The next day, Sunday, was incredibly weird on the family side of things. Since Nick is Catholic, like me, I took him with me and George to mass that next morning. I couldn’t help being excited. George kept telling me how beautiful I was. We prayed together, which is something I will never share with Sid. I mean, Sid respects my faith, but he was raised as an atheist and doesn’t believe. My faith is important to me and being able to share it with George was amazing.
After mass, we went to my sister’s place in Fullerton. Sid and Angelique were there, too, in fact, they beat us there. I don’t know why Mae thought it would be a good idea to have Sid around when my niece Janey checked George out, but there he was.
Janey is the second oldest of Mae’s five. Darby, her older brother, was Nick’s age at that time and he and Nick get along famously. Then there’s Ellen, who was six and thrilled to death that she was done with kindergarten. Then there are the youngest two, Mitch and Marty, who were three, almost four, and giving the terrible two’s a run for their money.
Janey’s eighth birthday was in another month or so, and for a kid her age, she had (and still has) a way of seeing into people’s hearts and knowing them for who they are. She’s got brown hair and big green eyes. I was not worried about her liking George. He was a total sweetie. She still managed to surprise us.
“How do you do, Janey?” George asked when he was presented to her in the family room.
She looked at him, her head cocked to one side. Then she looked at me for almost a minute, it seemed, then looked back at George.
“Very well,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She looked at me, then ran off to play upstairs.
“Nice kid,” said George, looking after her fondly.
He didn’t seem to notice that the rest of us had our jaws on the floor. Janey’s indifference was unheard of. Even Angelique, who had only just met Janey for the first time, knew something was up. I found out later that Janey had given her a nice, warm hug when they met.
When dinner time came, I went upstairs to the bedroom she shares with Ellen to get her. The door was half-closed and I could hear voices. I paused about halfway down the hall.
“Well, I can’t say he’s bad when he’s not,” Janey was telling someone. “He’s a very good man.”
“But you don’t seem to like him very much,” said Sid.
“Oh, I like him okay. I just don’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“How would you hurt his feelings?” Sid couldn’t help laughing.
Janey let out her breath as if it was obvious. “He thinks he’s going to marry Aunt Lisa and he’s not.”
“Your aunt seems pretty sure.”
“No way, Uncle Sid. It’s just not right. Don’t worry. She’ll wake up in plenty of time.”
“Who said I was worried?”
I could almost see Janey’s big green eyes focused on Sid and him squirming.
“Alright. I am concerned. For her welfare and all.
“Of course, you are. She’s your best friend. Just be nice to her. She’ll come around. But you gotta be patient. And don’t be too nice to her around Angelique. I don’t know if you know it, but…”
“I do know how Angelique feels about me.”
“Then why do you keep letting her hang around you?”
“Why do you keep asking the same questions your aunt does?”
“Uncle Sid, what am I going to do with you?”
“Face it, Janey, I’m hopelessly corrupt.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve just got to get it out of your system.”
Sid laughed loudly, which was a good thing because I had to laugh, too.
“Janey, dinner’s ready,” I called, then hurried to the stairs before I could see Sid leaving the room.
I have to admit, I was rattled, and it pretty much ruined the rest of the day for me. George noticed something was up and asked me about it as we drove home. Well, he did the driving, as he always did.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I said. “I’m fine.”
George laughed. “I had a great time, you know. Your nieces are such beautiful little girls. I hope we have two just like them.”
“I hope not!” I blurted out, my insides turning into a massive knot at the thought.
“What? They’re gorgeous and wonderful.”
“And very bright and inquisitive,” I said. “Ellen has almost torn that house down with her experiments, and let’s not start in with Janey. I mean, I adore them. You know that. But Mae has her hands full and it ain’t just the twins.”
George chuckled. “Sid told me about Janey.”
“He did?” I immediately became suspicious. “What did he tell you?”
“She seems to think we’re not getting married.” George laughed, then saw the look on my face. “You knew that?”
“Uh-huh.” I swallowed. “She’s pretty perceptive.”
“That’s what I’m told,” George said. He glanced at me, then frowned. “If you’re that worried about it, we can take some time with this. Maybe she’ll come around.”
“Maybe,” I said.
It had never happened before, but it was always possible that was because we’d never given Janey the chance to. The more I thought about it, the more that made sense.
