Summary:Another typical Christmas in Arlington,
Disclaimer:You know the drill. Except for “Chaucer,” all
characters are the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon. I’m just
playing with their toys
Francine Desmond was running scared. She took another deep breath and ducked
around yet another corner. Twelve years. Twelve long years that she had been
with the Agency and it had never, never, been this. . .bad.
She slipped out into the hallway. If she kept moving, maybe a plan for escape
would present itself. She paused briefly in her flight and glanced back down the
“Still there. How am I supposed to lose this guy?” she muttered.
Then she saw. Stepping out of the elevator, salvation in a green cardigan. Well,
she thought, maybe not salvation, but a step in the right direction.
“Merry Christmas, Francine!” Amanda King greeted her over the armload of
packages she was bringing down from the Q Bureau.
“Amanda!” Francine gushed the other woman’s name. “You look like you
could use some help. Let me. Walk. With. Me.” Francine forcibly took
Amanda’s arm and turned with her back into the Agency’s main hallway.
“Francine, please, let go,” Amanda pulled back, “you’re going to make
me. . “
The packages began to topple. First a gift, then a cookie tin, then another slid
from Amanda’s embrace to the floor. Francine grabbed at them frantically,
certain all was now lost. Unfortunately, her actions upset the precarious
balance in Amanda’s arms further and within seconds all of the packages were
scattered across the floor. Both women knelt to gather them.
“Sorry, Amanda,” Francine said as she turned to pick up the last tin of
sugar cookies. Francine rose and came eye to eye not with Amanda King, but with
him, the enemy, the terror. . .
“Beeman. . .Go! Go Away.” Francine turned as the overly persistent Agent
Beeman grabbed her forearm. An unusually flustered Francine turned to Amanda,
who was now behind her, imploring her with a look.
“Francine,” Beeman slurred, “you were made for me. Come help me go over my
notes for that Casual Surveillance class. And I do mean casual.” Beeman’s
hand slid up Francine’s arm. She jerked away in disgust, dropping some of
Amanda’s packages again.
“Beeman,” Amanda said softly, pulling the amorous agent away from Francine,
“I think Francine was made for everyone but you. Now, why don’t you come and
help me pass out these cookies to everyone. I have a special package just for
you. Come on.”
As the two turned into the bullpen, Amanda turned back toward Francine, mouthing
the word “Sorry.” Francine stared in shock, both at the comment and at
Amanda’s ease in handling Beeman.
Francine knelt once again to gather the remaining packages. A strong hand
reached out to help her rise. A hand that was attached to the second shock of
“Lee? What are you doing here?” Francine hadn’t expected Stetson to
descend from his aerie at all today. She knew from too many years experience
that Christmas and the Scarecrow had never been on very close terms.
“I work here, Francine,” Lee Stetson returned with a smile as he took most
of the packages from her. “Aren’t these Amanda’s?” he queried.
“Yeah, well, Amanda helped me out with a little cease and desist action a few
minutes ago. I’d rather give her some time to wrap it up before I catch up to
“Ah. . “ Lee grinned, realization dawning, “Beeman’s off to an early
Francine nodded morosely.
“Come on, let’s go into the party. Or should I go back upstairs and get my
baseball bat first?”
“Very funny, Scarecrow. But you still haven’t answered my question. What are
you doing down here today?”
“It’s Christmas Eve, Francine. Why shouldn’t I go to the party?”
“You never have before, Lee,” Francine pushed for a more complete answer.
“Maybe times are changing. Come on,” Lee took the remaining packages in his
left arm and guided Francine through the door with his right, nodding to the
uniformed guards on the way into the bullpen.
Lee scanned the room, hoping to catch Amanda’s eye. He found her just outside
the door to Billy’s office with Beeman still in tow. Francine was scanning the
crowd of intelligence operatives as well, hoping not to catch Beeman’s eye.
Since Amanda was preparing to knock on Billy’s door and Beeman was facing the
bullpen, neither Lee’s nor Francine’s hope was realized.
“Franc. .fran. . cccine, you know you wa..a...ant me,” Beeman slurred as he
moved toward her.
“Uh oh, gotta go,” Francine ducked behind Lee’s tall form and began
crawling among the desks. She had never heard anyone, not even the one drink
wonder Beeman slur quite so loudly. She would never live this Christmas down.
Amanda turned toward Lee and shrugged as Billy opened his door. Francine was
working her way on her knees back to the exit. Lee took Beeman by the shoulders
as he approached and forced eye contact.
“Beeman, buddy,” Lee spoke loudly, “I heard Francine say she was headed
down to crypto. Dunton down there makes the best egg nog around. You should go
check it out.”
Francine froze when she heard Lee’s words. She moved around a desk facing away
from the main doors, praying her unwanted suitor would take Lee’s bait. She
didn’t move, she scarcely breathed, until she heard Amanda shout, “Good-bye,
Beeman. Tell Dunton I said hello, please.”
Billy walked over to Francine’s hiding place. He chuckled as he gave his
assistant a hand up.
“Coast is clear, Francine. I’ll call down to crypto and have somebody drive
“Thanks, Billy. You, too, Scarecrow,” Francine smiled, “I owe you a
“Actually you owe me dinner,” Lee smiled. “But,” he added as Amanda gave
him a curious look, “I’m in no big hurry to collect.” He returned her look
with a wink and a smile that was hers alone. Billy coughed and walked between
Lee and Amanda, before their holiday cheer got the best of them. While he
approved of their relationship, whatever it was, in theory, he appreciated that
they went to a great deal of effort to keep it away from the Agency.
Billy was happy to help in whatever small way he could.
Amanda recovered from the effect Lee’s smile always had on her as Billy walked
past. “Thank you, sir,” she said to him quietly.
Lee approached Amanda cautiously with the remaining packages. He struggled to
maintain a physical distance between them. After nearly a year of marriage, even
a secret one, he found himself naturally gravitating to her side whenever they
were in the same room. He was oddly pleased to see the slight evidence of her
own internal struggle play out across the features he loved so much.
“You. . uh, you left these in the hall,” he took a deep breath as he showed
her the remaining packages.
“Thank you, Lee,” Amanda smiled and inhaled deeply, still trying to reassert
control over the reactions Lee continued to stir in her. “Would you like to
help me pass out the rest of these?”
“I’ll help you pass out anytime, Amanda,” Lee whispered. Then, more
loudly, ”Sure, I love the smell of cookies in the morning. Come on, let’s
unload all of this.”
As they made the circuit of the room, Amanda handed out cookies and small gifts
to nearly every agent present, while Lee deflected snide remarks about his
presence at this annual event he usually avoided. The couple approached Billy,
holding court behind a table laden with his wife’s fruitcakes. Billy handed
Amanda one of the fruitcakes and put a dry erase marker in Lee left hand.
“This is your idea of a Christmas present?” Lee looked at his boss
“No, I just noticed that you hadn’t written your name in for Christmas duty
yet,” he pointed to the dry erase board in the corner that listed those agents
who volunteered to take on any assignment that arose during the next two days.
Billy would have preferred that all his agents had time off for Christmas, but
the Agency’s work continued regardless of holidays. Lee Stetson was generally
the first name on that board every year. Despite the obvious effects Amanda King
had on his friend, Billy was still surprised to not see Lee’s name on the
“Oh. . I. . uh . . I just figured I’d go ahead and take advantage of the
time off this year Billy. You know. . .watch a little football . . eat some
cookies . . and fruitcake,” he quickly picked up one of Billy’s little
bundles, “it’s about time somebody else got to rake in that holiday pay. .
I’m just trying to. . .you know . . “
“I think I know, Scarecrow,” Billy nodded as looked first at Lee and then
his partner, “Merry Christmas, you two.”
“Thank you, sir,” Amanda blushed slightly as Lee suddenly found the carpet
fascinating, “Merry Christmas to you, too.”
