Skip to content
Home » Blogs » These Hallowed Halls – Chapter Nine

These Hallowed Halls – Chapter Nine

Blog banner for These Hallowed Halls

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.

Date header: October 8, 1984

“Okay, everyone,” I told Basic Comp A near the end of the period the following Monday. “Today’s assignment is to put each of this week’s spelling words into a different grammatically correct sentence. Don’t forget, your midterm is on Friday. If you have been doing your homework, you should have no problem with it. Finally, you may want to review all the spelling words we’ve had so far this quarter. I’ve got a little surprise for you on Wednesday.”

Pull quote from fiction serial These Hallowed Halls: What I usually got into trouble for.

“Dr. Mayfield?” Jason’s hand went up in the air. “Why do you want us to memorize so many spelling words? We can just look things up in the dictionary.”

“And they always tell you to look it up in the dictionary,” Sherry Van Wettering added. “If you don’t know how to spell, how are you going to find it?”

“That’s why we memorize so many spelling words,” I said. “The dictionary should only be a backup. If you have good spelling skills, you’ll have an idea of where to look for a word you’re unsure of. If you’re using the dictionary as a crutch, you’re wasting a lot of time. You’ll get a lot more sleep the night before the term paper is due if you don’t have to stop every five seconds to look something up. Oh, and one more thing, just so you’re thinking about it, a week from this Friday, your assignment will be a piece of creative writing. It can be a short story, poetry, anything you like on a topic of your choice.”

“How about a scene?” Jason asked.

“As long as you write it, sure.” I looked around. “Are there any more questions? No? Then I’ll see you all on Wednesday.”

Ed Donaldson stayed behind as the others left, then yawned and stretched once we were alone.

“Beard still bothering you?” I asked.

“Itches like hell,” he said. “It will be the first thing to go once I get home.”

I smiled. “I kind of like it.”

He just looked at me.

“Okay, I like your dimple better.”

He grunted, then looked at me. “I didn’t get a chance to get to Office Hours last night. Did Hannaford cough up a report?”

“Yeah. I’m looking it over, but it seems that Haver’s story checks out. He not only got her academic record, he pulled the divorce records, and he somehow got a copy of her driver’s license history.”

Sid’s eyebrow lifted. “Impressive. He’s been surprisingly good at the tailing thing. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s like he just fades away and disappears.”

“Maybe there’s hope for him.”

Sid smiled. “We’ll see.”

“So, how are your classes going?” I sat down next to him.

“Going.” He made a face. “Piano is hell. Reinhold keeps telling me I don’t practice enough, and I’m already practicing more than the two hours a day he requires. Communications is okay. Calculus is okay, just a lot of work. Theory is scraping the pits, though. I like theory, but Deutsch is possibly the most boring human being alive. He talks in this soft, low-pitch drone, and the class is right after lunch, and I’m having a hell of a time just staying awake.”

“You could try sleeping at night,” I said with a giggle.

He rolled his eyes. “I mostly do.”

“Things not going well in that department?” I watched him carefully.

“It’s going well enough.” He smirked.

“Then if your sex life is in order, then why are you so down?”

He looked away. “I miss you.”

My breath caught. “Yeah. I miss you, too.” I swallowed and got up. “Listen, um, I’m supposed to have dinner tonight with two of the other Humanities professors, and our department chair just made a big speech about reaching out and building relationships with the Second Career students.”

“Gee, I wonder why. Could it be that most of us have money?”

I put my hand to my chest. “Could it really?” We both laughed. “Anyway, why don’t you meet us at Barb’s Diner? I’m sure I can talk them into letting you join us. Fran is already a fan of yours.”

“Fran? Dr. Mercer?” Sid chuckled.

“Yep. Steve said he might come by, too.”

“How did that go Friday?”

“It didn’t.” I shrugged. “Steve got a message that another print run was due, and he stayed in his office all night. He can see the computer center printer from there, apparently. And he wasn’t at Office Hours on Sunday. I think he took the run directly to Chicago, himself.”

“Yeah. Now that you mention it, I was wondering where his car was the past few days.”

“He’s back now, thank God. Another reason for you to come to dinner.”

Sid chuckled. “Enough with the arm twisting. I’ll be there.”

I told him what time, and he slowly got up and left the classroom.

Fran drove me and Eunice to Barbs’ directly from Lawrence Hall. It was raining again, and temperatures were dropping into the low fifties. In the back seat of the car, I snuggled into my favorite Shetland wool sweater. Back home, I didn’t get to wear it too often because it was so warm and while the weather in Los Angeles can get chilly, the sweater was made for snow.

