This is the last episode of 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.
Fran and I spent the rest of that weekend together, grading papers and drinking heavily. Well, Fran drank heavily. I graded papers. Sunday night we spent in my office while I entered grades into the system.
“Janet,” Fran said as I finished. “I’m not going to be here next quarter. Do you think you can manage?”
“I think so.” I smiled. “You know Ted had found out about Max because he’d broken into the systems administration account and stolen Max’s passwords, right?”
“Um. It’s entirely possible that I may have done the same thing.” I winced.
“Really?” Fran’s eyes widened.
“I have a couple students who are good at that sort of thing.” I shrugged. “The important thing is, I now know Joe Cunningham’s greatest secret.”
“I was so hoping he was behind this.”
“So was I.” I grinned. “But we can still get him. You ever hear of a romance novel writer named Leticia Petrie?”
“No.” Fran grinned. “Tell me more.”
The rest of the quarter passed quietly. Yes, Cunningham had scrambled, but he’d found enough adjuncts to cover both Max’s and Ted’s classes. The rumor was he was sweating bullets, and who could blame him. He’d lost three staff members in the space of a month, and while he didn’t know it yet, he was about to lose two more.
As for me, somehow, I stayed on top of all the grading. Cunningham tried to give me trouble here and there, but once I mentioned Leticia Petrie, suddenly, he was content to leave me be.
Tim Hannaford quietly flunked out shortly after Ted was arrested, which did not surprise me. Kathy hung on but told me that she was getting her transfer from Las Vegas to San Francisco. Terry told me near the end of the quarter that she was going back to systems and was happy to be there.
David Watts remained blissfully unaware of his wife’s other career, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. I later heard that Ilona had stayed there, leaving only for short assignments.
The last week of the quarter, I made sure that I had all my finals finished before that Wednesday. The term papers had all been graded the weekend before. I spent Thursday grading finals and got those entered into the system. Joe Cunningham had yet to find out that I had a connected computer in my office.
I took my faculty keys off my key ring and picked up the envelope containing the letter I’d typed the night before. Slinging my purse over my shoulder, I smiled at the print of Thomas Hardy on the wall next to the door.
“Dr. Pendergast,” I said out loud. “I’m sorry I moved Mr. Hardy, but I kind of like him there. So, I’m leaving him. I hope you don’t mind.”
Laughing at myself, I left the office, locked it, and went downstairs to the department office. Dwight Atwater was standing at Mrs. Spinetti’s desk and having an intense conversation with her.
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Is Cunningham around?”
Dwight looked up and grinned. “You didn’t hear? He turned in his resignation last night. The trustees made me department chair pro tem.”
“As if Joe had a choice,” Mrs. Spinetti said smugly.
Dwight came over to me. “Janet, I know this was a really bad quarter, but it’s not normally like this around here.” He stopped as he saw me hold out the envelope. “Not you, too.”
I shrugged. “I got an exceptionally good offer from the school where I really want to be. I like it here, and I know this past quarter was a once in a lifetime. But it’s missing one major compensation and he’s in L.A.”
“Ah.” Dwight took the envelope sadly. “Well, best of luck to you.”
“In the letter, I blamed everything on Joe,” I said, handing Mrs. Spinetti my keys. “Oh, do I call you Dr. Atwater now?”
“Dwight’s fine.” He laughed weakly. “All right, Mrs. Spinetti, please add a request for an English adjunct, and that’s who all?”
“One for communications, two history, one sociology, and now one English.”
Dwight swore and I left, taking just enough time to visit the Provost’s office and get signed out there, as well.
Early the next day, Fran came up to my apartment.
“Hey, what’s up?” I asked her, ushering her inside to my living room.
“I need a ride to Madison tomorrow,” she said.
“Yes. Uh. The movers will be here in the morning. I do need to get some packing done.” She smiled. “But I mostly need a ride down to Madison.”
“What about your car?”
“I’m leaving it.”
“Okay. And I can help pack, I guess.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful.”
While Fran had a fair amount to pack, we got it done by eight that evening. We went to the Cider Keg to have a final meal and Bloody Mary and had a lovely time. The only problem was, I still had some packing to do, myself.
It took longer than I expected, but I didn’t care. What Fran didn’t know was that the movers who were coming to move her stuff were also coming to move mine. It was kind of scary how much stuff I’d picked up in the few months I’d been there.
I did keep the argyle sweater with me. Fran also didn’t see the two suitcases and carry on I put in my car before I knocked on her door that Friday morning. She dropped her keys on a small table in the building foyer and I dropped mine when she wasn’t looking.
“Well, we’re off,” she said as I pulled onto the interstate.
“I suppose you are,” I said.
She laughed. “Not just me. You’re leaving, too.”
She looked at me. I shrugged.
“You remember that broken heart I told you about?” I said.
“Ah. What about tenure?”
“I found a school near him in L.A. that liked my CV. I start in January. What about you?”
