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Silence in the Tortured Soul – Chapter Eighteen

Welcome to the next episode of Silence in the Tortured Soul, book eleven in the Operation Quickline series. The KGB has infiltrated a group protesting a satellite launch. Lisa and Sid need to find out how to protect their friends Frank and Esther – and to train them as their new recruits. You can read the first chapter here, or click here to read all of the episodes that have run.

When I got back from dropping Esther off at work that morning, Sid and Frank were in the office staring at a huge piece of my tracing paper. Sid had sketched in a map, but I wasn’t sure of what.

Sid looked up as I came in. “Frank, why don’t you take off for a few?”

“Why?” Frank asked.

“Because I need to talk to Lisa privately.”

Frank looked at Sid, then at me. “Oh. Okay.”

He scuttled off elsewhere in the house. Sid double checked that the intercom was off. We hadn’t told Frank or Esther how it worked, but we wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d figured it out.

“So, what’s up?” I asked, locking the door.

“We got a call this morning from Angelique. The agent in charge of the Levinsky case is requesting covert ops support, and Ange said that according to Henry, that means us.”

“Oh, goody.”

“There’s a Stop Nukes Now rally happening today in Westwood. Apparently, the group is going to be lining the sidewalks, handing out flyers, and trying to get people to honk in support.”

“So, why aren’t the Feds handling it?”

Sid sighed. “Because the good Doctor Levinsky has become something of a political problem. It’s gotten out over the past few days that he’s being persecuted by the Feds because of Woltz. And the Feds haven’t been able to penetrate that far into the group’s inner workings because the group leaders keep things pretty well locked down. Anyway, the Feds have two different objectives. They want someone to keep an eye on Levinsky, himself, and a team on the protesters. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure out who the violent folks are.”

“Sounds like fun. Who do we have in town?”

“Scott Morgan.” Sid shuddered.

He really did not like Scott, whose code name was Red Light. Sid had good reason for his dislike since Scott had blown Sid’s cover on a case a couple years before. Scott had gotten somewhat less cocky, but he could still be a pain in the butt. However, he was darned good at tailing people.

“Why don’t I take Scott and Frank, and we’ll tail Levinsky,” I said. “I’ll keep the blond wig on. That should keep Levinsky from recognizing me.”

“I was hoping you’d say that. I’ll bring Nick and keep Kathy and Jesse with me and see if the Blue hub team is available for the crowd surveillance.”

“Sounds good.”

I looked at the map Sid had sketched out and found at least two different places I could use as a base for the operation, then paged Scott.

Frank and I met Scott later that morning at a restaurant south of the Westwood Village on Westwood Boulevard. Frank laughed when he saw Scott’s rangy figure and straw-colored hair and full mustache.

“You were tailing me,” Frank chortled.

“Yeah, and you ditched me.” Scott grinned. “Man, that was beautiful.”

“Red Light,” I said to Scott and pointed at Frank. “This is Red Door. Red Door, this is Red Light.”

Frank grinned. He still wasn’t used to being called Red Door, his code name, but he’d get used to it in time.

I made sure the three of us had our transmitters on the same frequency and sketched out our plan. I’d put our transmitters on a different frequency than Sid’s crew to minimize the confusion. Sid would ping my transmitter once he or someone on his team had eyes on Levinsky.

Which would have been what happened, except that I saw Levinsky first from the pizza parlor where I had landed with a Complete Works of Shakespeare and a notepad. I sent Frank after Levinsky first and spotted both of them a minute later from my perch next to the window. I changed frequency just long enough to let Sid know we had the tailing operation in progress.

The protest was noisy, but seemed pretty peaceful. I took some notes on Richard II, mostly because it is not my favorite play and I wouldn’t get too absorbed in it, and every so often directed Frank and Scott to switch up tailing Levinsky.