Lee looked up and glanced toward the main doors. Francine, freed from Beeman’s
advances, was now working her wiles on an elderly gentleman Lee had never seen
The man was tall, bright eyed, and impeccably dressed. That alone qualified him
as Francine’s type. Still, Lee couldn’t help but think that this character
was a little old even in Francine’s book; he was seventy if he was a day, Lee
thought. He watched the two talking for a few minutes, then saw Francine point
toward him. The old man walked toward Lee and the others. Lee noticed his
visitor’s badge as well as two other strangers standing in the hallway beside
The old man’s eyes never strayed from Lee’s face. He stopped and stood two
feet from Lee, still staring. Not a word was given, not a question asked, but
Lee was certain that his measure was being taken. The two men were of equal
height; Lee kept eye contact with this odd visitor, his poker face firmly in
place. He felt as though he wanted to pass this stranger’s inspection, but he
wasn’t about to give anything away unintentionally. Billy and Amanda stood,
quietly watching the even more silent exchange.
“Well, I see you’ve met our resident rebel,” Dr. Smyth’s voice skulked
from behind the visitor.
“Yes. Actually, I have,” the visitor spoke clearly for someone of his
advanced years and very softly. His tone was soft and even, the kind of voice
that made you want to listen. He broke eye contact with Lee, almost regretfully,
and turned to Amanda.
“And Mrs. . . King, a pleasure to meet you as well,” the visitor took
Amanda’s left hand in his right and softly kissed the knuckles.
Lee studied the carpet again. That pause was odd, he thought. Surely the old man
couldn’t have pulled all his secrets out with just a look.
“You seem to have me at a disadvantage, Mr. . . .” Lee heard Amanda query
“Just a visitor from abroad, King. Nothing to concern yourself with. Let’s
continue the tour, K?” Dr. Smyth gestured toward the doors.
“Dr. Smyth, thank you for your time. I have seen enough. Will you please
instruct my associates to return to my hotel? I will arrange alternate
transportation.” The dismissal was clear. Billy smothered a grin at seeing Dr.
Smyth sent to his room like a child.
Dr. Smyth, however, was not so easily dismissed. He stood his ground, blowing
cigarette smoke into the circle of faces in front of him. Amanda held her
breath. Not out of anticipation or fear, but out of annoyance at the smoke. Dr.
Smyth was the most politely inconsiderate person she had ever known. She began
to think he may have just met his match.
“Smythy, old boy,” the visitor lightened his tone as if he really were
speaking to a small child, “I have what I came for. I do not need to see
anymore of this facility. I have a mission to complete today, sir, and you are
keeping me from it. Please carry out my instructions.”
“Allies or not, old boy,” Dr. Smyth quietly fumed, “you can’t go
wandering around without an escort, K?”
“My mission involves giving information, Smythy. I don’t intend to take any
this time around, allies or not. You have my word that I will stay in the
company of one of your agents while I am here.” The visitor permanently
dismissed Dr. Smyth from his thoughts and turned to Amanda again.
“Mrs. . .King,” There’s that pause again, thought Lee.
“You and I have a mutual friend. When I mentioned I would be in Washington,
she asked me to deliver some packages for her. Might I come visit you this
“Well. . I guess. Who are these packages from?” Amanda certainly didn’t
need any more secrets in her home on Christmas Eve.
“Never fear, my dear. The packages are from Emily Farnsworth. They are
Christmas gifts for you and your family. She thinks very highly of you.”
“In that case, dinner is at six. We’d like to join us, Mr. . . “ Amanda
paused and glanced at Lee, still studying the carpet and shaking his head
slightly. “I really would like to have a name, if you don’t mind?”
“You may call me Chaucer, for now,” Lee and Billy exchanged a startled
glance as Chaucer took Amanda’s hand again. “I’ll see you promptly at six,
Mrs. . . King.”
“Mr. Stetson,” Chaucer spoke softly again, “I require your assistance.”
Chaucer smiled slightly as though his simple request was amusing, resuming his
scrutiny of Lee.
“Sure. What can I do for you, sir?” Lee’s manner was now both more
deferential and more suspicious toward the elderly visitor. Amanda found his
“I need to go shopping, my boy. And I need to collect those aforementioned
packages. You, my boy, are my alternate transportation. Come along,” Chaucer
began walking toward the doors.
“I’ll call you,” Lee told Amanda hurriedly and followed.
“Mr. Melrose, “ Amanda looked at her boss, “what have I gotten myself
“I think you’ll be O.K. Amanda.” Billy replied. “Chaucer is the code
name for the pre-eminent British spy master. I’ve never met him. I’ve never
seen a picture of him. But the way he sent Dr. Smyth packing has me thinking,
that’s him,” Billy nodded toward the retreating figures of Chaucer and Lee.
“What do you think he wants with Lee?” Amanda asked quietly.
“I have no idea,” Billy said shaking his head.
Several hours later, Amanda was at home basting her turkey. Her mother had
prepared most of the dishes for Christmas Eve dinner ahead of time. All that
remained would be to warm a few items and, of course, supervise the turkey on
its way. At three o'clock she had plenty of time before anyone arrived. It was
strange being in an empty house on Christmas Eve. Her mother and Aunt Lillian
had gone to the store to pick up a few last minute items; there's always
something forgotten until the last minute, Amanda mused. Joe and Carrie had
taken the boys for the day and would return with them in time for dinner. And
Lee. . Lee still hadn't called. He'd been out with Chaucer for four hours.
She wasn't upset; Lee had said he would call, not check-in, that meant he would
call as soon as he had the opportunity, not at their pre-arranged check-in
No, she wasn't upset, just frustrated; she had been looking forward to spending
some quality time with Lee today. Once again, the world seemed to be conspiring
Amanda sighed. In a few weeks they would celebrate their first anniversary. It
would be nice if there were a little more to celebrate. Scenes like this morning
were becoming all too common for her and Lee lately. She had thought it would
get easier to hide their marriage as time passed, but in that area, practice was
making for quite a bit less than perfect. She was having to rely on all her
Agency training and field experience to maintain this cover. They hadn't talked
about it, but she thought Lee was having the same trouble. Maybe they should
just come clean and hope for the best, she mused. Surely by now Lee could see
that the danger to their family was no different than it had always been, and as
for work, well, there just had to be a way to work things out.
The sound of the phone ringing jarred her from her reverie.
"Amanda! I finally got away. Chaucer's in his suite collecting the presents
from Emily. At least I hope that's what they are. Do you know who this guy
"I know what his code name means. Do you know if it's really him?"
"I'm not sure. We haven't talked much beyond the weather and some 'mutual
acquaintances' as he calls them. Have you been able to reach Emily?"
"No, there wasn't an answer at all at her house and I could only leave a
message at the office. I'm sorry I invited him to dinner, Lee. It's just that if
he really is a friend of Emily's it would be awfully rude not to."
"I know. It's O.K. Here he comes. We'll be there soon. I love you."
"I love you, too, Lee" Amanda hung up the phone and retreated to the
security of her kitchen.
Thirty minutes later Dotty and Lillian returned from the grocery store. They
entered the kitchen door each burdened with two very full shopping bags.
"Mother! I thought we just needed whipped cream for the pies. You look like
you bought a year's supply," Amanda was astounded at the items that came
out of the bags. There were fifteen cans of whipped cream, three bags of chips,
two containers each of onion dip and guacamole, four tubes of tooth paste and a
bottle of pine-sol. "Where'sthe partridge in the pear tree?" Amanda
"Amanda, I am certain that last week I had three cans of whipped cream in
the refrigerator for the pies. Now they're gone. I don't know what those boys of
yours were thinking, but I intend to find out. And I don't plan on running out
between now and New Year's," Dottie began filling the refrigerator with
Amanda turned to hide the flush that quickly rose as her mother spoke. She knew
exactly what had happened to that whipped cream and it definitely didn't involve
Philip or Jamie. That had been the last time she and Lee had had some time alone
She had meant to replace it by now, but somehow just hadn't gotten around to it.
She smiled at the memory and at the hope of borrowing another can or two without
her mother's knowledge.
"Well what is all of this other stuff for, Mother?"
"The chips and dip are to keep everyone calm in case you forgot about the
turkey or got called into the 'editing room' at the last minute. Where is Lee,
anyway? The guacamole is because Lee said that was his preference. The
toothpaste is to go with Philip and Jamie while they're at Joe's next week. Do
you know what he feeds them? The pine-sol is to clean this kitchen with--I keep
smelling whipped cream every time I come in here."
