Let me start by explaining that this story grew out of a challenge issued on another list. Various authors volunteered to participate in the challenge and then the list members suggested a variety of items they wanted to see incorporated into the stories. After a set amount of time, the items were divided up among the authors and we were told to write a story that included the assigned items. This story is my response to the challege and I had to use a deck of playing cards, one of Dotty's recipe cards, and a dolphin. I will apologize in advance to anyone who gets two copies of the story, since I know we have duplications of members, but I did want to post this story to this list, too.
Once again I want to thank Daphne, Chris, Merle, and most especially Pam for all of their efforts in betaing this story and offering constructive criticism, suggestions, and support. Some of their ideas and suggestions I incorporated and some I didn't, but whether I used them or not, I know that the discussion that went along with the comments served to make this a much better story than it started.
As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged, either to the list or to me via private e-mail.
Original Posting Date: December 2, 2001
Disclaimer: See end of story.
Archiving: It will go to Fanfic.net and smkfanfic. Anyone else, please ask.
Rating: PG-13, mainly for language and violence
Timeline: Late second season
Synopsis: How high of a price will Lee and Amanda have to pay for bad judgment?
Friday, March 15, 1985
The man named Dwyer picked his way carefully down the alleyway toward the bright lights at the far end. The cold, damp, late winter wind swirled down alley fitfully, making him shiver in the darkness despite his heavy coat. Lightning flashed ominously overhead and he could hear the low rumble of thunder in the distance. In the strobe-like flashes of light, he could see the piles of refuse that filled the broken down doorways and lined the buildings in the god-forsaken place. The stench was indescribable.
Ahead, he could see them standing at the end of this dead end cesspool, their silhouettes reminding him of frightened cattle huddling together fearfully as the smell of death saturated the enclosed space. He walked silently into the light and came to a stop before the object of everyone's attention. Staring down at the horror at his feet, he could feel the dread transform into deadly certainty. Another one. That made eight.
Circling carefully, his eyes searched the bloody mess, knowing that somewhere he would find it. The calling card . . . the token that he had seen seven times before. Pausing suddenly with his back to the others, he leaned over and peered more closely, then reached into his pocket and pulled out his pen. Crouching down, he used it to snag the item. Lifting it carefully, he gazed at it without surprise before rising once more. In some distant corner of his mind, Dwyer wondered what she had looked like . . . who she had been . . . before she had met the monster. Maybe they would never know.
Turning, he looked at the men standing at the edge of the lights, as far away from the flayed flesh and bones as they could get and still be said to be doing their job.
One of them . . . the young one . . . swallowed convulsively a couple of times before he finally said, "Is it . . ."
"You're sure?" the older one questioned.
Friday, March 29, 1985
"Mother, are you sure about this?" Amanda King asked, eyeing the recipe card doubtfully.
"Absolutely!" Dotty enthused. "I got this recipe from Martha Grissom, whose mother always made it for her women's club when Martha was growing up in South Carolina. I think it sounds wonderful, and you won't have to worry about anyone bringing anything like it to your office potluck."
"Well, that's true," Amanda agreed hesitantly, staring at the card again. "But, Mother, where in heaven's name am I going to get some of these ingredients?"
"Why don't you check that gourmet market down on Kirby? If they don't have them, I'll bet Mr. Leblanc can order them for you." When her daughter still showed a marked lack of enthusiasm, Dotty planted her hands on her hips and added pointedly, "You were the one who said you wanted something different, missy. If you're so concerned about it, why don't you just take your poppy seed cake? You know everyone likes that."
A steely glint suddenly appeared in Amanda's eye and she replied firmly, "No, this will be perfect. I'll stop and talk to Mr. Leblanc about it on the way home from work tonight." Amanda could still hear Francine's snide voice explaining that she was in charge of the potluck being held for the head of Purchasing, who was retiring at the end of April.
"I thought we'd try something a bit more upscale . . . you know, something that isn't the same old thing. I know you have your old favorites, Amanda, but do you think you could manage something along those lines? If not, I can give you the names of several very good gourmet shops where you can buy something . . ."
Amanda snorted softly. As if she would be caught dead bringing something purchased to a potluck! No, Francine wanted something different, so different was what she was going to get. Tucking the recipe card into her purse, she turned to her mother. "I'd better get going. I've got a lot to do today."
"Will you be late?"
"Not so far as I know, but if something comes up, I'll be sure to call."
Dotty nodded. "All right. You have a good day, dear."
"I will, Mother."
Half an hour later, Amanda entered the front door of International Federal Film, smiling contentedly. The weather was being truly remarkable for the end of March . . . 70 degrees and sunny with a definite touch of spring in the air. 'Enjoy it while you can, Amanda,' she told herself ruefully. 'You know it won't last.'
As she opened the door, she heard Mrs. Marston's voice clearly. "I'm sorry, but there is no one here by that name. I can't help you!" Her tone warned Amanda that it wasn't the first time she'd told the stranger standing at her desk this, and her patience was obviously beginning to wear thin. Stepping up quickly, Amanda intervened.
"Good morning, Mrs. Marston! Isn't it just a gorgeous day?" Turning to the stranger, she smiled pleasantly and said, "Hello."
The man relaxed noticeably and returned the smile. "Hello."
Amanda looked from one to the other and then asked, "Is there a problem?"
"This gentleman insists that he's here to see someone by the name of Conrad Quaid," the Agency receptionist replied stiffly. "I've explained to him several times that we have no one here by that name, but he is being extremely persistent."
The stranger looked at Amanda apologetically. "You see, I'm new to the city. I'm a sales representative for a large firm out on the west coast and my company has just recently begun expanding into this area. This is my first trip to D.C., so I'm rather fumbling in the dark." He bent down and began rummaging in the briefcase sitting at his feet. Amanda saw Mrs. Marston stiffen and reach under the desk toward the weapon that was mounted there. She shook her head hastily, gesturing to Mrs. Marston to wait. As the man searched, Amanda assessed him. A few inches taller than she, he had neatly cut medium brown hair that was showing traces of gray, particularly around his temples. His eyes were brown behind his gold wire frame glasses, his face was pleasant if somewhat non-descript, and the neat three-piece suit he wore showed off his slender build to nice effect. Amanda could see absolutely nothing threatening about him at all. He straightened with a portfolio in his hand, which he opened and showed to her. "This was all the information they gave me."
Amanda scanned the information quickly and then shook her head. "It would have helped if they had given you the name of the company. What did you say your company sold?"
"Computer parts," he replied, looking even more apologetic. "Not much help, is it?"
"No, I'm afraid not." Amanda stood there for a moment, tapping her lips thoughtfully with one finger. Then she stepped to the desk and smiled at the woman behind it. "May I use your phone for a moment, Mrs. Marston? It won't take a minute." Reluctantly, the woman nodded. Amanda picked up the receiver and dialed quickly. She waited for a moment and when the party on the other end answered, she said, "Hello, Mother, it's me. No, no, there's nothing wrong. I just need for you to do me a favor. On the shelves in the den there should be a directory of government offices and employees. Would you get it and look something up for me? I'll hold on." She smiled at the man waiting patiently. "This is a shot in the dark, but you never know. Yes, Mother, I'm still here. Quaid. Conrad. No, I don't know what office he works in. That's the problem. Q-U-A-I-D. Yes. Oh, he is? Wonderful! Where does he work?" Amanda wedged the phone against her shoulder and gestured to Mrs. Marston for something to write with. "Uh huh. Yes, I've got it. Can you get the address for me? Uh huh. Oh! Well, that explains it. Yes, Mother, that's exactly what I needed. Thank you. I'll see you tonight. Yes, I will. Yes. Yes, Mother. M-Mother, I really need to go. Okay. Thank you." With a sigh she hung up the phone and turned to the stranger with a smile. "They just got the street name wrong. Here's the correct address and the name of the office he works for. That should help."
The man smiled at her gratefully. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this," he exclaimed. "Can you tell me where this is from here?"
Catching Mrs. Marston's continuing frown, Amanda took the man's arm and turned him toward the door. "Here, let me show you." She led him out of the building and down the sidewalk to the street, pointing and giving him directions to his destination. When she finished, she smiled again. "I don't think you'll have any trouble finding it now."
"Thank you *so* much! I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. Being in a strange city and not knowing anyone . . ."
She laughed. "I know exactly what you mean. I'm just glad I could help."
"I'm so sorry. I should have introduced myself. I'm Thomas Carlyle from San Francisco."
"It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Carlyle. My name is Amanda King."
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mrs. King . . . or is it Miss?" There was a hopeful lilt in his voice as he asked the question that caused Amanda to flush slightly as she replied, "It's Mrs."
"Oh. Well . . . I'd say your husband is a very lucky man."
There was a sad note in his voice that made her blush becomingly. "Oh, well . . . you see, I . . . well . . . my husband and I . . ." She trailed off, suddenly embarrassed.
"Divorced?" he asked knowingly and then flushed slightly himself.
"Was it that obvious?" she asked, refusing to look him in the eye.
Carlyle laughed. "Only to someone who's been down that road himself. Don't worry, Mrs. King. I know exactly how you feel. In a world of couples, it's awkward to be unpaired at our age. No matter how thoroughly we've made peace with it, those around us always seem to feel uncomfortable."
"Oh, I know exactly what you mean!" she replied eagerly. "It's like they just aren't sure how to relate to us."
"Or they're afraid that whatever caused our problems might be catching," he added ironically. "Oh, well. I don't know about you, but looking back on it, it was still the best choice for me. I'm afraid that my ex and I don't get along very well."
Amanda nodded, privately astonished at this conversation. What was she doing, talking to a total stranger about her failed marriage? 'He's easy to talk to,' she realized. 'He honestly seems to listen . . . something that not many men I've met lately seem to do.'
"Well, I'm luckier than most, I guess. My ex-husband and I get along very well . . . better than we did during the last years of our marriage, actually. Which is a really good thing since we have two sons."
"That has to be tough," he replied sympathetically. "We didn't have any children, thank heavens. It would have made our situation a whole lot worse." He glanced at his watch and then said regretfully, "Well, I suppose I had better get going or I'm going to be late. Thank you so much for all of your help. It's wonderful to know there are still friendly people in this world."
"I'm just glad I could help. I hope the rest of your day goes better."
"I'm sure it will. I believe you've turned it around." He opened the door to a car parked by the curb and got in. Starting the engine, he waved one more time and then pulled out into traffic.
Amanda nodded and waved back as she started back up the sidewalk again. A moment later, she walked back in the front door of the I.F.F. building and stopped dead. Confronting her were Mrs. Marston, two uniformed guards, Lee Stetson, and a man with an FBI badge that she'd never met before. All of them had guns drawn and were frowning at her forbiddingly.
"What the hell were you doing, walking out with him like that?" Lee demanded, holstering his gun with a bit more violence than Amanda thought necessary. "You had no idea who he was!"
"He was a computer parts salesman from San Francisco by the name of Thomas Carlyle," Amanda replied, bewildered. "He just needed a little help."
"And he just happened to pick this building to get his directions from, is that it?"
"They gave him the wrong address. It happens all the time!" she replied, starting to sound irritated. "If Mrs. Marston had just asked a few questions, she would have realized it. No criticism intended," she added to the woman as an afterthought.
"Yes, or that could be a cover story and he was actually here to case the building! Dammit, Amanda, don't you realize that he could have shoved you into that car and been gone before any of us could have done anything to help you?"
"He was *very* insistent, Mrs. King," Mrs. Marston said repressively.
Amanda looked at all of them, her disgust unmistakable. "Well, I don't blame him. Most salesmen are paid on commission. If I was in his position, I wouldn't want to go back to my employer and tell them I couldn't find the man they sent me 3,000 miles to see, either. We work for the government and are paid by tax dollars. I don't think it's too much to ask that we be polite and helpful to the public, do you? It was just Mr. Carlyle's bad luck that he had to pose his questions to a building full of *spies* who jump at their own shadows. You're all paranoid and need to get a life!" With a final glare and a low mutter about people's manners, she snatched up her badge and marched off toward the elevator.
"We are not paranoid!" Lee finally shot back, but by that time, it was too late. She was gone. "Dammit, Amanda, one of these days . . ."
Mrs. Marston had the grace to look embarrassed as she glanced up at Lee apologetically. "Maybe she was right, Mr. Stetson. I really didn't give the man much time to explain."
Still staring at the closed door, he muttered in frustration, Then he sighed. "It's all right, Mrs. Marston. I saw the initial encounter and I don't blame you for being distrusting. Better to be safe than sorry."
Lee glanced at the man standing beside him and saw that he was still staring after Amanda. Finally, he looked up and grinned. "So that's your partner?"
"She is *not* my partner!" Lee replied irritably.
Adam Dwyer caught Mrs. Marston's fleeting grin and laughed out loud. "Maybe not, but I get the feeling she doesn't let you get away with a thing."
"No, not much."
Obviously deciding it might be a good idea to change the subject, Adam asked, "So are you in?"
"Yeah. Where and when?"
"Well, I was thinking . . ."
Lee looked disgusted. "I should have known. Okay, at my place then . . . 8:00 o'clock tonight. But *you* have to bring the beer. We are *not* going to pillage my wine cellar for a poker game. Who else have you invited?"
"Bart Wallace from State said he'd play. And Camden and Warfield from the CIA."
"What about Max?"
The animation drained from the other man's face. "Transferred to New York," Adam muttered.
Lee looked at him for a long moment before saying quietly, "He was your partner, Adam . . . for over four years. What happened?"
"It's a long story," the man replied with a haunted expression. Then he seemed to shake himself and forced a ghost of a smile. "Look, why don't you ask Melrose if he wants to sit in? He's always a good one to have at a poker game."
"You mean he always loses." Lee contemplated pushing the man a bit harder for an answer but decided to let it wait until later. Behind him, the phone on Mrs. Marston's desk rang and he heard her low murmur. Then she interrupted.
"Agent Dwyer, I have your office on the phone."
"Thank you," he replied, stepping up to accept the receiver she was holding out to him. "I'll let the others know, Lee. You said 8:00? You're still at the place in Georgetown, right?"
"Yeah. Just remember, you bring the beer."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was 11:45 when Lee wandered into the bullpen searching for Amanda. Following the confrontation in the main lobby, he'd decided that it might be better to wait for a while before approaching her. For such a sweet, gentle, agreeable woman, Amanda could be decidedly opinionated, and she had no hesitation about letting him know when she thought he'd crossed the line. By now, he figured she would have had the chance to cool down enough that he could offer his apologies by taking her to lunch.
