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Silence in the Tortured Soul – Chapter Four

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.

“Mom!” Nick called just before lunch that next morning. His holler came from the direction of his bedroom, but he quickly appeared in the office. “Josh, Rob, and I want to go skateboarding at Coldwater Park. Can we? And can I bring Motley?”

Pull Quote from Silence in the Tortured Soul fiction serial: I think she just called Henry a bleeping horse.

Motley’s stub of a tail thumped excitedly at the mention of his name. He usually slept in the office during the day, although he loved running around wherever Nick went.

I looked at Sid, who nodded.

“Sure, Nick.” I looked severely at him. “Just make sure you walk on Sunset. No skateboarding there.”

I was terrified that Nick would fall off his skateboard right into oncoming traffic on the famous boulevard. However, as Sid pointed out, it was more likely that Nick would get hurt by some of the dangerous things we had him doing for the business.

“It’s safe,” Nick groaned.

“Not for anyone else on the sidewalk,” said Sid. “And you need to be home in time for dinner. I’ve got a job tonight and your mom has Bible Study.”

“Job?” Nick frowned.

“It’s an easy, safe one.” Sid smiled.

Well, as safe as anything we did was, which meant Nick would worry. Nick knew that the side business existed, and we’d been training him because it was the safest thing for him and also because he’d probably end up doing similar work. Once Nick had found out about the work we did, he’d been locked in, too, and there wasn’t much we could do about it.

“When are you going?” I asked Nick as I checked my watch.

“Right after lunch.”

“Okay. I’ll see you at dinner then.” I got up. “I’d better head out if I’m going to get to lunch with Angelique on time.”

I kissed Sid, then Nick, then hurried out to the garage and my truck.

Between getting into the parking lot at the Federal Building in Westwood, then getting past the reception desk to the FBI offices there, then finding Angelique’s new office, I was a little late.

“What do you think?” Ange said as she ushered me into the room.

It was pretty much like any other office I’d seen at the FBI headquarters. Gray-green file cabinets with security bars on them lined one wall. The desk was metal, but good-sized, and had a computer on top. A black metal credenza behind the desk held a printer, a fax machine, and a couple standing file racks, and there was a window above it. The walls were a little bare yet. However, Ange had put a vase filled with mixed flowers on top of one of the cabinets.

“You rated a window,” I gasped. “And a door that closes.”

“Yeah. Isn’t it awesome?” Ange laughed. She’s tall and model thin with full brown hair and high cheekbones. “Are you ready to go?”

“Uh, I need to do some business first.” I shut the door and locked it.

Ange sank into her desk chair with a puzzled look on her face. I flopped into one of the two chairs in front of the desk and grinned.

“I need to requisition a recon van for Division Fifty-Three-Q, code eight-six-four-one-seven.”

Ange’s jaw dropped. “Fifty-Three-Q. That’s Quickline.”

“Yeah, it is. Call me Little Red.”

“You mean Sid’s Big Red?” Angelique’s gape only grew. “Oh, my god. You’re Henry’s replacements!”

“Yeah.” I chuckled. “When did you get to find all this out?”

Ange blinked and shrugged. “Well, I always knew that Henry was doing other things than public information. It’s one of those jobs they give to guys who should be put out to pasture, but they don’t want to hang it up yet.”

“Like Fred Merryweather?”

Ange shuddered. “Exactly. But Henry had never been that kind of person. So, I asked him about it a few months after I’d started with him. He admitted he had a few top-secret projects going on and said he couldn’t tell me about them. Then about three and a half years ago… Come to think of it, you’d been working for Sid for maybe six months by that point. Anyway, Henry says he’s going to train me on some of this stuff. It was mostly about processing paperwork, but I had to learn a lot of the codes to do it.”

“That makes sense.” I nodded. “Apparently, Henry’s been working on his retirement for a while. That’s why I was recruited.”

“Really?”

I shrugged. “Sid needed a partner.”

“I would have loved to have done that.”

I flushed. “I know. But think about how Sid was back then. No one lasted more than two weeks, not even you. The only reason I lasted was that there was no sex.”

“You’re right.” Angelique smiled and shook her head. She used to be in love with Sid and they were good friends as well. Sid had slept with her more often than any other woman I’d known. Then she realized she didn’t want to sleep around anymore, and nine months after that, Sid stopped sleeping around. We’d all remained good friends throughout and now Sid and Ange were better friends than they’d been. Ange nodded at the vase of flowers on the file cabinets. “And it’s just as well. I’m happier now than I ever was with Sid.”

My eyebrows rose, and I grinned. “That’s good to hear.”

“Yeah.” Ange cocked her head and looked at me. “You know, I used to wonder a little bit about Sid, but when I realized he couldn’t keep his pants zipped, I figured no way.”

“That threw off a lot of people.” I rolled my eyes.

