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Silence in the Tortured Soul – Chapter Nineteen

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 must admit, I slept like the proverbial log that Friday night, which turned out to be a good thing, because Saturday morning sucked pond water.

It started around nine a.m. with a call from my mother. Her dog Murbles had died overnight. We’d gotten the huge old mutt as a puppy the spring of my junior year of high school. While he was only eleven years old, for a dog his size, that’s pretty old.

I burst into tears as I hung up the phone. I don’t know why it felt so awful. Sid held me but I could tell he didn’t entirely get my upset.

Then the phone rang again, and it was Don Haslip. We’d just been finishing breakfast when Mama had called. Sid put Don on hold and went into the office to take the call. I got the breakfast dishes into the kitchen and the dishwasher, then wandered into the office.

“Here’s Lisa now.” Sid looked up at me. “Don, why don’t I put you on hold so I can bring her up to speed and then I’ll be able to give you an answer.” Sid paused a second, then pressed the button and sighed. “Don wants us to work with him and Pat on the fundraising committee. Darlene Sutton has to bow out, which puts the anti-Casino Night people in the minority. If we jump in now, then those other ding-a-lings won’t get their shot at stacking the committee with their friends. And we’ll get our volunteer hours covered for the year.”

“If you want to,” I said with a sad shrug.

“The alternative is pushing everyone around us to buy crap wrapping paper and over-priced cookie dough.”

We both shuddered over that one. We’d bought a fair amount of both over the years from Mae’s kids. I didn’t think Sid would be a good mix on the casino committee thanks to his tendency to lose patience with the ding-a-lings, but he was right. Without the money from the Casino Night, we would probably be stuck with the more traditional school fundraisers, which meant wrapping paper and cookie dough.

“Go for it. It’s like you keep saying. This is our life now.”

Sid looked at me for a moment, then got Don back on the line and told him we were in. The first committee meeting was the following Thursday and Don, who was the committee chair, was going to hold it at his house.

Sid hung up the phone and looked at me.

“It’s only one more year,” I said bleakly. “Then Nick goes to high school and according to the other moms, those schools don’t demand parental involvement beyond writing checks.”

Sid slumped back in his chair and swore. “Nick in high school. It seems like yesterday he wasn’t even eleven and making me crazy that he wouldn’t stop running around everywhere.” Sid looked back over at me. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” I shrugged, then blinked as my eyes filled. “I’m sorry. I’m not okay. I just don’t know what’s wrong. I don’t feel like myself or something.”

“I’ve noticed.” Sid sighed and shook his head. “I’m beginning to wonder if this getting married thing wasn’t a mistake after all.”

I started weeping. “I thought it was the right thing to do.”

“So did I.”

“It did make our commitment to each other stronger.”

“It did.” Sadly, he got up and pulled me into his arms. “I can’t say it didn’t and I’m glad that it did.” He squeezed me and sighed deeply. “But you’re not that happy, and that worries me.”

“Sid, I’m not going anywhere.” My throat started closing.

“I know, Lisapet, and I trust you. The problem is, I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and you’re not. It’s got to be the whole married thing. I may not have believed in marriage, but I wasn’t scared of it. You believed in marriage and were terrified by it. You’re just not that happy as a married woman. Hell, you won’t even call me your husband.”

“I do, too!”

“No. You call me your spouse. It’s like you’re trying to pretend we’re not really married or something.”

“I’m not that unhappy.” I blinked and tried to smile. “Yesterday was great, and I’m really loving our sex life.” I swallowed. “I just don’t recognize myself anymore. I was going to be a college professor and stay single. Now, here I am, married and with a kid. It was the last thing I wanted for my life and that’s exactly where I am.”

“Maybe you’re going about it a little bass-ackwards, but there’s no reason you can’t work on the college professor thing.”

“How am I going to get a PhD working the hours we do? You’re having enough trouble with your master’s program.”

“That’s not what’s important.” Sid held me close to him.

“You’re what’s important to me. Nick is what’s important.” I pulled back a little. “It’s not marriage or whatever. It’s being with you guys. That’s when I feel happy. And it’s not just the sex. It’s being close to you, talking, goofing off.”

He smiled softly. “Our sex life would not be this good if you weren’t happy being with me. But you’re right. It’s not just sex. We have a lot of other life to deal with, and that seems to be bothering you.”

I winced and pulled away from him. “I wish I knew what was going on, Sid. But I really don’t. Yeah, you’re right about the whole being married thing. But it’s not just that. It’s all the people at Nick’s school who can’t deal with us not having the same last names. Or me having to explain that, no, I’m not worried about your past girlfriends, or having to explain why I married you in spite of them. There’s a part of me that really does not care what all those others think about me. But then, I get really tired of the questions and people obviously trying not to say something about how we live our lives, especially when I’m feeling so lost in all of it. And all the other losses. Lydia. Murbles. And, yeah, the deck shoes are just shoes, but they are one more loss on top of several others.” I blinked. “Including myself.”