George frowned at the traffic ahead of us. “Oh. Sid asked me not to tell you about what Janey said. He thinks you don’t know.”
“I wasn’t supposed to, but I found out anyway.” I bit my lip. I did not want to say how I knew. “It’s okay. I won’t say anything.”
“Oh, Lisa, I love you so much. We are going to be so happy together.”
I smiled at him, my insides loosening up and warming. He reached over and picked up my hand. My eyes filled as he gently kissed my fingers. He was so very, very sweet. And while Janey was extraordinarily perceptive, that didn’t mean her opinions would never evolve. They were evolving all the time. She certainly liked George. I decided that was enough. George had been very sweet about slowing things down, too. [At least, he got that right – SEH].
The next day, Monday, Sid’s turn to tail the Romanian official came up. He left even before breakfast. Angelique had gone back to her place the night before. So that left Nick to follow me around all morning, which he did relentlessly.
“I’m bored,” he announced around eleven. “Where’s Dad?”
“Out doing research,” I told him. “Why don’t you go play with Motley? He needs some exercise.”
“Okay.” He slumped out.
I bit my lip. There really wasn’t a lot for Nick to do around the house, and neither Sid nor I liked to encourage watching TV. Nick liked to read well enough but was generally too hyper to spend a lot of time doing it. Nor was Sid’s neighborhood the kind of place where kids could play outside. Sid doesn’t even have much of a front yard, just a slope covered with ice plant. The yard out back is fairly good-sized, but at the time, there wasn’t anything there for an eleven-year-old boy to play with.
As I watched him go, my pager went off. Just what I needed. I went into Sid’s office, locked the door, and picked up the phone, pressing the line for our business.
A man picked up on the other end. I gave the caller code, he gave the receiver.
“I’ve got a priority two, code one pick up for you,” he said. “It’s at Union Station, locker four-twelve. They want it to go upline through the Blue group.”
“Got it.” I opened Sid’s desk to get the skeleton key we had for the Union Station lockers. “And the next stop?”
“Uhhh… Here it is. Blue five.”
The stop number would have been on the package, but it was only courtesy to let my next contact know where she was heading. I hung up and immediately dialed again. There was no answer. I tried the page number only to get a message that the pager was offline or out of the area. I groaned. The only other Blue group contact I had was in Orange County and I did not want to go that far. But there was no help for it.
I dialed again. At least, this time, the contact picked up right away. We did the caller code, receiver dialog.
“I’ve got a pick up for you, priority two, code one,” I told her. “Going upline to Blue five.”
She groaned. “It never fails.” She yawned and I got the feeling she’d just come back from somewhere else. “When and where?”
“I’ll shoot for the Disneyland Hotel drug store. Anything you need?”
I tried not to snigger. Many of us women in Quickline had developed the habit of hiding things behind feminine products. Most men would not go near them.
“I’ll call you right before I drop them,” I told my contact. “Should be in the next couple hours.”
She yawned again. “Okay.”
As I hung up, I looked at my watch. I did not have much time if I wanted to avoid the worst of the traffic. I found Conchetta, the housekeeper, dusting the living room.
“Conchetta, I’ve gotta take off,” I said apologetically.
She just shook her head but smiled nonetheless. I mean, I figure she knows something’s up. She does have a security clearance.
“I’ll watch Nick,” she said. “But I’m going home at six, as always.”
“I know. One of us should be back before then. I’m going to tell Nick, okay?”
Except Nick was not in the house, nor was he in the backyard. I finally found him in Sid’s hot tub, which is in the side yard next to Sid’s bedroom. Nick was fully clothed and he had Motley in the tub with him.
“I’m giving Motley a bath,” he announced cheerfully.
“Don’t you dare put any soap in that hot tub.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “Are you kidding? After what happened the last time?”
“Alright. You and Motley stay outside until you’re both dry. You can eat lunch on the back patio, if necessary. Absolutely no tracking water through the house. Is that clear?”
It was pretty warm that day, so I figured both Nick and the dog would be dry in short order.
“Yes, ma’am,” Nick said.
“I’ve got to run an errand. I’ll be back after lunch.”
“And stay out of trouble.”
Nick did try. That didn’t mean he’d stay out of trouble. As an afterthought, I locked Sid’s office before I went out to the garage and my blue Datsun pickup. It has the larger cab and jump seats and a shell on it.