“Then you showed up, and you were way too nice to be in that racket.”

“Again, throwing people off.” I shrugged. “So, how come Henry told you about Quickline?”

“He had to. He told me about the shadow agencies a couple of weeks ago. He’s been doing favors for a lot of folks, let me tell you.”

“And perhaps you shouldn’t.”

Ange laughed. “Maybe. But Quickline is the one group he actually worked for, and I have to be on top of that to get you what you need and to be sure the paperwork goes to the right person.”

“Always the paperwork.” I rolled my eyes.

“But he didn’t tell me about you guys.” Ange rolled her eyes.

“It’s how we work.” I sighed. “We don’t get to know anything until we absolutely must. Anyway, about that van?”

“Oh. Right.” Angelique pulled a multi-copy form out of the standing file on her desk. “I’m going to need a case number. Wait. You gave me a code. Was it five digits?”

“Yeah. Eight-six-four-one-seven.”

“We’ll use that. Whose name goes on the form? Yours or Sid’s?”

“Neither.” I pulled an ID case from my purse and slapped it in front of her. “How about Special Agent Linda Devereaux?”

“I’ve seen that name before.” Ange looked up from the form. “And Charles Devereaux?”

“Guess who.”

Ange shook her head. “This is going to take some getting used to. When do you need the van?”

“Tonight.”

“What?”

“Hey, we only found out yesterday that we needed it. That’s when I called you and we had to set up lunch.”

Ange’s face grew pained. “There’s somebody I’m supposed to call if I need something right away.” She sighed deeply. “I’m going to have to call Henry. Do you mind?”

“No. Go ahead.”

Angelique picked up her phone and dialed. Henry must have picked up right away because she explained that she needed a recon van for that night, and, yeah, it was 53-Q. Then she held out the receiver to me.

“He wants to talk to you.”

I took the phone and pulled it as far away from the desk as I could. “Yes, Henry.”

“Was Ange surprised?”

“Shocked to her core. Are you happy?”

He laughed. “Thrilled.” His tone shifted to more serious. “I got a call this morning from your friend Esther.”

“Oh?”

“She told me about the list she’s on and wanted to know how she could get some protection for her and her colleagues. Apparently, they’ve all been getting some threats, nothing that worrisome, but still, we have to take it seriously.”

I thought. “Do we have enough personnel? Or should I call in some folks from elsewhere?”

“I’m going to let regular channels handle her friends. Her and Frank, though, we’ve got to handle them differently.”

“Uh-huh.” I glanced at Angelique. “Wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with a certain letter we got yesterday?”

“So, you know about them being adopted. Good.”

“How did this person get through to you directly?”

Henry cleared his throat. “I gave her my card at the wedding last spring. Why not? Things were already in the works by that point.”

“No kidding. It would have been nice to know.”

Henry chuckled. “That wasn’t going to happen.”

“I hear there’s a holdup.”

“Yeah. Believe it or not, it’s Frank’s clearance. His father was born at home, so there’s a problem with the birth certificate.”

“He was clearly alive.” I knew Frank’s father had been killed some years before.

“But was he who he said he was?” Henry growled. “It’s just the usual bureaucratic nonsense. It’ll be fine. Just keep them under surveillance and make sure those anti-nuke idiots don’t hurt them.”

“Shouldn’t we be investigating the idiots, too?”

“Nah. The investigation is already in progress through normal channels.”

“Okay. But we’ll need the recon van. Can you make that happen by tonight?”

“No problem. Let me talk to Ange.”

I gave the phone back to her and tried not to fume. Angelique talked for a few more minutes, filled out more of the form, then hung up.

“I’ve got to make one more call, then drop this off, and then we can go to lunch.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” I forced a smile onto my face.

Ange laughed. She made the call, talked for a couple minutes, then had me follow her to another office upstairs. I waited outside the office while she dealt with copies and picked up some keys.

As we left the building, I asked her where the van would be. Ange pointed.

“It’s the far end of the lot. It’ll be there by five or so.” She handed me the keys.

“Thanks.” I slid the keys into my purse.

She sighed. “Can we go to lunch now and gossip about our personal lives?”

I laughed. She drove us to a restaurant in Brentwood.

After we’d ordered, I leaned over the table.

“How much of the request for personal gossip has to do with that vase of flowers I saw on your file cabinets earlier?” I asked.

Ange tossed her head back, laughing happily. “Everything. Oh, my god.”

I couldn’t help laughing, too. Ange and Sid’s friend from high school, Tom Freeman, had met at the rehearsal dinner for our wedding.

“So, I’m guessing Tom sent the flowers.” I smiled.

“Yeah.” Ange took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “You know we’ve been trying not to rush things. We’ve been working on keeping things cool, taking our time. Except that Tom went and got a job at a high school here in Los Angeles. He starts in September.”