Sid frowned and looked at me deeply. “Funny. You’re not acting that lost.”

I shrugged. “I have no idea at this point.”

Sid chuckled. “Then why don’t we spend some time to find you?”

“What?”

“I’m just thinking about something you said the other night about your old deck shoes being your connection to your life before me. Maybe we need to explore that. I probably do, too. There isn’t much in this house that I owned before you came into my life, too.” He sighed lightly and squeezed me again. “For me, that is a different issue, I understand. I had a lot less to lose by marrying you and everything to gain.”

“Sid, I had everything to gain, too.”

Perhaps I said that too earnestly. And yet, I fully believed what I’d said. Sid didn’t buy it, and if I’m honest, he had good reason. It wasn’t that I was trying to fool myself. [And we later learned that you weren’t. – SEH] It was more that both everything to gain and everything to lose were the truth. For lack of better terms, Sid was (and is) the love of my life and the sacramental part of marriage was (and is) important to me. There was no question that having done the church thing had made our commitment to each other even stronger than it had been. Still, it was hard to see myself as the married woman I was. It was just so far from what I’d envisioned for myself.

Sid softly kissed my lips. “Let’s get away for the weekend.”

“We’ve got the house to ourselves for the first time in weeks.”

“And we enjoyed that last night.” He quickly kissed my forehead. “But I think we both need to get away from everything and just focus on being who we are and being in love with each other. I am taking what you’ve told me seriously. But maybe getting away from it all for a bit will help clarify things.”

I couldn’t help smiling at him. “You know. You’re right. Let’s do it.”

Sid’s chuckle was utterly lascivious. Okay, maybe my Freudian slip was showing.

Anyway, we were ready to go by ten. Sid drove us in his Beemer up to the garage in the San Fernando Valley, where his Mercedes Benz 450SL was in storage. He’d retired the car for a lot of reasons, but it was still in excellent shape, and it was fun to take it out every so often. We couldn’t when Nick was around because the 450SL only had two seats.

We took the hard top off. I got a scarf on to keep my hair from whipping into my face. We drove up the coast, stopping here and there to watch the surf come in. We ate lunch at a burger shack in Carpinteria. And we talked a lot. Some of it was the usual joking around. Some of it was about Nick and how we were raising him. A lot of it was about our lives before we’d known each other.

“What did you like so much about teaching?” Sid asked me over dinner at a little place in San Luis Obispo.

I thought about it. “I liked helping people, and I liked getting to know the students. It might not seem like it’s that big a deal to write, but it can make a huge difference in how you approach the rest of your schoolwork, not to mention how you work. It’s like your ability to write logically. It’s because you think logically. Not a lot of people do, and you need to in the working world. Learning to write correctly can help people learn how to think logically. And I really loved the students. That’s why I always did Off-Campus Office Hours. Aside from not having an office that year I taught, it just made it so much easier for some of them.”

Sid suddenly laughed. “Honey, do you remember a year and a half ago when I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands?”

It was when Sid had given up sleeping around, which had also meant that he was no longer going out to chase women most nights of the week.

“Yeah. You almost drove me nuts.”

“And you talked me into going back to school to get my music degree.”

“Well, it is your passion.”

“One of them.” Sid smiled at me, his blue eyes glittering. “Why don’t you go back to your passion? You love Shakespeare. You love Romance poets.”

“Some of them.” I rolled my eyes.

“You also love teaching. I saw that when we were on that case in Wisconsin. It didn’t matter that you were undercover. You didn’t have to work as hard as you did at the teaching part of it. You did anyway because you seemed to really like it.”

I made a face. “Yeah, but how am I going to teach with our side business calling us out of town all the time? It’s going to be hard to keep a job when we have to run off and do an undercover operation for two, three months. Not to mention pickups and drops and having to run to Europe at a moment’s notice.” I frowned. “And here’s the funny thing. I do not want to give up our side business, even if I could. I know it wasn’t part of my life plan, either. But in a way, it was. I always wanted to do something adventurous. When I was five, I wanted to be a fireman, and not just any fireman. I wanted to be a smoke jumper.”

“Oh, honey.” Sid laughed softly and reached over and stroked my hand. “We’ll figure out a way to keep all the balls in the air. It’s more important that you do what you love.”

“What about the writing? I like that, too, and it makes a very convenient excuse when we have to go running off. Not to mention getting us interviews with suspects and at that press conference on Monday.”

Sid shrugged. “We can cut back. We’re not doing that much of it right now, anyway.”

I shuddered. “Do you like the editing?”

