The Sound of Loneliness by H.J. Sage

Prologue and Chapter 1


Arthur Tilden Junior stood in the window of his office looking out over Fifth Avenue in New York City. The office bespoke his position as president and chief executive officer of Tilden Investments, a company founded by his father, Arthur Tilden Senior, when he was thirty-five years old. The elder Tilden was a skillful manager of assets who had learned everything he needed to know about finance since beginning his career on Wall Street twelve years earlier. The company grew rapidly, eventually opening subsidiary offices in Washington, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Tilden Investments continued to prosper when Arthur Tilden Junior inherited the mantle of president from his father.

Where Arthur Tilden Senior had been an excellent manager of assets, especially money, Arthur Junior had inherited from his grandfather, Percival Tilden, a gift that his grandfather had learned at the side of Colonel "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services, during World War II. Captain Percy Tilden had served under Major Donovan during World War I and rejoined him in New York during the early years when the OSS was located in Rockefeller Center. Percy Tilden learned a great deal from Colonel Donovan, who was also an expert at managing assets, those assets being people. One particular trait that Percy Tilden picked up from Colonel Donovan and passed on to his grandson was his fondness for surrounding himself with attractive, competent women.

The door opened, and Arthur Tilden's secretary, Virginia Littleton, came into the office carrying a folder. Arthur turned to her, smiled, and sat down at his desk. Virginia placed the folder on his desk in front of him, stood behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. "You're tired, Arthur," she said.

Arthur looked up at her, smiled and placed one hand on top of hers. "You're right, Ginger. I guess I should probably slow down, shouldn't I?"

"Is that why you wanted the Pearson file?"

"That's certainly part of it. Tell me what you know."

"I've spoken with Marie Hillman, Tracy McKinnon and Doris Wellborn, Andrea Robinson's exec. Apparently Stan Pearson wants to take a break, as he announced to Ed last Friday. Marie told me she saw this coming and wasn't the least bit surprised. Tracy told me that Ed Watson was stunned and at first didn't take Stan seriously. Doris also said that Andrea knew it was coming and sort of expected it."

"And how did Ed respond?"

"Apparently there was a little dust up between Ed and Stan when Ed had IT freeze him out of his computer."

"That's not surprising, is it?"

"You should have gotten Ed out of there, Arthur, probably to Los Angeles."

"You're probably right, Ginger." Arthur thought for a moment. "I thought Stan and Andrea were supposed to be an item, as they say."

"That seems to have fizzled out. That's why I talked to Doris. After Stan's divorce, it looked as though Stan and Andrea might be getting together, but something happened. It might have something to do with a certain senator—Andrea has been spending an awful lot of time on the Hill, and Doris thinks there might be more to it than just politics."

"Is Doris worried?"

"Not yet. In any case, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with Stan."

Arthur stood up and walked back to the window, and Ginger followed and stood next to him. "I sure would hate to lose him," he said. "You know what I've been thinking."

"Yes. I think you should get him up here for a little chat."

Arthur looked at her and smiled. "I think you're right. Let's do that."

Ginger put her hands on his shoulders and turned him towards her. "You need to take care of yourself, Arthur! I worry about you."

"I know you do. All I need is one good night's sleep. See if you can get ahold of Stan—there may be an opportunity here."

"You're always one step ahead, aren't you, Arthur?"

"I try to be." Ginger smiled, patted him on the cheek, and went back out to her desk.


