leave.
I had the driver let me off at that parking garage across the street from the Pier. The streets weren’t empty by any means, but things had slowed down for the night. The Pier, itself, was only minimally lit. I slid into the shadows, put on my sweatshirt, and all-over hat, pulling it down over my face, and put on my gloves. I made my way around the shops until I found the panel that I’d been told about. The light over it had been broken, for which I was grateful. The second key I tried on the panel worked and I found the third switch on the left and switched it off. Now, all I had to hope for was that it had done what it was supposed to do.
I was two stores away from the jewelry store when I heard footsteps. I pressed myself flat into the shadows of a doorway. A corpulent security guard was trying the door of the jewelry store. I recognized the silhouette and smiled. Of course, he couldn’t break in, himself. He’d be an immediate suspect. He started my way, then stopped. I don’t know if he saw me or not, but he turned and went the other way.
I waited a couple more minutes, then hurried over to the jewelry store. As I unlocked the door, I noticed the red gleams of light on the back wall near the ceiling. It looked like the cameras were live and recording. Whether someone was watching them live, that was another question. That kind of surveillance is pretty darned expensive, but I had to assume that someone was watching. To cover as much of the store as possible, the cameras had been trained so that they only caught people from the waist up. Keeping low, I slid in the door and shut it quickly. I held my breath and listened. No alarms were going off, but that didn’t there weren’t any. I had only a very few minutes.
I hurried to the back as fast as I could while crouched over. There was a curtain between the front and the back office, which I pulled as fast as I could. It wasn’t light-proof, so I pulled my penlight from the front pocket of the day pack. The desk, which had been built onto the side wall, was surprisingly neat for such an establishment. Shelves above the desk held bound catalogs and other ledgers. There was a four-drawer file cabinet next to the desk. I started my search there and came up with nothing.
Some people supposedly get a high off of being someplace they’re not supposed to be. I am not one of them. I was breathing so hard, the front of my knit mask was soaked. It began to itch, too. Despairing, I looked up at the ledgers, then down at the desk. There was a drawer with a lock on it under the surface of the desk. I got my lockpicks out and had the drawer open in a jiffy. There was the file. I pulled it out, swapped the evidence, and then put out my penlight. Squeezing my eyes shut to get them used to the darkness, I opened the curtain and, again crouching, slid along to the first case with something in it. I got my lockpicks out again and swept the contents of the case into the day pack. I’m not even sure what I’d gotten. The worst was that I saw: wires coming from the case. A silent alarm. Just what I did not need.
I didn’t worry about the cameras at that point. I ran to the front of the store and let myself out, not stopping to lock it. It wouldn’t matter. I could see red lights flashing at the street end of the Pier. I slunk along the other way. It was a dead-end, but I was hoping I could sneak past the police while they were looking at the jewelry store.
No such luck. The cops worked their way down both sides of the pier. There was only one way out. After sliding my day pack over my shoulder. I climbed over the railing and onto the huge wooden braces under the Pier. It was slippery going, at best, as I crawled my way toward the cement bulwark and land. I had about fifty feet to go when something tugged at my pack. I turned and felt my way behind me. One of the straps had gotten caught in the cross brace.
I straddled the brace, gently working the strap back and forth. It was good and jammed. I could hear a policeman above me call to the other cops that they should check the second floor of the Pier. I looked up and saw his feet through the cracks in the boards above me. The wind whipped up and my teeth began to chatter. I worked at the strap some more and debated getting out my box knife. The strap suddenly came free and I was thrown off balance and fell into the water.
It was so very, very cold. I’ve run around in sub-zero weather in my jammies before and this was still colder.
“What was that?” one of the cops yelled as I came up for air and clung to a pier post.
I yanked the mask off of my head and let it sink into the water. A light shown down on the water next to the Pier. I made my way to the other side of the pier post as silently as I could.
“I don’t see nothing,” another cop yelled.
“It was probably a seal,” said another voice. It was Mr. Faber-Lloyd. “We get a lot of them around here.”