“Not really.” He winced.

“Neither do I.” I sighed. “So, what do we tell Hattie?”

“That we’re friends. We will continue to be friends. But we’re cutting back because we both want to go to grad school.”

“Okay.” I nodded. “I don’t want to say anything to Hattie yet. I’m going to need to spend some time praying about this. That’s when I make my best decisions.”

“You didn’t pray about coming to work for me, as I recall. You just made the decision.”

“I made the decision because I’d been praying about what my next step was going to be, and when that door suddenly opened, I knew I had my answer.”

That made Sid laugh and shake his head. Being an atheist, he doesn’t get me praying, but he respects it.

We headed south after dinner and spent the night in Shell Beach at a rickety little inn that still had lovely rooms. We spent that Sunday wandering through the Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang. Solvang was busy since it was a pretty popular tourist spot. But the rest of the valley had a lot to offer that no one really knew about, namely wineries, and some of them were pretty darned good. Sid and I got back to our house just after ten that night. The 450SL had been returned to the garage, and we’d transferred our bag and the two cases of wine into Sid’s Beemer.

We were tired when we climbed into bed and the lovemaking was pretty relaxed. We fell asleep before eleven-thirty, only to be awakened less than an hour later by the beeping of the security system. As I sat up, blinking the sleep from my eyes, I saw the small red light flashing over the bedroom door.

“Intruder,” Sid grumbled, getting a snub-nosed pistol out of his bedside table. He always wakes up faster than I do.

I grabbed my snub-nose as well and the two of us hurried to the bedroom door.

We could hear scraping on the other side, then the crash of a huge piece of glass breaking. Sid glanced at me and whipped the door open. I go through first because I’m the better shot.

A slight figure picked its way inside the house through the remains of the sliding glass door on the other side of our loft.

“Freeze!” I hollered, my gun trained on her.

Sid was next to me in an instant, his gun trained on the intruder as well.

The girl – and it was clearly a girl – froze in terror.

“What the hell?” muttered Sid. Okay, he did not say hell.

“Go get some clothes and some shoes on,” I told him. “I’ve got her covered.”

Sid slid back into our bedroom. The girl stayed frozen in place, as well she should have. I blinked and slowly saw that she was Josie Prosser. Sid returned a second later, clad in gym shorts and flip-flops. He pointed his snub nose at Josie, then tossed me my robe and a second pair of flip-flops.

“We’ve gotta call the cops on this one,” Sid said.

“I know.”

Sid picked up the handset to the loft phone and made the call with his gun still trained on Josie.

“Come here, young lady,” I said, sliding into my robe. I tied it on with one hand because I was not going to chance her running or doing something else stupid.

Josie swallowed, blinked her eyes, and walked further into the loft.

“Why are you guys naked?” she asked, starting to weep.

“That’s not important right now,” I said. “Why are you breaking into our house?”

“I need to see Nick.”

“He’s not here,” I said.

“I need to see his room. Something. Please.”

Sid was talking to the dispatcher at 911. A minute later, he hung up.

“I have to call her mom,” I told him, not taking my aim off Josie for one second.

Sid aimed his gun at the girl while I dialed.

“Mrs. Prosser, this is Nick Flaherty’s mom.” I sighed. “Your daughter is here. She just broke into our house.”

“My daughter wouldn’t do anything like that.” Mrs. Prosser sounded awfully alert for that time of night.

“Well, she’s here. She broke the glass on our sliding door and says she wants to see Nick’s room.” I rolled my eyes. “The police are on their way.”

“Why did you call them?”

“She committed a crime.”

“She just wants to see your son.”

“And she broke into our house in the middle of the night.” I almost wished I could have shot Josie’s mom through the phone lines. “That is a criminal act.”

“Well, if you’re going to be unreasonable about it.”

“Yeah, I am.” I gave her our address. “You may want to get over here as soon as possible, since your daughter is going to be arrested.”

The phone on the other end of the line slammed down. Josie wept quietly. The poor thing was utterly terrified, although there was part of me that could not understand why she hadn’t thought that far ahead of herself.

The cops were decidedly annoyed that Sid and I had guns and that we’d kept Josie under cover until they’d arrived. Sid pointed to the broken sliding glass door.

“We didn’t know what the kid was up to or even whether she was armed or not,” Sid said. “Sorry, but any kid crazy enough to climb onto our roof and break in a sliding glass door with people inside cannot be trusted.”

The two detectives rolled their eyes but agreed. They checked Sid’s and my permits for the guns. Mrs. Prosser showed up around then, and started screaming that it was our fault her daughter had broken in. I’ll give the detectives credit. They didn’t buy that scenario for one second. They put Josie in handcuffs in spite of her mother’s screams and told Mrs. Prosser that she could meet them at the police station.

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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