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These Hallowed Halls – Chapter Ten

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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.

Title date: October 9 - 14, 1984

I wasn’t entirely sleepy and stupid the next morning, but I wasn’t all that chipper, and overslept on top of things. Fortunately, I had all the Shakespeare exams graded and with me, in fact, those were the grades I was going to enter the night before. I went straight to the Shakespeare Seminar from the parking lot, just barely registering that Steve Carmona was chatting with Mrs. Spinetti in the department office.

Pull quote from These Hallowed Halls: We ought to ship your ass back to Quantico

When class was over, I went to my office. Dennis White was inside, sitting at my desk and playing with a brand, spanking new computer sitting on my desk. He scrambled to his feet as he saw me.

“Hi, Dr. Mayfield. Your computer is all set up for you.” He smiled ingratiatingly at me.

“Thanks, Dennis.” I came over and looked at the screen. I wasn’t sure what the game was, but it didn’t matter. “That was fast.”

“Dr. Carmona asked me to come over first thing today. Along with Tad Murphy. He also said I should show you the hardware.”

“No problem, Dennis. I’ve worked on computers before, and I’ve been using Fran’s.”

“Yeah, but this one is a Macintosh.” And he launched into an extended speech on all the wonderful things this new machine could do, most of which went right past me. “See, here’s the mouse.”

He pointed out a small oval-shaped object that had a long wire attached to the machine. He moved it around, and the cursor on the screen moved with it. I smiled. Late the previous winter, Sid had accidentally killed my computer. My friend, Esther Nguyen, who is an electrical engineer, had seen to getting us new ones, and they had been the same model as the one that was now on my desk. I didn’t use the mouse much. I’d spent too much time learning the commands on the old computers.

“Can I get onto the university system with this?” I asked.

“Sure. We’ve got it all set up.” He launched into another speech, showing me what commands I needed to get the computer to log into the university’s system.

“But this office isn’t wired to the university system,” I said.

Dennis laughed. “Yeah, it was. They probably wired it up when they wired all the other offices. Tad and I found the wires in no time.”

“Oh, really.” I grinned, but there was part of me that felt nettled about it.

Still, that wasn’t fair to Dennis, who was still going on about the virtues of my new computer.

“You really seem to enjoy this,” I told him, after logging into my university account and logging out.

Dennis rolled his eyes. “I love computers. I always have. I wanted to go to Caltech or MIT.”

“Why didn’t you?”

He sighed. “My dad is an artist. I mean, he doesn’t mind that I like animation, but he totally does not get me liking computers. And he’s paying for this, so this is where I am. At least, I can get a minor in comp sci.”

“And there’s always graduate school,” I pointed out. “But you should be able to be able to get some sort of scholarship for that.”

Dennis grinned. “Thanks, Dr. Mayfield. That’s what Dr. Carmona says. I sure hope so.”

I couldn’t help smiling as Dennis left my office. He was a nice kid.

After that, it took me all of one minute to call Fran and Eunice and invite them both to my office at four-thirty that afternoon.

Fran appeared first outside my door.

“No,” I said. “I want both you and Eunice to see this together.”

Fran blinked and glared at me. “Honestly, Janet, what is so exciting?”

Eunice showed at that point, which saved me some explaining.

“I want you both to witness this,” I told them, then opened my office door and pointed to the desk. “Behold, Eunice has prevailed, and Steve Carmona has delivered.”

“A Macintosh,” Eunice gasped. “How did you rate a Macintosh when the rest of us are forced to deal with a Two-E?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “But I can’t say I’m not grateful. Here’s the kicker. You know how Joe has been going on about how we can’t afford to wire this office?”

Both Fran and Eunice nodded.

“I found out today that the office has been wired all along.” I told them. “In fact, it was probably wired to the university system at the same time all the other offices were.”

Eunice cursed Joe Cunningham out with an amazing combination of swear words.

“I’m not surprised,” Fran said. “The question now is what we do about it?”

“Don’t say anything!” Eunice snapped.

“I have to agree with Eunice,” I said. “This will be our secret. If either of you want to use it, I’m happy to let you.”

Eunice snorted. “I happen to have a Macintosh at home. Fran?”

