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.
As if having a stiff fall on me wasn’t bad enough. Or maybe it was why. It was a really bad night, thanks to having my blood-stained nightmare multiple times. Then the next morning, as I got dressed, a heavy wool blanket of depression enveloped me. Yes, I should have recognized it. It’s not like I don’t get these moods every so often. But it’s the perverse nature of the mood that I never really see it for what it is.
The other weird part of it is that I make an extra special effort to hide what I’m feeling. So, it was not surprising that Sid didn’t really see what was going on as we got on the plane for Copenhagen that morning. It was also early and I’m not a morning person. Nevertheless, once we were in the air, I found it hard to sleep. Sid snoozed away. My mind flashed back to a summer right before my sophomore year of college.
“Mae, this film is amazing!” I grinned.
Mae rolled her eyes. “I know. I’ve heard. Big deal.”
“Oh, come on. We haven’t gone to a movie together in forever.”
“Yeah, well, I have other things to worry about than movies.”
“But it’s Star Wars. I swear you have never seen anything like it. It is so awesome.”
“I understand, Lisa.”
“But you want to see this in a theater. It’s mind-blowing.”
“I don’t have time.”
“I’ll go get the tickets and stand in line all afternoon. You just have to show up around six or so.”
“And who’s going to watch Darby and Janey?”
“Maybe Neil? You know, their father? He’ll be home by five. He always is.”
“And Neil is tired after working all day. It’s not fair to dump the kids on him.”
“How much you want to bet he wants to spend some time with them?”
Mae sighed deeply. “Lisa, one of these days, you are going to have to realize that I have to put my husband and children first.”
“But it’s just going out to a movie and a pretty awesome one at that!”
“It’s only a movie. Neil and the kids are more important.”
“One night is going to mess that up?”
“It’s my family, Lisa. They are more important.”
On the plane, I sighed deeply. It had always been Neil and the kids first with Mae. Mama had taught me the same thing. Now, I had Sid and Nick to think about. I hoped I wasn’t being too selfish.
We got settled into the drop-off station, a nice apartment in a modern building, before noon and in plenty of time to meet Steve Parsons and Ray Spinoza at a nearby cafe for lunch. Truth be told, the guys were great. They were based in New York and had plenty to say about coordinating with the Company, none of it good. They’d been a couple forever, and the floater team for the Green line almost as long, and I realized I’d seen Ray a few times before.
Sid seemed up for touring with the two for the rest of the afternoon, and I agreed, even though I wasn’t feeling all that excited by it. That’s when Sid looked at me funny and said that we’d try to catch up with the guys for dinner. It was either that or we’d call their hotel to meet the next morning.
Steve and Ray weren’t quite sure what to make of it, but they took one look at me and realized that something wasn’t right. I felt horrible.
Sid took me back to the drop-off station.
“I’m sorry,” I said as he shut the door on the apartment done in lovely lavenders and white.
“It’s my fault we’re here and not touring Copenhagen?”
He shut his eyes, then opened them. “Sweetie, A- I think I know a blue funk when I see one and B- you’re completely deferring to me again, which is not normal even when you don’t have a blue funk going on.”
“I know you are. That’s the problem. Lisa, why are you acting this way?”
“The deference thing. You’re not happy, and while I know some of that is your funk, some of it isn’t. You were acting this way yesterday, even before the stiff. In fact, you’ve been playing the nice little wife ever since London.”
The nice little wife. I almost cursed.
“I’m not playing,” I said, sinking onto the purple Danish modern couch in the front room. “I’m trying to be.”
“I’m acting married,” I groaned.
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t!” I snapped. “You haven’t been force-fed messages all your life about what being a good wife means. It’s everything that I was afraid of.”
“Huh?” Sid looked at me and then the light suddenly dawned on him. “Ah. Husband and kids first, right?”
“Yeah. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.”
He sighed. “We get to define what being married means to us.”
“But you haven’t been indoctrinated from the cradle. You haven’t been taught relentlessly to defer to your spouse, to be the nice Kate, conformable with other household Kates. You don’t have to deal with an entire culture out there determined to mold you into a nice little wife. I have. That’s all I’ve heard my entire life. Be nice. Be quiet. Don’t let the guys know how smart you are. Give them what they want. Submit to your husband. And you are my husband!”
