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Silence in the Tortured Soul – Chapter Fourteen

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.

I was not a happy camper the next morning. I’d driven Esther to work and got back to the house only to find Sid packing an overnight bag.

“I’m only going in, getting the drop, and leaving,” Sid told me.

“We should probably go together,” I grumbled.

“Do you really want to?”

“No.”

“We’ve got too much going on here, anyway. I hate dumping the training on you, but you seem to have a handle on getting Frank’s shooting skills in place. Kathy can help them with the codes tonight and tomorrow night. I may even be home by then.”

“If you’re lucky.”

Sid pulled me close to him. “I’ve got to run if I’m going to make that flight. Look at it this way. You’ll have a little time alone.”

I nodded sadly. Sid gave me an extra passionate kiss, then ran for the garage. I didn’t like it, but it was part of our new responsibilities. Someone in Europe had left some information at a safe house in Athens, Greece, and we’d been tagged to go get it. As I’d noted, we could have gone together, but Sid was right. There was too much going on with the upcoming launch, trying to find the leak, and getting Frank and Esther trained in all of that for both of us to go.

Nick didn’t really help, either. Part of the problem was that the girls were watching from across the street, which meant he couldn’t leave the house without Frank or me guarding him. Also, he was getting a little down and I couldn’t figure out why, even though it felt like I should have been able to.

Kathy and Jesse came over for dinner that evening (I thanked God that Conchetta had cooked enough), and Kathy pushed Frank and Esther on the code work. I retreated to the library and Nick watched a movie in the rumpus room.

The next morning, I drove Esther to work, then pushed Frank on the shooting range. He was getting better, but that afternoon, I couldn’t take anymore. Right after lunch, I got on my gear and headed to the riding club. Sid had bought me the membership the winter before. The nice part about it was that I didn’t have to own a horse and keep it up, and all that went with it. But when I wanted and had the time to go riding, I could. I was able to get one of my favorite horses, a chestnut gelding named Thor, and took him out on a trail in the Santa Monica mountains. The weather was pretty warm, even with the breeze from the ocean, so all I could do was walk Thor, but it was something. I was feeling a little better by the time I had to pick Esther up from work.

Esther and I got a couple pizzas and brought them home for dinner. Frank complained that his brain was mush, and while I shouldn’t have, I let them off code work. Instead, we watched Star Wars again. Sid has a really good pirate video of the trilogy that we really shouldn’t have been watching, but we did. Frank and Esther love Star Wars and Nick got a kick out of watching them enjoy it. But I put my foot down after the first film and insisted that Nick go to bed. I walked him to his bedroom and kissed him goodnight.

“Do you want me to tuck you in?” I asked.

“Nah. I’m okay.” He frowned. “When’s Dad going to be home?”

“He called me this morning that he was getting on the plane. But it’s a really long flight. Eleven hours, at least.” I ran my fingers through the hair flopping over Nick’s forehead. “He should be home soon.”

Nick nodded, kissed me again, and I went upstairs. The night before, I’d gotten my copy of Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers, from our personal library and started re-reading it. It was still on my nightstand because there was no way I was going to get through that massive tome in one night. I stripped and washed up and slid under the covers of the bed, breathing in the room’s silence. But I picked up the book only to see the red light of the security system flashing. I got up and checked the readout. The garage door had opened.

I smiled and got a robe on. Our bedroom is soundproof, but I had a feeling Nick had heard the garage door. His room is close to the door from the house into the garage. I hurried down the stairs and found Nick hugging his father in front of the utility room.

Poor Sid looked exhausted, but he smiled at me as he held his son.

“Alright, son.” Sid gave Nick one more squeeze. “It’s time you went back to bed. We’ll talk in the morning. Okay?”

“Sure, Dad.” Nick scampered away, and I suddenly realized he’d forgotten to put on a robe. Nick, like his father and I, preferred to sleep in the raw.

Sid scooped me into another warm hug, then kissed me with even more warmth.

“How did it go?” I asked when I could.

“In and out,” Sid said. “I spent more time on the planes there and back than I did in Athens.” We started up the stairs, arm in arm. “We’ll get it all processed in the morning. How did it go here?”

“Well enough. Frank’s getting a lot better on the shooting range. Esther has most of the codes down cold. We’re still way behind on tailing and spotting tails, but we’ll have the weekend to work on that. I’ve got all three of our October articles edited and you just need to review them. There’s still no more information on Levinsky.”