On an otherwise normal Friday morning in Washington, DC, just past the Ides of March in the second decade of the Twenty First Century, Stanton Marshal Pearson walked into Ed Watson's office. Ed looked up and smiled. "What's up, Stan?"
"I need some time, Ed."
"For what, Stan? Your income taxes?—you made a bundle last year." Ed leaned back in his chair and looked at Stan with an expectant expression.
"No, I'm leaving the firm. I need some time off."
"For how long? A couple of weeks? A month? You've got a lot of vacation time coming."
"Maybe for good."
Ed stared at Stan for a long time, waiting for something further. The smile was gone, replaced by a puzzled look. He frowned and said, "Who got to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Come on, Stan, don't give me any crap. Where are you going? I heard you were going over to Commerce as an assistant secretary. Anything to that?"
Stan allowed himself a smile; Ed was fishing. "No, Ed, I'm not going to Commerce, or anywhere else right now. I don't have any plans, but I need a change."
"You know I don't believe you, you son of a bitch, but I understand that you can't talk about it." Ed scowled for a moment, then shook his head and smiled once more. "I wish you luck anyway." Then he added, "I just hope it isn't Universal."
"Why, what makes you say that?"
"Aw, come on, Stan, I know Carl Brewster has been after you. What did he offer? A ten percent raise and stock options?" Ed looked at Stan for a few moments, then shook his head again. "Why don't you just take a week or two, go down to the Caribbean and get some sun, get this out of your system?"
Stan stood up and said, "Ed, I'm serious. I just want a change, but I have no plans other than to take a break. I'll stay until the end of next month. After that I'll be gone for a while, maybe six months, maybe longer."
"Come on, Stan. You know I can't give you that kind of time. New York will never go along."
Stan stood up. "You'll have my resignation letter on your desk on Monday morning."
Stan thought about trying to convince Ed that he really meant what he had said, but finally decided that he didn't really care what Ed Watson or anyone else thought about why he was quitting the firm. Hell, he didn't really know himself. Besides, he knew he could not have convinced Ed in any case. Ed didn't think that way. That was part of the problem. "I'll settle my accounts and arrange to turn everything in my department over to Pete Anson," said Stan. "Unless you've got somebody else in mind."
"No, Pete will do fine for the time being," said Ed. "Until you come to your senses." He already had his nose back in the papers on his desk as Stan went out.
As Stan walked back through his department, he paid no attention to the looks that followed him to his office—the secretaries had a way of finding things out almost before they happened. He closed his door, stood behind his desk and stared out at the traffic on Connecticut Avenue. Thoughts flitted through his mind randomly, half focused. He wondered why he had quit so abruptly. He wondered why he had quit at all, except that he had been having this urge to get away, to do something else, to change his life, to find whatever it was that was missing. It started not long after the divorce had become final.
It had been building for weeks, months perhaps. It was increasingly hard to stay focused on his job, and he couldn't keep working at a high-powered position in the nation's capital with feelings like that clouding his mind. For years Stan had been driven to perform at a high level. With politicians they called it Potomac fever. He didn't know what he had, but he knew he had to get away.
Twenty minutes later he became aware that his secretary, Marie Hillman, was standing by his desk. "Oh, sorry, Marie," he said. "Did you need something?"
"You buzzed." As always, Marie Hillman looked fresh and efficient, but her green eyes were sad. She was wearing a fine, brown twill weave suit with a white blouse underneath.
Stan laughed, and Marie's expression relaxed. "I'd like to get everybody together for a meeting in the conference room before lunch, say, about eleven-thirty."
"Just our department?"
"Yeah. You might call Andrea Robinson and see if she's busy."
"Certainly." She waited for him to say something further, then asked, "Will you be needing anything else?"
"Let's have some sherry. Can we do that?"
She looked puzzled. "Of course. There should be plenty in the liquor cabinet. If not, I'll send one of the girls out for it."