Fortunately, the drive to Union Station was relatively straightforward. I went straight for the lockers, keeping a solid eye out as I went. I got the package, a small taped-up manila envelope, then wandered the station a bit, checking time tables for the few Amtrak trains that left out of there.
Sure enough, there was a tail, which wasn’t surprising. My contact was supposed to have told me that he had one. But that didn’t mean he’d either spotted the tail (this fellow was rather notorious for missing such things), or that he’d thought to mention it. Sid and I often wondered how the man had stayed alive as long as he had.
The tail was a dark-haired man with a mustache and bristly chin. He was hanging fairly close to me, which did not bode well. He was probably looking for an excuse to attack me and take the package. It could also have meant that he didn’t have a team in place.
I hoped it was that he had no team. Still, just in case, I sauntered toward Olvera Street, which is across the street from the station and was crowded with tourists that time of year. People make great cover against getting attacked. I am perfectly capable of defending myself in a fight. On the other hand, I abhor violence and always have, which may seem a little weird given my business. However, most good undercover spies try to avoid violence like the plague because violence attracts attention. Unfortunately, violence still manages to find us all too often.
Sure enough, as I crossed the street and walked up the hill to the plaza, my tail bumped me, then grabbed my arm to tug me behind the nearby arbor.
“Hey!” I yelled, just like they teach you in civilian self-defense classes.
That startled him enough to give me a slight edge, even though he didn’t let me go. I kept struggling, yelling for all I was worth because sometimes attracting attention is exactly what you need to do. What I wanted to do at that moment was convince my tail that he’d somehow gotten a hold of a civilian. It’s surprising how well that works. [It certainly surprises me – SEH]
The tail got his mouth next to my ear and I felt a gun in my ribs.
“I want what you got out of that locker.”
“It’s my brother’s locker,” I whimpered. “He gave me the key, I swear it.”
My tail shoved me forward, then ran from the arbor. I looked around and didn’t see any onlookers. I ran back to the station and dodged cars in the parking lot until I found my truck. My heart still pounding, I got out of the lot as fast as I could and drove around the downtown area for several minutes to be sure that I didn’t still have a tail. Satisfied that I was in the clear, I got onto the freeway and headed for Anaheim.
I parked in the lot for the Disneyland Hotel, thanking God and St. Anthony that I’d managed to find a space during the height of the tourist season. The hotel lobby was crowded, which was also a blessing. I passed a coffee shop and saw my contact eating her lunch or breakfast. She blinked at me and nodded. I took my time going to the drug store. Once there, I looked at the box of tampons, shook my head. As I put it back, I slid the envelope with the pick-up in it behind the other boxes. I wandered the store until I saw the contact in the feminine products aisle. I hung back just long enough to be sure that she had the envelope, then left the store and hurried back to my truck. It was well after one by that point, so, I picked up a burger and fries at a drive-through on the way back to the freeway.
Traffic was a mess, too. The Olympic games were a little over a month away, and there were construction projects all over the place, with workers frantically trying to complete them before the games began. I got home a little before three.
I heard music coming from the rumpus room, but the song ended as I got into the doorway. Records littered the floor and Nick stood studying the back of an all-too-familiar album cover.
“Nicholas!” I groaned.
“Hey, Lisa, listen to this song. It’s neat.” He put the needle down on the record.
I gritted my teeth as he scraped the needle across the disc trying to find the track.
“Nick, be careful,” I told him as sternly as I could. “You’ll mess up the needle and the record. They’re both very fragile.”
“The needle on my mom’s record player isn’t.”
“I’ll bet you anything Sid’s is a lot more delicate and expensive. He’s finicky about stuff like that, you know.”
“I know. Listen to this.” He got the needle placed correctly. “Neat, huh?”
It was Sad Lisa.
I smiled in spite of my irritation. “Yes, it is. I know the song very well.”
“That’s my album.”
“Why don’t you clean up all these albums you’ve left lying?”
“Oh. Sure.” Nick scrambled after the records, stopping only to put Sad Lisa on again.
He was entranced by the song and kept playing it over and over. I finally had to tell him to stop as I was getting sick of it.
Sid did not get home by dinnertime. George came by to get me for the teen bible study at church, so I took Nick with us. I probably should have stayed home with him. Nick was completely bored to the point that I had to take him out of the church classroom where we met right before break time.
“Why do we have to be here?” he whined.