Ed Donaldson (aka Sid) showed up at the diner just after us.

“Hi, Dr. Mercer, Dr. Mayfield,” he said, his blue eyes glittering with a less than innocent gleam. “What brings you here?”

“We’re having dinner with Dr. Blakely,” Fran said, smiling back. “Eunice, this is Ed Donaldson. I have him in one of my intro sections, and, Janet, he’s in one of your classes, too, isn’t he?”

“Basic Comp 11,” I said.

Eunice gave Ed the sort of appraising look that would have quailed a lesser man.

“Good to meet you, Dr. Blakely,” Ed stuck his hand out and she took it.

“Good to meet you, Ed.”

Fran smiled. “Ladies, would you like to have Ed join us, if he’s free?”

“I don’t mind,” I said. “Eunice?”

“Oh, I think that might be nice,” Eunice said, although her eyes looked Ed over again as if she wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep up.

Ed smiled. “I’d love to join you. Thanks for the invite.”

We had just gotten seated in a booth near the back when Steve Carmona walked in and waved at us.

“Steve, why don’t you join us?” Eunice called. “We’re having dinner.”

“Sounds good,” he said as he made his way around the other tables.

Fran re-introduced Ed, then laughed when Steve pointed out that Ed had the apartment above his.

We ordered, then Eunice zeroed in on Ed.

“You’re obviously a Second Career student,” she said. “What’s your first career?”

“Real estate,” said Sid. “I started out as a broker’s assistant, then worked my way up to sales.”

“Am I to guess you got drafted and that’s why you didn’t get your education earlier?”

Ed cleared his throat as I held my breath.

“Yeah. I did.” He was telling the truth.

“‘Nam?”

“Yeah. I don’t talk about it, though.”

“Understandably.” Eunice gave him an odd, penetrating look. “At least, my brother was able to finish his education. But they caught him once his deferment was up and sent him out.”

“Did he come back?” Steve asked casually.

“Not in any meaningful way,” Eunice said.

“I knew a few guys that happened to,” Ed said, which surprised me.

“Have you heard from him lately?” Fran asked, reaching over and holding Eunice’s hand.

“No. He left the latest home a couple months ago. We don’t know where he is.” She sighed. “And Mother was so glad that he didn’t come home in a box.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve said. “I shouldn’t have asked. So many of my friends, you know.”

“You didn’t go?” Fran asked.

“I was four-F.” Steve pointed to his shoulders. “Scoliosis.”

Given that I’d seen him more than once standing perfectly straight, I wondered how true that was.

“Well, hardly the sort of conversation to induce relaxation,” Eunice said suddenly. She chuckled. “But more interesting than university politics.”

We laughed at that. Our dinners arrived and we managed to talk about everything but university politics. Eunice talked to Ed about real estate. Ed held his own in the conversation, which didn’t surprise me because he is interested in the subject. Nor, really, was I surprised that Eunice was knowledgeable about the subject. I was beginning to see that her interests ran far and wide.

I wasn’t quite finished eating when Fran and Eunice decided to head back to the university.

“I can give Janet a ride back,” Steve told them.

“Great. Thanks, Steve,” Fran said.

“Fran, before you go,” I said. “Can I use your computer tonight? I’d like to get some grades entered.”

“No problem. I’ll leave the key in your box. Please put it back in mine.”

“Will do.”

Eunice got up and looked piercingly at Steve. “Steve, do you think you can find a way to get Janet a computer and hook it up to the university system? It’s ridiculous that she should have to bother Fran all the time.”

“It’s no trouble,” Fran said as she scooted herself out of the booth. “It really isn’t, Janet.”

“I’ll see what I can do, Eunice,” Steve said with a chuckle.

We watched them go.

“You know, it would be pretty easy to wire your office,” Steve said.

“Any reason you shouldn’t?” I asked.

“I hear Joe Cunningham is balking on it.”

I laughed. “As if I cared about Joe Cunningham.”

Sid/Ed shifted. “Using your colleagues’ computers, though, does give you a good excuse to get inside their offices.”

“Only Fran’s,” I said. “Frankly, I’d love to do an end run around Cunningham. If you think you can, Steve, please feel free. Eunice will be thrilled.”

Steve winced. “About her.”

“What?” I asked.

“She’s been turning up in some pretty interesting places since last spring,” Steve said.

I groaned. “Not Eunice. I adore her.”