The doctor stayed on the fringes of the protest. The few times he wandered past the pizza place, he accepted congratulations from different protesters. A couple stood in awe of him, and he seemed truly kind and almost bashful. I tried not to sigh when I saw Barb DeMarais, the teen from my church, handing out flyers. I changed frequencies again and let Sid know. We’d already figured it would be possible we’d know some of the protesters. We have more than a few activists in our parish. I later saw Nick teaming up with Barb to hand out flyers, then saw the boy charming the socks off a woman who was making sure everyone had enough flyers.

I ordered some more pizza. Levinsky wandered back and forth along the sidewalks. Horns honked. People yelled. Flyers were everywhere on the sidewalks. Sometime around two, someone started shooting. We never found out who or why. Screaming erupted all over the boulevard as people dove for the sidewalks. I looked frantically around for any of Sid’s crew.

Frank hissed into his transmitter that Levinsky had left the boulevard for one of the parking structures to the west.

“I’m on him!” Frank said.

“Right behind you, Red Door,” came Scott’s voice.

Frank yelped. “He’s got a gun.”

“Does he look like he’s about to shoot someone?” I asked.

“I’ve got a clear shot at him,” Frank said.

“Take it, Red Door,” Scott said, laughing.

“Red Door, stand down!” I all but yelped. “Now!”

It was too late. I heard the gun go off. Frank cursed.

“I missed,” he grumbled.

“It’s a good thing you did,” I snarled. “I told you to stand down. That means no shooting.”

“But he had a clear shot,” Scott protested.

“Red Light, shut up. Do not say another word.” I looked out the window. People were running all over, but the street seemed to be emptying. “Where’s the target?”

They had lost him. I was ready to unload on both of them, but changed frequencies and pinged Sid.

“Everyone okay?” I asked.

“Everyone’s fine, but the protest seems to be over. I say we end operations.”

“May as well,” I grumbled.

“Uh-oh. What happened?”

“I’ll explain later.” I switched back to Frank and Scott. “Operation over, you two. We’ll meet back at that restaurant where we started. Go. Now.”

The two confirmed, and when I got to the restaurant’s parking lot, I was happy to see them looking at least a little contrite. That didn’t mean Scott would not attempt the strong offense.

“We could have ended this thing,” Scott announced as I walked up to them in the parking lot behind the restaurant.

“You don’t know that, you idiot!” I went right up to him and shoved him in the chest. “As usual, you assumed you knew, and you didn’t!”

I shoved him again and Scott tried hitting me. I saw the punch coming, blocked it, blocked another, then whipped Scott around and pulled his arm behind his back and pulled his hand back. Groaning, Scott sank to his knees.

“There’s a reason I’m lead.” I twinged him with each point. “And if you don’t understand how that works, then I will bust your backside all the way back to Langley. The Company loves idiots like you.” I released the hold and shoved him to the asphalt face-first. “And your hand-to-hand skills suck. Now, get the hell out of here!”

Scott scrambled to the back of the lot where he’d parked the cab of a semi-trailer truck. His cover was as a long-haul trucker.

I turned on Frank, who backed up in fear.

“I’m not going to hit you,” I told him. “But, yes, I am angry. Now, get in the truck!”

Frank swallowed as he got into the cab of my Datsun pickup.

“I… I… I didn’t hear you telling me to stand down,” he mumbled. “I really didn’t.”

“I had a feeling.” I took a deep breath and started the truck. “I probably should have warned you not to listen to Red Light. But I would have thought you’d check with me first.”

“I had a clear shot,” Frank said, weakly.

“Was he pointing the gun at you or anyone else?” I pulled the truck out.

Frank sighed. “No.”

“Then it doesn’t matter. You don’t know that he’s the guy we’re trying to catch. We don’t know if he’s the guy we’re trying to catch. You could have killed an innocent person. Believe me, killing someone you know is guilty feels bad enough.”

“Oh.” Frank winced. “You sure took Red Light down fast.”

“That’s because Sid and I practice. We practice a lot. You might want to keep that in mind.”

He looked like he was going to say something else, but the glare I shot him stopped that.