When he arrived, he saw that she was on the phone, so he took the opportunity to stick his head in the door of his Section Chief's office. When Billy looked up inquiringly, Lee grinned. "Poker. My place. Eight tonight. You in?"
Melrose started to grin. "Who's playing?"
"Dwyer from the Bureau. A couple of guys from the CIA and one from State."
"Sure. Why not? Jeanine and the kids are at her mother's so I don't have much incentive to head home right away. It's a lot better than quarterly activity reports. Can I bring anything?"
"Dwyer's on beer detail. If you want to bring something to eat, feel free. I doubt I have much at home."
Billy nodded and waved him out the door. "If I'm going to play tonight, you need to quit bothering me so I can get this stuff done."
Lee laughed and tossed him a chipper wave as he left the office. Crossing to Amanda, he grinned and hiked one hip up on the corner of her desk. "Hi."
She looked up and returned the smile, her earlier irritation obviously forgotten. "Hi yourself."
"I was wondering if you'd be interested in getting a sandwich. I'd like to get out of here for a while, and I thought you might like to come along."
"That sounds nice. Do you want to go now?"
"If you're ready."
She reached down into her desk, pulled out her purse, and rose. "I'm ready." Together, the two of them left the bullpen and strode down the hall.
"So, what are you working on today?" Lee asked her as they stood waiting for the elevator.
"I'm doing some background research for Fred Fielding."
Lee frowned. "Why are you working for Fielding?"
Amanda shrugged. "Because Mr. Melrose asked me to. I don't mind."
"Billy didn't say anything to me about it. You're supposed to be working with me, not Fielding."
"Well, you don't need my help right now and Mr. Fielding evidently does. After all, I'm just a civilian aide. I help out wherever I'm needed. Really, Lee, I don't mind."
The elevator door opened, and they stepped in, shoving the coats aside to enter and then rearranging them again while they rose out of the depths of the secret complex. The mutual silence was companionable and not the least bit strained. As they stepped into the entryway, they both spotted an arrangement of yellow roses sitting on one corner of the reception desk.
"Mrs. Marston, what beautiful flowers!" Amanda exclaimed.
The woman looked up and gave her an enigmatic smile. "They are lovely, aren't they? Actually, I'm glad you like them, Mrs. King, because they're for you. They were just delivered."
"For me?" she responded, looking bewildered. "Who would be sending me flowers?"
"There's a card," the older woman said, gesturing at the arrangement. She carefully concealed her smile at the scowl that settled on Scarecrow's face as he gazed accusingly from the flowers to his companion.
As Amanda extracted the card from the middle of the arrangement and opened it, Lee crowded against her back so he could read it over her shoulder. "Carlyle . . . that guy from this morning? He's sending you flowers?"
"He got that account," she said, looking pleased as she read the brief note. "He wanted to thank me for my help. That was so thoughtful. He didn't need to do this."
"No, he didn't," Lee commented a trifle sourly. When Amanda looked up at him indignantly, he added swiftly, "But it was really good of him."
"Nice save," Mrs. Marston mouthed silently at him while Amanda wasn't looking. He just glared back at her.
"Come on, Amanda, let's go."
Amanda gestured at the flowers. "I really should - "
"You go on," Mrs. Marston broke in smoothly. "They'll be fine here until you get back."
Pressing his hand into the small of her back, Lee steered Amanda toward the door. "Yeah. What do you say we go to Emelio's?"
She looked up at him, startled. "I thought you said we were just going for a sandwich."
"I think I'm suddenly in the mood for something a bit more . . . elegant."
Mrs. Marston chuckled openly as the door closed behind the two. 'Never thought I'd live to see the day,' she thought to herself. 'Scarecrow . . . jealous over attention paid to our suburban housewife.'
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"I'll take two," Lee said, tossing a pair of cards face down onto the table and accepting two new ones.
"One," Billy indicated to the dealer.
The rest of the men around the table called for cards and then Adam Dwyer said, "Dealer takes two. Place your bets, gentlemen."
The men contemplated their cards, considering their next moves.
"Check," Camden said.
"I'll go ten," Warfield responded.
Lee picked up a couple of chips and tossed them into the center of the table. "I'll see your ten and raise you twenty."
Billy shook his head and tossed his cards onto the table. "Too rich for me."
"Me, too," Wallace agreed.
Lee grinned at the man across the table from him. "It's thirty to you, Adam. How about it?"
The FBI agent contemplated Lee for a long moment and then tossed a stack of chips into the middle of the table. "I'll see your thirty and up you another ten."
"That does it for me," Camden said, shaking his head.
"Me, too," Warfield agreed.
Lee looked at Adam speculatively and then tossed more chips into the pile. "I'll up it another twenty."
Adam stared at Lee for a long moment, and then shoved another stack of chips into the pile. "I'll call. Let's see what you've got, hotshot."
"Read 'em and weep." Lee spread his hand out onto the table. "Four ladies."
Adam shook his head, throwing his cards onto the table in disgust. "Why do I even bother? I swear, I must have made the down payment on that hotrod of yours several times over by now."
Lee just laughed and drew the pile of chips toward him. Picking up his beer, he took a long swallow and then asked idly, "So what have you been working on, Adam? I haven't seen you around much recently."
The same haunted look Lee had seen earlier that day flitted across the other man's face , and for a long moment Lee wondered if he was going to answer. Finally, Dwyer sighed and said, "Have you seen the newspaper stories about the serial killer and all the bodies that have been found out west?"
"You mean the one that the media boys have latched on to so ferociously?" Warfield asked, leaning back into his chair.
"They're calling the perp 'The Butcher', aren't they?" Camden added.
Dwyer nodded, his mouth tight. "Yeah. It's an apt name, too."
"That one's yours?" Billy asked, reaching for his beer. He took a long pull on the bottle and added sympathetically, "That's gotta be tough."
"You have no idea," Dwyer said wearily. After a long moment, he scrubbed at his face and then reached for his beer. "The first confirmed case we have of it goes back to August of '82."
"Geezus, almost three years?" Wallace murmured.
"Yeah, and the profilers are convinced that if we ever manage to nail him, we're gonna find that it's a long way from his first. The shrinks all agree that this kind takes a long time to develop and we've just seen the tip of the iceberg."
"I haven't really been following this," Lee commented, watching the other man closely. "How many deaths are we talking here?"
"That we know of? Eight confirmed as sure things, and another five that I'd stake my reputation are his work, but that the brass aren't willing to admit to."
"Good Lord," Lee commented softly. "What's missing on those five?"
Dwyer shrugged his shoulders. "The guy tends to leave a calling card. We didn't find it on those five, but I'm convinced that doesn't mean anything. Our boy's still responsible for them. Three of them predated the murders we've definitely identified as belonging to our boy, and the profilers say he probably developed his calling card after he'd been at it for a while. And the other two, the sites where the bodies were dumped had been disturbed prior to discovery. Anything could have happened. Calling card or not, you can't miss the guy's handiwork."
"You're sure the perp's male?" Billy asked.
"No doubt about it," Adam said with conviction. "I don't think a woman could have done it. Murder weapon's a knife . . . short, stubby blade . . . heavy and very sharp. Does a lot of damage but doesn't go deep enough to kill quickly. The victims all bled heavily before they died." The man swallowed convulsively. "Then, we think in an effort to keep the victims from being identified, he cuts off the head, hands and feet.
"No finger, palm or footprints and no dental records," Lee replied, looking a little sick.
Dwyer nodded. "He's a sadistic bastard, too. The medical examiner's convinced that his victims are still alive when he starts the amputations."
"Christ!" Camden muttered and suddenly set his beer bottle back down on the table.
"You don't know *anything* about the victims?" Billy demanded.
"Damned little," Dwyer said, staring blindly down at the table. "They were all women and as far as we can tell, none of them were molested before they were killed. Do you know, we haven't even been able to come up with possibles of missing persons for our victims? In every instance, the body we've found doesn't even remotely match *anyone* that's gone missing from the area."
"So he's picking his target in one place and then moving her to another . . . can we say, probably *before* he kills her?" Lee said quietly, thinking aloud.
"Absolutely," Dwyer answered immediately. "She's killed where she's found. The quantity of blood at the scene confirms that. We're pretty well convinced now that he's really mobile and he's moving them long distances before he kills them. We've found bodies in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Kansas."
"No duplicates?" Billy asked.
"No, not among the confirmed cases. If you take into account the other five, you do get some duplication along the west coast, but there's no evidence you could use to make a case that that's where he comes from. And I'll tell you something else. He's moving eastward. The earliest bodies found were all restricted to the west coast area . . . California, Washington and Oregon . . . but then he started moving outward and the one we found earlier this month was in Kansas City."
"Great," Lee said sourly. "Just what we need . . . a serial killer on top of everything else."
"There's just no way to work something like that," Warfield said in frustration. "No handle to get hold of."
"Tell me about it," Dwyer agreed bitterly. "I've been on this one since the very beginning . . . over three years . . . and I swear I'm no closer than I was the day I started." He suddenly looked up and locked eyes with Lee. "It was more than Max could take. He stuck with it for almost two years, but finally . . ." Dwyer shook his head, his eyes falling once more. "You know his wife and daughters disappeared like this."
"You mean you think this guy . . ." Wallace began in horror, but Dwyer shook his head sharply.
"No! Nothing like that. They just vanished. One day they were there and the next they weren't."
"I didn't know that," Lee said, shaken. The memory of his lost parents flashed through his mind, and he shuddered. "Did he ever find out . . ."
"Yes. It took about a year, though. This was before we started working together. Turns out it was a car wreck. Max was working out of the L.A. office and they were living in Pomona at the time. She and the kids were taking a 'scenic' route back from visiting friends and went off the road into a wild canyon back in the San Gabriel mountains. She was coming back early and wasn't expected home for a couple of days so the search was late in starting. It was late in the fall, and in the intervening time, the weather turned and it began to snow in the mountains. It covered all traces of the wreck. Bad luck all the way around. The car was found by some back country hikers late the following summer. It was really tough. And working this case just brought it all back. He kept envisioning the families wondering what had happened to their wives and daughters . . . it finally just got to be more than he could take. He asked for a transfer, knowing that I'd stick with it."
Lee shook his head. "God, Adam, I'm sorry."
Adam leaned back and closed his eyes. After a moment, he shrugged wearily. "Way the cards fall. What can you do?"
"The best you can," Billy Melrose said sadly. "It's all any of us can do."
Wednesday, April 3, 1985
The man prowled his small living room restlessly. Outside, the daylight was fading rapidly and soon darkness would blanket the city. Nighttime was always the worst . . . and the best. Darkness fed the hunger and the lust would come hard upon him. But hunting was easier then . . . they weren't as wary and it was easy to find one.
But the metallic taste of dissatisfaction held him. The ones on the street at night . . . they weren't really what he needed. They stilled the lust for a time . . . drove back the ghost that was forever at his shoulder calling for more . . . but only for a very short time. Then the need would be on him again, harder than ever. No, experience told him that the needy, grasping ones that he met in bars wouldn't be enough . . . the ghost demanded the "good" ones. The ones that didn't go out and pick up poor, hapless men in bars for what they could get out of them. The good ones stilled the lust for a much longer time.
In his mind, the voice called . . . still whispery soft. But soon it would become loud and harsh, demanding action . . . demanding the blood. He had met several of the "good" ones recently. The one at work with the russet-colored hair . . . she would do nicely. But it was too soon. He needed more time if he was to do it properly. So would the brunette from the other day, or the dark girl from the coffee shop this morning.
He stopped his restless pacing, coming to a decision. It was too soon for them. The ghost would just have to settle for whatever he could find on the streets tonight.
Thursday, April 4, 1985
"Mrs. King? Hello!"
Amanda turned at the sound of her name and smiled in delighted surprise. "Mr. Carlyle! Hello again. How nice to see you. What are you doing here?"
"Getting lunch," he replied with a laugh. "I've got a meeting at 2:00 at a company just up the street and thought that I would find someplace close to grab a bite to eat. This was the only place I could find."
"I'm afraid it *is* the only thing really close. This neighborhood is mainly office buildings and most people either bring their lunches or go the mile or so up to 'restaurant row'. This deli is really good about catering to those of us who prefer to stay close to our offices. But I'm surprised to see you again. I would have thought you would have gone home by this time."
"Oh, I did," he assured her. Then he grimaced ruefully. "At which point they turned me around and sent me right back. They were so pleased with the first account I managed to land, that they wanted me to try again. So here I am."
"Are you going to be here long?"
Thomas shook his head. "No. At least, not this trip. I arrived yesterday morning, and I'm scheduled to fly back Saturday morning. How often I'll be coming back largely depends on how successful the first few trips to the area turn out to be."
"It must be hard, being away from home so often," she said sympathetically as the two of them moved one step closer to the order counter.
"Well, you get used to it after a while. And it's not like I have a wife or kids waiting for me. It's a lot harder for my married co-workers."
"That's true not only for the one who travels but the ones who stay behind." It was Amanda's turn to grimace. "Trust me, I know that first-hand."
"Your ex-husband is in sales, I take it."
"No, but his job did require that he spend large periods of time away from home. He wanted me to come along, but with the boys being so young and needing a stable home . . ."
Thomas nodded. "It wouldn't have worked at all."
"May I help you, Mrs. King?" the young woman behind the counter asked.
"Hello, Rachel. I'll have chicken salad on whole wheat and iced tea, please."
Before the woman could turn away, Thomas added hastily, "Why don't you make that two? You will eat with me, won't you?"
Amanda hesitated briefly, thinking of the pile of work sitting in the middle of her desk, but relented at the pleading expression on his face. "I'd love to." They waited, chatting companionably, while their lunches were prepared and then carried them to an outdoor table in front of the store.
"You really didn't have to buy my lunch," Amanda protested when he refused to take money for her share of the lunch tab.
"I know, but I'm glad to do it. You're much better company than the newspaper or the pigeons."
"Oh, and speaking of doing things for me, I meant to thank you for the flowers. They were absolutely gorgeous! My mother is still going on about them."
"I'm glad you liked them," Thomas replied, looking pleased.
Over the course of the next 45 minutes, the two enjoyed a leisurely lunch, talking and joking. Amanda learned that Thomas had grown up in San Diego, where his mother and stepfather owned a fishing boat. His mother had died when he was only six and he had been raised by his stepfather, living and working on the family boat. Thomas fully admitted that even though the boat was his inheritance and his legacy, he'd had no desire to continue in the family business. When his stepfather had been lost at sea when he was 19, Thomas had collected the insurance money and used it, what he had managed to save, and the money from working several part time jobs to put himself through college, earning a business degree from the University of California at San Diego. After that, he'd worked for various firms, first in San Diego, then Los Angeles, and finally in San Francisco.
