Welcome to my latest fiction serial These Hallowed Halls. It’s the sixth in the Operation Quickline series featuring Sid Hackbirn and Lisa Wycherly as counter-espionage agents who have a thing for each other if only they can make their divergent values work out. When we last left them in Sad Lisa, their relationship was at an impasse. Now, they’ve been split up to go undercover at a small arts college in Wisconsin. To start from the beginning, you can click here. Or you can click on the archives here.
It was odd how it felt like life had settled into a routine even by the third week of classes. I managed to keep up with grading papers, getting workouts in, and morning running. We had two more faculty meetings, filled with reminders to turn out the lights in our offices when we left, not to move desks around in the classrooms, and getting our grades into the computer system every week.
“It would be a lot easier for Janet to do it if she actually had a computer in her office,” Eunice told Mrs. Spinetti the morning of the third Tuesday.
The secretary sighed. “There isn’t anything I can do, and you know it. Janet, please remember to keep track of how many copies you’re making.”
“Just sixteen of them, I promise,” I replied.
Eunice looked over my shoulder. “You wouldn’t have time before class for a quick walk to the Commons, would you? I could use a cup of coffee before facing the students.”
“I think so.” I checked my watch. “Yep. Thanks, Mrs. Spinetti.”
We walked outside the building as I stuffed the copies into my purse. The morning was gray, but crisp with the early autumn chill. The leaves on the trees danced in the light breeze, and one yellow leaf wafted away, a harbinger of what was coming.
“So, how have your classes been?” Eunice asked as we made our way across the lawn.
“Pretty good so far. Yours?”
“The usual.” Eunice pulled her cardigan more tightly around her body. “I’ve got a few students showing some signs of life, but most of them are just putting in the time.”
We nattered on, the subject drifting into campus politics and the ongoing perfidy of Joe Cunningham.
Ernie Lavalle was waiting in line for coffee as we walked up. His smile took on a lascivious twist when he saw me.
“Janet, it’s so good to see you.” He stepped much too closely to me. “What did you think of the faculty meeting yesterday? I think it’s truly appalling that we shouldn’t be able to get student workers to enter our grades, don’t you?”
I stepped away. “I suppose.”
Eunice glared at him as the three of us walked back to Lawrence Hall.
“Why don’t you send him on his way?” she asked me as I emptied my faculty mailbox.
“I have,” I said. “He hasn’t gotten the message.”
“Ernie’s not usually that persistent.”
“That’s interesting.” I looked over a note from Steve Carmona, inviting me to dinner that Friday night, then checked my watch. “Shavings. I’d better get running.”
I probably should have been bracing myself for the Shakespeare Seminar. Marge Haver had already freaked Rick Waters out with her assertion that Coriolanus should have ended two acts before it did, while there was still some sympathy for the title character.
“And the resolution is a joke!” she’d proclaimed the week before. “How could anybody possibly believe it when Aufidius, after he has gotten the conspirators into a murderous frenzy, suddenly turns around and less than two speeches later, says, ‘Gee, I’m sorry, he was an okay dude after all.’ It doesn’t work!”
Rick worshiped Shakespeare and was convinced that the Bard could do no wrong. Every time Marge made a point with her more, shall we say, realistic take, he looked like he was going to cry.
That Tuesday, I was about to pour gasoline on the fire.
As the class settled, I handed out the copies I’d made.
“How many of you are familiar with Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives?” I asked.
“What’s Plutarch’s Parallel Lives?” Linda Powell asked. She, too, was a theater student, and while a junior at the university, she was able to stand up to Marge.
“The Parallel Lives are a series of biographies written in ancient times of Greek and Roman heroes,” I explained. “Plutarch matched a Greek and a Roman, contrasting and comparing their characters as people. In 1579, Thomas North translated the biographies, and it was a pretty popular work. One guy we know really liked it.”
Jeff Lindsay, another acting student, grinned. “William Shakespeare.”
“Right. And one of the biographies in Plutarch is Marcus Coriolanus. What you have in front of you are sections of North’s translation of that chapter. On the other page are speeches from the play. I’d like you to compare the cuts from the chapter to the speeches.”
There was a short silence, then Marge screeched with laughter.
“Hot damn! Shakespeare just put this whole speech into blank verse. It’s almost word for word.”
