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Silence in the Tortured Soul – Chapter Sixteen

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.

The next day found me back in my blond wig as Special Agent Linda Devereaux. Kathy had taken Esther to work, but then Sid and I got paged almost before we’d finished breakfast. Sid made the pickup, and it didn’t need extra processing, so I called Esther after we’d chosen a route and let her know that she’d be making her first drop during her lunch hour. Given that I’d been seen with Esther as my alter ego, Sid and I decided that it made sense for me to keep that persona up whenever we went near the defense plant.

The only problem was my foot. The scrape had scabbed over, but the whole foot was pretty tender when I tried walking on it, which meant using the crutches. I had Frank drive us. That way, he could also act as look out. After all, the last thing we needed was a tail. As Esther climbed into Frank’s car right before noon, Frank kept an eye out. Sure enough, someone was following us, but Frank lost the car almost immediately.

“Amateurs,” Frank laughed.

“I agree, but we don’t need them,” I said. “Now, Esther, you’re clear on the process?”

Esther shrugged. “I drop the envelope next to the target, then go get lunch. What could go wrong?”

“Plenty.” I checked the right side-mirror again. “But we’re looking pretty clear.”

As it turned out, it was. We stopped at a taco stand near the plant where Esther worked. The outside tables were full. Frank and I grabbed a table just as four friends left. Esther spotted the Blue line mover, code name Blue Water, wearing a Led Zeppelin concert t-shirt and a Cincinnati Reds baseball hat. She double checked to be sure he was the only one sitting alone in such a shirt and hat, then walked past him to get to the order window. The envelope fell to the ground. Blue Water picked it up. Esther got in line to order.

Frank frowned. “That guy was tailing us last month.”

“He was part of the team protecting you and Esther until your adoption came through.”

“I ditched him.”

“I know.” I shook my head. “It was a pain in the butt. On the other hand, it was a good sign.”

Esther returned to the table with two bags of tacos and three sodas. Blue Water had already disappeared.

“Good job,” I told her.

She shrugged. “It was easy.”

“It won’t always be.” I sighed.

We divided up the tacos and ate. Esther and I slathered hot sauce on ours. Esther cursed as she dribbled hot sauce down her front. I sent Frank after some cold water and napkins.

“What’s that for?” Esther asked me.

“So you can clean your top.”

“Why?”

That’s when I realized why Esther usually wore front-buttoned shirts in colorful prints. They didn’t show the stains so much. Esther bent over and licked up the hot sauce from her front. When Frank got back, she shrugged and wiped down the remains with the cold water.

“The stain will come out a lot more easily when you clean it up right away,” I told her.

“I use stain remover. It’s fine.”

My pager went off. The code in the display meant that Sid needed me at home as soon as possible.

“We’ve got to get you back to work,” I said, pulling together taco wrappings.

We hurried back to the plant, Esther went inside, then Frank and I left.

“Do we have a tail?” I asked Frank, after checking and not seeing one myself.

“Nope. They must be watching from the parking lot.”

“Which means we’d better start letting her off at different entrances.”

Thanks to sitting out in the sun, my scalp was sweaty, so I pulled the wig from my head and fluffed out my hair as Frank drove us home.

At the house, Frank followed me in, and we started for the office, but then saw that Sid, Tom, and Angelique were in the living room. Tom sat next to Ange on the couch, his arms holding her. Tom is a big man, tall, broad-shouldered, with receding blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Sid sat on Ange’s other side, close enough to be comforting without touching her.

I signaled Frank to hang back, then went over to the couch.

“I’m here,” I said softly. “What’s going on?”

Ange blinked back tears. “Lydia died this morning.”

“Oh, no!” I looked at the couch next to her.

Sid slid out of the way, and I sat and put my arms around her.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.

“It’s okay,” Ange said, weeping. “I mean, it’s terribly sad and I’m going to really miss her. But she was in a lot of pain, and all.”

“What happened?”

Ange swallowed. “She took a turn for the worse last night. At least, that’s what Conrad said when he called his morning. She didn’t want to go to the hospital. Said it would only prolong things. But both Conrad and Colton were there with her and Henry, and she died at home, like she wanted to.”

Conrad and Colton were Henry and Lydia’s two sons.

“How’s Henry doing?”

“I don’t know.” Ange began weeping harder, then sniffed. “Conrad said he’s managing, but I have no idea what the hell that means.”

There was an odd undercurrent from both Sid and Tom as Ange tried to get her tears under control.

“Haven’t you been to see him?” I asked.

Ange shook her head and sobbed for a moment. “No. Colton only wants family there.”

“But you’re family.”

“No, I’m not. At least, not as far as Colton’s concerned.”

I heard Tom mutter something obscene.

“No, Tom!” Angelique gulped and got a hold of herself. “I mean, yeah, he’s being pretty rotten, but it’s for good reason. He’s always hated how his parents took in every waif off the street, and he never said anything about it. Then he blew up at his dad the other night when Henry wanted me to come over. Colton always felt like he wasn’t enough, and because he didn’t say anything, Henry and Lydia couldn’t reassure him.” Ange sniffed again. “That’s why he resents me and Sid, too. We were their latest adoptees.”

“You poor thing,” I said, squeezing her tighter.

Angelique had a difficult relationship with her own mother, and Lydia always said that Ange was the daughter she’d never had.

“You know, Ange,” I said, giving her another squeeze. “This really sucks and I’m sure it hurts like crazy. But it is really, really kind of you to give Colton his space.”

Ange nodded. “I’m only glad Tom’s here, and that I’ve got Sid and you. Even my brother doesn’t get how close I am to Henry and Lydia.”

Sid made a point of calling Jesse and having him pick Esther up from work. Jesse took Frank with him, and I do not know what all they did. Nick had already gone over to Josh’s and the two were having a sleep-over there. I don’t know if Sid set that up or it just happened. [It just happened. – SEH]

We spent the afternoon talking about Lydia and Henry. Lydia’s slightly wicked sense of humor that popped out at the strangest times. The way Henry had to take care of everybody within reach. We even got to talking about Sid’s and Angelique’s former relationship.

“I have to say the two weeks thing was probably my fault,” Sid said as we finished dinner in the breakfast room.

“No, I don’t think so,” Ange said. “Henry used to warn me off you, and it wasn’t that he didn’t like you. I know that because he’d warn me off some of the guys down at the office, and it was obvious that he didn’t like them. You and I just weren’t a good match. We liked each other okay, but something was missing.”

“I’m sure there was something missing.” Tom grinned at Sid. “I remember your aunt saying that she was not surprised to see you settle down, only that it took so long. She was right. You were looking to settle down even before you got sent to Vietnam. Coming back, you seemed to want it even more.”

Sid frowned. “You know that’s possible. But I sure as hell didn’t have the relationship skills then.”

“Did any of us?” Tom laughed loudly.

“Huh,” I said. “I wonder, Sid, if you were trying to make it work with Angelique. I mean, Ange, you were around more than anybody. You got Sid talking when I got engaged to George.”

Ange looked at Sid. “So why couldn’t we make it work?”

“You’re asking me?” Sid looked befuddled, then paused. “You were too nice in a way. Lisa forced me to communicate with her.”

“Well, we had to if we were going to work together,” I said.

“Yeah, but I know what Sid’s saying,” Tom said, reaching over to take Ange’s hand. “Ange, you don’t let me off the hook, either. We work at our relationship.”

“We never worked that hard at ours,” said Sid. “I don’t know how much of that was the sex.”

Ange made a face. “You know, I thought that might be where we blew it.” She looked sheepishly at Tom. “One of the reasons I held you off for so long.”

I grinned. “Oh, so you finally did it?”

“It’s been over three weeks now,” said Tom.

Sid laughed. “It’s been months! And you only first got it on three weeks ago?”

“Hey, it worked for you and Lisa.” Ange giggled, then fondly looked over at Tom. “Let’s face it. We were both seriously gun shy.”

“Yeah.” Tom sighed. “We both come from messed-up families. I have the whole addiction thing.” He winced. “There was Beth.”

“Beth.” Sid’s eyes rolled. Beth was Tom’s ex-wife. “I never could figure out what you saw in her.”

“Somebody to support my disease.” Tom sighed. “And speaking of, I saw Stan a few months ago. He’s still a mess. Divorced twice and working on number three.”

Stan was part of the group of six friends that included Sid and Tom in high school. One of the guys had died in Vietnam and both Sid and Tom had lost track of the two others.

Sid groaned. “God, we were stupid back then.”

Tom shook his head. “You were stupid. I was an addict and still am. I came by it honestly, but that’s the reality.”

“Your folks weren’t drunks, were they?” Sid asked.

Tom laughed loudly. “Are you kidding? Mom pretty much had a buzz on constantly. Dad usually stayed sober until he got home from work, but after that, it was cocktails and beer for the rest of the night.”

“Huh.” Sid looked thoughtful. “I bought it that your mom was just a klutz.”

“Nah. She was miserable and had no way to express it. They’re both still together and still miserable.” Tom sighed.

“Not unlike my parents,” Angelique said. “They don’t drink that much. But they hate each other. They’ll never divorce. I could never figure out why Mom wanted me and my brother to get married so badly when she was so unhappy with her marriage. For some reason, she still thinks that marriage is what makes you happy.”

We all shuddered at that.

Eventually, Tom took Angelique home. Frank and Esther came back to our place shortly after. They offered their sympathies on Lydia’s death, then went to the guest room. Sid and I made our way upstairs.

“How are you feeling?” I asked him as we got into bed.

He made a face. “Sad. Strange.” He sighed as he settled onto his pillow. “How do I say this? I’ve had several father figures in my life.” Sid doesn’t know who his father was. “Including quite a few who thought they were more important than they were. But Henry never played that game. He just was. There was something about him. I could talk to him in a way I couldn’t to anybody else, except you, and still can. And Lydia was the same. I mean, I didn’t talk to them the way I talk to you. Still, Lydia paved the way for you. She didn’t push me to communicate, but she didn’t let me off on my B.S., either. I didn’t know what a gift that was until I met you. If it hadn’t been for Lydia getting on my ass that week we started fighting, right before we left for DC and had that really bad fight, I wouldn’t have stayed in that room and kept talking, and you would have been gone.”