Amanda fled into the den and began rearranging the presents under the tree.
"I just know those boys got into some sort of whipped cream fight,
Amanda," Dottie's voice carried into the den, "They obviously cleaned
up after themselves but they didn't do a very good job."
"Yes, Mother," Amanda called back to her.
"I think you should make them clean it again, dear. It's the only way
they're going to learn."
"Yes, Mother. I'll take care of it, Mother." Amanda was still too red
to face her mother. She remained focused on the Christmas tree, unaware that
Aunt Lillian had come up behind her. Lillian smiled at Amanda's distress.
"Amanda, if you take care of it, they won't learn to take responsibility
for their own actions," Dottie continued her tirade from the kitchen.
"Mother, I promise you, the guilty party will reclean that kitchen. You
know perfectly well that we face up to our responsibilities around here,"
Amanda could scarcely keep her voice even. This Christmas was turning into a
personal nightmare; couldn't Mother just let it go?
Aunt Lillian touched Amanda's shoulder gently. "Maybe your Mr. Stetson
could help clean that kitchen later, dear."
Amanda turned, horrified. She tried to speak, but that seemed to be beyond her
ability at the moment.
"Close your mouth, dear," Aunt Lillian counseled. "You look like
a fish. You wouldn't want your Mr. Stetson to see you like that now would
Amanda gulped and stood, turning to fully face her aunt. "Aunt Lillian, I
would like for this conversation to end now,--please."
Aunt Lillian nodded and smiled, "Your secret is safe with me, dear."
"Thank you, I think. Now could you get Mother to talk about something,
At precisely 5:45 Lee Stetson's silver Corvette pulled up to 4247 Maplewood. Lee
glared at Joe's car in the driveway. He had arrived at a point where he could
accept Joe being around, but Lee should be pulling into the drive and Joe's car
should be parked on the street.
"Mr. Stetson," Chaucer said, "Are you all right?"
It was the first time today that Chaucer had said anything remotely personal,
Lee mused. They had talked about the weather, about architecture, about the
monuments, about places they had both frequented, about people they both knew;
Lee was surprised at just how many people they both knew, even in this business.
Still, Lee was certain that this was the first time since he was ordered out of
the bullpen that Chaucer had directly addressed him. It had been a very strange
"Yes, sir," Lee wasn't about to get personal now. "I just had
vastly different plans for today. No offense."
"None taken. But Mrs. . .King did say to arrive at six. Punctuality is
"Actually, she told you to arrive at six."
"I'm sure she won't mind if you're along, will she? You are my escort for
the day. And you are her. . . partner, are you not?" Chaucer asked.
"No, she won't. And yes, I am," Lee replied. "How do you know so
much about Amanda? Emily isn't one for telling secrets."
"That depends on to whom she's telling them, my boy. Come along, we'll be
late if we sit here any longer."
Lee and Chaucer walked to the front door, both overburdened with gifts.Chaucer
had insisted on buying gifts for the King family himself as well as delivering
Lee had insisted in turn that it wasn't necessary, but Chaucer only said it
wouldn't be fair, he at least owed Amanda a gift. No explanation on this idea of
fairness had been forthcoming. Lee almost thought he would have preferred a day
on the town with Dr. Smyth. Never had he spent this much time with someone and
come away with so little information. Lee remembered Chaucer's comment to Dr.
Smyth about being in DC to deliver information. He had watched the old man
constantly all day, except for the few minutes in the hotel suite. There had
been no drop, no exchange. Lee had no idea shopping could be so exhausting.
"Lee, darling," Dottie exclaimed as she answered the door, "we've
been waiting for you." Dottie dragged him in the door, taking his packages
and handing them to Jamie, who was coming down the stairs behind her.
"Dottie West, may I introduce Mr. Chaucer? Mr. Chaucer is a producer in our
London office," Lee explained.
"I didn't know IFF had a London office, " Dottie looked quizzically at
Lee as she began to take packages from Chaucer.
"A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. West, " Chaucer greeted her without a
pause, Lee noticed. "Not that box, please," Chaucer held on to the
unwrapped box at the bottom of his pile. "Is there someplace safe I could
set this for awhile?"
Lee looked at the box. It was the largest of Chaucer's packages, an unwrapped
wooden box about the size of a file drawer with a hinged lid. The box was old,
the corners worn smooth. Lee had the notion that the box went everywhere Chaucer
did. It had been one of the items picked up at the hotel and while Chaucer had
asked Lee to carry the gifts from Emily, he would not let him handle that box.
Dottie led Chaucer to the coat closet, taking his and Lee's coats as she let
Chaucer place the box carefully on the floor.
"We're so glad to have you with us, Mr. Chaucer," Dottie said as she
led Chaucer into the den, "It must be terrible to be away from your family
"Yes, actually, it is," Chaucer agreed.
Lee shook his head. Dottie had gained more information in ten seconds than he
had all day. There was no doubt Amanda came by her skills naturally.
Adding action to that thought, Lee went up and down the short stairs and stood
in the kitchen doorway, just out of sight of the family in the den. Amanda was
bending over to take the turkey out of the oven. Lee knocked softly on the door
frame to get her attention. She looked up and smiled. Glancing quickly over her
shoulder, Amanda noticed Dottie was introducing Chaucer to the family. She
closed the oven door and stepped quickly into Lee's arms.
"Where have you been?" she asked as he pulled her up onto the stairs,
firmly out of everyone else's sight. The worry in her eyes belied her harsh
"That's a fine hello," Lee said softly, brushing his fingers across
Amanda's heart skipped a beat. How did he still affect her this way after almost
five years? It made her lose her thoughts, occasionally, but she hoped he was
still affecting her this way in another five years. She leaned toward him,
placing a feather light kiss on his lips.
"Better?" she breathed.
"A little," he replied, pulling her closer in his embrace and covering
her mouth with his own. Lee leaned back against the wall, pulling Amanda against
the length of his body. He pulled back from the kiss after a few moments but
continued to hold her tightly to him.
"Mmm, much better," he whispered into her ear.
"That's odd, she was right here," they could hear Dottie's voice from
"Oh, there you are," Aunt Lillian spoke from the base of the stairs.
Amanda stepped back, putting just a little distance between Lee and herself.
"Aunt Lillian, is it time for dinner, already,?" Amanda asked,
slightly out of breath.
"Yes, dear," Aunt Lillian replied, "Your mother's corralling
everyone into the dining room."
"Thank you, Aunt Lillian. We'll be right in."
"Very good, dear. Amanda?" Aunt Lillian wanted her full attention.
"I'll just go set that bottle of pine-sol out for you."
Amanda buried her head in Lee's chest.
"What the. . " Lee looked down at his wife, not sure if she was
laughing or crying.
"I'll tell you later," she said looking up with a sigh and a smirk,
As Lee and Amanda entered the dining room, he breathed a slow sigh of relief at
the seating arrangements. Aunt Lillian was at one end of the table and Dottie
took the other; having his car upstaged was bad enough, Lee doubted he could
stomach Joe at the head of this table. To Aunt Lillian’s right were Joe,
Carrie, Jamie, and then Chaucer next to Dottie; Philip sat at Aunt Lillian’s
left. Lee seated Amanda next to her mother and took the remaining empty seat.
“Mr. Chaucer,” Dottie asked, “How are you with a turkey?”
“I haven’t spent much time with very many turkeys, Dottie,” Chaucer
replied with a slight smile, “but I do know how to use a carving knife.”
“Well then,” she gestured to the bird, “Would you do the honors?”
As Chaucer fulfilled his responsibilities as carver, Lee opened his mental file
on the man. Item one, he was now on a first name basis with Dottie, perhaps Lee
could direct Dottie’s conversation to gain more information from Chaucer. Item
two, he referred to Carrie as Mrs. King as he carved her portion --- no pause in
the name. Item three, he was now calling Amanda by her given name, although with
an odd lilt in his voice, as though he knew a secret he wasn’t about to share.