Rick sighed deeply but had to admit that The Greatest Dramatist of All Time was a plagiarist. I did explain that copyright and literary ownership were unheard of in Shakespeare’s time and what the Bard did was, in fact, quite common. From there, the discussion covered what made Shakespeare so great. I couldn’t help smiling. Even Rick was thinking.
As the students left, Kathy slid up to my desk.
“Good one, professor,” she said, laughing. “I had no idea about that translation.”
“I appreciate the compliment.” I focused on gathering my notes together.
Kathy looked around and sighed. “Has Tim come in with anything on Marge?”
“Hasn’t said a word.” I looked at her. “Why?”
“No reason. But you asked him to check her out two Sundays ago and we’ve gotten bupkes. I know we’ve had to focus on establishing our covers, but still.”
“I know. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”
“He is going to be trouble.”
“He’s just green.”
“Like we need that.” Kathy snorted. “Oh, and you know that one KGB suspect that’s a janitor here?”
I stuffed my papers into my purse. “Yeah. John Timorivich, right?”
“Yeah. Every time I go by the computer center, it seems like he’s hanging around.”
The next day, Basic Comp A was as challenging as usual. A debate broke out over Sherry Van Wettering’s term paper topic, which was looking at chauvinistic male attitudes toward women as exemplified by the mini skirt. Ed, curiously, stood with the boys in the class, pointing out that most women didn’t have the legs to wear them, only to be bombarded by young women exclaiming that was exactly what being chauvinistic was.
“Enough, please!” I finally broke in. “Sherry, I think you’ve certainly have chosen something controversial. Do you think you can get at least ten sources to support your thesis?”
She frowned. “I think so.”
“Why don’t you give it a shot? Who else has a subject to share?”
Ed left with the rest of the class, and with a short sigh, I went back to my office, got my sandwich, and went to the Faculty Dining Room to eat and relax for a few minutes before my next Basic Comp class. Wouldn’t you know, Ernie Lavalle was not only in the Dining Room, he also made a point of standing far too close to me in line for the small lunch.
“Ernie, I’m not interested,” I told him firmly even as he began to speak. “Back off. Please.”
Ernie swallowed and stepped back. I took my tray and looked around the room. Lester Zaner waved at me from a table not far away. He had dark brown hair with a nice face and glasses. I had to admit, he was one of the better-looking men in the Humanities department. We both watched as Ernie took his tray out of the dining room, and, presumably, back to Lawrence.
“Did I just see you give Ernie the sendoff?” Lester asked with a grin.
“I hope so.” I sat down. “Maybe this time it will take.”
“That’s strange,” Lester said. “Ernie isn’t usually that persistent.” He stopped and flushed. “I don’t mean to imply that you’re not attractive.”
“No. I get it. Even if I was a raving beauty guys like Ernie give up sooner or later.”
“Well, I hope it’s sooner for your sake.” Lester looked down at his plate. “Maybe if you gave him some competition. You’re not dating anyone, are you?”
“No, but mostly because I don’t want to be right now.” I unwrapped the sandwich I’d brought from home and bit into it.
“Oh? Why’s that?” Lester’s eyebrows rose, then fell. “I do apologize. I shouldn’t ask such a personal question.”
I smiled. “It’s all right. Let’s just say I’m not ready to get out there again.”
“Ah. Well, when you are, feel free to let me know. Marianne and I would love to have you over for dinner, and we do know some really nice single men from our church.”
I knew I should accept the invitation. It would give me a chance to check out the Zaners firsthand.
“Thanks, Lester,” I said, finally. “It’s sweet of you to offer. But I really don’t feel like dating right now.”
Still, when I got back to my office, there was Steve’s note on my desk. I pushed it aside and got my notes together for Basic Comp B.
The class was barely interesting. Tim Hannaford livened things up a little with his term paper topic: Nudity in Art.
“Just remember you need ten academic sources,” I told him. “And it will make life a lot easier if you have a thesis for your paper.”
I held Tim back as the rest of the class left.
“Believe it or not, I’ve done the paper before,” Tim said with a smirk.
“Actually, I do believe you.” I double checked the open door and lowered my voice. “You got an assignment two Sundays ago. Have you found anything?”
He shrugged. “She’s clean.”
“And you’re basing that assessment on what? Field reports? Continual surveillance?”
“Just a feeling I get.”
“Feelings can get you dead.”
“I got good instincts.”