"Let me know if you need any cash." He put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling for a few moments. Suddenly he was aware that Marie was still standing there. He looked at her and put his hands flat on his desk. "I just quit, Marie. I told Ed I needed some time, and he didn't get it. So I quit."
"I knew you would, Stan. I saw it coming. You've been kind of disconnected for months now."
"You saw that?" He wasn't surprised.
"I know you pretty well, Stan. We've been together a long time."
He knew he had hurt her by not telling her before he went to see Ed Watson. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," he said. "I just sort of made up my mind this morning."
"No, you made it up a long time ago." He looked at her and smiled. "But it's all right." She shook her head, and her pretty red hair, now beginning to show traces of gray, settled around her neck again. She smiled. "That all, Sir?" The 'sir' had a sarcastic twist, but she was smiling.
"For now, thanks. I told Ed I'd give him a letter of resignation on Monday, but I might wait a day or two."
"Good idea. Let him sweat a little bit and see what he does." She shook her head and went back to her desk.
They gathered solemnly at eleven-thirty. Marie and Pete Anson poured the sherry, but no one acted festive; they all knew what was coming—the word had gotten around quickly. Stan wondered whom Ed had told.
"Thanks for coming, everyone," he said. "I've told Ed that I'm going to be leaving the firm at the end of next month." There was some shuffling of feet, and many of the listeners looked at the floor. "It may well be permanent. As you all probably know, it has been a difficult year for me, and I need some time to clear my head. I seem to be suffering from a case of fuzzy thinking—not good for me, for the firm, nor for my clients, nor for all of you." He paused for a moment and cleared his throat.
"I want you all to know, first of all, that working with you has been a great pleasure—you are the best damn bunch of top-notch agents in this crazy business, and you are the reason we have been so successful. Pete Anson will be taking over, and you will continue to excel, of that I have no doubt." Virtually everyone in the audience glanced at Pete, and they all looked relieved. "So, anyway, I'll be around until the end of April." He lifted his glass. "Here's to all of you—I'll miss seeing your smiling faces!" He sipped quickly so no one would see his lower lip quivering.
"Here's to the best boss I ever had," said Jimmy Donovan, head of the Technical Analysis Section, raising his glass. Several people answered, "Hear, hear!" Jimmy was standing with Andrea and Pete, the three of them in a little knot off to the side. Aside from Marie, they were the closest to Stan. He was especially glad Andrea had come over from public relations. They were good friends.
As the group broke up, several people came up to Stan and shook his hand. Andrea came over, hugged him and said, "Come and see me later."
Wen Shao, one of Jimmy Donovan's associates in the TA section, approached. "We're really going to miss you, Stan. Like Jimmy said, you are great to work for—do you have plans to go somewhere else?"
"No, not really."
"Well if you do—and I guess maybe if you do, you can't talk about it—I'd like to go with you."
Stan smiled. "Wen, I promise, I don't have any plans, but if I did, I would be more than happy to take you along."
She smiled. "Maybe you really want to start your own business—if you do, let me know when you start hiring."
He laughed. "Actually, that's not a bad idea, Wen, but if I wanted to keep doing what I'm doing, I'd stay right here. This is a pretty good place to work."
Wen nodded. "I know. That's why I don't understand why you're leaving."
Jimmy Donovan had been listening. "He's made so much money he doesn't know what to do with it," Jimmy said. "I guess you just want to start spending some of it."
Stan smiled. "I think Elizabeth has taken care of that," he said, then was immediately sorry he had said it—he was still trying not to think about her.
Jimmy just shook his head—he understood, though Wen probably didn't; she smiled and headed back toward their office. Jimmy clapped Stan on the shoulder. "Can't believe you're really leaving," he said, "But I guess you know what you're doing. You always did."
"I'm not so sure about that."
Pete Anson was approaching, and Jimmy looked at him and nodded. "Grab your jacket, Stan. Pete and I are taking you to lunch."