“I have to be here and there’s no one else at home to keep an eye on you,” I said.
“I’m not a baby.”
“No. But you’re a little too young to be left alone.”
“So, why are you here? This is for high school kids.”
“I help with the leadership. I work on retreats and I’m going to be one of the counselors for their camp at the end of July.”
Nick harrumphed. “So, why aren’t you and George talking about being engaged?”
I sighed. “Because we agreed that we’d tell our prayer group first. We don’t want to distract the teens just yet.”
Nick harrumphed again, but let it go.
The next morning, Tuesday, as we came in from our morning run, Sid suggested that we take the day off.
“I want to spend some time with Nick,” he told me softly as Nick ran to his room to get dressed for the day.
“I’m glad, but we’ve got deadlines,” I said. “I need your edits on the bond market piece. I’ve got a rough draft to finish on mail-order fabrics, and we’ve got to put together our final outline for signs of child abuse.”
“Don’t we have a couple weeks on that last one?” Sid asked.
“Yes, but we’ve had a lot of extra running around to do lately, and it doesn’t look like that’s easing up any.”
Sid winced. “It could be. One of the crew picked up a suspect yesterday. I got word they were going to be in the alley last night.”
The alley, which was located in downtown Los Angeles, was a favorite spot for meetings and prisoner transfers. It had gotten to be that way because it had a weird spot, where one of the buildings wasn’t as deep as the two on either side, which made hiding there really easy. Also, it was in an area where the buildings were older and had been mostly emptied in anticipation of some urban rejuvenation plan, except for a few offices here and there. In fact, the alley was so popular, we were sometimes warned when someone wanted to use it.
“That doesn’t mean we’re done,” I said. “Even if it does, we’ve got a whole bunch of holiday queries to get out, as well.”
He winced. “I’m not going to insist that you work when I’m taking off, but if you want to, feel free. I want to spend some time with Nick and today’s a good day to do it.”
He had a point. The problem was I also got the feeling he was avoiding me. Sid and I work pretty closely together and not just with Quickline. It may be our cover, but Sid and I do really work as freelance writers, and business that way was going gangbusters. I was a little worried about Sid trying to dance around the work thing. After all, he’s usually pretty strict about being at our desks from eight a.m. to five p.m. At the same time, he will occasionally blow off work in favor of weekday skiing or something else fun, and he’s been known to let me do the same. So, I decided not to confront him about it. At least, I was able to work in shorts and a t-shirt, as opposed to our usual office wear, something else Sid insists on.
They spent the morning on Nick’s continuing obsession with Sad Lisa. I guess Nick had played the song for Sid, because while I worked, I could hear them in the library, going through Sid’s sheet music collection. I was a little surprised that Sid already had a copy of it. Sid’s been playing piano since he was six and is a very accomplished pianist. He tends to prefer classical music but is open to playing just about anything. The music went on for a bit and I tried to ignore it. I sighed in relief when Sid suggested that the two of them hang out in the hot tub.
Right before lunch, George dropped by just to say hi. He could do things like that because he was independently wealthy. It was old family money. His ancestry went back to the Californios who owned vast swathes of land in the area before the Americans took over. How his family had managed to hold onto their lands and money when most of the other old Mexican families didn’t, I do not know.
George spent his time doing art photography and was very good at it, and had even done a few shows. So, it wasn’t surprising that he had his camera bag with him. Nor was the vase of red roses he had.
“George, how sweet,” I said, feeling warm and happy.
I let him in and he followed me into the office.
“I’ll put them on my desk,” I said.
“That’s exactly what I had in mind.”
I set the vase on the corner of the desk, then shook my head as he opened his camera case.
“George, I’ve got a lot of work to do today and you know how much I hate having my picture taken.”
“These are not going into a show,” he said.
We’d had words before about that when he’d tried to get me to sign a model release the previous spring.
“Oh, come on, Lisa. I have pictures of everyone I care about except my beautiful girl. Please?”
I sat down. “Just a couple, okay?”
I went back to work on my article while George got out his light meter, then opened the drapes to the side yard.
“Oh, wow!” he yelped as he saw what was outside.
“That’s why I have those drapes closed,” I said.
I’d shut them when Nick had noisily accepted Sid’s suggestion about the hot tub. I was pretty sure they weren’t wearing bathing suits. Sid is a nudist at heart and genuinely can’t understand why people get so weird about being, and seeing someone, naked.
