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Silence in the Tortured Soul – Chapter Two

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 honestly have no idea why I was so nervous about that reunion. Admittedly, large parties are not my favorite thing in the world. I’ll also admit that if I don’t know the larger part of the people there, it will scare me. But I knew pretty much everybody who would be at this shindig and didn’t really care about most of them. Or maybe it was that I only thought I didn’t care.

Either way, that afternoon before the reunion, I was a nervous wreck. Sid did what he could. He helped me do my nails. He did my hair, softly curling it with my curling iron, then feathering back my bangs. Sid knows how to do hair professionally because of an undercover assignment as a hairdresser some years before I knew him. We’d spent the week before going over which dress I’d wear, a blue silk noil sleeveless sheath with a trumpet skirt, so that was already set. He made sure I had my aquamarine necklace and earrings on. He had on another perfectly tailored Italian-cut suit, this time in dark, charcoal gray, a pink silk broadcloth shirt and colorful tie.

When we walked up to the sign-in table at the hotel, Sid and I oozed the understated elegance of the truly affluent. In fact, that’s what I was humming.

“What?” Sid asked.

“’We got elegance. If you ain’t got elegance, you can never, ever carry it off.’” I swallowed, quoting a tune from the musical we did my junior year.

Sid chuckled as I gave my name to the woman behind the table. She looked vaguely familiar. Her name badge said Veronica Small Evans, but that didn’t entirely register with me.

“Oh, here’s your badge.” She looked at it, puzzled. “Lisa Wycherly, with Sid Hackbirn, right?”

“Yes.”

“Your form said you got married.”

“I did,” I said. “This is my spouse.”

I was still having some trouble calling Sid my husband for some reason.

“Oh. Do you want us to re-do your name badge with your married name?”

“I don’t have a married name. I’m keeping the name I was born with.”

“Oh.”

“Thanks, Veronica.” I picked up the badges. At least, they were the pin-on kind rather than the sticky ones, and the silk of my dress was the nubby kind that wouldn’t show the pinhole.

I handed Sid his. “This is going great already.”

“It’ll be fine, honey.” Sid smiled. “Bucking the expectations, right?”

“Right.” I swallowed.

We stood in line for the bar. Sid got a bourbon and water. I got a glass of white wine. I said hello politely to several people that I hadn’t come to see. Lynn Fremont came up and said hi with an odd smirk as she ogled Sid. Rhonda Jefferson saw Sid and pulled him aside in a panic. I rolled my eyes and looked for Pete Jefferson and didn’t find him. I did find Jimmy and Terry Roth. They were two of the people I was hoping would be there.

They came over and I kissed Jimmy’s cheek.

“It’s good to see you two,” I said, finally feeling the warmth I was expressing.

“You look good,” Jimmy said. “I heard you got married.”

“Yeah, just this past spring.”

Jimmy looked just past me, and his jaw dropped. “Him?”

You must understand, the last time Jimmy and I had seen each other, Sid was still sleeping around. Sid and I had been in Tahoe on a case, unfortunately, as ourselves, and Sid had gained some notoriety thanks to quite a company of women throwing themselves at him. Which is why my stomach clenched at that moment and I realized what I had not been looking forward to.

“He’s reformed,” I said, smiling tightly.

Sid walked up to me. “Hey, lover.”

“Hey, sweetie. Did you get a chance to meet my old friend Jimmy Roth and his wife, Terry?”

“I don’t think I did.” Sid smiled and held out his hand to shake theirs. “Good to meet you.”

“Uh, Lisa,” Jimmy said, still a little shaken. “There’s a table with some of the other drama club crowd. We saved a place for you and your husband.”

The drama club crowd was hardly a crowd. There were about six of us that had hung out together. I was glad to see Leslie Bowman there. She’d made it to the wedding, and we’d kept in touch, so she already knew Sid and about his randy past. And I knew all about her work as a radio reporter in Denver. Leslie was still single, as was Mary Faber. Gabriel Ordonez was there with his wife, Maria. Andrew Englander wasn’t there, nor was Michael Tipton.

