The next morning, I awoke a little woozy, but mostly okay. I’d told Sid the night before all about what had happened. After breakfast, Sid called Henry to check in on Angelique and to tell Henry that I’d seen Powers’ scar, which meant that he was the one who had attacked us.
“He’s pretty angry,” Sid told me as he came back into the breakfast room. “The Brits had called him to let him know that Powers was gone again, but he’d missed the call.”
“Oh, dear. Did Angelique tell him about her gun?”
“If she did, he seems to have missed that part,” Sid said.
“Well, he does have that paternal thing for her,” I said. “Could be a blessing. Now that Powers has touched his family, so to speak, Henry will be even more motivated to catch him.”
Shortly after, Sid and I went on our designated way, back to the Inland Empire, not really expecting to find much. We did find signs of squatters at one housing development, but no dossier or anything else left behind.
I had declined to tell Sid about Angelique’s observations from the night before. It didn’t make sense to. If she was right, everything would fall together at the right time. If she was wrong, it would just make everything even more awkward. I still had plenty of food for thought and was a little distant in the car that day. Sid didn’t really notice. He was a little distant, too, for some reason. [Not really. I’d just been bored out of my mind the night before and couldn’t figure out why. – SEH]
We looked at house after house, getting more and more frustrated because we weren’t finding anything. We even re-checked a couple, worried that because we hadn’t found anything, we hadn’t looked as thoroughly as we could have. We didn’t get back onto the freeway until almost six.
“We need to re-check that one house we couldn’t get into the other day,” I said. “The one in Pomona.”
“It’s been sold, Lisa,” Sid grumbled. “They’ve been working on it. If that dossier was there, it’s been found and thrown out, I would imagine.”
“Still, we haven’t found anything.”
“It’s an incredible long shot, Lisa.” Sid sighed and started for the nearest off-ramp to turn around.
Only our pagers went off. I checked mine and frowned.
“We’ve got to radio in,” I said, getting my keys out of my purse.
I unlocked the glove box and switched on the radio there.
“This is Little Red, Big Red, come in,” I said into the mike.
“This is Red Knight.” It was Henry. Sid and I glanced at each other. “We have a meeting in Pasadena at nineteen hundred hours, over.”
“We copy, Red Knight, but we were going to check one more house, over.”
“Leave it ‘til tomorrow. We have to find a new plan, over.”
Sid and I shrugged, but there wasn’t anything we could do. I got the address for the meeting from Henry and after shutting down the radio and re-locking the glove compartment, got out the Thomas Guide map book to find it.
The place was a mansion in the southern part of Pasadena. The exterior was brick and half-timbered and the place was huge. Sid and I were not surprised to see a Rolls Royce limousine in the driveway. Inside was gorgeous. Wooden floors gleamed with fresh polish. Antiques were set here and there, arranged to create the most pleasing effect possible. The dining room table was set for a buffet, with fine china and real silverware. Marian spotted me first, as she came out of one of the rooms in the hallway.
“Oh, there you are. Very good.” She nodded at the table in the dining room. “Get yourselves some dinner and bring it into the study, will you? We’re eating there tonight. We have a great deal of work to do.”
Sid and I got plates and filled them. Grabbing some silverware and napkins, we went into the study to find that Marian had poured us glasses of wine in beautiful cut crystal glasses. Henry was there, as was another man dressed in a black vest, white shirt, and black pants. He had a headset on, with the earpiece only covering one ear, and was facing a radio that had been set up on a typing table in a corner. He finished scribbling something on a note pad.
“Here you, Ma’am,” he said, handing the pad to Marian.
“Excellent work, Brixton,” she said after reading it over and handed it to Andrew.
He read it over. “Well, that settles it. What are our resources?”
“Three of our chaps,” Marian said. “Not including us.”
“We’ve got about eight people from out of town,” Henry said. “Plus six more resident here, and two B-1s.”
B-1s were safe houses and other liaisons. Every Quickline city had at least one. They handled things like paychecks, weapons, and other administrative issues.
“The problem is our best tracker got made by these guys last month,” Henry said.
