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Silence in the Tortured Soul – Chapter Six

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.

Ladies Night Out has become a regular thing. There are eight of us, including myself, who like to get together once a month and play penny-ante poker at Esther’s duplex. We bring snacks and drinks and talk about everything. It’s an interesting group, too, in that we’re all pretty different. In fact, the only common denominator is that they all know me. That’s because the evening started out as a bachelorette party for me right before my wedding earlier that spring.

We’d added Lety Sandoval to the mix in April, after the fact. But Lety, full of energy with dark hair and eyes, fit right in with Kathy, Esther, and the others.

That night, Angelique Carter was bouncing with excitement as she placed her last few bottles of wine on the counter between the kitchen and the large round dining table where we played.

“Tom gets here tomorrow!” she crowed. “He’s driving down in the morning. Oh my god! I can’t tell if I’m excited or terrified.”

“Why not both?” said Sister Maria Campos. She was the principal at the parish school and had dark hair and eyes, a few curves, and a merry demeanor.

Esther was a bit jumpy, but you could tell she was looking forward to focusing on something else besides what was bothering her. The only problem was that Sarah Williams accidentally reminded her of part of it.

Sarah, a slim brunette, drew the high card for the first deal and began shuffling the cards.

“The usual five-card draw, jacks or better.” Sarah dealt the cards around her three-week-old daughter, Sandra, who was sleeping in a tummy pack. Because we had eight women, that meant the dealer got to call the game, but had to only deal and couldn’t play. “So, Esther, are you getting nervous about camp?”

Esther winced. “Why would I be nervous about that?”

We all picked up our cards as Sarah finished the deal. I had a pair of aces and nothing else.

“Lisa, your bet.” Sarah asked. “I meant about Wednesday night.”

“I’ll check,” I said.

Kathy groaned. She had to have openers (or a pair of jacks or better, which meant she could open the betting) and didn’t want everyone to know.

“I can’t open,” Maria said.

“I’m betting one,” Kathy said, throwing in the chip. No surprise. Probably had something decent.

“I’m in,” said Lety.

My sister Mae tapped her cards thoughtfully. She had her new baby, Melissa, with her in a tummy pack. Lissy was just a little over two weeks old. The tapping and thought were just for show, though. Mae had something decent and wanted us to think she didn’t.

“I’m in,” she said, finally.

So were Esther and Angelique. I tossed my chip into the pot.

“What’s Wednesday night at camp?” Ange asked.

“Commitment ceremony,” Esther grumbled.

“How many cards, Lisa?” Sarah asked.

“Three, please.” I tossed the three I didn’t want on the table.

“Oh, come on, Esther.” Sarah dealt the cards. “You and Frank? How many, Maria?”

“Three,” Maria sighed. “You mean about Esther and Frank getting married at camp?”

“How’d you know about that?” Esther gasped.

Maria shrugged. “Father John told me. Was it a secret?”

“How many cards, Kathy?”

“Two.” Kathy smiled. So, she had triple something or other. I had picked up my third ace, so I liked my odds on beating that hand.

“Oh,” said Esther. “Well, we are. Big deal.”

“I’d say that’s a pretty big deal,” said Lety, as she signaled for three cards. Nothing much there.

Mae took two, another possible set of trips.

“I’ll take three.” Esther shrugged. “I just hope Dan’s okay with it.” She looked at her cards and sighed (nothing there again).

“I’m a little surprised, but he’s great with it,” said Sarah. “How many, Ange?”

“Going with three.” The mild annoyance in Ange’s voice meant she didn’t have anything either.

“Lisa?” Sarah asked. “You’ve got first bet.”

I debated whether to try to scare Kathy and Mae into folding, which didn’t always work, or try to sucker them and take a smaller pot. Mae looked pretty confident, but without that hidden smile when she actually fills out a straight or a flush.

“I’ll bet five.” I threw the red chip into the pot.

“I’m out,” said Maria.

“See your five and raise it five more.” Kathy was trying to scare me into folding. She had at least triple something.

“That lets me out.” Lety tossed her cards into the center of the table.

“Cost me ten, huh?” Mae smiled. “I’ll call.”

Definitely confident, not that confident. Esther and Ange both folded, Esther with a curse.

“I’ll call,” I said. “Whaddya got, Kathy?”

“We three kings.” Kathy chuckled triumphantly as she dropped the cards on the table.

“Beats me,” said Mae.

I laid my cards on the table. “It doesn’t beat three bullets, though.”

Kathy groaned as the others laughed. I pulled in the pot, then Sarah handed me the deck for my turn to deal.

“Why the camp wedding?” Mae asked Esther as I shuffled cards.