Item four, despite Lee’s attempts, the man was now patently avoiding eye
contact with him, directing his green eyes instead every few moments in the
direction of the closet in the foyer. Item five, he really did know how to use a
Amanda could feel the tension radiating from Lee. He was keeping it pretty well
in check, she doubted anyone else was aware. There were far too many
undercurrents at tonight’s dinner, she thought. She catalogued her list of
secrets as she regarded her family: There was the secret of their careers; thank
goodness Chaucer seemed to have picked up on that. Then there was her marriage
to Lee; that was a secret whose time had almost come, she thought, watching Lee
glare at Joe. There was an extra secret agent in the house tonight; extra as in
additional and as in ultra, Amanda wanted the matter of "Chaucer’s”
identity settled soon. Then, of course, there was that little matter of the
secret rendezvous with the whipped cream; Aunt Lillian just wasn’t going to
let that go. It still struck her as odd to sit down to a family dinner and know
that most of the people around the table had almost no clue as to what was
really going on.
“. . .like to go there someday. What’s it like?” Amanda returned to the
conversation as Philip questioned Chaucer about his home.
“What is London like? That would be difficult to answer to your satisfaction,
dear boy. I am a very old man and you, you are a very young one. I am certain
that your impression of my city would be very different from mine. But perhaps
you will visit someday,” Chaucer said as he glanced very briefly from Philip
“So how old are you?” Jamie interjected.
“Jamie! You know better than that. Mr. Chaucer, I apologize,” Amanda stared
at her younger son.
“He brought it up,” Jamie muttered.
“Never fear, dear boy. I am not offended. I turned ninety-three this year. I
am reaching the point where I am rather proud of my age again,” Chaucer smiled
in Jamie’s direction and reached across to pat the back of Amanda’s hand.
“I did, as he said, bring it up, my dear.”
“You don’t look a day over seventy-five, “ Joe toasted Chaucer with his
“Spending a holiday with you dear people, I feel almost fifty again,”
Lee leaned back in his chair, relaxing somewhat. This is good, he thought. Just
listen and the King family might gradually drag a few more pieces of information
out of Chaucer. He ran his hand along Amanda’s thigh, as she turned toward
him, he relaxed his shoulders and raised his eyebrows. She widened her eyes and
took his hand in hers. Lee smiled, she would follow his lead.
The exchange lasted only a few seconds, but it did not go unnoticed by Chaucer.
“Wow,” Jamie exclaimed, “you’re even older than Grandma. Uhh. .
“Be careful, Jamie,” Lee cautioned, “your ice is getting mighty thin.”
Jamie looked from Lee’s amused expression to his mother’s and
grandmother’s horrified faces and cringed. Lee rode to both Jamie and
“If you feel fifty, “ Lee said to Chaucer, “then you’re perfect company
for Dottie West, who was obviously a child bride when Amanda was born. Just
between you and me, sir, I think she’s the second most beautiful woman I
know.” Lee paused and winked at Amanda.
“Why, Mr. Stetson, I just knew there was a reason we were keeping you around.
Flattery like that will go a long way around here,” Dottie smiled.
“Oh, really, “ Lee replied, glancing at Amanda, “I’ll have to remember
“Not that I would ever detract from Dottie’s obvious charms,” Joe
interjected, “but I think most guys would save that compliment for their own
“Lee’s mom died when he was a kid, Dad,” Philip supplied.
“Aman. . .” Lee stammered.
“How sad. . . I’m so sorry. . . How difficult for you,” chorused their
“He asked, Lee.” Amanda shrugged. “What should I have said?”
“It’s O.K. It’s just. . . I’m O.K.” Lee shrugged as well.
“It is very difficult not having family to spend the holidays with isn’t it,
my boy?” Chaucer studied Lee intently.
“Oh, you know, you just find something else to do with the day,” Lee evaded
his stare. This little attempt at a Class C interrogation was really backfiring.
Lee didn’t want to be on the receiving end of it any longer. He focused his
attention on his meal.
Amanda hated to see Lee begin to pull back into that particular shell. He had
come too far in the last year in dealing with the repercussions of his
parents’ deaths. She had to shift the conversation to a safer target.
“So, Mr. Chaucer,” she queried, “how long will you be in DC?”
“That depends,” he said. “You’ll recall I said I had some information to
deliver? The length of my stay is directly dependent on how that information is
“That sounds very mysterious,” Dottie teased. “I wouldn’t think there
would be anything like industrial espionage in the documentary film business.”
“My word, no, Dottie,” Chaucer regarded her humorously. “I just have a
proposal to make.”
“A proposal?” Dottie glanced archly at Amanda. “Wouldn’t that be
“Not that kind of proposal,” Chaucer replied quickly.
“Oh, are you married?” Carrie asked.
“Yes, I am, Mrs. King.”
“What a pity your wife couldn’t travel with you,” Joe commented.
“She always travels with me, Mr. King,” Chaucer responded. “She died many
years ago, but she’s always been with me, right here,” he said placing his
hand over his heart.
“How long has it been?” Lee asked, finally looking up.
“Over thirty years, my boy, and sometimes it feels like yesterday.”
Now this is progress, thought Lee. Keep it up, Scarecrow, keep pushing. Class C,
handholding and sweet talk. Allies or not, this guy had secrets. And eventually,
mused Lee, all secrets see the light of day. He looked thoughtfully at Amanda.
“I can imagine how you feel,” Lee continued. “How long were you married
before she died?”
“I’m very sure you know exactly how I feel, my boy,” Chaucer had captured
Lee’s gaze again. As before, Lee felt his very core being placed on a scale.
He wondered if he was found wanting. He wondered why it mattered.
“We were married in 1920; she died 35 years later.”
“Any children?” Lee fired back rapidly.
“Mr. Stetson,” Chaucer eyes bored into Lee, “I can appreciate the position
you find yourself in, but I am not accustomed to being interrogated at the
“Give the guy a break, Lee,” Joe King sought to diffuse the tension that was
“Just curious,” Lee sounded nonchalant as he sipped his wine.
“He brought it up,” Jamie muttered. Lee flashed the boy a quick smile. Jamie
Those smiles did more to ease the strain than Joe’s defense of Chaucer and
dinner proceeded in a far more relaxed setting. Dottie and Philip questioned
Chaucer about Christmas traditions in England. Amanda asked Carrie about her
family’s holiday plans. Jamie regaled everyone with the details of his latest
science project. Lee listened, occasionally glancing at Chaucer, waiting for
something to slip.
Even the few details Chaucer had provided would all be a matter of public
record, providing they actually knew the man’s real name, Lee mused. Just how
good do you think you are, Scarecrow? Going toe to toe with England’s most
hidden top dog; this guy’s probably been in the game since World War I. The
very fact that he’s alive shows just how good he is. If he were any kind of
threat to national security somebody would have been on to him by now.
“Mr. Chaucer,” Dottie took his arm to lead everyone back into the den after
dinner, “you still haven’t told me your first name.”
Lee looked up at Chaucer as he offered Amanda his hand.
“It’s. . . “ he paused, looking at Lee. “It’s Jacob,” he said,
conceding the point. Lee nodded, claiming it.
Amanda rose, but held Lee’s hand to keep him in the dining room. The others
continued into the den.
“We’ll clear this away, Mother. You all relax and Lee and I will join you in
a few minutes,” Amanda lowered her voice as she turned to her husband.
“You know that’s probably not his real name,” she whispered.
“I know.” Lee gathered plates as Amanda picked up the glasses.
“Amanda, there’s something strange about this guy. I can’t place it, but
it is driving me crazy,” Lee spoke each word succinctly.
“The man has been a spy for . . .well for just about forever. What do you
expect? What do you think you’ll be like in fifty or sixty years?” Amanda
placed the dishes in the sink.
“I’ll be happy to live that long,” Lee countered, returning to the dining
“Don’t say things like that,” Amanda followed him.
He turned and held her by the shoulders, looking in her eyes. She stared back
almost defiantly, then relaxed as he brought a finger to her lips.