It hadn’t been the tracker’s fault, but sloppy work by that idiot on the Blue line.
“So we’ve about twenty of us.” Marian shivered.
“What are we covering?” I asked.
“All ways of getting out of here,” Henry said grimly.
I shivered. Los Angeles is a huge region and there were a lot of directions that could be taken.
“What’s going on?” Sid asked.
“The Rumanians have given Powers an ultimatum,” Henry said. “He will be moved tomorrow afternoon, whether he likes it or not.”
“And this latest bit,” said Andrew, holding up the notepad. “Says that Mr. Powers has agreed to let Mr. Mihaili accompany him tomorrow morning to get the dossier.”
“Did any of the other teams find anything?” Sid asked.
“Absolutely nothing,” Marian said with some disgust. “Well, they did find two other houses that someone had been using, but each team checked them over extremely carefully.”
“And I also went over them,” Henry said.
“What about that notice about the fake FBI agent?” I asked.
“Hasn’t turned up anything.” Henry shifted in his chair, then set aside his plate and rubbed his face with his hand.
“We simply must get our hands on that dossier,” Marian said, pouring herself a glass of something amber from a decanter. “It will be disastrous if we don’t.”
“We have checked every potential house in three counties and have found nothing,” Henry said. “It’s either hidden somewhere here in L.A. Or maybe it doesn’t even exist and he’s trying to make one up. That would explain why he attacked Angelique last night. He was looking for something, and Angelique said that she’d thought someone had been in her apartment a couple weeks ago. Things not quite where they were supposed to be. She hadn’t said anything to me because she thought she was imagining it.”
“But why would he think your secretary would have any information?” Andrew asked.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Henry said. “But you saw him last night, Lisa.”
“I saw the scar,” I said. “It was definitely him.”
“Round and round and round we go,” Marian complained.
“There was one house we didn’t check,” I said. “In Pomona. The one Sid had been kept in. We couldn’t get in.”
“Surely he wouldn’t be stupid enough to return to a place that we know about,” Marian said.
“But he could be that cocky,” said Henry. He sighed. “We’re trying to find out who bought it. It’s probably a long shot, but that could be the house.”
Marian and Andrew agreed that it might be. However, it made more sense to follow Powers and let him lead us to the dossier. Other resources would be used to watch airports, seaports, even the train station. Several of us would be on the freeways, in case Powers and Mihaili tried to leave that way. Henry agreed to meet Sid and me at the house in Pomona on the off chance the dossier was there.
We finished dinner in the dining room, after all. Andrew kept giving me the eye until Marian got disgusted and told him to let me alone. We left fairly early and went home.
“How’s your arm?” Sid asked as we came in from the garage.
I shifted it. “Sore, but not too bad.”
“Good.” There was an awkward pause. “Goodnight, Lisa.”
“Goodnight, Sid.” I watched as he moved on down the hallway to his bedroom.
I sure hoped Angelique had known what she was talking about. I pushed thoughts of Sid out of my mind as much as possible. In my room, my sleeping bag was out and airing before I would take it to camp on Saturday. If I went. It sure looked like I was going to make it, though. I shuddered and went to bed.
I was surprised that Sid let me sleep in.
“Well, you’re injured,” he told me as I came in to breakfast.
We were still dressed casually, in jeans and a sport shirt for Sid and a blouse for me. We were also wired with transmitters hidden under our waists and earpieces in our ears. That would make it easier for us to communicate with Henry and the rest of the crew. We took Sid’s car. Henry broke in on the radio from time to time to update us.
Powers left the consulate about twenty minutes after we’d left Sid’s house, and was headed for Interstate 10. Sid and I were already on that freeway, and not that far from downtown. If Powers was, indeed, going to that house in Pomona, we’d probably have less than twenty minutes to find the dossier.
We were halfway to Pomona when Henry broke in again.
“Home base just radioed me,” he said. “Powers bought the house about a week after you were extracted Sid. Used a phony ID and paid cash. Over.”
Sid stepped on the accelerator. “We’re about halfway there, over.”