Amanda finally sighed and looked at her watch. "I guess I had better get back to work," she said. "All the stuff on my desk isn't going to do itself."
"Thank you so much for having lunch with me," he said warmly. "This was so much more pleasant than eating alone."
"I enjoyed it, too," she agreed with a smile.
Thomas hesitated and then continued hastily, "At the risk of making a nuisance of myself, do you suppose you might be willing to have dinner with me tomorrow night? I've got meetings with clients this evening and all day tomorrow, but I'll be done by 4:00. I tried for a flight out of Dulles but everything was booked, and now I'm looking at a very bleak Friday evening."
"I'm not surprised you couldn't get a flight," Amanda said as she stood and carried her trash to a nearby garbage can. "People tend to clear out of this city on Friday evening." She hesitated, thinking about it. Finally, she said, "Yes, we could have dinner." Then she looked at him apologetically. "As long as you don't mind it being early. My boys have a Saturday/Sunday scout outing and since I'm the den mother, I have to go. I'll have packing to do and then we have to be on the move early on Saturday . . ."
"Well, what do you say I pick you up at your office at about 5:15? We can go out, have a drink, get an early dinner, and then I could drop you back at your office to pick up your car so you could go home from there. Would that work for you?"
Amanda nodded. "That would work. I'll see you tomorrow evening then."
"You are a saint!" Thomas proclaimed with such enthusiasm that it caused Amanda to blush. With a jaunty wave, he walked off, whistling happily.
As Amanda walked back toward I.F.F., it occurred to her to wonder what Lee would think of this arrangement. After considering it for a moment, she decided that maybe it would be better if she just didn't mention it.
Sunday, April 14, 1985
The man advanced slowly through the woods, following the trail of blood through the undergrowth. It was hot and humid and the insects buzzed around his head mercilessly. He hadn't thought she could run, but he guessed he shouldn't be surprised. They were all like that . . . lying, deceitful, never to be trusted. This one . . . she'd been easy to read. Knew exactly what she wanted and thought she could get it from him. But he knew her kind now . . . knew how to lure them into the trap. He would find her. She couldn't get away from him. And in the end, she would pay.
The blood lust was hard on him, now . . . driving him after her. Ahead, he heard a sharp rustle and a soft whimper. He increased his speed, a gleeful grin twisting his face. Soon she would know the price of her folly . . .
Thursday, April 18, 1985
Amanda juggled the stack of files in her hand and then knocked on the door to the second floor conference room across the hall from the Q Bureau. She heard an indistinct call and struggled with the door for a moment before tripping the latch and pushing the door open. Lee was leaning back in a chair with his feet propped up on the table as he spoke to someone on the phone. He waved her in as he said, ". . . an embassy party, but it should be interesting. The guest list ought to be a who's who of important people." He paused, listening for a moment, and then smiled. "Great! I'll pick you up at 7:00 tomorrow evening. Hmmm, you too." With a satisfied smile, he sat up and dropped the receiver back into the cradle as Amanda dumped the files onto the table in front of him.
"Date?" she asked him nonchalantly.
"Uh huh. Going to dinner and a reception tomorrow evening at the British Embassy."
Amanda raised an eyebrow in surprise. "I thought you were on the duty roster to work that State dinner tomorrow evening."
"I was, but I conned Beaman into working it for me."
"Let me guess . . . Brandie wanted to go."
"I'd never take Brandie to something like this!" he replied in horror.
"Jasmine? Rebecca? Elaine? Vanessa?"
"Oh no, wait. It's Yvette, isn't it? The French bombshell, I think you called her. What did you say she did?"
"She's a flight attendant," he said stiffly. "What about it?"
Amanda held up her hands defensively. "Nothing! I'm sure you'll have a wonderful time. I brought you all of the reports on the Cathigan Corporation. You didn't say how far back you wanted me to go, so I brought everything I could find."
"Just leave them and I'll go through them later," he replied snappishly, still smarting from her teasing. "So what are your big plans for tomorrow evening?"
"As it happens, I have a date," she replied smugly.
Lee stared at her in consternation. "Oh yeah? Who's the lucky guy?" he finally said. Then he frowned. "Surely not that loser, Dan . . ."
Amanda stared at him in exasperation. "It's Dean, not Dan . . . as you well know. And he is *not* a loser. He's very successful and good at what he does."
"He's a stiff!"
"He is not!" she replied indignantly.
"Oh please! You could make lumber out of the guy. Anyway, I thought you broke up with him. Why the hell are you . . ."
"I never said I was going out with Dean," she replied with a trace of irritation. "As a matter of fact, I'm having dinner at Les Halles de Paris with Tom Carlyle."
Lee frowned. "Carlyle? Who the hell is th-" Then he stopped abruptly, his eyes widening slightly as he made the connection. "Wait a minute. You mean that alleged salesman that showed up here last month?"
"What do you mean, 'alleged' salesman? He *is* a salesman. And he's - "
"Are you crazy?!?" he demanded in alarm, sitting up abruptly. "You don't know anything about this guy and you're going out on a date with him?"
"He is a very nice man!" she shot back, starting to look angry. "He's polite and dependable, and he treats me like a lady. I enjoy myself when I'm out with him!"
"'You *enjoy* yourself'?" Lee shouted, fear for her safety curling through his gut. "Are you telling me you've been out with him before this?"
"What difference is it to you?" she asked hotly, leaning forward and planting her hands on top of the stack of file folders between them. "Since when do you have to approve the men I date?"
Catching an unfamiliar flash of silver at her wrist, he shot to his feet and grabbed her arm. "Well, this is new," he said. He examined the silver bracelet and its leaping dolphin charm with exaggerated interest. "Is this from your boyfriend?"
"Yes, it's from Thomas," she snapped, pulling her arm out of his grasp.
"Good Lord, Amanda, what were you *thinking*???? You're taking gifts from a guy you don't even know again?"
"*Again* . . . what do you mean, *AGAIN*?" she demanded, now totally furious with him. Then she added, "And it wasn't a gift, . . . at least not the kind *you* mean. Thomas took the boys and me on an outing -"
"You're allowing him around your sons?" Lee sputtered in horror, but Amanda kept right on going, seemingly oblivious to his protests.
" -to the shore last weekend. We went to a carnival and he was playing one of those midway games and he won it for me. It's perfectly innocent."
"Oh yeah, just as innocent as that concubine ring that Alan Squires gave you!"
Amanda flushed hotly. "Leave it to you, Lee Stetson, to keep throwing that back in my face. How many times do I have to say that I'm sorry about what happened? Or maybe you think men only date me when they want to try to infiltrate the Agency!" She shoved the arm bearing the bracelet under his nose angrily. "Here, you want to check it for bugs?"
"No, I don't want to check the damned thing for bugs! But I sure as hell want to run a check on Carlyle!"
Amanda stared at him in outrage. "A check! You run background checks on the men I date?"
By this time, both of them were yelling. "Hell yes, I run checks on the men you date! As hard as I've tried, you still insist on playing Lady Bond, super spy, and you're always getting into trouble. You're so damned naïve that you'll trust anyone. If *you* won't be cautious, someone has to be!"
"How *dare* you! What gives you the right to do something like that?" She pointed a shaking finger at him. "Don't you *ever* do that again, do you hear me? Not *EVER*!!! I'll darn well date whoever I please, and you are to keep your nose out of it!"
"Amanda, this guy is dangerous! I watched him the . . ."
"You *watched* him? Now you're telling me that you skulk around and watch me, too? Is there nothing you won't stoop to?"
"I am *not* sk - Damn it, Amanda, don't change the subject! This Carlyle . . ."
"Is a nice man and I won't listen to any more of your nonsense. So just drop it!"
The sudden, overwhelming rush of jealousy that was triggered by her last comment finally caused him to lose the last vestige of his self-control. Rounding the table, Lee reached out and grabbed her arms roughly. "What is wrong with you?" he yelled. "Why won't you ever *listen* to me?"
"Let go of me," she spat back, trying to throw off his hands, but he refused to release her.
"You have to listen to me!"
"I said, let go of me!" She wrenched herself free from his grasp, pushing him away sharply so he couldn't try to grab her again. Caught unexpectedly, Lee stumbled backward, losing his balance and landing hard on the floor.
"Don't you ever touch me again," she said her voice shaking in fury. "In fact, I want you out of my life. You stay away from my family. You stay away from anyone I know. And, most especially, *you stay *away* from ME.*"
"Amanda . . . Amanda, I'm sorry," Lee said frantically, scrambling to his feet. "I didn't mean . . ."
"Don't you *ever* come near me again!" She spun, intending to leave, only to come face to face with Billy Melrose and Francine Desmond. Both of them stared at her in shock. Amanda took a deep breath and then, in a rush, said, "I'm very sorry, Mr. Melrose. I hope you'll understand, but I'm resigning, effective immediately. I'll clean out my desk and be out of here as quickly as I can. I apologize for the lack of notice." Then she shoved her way past them and was gone.
"*AMANDA!*" Lee cried, desperately trying to go after her, but Billy blocked his path.
"What the hell did you say to her, Scarecrow?" Billy demanded angrily.
Lee refused to look at either of them as he continued to struggle to get past them and follow Amanda. 'God, what have I done?' he thought frantically. "I've got to talk to her, Billy! She doesn't understand. I've got to explain . . ."
"I think you've done more than enough already," Melrose snapped. "You stay away from her. Let me take care of this."
"But . . ."
"I said, stay away from her! In fact, I want you out of here completely. I'm pulling you off the duty roster until Monday. If you're in the building, I doubt that she'll stay, and I need her. Now go."
"Billy, *please* -"
"Francine, I want you to see that he goes home. Either take him or follow him until you know he's there. Make sure he turns in his badge to Mrs. Marston. I'll let the guards know he's not to be allowed back in until Monday." Billy glared at Lee fiercely. "I mean it, Scarecrow. You stay away from Amanda King or you'll end up on the next boat to Lapland." With that, Billy turned and left.
Lee and Francine stood in strained silence, until she finally said quietly, "You heard him, Lee. Let's clean this up and go." He hesitated for a moment longer and then his shoulders slumped dejectedly. Silently, he picked up his jacket and walked out. Francine watched him in concern as she pulled the door to the conference room closed behind them. Pausing, she called, "Lee . . ." He just kept moving slowly toward the stairway at the end of the hall. "Lee!" she called more urgently, following him. Reaching out she grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop. He turned to look at her, eyes vacant. 'He looks downright shell-shocked,' she thought.
"What?" he finally asked in a curiously dead voice.
"What about the files?" she asked him, gesturing back the way they had come. She watched as his eyes slid to the door behind her and then fell again.
"Screw it." Then he turned and walked away again. Francine stood there for an instant and then shrugged and went after him. Descending the stairs quickly, she saw Lee throw his I.D. on Mrs. Marston's desk and walk out the door without a word. Francine followed, taking only enough time to pass her own identification to the other woman and asking her to get someone to move the files to Lee's desk down in the bullpen. Then she ran after Lee. She managed to catch up to him as he was unlocking the door to the Corvette. Reaching out from behind, she snatched the keys out of his hand and pushed him toward the back of the car.
"I'm driving," she told him firmly, knowing he wasn't in a fit state to be behind the wheel of a car. Waving him toward the other side of the vehicle, she opened the driver's side door, climbed in, and shut it behind her. She watched as he turned, rounded the car, and got in on the passenger's side without a single word of protest. His silent acquiescence caused the hair to stand up on the back of her neck. This wasn't like the Lee Stetson she knew at all.
Starting the car, she pulled out of the lot into traffic and began heading in the direction of his apartment, but quickly changed her mind. He had no business being alone in this state of mind. Who knows what he would do if she simply took him to his apartment and dropped him off. Making a right a short time later, she began to drive aimlessly. They rode in silence for a long time, and she watched him warily out of the corner of her eye. His expression was utterly blank as he stared sightlessly out the front window. Finally, in a carefully neutral tone, Francine asked, "So what did you say to make Amanda so angry?" She saw him blink and start slightly, but he didn't reply. "Come on, Lee, you can tell me. I know I haven't exactly been the president of the Amanda King fan club, but in the two years since I met her, I think I've gotten to know her pretty well. That business a little while ago is totally out of character for her. Something must have happened. What was it?"
Finally, in a low voice he replied, "I only wanted to protect her."
Francine shot him a startled look and then in the same neutral tone, she replied, "Of course you did. She's your partner. That's what you're supposed to do. So what did you say?"
"I - I told her . . ." He paused and then heaved a deep sigh. "I told her that I ran background checks on her boyfriends."
"You -" she choked out and then stopped. She took a deep breath and said weakly, "Oh boy . . ."
In an abrupt shift of mood, Lee slammed a fist down on the dashboard in front of him and swore. "She is so *damned* naïve! She just can't get it through her head that not everyone in this world is good and kind and gentle, or will respond positively to that kind of treatment. This is a nasty business, Francine. We both know it. But she just won't see it. Do you know what she's doing now? Do you?"
"She's dating that guy that came into the Agency about a month ago."
"The one that gave Mrs. Marston such a hard time."
"That computer parts salesman? How did she hook up with him?"
"I have no idea! I didn't even know they had been going out until this afternoon. I tell you, Francine, I don't like this guy. There's something about him that really gets my back up."
"You didn't even meet him," she objected.
"No, but I saw the entire altercation on the monitors and there was something not right about him."
"I don't know! It was just a feeling . . . like . . ." he sighed in frustration. "I can't . . . like he was hiding something maybe." He pounded his fist into the door in frustration. "And now I can't get back into the Agency to run the check and find out anything about him."
Carefully, Francine offered, "You know, Lee, maybe this really isn't any of your business. I know you worry about her, but you have to learn to draw the line somewhere. Don't you think that investigating her boyfriends might be pushing it just a little bit?"
"I know what you're thinking. You think I sound jealous."
"Well, now that you mention it . . ."
"This is *not* jealousy," he insisted forcefully. "My concern is as much for the Agency as anything else. Amanda makes the perfect target. She's relatively untrained so she doesn't have the skills to spot it when someone is conning her. That makes her a weak point in our organization . . . one that could break if the right pressure were applied."
Francine looked at her companion incredulously. He actually seemed to believe this drivel. "I don't think you're giving her enough credit, Lee. She's been a big girl for a long time now. And it really isn't your responsibility to check up on her personal -"
"Damn it, Francine, you know what I mean! She's just too easily blindsided. And I've never interfered with anyone she's tried to date . . . God forbid. But I have made certain that they were who they said they were, and that there were no surprises." He turned to her suddenly. "That's why you have to do this favor for me, Francine."