“We may want to go up to Running Springs to check him out, but we can figure that out later.” Sid nuzzled my ear, and we paused in front of the bedroom door. “Do you realize it has been almost forty-eight hours since we last had sexual intercourse?”

I couldn’t help giggling. “Yeah. Forty-seven hours and twenty-three minutes since we last had sex. Not that I’m counting.”

We got inside the bedroom before I started pulling Sid’s clothes off. However, he had to use the bathroom and get his contacts out and teeth brushed.

“When was the last time we went this long without making love?” Sid asked me as he slid into bed next to me.

I paused, thinking, as we kissed. “I don’t think we have since the wedding. Before that, we may have skipped a night or two.”

“Honey, since we started the oral thing last year, we’ve maybe missed a night here and there, but not two nights in a row.” He kissed me again and his hands went wandering, as did mine.

“I guess we’ll have to make up for it.”

Sid chuckled lecherously, and I thanked God once again that we’d had the bedroom soundproofed.

To Breanna, 7/31/00

Today’s Topic: Something I’ve Never Told Anyone Before

Hey, Love –

Good timing on this topic. Yeah, I’m getting a little down. It’s that time of year again. The anniversary of my first mom’s death has always been hard on me. I’m only now coming to realize that it’s because my feelings about my first mom are so mixed-up.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved her and knew that she loved me. We had a good time together. I like to think she’d be proud of me, of my PhD work, stuff like that, although neither she nor Grandma were prone to that kind of expression. My first mom could also be really nasty, especially about Mom Two. She hated Mom Two and would tell me that Mom Two didn’t really want me and other mean stuff. I think now that she was afraid that I’d love Mom Two more than her, which was ridiculous.

The embarrassing thing is that I let my first mom’s attitude get under my skin the way it did. Even after I’d been with Dad and my second mom for that first year, I sometimes still questioned whether Mom Two really wanted me. I couldn’t say anything about what my first mom had said. I did not want to hurt Mom’s and Dad’s feelings, and probably did not want to admit it was getting to me that much, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence that my first mom had not told the truth. And I suppose if I’m being honest, life with Dad and my second mom made me so happy. Yeah, it was scary sometimes. I worried a lot and still do. As horrible as it was to lose my first mom, I was happier with my dad and second mom, and that still makes me feel guilty.

Nick was even more out of sorts at breakfast the next morning. Sid not only spotted it, he put his finger on what was driving the boy’s mood. After Frank and Esther had gone to their room to get ready for the day, Sid asked Nick if he was okay.

“I’m fine, Dad.” Nick’s voice had the rhythm and tone of pre-teen angst, but was far too lackluster for that kind of deep annoyance with life.

“Come on. Let’s go to the office.” Sid nodded at me to follow, then put his arm around the boy’s shoulders and steered him in that direction.

Once the three of us were inside, Sid shut and locked the door.

“Did you have a nightmare last night?” Sid asked.

Nick winced. “It wasn’t any big deal.”

“It was your all-alone dream again, wasn’t it?” I said softly.

“Yeah.” Nick squeezed his eyes shut.

Sid sighed. “I suspect you’re going to be having problems with those over the next few days.”

“I guess.” Nick blinked. “It’s been almost a year.”

I nodded as my chest squeezed shut. That coming Monday would be the first anniversary of the death of Nick’s first mother, Rachel. That’s when Sid and I had taken custody of Nick, but unfortunately, that had also meant taking him away from his friends and the house he’d grown up in, and pretty much everything he’d known. Nick had wanted to come live with us, which had helped. Even with a little acting out, he’d adjusted extremely well. Still, he missed his first mom, and that was as it should have been.

“I am not going to invade your privacy.” Sid smiled softly at Nick. “But why don’t you put your intercom on to go to our room for the next week or so? That way, if you have another nightmare, we can be there for you.”

Nick made a face. “I’m not a little kid.”

“Neither am I,” said Sid. “This isn’t about being grown up or not. This is about getting over trauma, and losing your mother was traumatic. I have nightmares, too, Nick, and the only thing that makes them better for me is having your mother there to hold me.”

“And right after that kidnapping, your father made a point of sleeping in my sewing room so he’d be there for mine,” I told him. “It’s how we take care of each other.”

Nick nodded and we let it go from there. He would either talk about what he was feeling, or he wouldn’t, and he was at the age when it’s important for kids to start parsing these things out on their own. Sid and I just had to trust that we’d left the door open for him to come to us.