“I am, too.” Henry cussed loudly. “Just got this on another channel. Powers killed Mihaili and dumped him on the Pomona freeway just past the Long Beach Freeway. Our tail got caught in the crash. But he’s definitely headed our way. Over.”
Sid looked grim as he wove his way around the traffic.
“So, he bought the house,” I muttered. “That would explain why he stopped using paid help. He probably sank all of his cash into the house.”
“Probably,” said Sid.
Some minutes later, we tore up the street to the target house. Sid parked the Beemer in a driveway across from the house. As we ran across the street, Henry’s car pulled up and parked next to Sid.
“Looks like it’s clear,” Sid said as we went in. “Lisa’s going upstairs. I’m checking down here.”
All the cabinets had been put in. There was terra cotta tile in the entryway and carpeting everywhere else. The smell of fresh paint hung in the air. The only thing missing was the furniture.
I ran straight upstairs. I checked every bathroom, every closet, and found nothing.
“It’s gotta be here somewhere,” said Sid’s voice in my ear.
“I’m not finding it,” I said. “Maybe it’s under some carpet.”
“Nope,” said Sid. “Everything is firmly tacked down here.”
We heard the car pull into the driveway.
“I’m on it,” said Henry.
I was in the bedroom closest to the stairs. Sid came running up and we both hid in the closet there. I pulled the double sliding doors closed. Sid swore.
“What?” I mouthed.
Sid showed me the hidden panel at the bottom corner next to him. Inside was a manila envelope and several bundles of cash.
“Henry? You?” The voice grated in our ears, then we heard the chirp of a silenced pistol.
My heart stopped. Henry had to be down. I tried not to think about it. The presence of the panel meant that Powers was on his way upstairs to the room we were in, the new carpeting muffling his steps.
“Cover me,” Sid mouthed and slid out of the closet.
Nodding, I got in position. I tried not to worry about Henry. I tried not to worry about Sid stepping right into gunfire from a heartless killer. I tried not to worry that I had missed that hidden panel when I had first searched the closet. I tried to stay focused on listening for steps, listening for where Sid and Powers might be.
Sid was braced and ready when Powers came into the room, his gun also drawn and ready. I peeked through the crack where the sliding door didn’t quite meet the jamb and inched the door open an inch or two more. I still couldn’t get a clear shot at Powers. Still covering Powers, I could hear Sid sliding along the bedroom wall toward Powers.
“It’s too late,” Sid said. “I’ve got your dossier.”
“Big deal,” Powers said. A shadow passed the crack as Powers went past the closet door. “I got you dead.”
I slid to the other side of the closet and peeked through that door, poking my gun out, as well. Powers was facing into the room, his back to the wall, still aiming at Sid. I thought I saw Powers’ finger tighten on the trigger and felt my own finger squeeze, as well. My gun roared.
Powers didn’t have a chance to ask about it. Sid was there in a flash, pulling me out of the closet. I looked back into the room. Bright red blood had splattered across the wall. There was a dark crumpled shape below the splatter. My stomach heaved and emptied itself.
Sid whispered something in my ear and gently tugged me out of the room. My brain began to clear.
“I didn’t have time to aim,” I said as he led me down the stairs.
“I know,” he said.
We found Henry sitting up in the dining room, his right hand covering his left sleeve.
“He just winged me,” Henry said. “He must have been pretty anxious to get upstairs.”
Sid nodded. “We have the dossier.”
Sid shook his head and my stomach heaved again. I turned and vomited all over the hall.
“First kill,” Sid told Henry.
“Get her out of here,” Henry said. “We’ve got a whole crew coming.”
“Will you be okay?” Sid asked.
“I’m fine. Just a scratch.”
Sid pulled me from the house and got me into the Beemer. We pulled out quickly.
“If you’ve got to heave again, let me know and I’ll stop.”
I took a deep breath. “I think I’m okay now.”
I started crying and kept at it until we were almost home. We got off the freeway, and Sid put his hands on mine.
“In Nam,” he said quietly. “When you killed your first person, they took you off the lines for two weeks. It looks like your camp week is certainly well-timed.”