"Oh, no! Not on your life, Lee Stetson. I'm not going to run a background check on Amanda King's newest boyfriend for you! Not only is it ethically questionable and specifically against the rules, but it's also downright tacky. Furthermore, Billy would kill me if I got caught."
"You have to, Francine. You're the only one I can trust to do it."
"If you want it so desperately, then wait until you come back on Monday and run it yourself!"
"I need it by tomorrow evening! Come on, Francine. Please! I'll owe you one."
"Well . . ."
She sighed heavily. "I swear, I must be out of my mind . . ."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When Billy walked into the bullpen, he immediately sensed the tension. Small groups of people huddled together, whispering among themselves, while others who had to cross the bullpen were making it a point to give a wide berth to the desk on the far side of the room. He looked around, searching for Amanda King, but didn't see any sign of her. Suddenly, Billy caught motion out of the corner of his eye and looked around just as Leatherneck came up beside him.
"What's happened?" the man asked quietly, giving Billy a knowing look.
"Oh, yeah. I've *never* seen her this agitated, not even at Scarecrow. Who upset her?"
"Who do you think?" Billy asked in disgust.
Leatherneck just sighed and shook his head. "He's never going to change, is he? Anyone with half an eye can tell Amanda's crazy about him and that she'd do anything for him. I feel so sorry for her."
"When it comes to this kind of thing, he's an idiot . . . we all know that. I'm just grateful that he's never treated her the way he does all of the others. So where is she?"
"Just headed toward the ladies room. I think she needed to get away from prying eyes for a while. It looks like she's packing, Billy."
Billy sighed softly. "Yeah, I know. I've got to find a way to stop her . . . as much for Lee's sake as for hers. He's already half-sick over the fight. He'll never forgive himself if they split for good on these terms."
"What the hell did he do?" Leatherneck asked in disgust.
"God alone knows."
Leatherneck gestured with his head. "Here she comes. Good luck."
Gazing at Amanda's face, Billy shook his head. "Thanks. It looks like I'm going to need it." Crossing to her quickly, he caught her elbow and turned her toward his office. "Come on, Amanda. We need to talk."
She tried to pull away and said, "No, sir. There's nothing to -"
"It was not a request, Mrs. King. It was an order. In." Closing the door firmly behind them, he reached up to close the blinds as he gestured her to a chair. "Sit down."
Amanda stubbornly remained standing. "There really is nothing to talk about, Mr. Melrose. I meant it when I said that I quit. I'll just get the last of my things and then I'll be out of the way for good. And I would prefer to have it done before Mr. Stetson puts in an appearance."
"He won't. I've ordered him out of the building until Monday. Francine is to see that he leaves, and security has been ordered to see that he stays out." Amanda's eyes widened in shock and she reached for the back of the nearby chair to steady herself, as she watched him round his desk and sink into his chair. Reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk, he pulled out the large bottle of antacid tablets and popped a couple into his mouth with a grimace. "Would you please sit down. You're making me nervous, standing there like that."
She finally moved over to the chair and sank into it slowly. "You banned him from the Agency?" she asked weakly.
"Yes, I did. Amanda, you are a reasonable and incredibly tolerant woman. And I know Scarecrow only too well. For you to react the way you did a little while ago tells me that he's done something seriously wrong this time. I consider you a valuable asset to the Field Office and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you go without knowing what the hell is going on here. Now, tell me what happened up there this afternoon."
Finally, for the first time since the entire incident occurred, Amanda's brain seemed to get beyond the thought of 'he's running background checks on my boyfriends'. She bowed her head and considered the situation carefully. It would take a really great stretch of the imagination for anyone to believe that Lee had been running those checks as part of Agency business. 'Misuse of government resources and his clearances,' a voice in her mind whispered. 'That's in direct violation of his employment contract and the oaths you both had to sign when you accepted employment with the Agency.' With sudden clarity, she realized just how much trouble Lee Stetson would be in if this came to light. Dr. Smyth disliked her partner and had been hunting for a reason to get rid of him ever since Harry Thornton retired. This could easily be the ammunition he needed to accomplish it.
"Amanda, I asked you a question. What happened up there?"
Slowly, she raised her head and looked her boss in the eye. Picking her words carefully, she replied, "It had nothing to do with work, sir. It was a personal dispute between Lee and myself. I'd rather not say any more than that."
"And yet, whatever it was, it made you feel that you had to quit the Agency."
"It seems to me that makes it about work, then."
"No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. I mean -" She stopped, flustered. Then she sighed in frustration and tried again. "Mr. Melrose, over the last couple of years, I thought Lee and I had become friends. I know that he never really took me seriously as an agent, but I really did believe that he respected me."
"You've always had great instincts, Amanda . . ."
"Yes, sir. So you've said. But I don't think Lee ever really agreed with you. But it doesn't matter any longer. The point is that the fight this afternoon . . . well, it just brought up some things that have obviously been building between us for a long time now. What they are, I'd rather not say, but I promise you they aren't work-related. It just reached the point where I realize that I can't work with him any more." She bowed her head and stared at her hands, which lay folded in her lap. There was deep sadness in her voice as she added softly, "That's why I believe it would be better for everyone concerned if I left the Agency and found work somewhere else."
Billy leaned back in his chair and contemplated her for a long time. Finally, he said quietly, "I'm not prepared to accept that, Amanda, and I won't accept your resignation." Her head snapped up and she stared at him in astonishment. "At least, not yet," he added as she he saw her start to protest. "Whatever happened between the two of you is too fresh . . . too raw . . . for you to make a clear-headed decision about anything. I know that before you were halfway down the hall, Lee was trying to follow you to apologize. I practically had to restrain him bodily. All too often, Scarecrow's mouth engages before his brain does, and he can be extremely thoughtless and insensitive when he really loses his temper."
"I've experienced that firsthand," she replied bitterly.
Billy nodded regretfully. "I've seen you be the target of it more times than I care to consider. And you've always forgiven him for those lapses. I don't know, maybe you can't forgive him for whatever he's done this time. But I *am* going to ask you to give this some time before you make a decision you may be sorry for after the heat of the moment has passed."
"I don't know . . ."
"I do," Billy said forcefully. "And I also want you to consider this. If you finally decide that you simply *can't* work with Lee Stetson any longer, I'm prepared to find you a new partner, and I will see to it that you aren't assigned to work on any case that Lee is involved in. Not only that, if you feel that you simply can't work in Field Section at all, I will find another place for you somewhere else in the Agency, whether it's in research, cryptography, or whatever." He leaned forward and stared at her earnestly. "I do not want this agency to lose your talents, Amanda. You bring a fresh perspective and a logical mind to this work . . . something that tends to be very hard to find. You also have contacts in places that we don't, and an understanding of a section of this metropolitan society that I can get nowhere else. That is a valuable asset. I'm not going to lose that without a fight."
Amanda gazed at him silently for a long time. Finally, she licked her lips and said hesitantly, "So what is it that you want me to do?"
"What I'd *like* for you to do is go back out to your desk, unpack that damned box, and get back to work on the case summary I gave you this morning. But I also realize that may be a bit much to ask. If you need to get away from here for a while, I understand. But I would like you to come in tomorrow morning to work on that summary. I really do need it for a meeting tomorrow afternoon with Smyth. Then, think about what I've said. You can give me a decision about what you want to do on Monday. I swear, I'll keep Scarecrow away from you while you give it careful thought. Can you do that for me?"
Slowly, she nodded. "All right," she agreed reluctantly.
"Good." Billy stood and came around the desk as Amanda rose from her chair. Placing a hand in the small of her back, he guided her gently toward the door. "There's just one other thing," he said, stopping her as she reached for the doorknob. His face hardened as he said firmly, "I've ordered Scarecrow to stay away from you, both here and at home. If he shows up at your house, or even runs into you on the street, I want to know about it. He's violated enough direct orders, and I've had it. I won't tolerate him violating this one. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes, sir," she replied quietly.
"Good. Think about what I've said." Then he opened the door for her. With a subdued nod, she left the office and crossed the bullpen slowly. Billy opened the blinds again and watched her walk up to her desk and stare down at the box sitting on her chair. Finally, she picked it up and set it down on the floor in the back corner of her workspace. Then she sat down in the chair, retrieved a pad of paper out of one of the drawers, pulled a file out of her inbox, and began reading. After a moment, she picked up a pen and began jotting notes on the pad. Billy saw several people watching her, but thankfully, all of them left her alone. 'Well, she's not unpacking,' he thought ruefully, 'but she's also not bolting out the door. That's one small victory.' He frowned as he turned away from the window. 'What the hell did Scarecrow do?' he wondered. 'And, even more importantly, why is she still protecting him?'
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The man paced the small room wildly, the driving bloodlust eating at him like acid. Outside his second story window, the mid-afternoon traffic was stalled by an accident further up the street. Car horns and raised voices added to his agitation, causing him to talk compulsively to himself.
"Wait . . . wait . . . must wait. Not now. Not in the light. The light will let them see." The voice whispered to him, calling seductively . . . urging him to seek the blood. Blood for blood. It stilled the voice. Her voice . . . the first one. She still called him. Anna . . . he would never forget her name. He remembered her . . . her soft brown hair and warm brown eyes. He thought she was different. Always pleasant. Always friendly. Seemingly interested in him. When he tried to . . . she laughed . . . laughed at him for thinking she would . . . But she didn't laugh for long. The blood cleansed the humiliation . . . brought satisfaction . . . But she wouldn't leave him alone. He could hear her calling, even now. Only the blood stilled her voice . . . for a while . . .
He should have known. The Man had told him . . . they all lie. Didn't his own mother teach him that lesson? He remembered her, too . . . lying . . . saying she would always be there. But she hadn't been, had she? Married The Man . . . the one that beat him . . . beat them both.
He closed his eyes, trying to purge the vision. The blood . . . the first time he'd experienced it . . . the call of the blood. He didn't understand then . . . only six years old. They'd been far out at sea fishing for the big ones when it happened. He'd tried to tell her to get up, but she wouldn't . . . just laid there, surrounded by the blood, while That One had laughed drunkenly, the pipe still in his hand, and told her she wouldn't lie to him any more. He remembered the dolphin along the side of the boat and the way it had circled, chattering, when she hit the water. Like some kind of obscene laughter. But most of all, he remembered the blood . . . spreading across the deck like a creeping flood. It called to him, even though he didn't understand why.
It wasn't until he heard Anna's voice . . . laughing -- chattering like that dolphin . . . that he began to understand. The voice came from the blood and only blood could still it. He first heard it as he stood over her staring at the growing pool of crimson. It was intoxicating . . . to know that she would never lie . . . never laugh at him again. But then he heard it . . . her voice, calling to him over and over . . . telling him to join his blood to hers . . . and he was afraid. His mother had never called to him in this way. And so he ran, and for a time that had been enough. Moving from place to place had muted it, but it never really went away. And eventually, it always grew louder and more demanding again.
It was Carla that showed him how to silence the voice. He gave the liars like her to the voice and then it was still . . . but only for a while. It always came back . . . just like it was calling to him now. It never laughed at him any longer. Now it was like a siren's call . . . driving him . . . making him find the blood.
He turned to the door, the need to still the voice driving him harder than it ever had before. He needed the silence! If only he had been able to complete the one the other day . . .
Friday, April 19, 1985
"Lee . . . Lee, did you hear me? Stetson!"
The hand on Lee's arm caused him to jump. Focusing abruptly on the woman beside him, he blinked and said, "What?"
Yvette Montand looked up at her companion irritably and replied, "I asked if you would dance with me. What's wrong with you? You're acting like you're bored."
The glitter of ball gowns, expensive jewelry, fine crystal, and powerful people surrounded them, while music and the sound of laughter filled the air. But it all seemed dull and somehow dreary to him tonight. He had no heart for this evening, but knew that he owed it to his companion to at least try. After a moment, he smiled at the lovely blonde apologetically. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to seem distant. Work's just been a bear recently and I can't seem to let it go tonight."
"Well, I'd suggest you try," she said snappishly. "I have better things to do than hang around with a man who can't keep his mind where it belongs. So do you want to dance with me or not?"
"Of course," he replied, forcing himself to hide his own irritation. Reluctantly, Lee followed her out onto the dance floor and took her into his arms. The music was slow and romantic, and Yvette stepped into his embrace and nestled against his body immediately. She rested her head against his shoulder and after a moment, he felt her hand begin drifting up and down his back in a slow, sensual caress as the two of them moved in time to the music. Still feeling a little guilty, he ignored her caresses and once again let his mind return to the subject that had been eating at him constantly for the last 24 hours.
'How could you have been such a stupid, idiotic, callous, God-forsaken son of a bitch,' he asked himself angrily. 'You knew she wouldn't be happy if she found out you'd been checking up on her. And throwing Alan Squires in her face! What the hell were you thinking, Stetson?!? And now, because of your thoughtlessness and temper, she's gone. You've lost the best friend you've ever had.' That thought sent a stab of pain through his chest that all but took his breath away. He closed his eyes, once again remembering the look on her face and when he had manhandled her. He had never seen her look like that. He might just as well have struck her.
'Why?' he asked himself for about the hundredth time. 'What made you act like that?' The first thing that came to mind was that she was being unreasonable. So he checked on the men she dated. Was that so wrong? A large part of his job was to keep his partner safe. That was what he had been trying to do. Wasn't it? Then why did the answer to that question make him feel so uneasy? And if it *was* that simple and straightforward, why didn't Amanda see it? For someone capable of babbling the way she did, she had a remarkably neat and orderly mind. Why didn't she see the logic in his reasoning? Worse yet, why didn't Francine? She had argued long and hard with him about doing the background check on Carlyle, even *after* she had agreed. Her parting comment about what she would do to any man that did something like that to her still rang in his ears.
But reason aside, it didn't explain why he had lashed out at Amanda when she tried to defend the man. Francine had told him point-blank several times that it sounded to her like good, old-fashioned jealousy. But there was nothing for him to be jealous over. They didn't have that kind of relationship. They came from two entirely different worlds and neither had any desire to cross over into the other's . . . did they?
He felt Yvette stir in his arms, and met her gaze with a half-hearted smile as she leaned back and looked up at him coldly. "This is so much better," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Sorry," he snapped back, feeling anger beginning to stir. 'Give me a break,' he thought. 'I've got a lot on my mind right now.' Briefly, he considered telling Yvette about the problem, but dismissed the idea as soon as he thought of it. He wasn't about to tell this woman about Amanda. She would neither understand nor care. Furthermore, Amanda was so special . . . it would be like violating her trust to speak of their relationship to someone like Yvette. No, this was his problem and he would have to be the one to find a way out of it.