“It’s not bad luck, Mrs. Stetson,” he whispered. “Besides, we’re
good.” He leaned forward and replaced his finger with his lips, cupping her
cheek with his hand.
“Oh, yeah,” Amanda whispered as she pulled back reluctantly, “we’re very
“That’s my girl,” Lee kissed her again quickly. “Oh, when we go out
there, remember, follow my lead.”
“Lee, I’m getting tired of this game. I just want to enjoy Christmas.”
“Then trust me. And. Follow. My. Lead.” Lee collected a plateful of cutlery
and turned toward the kitchen. When Amanda stayed rooted in place, he waved from
the table to the kitchen.
“Amanda? I. Said. Follow.”
“Oh give it a rest, Scarecrow. All right, I’ll play. Whatever you do,
whatever you say, I’ll follow your lead. But I expect to be able to make a few
rules of my own once all these people leave.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Lee winked and turned to go through the door.
Amanda began rinsing the dishes and loading the dishwasher as Lee loaded the
refrigerator with leftovers. He was dumbstruck when he opened the refrigerator
door, then a slow smile spread across his face.
“You really liked that, huh?” Lee asked his wife.
“What?” Amanda looked into the open refrigerator and blushed furiously.
“Lee Stetson do not even talk to me about whipped cream tonight,” she
whispered intently, moving closer to him. “You have no idea what Mother and
Aunt Lillian have put me through today about those missing cans. Mother thinks
Philip and Jamie. . . Oh, hello, Mother,” she said over Lee’s shoulder.
“Amanda, I just came in to get the pies ready. Lee will you take that one out
for me? And a can of whipped cream? Thank you, dear,” Dottie was oblivious to
the conversation she had interrupted. Lee numbly did as he was asked as Amanda
turned back to the sink, blushing Christmas red.
“Lee,” Dottie continued, “get another pie and another can of whipped cream
and help me with this would you, dear. I always have trouble with these
ridiculous cans. Do you know how to get them open without them exploding all
“Well, sure, Dottie, I, . . I can probably figure it out,” Lee struggled to
keep the redness from his own features as Amanda strangled a laugh with a cough
and a sneeze.
“Bless you, sweetheart,” Dotty said over her shoulder. “You know, I had
three cans in there last week and this morning I looked and they were gone. Can
you believe that, Lee, just. . .gone. I just know Philip and Jamie had some sort
of fight with them in here while I was gone. Have you noticed how the whole
kitchen has smelled like whipped cream for days? No, of course you haven’t.
Why should you notice? How much time have you ever spent in this kitchen?”
Lee set the can down on the counter and retreated to stand against Amanda’s
back. He could feel her shaking, holding in laughter or tears or maybe both.
“Dottie, you know, I probably wouldn’t do a very good job with that after
all,” Lee said hesitantly. “I’ll . . I’ll just go keep our friend Jacob
“Coward,” Amanda muttered as he stepped away.
As Lee fled for the relative sanctuary of the den, he checked his progress and
returned to the closet in the foyer. Retrieving a small box from his coat
pocket, he regarded the larger box on the floor. There was a leather strap with
a buckle that kept the hinged lid closed, but the box did not appear to be
locked in any way. Lee very gently picked up the box and shook it slightly. He
was rewarded with a dull thud and a slight rustle; the box was full, he deduced,
perhaps with books, papers, files? What sort of files might England's premier
spymaster deem too sensitive to leave away from his person? Lee set the box back
on the floor and reached for the buckle, determined to have answers to his
"Mr. Stetson," Aunt Lillian's voice floated from the den, "what
kind of pie do you want?"
Lee pulled back his hand and stood up quickly. He tucked his own small box into
the pocket of his sportcoat and was closing the closet door just as Aunt Lillian
entered the foyer.
"Were you looking for something, dear?"
"No. . .no. . .I just needed something from my coat. Did you say something
about pie? I'd love a slice," he said taking her by the arm and leading her
back to the den. He glanced back toward the closet once, pondering the
mysterious box. Lee stopped short as he returned to the den. Amanda was seated
on the sofa, flanked by Philip on one side and Joe on the other; Jamie sat on
the floor in front of his father. Lee didn't begrudge the boys, but Joe. . .Joe
was another matter. Lee wanted Joe off the sofa, out the door, out of the
driveway, and safely visiting his own in-laws as quickly as possible. The four
of them looked like the perfect family. That had to stop. Lee would collar Joe
and throw him bodily out the front door. No, he would pick Amanda up bodily and
carry her away to their apartment and make love to her all night.
No, he just wanted everyone to know, to assume, that the place next to Amanda
was reserved for him, and only him, always. Amanda felt Lee's eyes on her. She
looked up at him and smiled. He smiled back. Lee's smile always did the most
amazing things to her. She nodded in response to something Joe was saying, not
really hearing. She rose and glided to Lee's side, taking his hand. Lee squeezed
her hand gently. Even if the rest of the world was unaware of his rightful
place, at least Amanda was certain. He released her hand and took the seat next
to Carrie. As Amanda walked back toward the sofa, Lee's hand clenched into a
fist. She was going to sit back down next to Joe. How could she? To his
astonishment she collected a slice of pie from the coffee table, followed him to
the chair, and perched herself on its arm.
"I believe this is your favorite," she said leaning toward him with
the slice of pie.
"Extra whipped cream," she whispered in his ear.
"You do know what I like," Lee said softly, relaxing his clenched
"This is quite a family you've gotten yourself into, my boy," Chaucer
turned to Lee from his examination of the pictures on the bookshelves. Most of
the pictures were of Amanda with one or both of her sons, several included
Dottie. But Chaucer noticed two pictures, one of Lee and Amanda in a loose
embrace, and another of Lee and Philip leaning against Lee's car. The photos
were the work of an amateur, but they were displayed with pride.
"I certainly think so," Lee replied as he put an arm around Amanda's
waist. He was a little leery of letting Chaucer see this much of his secret life
with Amanda, but this man had secrets of his own. Chaucer would gain nothing by
betraying them to the Agency.
"Lillian, are we ready to start?" Dottie asked her sister.
"Start what?" asked Chaucer.
"Well," Joe rose from the sofa, "I guess we'd better get
YES! Lee thought. FINALLY! GO! GO! GO AWAY!
"Joe, Carrie, " Dottie crooned as she stood between them, "don't
be silly. You're family, too. You can't leave now."
"We've already given the boys our gifts, Dottie. You don't need us in the
way," Joe shook his head and reached for Carrie's hand.
Damn straight we don't need you, Lee fought to keep the words off of his lips.
"Joe King, I said you can't leave and I meant it. Now, both of you, sit
They complied as Dottie turned her attention to Chaucer. "What we are
starting, Jacob, is a tradition my parents started with Lillian and me. On
Christmas Eve, each person gives one gift to someone else, it doesn't matter
who. The only rule is that the gift has to be something hand made or already in
the giver's possession, not something bought for the holiday. Sometimes one
person ends up with all the Christmas Eve gifts and sometimes they get spread
around. The focus is on the giving, not the getting." Dottie glared at
Philip and Jamie as she finished, hoping to drive her point home.
"That sounds lovely, Dottie. Is it all right if I watch? Mr. Stetson is my
transportation, you understand," Chaucer's words were for Dottie, but his
eyes were on Lee as he spoke.
"Heck no, Lee can't leave, yet," Philip insisted, "he's as much
family as Carrie is, Grandma."
"I wouldn't dream of asking Lee to leave."
Lee settled back into the chair. He rubbed his hand lightly across the small of
Amanda's back, thinking. This day was so far removed from what he had
anticipated it to be--first Chaucer, then Joe and Carrie, he expected they would
have left by now. He sighed; he would just make the best of it.
"I'd like to start this year, Dotty," Aunt Lillian stated.
"Amanda, dear, this is for you. I dare say you're expecting it."
Amanda took the gift Aunt Lillian handed her. It was a hat box with a large red
bow on top. Amanda smiled at Aunt Lillian as she removed the lid. The first
thing she saw inside was a dish towel. Amanda's smile faded to puzzlement. When
she lifted a corner of the dish towel she saw just what she expected. Amanda's
puzzlement gave way to resigned embarrassment. She quickly replaced both dish
towel and lid. No one else had seen the gift.