I watched her. “Is this good news?”

“It is.” Ange shivered a little. “I mean, it’s pretty scary. We haven’t even had sex yet. Can you believe it? We’ve been together almost every weekend since your wedding, and we haven’t done it. I don’t know why, but I told Tom he can stay with me when he moves. The only thing is…” She sighed. “You know Tom’s in recovery.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, there’s my wine collection.” Angelique looked at me. “I need to get rid of it before Sunday. That’s when he’s coming in. Tom says he’s okay with it and I believe him. It’s just that I have been drinking a lot by myself and I really don’t need it. I’m bringing some to Henry’s retirement party. But I do have some really good bottles and I’d rather they went to people who’d really appreciate them. And I do owe you and Sid.”

“For what?”

“For Tom. If he hadn’t been at the rehearsal dinner, we wouldn’t have met.”

I laughed. “I’m so glad you two did. Henry asked us to go over to his place after the party. We could pick up the bottles then.”

“Thank you.” Ange sighed with intense relief.

Our food arrived and the two of us continued talking about Tom and Sid and being happily in love, oh, and life in general. It was a perfectly lovely lunch.

Sid laughed when I told him about Ange’s reaction to us being in the spy biz. He was also excited about taking over her wine collection. I’d had some of her bottles. They were amazing.

Nick showed up in plenty of time for dinner. Motley looked happy, but exhausted. Conchetta Ramirez, our housekeeper and cook, had cooked a wonderful dinner of beautifully grilled chicken breasts, salad, and green beans. There was just a lot more food than she usually cooked.

“What is going on here?” Sid asked.

Conchetta is a medium-sized woman with a few rolls around her waist and black hair threaded with silver that she almost always wears in a braid down her back. The t-shirt over her jeans that day featured the Twisted Sister tour from the year before.

Conchetta rolled her eyes. “Nick is growing, Sid. He told me at lunch how hungry he was. I made some extra for him.”

Sid sighed. He ate one of the half breasts, a decent serving of salad and a few green beans. Nick wolfed down three half breasts, half a plate of salad, and another half plate of green beans. I got the rest.

“I never ate like that,” Sid grumbled later as Nick went to watch TV.

“Do you want me to ask Stella that?” I couldn’t help it. My smile was just a touch smug.

Sid winced. “Mae said Darby is doing the same thing?”

“She did.”

“Okay.”

I had to leave for Bible Study after that. Kathy arrived almost at the same time I did. Frank and Esther were already there. Once I saw that, I went back to my truck and used the recently installed car phone to let Sid know. He and Jesse were going to install surveillance electronics on Esther’s duplex. As Sid had told Nick earlier that day, it was an easy and safe job. Sort of.

Esther and her father had bought both units of a duplex on the eastern edge of West Hollywood a couple years before. When Frank’s latest attempt at making a living as a musician had crashed and burned, Esther had him move in with her and her cousin Thu. Esther’s father and her two brothers lived in one side of the duplex. Esther, Frank, and her cousin Thu lived in the other. Except that the previous fall, Esther and Frank had moved well past just good friends.

Then one of Esther’s brothers moved to New York. Given Esther’s general disdain for whatever her brothers did, I have no idea if this was a good idea or not. However, Thu decided she was in the way in Esther’s side of the duplex and had moved to the other unit sometime in April.

So, with both Frank and Esther at Bible Study, Sid and Jesse should have had an easy time of it. There were only two small problems. Frank’s dogs. They were two little mixed breeds, each about the size of a large Chihuahua. One looked vaguely like a Yorkie (Reilly) and the other was white but with the same rough coat (Coco). I once joked about them being snacks for larger dogs, and Frank immediately set me straight on how not funny that was since Esther’s father had no problem with eating dogs. Esther, fortunately, had been in the U.S. long enough to know that one didn’t do that. However, Esther’s father was having some significant trouble getting used to the fact that his daughter wanted to be with a foreigner. That said foreigner had dogs didn’t help.

Both Coco and Reilly knew Sid and Jesse fairly well. But the two were prone to yapping extensively at anything and everything. Which turned out to be the saving grace. When the dogs started up as Sid and Jesse entered the duplex, everyone in the other duplex tuned the little nuisances out. At least, that’s what Sid and Jesse told us later.

After bible study, Kathy followed me to our house, where I put my truck in the garage. She then drove me over to Frank and Esther’s, parking her car right behind a dark van sitting at the curb across the street from the duplex. We could see Henry James’ car in the driveway to Frank and Esther’s side of the duplex.

An L.A. County Sheriff’s car sat double parked next to the van. Sid stood outside on the sidewalk talking to the deputy. He looked up as Kathy and I walked up.

“Here’s Agent Devereaux now.” Sid pointed at me.

I got out my FBI case. “Can I help you, Deputy?”