They drifted to a stop as the music ended and the band rose to take a break. "Do you want some champagne?" he suggested.
Catching her hand, he tucked it into the crook of his arm and led her toward the champagne fountain at one end of the huge reception room. Picking up a glass, he handed it to her and then gazed around the room idly. Stifling his irritation, he tried again. "I notice that all of the big-time, Washington power brokers are out in force tonight," he commented, and began pointing out some of the more prominent senators, lobbyists, and government officials.
Acknowledging his attempt to try to smooth things over, she replied more civilly. "There are a few celebrities, too." They played an amusing game of who's who for a while, testing the other's knowledge of the identities of various people in the room, but it wasn't long before Lee's attention began to wander back to his partner again. With a low, aggravated mutter, Yvette handed her empty glass to a passing waiter and said, "I've had it. You want to brood all night, then fine . . . go right ahead. But I'm not going to stand here and wait while you do it. Consider yourself ditched, Stetson. I'll find my own way home!" With that, she stalked off.
He watched her swaying hips and cascade of honey-blonde hair with an immense feeling of relief. 'Good riddance,' he thought. 'It was a stupid idea to even try to come tonight.' Then Lee shook his head, somewhat bemused. What was wrong with him? This woman was perfect for the kind of evening he thought he wanted. Why couldn't he just let the entire business with Amanda go for now? But he knew why. The nagging doubts about Carlyle still plagued him. He'd tried calling Francine two or three times throughout the day, but had never been able to reach her. He needed to know the results of her background check. Once he knew for certain that Carlyle was who he said he was, Lee was sure he could set the entire business with Amanda aside and work at salvaging the evening. He had just decided to go in search of a telephone when a familiar voice stopped him.
Turning, he spotted Adam Dwyer coming toward him. "Hey, Adam. I didn't know you were going to be here tonight."
"Um hmm. Working. How about you?"
"Nope. Tonight's pure recreation for me."
Dwyer looked around with raised eyebrows. "Alone?"
"On a Friday night? When have you ever known me to -"
"Never mind," the other man interrupted with a laugh. "I should have known better."
"Actually, you may not be that far off base. Yvette's around here somewhere, but she's ticked off at me and just told me to get lost."
"You losing your touch, Stetson?" Adam ribbed him.
"No. I just made a bad choice in dates, that's all."
"So what does she do?"
"She's a flight attendant."
"Well, it's not a whole lot different from most of the women you date."
"What do you mean by that?" Lee demanded testily.
"Nothing," Adam replied hastily. At Lee's look, Adam shrugged and with a sidelong glance, he added, "It's just that most of the women you date tend to be longer on looks than on brains."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Lee said stiffly. After a moment of strained silence, Lee decided to change the subject and asked, "So how did you get stuck working this affair? Don't the Brits have their own security people? Or has the Bureau decided you need more to do than chase your serial killer and opted to contract you out?"
Dwyer suddenly looked pleased. "I think we've finally caught a break on that bastard."
"Really? It's about time. You deserve one. What've you got?"
"His latest victim," Dwyer replied, looking almost gleeful. "Alive. The doctors say they think she's going to make it and we should be able to talk to her by tomorrow or the day after."
"That's *definitely* a break. Congratulations! What happened?"
"By the grace of God, she got away from him," he replied in satisfaction. A flash of light caught Lee's attention and he noticed that Dwyer was nervously working something silver between his fingers. The man's barely controlled anticipation was tangible. "They were in Louisiana . . . in a cypress forest. Apparently, she managed to get away from him and ran. She was lucky enough to stumble into a bunch of local hunters. Before the men could sort out what she was telling them, the guy had disappeared. The impression I get is that the locals would have gone after the guy, but the woman was pretty badly cut up and they were afraid if they didn't get her to help right away, that she was liable to die on them. So they got her to a hospital. Local law enforcement put two and two together and called us. We recruited local help and combed the woods, but by that time, it was way too late."
"She give you any kind of description?"
"Not yet. He'd managed to nail her with the knife several times before she got free. Something about the damned thing causes the victims to bleed like crazy and she was in pretty bad shape by the time they got her to the hospital. We managed to get her name and address and that was about it. She's been sedated ever since, but we've got men on the door ."
"Was she a local?"
Adam shook his head. "No. Believe it or not, she was from Silver Spring. Works for one of the government agencies over on 20th Street." He rattled off the name of the agency absently. "I told you he was moving east."
Lee felt a shiver as the cold finger of premonition touched him. "Do you know the address of the agency?"
Adam caught the strange expression on Lee's face as he repeated the address. "What's wrong?" he asked Lee quizzically.
"It's nothing," Lee said, trying to shrug off the growing sense of uneasiness. "Just a coincidence. The address is virtually identical to I.F.F.'s . . . same building number and everything. It's just that we're on 30th Street and this address is on 20th . . . just a mile or so over. So you found her in Louisiana? That's a long way from here."
"I told you the guy was moving his victims. If he's been consistent about that, we may never get the others identified."
Once again, the flash of silver caught Lee's attention and he noticed that Dwyer's increasing agitation had triggered an increase in the way he was working the object in his hand. "Have you taken up worry beads, Adam?" The other man looked at Lee blankly, so Lee gestured toward the object Dwyer was holding.
The F.B.I. agent laughed in embarrassment, stilling his restless movements. "Nervous habit. I've been carrying this since shortly after the third murder came to light . . . trying to make a link to the killer's mind, I guess." At Lee's puzzled look, Adam elaborated. "I told you he tended to leave a calling card." He opened his hand to show it to Lee, but before he could, a voice interrupted them.
Looking up, he spotted Francine hurrying toward him. That she was seriously upset was obvious. She was well groomed as always, but her brown silk sheath was one he'd seen her wear to work several times and it was definitely inappropriate for this function. She came toward him at a cross between a fast walk and a trot, ignoring the stares she received in the process. He took a couple of quick steps toward her and caught her arm as she hurried up.
"Francine! What are you doing here? What's wrong?"
"I've been searching for you everywhere!" she gasped breathlessly. "You were right about Carlyle. There's something really wrong about him."
Drawing her back to where he and Adam had been standing, he reached for the folder she held as he asked urgently, "What did you find?"
"He was a salesman for a company in San Francisco all right, but he was fired about four months ago. They said he had a really volatile temper and that he'd made threats against others in the company."
"What kind of threats?" Lee demanded, flipping through the sheets of paper in the file.
"The corporate Human Resources office wouldn't be specific, but I talked to one of the secretaries and she told me that for all that he seemed really charming when she first got to know him, after a while he really began to give her the creeps . . . always staring at the women in the office and going from sweet and friendly one minute to bitter and angry the next, seemingly with no warning at all. She also said that when he turned nasty, his favorite rant was about how women couldn't be trusted and that they were all liars. And that's not all. After hearing that, I decided to find out if this was the first time this problem had shown up. I began checking his employers previous to the San Francisco firm, and it seems he has a history of this same kind of problem in every company he's worked for. I backtracked him as far as his undergraduate degree at U.C. - San Diego and then lost the trail. But the pattern of behavior is pretty consistent."
"Who are we talking about?" Adam asked, craning to look at the file over Lee's shoulder.
"Remember the guy that turned up at I.F.F. a couple of weeks ago?" Lee said distractedly, continuing to skim the papers in the file.
"You mean the lost one that your partner helped?"
"Yes. He's been around off and on ever since. *Dear God . . .* he was suspected of murder in L.A.!" Catching the flash of silver out of the corner of his eye again, he glanced over. Suddenly, his eyes focused sharply on the object in Dwyer's hand and icy fear washed through him. His hand flashed out and grabbed Adam's wrist in a numbing grip. "What is that thing?" he demanded hoarsely.
Adam looked at him strangely but held it up at eye level so both Lee and Francine could get a clear view of the object. "I told you. My serial killer leaves a calling card on his victims. This came from one of them."
Lee's knees turned weak and he felt all of the blood drain from his face as he stared at the object. The leaping dolphin charm gleamed brightly from the silver bracelet . . . a bracelet identical to one he had seen yesterday.
"*Amanda . . .*"
Amanda smiled absently at her companion across the table, not really paying attention to what he was saying. She would have given a lot to be able to cancel her date with Thomas Carlyle this evening. She'd even tried, but being a salesman meant he was mobile and she hadn't been able to locate him to let him know that she couldn't go out this evening. She'd finally accepted that she had no choice but to go, but she was determined to make it a short evening. She just didn't have the heart for it.
Despite her best efforts, her thoughts kept returning to Lee. She was still a little numb. She had never been involved in an altercation like the one she'd had with him . . . not even during the worst times when her marriage to Joe was falling apart. She had been so angry. The audacity of the man, to check up on her like that!
And yet, the thing that surprised her the most was that she wasn't angry with him any longer. She kept telling herself that she should be, but it seemed that the only emotion left to her was hurt . . . a deep, constant ache that seemed to drain her energy and leave her numb and exhausted.
" . . . dinner?"
Amanda blinked at her companion, suddenly realizing that he had asked her a question. "I beg your pardon?"
He tilted his head and looked at her questioningly. "You seem rather distant this evening, Amanda. Is anything wrong?"
She smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, Thomas. I guess I'm just a bit preoccupied. It was a difficult week."
"There's nothing wrong with your mother or sons, is there?"
"No. They're all fine." She hesitated momentarily and then said vaguely, "It was work."
"Why don't you tell me about it?" he suggested, leaning forward and grasping her hand across the table. A light seemed to flare behind his eyes and his lips parted in anticipation. Something about his stare and his sudden avidness made her uneasy. 'Stop that,' she said sharply to herself. 'Don't let Lee Stetson's cynicism infect you.'
She shrugged noncommittally. "There's not really anything to tell," she replied. "The man I work with . . . the director . . . and I got into a dispute yesterday. It was just the most recent disagreement in a series of things, and I - I'm just not sure I want to put up with it any more."
"There must be more to it than that," he urged. "What was his problem? He didn't like your work in some way?"
"No. He's had some problems with my work in the past, but we resolved that."
"I'm sorry, Thomas, but I'd really rather not talk about it."
"That means that it must be something personal," he said flatly, and his expression changed subtly, turning harder. "You have a relationship with him." It wasn't a question.
"No!" she protested immediately. "Mr. Stetson and I are working partners. Nothing else."
Carlyle gestured to the waiter, calling for the bill. "If you say so," he said distantly. "You're finished, right?" He didn't even give her a chance to reply before he continued, "Good. Let me pay the bill, and then we'll leave."
"All right," she agreed readily. She smiled at him apologetically. "I have to admit that I'm tired tonight. I hope you'll forgive me if I ask that you just take me home."
He didn't reply, simply counting out bills onto the table. Then he rose, caught her by the elbow, and steered her in the direction of the front door. As they approached the valet parking station in front of the restaurant, Amanda noticed that none of the attendants were anywhere in sight. She paused, that feeling of unease stirring again, and she turned to say something to her companion. But he tightened his grip on her arm painfully, dragging her away from the valet station and up Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Thomas, what are you -" Amanda began to protest, trying to pull her arm free, but the man continued dragging her along.
"I'm in the mood for a walk," he said tautly. "Pershing Park is just up the street. I thought we could take a walk through there and work our way down toward the Washington Monument."
"No, Thomas! I want to go home!"
"But it's too soon," he replied, continuing to drag her along forcibly. For the first time since they left the restaurant, he looked directly at her. In the reflected light of a distant streetlamp, his face appeared totally alien, and she recoiled in fear. "You should never have lied to me, Amanda. But then, I never expected anything less. Hurry up."
Terrified, Amanda began to struggle, but before she could scream, Thomas cuffed her sharply across the side of the head, leaving her partially stunned. She stumbled and began to fall, but he forced her to keep her feet and shoved her onward toward the trees and manicured shrubbery in the rapidly approaching park. A few more strides and darkness surrounded them.
The fog in Amanda's mind was starting to fade as the force of Carlyle's blow began to wear off, and she tried to make sense of her surroundings. She'd been in this park before, but not often and not for a very long time. In the summer, it was heavily shaded by trees, shrubs, and a profusion of flower beds amidst carefully tended landscape that was a haven for birds. With the early onset of spring, all of the plants were leafing out and great pools of darkness now filled the park. She knew that near the center of the park was a small lake that extended all the way up to Pennsylvania Avenue. The ground around the lake was raised, there were steps leading down to the water's edge and a pedestrian walkway followed the contours of the lake until the walkway met up with the sidewalk that ran along the thoroughfare. On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue sat the Willard Hotel. There was safety there if only she could get free from Carlyle and make it that far.
She suddenly became aware of his voice, muttering low and incessantly. It took her a moment to realize that he wasn't talking to her at all; rather he appeared to be talking to himself . . . or at least, someone only he saw.
"Be quiet," he hissed in agitation. "It's coming. I will give you the blood. This one won't get away!"
Horrified, she realized the man was hopelessly insane! "Lee . . ." she whispered softly, suddenly realizing that he had been right all along. Blind terror took over then, and she twisted violently in his grasp, kicking out at his legs the way Lee had shown her. She caught Carlyle off guard and managed to break free, and without conscious thought, she turned and ran blindly, screaming for all she was worth.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lee downshifted sharply and sent the silver Corvette into a controlled slide around the corner, barely managing to avoid sideswiping the elegant black BMW sedan that was already in the intersection. The driver leaned on the horn in anger, but Lee didn't even notice. He felt the tires grip again and he accelerated ruthlessly, darting in and out around other cars with abandon. Behind him, he knew that Francine was following, trying desperately to stay with him through the heavy Friday evening traffic.
"You know where?" Adam Dwyer asked tightly, obviously willing the car to go faster.
Dwyer swore. "There's no quick way to get there from here! Go east as soon as you can. Don't get down by the White House or you're going to get bogged down."
"I know. Goddamn it!" Lee snarled, yanking the wheel hard to the left to avoid another car that darted into his lane.
"You're sure? There's no possibility of a mistake?"
"No. The bracelet is the same. I got a good look at it." His eyes never leaving the road in front of him, he nodded toward the console. "There's a phone down there. Call for backup. If he leaves that restaurant with her, we don't stand a chance." He rattled off a number. "That will get you the Agency. Tell them what's going on and they'll scramble an emergency team."
"And the Bureau. They'll send a team, as well as calling out the locals."
"Hang on!" Leaning on the horn, Lee made a sweeping left onto another boulevard and accelerated once more. "I'm going to go down to U.S. 1 and we'll come back to the restaurant on Pennsylvania. It'll be faster that way." Dwyer didn't even acknowledge the comment, involved in talking with someone in his office.