The smaller woman sighed. “I really don’t care. My office computer works fine.” Fran looked at me. “But I have to say, it sure looks like Dr. Carmona really likes you.”

My heart stopped beating. That really hadn’t occurred to me, but once Fran had said so, I had to think about it. I didn’t want to. I did like Steve, but there was no question my heart was centered elsewhere. I couldn’t tell Eunice and Fran that, however.

“Whatever,” I said, then realized I’d used one of Sid’s token responses. I blushed.

That evening, I took advantage of the new computer and entered all my most recent grades into the university system. I didn’t think it was going to appease Joe Cunningham, assuming he heard about my new computer, but there was a definite moral victory in knowing that I was following his dictates.

As I looked around for something else to do, I marveled at how I’d been able to keep up on the grading. That had been a major challenge when I’d taught before. I looked at the clock and suddenly realized how I’d stayed caught up. I’d been working late almost every night so that I could search my colleagues’ offices.

Max Beard’s office was at the top of my search list because his was going to be the toughest to get to. The man worked insanely late hours, judging by how late his office lights were on.

That night, between correcting quizzes and checking note cards, I listened for movement in the hall. Max and I both had offices on the second floor of Lawrence Hall. Right before midnight, I heard a door closing and being locked, I peeked out my door. The light still shone underneath Max’s office door.

I slid down the hall and stood before Max’s office. The problem was I wasn’t entirely sure that it was Max that I had heard. Just my luck, one of the campus security guards happened to amble up at that moment.

“Something wrong, Dr. Mayfield?” he asked kindly.

“Um. Well. I was working late, and I heard somebody leave,” I said. “But then I saw that Dr. Beard’s light was still on. I was afraid that something was wrong.”

“I doubt it.” The guard rattled the door. “Dr. Beard?”

There was no answer. The guard pulled out a key chain loaded with keys. Somehow, he found the right one and opened the office door. The office was empty of life.

“I thought so,” said the guard, turning out the light. “Dr. Beard always forgets to turn off his lights.”

“Oh.” I made a face. “I didn’t think of that.”

“Well, it never hurts to check.” The guard smiled at me. “We had an old guy kick a few years back. He only had Tuesday Thursday classes. He died on a Thursday night and we didn’t find him until the next Tuesday.”

“Dr. Pendergast you mean.”

The guard grinned. “Yeah.”

“I’ve got his office.”

“Yeah, I know.” The guard laughed.

“Didn’t they smell anything?”

“Oh, yeah. But they thought it was a dead rat. We get those every now and then.”

“Charming,” I said.

“Are you ready to leave now?”

I sighed. “Yes. Do you mind if I get some paperwork from my office first?”

The guard was kind enough to walk me to my car. He was very nice and a complete nuisance. An observant security guard was the last thing I needed.

The next morning, the students in my Basic Comp A section were a touch livelier than normal. I wouldn’t call it excited, but they were curious, which I thought was a good sign.

“So, what’s the big surprise,” Jason de Boeur asked as I handed back quizzes and note cards.

“You’ll see. Mark Ayers, Leslie Whiting, Jason…”

I finished handing back papers and stood behind my desk.

“All right. In an effort to put a little life into our spelling drills, I have decided that today, we are going to regress into our childhoods and have an old-fashioned spelling bee.”

“I told you,” Sherry Van Wettering said to Jason.

Terry Michaels looked panicked and Ed Donaldson shifted in a way that should have told me something. The rest of reactions varied between moderate pleasure and looks that indicated that they were too old for spelling bees.

“I am changing the rules a little. Instead of this being an elimination competition, you’ll just go to the end of the line when you miss a word. If you spell it correctly, you get to keep your place in line. Now, everybody, line up against the walls.”

“Where’s the head of the line going to be?” Jason asked over the noise of nineteen students getting up.

“I’ll tell you when you get lined up.” I grinned. “Let’s make sure all the crib sheets are covered up.”

Someone booed. They settled into place, with Jason at one end. About a third of the way down the line, Ed, Sherry, and Terry, stood next to each other.

“Okay, Jason,” I said. “I guess I can let you be the head. I don’t know how else you’re going to get there.”

“Hey, I am going to stay.” Jason grinned.

“Right. Spell turkey.”