“I’ve been your husband, more or less, for almost a year now. Maybe not officially.”
“Well, now, it’s official.” I looked away, trying not to cry. “Seriously, Sid. I don’t know what switch got flipped in my brain, but it did. I don’t want to be this way. I really don’t. But it’s like I can’t help it. And the worst of it is, I do love you. I love you so much, all I want is for you to be happy. It’s just that I keep thinking that what I’ve been told all my life is what will make you happy, and that’s what I should be doing.”
“Even if it doesn’t.” Sid’s face was a little pained.
I took a deep breath. “I’ve told you about primary socialization. All those early lessons. They are really, really hard to get past. It’s you and believing in God. You just can’t because that’s what you learned as a kid.”
“I also learned that marriage was a crock and got past that.”
I frowned. “But when you talk about being married, for you, it’s about sharing a bed, mingling our assets, raising our kid, and sharing toiletries.”
“And you said the same things.”
“Okay!” I yelped. “I did. But I think even then, I knew it was more than that. At least, for me, it’s about being a good wife. You know. That stupid commercial from the Seventies. ‘My wife, she does all these wonderful things. I think I’ll keep her.’ Women’s Lib, my ass. I’m the one who’s supposed to be taking care of you, taking care of everyone within reach. If I get to take care of myself, I’m being selfish.”
“But you’re not. You’re taking care of yourself so you can take care of me and Nick. And I take care of myself so that I can take care of you and Nick.” He pulled me close. “I think I get it. You’re right. There are a lot of messages out there about what it means to be a woman in our culture. Maybe I’m not as tuned into them as you are, but I do understand that they’re there. And as long as I’ve known you, Lisa, you’ve been fighting them. Why is it so hard for you to fight them now?”
“I don’t know.” I took a deep breath. “Maybe I didn’t realize I was giving in to the messages. It was the thing about wanting to make you happy.”
Sid chuckled. “You know, we’ve been using that as a metaphor for sexual activity.”
I laughed also. “There is more to it than that.”
“I got that much.” He stroked my hair. “So, if I am hearing what you’re saying, you’ve been unconsciously playing into the stereotypes and cultural expectations.”
“Yeah.” I could feel the tension draining from me. “That’s it exactly. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.” I swallowed. “It’s pretty hard not to.”
“You’ve only had it drilled into your head since you were a kid. That doesn’t mean you have to give in to it.”
“Then let me stand with you. You know I don’t want that kind of wife. I want you. Stubborn, feisty, giving me hell you.”
I looked at him. “Really?”
“Okay, giving me hell sucks, but it’s better than when you defer to me. I really hate that.”
“Because I want you to be happy, too. And when you do the deference thing, you are not happy. And that sucks worse than anything.”
I laid my forehead against his. “You are an incredible man.”
“And you are an incredible woman.”
He kissed me so softly. I wasn’t entirely sure I was over the whole deference thing, but now that I knew what was happening, it would be easier to fight it. We both knew the martyr thing was not going to work, and I had been trying to be the martyr.
“Alright,” I said, finally. “So, now what?”
Sid squeezed me. “We need to re-connect with Steve and Ray.”
“Yeah. We should. I don’t want them to think I don’t like them.” I paused. “Mostly because I do like them and there’s no reason to hurt their feelings.”
So, Sid called their hotel, and we met up with them at a cafe near The Little Mermaid statue.
“We just had some expectations to work out,” Sid explained to them. “It’s the whole newly married thing.”
Steve sighed loudly. “I totally get it.” He was a tallish man with a bit of a gut and receding blond hair. “I only wish we could.”
“We are married in spirit,” said Ray. Ray was medium-sized, wore wire-rimmed glasses, and had dark hair liberally sprinkled with gray.
“I wish you could, too.” I sighed looking at them.
“You okay?” Sid asked.