“I get it.” Steve waved his hand, then shook his head. “I like her, too, and I haven’t gotten anything solid on her. That story about her brother checks out.” He shrugged. “That’s one of the things I picked up in Chicago over the weekend. I’d ordered a dossier on her. No KGB connections of any kind. On paper, at any rate, she looks like what she is. But she’s been a little more interested in the university’s computer system lately than she has been before.”

“Why is that suspicious?” I asked. “If the formula is going out on paper, she’d have to be stealing it some other way, wouldn’t she?”

Steve frowned. “I don’t know. That’s what bugs me. The system is secure. We use passwords on everything. We’re not the Pentagon, for crying out loud. We’re an arts school. But it’s secure enough. The only reason we have computer science classes is that the university needs the computer system to function. So why not offer comp sci as an elective or a minor? Keeps the parents happy that their precious little darlings might have some usable skills after they leave here.”

Sid grinned. “It sounds as if you actually care about the students, Steve.”

“Oh, I do.” He sighed and leaned back in his seat. “If this case ever ends, I think I’m going to let my bosses know that I want to keep this cover and stick around. I really like it here. And I like what I’m doing.” He sat up. “However, I have noticed a certain John Timorivich hanging around a lot. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but when the print run came through Friday night, he didn’t even seem to notice it, and I was watching him.”

“Well, Hannaford and I have been running a loose tail on him every so often.” Ed scratched his beard. He glanced at me. “That’s where I was Sunday. It’s mostly to give Hannaford some practice.”

Steve nodded. “My god, he’s green, and cocky.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sid said. “But he’s not bad as a tail, I have to say. Sadly, we haven’t gotten anything on Timorivich.”

“Okay.” Steve glanced at me. “Janet, I just now thought, if we get you a wired computer, it will be easier to check the faculty bulletin board, and I can leave messages for you. I’ve got an even better idea. I’ll set up a bulletin board just for the three of us.”

“Will that be safe?” I asked.

“Sure. There are dozens of them on the system. I have students set them up as an assignment and usually forget to take them down.” Steve got up. “Come on. We’re all paid up. Why don’t we go do it now?”

“I have grades,” I said, getting up also.

“You can enter them later,” Steve said. “On your new computer. Let’s go.”

Sid followed us back to the campus in his car, and I rode with Steve.

“By the way,” I asked. “Why do you think the developer is in the music department?”

“Because that’s where Timorivich has been hanging out, mostly.” Steve kept his focus on the road because the rain was coming down hard. “Also, there’s Arlen Deutsch.”

“The theory teacher. Ed had some interesting words to say about him, but nothing related to the case.”

“The Monotone, himself.” Steve chuckled. “But he’s also one of those guys who’s seriously eclectic, kind of like Eunice is. He may seem pretty sleepy, but he’s one of the smartest men on campus.”

I sighed.

Steve glanced at me. “Look, I’m sorry about pointing the finger at Eunice.”

“Don’t be. You have to. I just hope it isn’t her.”

Sid was waiting for us outside the back entrance to Petrie Hall. The lights were on in the computer center because it was open until ten most nights. A student aid was snoring at a desk near the front of the room filled with rows of desks with wires sprouting out the backs of the carrels on top of the desks. The monitors on the putty-colored computers were all black, although Steve cursed when he saw one with a green cursor blinking. He switched the monitor off, snarled at the student aid and sent him home.

He beckoned Sid and me into the office at the back of the room. It wasn’t nearly as big as my office, and the walls were lightweight prefabricated panels, blue on the bottom and glass on the top. Steve settled into the chair behind the desk that was overflowing with green and white print out paper, books, his ashtray, stacks of dot-matrix paper, some that still had the tractor holes, some with the tractor holes torn off. The waste can next to the desk had fallen over and the strips of tractor holes that had been torn off spilled out.

“Sit down,” he gestured at the two chairs in front of the desk.

I coughed lightly and Steve, who had been reaching for his cigarettes, suddenly pulled his hand away from his chest pocket. I was glad. The place reeked of cigarette smoke. Sid noticed Steve’s hand and lifted an eyebrow.

It didn’t take long for Steve to get the bulletin board set up. Sid and I each selected a phony username and a real password. Steve’s username was MPWilkins. Several minutes later, we were ready to go. Steve said that he had to wait to lock up and asked Sid to walk me back to Lawrence Hall.

“You can just go home if you want,” I told him, crossly.

The rain had stopped, but Sid had his umbrella ready.

“No point,” he said.

“You know how I feel about being protected.”

“I do, indeed, and I know how well you can handle it if there is trouble. However, I think this time let’s just call it maintaining appearances.”