“Instincts are good. But you need to back them up. I’m not seeing that here.” I glared at him.
Tim swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I want a full report on Haver on Sunday.”
He left and I shook my head at his attitude. Still steaming, I went back to my office for another round of grading papers. I finished around four, then decided to head over to the sports club and bat a racquetball around. At the courts, Sid saw me and waved.
“Hi, Ed,” I said, walking over.
I shrugged. “Sure.”
Once inside, however, I asked Sid if we could just bat the ball around.
“Why not?” Sid bounced a ball onto the floor, then grinned at me with a mischievous twinkle. “It’s the only chance you’ll get to serve.”
“I thought so.”
We played hard, nonetheless. Every so often, Sid would send the ball whizzing around the court at bullet speed while I cowered.
“Come on,” he teased. “If you’d face it head on, you might get a point.”
I glowered at him, but served, then braced myself. Sure enough, the ball came right at me at full speed and hit me in the arm.
“Ow!” I yelped.
“Sorry.” He wasn’t.
I looked at the bright red welt on my bicep. “See, this is why I cower. It’s easier not to get hit.”
He looked a little abashed. “I suppose.”
I couldn’t help smiling at him. “You got anything?”
“No.” He made a face.
“I might have a couple things for you.” Still breathing heavily, I leaned against the wall. “I had to give Tim a bit of a dressing down today. He eliminated Marge Haver simply based on instinct.”
Sid wiped his forehead with the hem of his muscle shirt. “That kid is going to be a liability.”
“He’s just green.”
“Yeah, and this is not the sort of job to cut your teeth on.”
“I know, but he’s what we’ve got.” I blew out a breath. “Why don’t we try finding a way to mentor him? I know. Kathy told me she’s seen our suspect janitor, Timorivich, hanging around the computer center a lot. Why don’t you and Tim team up and tail him here and there? Obviously, you can’t follow too closely, but there is a chance you might catch something.”
Sid grimaced. “It does not sound like a lot of fun, but you’ve got a point. All right.”
“Also, please keep an eye out for Dr. Ernie Lavalle. He’s five-ten, bad dye job on the hair, glasses. I’ve been told by two different people that he’s being unusually persistent in his pursuit of me.”
“Not to imply that you do not warrant the interest, but that is curious.”
“I’ve told him flat out that I’m not interested. I don’t know what it’s going to take.”
Sid shrugged. “Well, self-defense classes are all the rage these days. You can always break his fingers.”
He bounced the ball on the floor with his racket. From the grim set of his mouth, I almost believed he wanted to break Ernie’s fingers, himself. [I would have settled for fingers, but his nose and a few other parts of his anatomy would have been better. – SEH]
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, rolling my shoulders. “And I’ll see if Steve has anything for me Friday night.”
“He invited me out to dinner.”
“Oh. Good.” Sid smiled at me. “Are you going to go?”
“I kind of have to, given the case.” I fidgeted with my racket.
“Why don’t you want to go?”
“Oh, I just don’t want to date right now.”
“It’s just going out, having a little fun. It’d probably do you some good.”
“Possibly.” I looked at him. “Probably.” I grimaced. “But you know how these things usually end up. At some point, he’s going to want sex, and I just don’t want to.”
“You don’t want to? Huh.” Sid looked away.
“Kind of an issue? Remember?”
“I think I do.” He grabbed the racquetball and tossed it at me. “Come on. Let’s play.”
[It wasn’t that you didn’t want to have sex with Steve. That was a gimme. It’s that you’d never phrased it in quite that way. Always before, you didn’t want to because of your religious beliefs. This time, it was that you simply didn’t want to. I probably shouldn’t have, but I found that incredibly encouraging. – SEH]
After playing, I showered, got some dinner, and headed back to my office to finish typing up the exam on Coriolanus for my Shakespeare seminar the next day. As I got to the head of the stairs, I could have sworn I saw Ted Curtis coming out of my office. I pulled back and waited to see if it was him (it was), and what he’d do next. He glanced back my way, but I don’t think he saw me because he turned back toward his office. I went the rest of the way up.
“Hey, Ted,” I called.
He jumped, then turned. “Oh. Hey, Janet. You startled me.”
“Sorry about that.” I smiled. “Say, you got a second?”
“Sure. What can I do you for?”
“I’ve got a student doing a term paper on the impact of male chauvinism on fashion.”