“Just thinking about Rick,” I said. I looked at the guys. “A friend of mine who wanted to marry his boyfriend. It was just so sad because Rick got AIDS and died last year. Then Rick’s family got ugly when Rick left everything to Dave. Fortunately, Rick’s lawyer had made sure everything was as airtight as it could be, but if they’d been married, there wouldn’t have been half the trouble defending the will.”
Steve and Ray both shuddered.
“That’s happened to so many friends of ours,” Ray said. “It was bad before AIDS. A couple friends of ours had been together over twenty years, but when Lonny got cancer, his family swooped in and cut Dennis out completely. Dennis couldn’t be there when Lonny finally died, even though Lonny wanted him there. Then Dennis went through hell during probate. It’s just gotten worse since AIDS started killing everyone off.”
“Thank God we’ve been together for the past ten years!” Steve blinked and grabbed Ray’s hand. “And we’ve been faithful. That’s the only thing that has saved our asses.”
“I’m afraid so,” said Ray. “We’ve lost so many friends. It’s been hell.”
“Oh. My god!” Steve yelped suddenly. “I totally forgot to tell you. Lillian said that she’d meet us for dinner. She said they got some information from the Wiesbaden police?”
“Good,” said Sid.
“And Dale is not going to be here,” Steve continued. “He has a little problem with us.”
“Oh, I’m so shocked,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Who wouldn’t be?” Steve said. “And Barb and Lita are coming, too. Love those girls!”
I laughed. “So do we. This is going to be fun.”
“Really?” Sid looked at me, grinning.
I shrugged. “I’ve been having a little problem with group socializing. I don’t do well with parties and lots of strangers.”
Ray grinned. “Then I am really glad we’ve been able to do this just the four of us. I know exactly what you’re talking about. One of the reasons Steve and I volunteered to meet you two here in Copenhagen is that most of the rest of that crew don’t want to come up here. I hate crowds. I love Marian and Andrew, but some of those crowds they pull together. Oy!”
We went back to the hotel and dinner there. Lillian was there waiting for us in the dining room, where a smorgasbord had been set up. Sid sighed when he saw it and my eyes lighting up. We were just getting settled when happy cries announced that Barb and Lita had arrived.
“Happy birthday!” Lita crowed, setting a gaily wrapped box next to me.
My jaw dropped. “Is today the twenty-first?”
“Yes, dearest.” Sid laughed and put another package in front of me.
Lillian pulled two other packages from the shopping bag she’d had hanging from her chair, and Steve and Ray also had a box for me.
“Thank you,” I gasped. “I’d completely lost track of what day it was.”
“Marian and Andrew wanted to celebrate last night in Paris,” Lillian said, her eyes twinkling. “But Sid convinced them that you’d be happier with a much smaller celebration.”
“Just as well, the way things turned out.” I sighed.
Lillian nodded. “Let’s get some food and then we’ll talk about all of that after we’ve eaten.”
Okay. The way my plate ended up piled high was a little embarrassing, but I wanted to try everything. I was halfway through when Sid looked at Lillian.
“Steve said you had something for us from the Wiesbaden police?” he asked.
“Yes.” Lillian winced a little. “They had found those fellows that we’d left behind, and they were definitely Croatians. They were turned loose on the theory that someone had attacked them.”
“That would make sense,” I said. “What about Beatrice?”
“Lady Beatrice?” Barb asked. “What happened?”
Lillian watched me carefully. “Are you sure you’re up to talking about that?”
“Of course.” I shrugged and ate some salad.
“Very well.” Lillian glared at her food as if her stomach wasn’t doing very well, then told the others what had happened the day before.
“What did the police say?” Sid asked.
“Not much of anything.” Lillian frowned. “She was strangled. Given what she told the two of you the night before, it’s entirely possible Mark Flowers did it. However, he made up some cock and bull story about masked men and the gendarmes bought it. Mark couldn’t say how his wife’s body ended up in your hotel room. However, he wasn’t as entirely distraught as one would think and seemed pretty interested in your reaction, Lisa.”
I flushed and sighed. “I guess it worked out, then.”
“We knew it would,” said Sid, patting my hand.
“Have any of you been followed today?” Lillian asked us.
Steve and Ray looked at each other.