I sighed. “Fair enough.”

As we came up to Lawrence, I stepped sideways and looked up at the windows. Fran’s office lights were on, as were Max’s, Ernie’s, and I thought it was Carson Osgood’s office at the end on the third floor, but it could have belonged to Perry Addington, the second psych teacher. Either way, the lights were on.

“I’ve got to go upstairs to Fran’s office,” I told Sid as I unlocked the front door to the hall. “If she’s there, she’s probably expecting me. But if she isn’t, we can hang out together for a little bit.”

I got the key from her mailbox, just in case she was in. I didn’t really need it. Sid followed me silently up the stairs to the third floor. I knocked first and got no answer. I opened the door. Fran was long gone and had left her lights on again.

“You sure she’s not coming back?” Sid asked as I ushered him inside and shut the door.

“Her purse, her briefcase and her coat are all gone. And she didn’t have her briefcase when we left for dinner, so I’m fairly sure she won’t.” I slid into the chair behind her desk and flipped on the computer. “So, what do you think?”

“Nothing to think about. That bulletin board should come in handy, though.” He settled his seat on the desk next to me.

“Yeah. I think I’m going to log in,” I said.

I did. Steve had already left a short note. I replied, then exited the bulletin board. I looked at the computer.

“You want to try?” I asked, getting up.

“That’s actually a good idea,” Sid slid into the chair.

“I’ll start searching,” I said, going to the bookshelf.

I heard Sid’s fingers clicking the keys.

“It’s not coming up,” he said.

“What do you mean? I just opened it myself a few minutes ago.” I came around to the desk and looked over his shoulder.

“It keeps saying there’s no Catalog84.” He pointed to the spot where he’d entered the name of the bulletin board.

I sighed. “That’s because catalog is spelled C-A-T-A, not U.”

“Oh.”

I went back to searching. “You’d better brush up by Wednesday.”

“So, what is your little surprise, anyway?”

“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

I looked back at him reading the screen. He nodded, then his fingers rattled across the keys at lightning speed.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said.

“Sure.” He looked up at me.

“Why did you hire me to do your typing when you can type faster than I can?”

“Because I hate re-typing something I’ve handwritten.”

“Oh.” I went back to looking through books. “Did you learn to type in college?”

“Nope. ‘Nam.”

I looked at him and waited.

He took a deep breath. “I taught myself how to type because I wanted off the lines. I was supposedly there to spy on my fellow soldiers, but there really wasn’t anything going on that way. So, when a clerking position came up in Saigon, I and pretty much the rest of my unit all said we could type. They knew we were all lying, but I did sneak into the unit office and taught myself how to type in two evenings. I was the only one who passed the typing test, then passed it again later against all the other unit guys. They had to give me the job whether they wanted to or not. Colonel Landry, the SOB who got me into intelligence, was furious, but there wasn’t anything he could do.”

“Why did they get you into intelligence in the first place”

Sid chuckled. “What I usually got into trouble for. The base commander in boot camp had an eighteen-year-old daughter and we got caught. Colonel Landry made a deal with the commander and I accepted it. It was a good thing for Landry that I was hung over when he told me I’d been transferred to Quickline.” Sid looked at me. “I’d just gotten discharged and when I got home, I spent three solid days drinking. Then Landry showed.”

“You don’t normally talk about this stuff.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should.” He looked at the keyboard. “It may have been Dr. Blakely tonight. Or just the way I’ve been feeling being here. It’s a lot like when I started Stanford. Thanks to the war, I was light years older than people my own age and starting school with kids who were already years younger than I was. Being around here reminds me of that lost feeling I had.” He looked up at me. “One of the reasons I don’t like talking about those years.”

“I can imagine.” I set a book back in its place and went over to him.

He took my hand. “I don’t want you to misunderstand. I’ve always appreciated the way you listen to me. But the big reason I don’t talk about the war is that most people don’t really understand what I went through, what all of us went through. You, on the other hand, have been through enough to maybe have an idea. That’s why, after you shot that man last summer, I was there for the nightmares.”

“You’d had them too.”

He nodded. “Still do, sometimes. Anyway, it’s getting late. Have you found anything?”

“Not yet. I did go through the desk the other night and there wasn’t anything there.” Well, I had found a few condoms, but didn’t see any reason to mention those.

“Why don’t we take off then? I should probably walk you to your car. Gives me a reason to be here in the first place.”

I sighed. “Okay. Let me get Fran’s key.”

But before we left the office, Sid stopped me. He held me for a minute, then dipped his head and softly, gently, kissed my mouth.

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: