Welcome to From This Day Forward, book ten in the Operation Quickline series. It’s Sid and Lisa’s big day – their wedding. But in the weeks leading up to the event, something strange is going on. The only thing scarier will be their honeymoon. You can read the first episode here and see all the episodes that have run here.
Honestly? I don’t get Paris. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of interesting and cool things there. But there are a lot of similarly cool things in a lot of other places, including several of the cities that Sid and I had just been in. Maybe it’s because the first time Sid and I had been there, things were a lot more tense. That had been the summer of 1983, when (assuming we’re being honest about it) Sid and I fell in love with each other, but realized we had a major problem with our respective values not meshing. Oh, and we were facing probably having to take on new permanent identities as a married couple when we were nowhere near up for anything close to that.
We took the train from Wiesbaden at a ridiculously early hour. The only good thing was that Sid and I had a compartment to ourselves, and, no surprise, took advantage of it. We really tried to keep the noise down and we didn’t get any complaints, so I guess we were okay.
We found the drop-off station on our own and were pleasantly surprised to realize we’d already been there back in ‘83. Our driver had let us know when and where Marian and the rest of the group would meet us for dinner, but that left us with a few hours of free time, which really wasn’t enough to see anything, then get back to the drop-off station in an apartment on the Rue St. Denis in time to change for dinner. Only the driver came back without our luggage and with a message to call Marian at her hotel.
I made the call.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to come stay here,” Marian said. “Mark Flowers is not only here, the first thing he asked is where you two are staying. So, I told him you’re staying here at the hotel. I don’t want him anywhere near that station right now, nor do I want you two to ditch a tail in case he’s still wondering about you.”
“Okay. What did you say about us not arriving at the same time?”
“That you went off to see some sights. Why don’t you spend an hour or two running through Montmartre? That’s longer than the tour bus will give you and should get you back here soon enough to check in and dress for dinner.”
“Okay,” I said.
I told Sid what Marian had said, and he shrugged.
“That sounds reasonable enough.” He put his tan sport coat back on over his dress shirt and jeans. We made our afternoon call to Nick, then took off.
I had a feeling Sid wasn’t that excited about going to see another church, including the gorgeous Sacre Coeur, but he insisted. On the other hand, the surrounding neighborhood with its artists was very interesting. In fact, by the time we got to the hotel and checked in, we had a couple of oil paintings with us. Sid looked at them and shook his head as he put on a suit, and I got out my cocktail dress.
“I hate to say it, Lisa, but I think this art collecting thing may be getting more out of hand than our sex life.”
“But they’re so gorgeous!”
The two paintings were in fact one landscape split in the middle in a cross between abstract and Impressionism, with lovely purples and pinks on a mottled green background.
“I know. That’s why we bought them. The question is, where are we going to hang them? We have a fair amount of wall space, but it’s not unlimited.”
I sighed. “I know.”
Sid kissed my forehead. “We’ll figure something out.”
Dinner was another extended affair in a private room off the hotel’s restaurant. We started in the restaurant’s foyer with cocktails and a particularly good pate served canape-style on rounds of good baguette. It turned out there was a bit more of a crowd than I expected. Clint Foster had re-joined us, this time with his wife, Dierdre, in tow. Marge Benson and Hattie Mitchell arrived right after Sid and I did. Dale and Adrienne O’Connor stood talking with another couple that I didn’t recognize, while Lillian chatted with Gwen and Mark Flowers. Lady Beatrice watched the room anxiously. Marian and Andrew moved around the room, saying hello to everyone. Dale spotted Sid and me and waved us over. I went reluctantly, expecting yet another round of explaining to Dale that my name was not Hackbirn. Fortunately, Sid found a way around that.
“Well, hello, you two.” Dale grinned at Sid and me, then looked at the couple. “Danielle, Liam, our newest members—”
“Sid Hackbirn and Lisa Wycherly,” Sid said quickly, offering his hand. “Nice to meet you folks.”
Dale looked a little nonplussed. I murmured my hello and shook hands. It turned out Danielle and Liam Connelly were a cover couple who lived in Paris. Danielle was French and Liam was Irish. They joined the travel club through Steve and Ray.
“Have you met them yet?” Danielle asked.
“Not yet,” said Sid. “Will they be here tonight?”
Danielle shook her head. “No. They are going to Copenhagen on Friday. I believe they have some business there.”
“Are you going to Copenhagen, too?” Sid asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Liam said. “We already promised the Flowers we would meet them in Athens this weekend.”
We chatted for a couple minutes more, then moved on. Lady Beatrice pulled us aside.
“I need help,” she told Sid softly. “I need to get away from Mark.”
“I don’t understand.” Sid glanced at me, puzzled.
“He’s a terrible person.” Her eyes blinked rapidly. “Worse yet, he’s up to something that’s going to get both of us in a great deal of trouble, and I don’t want any part of that.”