Fran shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s going to be the interesting part.” She looked out the window at the green pasture lands and red barns going past. “We’re going into the witness protection plan.”
“Max and me. He couldn’t arrange it sooner and I didn’t want to leave my students high and dry.” She looked at me. “But I think you know about that already.”
“Know about what?”
Fran sighed. “You’re not just an English professor.”
I laughed. “I don’t know where you got that idea. But I’m glad you and Max are getting together.” I glanced her way. “You two deserve it.”
We made it to Madison in record time. Okay, I have a bit of a lead foot, which is why. Fran directed me to the obstetrics office. I went in with her to help her with her suitcases. Max was in the waiting room and the two ran into each other’s arms and simply held each other for several minutes. My eyes filled with tears, but I blinked them back.
We had an early lunch together, still I could tell they really wanted to be alone, so I told them that I needed to be moving on. Fran hugged me tightly on the sidewalk.
“Thank you for everything, Janet,” she said. “I do hope we come across each other again.”
“I’d like that,” I said.
There was part of me that felt sad because I seriously doubted we would. I headed back to the interstate and drove south. Almost three hours later, I was in the Chicago area. The car got abandoned in Morton Grove. It was no small trick to haul the two suitcases, carry on and my purse onto the bus to O’Hare airport, but I did it. I bought a ticket for the first flight I could find to LAX. I barely had time to wash my face in the airport bathroom and make a phone call before boarding. I stashed my glasses as soon as I was in my seat.
Sid and Nick were at the gate when the plane arrived. Sid was clean-shaven and wearing his contact lenses. He held me tightly and we kissed. Then I hugged Nick. He looked and even acted so much like Sid but was so different at the same time. Eleven years old, he was near sighted like his father, but wore glasses. He could be just as gentle as Sid, although he had an exuberance that was utterly unlike his father.
“And we’ve got kittens,” Nick told me as we waited for my suitcases.
“Kittens?” I asked. I looked at Sid, who rolled his eyes.
“Long John Silver,” Nick said. “I named her before I knew she was a she. I made friends with her a couple weekends ago. She’s this gray cat and she only has one eye. And Dad said she kept coming back and sitting in his lap.”
“What female can resist?” Sid’s eyes twinkled.
“Anyway, she was pregnant. She had the kittens last week. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?”
I looked at Sid, who shrugged. He had one of my hands in his and hadn’t let go since I’d gotten off the plane.
“What did you do with your hair?” Nick asked. “I liked it all curly and brown.”
“I just cut it, Nick,” I said. “I’ll get my natural color and style back as soon as I can.”
Back at the house, I ooh’d and ah’d over the kittens, who were with their mother in a box in the rumpus room. Long John Silver was, as advertised, a one-eyed gray cat with a mangled ear.
Nick helped me bring my suitcases into my little suite of rooms at the back. There was a workroom in the front, which led to my actual bedroom. I looked around. Sid had clearly been in both rooms. Everything was perfectly organized and in place.
Later that night, Sid and I sat together in the living room of his house, the house where I also lived. He shifted as he dug something out of his shirt pocket.
“I’ve got something for you,” he said.
He placed the gold ring and battered nickel chain into my hand. The ring came from San Francisco High School, class of ’68, and featured a blue faceted stone.
“This is it, huh?” I asked softly as I examined the ring. “You didn’t get to wear it much.”
“I’d gotten my job at that restaurant by then and had to take it off when I went to work so they wouldn’t know how old I really was.” He picked up the chain and looked at the ring as it dangled. “Why don’t you wear it? It kept another virgin out of trouble.”
“Sure.” I let him drape the chain around my neck, then got up. “I’ll be right back.”
I was only gone a minute. I slid under his arm again and put something into his free hand.
“What’s this?” He asked, looking at the white gold ring with the light blue faceted stone from South Lake Tahoe High, class of ’76.
“My class ring, obviously,” I said. “But why don’t you call it reassurance?”
He chuckled and slid it into the front pocket of his dress slacks.
“You did a hell of a job in Wisconsin,” he told me, giving me a warm squeeze.
“Thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“You could have and did.”
“Yeah, I guess I did,” I said, after thinking about it a moment.
He sighed. “I really missed you, though. I’m so glad to have you back.”
“You knew I would.”
“Yeah. But there’s that part of me that’s afraid. You worry that you can’t be what I need. Well, I worry that I can’t be what you need.” He sighed. “The thing is, you’re right. What we do have, our friendship and caring and all that. That’s the most important part. That’s what makes all this mess worthwhile. I really am happier with you, even with the mess, than I am without you. I don’t think I understood that until now, but it’s certainly true.”
I snuggled in closer to him. “I’m glad. I missed you, too. At the same time, I’m glad I had a chance to do something on my own. Makes it feel like we really are equal partners.”
“You needed to know what you could do apart from me.”
“Yeah.” I smiled. “I’m still better with you.”
“We are a hell of a team, aren’t we?” Sid chuckled. “Well, I guess the world had better be on notice now.”