"Thank you so-o-o very much, Aunt Lillian. I'm sure I'll put that to good
use," Amanda said clutching the gift tightly. Amanda stared straight ahead.
She couldn't look at Aunt Lillian. She didn't dare look toward Mother. And
Lee,he was no help.
"Come on," Lee said, reaching for the box, "what 'd'ya get?"
Amanda held the box out of his reach.
"Oh no, pal, hands off," Amanda stood to carry her gift to the closet
in the foyer.
"Come on, Mom," called Philip, "we wanna see."
"Philip, this is my gift and I will do with it as I please," Amanda
reddened as she thought of how she would explain this gift to her sons.
"You know," Lee said to Aunt Lillian, "I don't think I've ever
seen Amanda turn quite that shade of red before."
"Yeah, Aunt Lillian," Philip added, "tell us what you got her
before she comes back."
Aunt Lillian smiled first at Philip, then at Lee. "I'm sure if Amanda needs
for you to know about her gift, she will tell you."
"Sometimes these gifts turn out to be private jokes," Amanda could
hear her mother explaining to Chaucer. "This one seems to be better than
most," she added wryly, gazing after her retreating daughter.
As Amanda placed her gift on the shelf in the closet she looked down at the box
on the floor. It hadn't been there earlier. She wondered briefly who had brought
it in. She resisted the urge to pick it up and shake it. After all, it was
Christmas, perhaps this was one the gifts from Emily. Amanda closed the door and
proceeded to the den.
As she returned, Jamie was drooling over his gift from Dottie.
"Your mother and I were cleaning in the attic a few weeks ago and I came
across these dark room supplies. They belonged to your grandfather. He was an
amateur photographer, too, Jamie. You've talked so much about setting up a dark
room in the attic, I thought these might help."
"Grandma, this is great!" Jamie hugged Dottie and then turned to Lee.
"Lee, after Christmas break could you get that friend of yours to help us
set it all up? I've got a list of what I'll need. This takes care of some of it,
but I need a few more things. Will you help?"
Lee was touched that Jamie had asked him instead of his father. They really had
come a long way since the spring. `"Sure, sport. We'll find a weekend and
get you in business," Lee replied.
"Now, don't you have something?" Lee nodded from the tree to Dottie.
Jamie seemed a little hesitant to offer his gift.
"Just do it, Jamie," Lee encouraged the boy.
Jamie collected a flat package from under the tree. He placed it in his
grandmother's hands. "I hope you like it, Grandma. I got lucky. Lee thinks
it's pretty good."
Dottie unwrapped her gift carefully. Inside the festive paper was a framed photo
of her and Amanda. Dottie remembered the morning depicted in this photo although
she hadn't known their resident shutterbug had been present at the time. She and
Amanda had been arguing. Amanda had been avoiding Dottie's questions, again. The
photo showed their profiles facing one another. You could clearly see all the
frustration and exasperation that made up a large part of their relationship,
but you could see love and respect in their faces, too.
"Jamie, this is wonderful," Dottie said softly. "It is very good.
You captured your mother perfectly. Thank you, sweetheart."
Philip rose quickly and grabbed Amanda's sleeve as Dottie began taking the photo
around the room for everyone to inspect. "I couldn't think of anything
really good this year, Mom," Philip said carefully, "so all I have is
this." He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket and handed
it to Amanda.
"This is for me?" Amanda asked.
"Yeah, it's kinda stupid, but. . . "
"Nothing you do is stupid, Philip," Amanda responded automatically as
she began reading this letter from her older son. In it he spelled out his
Christmas gift to her. . .he promised to do his homework, to mow the lawn on
time, to do the dishes without complaining, to keep his room clean, to not leave
pencils on the sofa, the list went on in great detail.
"Philip," Amanda said slowly, "this is a wonderful gift. You gave
me yourself. Thank you." She smiled as she hugged him.
By this time Jamie's photo had made the circuit of the room. Amanda gave Philip
another quick hug and went to collect a package from under the tree.
She walked over to Lee, who was with Chaucer and Dottie at the bookshelves,
looking for a place to display this newest addition.
"Lee," Amanda said softly, holding the gift out to him, "before
you open this, let me explain."
Lee smiled and sighed. Amanda's rambling explanations had driven him crazy in
the beginning, but now. . .either she rambled less or he understood more. . .
either way when she did it now it was endearing instead of exasperating.
"I came across this in the attic in a box of my father's things. I can't
imagine him ever wearing it. Mother doesn't remember it. But when I saw it, I
knew I had to give it to you." Amanda took a deep breath and smiled.
She could have given him a wet sock and Lee would have been happy. For her to
include him in this little family tradition meant alot. He tore off the paper
and opened the box. Inside was a deep red fedora. Lee laughed as he took it out
of the box and put it on. He gave Amanda a quick kiss on the cheek in thank you.
"Now you'd better not ever tell me again that you can't find the man in the
red hat," Lee cautioned her.
"I won't," she slipped her arms around his neck, "I know just
where to find him."
"Sorry," Lee said as he glanced from Chaucer's accepting expression to
Dottie's curious one and on to Joe's slightly annoyed look, "private
"Amanda," he focused back to the woman in his arms, "sit down. I
have a gift for you, too." He led Amanda back to the chair he had occupied
earlier. Helping her to sit, Lee then turned to Dottie.
"Dottie, I want to make sure I understand the rules here correctly. I can
only give a gift that I either made or have already owned for some time,
right?" Lee questioned her.
Dottie nodded, wondering what Lee was up to. She had just about given up hope of
him ever doing what she thought he just might possibly be getting ready to do.
She liked Lee, but he and Amanda had certainly tried her patience over the last
Lee glanced quickly around the room. He had expected Dottie and the boys, of
course. He had thought Joe and Carrie would have left by now. And Chaucer, what
was that man's game? If he and Amanda had little chance at a normal life, what
kind of life did Chaucer lead? His life was probably buried in so many layers of
lies and covers and aliases, Lee wondered if he even knew his own name anymore.
Lee knelt in front of Amanda. He took both of her hands in his, relaxed his
shoulders and raised his eyebrows. Amanda looked at him quizzically, then
squeezed his hands and widened her eyes slightly. Lee smiled and took a deep
breath. "Amanda King, I think you're the best, the bravest, the smartest,
most beautiful woman I've ever known." Lee looked into Amanda's eyes
expectantly. He knew she would remember the words. Days after he first spoke
them she had asked him to say them again because she wasn't certain she had
remembered everything correctly at the time and she wanted to remember those
words very much. But would she respond? He hadn't discussed this with her. He
only knew he couldn't go on any longer as they were.
"I love you, too, Lee," Amanda replied softly. Lee let out a breath he
had forgotten he was holding. He tightened his grip on her hands.
"Then will you marry me?" A chorus of gasps and sighs and one
exuberant "Yes!" from Philip greeted this question. But Philip's yes
was not the one Lee waited to hear.
Amanda could still back down, still keep the secret.
"Will I marry you? Yeah, I'll marry you," Amanda pulled her hands from
Lee's and cupped each side of his face, kissing him tenderly. Lee leaned into
her kiss, extending it. He thought briefly that he felt more relief at her
positive answer this time than he had the first time he proposed.
Amanda pulled back and grinned, still cradling Lee's head in her hands.
"We're the luckiest two people on the face of the earth," she told him
and kissed him again.
This time Lee broke off the encounter. He reached into his pocket and pulled out
a small white box tied with a pale blue ribbon. Amanda smiled as he handed it to
"I did say I had a gift for you. And this has been sitting around the
apartment for an awfully long time." Lee grinned and winked at his wife.
Amanda took the familiar box from Lee and opened it slowly. She carefully
removed the even more familiar velvet box inside. She opened it and removed her
engagement ring, the diamond reflecting the light from the fire and the tree.
Unbidden, tears sprang to her eyes. Their "mystery marriage" had been
more burden and frustration than love and joy lately. It had all been his idea
in the first place; she was thrilled that Lee had been the one to put an end to
"This is a much better place to store it," Lee said softly, placing
the ring on her finger.