“I think I can work with the light in here,” George said.
Shaking my head, I went back to work on my draft, trying to ignore the whirring of his camera. Sid came in a couple minutes later, wearing a towel around his waist, and pair of leather thongs on his feet, and I’m pretty sure, nothing else. The towel was only as a courtesy to me.
“Oh, hello, George,” Sid said. He was smiling, but there was something entirely bland in his tone that didn’t feel right. “How’s it going?”
“Very good, Sid. How’s it going with you?”
“Good enough.” He tried opening his office door. “Lisa, why is this locked?”
“I had to run an errand yesterday and couldn’t take Nick,” I said. “I thought it might be wise.”
“I see. Good thinking.”
I handed him my keys. “Here.”
“Thanks.” Sid unlocked the door and went in.
George set his camera down on the desk and came around and crouched next to my chair.
“How much more have you got to do?” he asked.
“Just two more lines, I think.” I looked over my notes on the desk as George slid his hands around my waist. “But I’ve got other things to do besides this.”
“Well, I don’t have a rich family.”
“Soon you will. I’m going to sweep you away to a beautiful mansion and all you’ll have to do is order servants around.” He kissed me.
He was a very good kisser, and caught up in the kiss, I decided that the mansion and servants were him being silly and not any real plan. But something else occurred to me.
“Aren’t we going to live in your condo?” I asked when I could. “And what about Jesse?”
Jesse was George’s best friend and roommate.
“No. We’ll get our own place. I’m going to sign the condo over to Jesse.”
“He’s not going to accept it.”
“We’ll see. There’s plenty of time to worry about that.”
He moved in for another kiss, but I caught the office door opening out of the corner of my eye and pushed away.
“Excuse me, lovebirds,” said Sid, stepping outside.
“Sorry about that, Sid,” I said, turning back to my keyboard.
“About what?” Sid asked. “Anyway, it’s lunchtime. Why don’t you and George go out? Unless, George, you want to eat with Nick and me.”
“No thanks, Sid,” George said with a laugh. “I’ll take Lisa out.”
I really did not want to go out to lunch, and briefly wondered if Sid needed me out of the house for some reason. That didn’t entirely make sense, but then I remembered what Janey had told him the day before, the part about being extra nice to me. I quickly decided that it wasn’t worth getting into any arguments over and agreed to go as soon as I’d finished my draft.
That night, at the adult’s bible study, George and I announced our upcoming nuptials. Everyone was pretty enthusiastic.
Well, almost everyone. Our youth minister, Dan Williams, looked at me a little strangely. We’d dated briefly when he first arrived in the parish and I’d told him that I didn’t want to get married to anyone and he’d stopped dating me. On the other hand, he’d just gotten married earlier that spring to Sarah.
Jesse White already knew about the engagement and had told his girlfriend, Kathy Deiner. Kathy is also one of my closest friends. She’s a tall, very elegant Black woman, with her hair cut short. She’s a junior partner in an accounting firm and Jesse’s a photographer, like George, only at the time, Jesse was still building his business by doing weddings and portrait settings and whatever else he could scrape up.
Jesse and Kathy had been the odds-on favorites to announce their engagement next, instead of George and I. Nobody could figure out what the hold-up was, but Kathy had confided in me that Jesse did not want Kathy supporting him. As Kathy explained, it had a lot to do with negative stereotypes about Black men, which was kind of hard to argue with.
“It seems like everybody is getting married except me,” she complained quietly to me during break.
“Hang in there,” I whispered back. “George told me today that he’s going to sign the condo over to Jesse when we get married. We’ll find a way to get him to take it.”
Kathy shuddered and shook her head. “Wish me luck, because that’s what it’s going to take. As my granny says, that man is more stubborn than an ornery mule.”
My other girlfriend, Esther Nyguyen, was too wrapped in her own problem, namely that her father had moved into her apartment. Esther, who’s an engineer, doesn’t tend to be too interested in what she calls “girlie” stuff. I was sort of surprised by our other friend, Frank Lonnergan. He’s a musician and he and Sid have become good friends, as well. Frank clearly disapproved.
“Jealous, Frank?” George nudged him playfully.
“I’m not,” Frank said as if he knew someone who was.
That bothered me. I couldn’t say why, but it really bothered me.