“Nope,” said Ray. “It’s been nice and quiet.”
They both shook their heads. Lillian went on to brief the others on Rudy Meisner as I got up to get some more food.
“We’ve been keeping an eye out for anything related to Meisner for a few years now,” Steve was telling Lillian. “Like you asked us to.”
“Rudy is one scary boy,” Ray said. “He’d’ve overthrown the U.S. government by now if those White supremacists were better organized and less paranoid.”
“Well, Dale pointed him out to me as I left just after noon.” Lillian shrugged. “He was still watching the hotel from that park. Thank goodness that Marian and Andrew had left out the back.”
“Left?” Sid asked. “Where are they going?”
“They have a villa near Athens,” Lillian said. “They decided to retreat and regroup until we get there on Sunday.”
There wasn’t much more to be said after that. I had cleaned my plate a second time, and most of us got up to select desserts. Sid just had some coffee. He doesn’t really like sweets that much and worries about his weight. I just ate and was glad when no one decided to sing Happy Birthday. The presents were nice. Barb and Lita had brought a small gilt and pink jewelry box that they said came from Florence (which was not that far from Milan, where they’d been). Steve and Ray got me a nice edition of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen. Somehow, Marian and Andrew had found a whole stash of antique rosewood knitting needles and sent them. Lillian apparently had been collecting knitting magazines from everywhere we’d gone. Those were in the original languages, but I was able to figure out at least some of the patterns. She’d also found some German sewing magazines that had sewing patterns on folded sheets in the middle, but the magazines had been translated into English.
I opened Sid’s package last. It was a little music box in an Eighteenth-Century style, with polished dark blue rounded sides and gilt ornamentation. When I opened the lid, which had a little miniature of lords and ladies being pastoral, I recognized the tune and flushed. Sid smiled his hot little smile, which did not help at all. He knew I’d heard him singing in the shower or tub after all.
I laughed. “So, I get grand opera?”
“Oh, definitely.” Sid purred like one of our cats.
Steve snorted. “I don’t who’s making me hotter. Her or him. And I don’t go for her.”
“I don’t think we have Need to Know on the rest,” Lillian said, her face getting red.
“Sorry, Lillian,” Lita said, laughing. “I want to know.”
Sid chuckled. “Sounds better than it is. It’s just a little joke between us with several years of context behind it.”
His eyes never left mine, and no one was surprised when the two of us left shortly after that. Back at the drop-off station, we entered the code into the door panel, verified that the place was empty, then hurried inside. Sid slammed the door shut. I set the packages and my purse down and then our clothes went flying all over the place.
Sometime later, I awoke on the couch. The lights were still on. Sid was still on top of me, his head laying on my shoulder. He was quiet, but not yet awake. Then I heard it again. A light beeping sound.
Sid lifted his head. “What’s that?”
The door to the apartment opened.
“What the hell?” The man had olive-toned skin, dark hair, and a medium build.
“Code?” Sid got up.
I realized I was in my birthday suit in front of a total stranger and yelped. Sid tossed his shirt at me. I put it on as fast as I could.
“Zulu Whisky Alpha two four four one. You?”
“Lima Golf Romeo seven six eight two.” Sid remained standing and watching the new arrival.
“Why the hell aren’t you guys in the back?” the man asked, obviously annoyed.
“We got a little carried away,” said Sid, glancing back at me. “Long story. We’re here as couriers. Any reason you need to hide what you’ve got?”
“Nah. I guess not. It’s going to Dragon, fifty-three-Quebec.” As in Lillian. “I hear she’s in town.”
He held up a nine by twelve envelope. Okay, given that we were in Europe, it probably wasn’t nine inches by twelve inches, but the metric equivalent. Sid walked over and took it.
“You want one of the bedrooms?” he asked the man.
“I want out of here.” The man went for the door, shaking his head.
Sid shrugged, then looked at me. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” I swallowed, then began picking up clothes.
“Well, the way we go at it, it’s bound to happen.” He bent and picked up my deck shoes. “At least we weren’t still doing it.”
“Oh, my god. You’re not going to stop if someone does, are you?” I felt my face going hot.