I pulled him close to me and held him tightly.

The next morning, both our hearts were heavy, but we went over to Henry’s house. Ange and Tom were already there, for which I thanked God. Colton was still annoyed when he saw us. At the same time, there were so many other people coming by to thank Henry and Colton for Lydia being there for them. Henry wasn’t quite a mess. He was terribly, terribly sad. But he had also found some peace in being grateful for the time he’d had with his wife. I tried to imagine what I would feel like losing Sid after thirty-six years and couldn’t.

Colton asked Sid to give the eulogy for Lydia at the funeral, which would be the following Monday. Sid agreed and started taking notes among the other people at the house. We spent most of the day there, which was a little awkward, given Frank and Esther’s training, but it was important.

Friday, I finally got to go to lunch with my friend Leslie. My foot was a lot better, and I could abandon the crutches. I still couldn’t wear anything that covered my instep or that outer edge of my foot, but I had a pair of flat sandals that had a strap over the big toe and an ankle strap that missed the scraped part quite nicely. Of course, I couldn’t wear nylons, but we were coming into the hotter part of the summer, and I was perfectly happy skipping those.

I met Leslie in Burbank, near the studio where her station operated. We got settled inside the restaurant and ordered.

“Looks like you’re doing really well,” I said as we waited for our food to arrive. “It seems like every time I turn on the news, you’re on it.”

Leslie laughed. “They’ve been keeping me busy. I am so glad I caught that satellite story while it was still small. Now that there’s a murder connected to it, I’m running with it. Oh, and thanks for connecting me to that FBI guy. He’s a pain in the arse, but he likes me, so I get stuff.”

“You’re welcome.”

We paused as the waitress brought a pastrami on toasted rye with cole slaw for me and a salad for Leslie.

“Speaking of the FBI, though,” Leslie said, putting her fork through the greens on her plate. “It’s kind of weird that they’re investigating the murder alongside LAPD.”

“That’s not usually their jurisdiction.” I got a hold of my sandwich and bit into it.

“I know. Merryweather hinted that there’s something else connected to the murder that is their jurisdiction, but he won’t say what.”

I was grateful for that.

“I just wish I could get some real information on Levinsky,” Leslie continued. “I went up to Running Springs on my day off last week and didn’t get squat. He’s not talking to the media anymore. Plus, no one knows which of the group members are the ones supposedly getting violent. You’d think they would. But all the actual threats have been made anonymously, and as far as the group members are concerned, the threats are just rumors, anyway.”

“Huh.”

Leslie chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “You know, this would still make a good story for you and Sid.”

“It might.” I shrugged. “Only we’re not doing as much writing these days. We’ve got that editing job now, and it’s pretty time consuming.”

Lunch went on. Still, as I drove home, I tried to make sense of what Leslie had said about the group members.

“Sid?” I asked, limping a little as I went into the office.

He looked up from his desk. “How was lunch?”

“It was good.” I slid into my chair. “Where are Frank and Nick?”

“Kathy took Frank on a pickup and drop. And Nick went skateboarding at the beach with Josh and Rob. Rob’s mom is doing the driving.”

“For a change.” I tried not to roll my eyes.

Sid’s eyebrow lifted hopefully. “Any reason you’re asking?”

“It’s a Need to Know issue, as in they don’t.” I shifted. “And you’re the one who keeps saying we shouldn’t be getting into any bad habits.”

He sighed. “True. So, what’s up?”

I told him what Leslie had said about the members of Stop Nukes Now not being able to say who the violent members were.

Sid thought it over. “So, either the entire group is bent on protecting each other, or the violent folks are not part of the group, or the violent folks are really good at covering up who they are.”

“I think those latter two seem more likely.” I bit my lip. “This is crazy. We’ve seen some real amateur behavior on this, and some truly professional behavior. What the heck is going on?”

“I have no idea. Why would the professionals be involving the amateurs? The only reason I can think of would be to cover the pros’ activity.”

“But anybody like us or even the FBI guys working this would be able to tell which activity is which. The amateurs might not get it, but the professionals surely would and would know that it’s not much cover.”

Sid shrugged. “I have no idea, and when we get right down to it, it’s not necessarily our job to figure it out. Our job is to protect and train Frank and Esther.”

“I suppose that’s true.” I drummed my fingers on my desk. “But it would be a heck of a lot easier to do that job if we had the rest of this solved.”

“That’s why we went up to Running Springs. Which leads me to ask how your foot is doing?”

I winced. “It’s still a little sore, but I can walk on it.”

“So, no running still.”

“Not ‘til Tuesday.”

Sid grinned. “How about some other activity that does not involve you on your feet?”

I grinned back. “Bad habits?”

“Just a quick one.”

I looked at him, but I couldn’t resist.

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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