Stan had planned to leave the office about two. Marie came in just before that with a handful of papers, but she took one look at him and said, "You don't really need to do any of this today," and when he nodded, she left quietly, taking the papers with her. He stood, walked to the window and stared out at the Washington scene below—he had been doing that a lot lately. In a moment she came back in and closed the door. "Can I talk to you?" she said.
"Sure, Marie." He turned away from the window and looked at her.
"I'm really going to miss you," she said.
"I'll miss you too, Marie. You've been absolutely indispensable." He smiled. "We've been together a long time, haven't we?"
"I've been with the firm about fifteen years, twelve of them with you. You've been really good to me, Stan, and I appreciate it. But that's not what I mean." He looked at her curiously—he noticed that she had freshened her makeup sometime after lunch—had actually added some touches that he hardly ever saw on her face. She had left her glasses back at her desk, and her pretty green eyes were sad. She walked over to him and stood looking into his face. She took ahold of both of his hands and looked into his face. "Would you put your arms around me?"
He had hugged Marie before, many times. On her birthday, at Christmas, at her daughter's graduation from high school. When she had gone into the hospital for her operation for breast cancer, he had held her for a long time in his arms, comforting her, telling her everything was going to be all right. He had dried her tears off her face with his thumb and told her he would be waiting for her. When he went to the hospital to drive her home following the successful operation, he had held her again, but that time her tears were tears of relief. He embraced both her and her daughter at the same time, and he embraced her again when she finally returned to the office after recuperating.
He held her slender body gently, and she put her arms around his back and pressed herself into him, burying her head in the curve of his neck. "Would you kiss me?" She asked, her voice husky. She backed away and looked up at him, and he leaned in and kissed her gently on the lips, and her arms went around him again and held him tight.
"I've loved you for a long time," she said, "and I never would have done this while you were still with Elizabeth." It felt good holding her, and he kissed her forehead, her cheek, and then her mouth again, and she leaned back and smiled, though there were tears in her eyes. Then she stepped away and shook her head in embarrassment. She recovered, reached out and took both of Stan's hands. "I've cared about you for a long time, Stan. And once you got divorced ..." Her face flushed, and she lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry, I just couldn't help myself."
There was a knock on the door, and when it opened, Pete Anson stepped in. "Oh, sorry," he said, "I didn't realize …"
"That's okay, Pete, come on in. What's up?"
Pete looked at each of them with a curious smile on his face. Then he said, "Nothing important. I'll catch up with you later, Stan." He smiled at Marie, turned and left.
Marie shook her head. "Do you think he noticed anything …?
Stan smiled. "Well, it could've been worse."
"Yes, although I wouldn't have cared." She took a deep breath and looked into his eyes. "Stan, would you drive me home this evening? Please?"
He looked at her for a long time. She was a lovely woman, and he was fond of her, more than fond, in fact. She was exactly four years older than he was, he knew, but she was still one of the most attractive women in the firm. She had been married but was widowed—her husband had been killed in a car accident—and she had a daughter in law school, a son in the Navy. The men in the firm spoke of her with admiration, wondering why she had never remarried.
He put his hand on her cheek, brushed her hair back leaned in and kissed her once more gently, backed away and said, "Sure, Marie, I'll be happy to drive you home."
"I hope I wasn't …" She started to say something, then smiled and shook her head. "I'll stay until regular quitting time, okay?"
"And you're sure you don't mind giving me a ride home?"
"It would be my pleasure, Marie." She smiled and left. He sat there for a few minutes, wondering what was going to happen later. Then it occurred to him—he didn't have a car. Toby had come down from New Haven with three friends who wanted to borrow his car to go to Florida for spring break. They didn't have enough for round-trip airfares, they claimed, and he was happy to loan his car to his son. He had been taking the Metro to work from his Rosslyn apartment in any case. Stan called a car rental service, made a reservation and took the Metro subway to National Airport to pick it up. It was four o'clock by the time he got back to the office, and Marie was at her desk typing on her computer. She looked up and smiled. "Is everything okay?"
"Sure. We can go whenever you're ready."