Sid smiled reassuringly. “It’s not that I don’t want to help, Beatrice, but why are you asking us?”
“Oh.” She sighed. “I was hoping… I guess not. I’m so sorry to have troubled you.”
I put my hand on her arm. “Wait, Beatrice. I don’t know what we can do, but maybe we could put you in touch with the American embassy. I mean, if you need asylum or something like that. I’m not sure how it’s done, though, and I don’t know anybody over there.”
“That’s quite kind of you. But no.” She smiled weakly. “I need other help. Thank you.”
She moved away. At that moment, we were shuffled into the private dining room, where two tables were set with the full array of flatware. We had scallops, sizzling in shell plates, chicken bouillon, sole meuniere, filets of beef wrapped in mushrooms and puff pastry, an endive salad, three amazing cheeses, followed by a divine bit of pastry and insanely good coffee. The wines were beyond amazing, including a pink Champagne that made me cry, not to mention what Sid said was a premier cru Bordeaux, which, apparently, was one of the best such wines made.
After dinner, Marian whispered to us that we’d meet for breakfast around eight that morning. Sid whispered back that we had something for her as well. We managed to get to sleep at a reasonable hour and Sid nudged me out of bed around six.
“Why?” I groaned.
“We need to go running,” he said.
“Lisa,” Sid groaned.
There was a park across from the hotel and Sid and I were able to do several laps. However, during that first lap, as we came around the bend to the opening to the hotel, I saw someone near a tree who startled me. Sid saw the man with clipped blond hair and ramrod erect posture. We ran past, ignoring him, and he didn’t appear to notice us at all. I even looked back, just in case.
“I thought he was dead,” Sid gasped softly as we started the next lap.
I shook my head. “It’s not quite the same guy. But still…” I stole another look at where the man was leaning against the tree, watching the hotel. “He looks an awful lot like him. I suppose we’ll need to talk to Dale about it.”
“I suppose so.”
We got our full hour of running in, then walked the last half lap to cool down. Somewhat later, dressed in jeans, sweaters, and shirts, we got to the hotel dining room to find Marian already there, eating croissants and drinking coffee at a round table set for four. I asked the waiter for some whole wheat toast and fruit for Sid, then went to the buffet that had been set out and filled my plate with four traditional croissants and a couple chocolate ones.
“The strawberry jam is quite nice,” Marian said as I put my plate at a place setting next to her. Sid ambled up with a croissant on a plate and sat on my other side.
“It does look nice.” I cut a chunk of butter from the block in front of me and spooned some jam onto my plate.
The waiter came and offered Sid and me coffee and we both said yes. I found some cream and roughly lumped sugar on the table and doctored my cup.
“Where’s Andrew?” Sid asked.
“Talking with the police in Wiesbaden,” Marian said, lightly buttering a bit of croissant. “Oh, these are divine.”
“About the other day?” Sid placed a tiny bit of butter on his croissant and nibbled. “Oh my god. These are good.”
“I got your toast and fruit,” I told him, then buttered and jammed one of my plain croissants. It was heavenly.
He smiled at me. “Thanks.” Then he turned to Marian. “Won’t the police be suspicious if Andrew talks to them?”
“Well, he is speaking with whomever is the head of that department.” Marian chuckled. “Thanks to our diplomatic immunity, there isn’t much they could charge us with, even if we had been the attackers. But it would have taken forever for them to figure it out and probably gotten quite nasty in the process. It may be a bit of a cliche, but if one must deal with the police in Germany, it’s easier to do it from a distance.”
“So, what did you want to talk to us about?” Sid looked at her.
“Actually, I wanted to find out why Lady Beatrice was talking to you last evening. She looked quite unhappy.”
“That.” Sid looked at me and shook his head as I started in on my second croissant. “She told us she needed help. That she wanted to leave Mark. Apparently, he’s up to something.”
“Well, we know that much.” Marian looked at us. “But why would she ask you two for help?”
Sid shrugged, then looked at me. “That’s what we asked her. She said something about hoping, then Lisa said we could help her get in touch with the American embassy, while pointing out that we don’t know anybody there.”
“Which we don’t,” I said.
“Anyway,” said Sid. “She said thanks, but she needed some other kind of help.”
“I wonder if she was testing you to see if you’re operatives.” Marian glared at the rest of her croissant.
“Possibly,” said Sid. “But there’s no way of knowing.”
Marian sighed. “I’m afraid not.”
“We also have something for Dale.” Sid looked around the dining room. The waiter came by with a bowl of fruit and some wheat toast. I pointed at Sid.
“He should be here any minute, and without Adrienne. She seldom eats in the morning.”