"It's going to stay there for a very long time," Amanda whispered.
"It's going to stay there forever," Lee replied, leaning forward for
"Hey, you two," Carrie King interrupted them, "how about setting
a date?" Carrie trusted Joe and she genuinely liked Amanda, but a married
Amanda would provide that small extra measure of security she sometimes craved.
Lee broke off their kiss with a laugh, one which Amanda mirrored. "I had
almost forgotten they were all even still here," Amanda said to him.
"Me, too," he answered, nodding.
Amanda gazed around the room at her family. Her mother seemed ready to jump from
her skin; she had been waiting for this for years. Philip and Jamie looked happy
for her; she would visit with each of them later to be sure. Joe looked, well,
lost; she thought that being recently married himself and having seen her with
Lee over the past year would have prepared him for this. Aunt Lillian just
looked smug; Amanda reddened and turned away. Chaucer regarded Lee and Amanda
with something akin to pride; Amanda could not imagine why. His very presence
here brought thought of work and the Agency's probable reaction to her public
relationship with Lee.
Lee's attention followed Amanda's to Chaucer. He looked thoughtfully at the
elderly man. How much damage could he, would he, do to them? "We'll figure
it out," Lee whispered to Amanda.
"As for a date," he said, raising his voice, "I was thinking
maybe sometime in February." He smiled as Amanda appeared to give his idea
"February!" Dottie exclaimed, "Do you have any idea just how much
effort goes into planning a wedding, Lee? We can't possibly pull one off in just
six or seven weeks. It's ridiculous! It's unthinkable! Amanda, reason with
"Well, now, Mother," Amanda applied her reasoning skills to Dottie,
"we don't have to have a big wedding. I think we could pull something
together by the middle of February."
"If it's going to be that much trouble. . " Lee offered, "we
could just elope."
Amanda brightened at that idea. She laughed and ran her hand through Lee's hair.
Dottie did not share her enthusiasm. "Lee Stetson," she ordered,
"if you even think of carrying my daughter off without my being there to
see it, I will never let you forget it. I will haunt you with that mistake for
the rest of your days."
"It was just a thought, Dottie," Lee sputtered, "I was trying to
help." Lee caught Amanda's eye and held it. Together they took a very deep
breath. She shared his relief at avoiding that disaster with tonight's
Chaucer stood by the bookshelf, chuckling softly. Lee stared at him. He rose and
walked over to the bookshelf, trying to will information from Chaucer's mind
through eye contact alone. Chaucer returned his gaze stoically, the shutters
firmly drawn on his soul.
"I was just thinking how pleased Emily will be with this story,"
Chaucer told Lee. "Congratulations, my boy, to you and to your lovely
"Thank you," Lee replied through slightly clenched teeth, "I'll
make sure you get an invitation."
"That would be very considerate, wouldn't it?"
Lee nodded and went back to Amanda's side. He perched on the arm of the chair as
her family admired her ring.
"Congratulations, Lee," Joe offered him his hand, "I hope you can
make the adjustment."
"I have a feeling Amanda and I will manage just fine, Joe," Lee
replied, "but we know who to look up when we need advice, don't we?"
Somehow Lee couldn't resist a small dig at Joe's expense, too many years working
with Francine, he decided.
Amanda and Carrie, examining the ring, were oblivious to this exchange. Carrie
stood and took Joe's hand. "We really should be leaving now, Amanda,"
she said. "I'm glad we didn't miss all the excitement."
Joe and Carrie took their leave. Lee and Amanda settled into the sofa, gazing
warmly at each other, once again shutting out the other occupants in the room.
"Mom. . .Mom. . .Mom!" Jamie struggled to get his mother's attention.
"What. . oh, I'm sorry, sweetheart," Amanda smiled. "What can I
do for you?" she asked Jamie as she removed her hands from Lee's lap and
folded them carefully in her own.
"Nothing, I just wanted to say goodnight. Philip's going to help me carry
all this stuff upstairs." Jamie looked at the floor, clearly uncomfortable.
Amanda stood and put her arm around him, kissing him on the cheek.
"Goodnight, sweetheart, I'll see you in the morning," Amanda turned
him gently toward the stairs.
"Oh, congratulations, Mom. Congratulations, Lee, " Jamie threw the
words over his shoulder.
"Yeah, Lee, " Philip added, "welcome to the family for
"Thanks, guys," Lee smiled and turned back to Amanda as she resumed
Dottie and her sister were cleaning the desert dishes. Chaucer settled into the
chair next to them.
"Umm. . ." Lee realized his own departure would have to be soon, too.
"I'm not quite ready to leave, my boy," Chaucer told him quietly.
"But I would like your undivided attention. . .both of you," he added,
looking at Amanda. Amanda looked over her shoulder at her mother and her aunt
talking in the kitchen.
She glanced back to Lee and Chaucer. Both men were staring at her intensely.
"Mother," Amanda called, "Lee and I can finish up in there if you
like. We have some business to wrap up with Jacob, anyway. Why don't you and
Aunt Lillian go on up to bed, too?"
Lillian dropped her dish towel and turned to her niece. "You don't have to
tell me twice, dear," she said with a smile. "Housework has never been
high on my list of fun things to do. Just make sure you two do a really good job
in here," she added the last with a sly wink.
"Yes, Aunt Lillian. We will, Aunt Lillian. Goodnight, Aunt Lillian,"
Amanda called after her aunt's retreating form.
"Business?" Dottie said in surprise. "Who has business to wrap up
on Christmas Eve?"
We do, thought Amanda, almost every year. Amanda pursed her lips thoughtfully at
Lee. She had long since exhausted her supply of ready responses to her mother's
frequent probing questions. Lee turned to Chaucer, just as much at a loss for an
Chaucer rose and went to take Dottie's right hand in his. "Just some
paperwork we need to go over, Dottie. I would like to get it over with now,
while all three of us are here, you understand?" He took her hand and
brought it to his lips.
"Perhaps you would join me for dinner some evening and I could bore you
with all the details," he continued as he released her hand.
"That would be very nice, Jacob," Dottie replied.
"All right," she glared at her daughter, "I'll leave you
Chaucer returned to his seat as Dottie climbed the stairs. Lee and Amanda waited
expectantly. When all they received was his familiar probing stare, Amanda broke
"Nicely done, with Mother, I mean."
"Amanda," the way Chaucer said her name had been giving Amanda an odd
tingling at the back of her neck all evening. He knows something, she thought.
Chaucer coughed quietly and started again. "Amanda," he said more
hesitantly, "if I have a gift that meets the requirements of your family
tradition, may I give it. . .now?"
That was not a question Lee or Amanda had expected.
"Sure," Amanda answered, "I wish you had said something earlier.
We wouldn't have excluded you." "I'm certain of that, my dear, but
this gift. . ." Chaucer seemed to wrestle with a decision. Lee and Amanda
watched his struggle with growing concern.
"On with it," he stated. "No, this gift needs to stay between the
three of us for now."
"Then it is business," Lee leaned forward.
"Not exactly," Chaucer leaned back further in his chair. "Lee, my
boy, would you, please, go and retrieve my wooden box from the closet?"
"Sure thing," Lee said as he stood.
When he opened the closet door, Lee stared at the box for a few seconds. He
wondered what Chaucer could have been carrying around that warranted Agency
attention, but had apparently not been shared with Dr. Smyth. Another threat of
a security leak?
Lee wondered. Maybe one that threatened British operatives as well? Was that why
Amanda couldn't contact Emily? Lee left conjecture on the floor as he picked up
the box. It looked as though all his questions would be answered soon enough.
Lee placed the box on the coffee table and sat on the edge of the sofa cushion,
looking intently at Chaucer. Chaucer returned his stare, measure for measure;
once again, Lee felt as though he were being held to account, for what, he was
"Open the box, my boy," Chaucer instructed, turning his head to gaze
at the Christmas tree. "Do not remove any of the contents, yet."
"Inside you will find three books, one blue, one green, and one
white." Lee nodded as Chaucer spoke, running his hand lightly across the
spines of the large leather bound volumes.