“Don’t want a big one.” Esther made a face.

“You seem pretty tense about the whole thing,” Sarah said.

“No. It’s something else.” Esther shrugged.

“Hey, Esther,” Lety asked. “Have you heard about that list of engineers that the anti-nuke group put out?”

Kathy and I glanced quickly at each other as Esther turned pale.

“Yeah.” Esther swallowed. “It’s a stupid joke. What are we playing, Lisa?”

“How about a little five-card stud?”

Because of the number of women at the table, we really couldn’t play anything that involved over five cards, even with the dealer sitting out. Dealing stud meant I had to stay focused on calling the cards as I dealt them, and the last thing I wanted to do was talk to Esther about her reaction to Lety’s question. Fortunately, Lety caught on that Esther didn’t want to talk about it.

Esther won the hand, and the deal passed to Maria.

“So…” Ange’s grin was a little mischievous. “Is Sid enjoying having a new little niece?”

Mae laughed loudly. I would have whacked her, but she was sitting across the table from me.

“Jacks or better,” Maria announced.

“He was fine,” Mae said.

“After you scared the snot out of him.” I glared at her. “Sid’s never been around babies before. Sid and I stayed with the kids so Neil could be at the hospital. We left the kids just long enough to visit Mae and Lissy in the hospital. But then Neil brought Mae and the baby home, and Lissy’s, like, not even two days old. And Mae goes and plops her right into Sid’s arms.”

The others declared they couldn’t open.

“And we have pictures,” Mae said. “Neil made a point of having the camera ready. You should have seen the look on Sid’s face. It was priceless. And I can’t open, either.”

“He picked it up fast enough, though,” I said. “And he’s got a new little niece to spoil.”

“Lisa, can you open?”

I looked at my cards. Bupkes. “Nope.”

Maria sighed, and the deal passed to Kathy, who had to call the same game.

Later, Kathy and I stayed behind to help Esther clean up.

“You’re not acting okay,” Kathy told her as we gathered the snack leftovers.

Esther shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“Esther.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “You haven’t asked once whether I have any tan lines.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Do you?”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not saying, and you know why. But I’m more worried that you weren’t bugging me about it.”

Esther sighed. “I can’t talk about what’s going on.”

“What about that list Lety asked about?” Kathy asked. “You completely dodged that one.”

“I can’t talk about it.” Esther glared at Kathy. “You both know why. I do top secret stuff at work. I can’t talk about it.” She looked at me. “You know how it is, Lisa. There’s stuff you can’t talk about, either.”

I sighed. “I know. That’s why I’m asking.”

“I get that.” Esther blinked several times. “You two are closer to me than anybody, except Frank. I can’t even tell him that much.” She took a deep breath. “The problem is that list is out there. And, yes, I am on it. I can’t say why. But I am told by someone who knows that I am safer at camp. And the kids will be, too.” She sniffed. “I just hope so.”

“We’ll see to it,” said Kathy. I almost clobbered her, but then the next bit came out. “Both Lisa and I have taken self-defense. We’ll be ready.”

I grinned. Yeah, acting like an amateur had saved us yet again.

“Sure, we will,” I said. “We’ll be the Three Musketeers. All for one and one for all.”

Esther laughed weakly. “Okay. I’m glad. Thank you, guys.”

Kathy and I both held her close.

A couple minutes later, Jesse, Sid, and Frank arrived at the duplex. Yeah, Frank had gotten a snoot-full, but he was in rather good shape, considering.

Sunday, Kathy and Esther went with me to visit my shut-ins. I’m a Eucharistic minister at church and bring communion every Sunday I can to six older men and women who have a hard time getting to church. Then we went to lunch and hit the stores. Esther put her foot down and did not want to wear white.

“I want to wear a happy color,” she said, then smiled. “Like red. Red is a happy color.”

Kathy sighed. “You know what association we have with red.”

“Even better.” Esther laughed.

I was so happy to see her looking and acting like her normal self that I didn’t care. We found a nice red dress with full sleeves and a knee-length skirt. Kathy took custody of it to be sure that it didn’t get forgotten. Esther was wavering about going to camp again, but we got her to agree to go.

Monday morning, I called Angelique to request whatever report there was on the Stop Nukes Now group. She said she’d get it for me in the next couple of days.

Stella got her paperwork signed, then she and Sy ran both Sid and me ragged with getting the condo ready for hers and some of Sy’s things. Sid and I had left the couch we’d used there, along with all the dishes and cookware. Stella had bought a new bed and had it delivered that afternoon, but Sid and I had to assemble the frame and the headboard. I also ran the new sheets and blanket through the washer and dryer in the unit. Then I had to leave for Teen Bible Study that night and was glad to be gone.