The class cheered and Jason held up his hands in triumph. When I got to Ed, I gave him the word catalog. He smiled, his bright blue eyes catching mine, then spelled the word correctly. I wasn’t cheating. I was giving everyone a word I knew they could spell for the first round.

Terry nearly choked when she got her word, but she finally got it out, and flushed with joy that she’d been able to overcome her shyness.

It was a fun class period. Even the students who’d thought they were too old had a good time. By the end of class, Terry was at the head of the line, Jason was in the middle, behind Ed who had survived Mississippi and psychology to bomb out on banana. Sherry spent most of her time at the end.

Ed took his time leaving.

“Have fun?” I asked him.

“Yeah.” He was a little surprised.

“You did pretty well.”

“Especially considering that I’d never done one before.”

“I had a feeling.” I smiled. Sid’s education before high school had been unorthodox. “Got anything for me?”


“See you Friday, then.”

“See you Friday.” Ed paused, then left the room.

I collected the homework papers together, then decided to grab something from the Commons and the snack from the Faculty Dining Room, then eat in my office. It was another thing we were not supposed to do but we all did anyway.

I was surprised to see Max in the Faculty Dining Room. Sitting very closely next to him was Dr. Ermengarde.

“My darling Max,” she said, her voice carrying through the room. “You know I only have your best interests at heart, and that is mystery meat. It is poison, and your body is a true temple.”

“Yes, Thalia,” Max said, smiling at her.

“You deserve better, my dearest.”

“We both do, darling.”

I got my sliver of meat loaf and left, wondering about the night I’d heard Max and some woman making love in his office. Max and Dr. Ermengarde weren’t acting like lovers, more like old, very comfortable friends. Although, I had heard that old friends often make the best lovers. It was hard to say what was going on, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know.

Thursday and Friday all three sections of Basic Comp were given over to the midterm. Friday afternoon, Steve invited me out to dinner. I thought it was about getting some information, but Steve told me he just wanted to have some fun. The nice thing was, we did, until he pulled his car up outside the house where Fran and I lived.

“Um,” Steve began slowly. “I’ve been getting some odd signals from you and Ed. It seems like you two have a thing for each other, but Ed was quite clear that you two are not a couple.”

“We’re just really good friends.” I said, my stomach turning over.

“That’s good to know. I was wondering how you dealt with all his running around.”

I bit my lip. “We’re not a couple. That’s how.” I opened the car door. “Anyway, thanks for dinner. I had a really nice time.”

I unlocked the front door, went in, locked the front door, and made my creaky way up the stairs. No vibrations in my pocket, the trip wires were sound.

It had been a nice time with Steve. I wasn’t sure if he’d bought my lie about how I was dealing with Sid’s extracurricular activities. It didn’t matter. If Steve was thinking about me as anything other than a colleague and friend, he was bound to be disappointed.

I spent the next day cleaning my apartment and grading papers. Sunday, I drove out of town, called Nick, but had to leave a message, then called Mae and let her talk for an extended time.

When it came time for Off Campus Office Hours, we had a good crowd from the A section of Basic Comp. Kathy Richards from the Shakespeare Seminar showed up with Marge Haver close behind. Sid/Ed was missing. Steve showed up as most of the kids left, except for Terry and Kathy. Marge winked at Steve, then took off, herself. That’s when Sid and Tim finally arrived.

The only good thing, for me, about dealing with Sid when he is really, really mad is that I usually am, too. Tim, on the other hand, was the focus of Sid’s wrath and not dealing well with it. Sid shoved Tim into a seat next to Steve.

“What’s going on?” asked Steve.

“This idiot!” Sid snapped, adding a nasty curse word between this and idiot. “He blew my cover.”

“What?” I asked amid the horrified chatter from Terry, Kathy, and Steve.

“He handled it okay,” Tim whined.

“We were tailing Timorivich,” Sid said.

“He’d made you, man,” Tim said.

“So what?” Sid glared at him. “You don’t go up to your partner and ask, ‘Why are you following that guy?’”

“You what?” Steve bellowed at Tim.

“He handled it!” Tim cried. “He said, ‘Following who?’ I knew he would.”

Steve cursed loudly.

“We ought to ship your ass back to Quantico,” Sid snarled.

“Hold on!” I almost yelled. “Kathy, that includes you.”