As the kaleidoscope of lights and cars blurred around him, Lee whispered agonizingly, "Hang on, Amanda. I'm coming . . ."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amanda could hear Thomas' heavy breathing not far behind her as she ran hard through the park. She was hampered by her heels, and could tell that he was rapidly gaining on her. Desperately, she dived to one side of the path, ducking into the shrubbery. The sudden move caught her pursuer unaware and he overshot her. Amanda heard him swear in fury as he skittered to a halt and turned back to go in search of her once more. Gasping for breath, she kicked off her shoes and stumbled on through the shrubs, searching for a way back out of the maze of greenery. She had been making for the lake, but her desperate attempt to elude her attacker had gotten her turned around and she had no idea where she was when she finally emerged from cover. Hearing him thrashing around in the shrubbery behind her, she set off at a run again, not bothering about direction . . . knowing only that she needed to put as much distance between herself and Thomas Carlyle as she possibly could.
She ran in silence now, fleeing like a deer from the hunter. In some small part of her mind that wasn't yet devoured by panic and fear, she thought of Lee again. He had been right about everything. Carlyle wasn't what he seemed and her naivety and trusting nature was going to get her killed. There would be no white knight to save her this time. She had seen to that. 'Will he care?' The unbidden thought came to her mind. 'Or will he just be grateful to be rid of me?' Not that it mattered. She'd never know.
Her breath was like a knife in her side, and her lungs burned with the effort to keep moving. Spent, she stumbled to a halt and leaned against a large tree. Struggling to suppress her breathing, she tried to locate Carlyle by sound, but couldn't hear a thing. The stillness that surrounded her was almost uncanny. She looked around and through a break in the trees, she spotted the gleaming white façade of the Willard Hotel in the distance. With a soft whimper, she pushed away from the tree, drawn by the promise of safety. But it was too late. She had taken no more than three steps when he materialized behind her.
His arm went around her midriff like a band of steel, pulling her ruthlessly back against him and pinning her arms in place. She could feel his hot breath on her neck as she once again began to fight, twisting desperately in an attempt to free herself.
"Not again," he said raggedly. "You won't get away from me this time."
With an effort she managed to get one arm free. She struck at his head with her fist and shoved against his shoulder, trying to lever herself out of his grasp. She screamed again, the piercing sound pealing through the night air like a bell. Carlyle flinched slightly at the sound and Amanda struck him again. His grip suddenly loosened and with a sob, she broke free once again. She tried to run, but he snatched at her, catching her wrist. With a vicious yank, he pulled her back toward him and clawed at his waist. Amanda caught a flash of light off of something shiny in his hand just before Carlyle jerked her against his chest and buried the knife in her back.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lee slammed to a stop in front of Les Halles, leaped from the car and immediately ran for the front door of the restaurant. Dwyer, however, went directly to the valet parking attendant and began talking with him urgently. Just as Francine's car screeched to a halt behind the Corvette, Lee ran back out of the restaurant.
"They're already gone," he said harshly to Adam. "The maitre d' said they left about five or ten minutes ago."
"Did he know where they were going?" Francine demanded, still breathless from the wild ride through the streets of D.C.
"No. He just said that they left very suddenly and that Carlyle seemed angry about something."
Ignoring both of them, Dwyer said urgently to the valet, "If he didn't take his car, then how did they leave?"
"On foot," the young man replied. Pointing up the street, he added, "I was at the back of the lot parking a car and I heard him say something about taking a walk and the two of them headed for the park. The lady didn't look too happy about it, but the guy was pretty insistent."
"How long ago?" Dwyer demanded sharply.
"I don't know . . . ten or fifteen minutes ago maybe," the bewildered valet said. "What's going on?"
"Geezus," Dwyer muttered, turning toward Lee. "He's going to do it right here!"
Lee turned to Francine. "Wait here for the backup."
"There's no time, Francine! He's going to kill her. Just bring the backup as soon as you can." Turning to Dwyer, he said, "Come on!"
The two men set off for the park at a run. Lee could feel the cold sweat that beaded his forehead as he thought of what might be happening ahead of them. I never should have lost my temper. If anything happens to her, it will be my fault. The two men were less than 100 feet from the entrance to the park when a shrill scream split the night.
"*AMANDA!*" Lee yelled frantically as he plunged into the dark park grounds. They ran hard for a few yards, but were then forced to halt by a lack of direction.
"We've got to split up," Dwyer panted. "We'll never find them like this."
"I'm going to go right," Lee replied. "If she has the chance, Amanda will make for lights and people." He gestured swiftly toward the wash of light in the sky that marked the Willard Hotel.
"I'll go left, then." Swiftly, the two men split up and began combing the park. After his initial cry, Lee stopped calling. Something whispered to him that it wasn't wise to let Carlyle know that someone was looking for him. He spent what seemed like an eternity searching through the blackness before he heard an indistinct sound that might have been a voice off to his left. Turning toward the sound, he was moving forward carefully in the direction of the sound when a second scream sent him leaping forward, forcing his way through a patch of shrubbery. As he broke into the open once more, he saw them.
Carlyle's arms were wrapped around her, holding her body tightly to his. Lee could see Amanda struggling against his hold. One of his arms seemed to loosen for a moment and then he pulled her back against him, causing her to cry out weakly once again.
The man's head snapped up at the sound of Lee's voice. Some quirk of light caused his face to be illuminated and Lee realized that there was no sanity visible there at all. Approximately 30 yards of open ground separated them and Lee yelled the man's name again as he ran toward them. Grasping her right wrist, Carlyle spun Amanda, slamming her back-first into the trunk of a nearby tree and then turned to face Lee head-on.
In the distance, the sound of approaching sirens could be clearly heard. But Lee didn't care . . . he was totally focused on the maniac that faced him. The two men circled each other warily. Several times, Lee saw Carlyle's hand flutter to his waist, only to have it come up empty again. Lee spared a minute to wonder what he was expecting to find there, but before the thought could gel in his mind, Carlyle lunged at him. The two men tumbled to the ground, struggling roughly as each tried to get the upper hand. Carlyle fought mindlessly, his hands clawing at Lee's throat as he tried to get a good grip on the agent's windpipe. Lee got the heel of one hand planted firmly under Carlyle's chin and with painstaking slowness, he forced the other man's head back until his grip slipped. With a lightning-quick move, Lee flipped the man off of him and rolled to his feet. As Carlyle rose unsteadily, Lee stepped in and caught him in the stomach with a roundhouse punch that doubled his opponent. Then he followed it up with several sharp blows to his face. Carlyle sagged to the ground again, only partially conscious. But rage had taken over by this time and Lee grabbed the man's shirt, holding him tightly as he continued to strike the unconscious man repeatedly.
Finally, the feel of hands on his shoulders and the sound of another voice began to penetrate his obsessive fury.
"LEE!!! Lee, stop! You're going to kill him!" Dropping the man, Lee staggered back under Dwyer's sharp shove. Sudden light blinded him, and he threw up a hand to shield his eyes. He became aware of figures running toward him out of the darkness and heard the sound of Francine calling his name.
Turning from those people, he looked around frantically for Amanda. He spotted her almost immediately. She was still leaning heavily against the tree where Carlyle had thrown her, but Lee could see her sagging slowly toward the ground. He leaped forward and caught her around the shoulders as her legs finally gave way and she began to collapse. Catching her around the upper shoulders with one arm, he sank to his knees, cradling her body in his lap as he called her name desperately.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and looked up at him. "Lee?" she whispered painfully.
"I'm here, Amanda. It's over. He can't hurt you anymore."
"Sorry . . ." she whispered.
He looked at her in confusion. "What? Amanda . . ."
"You . . . were . . . right," she gasped in a barely audible voice. "No . . . judge . . . of people. Was . . . stupid . . ."
"No! It could have happened to anyone. It has before." He stroked her hair back from her forehead and caressed her cheek gently. "He's crazy, Amanda . . . a serial killer. The one Dwyer's been looking for. Just rest. You'll be okay in a minute." He felt her stiffen and fear gripped him again. Something was wrong! Was she hurt?
"Lee, is she okay?" Francine dropped down beside him and he felt someone else at his back.
"Amanda, what is it? Tell me, baby."
"Hurts . . . so . . . much . . ."
Ice seemed to encircle his heart and suddenly he felt as though he couldn't breathe. He reached across her and wrapped his right arm around her waist to support her back. As he did so, he found that her dress was wet. An instant later, his hand encountered the hilt of the knife that was still embedded in her back. He pulled his hand away and stared at it in stunned horror. It appeared black in the dimness.
"Oh God!" Francine gasped and then turned and yelled, "Peter! There's an ambulance en route somewhere. Find the EMTs and get them here now!"
Carefully, Lee tightened his arms, pulling her body up out of his lap and against his chest so they could see her back. The hilt of the knife shone a dull gray in the light of the flashlights that were now trained on them. Lee automatically reached for it, but a hand snatched at his wrist, holding him back.
"Don't!" Dwyer commanded urgently. "Not until the paramedics get here. The blade's got the wound partially blocked. You pull it out and she may start bleeding uncontrollably." There were two obvious wounds. The first was on the left side of her upper back, and the second, which still contained the knife, was on the right and slightly lower. Blood flowed steadily from both wounds, saturating the silky fabric of Amanda's dress until the blood dripped wetly onto Lee's clothes.
Dwyer shrugged out of his jacket and balled it up, pressing it against her upper back in an effort to staunch the blood flow. "Where the hell are those paramedics?!" he muttered.
"Lee . . ." The pain-soaked voice whispered hoarsely from where Amanda's head lay against his shoulder.
"Shhh," he urged her. "Help's coming."
"Lee . . . you have to . . . tell . . . Mother . . ."
"No!" he interrupted her desperately, easing her down slightly so he could look her in the face. "You can tell her yourself! You're going to be fine . . . you have to be."
But Amanda wouldn't be stilled. "Tell . . . her . . . and the boys . . . that . . . I love . . . them . . . very . . . much." She looked up at him, her eyes glazed. With an effort, she tried to reach up and touch his cheek, but she didn't have the strength to complete the gesture. Lee caught her hand in his and pressed it to the side of his face. Her fingers were icy. "Sorry . . for what I . . . said. Didn't . . . mean it. Was . . . unfair . . . to . . . you. Know . . . you were . . . only trying . . . to . . . protect -"
"Amanda, *stop* . . ." he moaned. "Don't talk this way. You can't leave me. You're my partner." As he stared at her pleadingly, her eyes drifted shut and for a heart-stopping moment he couldn't feel her breathing. "*AMANDA!**" he screamed at her in terror. Finally, she took a shallow breath and coughed. Blood glistened on her lips.
"WHERE ARE THOSE GODDAMNED PARAMEDICS???*" Dwyer yelled.
"Here," a man said, running up and dropping down beside Dwyer and Lee. "What have we got?"
"Two knife wounds . . . in her back," Dwyer said swiftly. "She's bleeding heavily. We've left the knife . . ."
"Sir, you have to let go," one of the paramedics said to Lee, trying to take Amanda from him. But Lee fought him, refusing to release her.
"Amanda, don't go," he begged over and over. "You're my partner . . . my friend. You have to stay with me. Partners don't abandon each other. Do you hear me?"
"Lee, let the paramedics take her!" Francine said urgently. "She needs help. You have to let her go."
"Come on, Lee," Adam urged him, grabbing his arm and forcing him to release his hold on Amanda's body. "Let them take her to the hospital. We'll follow them."
"I have to go with her . . ."
"You'll just be in the way," Adam said firmly. "If she is to have a chance, you have to let them do their jobs." Adam held one of Lee's arms tightly while Francine clung to the other, pulling him away as the paramedics took Amanda and laid her on her side on the gurney that had now arrived at their location.
The three stood by silently as the younger of the two emergency workers started an IV while the other carefully examined the knife in Amanda's back. Finally, he took several large pads of surgical gauze and packed them around the weapon, carefully leaving it in place. "She's losing too much blood," he said to his partner. "The wound's refusing to clot. Is she a bleeder?" he demanded, looking up at the three agents who still hovered nearby. Lee shook his head mutely, his eyes never leaving her. "If we don't get this to stop, she's going to bleed to death," the man muttered to his co-worker.
Lee listened numbly to the paramedics' back and forth conversation as they attempted to stabilize Amanda enough to transport her to the hospital. 'She's dying,' he thought numbly. 'This is my fault. I'm supposed to protect her.' He was dimly aware of others around him, but no longer cared. The only thing that mattered was the woman who lay unmoving on the gurney.
"We can't wait any longer," the older paramedic said decisively. "This is beyond anything we can deal with. We've got to get her to the hospital. Let's move." The two men lifted the gurney and carried it to the waiting ambulance. Lee started after them, but was held back by Dwyer and Francine.
"Let me go!" Lee demanded. "I have to go with her."
"Not in the ambulance," Dwyer replied firmly, dragging him in the direction of the restaurant. "We'll go in your car. Come on."
"I'll be right behind you," Francine added quickly and set off at a run in the other direction for her car.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Ten minutes later, Billy Melrose strode determinedly into the emergency room at the George Washington University Hospital only to be confronted by absolute bedlam. Raised voices echoed off the walls and he immediately noted that two of the loudest were ones he knew well. "Let me through," he said sharply to two armed security guards and a couple of hospital staff as he flashed his credentials. As he cleared the people obscuring his view, the first person he saw was Francine Desmond. She was determinedly struggling to hold onto the arm of a man in a tux who appeared equally as determined to shake her free. It took Billy a moment to realize that the man was Lee Stetson.
"Lee, *stop*! You can't go back there!" Francine was shouting at him.
"Let go of me!" Lee snarled back at her, fighting to throw off her restraining hand.
Adam Dwyer was there as well, struggling to hold the frantic agent, who seemed practically mindless as he wrestled to get free. "Lee, stop it," Dwyer kept saying. "They told you that you've got to wait. Let them do their jobs!"
"No," Lee said raggedly. "Let me go! I have to be with her . . ."
"*SCARECROW!*" Billy bellowed, his voice slicing through the cacophony like a hot knife through butter. Sudden silence followed his yell, and Lee Stetson flinched at the volume and tone of his boss' voice. However, in spite of Billy's obvious ire, Lee turned to him frantically.
"Billy! Make them let me go. I have to go to -"
"You can *not* go back there," Billy told him firmly, struggling to hide his dismay at the depth of Lee's agitation. "You go sit down . . . NOW!"
"Billy, she's my partner and they won't tell me anything . . ." Lee tried again, but Billy cut him off.