“Why?” He looked at me, genuinely puzzled. “I mean, I get the privacy thing. But why ruin a perfectly good—”
“Sid! I hate it when you use that word for what we do.”
He shrugged. “Fair enough. Still, you get what I’m saying, don’t you? We try to see to it we don’t get caught, but if we do, no point in ruining things.”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t know if I’m up to that.”
“We’ll see what happens, then.” He smiled softly, rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck, then blinked. “Damn. I fell asleep with my contacts in. I’d better get them out right away.”
He grabbed the bundle of our clothes, and I followed him into the bedroom. We were up again about two and a half hours later when the phone rang. Sid picked it up, then said we’d be dressed within a half hour.
“They’re coming over here with breakfast. Lillian got the call about the drop we got.”
When the others arrived, Sid was dressed but wearing his glasses since his eyes were a little sore after sleeping in his lenses. They are the soft lenses that you’re supposed to be able to sleep in, but it doesn’t usually work out that way. It was weird that he was wearing his glasses, though. He hates how he looks in them, even if he still looks pretty good.
I was brushing my hair out and getting my usual light makeup on. And dealing with the aftermath of my blue mood from the day before. Cramps and a messy period.
Sid and I wore jeans and sweaters again. It had been somewhat warmer in Paris, but Copenhagen was downright chilly.
Real Danish pastries, brown bread and butter, and several coffee cups filled the table in the tiny eating area. Lita and Barb were already in the living room, sitting on the couch with their plates in their laps and cups of coffee in front of them on the light pine coffee table. Steve sat in between them, also eating, but grinning at me and Sid. Lillian sat demurely in a Fifties wingback chair that also held the hiding place. Her coffee cup was next to the table lamp that had a bottom that unscrewed. She had the envelope that we’d received and was reading the contents and shaking her head. Ray and Sid stood next to the eating table and chatted.
I filled a plate with pastries, then grabbed one of the small wooden chairs from the eating area and dragged it around to the living room. Then I went back to the table and doctored some coffee and brought the cup back to the living room. Steve got an evil glint in his eye, then started humming the tune from the music box as he held up my panties from the day before. I turned a darker purple than the couch. Lillian glared at Steve as Ray rolled his eyes. Sid laughed and grabbed the underwear and put it in his pocket.
“I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news,” Lillian announced. She held up a sheet of paper from the envelope. “This is a dossier on Mark Flowers and his family. Now, Gwen and Mark went back to the UK with Beatrice’s body yesterday. Gwen is distraught, having lost her connection to the gentry through Beatrice, who was the daughter of a duke. Mark appears to be simply doing what is expected. Nonetheless, going over their holdings, it appears that Mark owns, among other properties, an ancient monastery north of Volos, Greece.”
“How close is that to Athens?” I asked, trying not to wince at the pain in my gut.
“Close enough to be of significant concern.” Lillian glared at the paper. “My first task will be to contact Marian and Andrew with this bit of news. The problem is, there are several such structures in that region. The cliffs in that area made it quite attractive for the contemplative set. The trick will be finding the right one.”
Sid frowned. “Is it possible that somebody else on our side checked Flowers’ place out, perhaps sometime last month?”
“Why do you ask?” Lillian looked puzzled.
“Another unprocessed drop,” Sid said. “Honey, do you still have those photos in your purse?”
“I’ll bet I do.” I found my purse next to the door. I pulled the photos out. “Here they are. And here’s that code you were trying to break.”
I found my roll of strapping tape, cut a bit off it, and taped the bit around the purse handle. Sid’s eyebrow rose. He had probably figured what I’d be dealing with that day, but I had just confirmed it.
Lillian took the photo with the code on it. “Oh, damn. This is definitely a Company special. Those idiots. They set up a code, then can’t even write it accurately.”
“That does make it harder to break,” said Lita.
“And impossible to understand when it needs to be.” Lillian shook her head. “Well, the location is definitely north of Volos.” She compared the code sheet to the dossier. “It makes sense. According to the dossier, the monastery had been converted to a bed-and-breakfast inn that failed spectacularly. So Mark swooped in and bought it. That’s rather typical of him. He’s lost untold amounts of money that way.”