Tuesday night, Sid and I took a shift in the recon van. Nick was spending the night with Sy and Stella, who had officially moved into the condo. I first had to go to the Tuesday Night (No Longer) Single Adults group because it was the last meeting before camp (Sid dropped me off). Back when there had actually been more single adults than marrieds, most of the camp leadership had come from that group. That had changed, but the meeting hadn’t for some reason. So, we spent the evening working on cabin assignments, going over the schedule, who was doing which talk, and all the last-minute minutiae that needed doing. I gave Esther a ten-minute lead on me, then called a cab to take me to the van.

I took first shift on the monitors since I am a night person more than Sid is. I was about to wake him up around three in the morning when Frank’s dogs started yapping and the alerts went off. Sid woke up immediately because he does and grabbed his glasses. There was an intruder in the garage next to Frank and Esther’s side of the duplex. As Sid and I got our all-over ski masks on, I held him back and pointed at one of the monitors.

Frank, wearing nothing but his white briefs, was standing and pulled a gun from his bedside table. Sid cursed.

We still had to go in. Heaven only knew what the intruder was up to in the garage. That Sid and I got there before Frank did was probably because of the argument Frank had with Esther (which we saw on the videotape later). Sid and I silently slid into the garage through the door that led to the backyard. We’d gotten around to the back of Esther’s aging Lincoln before the intruder spotted us. He (or she) took off, running straight for the side door just as Frank came into the garage, waving a small pistol. Sid and I ducked behind Frank’s car, a relatively new Toyota sedan. Frank put a bullet into the wall, then chased after the intruder. A minute later, he came back into the garage, grunting and limping, then went back into the duplex.

I went to the outside door to see if the intruder was coming back, but he (or she) appeared to be long gone. Sid was on his back under Frank’s car. I crouched down next to him, and he anxiously waved me away. Another minute later, he slid out from under the car, his hands cradling something. I checked under Esther’s car, but it was clean. We slid cautiously outside.

“We need to get that gun from Frank,” Sid said as we got back into the recon van. “He’s a menace with that thing.”

I started checking through the monitors and running video tape back on one of them.

“Well, the intruder went running, as far as I can see,” I said.

“And left this behind.”

Sid showed me the bundle of several tan paper sticks, banded together with wires sprouting from one end.

I gulped. “That’s dynamite.”

“Or something close.” Sid pulled a camera out and began taking pictures. “It was wired to Frank’s car.”

“Why Frank’s car?”

Sid shrugged, then nodded. “It’s the newer of the two and the one he’s been driving Esther to work in.” He looked more closely at the bomb. “This has Russian lettering on it.”

“KGB?” I frowned. “I can see why they’d want to support an anti-nuke group, but why wouldn’t they use their own personnel for a job like this?”

“They did, my darling.” Sid yawned. “At least, I’m reasonably sure they did. That wiring was a professional job. Red Light is still in town, isn’t he?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

“I’ll have Jesse develop these first thing this morning, then send Red Light straight to New York with it. Ray and Steve have lots of Company connections. Maybe we can get some information on it.”

“And what do we do with it in the meantime?”

Sid grinned. “I think there’s a dumpster around here worth blowing up.”

We hid the dynamite under one closer to Mid-City, then called in a tip to the L.A. Police Department, since we’d crossed over into their jurisdiction.

The week was moving faster than I could blink. Wednesday, Angelique called and said I could pick up the report, although she suggested that I meet her over at Lydia’s and Henry’s so I could visit with Lydia.

I went over late that afternoon. Ange was on her way from Westwood, but that could take a while. Lydia was smiling and in good spirits, but not doing well.

“There isn’t much I can do about it,” she said. “There are no more treatments and what there is will only prolong the misery.” She sighed.

“I’m so sorry, Lydia.”

“I’m making the best of it.” She smiled. “How are you doing, dear?”

“It’s been good.”

I told her about Stella moving out to Los Angeles and my sister’s new baby, and Nick’s sudden appetite. That last made her really laugh. Well, she had raised two boys.

Ange arrived and had the envelope. She said hello to Lydia just in time for Henry to take Lydia up to bed. We both left, and I held her on the sidewalk.

“You look miserable,” I told her.

“It’s not been a good week.” Ange blinked. “It’s mostly Lydia. She’s in a lot of pain and not doing well. But then Tom and I had a fight last night.”

“Oh, no! What happened?”

“We’re trying to figure out if Tom should get his own place or not. Tom wants to give us a few months in my apartment before deciding. Moving costs so much, you know. The only problem is, we’re not sure we’re ready for living together. We haven’t even had sex yet.” Ange started crying. “And then he said the scariest thing in the world to me. He’s not going anywhere! Even if it’s too soon for us to be living together, it’s way too soon for us to break up. He wants us to try counseling.”