"Just sit down." Then in a softer, more kindly tone, he added, "Please, Lee. I promise you that I'll find out what's happened. But I can't do that if you're throwing the entire ER into an uproar. Just give me a few minutes."
"Come on, Lee," Adam urged, grasping his arm tightly and dragging him toward a group of chairs on the far side of the waiting room.
Billy watched as Lee's shoulders slumped in defeat and he finally allowed himself to be led away. Once Billy was sure Dwyer had him seated and under control, he turned to Francine with a formidable scowl. "This had better be good, Francine," he growled. "I get a call from the central switchboard that a couple of my agents are calling for backup, but no one seems to know who or why. I'm halfway to the office when I get another call that sends me here instead, and informs me that an emergency NEST team is also en route. However, there's *still* no explanation about what's happening. What the hell is going on?"
As she drew a deep breath to begin explaining, Billy saw her eyes dart toward Lee Stetson fearfully. Following her gaze, Billy saw that Lee now sat, elbows on his knees, holding his head in his hands. For the first time, Billy really took in Lee's appearance. Even from this distance, he could see the blood that covered Lee's hands and stained his jacket, pants, and white formal shirt. Shaken, he said hoarsely, "Geezus! Francine, is he . . ."
"He's not hurt," she assured him hastily.
"Then who . . ."
"Amanda King." Francine glared at the nurse who still eyed them warily from the far side of the room. "They won't tell us a damned thing. We were doing okay, until that - that *woman* over there had the nerve to tell Lee that because he wasn't a relative, she didn't owe him any explanations . . ."
"And Lee went ballistic," Billy finished for her. He followed Francine's gaze to the nurse and then said shortly, "They'll talk to *me*." Billy pointed at Lee. "You stay here and make sure he behaves himself for a few minutes."
"Oh, yeah . . . right. Like I have a prayer of accomplishing that if something sets him off again!" Francine responded sarcastically, but Billy was already gone. Shaking her head, she went to join Lee and Adam. Before she could reach them, however, Adam came to meet her.
"Any news?" he asked softly, trying to keep his voice low so that Lee couldn't hear their conversation.
"Not yet. Billy's trying to get some answers. How is he?"
Adam looked troubled. "I honestly don't know. I've never seen him like this before, Francine. Is there something going on between him and Mrs. King?"
"No," she said, shaking her head. "They're just partners. He feels responsible for her, though, and he always takes it hard when she gets into trouble."
"Maybe I'm being nosy here . . . and feel free to tell me to butt out if you want . . . but if they're not personally involved, why is he this upset? He's always been very careful to keep himself aloof and professional. Surely he's been prepared for something like this. I mean, they work as field agents for the Agency; they knew the risks going in."
"But that's just it, Adam. She didn't. Lee picked her at random off the street during an emergency." She sighed softly. "If you *ever* repeat this to anyone, so help me, I'll call you a liar to your face, but the truth is, she did a damned good job. Got the Agency and both Lee and me out of a real mess. Billy was so impressed with her that he put her on payroll as a part time civilian aide, and she's been with us for nearly two years now."
"*Civilian aide?!*" Adam said incredulously. "Francine, everyone in the business has heard of 'Mrs. King'. Hell, when people talk about Lee it isn't just 'Scarecrow' any more, it more or less comes out in a single breath . . . 'Scarecrow and Mrs. King'. Are you telling me that she's just his secretary?"
Francine shook her head. "No, she's a lot more than that. Billy didn't originally intend to put her in the field. She was more or less an in-house jack-of-all-trades. Initially, she did some secretarial work and background research, and after a while Billy took to letting her do the occasional courier job, both domestic and international. More or less anything that looked like it wasn't risky. But she turned out to have a flare for field work, and we kept ending up with cases where her background or contacts made her useful." Francine rolled her eyes. "Not to mention the fact that the woman has a talent for finding trouble. So, slowly but surely, she ended up working mostly in the field. Initially, Lee didn't want to work with her, but because he felt responsible for her being there, he always insisted that she not be assigned to work with anyone else."
"The old Stetson conceit . . . no one can do it better than he can," Adam said somewhat ruefully.
A reluctant grin tugged at the corner of her mouth. "Pretty much. And Billy deliberately kept throwing them together."
"For God's sake, why?"
"Because riding herd on Amanda forced Lee into being more cautious. He didn't take as many risks. And whatever else you can say about Amanda King, you can't say that she doesn't have nerve. She'll follow him anywhere, whether he wants her to or not. She clings to him like a leech and she covers his back pretty effectively. Her methods may be unorthodox, but so far, they've worked."
"I'd say he's a lucky man."
Francine glanced at Lee again, looking worried. "I hope so, because I don't know what he'll do if she doesn't make it." Turning from Adam, she went and knelt down in front of her friend. Laying a hand on his arm, she asked, "Lee . . . Lee, are you okay?" Under her fingers, she could feel the blood that was starting to stiffen the sleeve of his jacket.
After a moment, he shook his head. Finally, he looked up at her with an agonized expression. "What am I going to do, Francine? How do I tell her mother and her sons that she's never coming back?"
Francine gripped his arm tightly. "Don't think that way," she said sharply. "Amanda's tough. She'll make it. You just have to have faith."
"Faith?" The derisive sound that Lee uttered could hardly be called laughter. "I gave up on faith a long time ago, Francine. Everyone that ever really meant anything to me has died, so I don't have much of a reserve of faith left anymore. And here I am again, waiting for Amanda to . . ."
"Stop it!" Lee didn't even bother to reply and the silence that fell was tense and painful. Finally, Francine shook his arm. "She needs you to be strong right now. Don't give up on her just when she needs you the most." When Lee still didn't respond, she sighed. Finally, she said, "You're a mess. Why don't you let Adam or me take you home so you can get cleaned up?"
"No," he replied immediately. "I won't leave her alone in this place."
"She's not alone," Francine argued. "There're all kinds of doctors and nurses with her, and Billy will be here, too. There's nothing you can do right now, and -"
"*NO!*" he snarled.
"Well, I didn't get much," Billy said, looking worriedly at Lee as he returned, "but at least I know that she's still alive. The woman I talked with said that they've just moved her to surgery and that Madison and his NEST team are here and in charge. I've sent him a message letting him know we're waiting. As soon as Madison knows anything, he'll see that the word is passed."
Lee had looked up when he heard Billy's voice, but now he dropped his head into his hands again and simply sat, motionless and silent. Billy stared down at him for a long moment and then caught Francine's arm and drew her off toward a quiet corner of the room, well out of Lee's hearing.
"All right, Francine, I want answers. What the hell is going on? What happened to Amanda? She wasn't on duty tonight. And what was Lee doing anywhere near her? He was ordered . . ."
"Be grateful he didn't follow your orders, Billy," Adam Dwyer said quietly, coming up to join the other two. "If he had, she would be dead now and my serial killer would still be on the loose."
"You mean the guy you've been chasing . . . the one that's been killing all those women . . ."
"Had picked his next victim and it was Amanda King," Dwyer said interrupting him. Swiftly, Dwyer outlined his discussion with Lee at the British Embassy, finishing by holding up the silver dolphin bracelet for Billy to see. "Carlyle had given one of these to Amanda. She must have been wearing it the last time Lee saw her and he recognized it. We went after them, but were damned near too late."
"Tell me," Billy demanded, riveted on Dwyer's explanation.
"She was knifed in the back before we could catch up to them," Francine replied with a shudder, glancing at her friend again. "Lee was just wild. What did they say about her condition?"
"Not a lot more than what I said a moment ago. But I did get this much . . . they're seriously worried." He glanced at Adam. "Didn't you say that the knife he usually used was heavy but with a very short blade?"
"Well, I think you've got your murder weapon then. The doctor I just talked with described the knife they took out of Amanda and it sounds exactly like that. He also said that the wounds weren't very deep, but that she was bleeding heavily."
Adam nodded. "That fits the profile."
"There was blood everywhere," Francine agreed with a shudder. "She was certain she was dying, Billy. You could tell it. She kept trying to talk to Lee . . . tell him the things she was afraid she would never have another chance to say. And he kept -" Suddenly, she broke off, a strange look on her face, as she thought back over that incoherent conversation. 'Baby?' she thought blankly. 'Did he actually call her 'baby'?' After a moment, she mentally shook herself. 'No . . . no, he didn't . . . of course he didn't. I must have heard him wrong.'
She blinked, her surroundings suddenly coming back into focus again as she felt Billy shaking her arm. "What?"
"What's wrong with you?" Billy demanded.
"Nothing," she replied hastily. "I just thought of something and lost track of what I was saying." She thought back frantically, trying to remember what they had been talking about.
"You were saying something about Amanda trying to tell Lee something and what Lee was doing . . ." Billy prompted her.
"Oh, yeah. He kept trying to shush her . . . like if she couldn't say them it would mean she wouldn't die." She looked at her boss, the strain in her face obvious as she relived those frantic moments and heard Lee's frantic cries to his partner echoing in her ears again. She licked her lips and continued in a low voice, "He kept telling her over and over that she couldn't die . . . that they were partners, and that partners don't -" At that, her voice cracked and she swallowed hard. After a moment, she added, "It was awful."
Billy looked over at Lee again. The pain that surrounded him was almost palpable, and Billy wondered briefly if he would survive the loss of another partner. Turning back to his assistant, Billy eyed her with concern. She was staring sightlessly at the floor, still lost in thought, and she was practically vibrating with tension. In an effort to draw her back out of the memories of the incident, he said, "Now, I have another question, Francine. I can understand how Lee ended up in the middle of this, but exactly how did you end up here?"
She blinked, focusing on him once more. Then a flush washed across her face and she stuttered, "Oh . . . well, I was just . . . you know, I had . . ."
Looking decidedly uncomfortable, Francine glanced at Lee again and then looked back at Billy. Taking a deep breath, she said, "I'd been thinking about Carlyle ever since the episode when he turned up and gave Mrs. Marston such a hard time. It just seemed really funny to me. Then, I heard he was seen in the area again and I started to get suspicious. So I did some checking and found out that there were some really squirrelly things about the guy. I wasn't sure what to do about it, so I showed the stuff to Lee and . . . well . . . I guess I was in the right place at the right time, and . . ."
"You're telling me you were so disturbed by what you found that you hunted Lee down at some sort of a formal affair -"
"A reception at the British Embassy," Adam volunteered helpfully.
" - which he was attending on his own time, mind you - to show this stuff to him." Billy glanced over at Lee and then eyed Francine critically. "A function that you were decidedly underdressed for, obviously." He paused, staring at her challengingly, but when she opened her mouth to reply, he just held up his hand and shook his head. "Never mind. I think it's probably better if I don't know." For a long time, no one said anything else. Finally, Billy sighed heavily and asked in a low voice, "Has anyone notified her family?"
Adam shook his head. "No. I didn't know how you wanted to handle it. Furthermore, I thought it might be better if we had more of an idea of her condition first."
"I'm sorry, Adam," Billy said regretfully, "but I'm going to have to ask you to take care of it."
"From what he was saying a little while ago, Billy, Lee was planning on doing it," Francine warned.
But Melrose shook his head. "That's not a good idea, Francine. He's too broken up about this. How is he going to explain it to her family and not reveal how it is he knows her?" He glanced at Adam and added, by way of explanation, "Amanda's family has no idea she works for us and it probably needs to stay that way. But I don't think we should be in any hurry about it. We'll wait until after she gets out of surgery so we know something more definite."
"And pray she doesn't die on the table," Francine added softly. Billy nodded silently.
"All right," Adam replied with a sigh. "I have to admit that I really hoped you'd take care of it since she was one of your people, but if her family has no idea she works for the Agency, it probably will be better coming from me as agent in charge of the case. You know who I need to contact?"
"Amanda's mother lives with her and her two boys. She's the one you need to talk to." Francine rattled off a phone number. "Ask for Dorothea West."
Adam shook his head. "Raising two kids, supporting her mother, *and* working for the Agency? Lady's got guts, I'll give her that."
"I saw Scarecrow's car outside. Who's got the keys?" Billy asked.
"I do," Dwyer replied.
"Good. There's a car phone in it. When you get ready to call, use that. It will be quieter than the emergency room pay phone. No need to have hospital pages scaring the woman any worse than necessary." Billy waved at the chairs. "We might as well sit down. I think it's gonna be a while."
"Adam, let me have Lee's keys," Francine said, holding out her hand. Taking them, she nodded as she saw his apartment key on the ring. "I tried to get him to go home and clean up, but he absolutely refuses to leave. I'm going to run to his place and get him a change of clothes. I think I can probably coax him into cleaning up in the bathroom here if there's something for him to change into. I'll be as quick as I can, but call me if you hear anything."
Billy nodded. "Go on. We'll wait here with him."
A little over three hours later, a sudden disturbance brought Billy out of the doze he had fallen into. Looking up, he once again saw Lee standing at that nurse's station while the woman at counter attempted to prevent him from going down the hallway. Wondering what was going on, Billy rose hastily and crossed to the site of the commotion. When he arrived, he immediately understood. Gesturing urgently to the man Lee had spotted at the end of the corridor, he said called, "Dr. Madison."
As the graying man in surgical scrubs approached them, Lee surged forward again and grabbed the man's arm in a hard grip. "How is she? *Where* is she?" he demanded. "I need to see her! Is she down there?" When Lee tried to push past him, both Billy and the doctor held him back.
"Wait just a minute, Stetson. You can't go down there. She's just out of recovery and isn't being allowed visitors yet!"
"Damn it, Lee, just hold on!" Billy barked. "Dr. Madison, how is she? Will she be all right?"
The physician shook his head slowly. "I can't tell you with any degree of certainty yet, but the next 24 hours should tell us. Under normal circumstances, her injuries probably wouldn't have been life-threatening. The first blow was in her upper chest and nicked a lung, causing it to deflate. The build up of air in the chest cavity caused her to have difficulty breathing. The second blow was slightly lower and on the other side of her back and it sliced into the very top of her liver. Unfortunately, her attacker seems to have treated the knife blade with some type of anticoagulant that prevented the blood from clotting. It took us a long time to counteract whatever agent the man used and she lost a lot of blood. We're still pumping red cells into her as quickly as we can, trying to compensate for all the blood she lost. We've repaired as much of the damage as we could, and we've bled off the air in her chest and inserted a drainage tube to help keep her lungs clear, but it's still very touch and go. All we can do now is wait."
Lee turned to his boss, gripping his arm in a numbing grip. "Billy, I *have* to see her!"
"You heard Dr. Madison, Lee. There's nothing you can do. You only put her at greater risk if you get in the way."