“Sorry, Agent.” The deputy in the tan shirt was fairly large and dark-haired. His nameplate read Zemby. He took the ID case and flashed his light on it. “We have to be pretty careful. As I was telling your partner here, one of the neighbors called us.”

“Nice to know we have alert citizens.” My smile got tight.

The deputy laughed. “Even when you’d rather they weren’t. I get so many calls on dogs barking and cats in trash cans.”

“We’re going to be here for several days,” I told him. “Protection recon. I can’t say who. We’ll try to move the van during the day, but we’ll be here most nights.”

“Protection?” Zemby’s eyes rose. “That’s different. I hope nobody gets hurt.”

“That’s the idea, Deputy.” I held out my hand, and he gave me my ID case back.

Kathy, Sid, and I waited while the deputy got in his car and took off. Inside the van, Jesse and Nick watched a bank of monitors along one side of the van. In the back of the van was a bed. I could faintly hear Henry James talking to Frank and Esther.

The duplex had been built sometime in the 1920s or ‘30s, and not unlike many of that type of house, had a plastered off-white exterior and red tile roof. The two front doors were squeezed together, with bay windows on either side. Like the others on the block, the lot was fairly narrow, but a two-car garage for each side of the duplex had been added on in the ‘60s or ‘70s sometime, with the drive-in door facing the side yard and driveway.

“And how was your evening?” Sid asked as we squeezed into the van.

“Good enough.” I looked at the monitors. “Looks like you got everything set up.”

“In spite of canine interference.” Sid shook his head. “I do not understand what Frank sees in those two little terrorists.”

“They’re not bad dogs,” Jesse said. “They’re just small.”

“Whatever,” Sid said, then cursed. “We’re going to have to be extra careful. Henry just pointed out the van to Frank and Esther.”

“She’s pretty upset.” Jesse shook his head.

“I’ll say,” muttered Nick. “I think she just called Henry a bleeping horse.”

I sighed. It figured Esther would be teaching Nick how to curse in Vietnamese.

“When did Henry get here?” I asked.

“Just before the deputy did.” Jesse looked at the monitors. “And Henry’s leaving.”

A minute later, the van filled with angry voices and yapping dogs. It was a good thing we were only trying to protect Frank and Esther because none of us could understand a word. It was surprising how fast Frank had become fluent in Vietnamese, but I suspect that was because that’s the language Esther and her family usually spoke at home. Finally, Esther broke down in tears and we could hear Frank’s voice get soothing and soft. Her sobs slowly let up and his voice teased a little, then… Well, Sid plugged in an earphone. They had moved into their bedroom, but the cameras in there were aimed at the window and the door.

Some minutes later, Sid pulled the earphone from his ear and sighed.

“Didn’t think you guys wanted to hear that,” he said, glancing at Nick. “Jesse, do you have any plans for Saturday night?”

“That’s our Ladies’ Night Out.” Kathy pointed to the duplex. “Lisa and I will be in there.”

Sid nodded. “Jesse, why don’t we take Frank out for a little night on the town?”

“Not if it’s going to be anything like your bachelor party.” Jesse laughed.

Sid rolled his eyes. Neither he nor Frank were going to live that one down any too soon.

“I’ll make a point of driving,” Sid said. He glanced at the monitors. “We need to have a little talk with Frank, though.”

Jesse’s and Kathy’s eyebrows both rose. I looked over at Nick, who moaned softly. Nick didn’t have any problem with talking about sex as long as it was in the general sense. But as soon as an adult he knew became part of the conversation, that’s when he got grossed out. [He was very good about coming to me with his questions, as long as it was just the two of us. – SEH]

After making sure that Frank and Esther were both in bed and the lights were out in both parts of the duplex, Kathy and Jesse took off. Sid took his contacts out – he’s very near-sighted – and slid onto the bed to get some sleep while Nick and I took first watch. We couldn’t exactly read because we had to keep an eye on the monitors for signs of intruders. So, Nick and I knitted. I had taught Nick that first spring we’d known him, and my mother had only added to his interest. Nick really liked relaxing in front of the TV or listening to music with a pair of needles and some yarn in his hands.

“I kinda wish I could do this at school,” he told me that night in a hushed voice.

“Why?” I was making a pair of socks out of some yarn leftover from several other projects, working the first one on a set of five double-point needles.

“Well, you know how school gets boring sometimes, and it’s really hard just sitting there. Drawing sometimes helps, but I can’t usually think of anything to draw and I’m really bad at it, anyway.” Nick paused and counted the stitches from the marker on the circular needle. He was making his first sweater and had just gotten past the ribbing. “Is this right?”

“Yeah. Add another marker, then do your purls.”

He nodded and on we went. Nick went to sleep after another hour, then Sid got up and I went to sleep, and the next thing I knew, it was morning.

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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