Marie lived in an apartment complex in Old Town Alexandria, just south of National Airport. "This isn't your car, is it?" she asked as they drove down the George Washington Parkway.
"Toby's got my car in Florida with a bunch of his pals from Yale," Stan said. "He's supposed to be back tomorrow evening."
"That's right, I guess you told me that—you've been commuting by Metro all week."
"Actually I've been doing that quite a bit since I moved to Rosslyn." Stan's apartment overlooked the Potomac River just across from the towers of Georgetown University.
"Toby's spoiled, you know," she said. Stan laughed. "You spoiled all your kids, and if I may say so, you spoiled Elizabeth." Marie knew a lot about Stan's family life—she had met all three of his children o

n numerous occasions and had followed their careers through school and college. Once she said that she wished Toby were a few years older, as her daughter Sandra found him very 'fetching,' as she put it.
"You're probably right about that, at least as far as the kids are concerned. As for Elizabeth …" He decided he didn't want to talk about her right then.
Marie's apartment was a few blocks from the Braddock Road Metro station, and he found a place to park nearby. "Let me take you out to dinner," he said.
"That would be lovely," she said. "But come up for a drink first, all right?"
He had been in her apartment before, had visited her when she was recovering from her operation, and had sat with her one night when her daughter stayed out too late and she was sick with worry. As it turned out, Sandra's boyfriend's car had broken down somewhere, or at least that was her story. Sandra was a good daughter, Stan knew quite well, and all was forgiven. The apartment was spacious and comfortable, and Marie had furnished it beautifully. Stan had seen to it that Marie was handsomely compensated for her position as his executive assistant, and she had saved diligently for her two children's education. Then Sandra won a prestigious scholarship to the University of Virginia, and when her son Josh was accepted at the Naval Academy, Marie found herself in comfortable circumstances. Stan had never doubted for a moment that she deserved it.
She brought him a Scotch and soda without asking what he wanted, for she knew his likes and dislikes. She switched on the stereo and sat down on the couch with a glass of white wine. "So," she said looking at him intently, "what are you going to do with yourself?"
He took a sip of his drink and set it down on the coffee table. "I haven't thought that far ahead," he said. "I just know … Hell, I don't know what I know. I guess I could call it burnout, but that's not quite it."
"You're so damn good at your job, and everyone loves working for you. You are going to be missed, I hope you know that."
"I'd like to think so."
"Everybody in the office keeps hoping that they'll move you into Ed's slot, but I don't think being boss of the whole Washington office would appeal to you."
"You're probably right. I like what I do, and I wouldn't want to be an administrator full time."
"Ed loves that stuff, loves thinking he runs the joint, and he's actually pretty good at it. You'd be better, though."
"I don't think like Ed." He took another sip of his drink. "Hell, Marie, I just know that I've been breaking my butt for a long time and I just want to relax for a while. I can probably afford to take a year off without even working—Elizabeth has everything that she needs. The house is paid for, her car is paid for and I can take care of her allowance out of my investments. I couldn't do that forever, but I'm sure I can do it for a year."
"What about Toby?"
"I've already got his tuition covered—it's in a separate account."
Marie nodded, and they didn't say anything for a while. Then she said, "You told me once that you might like to try teaching someday. Anything to that?"
"My college roommate, Tom Brennan, is the dean of students at Westminster College." He paused. "I guess it's Westminster University now. We've talked about it a few times. I'm planning to go down and visit him and see what he's got in mind."
"Sandra was thinking about applying there if she hadn't got the scholarship to UVA."
"I remember."
"You offered to write a letter of recommendation for her."
He nodded. "I think she'd have been happy there, but she was probably better off at UVA."
"Yes. I doubt she'd have gotten into William and Mary Law otherwise."
"With the record she made, she could have gone anywhere. And she's happy?"
"Yes. She's applied for a job with a firm in Richmond, and she's been dating a law school classmate."
"Wedding in the works?"
Marie smiled. "We'll see. I haven't met him yet."