"*Please*, Billy . . ." he said desperately. "I *need* to see her. She was convinced she was dying. She can't think that way. You know what will happen if she does. I have to talk to her!"
"She's still unconscious," Madison said, gripping the younger man's shoulder sympathetically. "She wouldn't be able to hear you anyway."
"Yes, she would. I know it!"
Adam gestured toward the door. "I'm going to go call her mother. I think it's time she knows what's going on."
Billy nodded and gestured for him to go on. "Lee -" he began, but was cut off before he could say any more.
"*Please,* Billy. She's my *partner* . . ." Lee begged.
Melrose hesitated, knowing the scene they were facing if Lee continued to be denied access to his partner. Finally, he turned to the waiting surgeon. "Dr. Madison, is there any way he can see her? Just for a few moments."
Madison hesitated, looking from one man to the other. Finally he sighed. "All right. But only you two and for no more than five minutes." He nodded up the hallway. "Next to the last door on your left."
Lee took off at a run toward the indicated door, while Billy paused only long enough to offer hasty thanks before following. When he entered the room, he stopped just inside the door, watching silently. Amanda lay motionless in the hospital bed in the center of the room. She was deathly pale and an assortment of wires and tubes connected her to the multitude of equipment that stood at the head of the bed. It seemed to Billy that the steady beep emitting from the heart monitor was way too slow, and fear tightened his heart at the thought that Amanda might not make it this time. 'There's irony for you,' he thought bitterly. 'All of us have been concerned that she would die as a result of getting involved with us. But here she is, at death's door, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the Agency. It just doesn't seem fair.'
Lee had obviously gone directly to the side of the bed when he entered the room. For a long time, he simply stood there staring down at his partner. Finally, he reached out, lowered the bed rail, and leaned over the edge. His hand shook slightly as he reached out and ran feather-light fingers down the side of her face.
"Hey, partner," he said in a low, hoarse voice. "Sorry I was away for so long, but that damned doctor wouldn't let me come back to see you. They're not going to let me stay very long, either, but your mother's on the way, so you won't be alone." He caressed the side of her face again and ran his thumb lightly across her lips. Billy noticed that his voice shook almost as much as his hand as he continued. "You have to come back, Amanda. I know you're angry with me. I don't know, maybe you have a right to be. But I worry about you. You're my friend and I don't want to see you hurt. I've never had a friend like you before . . . and I - I can't lose that . . . can't lose you. Please, Amanda . . . you have to come back . . . you have to . . ." His voice broke then, and he fell silent. Catching her right hand in his left and bowing his head, he simply stood silently beside her.
Billy's chest felt tight and he struggled to swallow around the lump in his throat as he watched and listened. Lee had fought long and hard against the idea of being teamed up with the Arlington housewife. And yet, from the very beginning, Billy had recognized that his responses to this woman were different than his responses to anyone else. Even when he was letting his mouth get ahead of his head, there was a subtle difference in the way he treated Amanda King . . . more respectful . . . and his remorse was genuine and instantaneous whenever he realized that he had hurt her in some way. She could also get him to do things no one else could. There was a rapport between them that was undeniable. 'He's falling for her,' Billy thought with sudden clarity. 'Our womanizing, lone wolf has finally met his match . . . and he doesn't even realize it.'
A sudden image flashed through Billy's mind. It was the night of James Delano's party. Lee and Amanda had gone in an attempt to determine what kind of deal Delano had cut with the East Germans. They had known it was dangerous . . . after all, Harry Singer had already died . . . but they needed the information and Amanda had created the opportunity. Billy remembered how strongly Lee had protested, saying that Amanda wasn't trained for that type of undercover work. But Amanda had been determined and he had overridden Lee's objections. When he led the backup teams in to mop up, they had found Lee standing on the front steps of James Delano's home with Amanda held tightly in his arms. With frightening clarity, Billy remembered the way her head lolled on his shoulder, the way her right arm hung lifelessly down from her side, and how, when he first saw them, he had been certain that she was dead. Lee had stood, silent and unresponsive, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. The memory of Lee's look of devastation made Billy shudder. They had only worked together about a half-dozen times when that incident occurred. What would it do to him to lose her now, a year and a half later and after all that had happened between them?
Behind him, the door opened and Francine slipped to his side. "Billy," she said softly, "we've got to go. Mrs. West just arrived. Adam said he'd delay her for as long as he could, but none of us can be found here with her. It will cause too many questions."
Billy nodded his understanding and gestured for her to go. Francine gazed at Lee and Amanda for a long moment, then shook her head sadly and left without another word. As the door closed softly, Billy stepped forward and caught Lee's arm. "I'm sorry, Lee, but we have to go. Amanda's mother is here." For a moment, Billy didn't think that Lee heard him. Finally, he nodded slightly and cleared his throat with difficulty.
"I have to go now, Amanda," he said to the motionless woman on the bed. "Your mother's here and she'll look after you." He leaned down and kissed her forehead tenderly. "I'll be back just as soon as they'll let me. I promise. You just hang on, you hear me?"
The door opened once more and Francine stuck her head in. "Billy," she hissed, "come on! Adam can't hold her much longer . . ."
Lee pulled free from Billy and leaned down and kissed Amanda's forehead again. "I'll be back, partner." Then the three of them turned and fled the room, barely getting into a vacant treatment room across the hall before Dotty West came charging down the hallway and disappeared into Amanda's room. Adam followed quickly, looking concerned. Billy's gesture caught his attention and a look of relief flashed across the FBI agent's face. He motioned silently for them to stay where they were, and then he disappeared into the room after Dotty. A moment later, he reappeared.
"You're clear," he said in a low voice, and the three of them slipped back out into the hallway. "Get going. I think Mrs. West is here for the night."
Billy nodded. "Stick close to her for a while, okay? And keep in touch with the doctor and let us know what he says."
Grabbing Lee by the arm, he gestured to both of his agents and they left hastily.
Monday, April 29, 1985
A sharp rapping on the hospital door caused Amanda to look up from her book. "Come in!" she called.
The door opened slightly and Lee stuck his head in the door. "Hi. Can I come in?"
Amanda smiled brilliantly at him. "Sure. I was hoping you got my message and that you'd stop by this morning." As Lee pushed open the door, Amanda's eyes grew wide and she gasped, "Oh my gosh . . ."
Lee grinned happily at her expression as he carefully set the huge arrangement of brilliant yellow sunflowers on the table next to the bed. "You like them? They're a get well gift."
"But, Lee, you've already given me a get well gift. In fact, you've bought me something every time you've come to see me. You don't have to keep doing this." She stared at the flowers for a moment longer and then looked up at him, still wide-eyed. "But where did you get them? It's way too early for sunflowers."
He grinned devilishly at her. "I have my sources. So you *do* like them." He sounded decidedly pleased.
"I *love* them!" She reached out a hand and when he took it, she squeezed his tightly. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at her seriously. "How are you today? You're looking better."
"Oh, I'm fine. The doctor says that I can go home tomorrow."
"That's good. How about your mother?"
"Well, she's still a little upset, but she'll be okay." She grinned at him. "I think she's not going to be pushing me quite so hard to date, though."
Lee smiled in relief. "Well, that's good." She looked at him questioningly, and he began to stutter, "A-about your mother, I mean. Being okay . . . not pushing you to date. Of course you'll want to date. You aren't going to stay home all the time, or anything . . . are you?"
"Well, maybe for a while," she replied, trying to suppress a smile at the hopeful inflection in his voice. Then she decided to change the subject. "So, you never told me how you turned up at exactly the right place at the right time. I thought you were supposed to be at a party."
"I was. I ran into Adam Dwyer there." He pulled something out of his pocket and dropped it into her hand. "Carlyle's calling card. He usually left it on his victims."
Amanda bowed her head, staring at the dolphin bracelet in silence. Lee slid forward swiftly and put his arms around her as he saw her start to shake. "I - I am s-s-such an idiot," she said with difficulty.
"You are not. You believe in people until they give you a reason not to. If you didn't, you wouldn't be the Amanda we all know and love."
"You weren't fooled."
"I'm an innately suspicious cynic. Believe me, I'm paranoid enough for both of us."
Eventually, he felt the tremors in her body ease, and finally, she took a deep breath and looked up at him.
"Lee, about the other day. I'm sorry . . ."
He shook his head swiftly, laying a finger across her lips to silence her. "No. I don't want to hear you say those words again. You have nothing to be sorry for. I'm the one who should apologize. I was out of line for checking up on you and the men you date. I have no excuse other than the fact that you're my friend and I worry about you."
"I worry about you, too," she replied. "But, Lee, no matter what happened, it didn't give me the right to act the way I did. If you had hit your head or something, you could have been hurt. I don't know what got into me. I'm really -"
"I said I didn't want to hear those words again and I meant it. As for you shoving me away, I expect you to do it again if I ever manhandle you the way I did the other day. In fact, feel free to smack me soundly." He saw her about to protest and caught her chin, staring sternly into her eyes. "I mean it, Amanda. The only excuse I can offer is that I was just crazy with worry about you, that's all. I hope you know that."
She smiled at him. "Of course I do, Lee. We were both just being silly and it got out of hand."
"Does that mean that you aren't going to quit, then?" His look was pleading.
"No, I'm not going to quit," she replied, but her eyes dropped and she refused to look at him.
"What?" he demanded, sounding fearful. When she didn't answer immediately, he caught her chin and forced her head up until she had to look at him. "What aren't you telling me?"
"It's just . . . well . . . Mr. Melrose gave me some options to quitting . . ."
"What options?" he asked tersely, tension clear in his voice.
"He told me that I could request a transfer to another department . . ."
"You mean out of Field Section?" Lee demanded, sounding more and more upset.
"Yes. Maybe down in crypto or human resources or research. I think I'd probably be pretty good at research. He also said that . . . well, if I wanted to . . . stay . . . in Field Section, I mean . . . that he would . . ." She finally stumbled to a halt and tried to look away again, but he held her fast.
"That he would what?" he demanded sharply.
"Assign me a new partner."
He released her abruptly and surged to his feet, going to stare out of the window. He wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her again . . . to yell at her that she couldn't leave him . . . that he wouldn't be able to stand seeing her working with someone else. But the memory of their earlier fight was still fresh enough in his mind to cause him to curb his initial reaction. As he stared out at the brilliant April sunshine, some part of his mind noted the leaves on the branches of the tree outside her window. It was springtime and life was being reborn in the world all around them. Why, then, did he feel like some important part of him just died? Uncomfortable silence gripped them for a long time.
"Is that what you want?" he finally asked without turning.
"I - I've been thinking that maybe it would be better."
Grief washed through him at her words and suddenly everything around him seemed to turn gray and lifeless.
"You have to do whatever you think is right, I guess," he heard himself reply, even though every fiber of his being continued to scream at him to protest as loudly as he could.
She was silent, evidently considering his response. "Maybe I will," she finally replied, but some of the life seemed to have left her voice, as well.
He turned back to her then, intending to say that he had to go, but when he opened his mouth, what came out was, "Why?"
She looked up, startled by the unexpected question. "Why what?"
"Why do you think it would be better?"
"I - I just thought that it would be . . . well . . . easier, you know. If I had a new partner, then I wouldn't be your responsibility any more and you could . . . well . . . not worry about me."
He moved a few steps toward her, staring at her intently. "Do you think that I would quit worrying about you simply because you changed partners?"
"You wouldn't have to worry any more. It would be my new partner's responsibility to cover my back and you wouldn't have to do it."
"And you think that would be easier for me."
"It wouldn't, you know. In fact, it would actually be a lot harder."
She stared at him in confusion. "But you wouldn't -"
"Do you really think I worry about you because I have to? Or because it's my responsibility to look after you in some way? Do you honestly think I'm that shallow?"
"No, of course not! I just meant -"
"Amanda, I worry about you because you ma-" He stopped abruptly, looking flustered, and then changed what he had started to say. " . . . because you're my friend. As for it being easier? I've lost too many friends and family members to be prepared to trust anyone else with the life of someone who means so much to me. Maybe that's arrogant, but it's the way I feel. I'd be a nervous wreck if I was forced into relying on someone else to ensure your safety. I honestly don't trust anyone that much." He sat down on the bed next to her again and took her hand. "You're my partner and my friend, Amanda. That's a fact . . . one that I've finally come to accept and to welcome." He looked at her pleadingly. "Please, don't walk away from our partnership . . . from *me* . . . because I acted like an idiot."
Her eyes were very bright as she squeezed his hand. "All right. If that's the way you really feel. I don't want a new partner, anyway."
Lee let his breath out in a whoosh, only then becoming aware that he had been holding it, waiting for her answer. After a long moment, Lee's eyes fell from her warm gaze and happy smile, and he cleared his throat, suddenly looking embarrassed.
"Well, I suppose I should go." Lee grimaced. "Francine's potluck is today and she has threatened violence if I don't show."
"Oh, that's right. I almost forgot!" Amanda gestured toward a basket sitting on the window ledge near the head of her bed. "You need to take that with you. That was the whole reason I called and asked you to stop by."
Lee picked up the basket and peered inside. "Okay," he replied agreeably. "What is it?"
"It's my dish for Francine's potluck."
Lee looked at Amanda in exasperation. "A-*man*-da! You're injured and still in the hospital. You don't have to provide a dish for Francine's stupid potluck!"
"Well, I did promise that I would bring something. Francine specifically asked me because she said she wanted something different. I chose this from one of mother's recipes. She made it for me last night and dropped it off after she'd taken the boys to school.
Lee eyed the basket again doubtfully. "Didn't you tell me once that your mother likes to watch those gourmet cooking shows? The ones with the really strange recipes?"
"What's this one?"
Amanda grinned. "It's called Turnip, Rutabaga, and Beet Salad with Black Walnut Vinaigrette."
"What the hell are rutabagas?" Lee asked incredulously.
Amanda just laughed. "It's exactly what Francine ordered . . . something different." Then she gestured at him to lean in closer. "But I'll tell you a secret," she whispered conspiratorially, "There's a poppy seed cake in there, too, so you won't have to worry about having *something* to eat . . ."
Lee blinked and then began to grin. Finally he laughed out loud and leaned over to kiss her forehead gently. "That's the Amanda we all know and love!"
Disclaimer: "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" and all characters, logos, and likenesses therein, are the property of Shoot the Moon Productions and Warner Brothers Entertainment Television. No copyright infringement is intended by their use in this story. All other material, copyright 2001 by Deborah A. Kluge. All rights reserved. Characters and stories are in no way affiliated with, approved of or endorsed by Shoot the Moon Productions or Warner Brothers Entertainment Television. This is created by a fan for other fans out of love and respect for the show, and is strictly a non-profit endeavor.