He almost never spoke about his time in the army in Vietnam, so I was a little surprised, and oddly, comforted. I got my purse off the floor and dug around inside. My pocket bible was there, and I knew exactly which part I wanted, Psalm Fifty-One.
“A clean heart create for me, O God,” I read aloud, then skipped down. “Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God, then my tongue shall revel in your justice.”
“That’s nice,” he said.
I sniffed. “I’m glad you like it.”
I continued flipping through the bible, praying for solace or at least guidance.
Sid stayed with me for the rest of the day, helping me pack for the church camp. That night, I woke up, crying. The bright red splatter of blood filled my dreams and I couldn’t shake it away. Sid was there in minutes, holding me and letting me cry. Some minutes later, he looked down at my hands.
“You’re still wearing George’s ring,” he said.
“Yeah. I guess I am.” I slid it off my finger. “I suppose I should return it to his family. What do you do with engagement rings?”
“As I recall, you only return them if you’re breaking up.”
I sniffed. “We need to spare them, that, don’t we? I guess I’ll just put in my drawer.”
Sid took the ring from my hands. “That is a really beautiful diamond. It’s far too nice to be hiding away in a drawer.”
“Do what you want, then,” I said dully.
Sid smiled softly at me, then kissed my hair and said goodnight. He was there another hour later when the dream returned.
The next day, he took me to the church, where kids and grownups were trying to sort out luggage, boat tickets and a host of other things. I managed to catch Father John for a second.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. I guess it was pretty obvious that I was a bit of a mess.
“We got George’s killer,” I said. “And I could really use a chance to talk to you.”
John, as always, came with the youth group to camp, saying that he needed it as much as they needed him.
Parents car-pooled, bringing all the campers and our gear to Long Beach to catch the ferry to Catalina Island. I waved at Sid as my ride bore me and the others out of the lot. He looked a little forlorn.
The camp was in a nice, secluded cove on the island. Most of the afternoon was taken up in getting kids and luggage to their correct cabins, plus a meeting to explain the rules and the theme of the camp that year. Most of the kids were there because they wanted to be, but there was the usual small group of scowling faces, there because Mom and Dad had forced them to come.
In the chaos, I finally found a chance to talk with Father John. We went to one of the more private areas of camp, which was right next to the beach, so no one could overhear us.
John looked at me, waiting.
“I killed a man yesterday,” I said softly. At least, my stomach didn’t heave.
“I see.” John closed his eyes and swallowed. “Am I correct that it was George’s killer?”
I nodded. “He was ruthless and he would have killed Sid and I didn’t have time to aim, and…”
“Yeah.” John looked out over the ocean. “Killing in self-defense is not a sin, as I’m sure you know.”
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” I said. “I kept dreaming about it.”
“Yeah.” John took a deep breath and then swore. “I’ve done this confession before.”
“I’ve counseled a few cops in my time.” John took another deep breath. “Just not when I’ve been this close to the case.”
“Oh, dear. I’m sorry.”
“Lisa, there’s a reason I am your confessor, just like there’s a reason you are doing what you do.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “We will ride this out together. We will deal with our feelings in a healthy way and we will be stronger. Now, you do not technically need absolution, but we will pray that prayer and you will have it. And I want you to remember that you have been absolved of this killing. Because you already feel guilty and you’re not going to stop feeling guilty for a long time. That’s what happens.”
I snorted. “Funny. I can be absolved for killing somebody, but I can’t justify making love to a man I love with all my heart.”
I nodded. “He asked me to move into his bedroom. I couldn’t, though. I… I couldn’t justify it.”
“Oh, I think you can justify making love to Sid.”
“What?” I looked at him in wonder.
“Lisa, you are simply not that rule-bound. It’s not the religion thing that’s holding you back. It’s something else.”
“You think so?”
“I do.” He smiled at me. “I’ll let you figure out what on your own. In the meantime, be thankful for the religion thing. It’s probably keeping you safe.” He sighed. “Any other sins to absolve while we’re here?”
I had to laugh a little. “Not at the moment. If I think of any new ones, I’ll let you know.”
John smiled and began the prayers of absolution.