The good news was that we had a lovely day. We spent it on the Venice boardwalk, training Frank and Esther how to spot and evade tails. The reality is, if you’re expecting a tail, it’s pretty easy to spot one, which is part of why Frank was so good at it. He was always watching for something. Even a full team, with people changing clothes, can be made by someone who’s expecting it. That being said, Sid and I had a secret weapon. Nick was insanely good at tailing people and not getting made. He did have a slight disadvantage in that he could only tail on foot. But it took Frank a good fifteen minutes to make Nick, and Frank had caught me in my wig in almost five minutes. It took somewhat longer for him to spot Kathy.

The next lesson was, of course, how to tail, and Esther did somewhat better than Frank, although both were darned good. Not as good as Nick, but still pretty good.

For dinner, we found a nice little seafood restaurant just south of Venice and had a good time eating and being friends. We got home late and sent Nick straight to bed. That night, neither Sid nor I slept all that well. We were listening, although there wasn’t that much to hear. I was fairly certain Nick had turned his intercom on, though. I heard some almost snores and a few sighs.

The next day, after church and my shut-in visits, there was more tailing and evading practice, this time in cars. We ended up in San Juan Capistrano, had dinner down there, then chased each other up the freeway home. Kathy and Jesse went on home. Frank and Esther followed us to our house. We got there around eight-thirty. The others went to the rumpus room where Esther hooked up her Nintendo console to the television and everyone started playing some adventure game. I went to the office to get the week laid out.

Just before nine, the phone rang, and I picked it up. It was Marlou Parks. She had been Rachel Flaherty’s best friend and had not only taken care of Rachel during the last months of her life, she took care of Nick, too.

“Good to hear from you, Marlou,” I said. “Do you want me to get Nick?”

“Um. No. Please don’t.” She sounded nervous.

“Is everything okay?”

“Well, we’re officially in escrow on Rachel’s house.” Thanks to Rachel’s will, Marlou had been given the job of selling the place.

“That’s right. Sid had mentioned there had finally been an offer.” I didn’t remember when and hadn’t really paid it much mind. Marlou had moved in the year before to take care of Rachel and Nick and had continued living there, partly because the mortgage payment was somewhat smaller than her rent had been and partly because a lived-in house was more likely to sell. “Have you got a new place yet?”

“Yeah. I found one this morning.” She paused. “Um. Nick tried to call me on Friday. I wasn’t in and I haven’t returned his message.”

“Oh.”

She took a deep breath. “This is tough, but I’d really rather not be talking to him right now. It’s not his fault. He is a terrific kid. It’s just that… I’ve been in counseling these past few months, and it came out that I’m really angry at Rachel for what she did to me and to Nick, making us keep the leukemia a secret, and having to take care of her and Nick, and then only leaving me half the house.” She choked a little. “I’m sorry. It’s just been so hard. That’s probably why it took so long for me to get the house listed.”

“I can imagine.”

“Anyway, I don’t want my anger at her getting turned onto Nick. He doesn’t deserve that. Honestly, Lisa, I never wanted a kid in my life, and I never knew what to say to him. I think the best thing to do for now is just avoid contact for the time being. We should probably stay on each other’s Christmas card lists, just in case things change.”

“Alright. I’ll talk to him about it.”

“Please, Lisa, it’s not him. I’m just so furious at her. And, really, I know Nick loved her, but I’ve got a feeling he’s got some seriously conflicted emotions going, too. It was not the best of relationships. Rachel tried, but she was not the touchy-feely type her mother was, and even then her mother was pretty critical of the both of them. That whole family was really messed up, between Rachel’s father being a drunk, then her brothers and sister disowning her when she got pregnant.” She sighed deeply. “I’m glad he’s with you guys. I remember when Rachel took him to meet Sid. Nick was really angry about it and didn’t want to go. But he changed after he met you guys. He was more relaxed. He got worried about the custody thing. I really wish Rachel had let him tell you what was going on. It would have reassured him. But there’s so much that she did with him, letting him stay alone when she was working, that just made me so angry. But I couldn’t abandon her when she needed me. She’d been abandoned herself so many times. Anyway, I am glad I got to see him at your wedding. He was so happy. I’d never seen him so happy before, and I don’t think it was just the day. It’s what he said. He had a real family again, and what he didn’t say was that it was a more loving one than the one he’d had.”