Kathy lowered the fist that had almost hit Tim.

“All right.” I took a deep breath. “Ed, you did handle it right. It’s possible that your cover isn’t blown. It doesn’t look good, but it’s possible. If we ship you out now, it for sure will be. We need to think about damage control.” I glared at Tim. “First things first. Tim, both you and Ed are not to do another thing related to the case. Ed, I’m sorry.”

Sid glared at Tim. “You have nothing to apologize for. You’re right. We’re both tainted now.”

“He’d been made,” Tim said again. “I had to do something.”

“No,” said Steve. “You should have hung back and let the more experienced agent handle it. We’ve all been made on tails. It’s one of those things that happens. That doesn’t mean our covers get blown.”

Sid put his face really close to Tim’s. “I have never blown my cover in my life. Never, do you understand? I am alive now because I have never blown my cover or had it blown. You have not only put this entire case in jeopardy, you have put me in the KGB’s crosshairs, and possibly yourself. Do you understand that?”

I put my hand on Sid’s shoulder. “Ed, you’re right, but he is green.”

Sid snorted but pulled back. “You’d find a way to forgive Hitler.”

“That’s neither here nor there.” I sat back and looked at the little group in front of me. “All right. Terry, you’re a sculpture major, right?”

“Yes,” she said softly.

“You’re going to have to cover the drawing and painting staff, as well.” I pressed my lips together. “Have Tim update you on any searches he’s done, then finish up on the rest of the staff.”

Terry looked a little worried but nodded.

“Kathy, do you need help with the theatre department?” I asked.

“I’ve got it,” she said, looking like she still wanted to hit Tim.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” I told her. “If you need help, let me know.”

“I won’t say it will be easy,” Kathy said, throwing another glare Tim’s way. “But I think I can handle it. If I can’t, I will make a point of asking.”

I bit my lip. “Our biggest problem will be the music department, but I think I may have a way around that. Tim, you leave now and make sure you head straight to where you’re living, or I will let Kathy follow you.”

Tim bolted out of the restaurant.

Kathy sighed. “Are you sure I can’t have a piece of him?”

“Some other time.” I took a deep breath. “Yes, he has messed things up badly, but that’s inexperience. We’ve all been there. Crucifying him, no matter how much he deserves it, is not going to help. What we need to do now is figure out how to work around the damage.” I closed my eyes, trying to visualize the campus staff. “All right. I’ve got Humanities. Steve, you do have one problem with Math/Sciences. These are people you’ve been working with for some time and some are probably friends.”

Steve sighed. “You’re right. Why don’t I bring you my assessments and you can farm out any searches to Terry and Kathy.”

“Or take them, myself,” I sighed. “Also, we do have one most likely suspect for the developer in the music department.” I looked at Sid. “Ed, your theory teacher.”

“Deutsch?” Sid made a face.

“He’s pretty eclectic,” Steve said. “And I have reason to believe he likes science enough to be a possible.”

“You can check him out, Ed,” I said. “If he’s the developer, he’s on our side, so the cover thing is less of an issue.”

“If they don’t put a team of tails on me,” Sid grumbled.

“It’s better than doing nothing,” I said.

Sid looked like he was about to get angry again but backed off. Shortly after, Terry, Kathy, and Steve all left. Sid was still sulking in the chair across the table from me.

“Are you going to be okay?”

“Possibly.” He sighed. “Probably.” He looked at me. “You were that green once, but you never did anything that stupid.”

“I had you training me.”

Sid snorted.

“It’s not good,” I said. “But it’s what we’ve got. In some ways, this is how we show Tim how the experienced pros make it work. We’ve seen worse and pulled it off. Besides, we don’t know for sure that your cover was blown. How about if we give it a couple weeks? We should know by then. Just keep plenty of distance from anybody who might have an injector and nerve agent.”

Sid rolled his eyes, then looked at me. “Are you going to be okay?”

“I don’t see why not. Steve and I did the date thing Friday night, so we’re covered. We’ve got Off-Campus Hours. I think I’ll be okay. I’ll keep my eyes open, as well.”

He nodded, then smiled at me. “I’m really proud of you. You’re doing a terrific job.”

“Thanks.” I smiled, then watched sadly as he got up and left the restaurant.

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