We rode home in silence. I switched my transmitter to Sid’s as I drove and could hear him talking to the Blue hub team. I cut in and told Sid where I was headed, then signed out. By the time I pulled into the garage, I was utterly drained. Frank went ahead of me into the house, and straight to his room. I took my Shakespeare and notes back to the office. I still couldn’t figure out what it was about the incident that had made me so mad at Frank. He really hadn’t known better. I was so afraid that I’d turned a dear friend against me.

A minute later, the office phone rang. It was Esther.

“Frank just called,” she said. “He’s pretty upset.”

“Oh, no,” I groaned.

“No, Lisa. You were right. He shouldn’t have shot at that guy. It’s just that you don’t understand.” Esther sighed. “You know Frank’s father was a cop, right?”

“Yeah. He was killed in the line of duty.”

“His partner had a clear shot at a suspect and didn’t take it. The suspect shot and killed Frank’s father. Frank was twelve.”

“Oh, crap.”

“It’s okay, Lisa. He’s not mad at you. More at himself, really.”

“Double crap. I’d better go talk to him. Thanks.”

As I hung up, I thought I heard the garage door opener but decided that taking care of Frank was more important at that moment. I wasn’t even that sure of what I was going to tell Sid.

I knocked at the door to Frank’s room. “It’s Lisa. Can I come in, please?”

“Sure.” Frank’s voice was flat.

I slid inside. “Esther just called.”

“Oh.” Frank sat on the edge of his bed, petting Coco and Reilly, who were, for once, quiet.

“You were right to call her.” I sighed and sat down next to him. “She told me about your father and the clear shot.”

Frank hung his head and squeezed his eyes shut.

I shook my head. “I’m guessing today was about getting that clear shot.”

“I’m still a screwup.”

“No, you’re not, Frank. What you are is green. We all screw up in the beginning. I know I was angry. It was mostly at Red Light. He’s been this stupid before.”

“You’re still pissed at me, too.”

“Yeah.” I sighed, then took a deep breath. “I don’t know why, but it felt really bad when you were willing to listen to an idiot like Red Light, but you didn’t listen to me.”

“I didn’t hear you at first.”

“I know that now.” I blinked my eyes.

“This is why I didn’t want to do this spy thing.” Frank swallowed and looked away. “I screwed up last weekend, too. That’s all I’ll ever be. Good old goofy Frank. The big screwup. Can’t take care of myself, let alone anyone else.”

“Is that what your brother told you?”

“All the time.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. “That wasn’t fair or even close to the truth.”

“Except that my wife supports me and has for the past year and a half.”

“You’re doing really well with the choir direction. You take good care of Esther.” I smiled and touched his arm. “And now you’re bringing income into your household.”

“Huh?”

I laughed. “You think we’re doing this spy thing for free? We get paid, and pretty nicely, too.”

“Oh.” He sighed. “I sure didn’t earn my keep today, though.” He winced. “The worst of it is, you were right. We didn’t know if he was the guy we’re trying to get. We didn’t even know if he’d shot the gun.” Frank swallowed. “He could have been just trying to protect himself. I could have killed an innocent man.”

“Yes, you could have.” I shut my eyes. “But, Frank, you are not a screwup. You do learn from your mistakes. You didn’t panic today when the shooting started. You kept with your target. I’ll stake my life on you any time. I’m not going to trust Red Light to cover me.”

He looked at me. “So, how do I know when to shoot?”

“When either you or somebody else is going to die if you don’t.” The tears started to roll down my cheeks. “I hate shooting my gun, Frank. I don’t want to kill anybody. I don’t even like wounding people. I do because I have to. But it’s not easy.” I sniffed. “I don’t have your history, though. I don’t have a brother who kept calling me names, and a father who might still be around except for one fatal mistake.” I swallowed and wiped my eyes. “If you’ve got someone who’s lead on an operation, the only reason not to check in first is because it would be fatal to wait that long. The reason we do things that way is the lead usually has more information about what’s going on. I know Sid and I have a reputation for insubordination. But we don’t ignore a team leader unless the consequences would be so dire, we have to.”

“Mom!” Nick’s voice hollered through the intercom. “Dad wants to talk the operation over.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Frank groaned. “He’s going to kill me.”

“You’ll be fine.” I couldn’t help a rueful chuckle. “Red Light has a lot more to worry about. We’ll tell you the story someday, but Sid really does not like him. He not only blew Sid’s cover on a case once, but almost got him killed.”

“Ouch.” Frank winced. “I’m glad I’m not him.”

“I’m glad you’re not that stupid.”

I pulled Sid aside to tell him what had happened and how Frank was feeling about it. Sid nodded and sometime later spent some time with Frank. Kathy and Jesse came over with Esther, so we didn’t have to worry about that. Dinner that night was both comforting and tense. Tense because we still didn’t know what the heck was going on with Levinsky’s group and where the KGB mole was. Comforting because we’d all been in Frank’s shoes at one point or another and were willing to share how we’d gotten over that.

The best part was Nick.

“They really don’t know who’s making the threats,” Nick told us as we ate. “I talked to a bunch of people today. They told me all sorts of stuff, like how worried they were that Dr. Levinsky was going to get a really bad rep, and, and how scared they were about the satellite. But they really don’t know who’s making the threats. One of the ladies even said she thinks the threats are coming from outside the group.”

I grinned at him. “You did a heck of a job today.”

“Nobody else got as much as he did,” said Sid, smiling.

“I’m so proud of you, Nick.” I blinked and smiled at him.

Nick rolled his eyes, but still grinned. “Like anybody is going to suspect a kid.”

“Yes, but you know how to use it to your advantage, my sweet guy,” I said.

Frank looked at Nick, then me, then sighed. I suspected he had not heard anything like that from his family when he was a kid. I know Sid makes a point of praising Nick because Sid had gotten so little praise from Stella. I can’t help praising Nick because, well, he is pretty awesome, and I’m happy to say so.

Wednesday proved to be quiet, even with Josie Prosser and her friends hanging around outside on the sidewalk. That afternoon, Sid and Jesse glared down at the group from the living room. I watched from the office door.

Sid shook his head. “The thing that worries me is all the people from the church that were at that anti-nuke rally yesterday. If any of them know those girls and find out that Frank and Esther are staying here, it might bring some of those crazies here, and we can’t afford that.”

“I know.” Jesse scratched his chin. “Kathy was saying the same thing this morning. We have that guest room. It’s a lot tighter space-wise there, but the building is a lot more secure.”

Kathy and Jesse’s condo was also larger than the one Sy and Stella were in, with a third bedroom they usually used as a TV room.

“Do you mind getting them to the gym and the dojo in the evenings?” Sid looked over at me.

“On top of getting Esther back and forth from work?” Jesse chuckled. “No problem. You two have been doing enough running.”

“Thanks,” Sid said with a smile. “I’ll make a point of getting Esther and we’ll meet you at the dojo for a workout before dinner.”

“Sounds good.”

But we weren’t done with the girls by a long shot. Thursday morning, with my foot finally healed and no need to get to the gym before the crack of dawn, Sid dragged both Nick and me out to go running together for the first time in a while. We had Motley with us, as usual, and Nick and I had gotten to sleep in until seven-thirty, which was lovely.

By the time we got back to the house, the girls were there. Josie saw us coming first and ran up to us on the sidewalk. Her friends flanked her and the three of them blocked our path. Both Sid and Nick looked like they were about to plow through the little group, but Nick suddenly ran off the sidewalk into the street.

Tires screeched, and I looked up just in time to see the chromed front of a Mercedes Benz stop just short of Nick and Motley. The girls looked terrified and ran off. Nick hurried back onto the sidewalk, waving at the car’s driver. The man behind the wheel looked seriously annoyed and shook his head as the car peeled out. I blinked and tried to swallow my heart back out of my throat.

“That’s it!” Sid snapped as we went into the house. “I can’t take any more of this. We’ve got that launch next week, too. Nick, we’ve got to get you out of this house. And I want to talk to those girls’ parents. Not just Prosser, but the other two, as well.”

“Can I eat first?” Nick asked. “I’m starving.”

“We’ll get dressed, then eat breakfast,” Sid said. “Then I am making some phone calls.”

In the shower, I remembered something Sy had talked about earlier that month. Sid was okay with the idea, but left me to propose it to Sy and Stella.

The other two girls were Eliza Ramos and Tiffany Barton. I got the phone numbers for their parents from the parents’ list at school. Sid left messages for each family. Stella, when I called her, was completely sympathetic, especially after I told her about Nick almost getting hit by a car because of the girls.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” she grumbled. “We were thinking about taking off a week from tomorrow, but I believe we could speed things up and leave tomorrow instead. Would that be soon enough?”

“Are you sure?” I swallowed. “That’s awfully fast to put together a camping trip.”

“We’ve been putting it together for three weeks now. I just have to ask Sy if we can get the camper van rented right away. I don’t see why not. We’re paying for a premium one. And we’ll need a campsite. Oh, and Nick’s friend Josh. He’s being harassed, too, isn’t he?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“We’ll bring him then. We’re already taking Darby. One more boy won’t be that much trouble.” She paused. “I don’t know if we’ll have room in the van for everyone to sleep, though.”

“I have a tent you guys can use.”

“I’ll have Sy check with the rental company and call you right back.”

Sid and I tried to stay focused on editing work, but the sped-up trip meant extra phone calls. Not only was Sy able to get the van, Stella got a campsite reserved in Yosemite by some miracle. Lety was thrilled to have Josh going.

“I have had it up to here with those girls,” she told me on the phone. “And Ramon, he’s talking lawsuit.”

Ramon was Lety’s husband and Josh’s father.

My sister Mae wasn’t as thrilled but felt she couldn’t say no to letting her son Darby go.

“Those boys are going to be spoiled rotten.” Mae sighed. “Is Stella even up for this?”

“Well, she raised Sid and said that after what she put up with from his friends, our boys are going to be a lark.”

I spent the rest of the day coordinating lists, checking what gear I had that I could send with them (which was quite a lot). We bought an extra cooler for all the extra food the boys wanted. Darby’s appetite hadn’t slowed down, and Josh’s had sped up. Nick was eating pretty much anything he could get his hands on.

Sy brought the van over to our house that night, and we packed. Darby and Josh spent the night with us so that they could get a good early start the next morning.

Sid was up before dawn that morning and went and got Sy and Stella from their condo. Then Sid and I waved goodbye as they all took off, the sun rising behind us. I decided there was no point in going back to bed, and Sid and I went running.

I was still pretty dopey after breakfast when Sid took a call.

“What’s that all about?” I asked.

“There’s a press conference scheduled for Monday morning for the satellite launch.” Sid pressed his lips together. “Esther said that she’ll have to be there.”

“I wonder if Leslie has the press contact.” I tapped my fingers on the desk. “She still wants us to do the story.”

“Then let’s do it.” Sid frowned. “In the meantime, I say we take the weekend off.”

“Sid, even if we didn’t have to worry about Frank and Esther, we are so behind on the editing work.”

Sid grinned. “Oh, we’ll get that done. But I’m going to let Kathy and Jesse worry about Frank and Esther. Do you realize, my darling, this is the first time we’ve had the house to ourselves in weeks?”

I swallowed as my breath caught. “I suppose we should take advantage of it.”

His chuckle left no doubt that we would. We got caught up on the editing work, too.

Thank you for reading. For more information about the Operation Quickline series, click here.

Please check out the Fiction page for the latest on all my novels. Or look me up at your favorite independent bookstore. Mine is Vroman’s, in Pasadena, California.

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