I asked Mary, a medium-sized woman who had gained a few over the years, about Michael. The two had been really close friends in high school, although Michael had taken me to the senior prom because Mary had a boyfriend at the time. She made a face.

“I’m so sorry, Lisa. He died a year or so ago.”

“Oh, no. What happened?”

She winced. “He told me you knew about him.”

“About being gay?” I sighed and shut my eyes. “Oh, crap. Was it AIDS?”

“Yeah.” Mary shrugged. “I’m not saying that, though. Not here.”

“No. Better not.”

That was when they announced that dinner was served. It was a buffet with two identical service stations, and Sid got ahead of me in line.

“Oh, man!” groaned Tim Dulles. “I had to get behind Wycherly. Leave some for the rest of us, will you? Man, some things never change.”

He was right. He was still a jerk. I left plenty behind, but it was true that my plate was decidedly full.

At the table, Leslie sat next to me, with Sid on my other side. Sid chatted pleasantly with Jimmy and Terry. Leslie leaned over to me, mischief in her eyes.

“You’ve been getting the looks, kiddo,” she said.

“I know.” I sighed.

“I hear he cut quite the swathe through here a few years ago.”

“As in, years ago,” I snarled.

Leslie laughed. “I know. You two are obviously besotted with each other. And it’s like you told me last year. It’s all past tense.” She looked at me for a moment. “I thought his former girlfriends didn’t bother you.”

“Oh, they don’t. It’s the having to explain why I married him that’s getting to me.”

Sid laughed loudly at something Jimmy said.

A tall redhead with a hatchet face walked up. “Leslie, it’s good to see you again.”

“Charlene.” Leslie’s smile got tight.

Charlene Dempsey glanced my way, then ignored me. Sid’s back was turned to her.

“So, what have you been up to?” Leslie asked Charlene.

Charlene shrugged. “Still living here. I’m a manager at Harrah’s.”

“That’s moving up in the world. Your hubby around?”

“I divorced him years ago.” Charlene’s eyes rolled. “And husband number two.”

Sid turned to me. “Hey, honey—” He saw Charlene and put on an absolutely gorgeous smile. “Charlene, isn’t it?”

“Good of you to remember.” Charlene did not seem happy to see him. “Last time I saw you, you were a busy boy.”

“I was, wasn’t I?” Sid laughed, but it was just a touch unfriendly. “Now, I am a reformed man and happily married. You know Lisa, don’t you?”

“Of course. Good to see you again, dear.”

“Good to see you, Charlene.” I smiled.

Charlene grinned nastily. “So, Sid, just how many of the women in this room have you slept with?”

“I’ll never tell.”

“I’m not asking for names. Just numbers.”

Sid shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t remember.” He squeezed my shoulders. “And couldn’t care less, even about the ones I do remember.”

Charlene looked at me, trying to look superior. I suddenly realized what she was up to and that I really didn’t care what she thought or was trying to do.

I shook my head. “Charlene, if you think you’re going to upset me by throwing Sid’s past in my face, don’t waste your time. All that is past tense, and it really doesn’t bother me. So, go be petty someplace else.”

Charlene sauntered off.

“Good one, Lisa,” Leslie said, turning back to her dinner. “I can’t believe she’s still such a witch.”

I shrugged. “It’s her problem, not mine.”

We had just finished eating when Mindy Deeter and Shawna Larson got up and took the microphone. It was time for speeches and prizes for who came the furthest, who had the most receded hairline, who had been married the longest.

“We’ve got a double prize for the next one.” Mindy giggled. “It turns out that the classmate of ours who has been married for the shortest amount of time also has the oldest kid. Lisa Wycherly, can you come up here and explain how you have a thirteen-year-old son? I mean, I don’t remember seeing you pregnant.”

Rolling my eyes, I stood. “I adopted my spouse’s son. Not hard to figure out at all.”

I sat back down. Mindy seemed a little flustered that I didn’t pick up my prize, but Shawna hurried down to the table with it. It was a gift certificate to a restaurant on the California side. I stuffed it in my purse. There were a couple more speeches, which I ignored, then they turned on some music for dancing. I chatted with Jimmy and Terry and was glad to find out that Jimmy had gotten into law school after all, and the two were living in Sacramento. Mary Faber and Gabriel and Maria moved off someplace else. Sid and I would have danced, but whoever had picked the music seemed to favor tunes from our freshman year, and I’m sorry you can’t really dance to Bad Moon on the Right, Smoke on the Water, Nights in White Satin, and Stairway to Heaven.