“I see,” I said quietly, feeling somewhat at a loss. “Well, I appreciate you telling me this, Marlou. Please keep us up to date on your address. I mean, I understand about not wanting the contact right now, but if that ever changes, you know we’d love to hear from you.”

Marlou sniffed. “You guys are so great. Thanks. I’ll have to be in touch with Sid or you in terms of the escrow, anyway.”

We said goodbye, and I hung up the phone feeling both sad for Marlou and utterly peeved at her. I understood her feelings. Rachel had gotten me steamed plenty of times over the year and a half I’d known her. But I really resented Marlou wanting to drop out of Nick’s life, and worse yet, expecting me or Sid to explain it to the boy.

But I did the explaining. I asked if I could tuck him in that night and he said yes, and I told him that Marlou was having a lot of trouble dealing with his mother’s death and would rather not talk to him just yet. He took it better than I would have thought.

“You sure you’re not feeling hurt?” I reached over and played with the wavy hair falling over his forehead.

He stood next to the top bunk of his bed and shrugged. “I don’t think so. I mean, I like Marlou. But we never really had that much to say to each other. Besides, I kinda know how she feels. It’s not fun talking about Mom dying.”

“I can imagine it’s not. But it’s not good to hold those sad feelings in.”

“I won’t. I talk to you and Dad. That’s enough.”

“Okay, sweetheart. Good night.”

I kissed his cheek and gave him an extra warm squeeze, then left the room so that he could get undressed and into bed on his own. Sid was reading in bed when I got upstairs. He’d already said goodnight to Nick. I got undressed and washed up, then read for a bit longer. All-in-all, it was a normal night until shortly after midnight, when we both woke up to the sound of weeping from the intercom.

“I’ll get it,” I said, my voice still fuzzy with sleep.

“I’ll come with you.”

I grabbed my robe and Sid simply followed me downstairs. I knocked on Nick’s door.

“Come in,” he said sadly.

“We’re here, sweetheart,” I said, going straight for the bunk bed. I climbed up the ladder and sat down next to him, my legs dangling over the edge. “Was it the same old dream?”

He nodded, laying on his back. “Yeah. It won’t go away.”

“I know how that feels. But your dad and I are here now.” I played with the hair above his forehead.

“I’m not a little kid.”

Sid chuckled. “You’re not acting like a little kid. You’re acting like somebody who’s had a lot of hurt in his life.”

“I don’t want you guys to think I don’t want to be here.”

“Why would we think that?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” He turned his head to the wall.

Sid came over and touched Nick’s arm. “Son, if you were unhappy with us, I think we would have seen it by now. You’re unhappy now because you’re still grieving. That’s to be expected.”

“And the anniversary of losing someone close to us is always hard.” I gently squeezed his other arm.

“Yeah. I guess it is.”

“Nick,” Sid said. “We’re a real family, right?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s nothing more important to me right now than being here with you, and I think I can safely say the same is true for your mom.”

I sent Sid a mock glare. “Well, I don’t normally like it when your dad speaks for me. But he is right this time. Being here with you right now is the most important thing in the world to me. I love you so much, Nick. And I am so proud of what a strong and brave young man you are. You may not feel very brave at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t. We all have our low spots. The one thing you can hang onto is that your first mom loved you. Whatever else happened, that much I know is true because I saw it. She loved you deeply, and if she wasn’t the most perfect mom ever, well, neither am I. None of us is perfect. But love is the important thing. Okay?”

His smile was a little weak, but it was there. “Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “Can I get a new bed?”

“Why?” Sid asked.

“I’m not a little kid anymore.”

“No, you’re not, son.” Sid chuckled. “Okay. We’ll get you a new bed. It may take a few days, okay?”

“Why don’t you try to go to sleep now, sweetie?” I toyed with his hair, then ran my finger down his nose.

He laughed softly, but a minute later, he was asleep.

We ended up going out the next day to get the new bed, after we’d taken Esther to work and spent time with Frank on the shooting range. Frank even found a family that could use a bunk bed, and Nick grinned as the family came and picked it up.

To Breanna, 7/31/00

Today’s Topic: Something I’ve Never Told Anyone Before (cont.)

As I’ve talked to Mom and Dad over the years, I don’t think they ever knew that I liked being with them more than being with my first family and how guilty that made me feel. The weird thing is, they still knew what to say to me to make me feel better.

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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