I spit out some seawater and shivered. If Faber-Lloyd was my back up, then I was in deep trouble. I swam to the next post, then realized I could touch the bottom with my head above the water. Slowly, I made my way up the bulwark. What probably saved me was that the higher up I got, the more sheltered I was from the icy wind off the water. When I could finally go no further, I crawled to the edge of the pier and looked over the bulwark to the sidewalk. The red lights of three police cars were still flashing, although only one cop was standing by the cars. He didn’t seem to notice or care that a petite woman with fluffy short hair limped along the sidewalk nearby, looking at something in her hands. I had to do something.
My hands were trembling so hard, I could barely open the day pack’s front pocket. I got the penlight out but almost dropped it. I took a deep breath and held it long enough for my hands to stop shaking. Then I flashed the light twice in the woman’s direction. Her head popped up and she looked around. I flashed the light again and she nodded. A minute later, she waved me toward herself. I looked back at the Pier. I couldn’t see anybody looking down from the railings. In fact, I couldn’t see anybody at all.
I scuttled across the top of the bulwark, then climbed onto the sidewalk in the first dark spot I could find. Mrs. Ellis was there in a second and embraced me.
“Good God, you’re wet!” she whispered.
“Sorry.” My teeth were chattering again. “I fell into the water.”
She held me closer and waved. “No worries. I’ve got a car here. Let’s get you into it right away. I do hope we have a blanket.”
The black limousine pulled up and a chauffeur bounced out and held the door open for us. Mrs. Ellis didn’t say anything, but the chauffeur immediately knew what was wanted and as we got in, he got something from the trunk of the car. A second later, he handed in two towels and a fluffy blanket. Mrs. Ellis quickly began drying me off, but it didn’t stop the shivering. I was chilled to the marrow of my bones.
As the car pulled away, Mrs. Ellis stopped rubbing me long enough to pour a glass of brandy from the small cabinet in front of us.
“How did you find me?” I asked.
“Tracking device on that ring of keys we gave you,” Mrs. Ellis said with a smile. “I could have explained, but you left in such a huff.”
“I didn’t have time,” I said, trying to get the shivering under control. “I had to get the place cased, buy tools and clothes and meet someone at six.”
“Busy girl. I thought you were merely annoyed with our lunch partner. Heaven knows, I was.”
“Idiot. He is, I mean. Didn’t mention the video cameras on the site. And it turns out there was a silent alarm on the cases.”
“I hope it didn’t mess up tomorrow’s operation.”
“Actually, it’s the best of all circumstances.” Mrs. Ellis poured me another bit of brandy. “If our targets had come in this morning to find just that file gone, they would have gathered their jewels and fled. But now, the store is crowded with police officers. They don’t dare flee without taking the contents of their safe. They are well and truly caught. Which is a very good thing for our side.”
We soon pulled up in front of my hotel. I was not particularly surprised, even though I hadn’t told Mrs. Ellis where I was staying. We got my key from the day pack and Mrs. Ellis rushed me inside the lobby, explaining that her cousin had fallen off a boat in the dock. I was soon in my room, still shivering, but alone. I called Sid, praying he wasn’t involved with anyone at that moment. Sid will pick up the phone no matter what he’s doing or what state he’s in while doing it. I didn’t get a chance to tell him everything because I was still shivering from my swim. He caught on, asked, and then sent me to take a long, hot shower.
“And, Lisa,” he said. “I’m really proud of you. That was one hell of a tough job you pulled off.”
“Thanks, Sid. I really appreciate it, but I really need that shower.”
“We’ll talk later.”
I hung up and stripped and got the shower going. The hot water hurt, at first, then it finally started to work its magic. Sid’s words, too, helped warm me like nothing else. When he praised me, it meant something because he didn’t offer it willy nilly, for every ridiculous little thing. I turned off the water, dried off and got ready for bed. As I slipped under the covers, I think I knew that I was not going to marry George. I was still fighting it. Lord, how I fought it. But deep down, there were feelings that as hard as I tried, I could not deny them.
George never knew. I was desperately afraid of hurting him, as I knew it would. In the end, I didn’t get the chance. But considering why I didn’t, I would have much rather had that awful conversation. Then again, he wasn’t the one who suffered. I was.