The Roths said good night because they wanted to get back to Sacramento and had a good two hours’ drive. Sid, Leslie, and I decided to go across the street to one of the other casinos.

“Actually, I wanted to talk to you two privately,” she said, as we dodged a couple late firecrackers in the street. “Maybe we can help each other out on this one.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Leslie waved me off until we landed at a bar, comfortably far enough away from the live act at the other end of the lounge so that we could talk. We ordered white wine all around.

“So, what’s up?” I asked Leslie when the waitress had brought the wine.

“You have a friend named Esther, right? Esther Nguyen?”

Sid and I looked at each other.

“Yes,” I said slowly.

Leslie leaned into us. “You two being freelancers, you probably haven’t gotten anything on this yet, but it’s gone out to a lot of different news agencies this past week that there’s a nuclear-armed satellite being launched later this summer, and the anti-nuke group protesting it put out a list of the engineers on the project. One of the names is Esther Nguyen. I met an Esther at the wedding last spring. Could this be the same person?”

My mouth had gone dry.

“Could be,” said Sid. “I mean Esther’s an engineer, but she doesn’t talk about her work.”

“Do you think she’d be willing to talk to us about it?” Leslie asked. “See, the thing is, everyone’s trying to get confirmation on this one, but the project is top secret, so the people on that end aren’t saying anything. They won’t even say if there is a satellite, let alone if any of those names on the list are legit.”

I sighed. “If it’s top secret, I can imagine they wouldn’t.”

“What makes you think the information is legit?” Sid asked.

Leslie shrugged. “There are just enough details. Like your friend Esther. If we could get her to talk on deep background, maybe we can blow this story wide open.”

Exactly what Sid and I did not want. I looked at Sid again.

“Okay,” said Sid. “I can see how this benefits you, but how does this help us?”

“You’re long lead. You can do the deep background on the story, maybe get it in Vanity Fair or one of the other big magazines. Me, I’m broadcast, so it’s no competition.” Leslie grinned. “If I can pull this one off, it will really make me look good to my new bosses.”

“You’re leaving Denver?” I asked. “You just got that on-camera gig last fall.”

Leslie laughed. “I start Monday at a network owned and operated affiliate, and it’s on camera. The hours are going to bite, but it’s L.A.”

I yelped happily. “You got it! Oh, my god, Leslie, that’s wonderful!”

“Yeah. Next stop, anchorwoman.” Leslie shuddered with joy. “Well, that’s probably going to take a few years. But believe me, getting into the Los Angeles market is everything. Only thing better would be New York, and I do not want to go anywhere it snows anymore.” She giggled. “Tahoe is bad enough. Denver is just as bad, and I’ve been there four years.”

I sighed. “The only problem is I can’t help you with Esther. She’s not going to talk about her work. I’m as close as anyone is, and she tells me things she doesn’t even tell her family. But she does not talk about what she’s working on.”

Leslie shrugged. “I kinda figured. Those folks don’t get their kind of clearances if they get chatty about their work.”

“Do you have a place to stay yet?” I asked.

“Corporate housing near the station for at least a month.” Leslie shrugged. “They don’t pay much, so I’ll have to look around a lot.”

“Probably the Valley,” I said, glancing over at Sid.

“One of the producers was saying she could use a roommate,” Leslie said. “We’ll see.”

The conversation meandered elsewhere from there. Sid did offer to introduce Leslie to our friend Henry James, who was in the process of retiring, but was the public information officer for the Los Angeles office of the FBI. It was quite late when Sid and I started back to my parents’ place.

“You okay?” I asked Sid as we pulled out of the parking lot.

He shrugged. “Well, it must be that leak we heard about. Kind of a strange way to go about it.”

“You mean releasing it to the press?”

“No. That they released the names of those engineers. And that Esther’s on the list is going to make things really interesting for us.”