“Okay. I get that it’s scary. But that’s really a good thing, you know.”

Ange swallowed. “You’re right. I just don’t know how to handle it.”

I touched her arm. “You’ll be fine. Really. You’ve got a lot going on. A new relationship, a new job, and Lydia. It’s a lot to be dealing with. Counseling’s a good idea.”

“Yeah.” Ange took a deep breath. “It is. Thanks.”

“And call me when you need to talk.”

“Of course. Talk to you in another hour or so, right?”

We both laughed. I hugged her, then went to my car.

I got dinner on the way home because there was no way I was going to get back to the house in time to eat with Sid and Nick. After I’d eaten, Frank called me on the car phone as I crawled my way down the 405 freeway. It was a good thing the traffic was so heavy.

“Lisa, didn’t you used to target shoot or shoot some birds called skeet?”

“Skeet is a type of target shooting,” I explained. “Using flying clay disks as the targets. Why?”

“I need to learn how to shoot.”

“What?”

“Um. I can’t talk about it. But it’s important. Can we start tomorrow? I’ll need a gun, too. A pistol, I think. Can we?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Because you carry a gun. Esther saw it in your purse one time. And you talked about shooting this skeet stuff. So, I figure you know how. Can you teach me?”

“Frank, what is going on?” Okay, I sort of knew what was going on, but I had to make it sound good.

“I can’t talk about it!” Frank sounded panicky.

“Okay. Well. I’ll have to see if I can get a reservation at a shooting range. You want to start as early as tomorrow?”

“Great. Perfect.”

“I’ll call you later when I have something.”

I was a little shell-shocked when I got home and told Sid, who shrugged.

“He’s going to have to learn, anyway.”

“Yeah, but what brought this on?”

Sid grinned. “His gun may have been replaced with a little note that he shouldn’t have one until he knew what he was doing.”

I rolled my eyes and went to call the indoor/outdoor public shooting range we sometimes used. There was an opening in the indoor range at ten a.m., so I booked it, then called Frank.

Sid and I looked at the report I’d gotten from Angelique, but there wasn’t much in it. Stop Nukes Now was headed by Dr. John Levinsky, a medical doctor with a general practice up in Running Springs, California. There were some concerns that some members of his group were getting a little radical, but there was no sign that they were in any way violent. In fact, Levinsky was a pretty ardent pacifist and had publicly rebuked the guys who had been talking tough.

The next morning, I met Frank at the shooting range. He was nervous and his eyes opened wide when he saw the Smith and Wesson Model Thirteen revolver I’d brought for him.

“That’s, um, a really big gun.” He smiled weakly.

“Yep. But it will stop an awful lot, assuming you can handle it.”

Frank looked away and sighed. “Speaking of, can you not tell Esther about this? She’s a little worried I’m going to blow someone’s head off.”

“That can happen when you don’t know what you’re doing.” I shut my eyes and opened them. It could also happen when you knew, but didn’t have time to aim and needed to stop someone, which is how I’d killed my first person. I still have nightmares about it.

I went into an extended lecture on gun safety. It’s possible that I shouldn’t have brought the Model Thirteen. It’s the gun issued to FBI agents and shadow agents working under the agency. I figured no one would really notice which gun it was, and that would be the gun Frank would get when his security clearance finally came in. There was a part of me that couldn’t wait and another part that hoped it never would.

I showed him the proper hold and stance, then fired several rounds. Frank was impressed.

“I did a lot of shooting when I was a kid,” I told him. “Now, remember, you need to brace yourself. This gun packs a wallop. And just aim for the target. Don’t worry about getting it in the center.”

Frank staggered with the first few shots, but eventually got the stance. His aim was horrible, though. We worked solidly for the hour we had our spaces, then I paid for another hour, as well.

“Frank, you’ve got to relax.” I swallowed and steeled myself. “You’re getting nervy and that will get you killed. This is a deadly weapon you’re working with here.”

He closed his eyes. “It’s just scary, Lisa.”

I suddenly realized he was seeing human bodies instead of the small red circle when he aimed, and the Lord knows, I understood how that felt.

“Frank, you want this for protection, right?” I asked softly.

“Yeah.”

I closed my eyes. “You’ve got to be willing to use it, even against people. That’s hard to do, I know. But you don’t want to hesitate at the wrong time and get it taken from you.”

His face grew grim. “Trust me, holding back is the one thing I won’t do.” He shook his head and looked at me. “I can do this.”

I didn’t want to tell him he’d have to.

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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