I had eaten one of the chocolate croissants and was buttering the third plain one when Dale ambled up to the table with two hunks of baguette on his plate. He saw the fruit in front of Sid.
“Where’d you get that?” Dale demanded.
“Apparently, all you have to do is ask.” Sid ate a bite of whole wheat toast.
Dale waved down a waiter, demanded some fruit, then Sid asked politely for a glass of prune juice.
“There’s somebody out in that park across the street watching the hotel.” Sid looked at Dale. “Somebody who looks an awful lot like a friend of yours.”
Dale cursed. “I thought I saw him yesterday.”
“Oh?” Marian asked, her eyebrows lifted.
Lillian came up, her plate filled with croissants. “Is there room for me?”
“Of course,” I said. I got up and fetched another place setting from a table behind us and placed a chair between myself and Marian. Sid shifted over to make room for me. Dale stayed put.
Marian glared at Dale. “Dale was just about to tell us that he saw someone yesterday.”
“I said I thought I saw someone.” Dale paused as the waiter returned with his fruit and the prune juice for Sid. “Turns out these two also saw him. When, I don’t know.”
“When we were out running this morning,” said Sid. “For a minute there, I thought we were looking at Karl Mittman.”
“Mittman?” Lillian’s eyebrows rose. “Wasn’t he your aide?”
“Yeah.” Dale shoveled fruit into his mouth and talked around it. “Mittman died when his plane blew up in Catalina last summer. The man you saw was Rudy Meisner, his older half-brother. He seems to have popped up on the fringes of this plot, which was why I was so sure Sid and Lisa were the targets.”
“Does he blame us for his brother dying?” I asked.
“As far as I know, he’s never heard of you two,” Dale said. “Mittman hadn’t had any contact with him, probably because Rudy was in the wind again. They didn’t particularly like each other, although Rudy set Karl up for that weapons plot.”
“How do you mean?” Sid asked.
“It’s Rudy’s style. He foments trouble, but rarely causes it directly.” Dale shook his head. “He’s had it in for my butt for a long time.” Dale glared at Marian. “And, no, I am not being paranoid, and this isn’t just about me.” Dale chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “Meisner got his nose bent out of shape when I first ran for congress. He offered me a sizable donation from the American Nazi Party, which, no surprise, I turned down flat.”
“How badly did you need the money?” Lillian asked.
“It doesn’t matter.” Dale shook his head. “It was a public donation. If people had found out I was taking money from that group, my goose would have been cooked. Meisner promised to hide the source, but truth be told, I didn’t want their money, anyway. Give me all the crap you want. I do have my ethics.” Dale sighed. “I’m not sure how Meisner did it, but he set up his half-brother Karl to apply as an aide in my district office, then later, set him up for that weapons deal. You all know that I was one of the suspects in that case. That was Meisner’s work.”
“So, you’ve made your point,” Marian said. “But that still does not explain why or how he is involved in this current plot with the Croatians. Or why he would be after Sid and Lisa.”
Dale shuddered. “The guy is a classic psychotic narcissist. As in, he has a god complex a mile wide. According to our best intel, in the past year alone, he has been talking with the Irish Republican Army, the Palestinians and the Egyptians, several of the Soviet republics, Afghanis, North Koreans, the Saudis, Iranians, Iraqis, and all the different Yugoslavian ethnic groups. Anywhere he thinks U.S. interests are at stake, he’s there trying to stir up trouble. I also know that he’s talked with Mark Flowers on any number of occasions. So, my guess is that he’s the mastermind behind the plot and far enough away from it to come out smelling like a rose.”
Marian glared at him. “And when, exactly, were you going to share this critical little tidbit with the rest of us?”
“When I got confirmation on it.” Dale snarled. “Which I got this morning when Sid and Lisa also spotted him.”
“That still doesn’t explain why Lisa and I would be the targets of this plot.” Sid glared at Dale.
Dale rolled his eyes. “Lisa’s parents? My constituents? If I fail to negotiate with the Croatians that makes me look really bad back at home. Meisner wants me out of office and in the worst possible light. Believe me, that arms thing last summer was hardly the first time he’s tried to make me look bad.”
“The problem is,” said Marian. “The plot has been in the works since early January.”
“Exactly,” said Sid. “We didn’t know we were coming here for sure until the middle of that month. Also, how would this Meisner have known we were coming?”
“He wouldn’t have.” Dale rolled his eyes again. “But he would have been watching me, seen me get friendly with two people he doesn’t know, then do some checking. It’s not that hard to find these things out, especially if you’re friends with, say, Mark Flowers.”
Marian frowned. “Gwen knew fairly early on that we had two new club members, and she did have your names. It seems a bit of a stretch, but it is possible.”
“Nonetheless,” Lillian said. “When that attack occurred in Wiesbaden, it seemed pretty clear that the attackers wanted to do away with Sid and Lisa.”