When Sandra was thinking about college, even though her record at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria was exemplary, Marie worried about college expenses. Sandra's younger brother Josh, two years behind, was marching along the same path, maybe not quite as fine a student as his sister, but surely bound for college. Stan made it clear to Marie that he would see to it that both her children's education costs would be covered. She was well paid by the firm—he had already seen to that—but college was expensive. As it turned out, Sandra got the scholarship, and Josh went to Annapolis. He was a pilot stationed on an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Middle East. Despite her worrying all those years, or probably because of it, she was quite comfortable. Besides, working alongside Stan for a dozen years enabled her to learn a great deal about investing. She had done well for herself, and more than once she had told Stan she owed it all to him.
"Nonsense," he would say. "You earned every bit of it, Marie. You worked hard and it paid off."
They chatted for a while longer, and then Marie said, "Shall we think about going to dinner?"
There were several nice restaurants within walking distance, and although it was a cool evening, the sky was clear. They settled on a French restaurant a few blocks from her apartment. It was a pleasant, relaxed dinner. They talked about old times in the office, their kids, and other happy topics. Stan ordered a bottle of wine to go with the meal, and Marie toasted him, and they finished the bottle before the meal ended.
"Shall I order another?"
"I would like another glass. Can we do that?"
Back in her apartment Marie offered Stan an after dinner drink. "Make it weak, okay? I have to drive home." She brought it to him and poured herself another glass of wine. She drank it within a few minutes and refilled her glass. After a while Stan noticed that Marie was slurring her words slightly—at least she was home and didn't have to drive. But it didn't seem like her—he had never seen a shred of evidence that she drank too much, not even during the time of her surgery.
It was getting late, and Stan was about to leave, but Marie excused herself. She had finished another glass of wine. "Be back in a minute." She headed for the bedroom, her gait steady but slow, as if she were trying to walk carefully. Minutes later she called. "Stan, could you come here for a minute?"
He stood, took a deep breath and went to the bedroom door. Marie stood at the foot of her bed with her hand on the footboard. She was naked. She looked at him with a shy smile.
"Marie, I …"
She put a finger to her lips. "I haven't been with a man since the surgery," she said. "I've been afraid that no one would …" She couldn't continue. Then she stood up straight, arms down at her side. Then, in a firm voice, "Tell me the truth, Stan. Do you find me attractive?"
He took two steps toward her and stopped. He struggled to avoid averting his eyes, but looked carefully at her body. He knew one of her breasts had been removed, but he didn't know which one. He saw what might be a faint scar under her left breast, but in the dim light of the bedroom he wasn't sure. In any case it didn't matter—she was lovely. For a woman her age, her figure was as attractive as any man could want. Slender, beautifully proportioned, fair skin, long, shapely legs. "You're beautiful, Marie."
She looked at him, and tears welled from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
"I'm serious. You are a gorgeous woman, and any man would find you desirable."
She took a step toward him, and he went to her and put his arms around her, and she buried her head between his jaw and shoulder and cried. "You're just saying that," she sobbed.
"No, Marie, I'm not." Both her arms were around him, and he rubbed her back, holding her close to him, and he kissed her hair, brought his hands up to her cheeks and kissed her on the mouth. He moved back and smiled at her.
"Will you stay with me tonight?"
"Yes, if you want me to."
"Just hold me—that will be enough."
After a few minutes she stepped back, picked up a nightgown from the bed and put it on over her head. She lay down on the bed, put her head on the pillow and looked at him. He undressed to his underwear and lay down on the bed next to her. He reached over and stroked her cheek, and she took ahold of his hand and kissed his palm and held it against her cheek. They lay like that for a long time without saying anything, then she leaned in and kissed him. Hungry. He pulled her close, ran his hands over her body and kissed her. "Stan, if you don't want …"
He kissed her again. He made love to her gently, carefully, letting his passion rise with hers. She seemed tentative at first, but then her breathing deepened, and she began to moan as he moved with her. She dug her fingers into his back and whispered in his ear, "Oh God, oh God!" He stayed above her, looking down at her for a long time and she kissed him over and over. And she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him close and began to weep softly.
"Marie …"
"I was so afraid, afraid you wouldn't …"
"That you wouldn't be able." Then she added quickly, "Not because of you, because of me!"
"You are beautiful," he said softly, and she smiled and choked back sobs.
After a while he lay next to her stroking her face, her arms, her side and her hip. She took his hand and placed it on her left breast. He just smiled and nodded, and she kissed him. "I can feel your hand," she said softly.
When he woke early in the morning, she was curled up against him. She looked over her shoulder and saw that he was awake. "Good morning," she whispered.
"Good morning."
They sat in the kitchen drinking coffee. She looked across the table and smiled at him briefly, then turned away. Embarrassed, he thought.
"Marie …"
She shook her head. "I was so lonely after the operation—I thought I would never …"
"I think I understand."
"And then I watched you after the divorce, and I saw that you were lonely, and I knew you would understand. And I thought, maybe we could …" She paused and looked out the window at the apartment building opposite. "But I couldn't do anything. Say anything. Even after all you've done for me, I just couldn't assume anything. And then yesterday morning when you suddenly decided you were leaving—I knew it was coming, I just didn't know when—I felt lost."
"Marie, you and I will always be …"
She waved him off. "Yes, I know, we'll always be friends. But the reason I was able to cope, to get through from one day to the next during the bad time, was that I knew I would see you every day, and I could talk to you, and I knew you cared about me. And now …"
"We'll stay in touch. I won't disappear."
She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "I know." She smiled. "I know."

Sage Books Home | Loneliness Home | Updated February 18, 2022