“Which may be why he’s working with Meisner and the Croatians,” Barb said. “He needs the cash.”
“He may, indeed,” said Lillian, frowning over the code photo and the dossier. Finally, she shook her head. “The first thing to do will be to warn Marian and Andrew. Then we should think about finding that monastery.”
Barb grabbed the photos and looked at them. “Lita, you want to rent a boat and do some recon?”
“Sure.” Lita giggled. “Hey, we got those monokinis. You want to freak Moishe and Pedro out with some tanned boobs?”
Barb rolled her eyes. “Since when will anything you and I do freak those two out?”
“Too true.” Lita sighed. “But we have to keep trying. We don’t want them getting lazy.”
“No, we don’t.”
Lillian sighed deeply. I was beginning to think she was just a touch on the prudish side.
Steve got the photos from Barb. “How fast do you think you can get a firm location? Ray? I think we can do some work from the ground on the joint. What do you think?”
“Sounds like fun,” said Ray.
I was beginning to feel a little left out. “So, what can Sid and I do?”
Lillian looked apologetically at us. “Not much right now.”
We watched with Lillian as the other four went over getting to Athens, and from there, Volos, and how to communicate with each other. They, naturally, had their wireless radio equipment. I felt pretty annoyed that Sid and I didn’t.
“We’ll get you some equipment,” Lillian said softly as the other four left the drop-off station.
“I hope so,” I grumbled.
“Are you alright?” Lillian looked at me carefully.
“Cramps.” I sighed. “I get them every now and then.”
“Perhaps you should be lying down.”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t do any good. It’s actually better if I have something to do.” I sighed. “Now what?”
“I need to make a phone call.” Lillian said.
Only she couldn’t get an answer from whatever number she’d been dialing.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” she told Sid and me.
So, we went out and wandered the city. We ate lunch. We walked around some more. Sid and I waited until six to call Nick because it was Saturday, and we didn’t want to wake him too early. He chattered on about Josh and a couple other boys and how they were going to the beach that day to practice skateboarding stunts. My heart stopped.
“Nick, when did you start skateboarding?” I asked.
“When I was a little kid. Well, Mom would never let me have one.” Nick’s first mom was an emergency room doctor, and I could well imagine she didn’t want her child riding a skateboard. “But Josh and I have been riding and Stella bought me one.”
I rolled my eyes. Stella tended to spoil Nick.
“Well, be careful, will you? Seriously. I do not want to be dealing with broken bones, or worse.”
“You worry about us.”
Nick’s groan was utterly defeated and defiant in the same breath. It only got worse for him when his father got on the line. The only thing that saved Nick was that he had been wearing a helmet and pads.
Lillian was on pins and needles as well.
“I haven’t been able to get an answer all day,” she complained. “I’ve called Quimby. He’s in Athens, though not with them. He should be radioing me with an answer soon.”
We went to dinner at a restaurant that simply served meals and did not have a smorgasbord set up. The food was great, but the tension made things less than enjoyable. We were finishing up when Lillian shifted and pulled a small powder compact out of her purse. She flipped it open and adjusted an unseen earpiece in her left ear.
“Yes?” She paused as whoever was contacting her spoke. “I see… Have you contacted Congressman O’Connor…? That would be the first thing. Please tell him we have recon going on Flowers’ holding… We’ll be in Athens tomorrow. Can you arrange for lunch for us at the drop-off station? That will make things easier… Thank you. We appreciate it.”
Lillian looked almost ashen as she closed the compact.
“Well?” Sid asked.
“It appears that the Croatians have gotten Marian and Andrew. Quimby says that there are signs of a struggle at their villa and neither of them is to be found. It looks as though it just happened this morning, so that may be why there’s no news of the kidnapping yet.”
“So, what do we do?” he asked.
Lillian shook her head. “Go to Athens tomorrow. I’ll see to contacting the other four.”
Both Sid and I hate enforced inactivity, but there was no help for it. We went back to the drop-off station and tried to get some sleep.
Thank you for reading. For more information about the Operation Quickline series, click here.