“And there was that attack in Gstaad, too,” I pointed out, then flushed as the others looked at me. Okay, it was the first time I’d said anything since the discussion started. “Both Sid and I thought the men were trying to take us out rather than capture us.”
“Bugger!” Marian’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “She’s absolutely right.”
“On the other hand,” said Sid. “If you and Andrew are the actual targets and Lisa and I are viewed as potential protection, then the attacks make sense.”
Marian rolled her eyes. “Which is what we determined the other night. But what could they hope to achieve by capturing us?”
Dale slapped the table. “Embarrassing the U.S. by not negotiating on their friend’s behalf.”
“You know,” Lillian said. “That makes sense. Whether or not those negotiations would really happen is another issue.”
Marian sighed. “So, now what do we do? Is it worth letting it happen? And how do we protect Sid and Lisa’s cover in the meantime?”
“Splitting up would probably help,” Sid said. “Maybe not while we’re in Paris.”
“You could do the usual bus tour,” Lillian said. “That would be expected of a pair of tourists and it’s early enough we can get you on a decent one.”
Marian groaned. “We’ll have to get you back in time to change for dinner. Alas, Gwen has scheduled yet another one tonight.”
Lillian nodded. “I think we can set up the tour.” Her eyes lit up. “In fact, I’ll go with you two. There’s a tour that hits most of the major sites and allows some time for shopping. They should be meeting…” She checked her watch. “In another half hour. Are you two ready?”
I sighed. “Do I have time to go upstairs and get my purse and the camera?”
“Just barely.” Lillian grinned. “Go.”
I ran. As to whether Marian and Andrew were going to let themselves be captured by the Croatians, Sid and I were not part of that discussion, and frankly, I was glad we weren’t.
The tour, on the other hand, was a blast. Sid and I had been on a similar tour when we’d been in Paris in 1983, but there was something about this one. We saw all the major sites, including Notre Dame and the Louvre. The tour guide ran us through the Louvre so fast Sid didn’t have time to count a single brushstroke, although it lasted long enough for me to fall in love with the huge painting of the crowning of Josephine by Napoleon, by somebody David, I think. We saw the Mona Lisa behind glass and from afar. We also saw Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. Sid was glad that we didn’t have time to go up to the top of the Eiffel tower.
We got back to the hotel just as the sun was beginning to set. Sid hurried to our private bath to do his second shave. I went to the armoire in the room to get my cocktail dress. I opened the double doors to the dress section and a pair of sightless eyes appeared to look straight at me. A moment later, cold, dead flesh fell on top of me.
I know I screamed. It was generally remarked upon how loudly I had screamed. I don’t remember much past that. Just coming to consciousness in another room – Marian and Andrew’s it turned out – sitting on the edge of a bed with Sid’s arms around me. My stomach heaved – I somehow knew it was not for the first time that afternoon – and I spilled what was left of my guts into a waste can that Sid put in front of my face.
“Oh, lord,” I groaned.
“It’s okay, lover.” Sid’s voice was soft and calming. “I’m right here.”
“It was a stiff.”
“Yes.” He handed me a glass of water.
I sipped gingerly. “I thought I was getting better about those.”
“Seeing them, yeah. This was full body contact with one.”
My stomach turned, and I reached for the waste can again. Too bad there was nothing to bring up. I gagged for several minutes, then my throat loosened up.
“Whose body?” I finally asked.
“That we do not know yet, but there are several theories floating around.” Sid began rubbing my back, starting in a circular pattern, and working his way out.
“Marian hates me, doesn’t she?”
“She’s a little worried. But she knows what you can do. She has no reason to be. The good news is that no one, but no one, is going to think we’re operatives.”
I whimpered. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all to the better, lover.”
Marian and Lillian were both surprised that I had reacted so badly to Lady Beatrice’s body falling on me. I winced as Sid explained that I had a little phobia of stiffs.
“It was the business that did it to her,” Sid growled at them. “Lisa’s been working through it and doing reasonably well. This was the first actual body contact we’ve had since she started the work.”
“Still…” Lillian began.
“Look,” Sid snarled. “She has managed when I haven’t been around. Or have you forgotten the Wisconsin case?”
Lillian looked at Marian and shrugged. Frankly, I hadn’t handled the Wisconsin stiff all that well, but since I was supposed to be a civilian, it had worked out. This time it seemed to have worked out, too. Sid was right. Nobody was going to think I was a hardened operative after upchucking multiple times while crying hysterically. Since Sid had been focused on taking care of me, he’d gotten cover as well. I could only thank God for that.
That night’s dinner was canceled, no surprise there. I got a perfectly lovely tray in our room, then had to call for a second one an hour later. Sid smiled, both appalled by my appetite and glad to see it returning.
Thank you for reading. For more information about the Operation Quickline series, click here.