“Oh, boy, will it.” I frowned. “Leslie said that it was an anti-nuke group protesting it.”

“That’s also an interesting twist. Is it even possible to arm a satellite?”

“I have no idea.”

Sid sighed. “I guess we’re going to find out soon enough.”

The next morning, Nick was bouncing off the walls from three days of being spoiled rotten by my parents and grandmother. He was also eating an unusually large amount, finishing a second box of cereal.

“I’m hungry,” he said when Sid asked him.

“He’s a growing boy,” Grandma said. “I remember when Steven and Leonard turned thirteen. Both of them ate me out of house and home, they did.”

Given that both my uncles were portly men, I doubt that made Sid feel any better. At the same time, I had a feeling that Grandma was right. My sister Mae had complained to me the week before that her son Darby’s appetite had gotten exceptionally heavy, which she said was a sure sign of a growth spurt. Given that Darby was just a couple months younger than Nick, the odds were looking good that Nick was about to shoot up a little. The top of his head was already even with Sid’s shoulder.

Sid pulled his son into the back of the house to finish packing for the flight home that afternoon. Grandma followed me into the living room, then held me back.

She looked at me critically. “How is it you’re not pregnant yet?”

“One of those things, I guess.” I smiled weakly. “I’m not doing anything to prevent it.”

“Well, I certainly hope not!” She looked me over again.

“You know, Grandma. We’ve barely been married four months. The doctors say that it can take up to six months to a year to get pregnant. In fact, I read somewhere they won’t even talk to you about it unless it’s been a year.”

“Hm. Maybe I better mix something up for you.”

My heart stopped, but I smiled anyway. “Can we see what happens in the next few months first? After all, the problem could be on Sid’s end and until we know that for sure, we don’t want to hurt his feelings, do we?”

“No. I suppose we don’t. But I’m not getting any younger, and I want to see your children. They’re gonna be so pretty and you deserve that.”

I bent over and kissed her cheek. “Thank you, Grandma.”

What Grandma didn’t know, or maybe she did and didn’t understand, was that the problem was on Sid’s end. He’d gotten a vasectomy when he was in his early twenties. Between how long it had been and a few different bouts with social diseases, the doctors had said a reversal would be impossible.

I was still a little shaky by the time I got back to my old bedroom, where Sid and I had been staying. Nick had already bounded off somewhere else. I’d seen him run past.

Sid took one look at me and sighed.

“Did your grandmother give you trouble about no babies?”

I sat down on the bed. “Worse. She’s thinking about mixing something up for me.”

“Any harm in that?”

My face went pale. “What if it works?”

Sid looked at me, grinning. “Are you trying to tell me you’re sleeping with somebody else?”

“No way!” I laughed. “I’m tired enough.”

He laughed, too. “Well, that’s one more good thing about all our activity. So, how is one of your grandma’s elixirs going to reverse a vasectomy?”

“I have no idea. But it’s my grandma. She’s really good that way, as you well know.”

“True.” Sid looked at me again. “And you’re worried that it will work.”

“So?” I got up and started checking our bags and the rest of the room.

“What happened to wanting a baby?”

I stopped. “You’re right.”

I frowned, trying to parse out my feelings. I had been having a tough time when someone around me got pregnant, feeling a deep ache that I would never be able to get pregnant myself. Suddenly, though, the mere thought that getting pregnant might be possible after all, that had terrified me.

“I don’t get it.” I sniffed. “It’s both. I want your baby, but I don’t want to have a baby. What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing.” Sid pulled me into his arms. “Maybe it’s wanting what you can’t have even if you really don’t want it that much.”

“How capricious.” I made a face.

“And adorable, if occasionally inconvenient.”

“Maybe it is both, though, wanting a baby and not wanting one.” I shrugged.

“Sweetie, it’s been barely four months. We’ve got plenty of time to figure this one out. And apart from your grandmother, no one is going to question us waiting until we’ve been married a year, at least.”

Which was true. And not only that, it wasn’t anybody’s business, including my grandmother’s. I snuggled into Sid’s embrace. It wasn’t easy bucking expectations, but it was easier from his arms.

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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