“Ah. The rise and fall of the hemline.” Ted laughed. “You have Sherry Van Wettering, too?”
“Another student doing double duty with the same term paper.”
Ted laughed again. “Can you blame them?”
“Not entirely,” I said, smiling. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t done the same. “Anyway, I’m requiring ten different sources. If she comes up short, I was hoping you’d have some to suggest.”
“I might, but I don’t have a minimum requirement on sources. I’m looking at the quality of the sources and what the student pulls from them.” He thought a second. “Eunice might be able to help you, though. She’s into that whole feminist thing.”
“That’s right.” I ignored the dig at feminism. “Thanks for the idea.”
I watched as he unlocked his office door and went in. While shifting my purse and my dinner around in my hands, I looked at my doorknob. There were no obvious traces of someone breaking in, but that didn’t mean Ted hadn’t.
I hadn’t put any trip wires on my office because I didn’t want to chance anyone finding them. My apartment was different in that I needed at least one place I could count on to be safe and it was relatively private. But the office was in far too public a place and I didn’t want to risk it.
I looked around the office. Nothing had been disturbed. I could tell.
How do I explain this? It’s like being followed. If you’re not expecting anybody to tail you, chances are you will not notice it if anyone with some skill does. On the other hand, if you’re expecting the tail and are looking for it, it’s going to take a highly trained crew of people to have a hope in Heaven of successfully following you.
The same with searches. A decent professional can search a place in a remarkably short time but cannot possibly do it without leaving something not quite in the same place it was. If you’re not expecting someone to search your home or office, you probably would not notice. If you’re expecting it, you’ll spot the search immediately. I always laugh when I read a book or see a film where somebody leaves a hair or a thread in such and such a place, so they’ll know the place has been searched or not. Trust me. You don’t need a hair.
So, assuming that Ted had been in my office, even if he were a spy and using his soft appearance and jovial attitude as his cover, he would have left traces that I would have seen. My gut instinct said that Ted had been in there, though how he’d gotten in and why he hadn’t searched anything was beyond me. But, as I told Tim, I needed something more certain to back that feeling up.
I put Ted out of my mind and focused on questions about Coriolanus.
The good thing about exam days was that my Shakespeare class that Thursday ended up getting out early. As each class member dropped the exam on my desk, I looked the papers over and went back to picking spelling words for the Basic Comp quiz and refining my notes on Julius Caesar. By the time Jeff Lindsay finally finished his exam, there were still forty minutes left in the two-hour class period.
From force of habit, as I started out of the classroom, I glanced out the doorway at the hallway, expecting it to be empty. What I saw was Fred Wirth, the other political science professor and proud grandpa, slipping furtively down the stairway. I followed. Even though he could have easily gone past the department office without anyone questioning it, he paused to peek in and make sure that Mrs. Spinetti was fully occupied before slipping past the open door. I continued behind him out of the building to the faculty parking lot. Given how late I’d been staying most days, I’d gotten into the habit of driving to the campus. Besides, it had rained that morning.
I followed along, as if I was headed for my car, myself, pretending to be absorbed in a paper in my hand. Fred rushed to his car, not noticing me at all, and took off. I tailed him to the outskirts of town. Less than an hour later, I returned to my office feeling as though I needed a shower and certain that Fred was not the big family man he made himself out to be.
Admittedly, Sid and I had gotten somewhat intimate in various attempts to avoid capture, but not as intimate as Fred had gotten. Having an affair while claiming to be devoted to one’s wife was bad enough. The seedy motel where he was doing it was even worse. I did get a couple good looks at his paramour and didn’t recognize her. It was possible that Fred was still exchanging secrets with her, but I doubted it.
That night, just to be certain, I searched Fred’s office. I can’t say that what I found didn’t belong, but the collection of pornography and sex toys didn’t really fit in with Fred’s family-style image. I did check, and the nasty stuff didn’t appear to be hiding anything else.
As I locked Fred’s office, I noticed a light on in Max Beard’s office two doors down. I put my ear to the door, hoping he wasn’t still in there. Seconds later, I pulled away blushing. Max had come out of his own little world long enough to invade some other woman’s. I couldn’t tell who she was, but I heard her gasp Max’s name. There was no mistaking his happy groan, either. I prayed that I was not going to be doomed to perpetual voyeurism on this case.