"Remove the blue one," ordered Chaucer.
Lee complied. The book was large and bulky. The pages were of a heavy weight
paper. He opened the cover and turned the first page. He stared at the contents,
utterly and completely shocked and confused.
"It looks like a scrapbook. I have something like this for Philip and
Jamie." Amanda said, just as confused. She began idly thumbing through the
pages from the side. Lee sat completely still, hands fallen to his side, staring
at the small black and white photo on the first page. It was of a very young
infant, the kind taken in hospitals shortly after birth.
"Where did you get this?" Lee whispered, immobile with shock.
Chaucer did not turn to face him.
"Keep looking, my boy," Chaucer directed his words to the Christmas
tree. Amanda took the book from Lee's lap, placing it on the table, then knelt
on the floor in front of him. She took his hand and ducked her head, trying to
catch his eye as he stared at the spot where the photo had been.
"Lee. . ." she spoke his name softly, "what is it?"
"Amanda. . . " Lee inhaled deeply, ordering his thoughts. He reached
past her for the scrapbook. Taking it back into his lap he pointed at the photo.
"This is me."
Amanda looked at Chaucer. He was still studying her tree. Lee turned several
pages. "This is all me. Look, my parents. . . our old house. . . there's my
uncle. . . I don't remember meeting him before. . .I don't know these people,
but there's me with my mother. . .there's me in the tree outside the house. . .
" he stopped as he came to a newspaper clipping reporting on the accident
that resulted in his parents' deaths. Amanda placed her arm around his shoulders
as he read the cold, impersonal words.
Amanda turned the next page for Lee. "This is me. . .I think I was about
seven. . .there's my uncle. . .there's Barney. . . I went to school there. .
.this kid was my best friend for three years. . . Amanda continued turning the
pages as Lee identified them. "This was taken at Wheeler Air Force Base. .
. this is at Edwards. . . this guy flew with the Colonel. . .this one was at
McConnell. . . this is from when we were in Japan. . ."
"Chaucer where did you get this? I've never even seen most of these
pictures. What am I to you?" Lee silently willed the man to turn and face
him. Surprisingly, it worked. Chaucer turned slowly and met Lee's gaze. Lee
looked back at the book; Chaucer's eyes remained unreadable.
"I've already told you, Lee," Chaucer said. "I've been telling
you all day."
Lee took up the task of turning pages as Amanda looked on. Junior high, high
school, college, his entire life seemed to be in this book. Lee noticed as he
aged that there were fewer pictures and more newspaper clippings and school
event programs that mentioned his name. He looked up at Chaucer again, about to
"By the time you were in high school you were already quite skilled at
eluding a tail," Chaucer admitted with a trace of . . .was that frustration
or pride, Amanda wondered as she watched both men.
"I always thought the Colonel was having me followed," he confessed.
"To make sure I was staying on the straight and narrow." He grinned at
Amanda and turned another page.
"The Wizard. . . and Dorothy. . ." Amanda held him more tightly as he
closed the book sharply. "That's it! Tell me why you've had me under
surveillance my whole life."
"Keep looking, my boy," Chaucer met Lee's stubborn stare, "the
answers will come."
Lee stared defiantly at Chaucer for several minutes. Chaucer would not relent.
Reluctantly, Lee reopened the book. "There's Harry. . .how did you get
this? . .do you know Harry? . . and Billy. . . this is Eric, my partner. . .
look, there's Francine. . .hey, Amanda that's you right after you started,"
Amanda had turned her attention to Chaucer as Lee came to pictures of people she
knew. If this spy who had come to dinner meant her husband any harm. . . Amanda
glanced back at Lee briefly when he said her name. As he turned to the next
page, her eyes were riveted to the photo held there.
"Oh. my. gosh. Where did you get this?" Amanda hissed at Chaucer. The
picture was a very familiar one. To her knowledge, the only copy of that picture
was safe in their apartment. To see it here was disconcerting to say the least.
The photo was the one that had been taken on their wedding day in February.
Lee was equally unnerved. He turned the remaining few pages. There were a few
more photos of Amanda, as well as pictures with Philip, Jamie, and Dottie. Some
of the pictures were taken by some other party, but Lee recognized many of the
photos as duplicates of ones the family had taken. "How. . .why?" Lee
struggled to make sense of this record of his life.
"This has always been my way of documenting the lives of people who are
important to me," Chaucer spoke carefully. "My wife always chided me
for it, not a very masculine hobby, she would say."
"Why is Lee important to you?" Amanda queried. It was becoming clear
that Chaucer meant Lee no physical harm, but tonight was exacting an emotional
toll on her husband. She would protect him from as much of that as she could as
"Why is Lee important to you, Mrs. Stetson?" Chaucer waved at the box,
emphasizing the rhetorical nature of his question. "Would you rather I call
you that, now that the others all are gone?"
"I would rather you answer her question," Lee growled.
"Open the green book," Chaucer ordered calmly.
"It's obvious you know a lot more about us than we do about you," Lee
pushed. "I want an answer."
"I'm giving you one, my boy. Open the green book."
Lee surrendered. He'd been beating his head against Chaucer's walls all day with
little success. If he had to play the man's game to get some answers, then so be
it. Lee reached into the box and removed the green book. This time a baby
picture on the front page didn't surprise him. He'd expected it.
"Who is this?" Lee asked Chaucer.
ee turned several pages, watching the baby on the first page grow to manhood.
There were not as many childhood pictures as there had been in his book, but the
boy in the pictures did look oddly familiar.
"Lee," Amanda said, "that's not you, but it looks like you. I
mean like the pictures of you as a little boy."
Lee nodded, but he didn't see the resemblance. As he turned a few more pages it
became clear who was the subject of this book. He stopped at a photo of a young
man in his late twenties. The man was wearing an Army uniform circa W.W.II. Lee
stared at the photo, willing it to life.
"Dad. . ." he whispered. He looked up at Chaucer. "You had my
father and me under surveillance? This doesn't make any sense." Lee shook
his head, trying to fit the information into what he knew of his father's life.
"No," Chaucer replied, "I met your father during the war. I
gathered those earlier photos after he became important to me. Most of them I
gathered from Matthew, himself."
"Why was my father important to you?"
Lee didn't waste more time arguing. He continued to turn the pages, curious now
to learn a little of the man he had known so briefly. There were photos with
other officers, American and British, photos taken through a window that were
unclear, but he assumed were of his father and some woman. . .
"Lee, that has to your mother," Amanda said with excitement.
"Remember what she said in her diary to you?"
"You're probably right," Lee looked more closely at the hazy photos.
"What diary?" Chaucer asked.
Lee turned to Amanda and smiled.
"Keep looking," he said to Chaucer.
Chaucer smiled back at Lee indulgently.
Lee returned his attention to the book. "That's definitely my mother,"
Lee pointed her out to Amanda, "I don't recognize these other people. .
.wait, that's Winston Churchill, my father knew him?. . . hey, I think this is
Emily. . .look, Amanda, is it?. . .she never told me she knew my parents. .
Lee turned more pages. "This must be their wedding. . .I think I remember
seeing this picture when I was a kid. . .I think this is my grandmother. . .I'm
not sure. . . "
"There you are again," Amanda pointed to a photo of Matthew Stetson,
standing on the porch of his home with an infant in his arms.
"Yeah," Lee sighed. "More family pictures. . .I wish I could
remember this stuff. . look, there's Emily again. . . could this older couple be
my grandparents, this is the same woman from before. . .I wonder what happened
to them. . . why wouldn't Emily have told me she knew my parents?"
Lee stopped again at another copy of the same article detailing the car
accident. This time the following page contained an obituary. That was followed
by pictures from a funeral. Amanda stared at one of the young Lee. He stood
apart from the other mourners, staring at the fresh graves. He looked so small
and vulnerable. Amanda held him tightly again. She wished she could reach back
and hold that small boy as tightly. No one else had.
Lee shuddered slightly as he closed the book. He thought he had put his feelings
about his parents to rest, but these photos were dragging it all back out into
the daylight. This was Chaucer's idea of a Christmas gift? Lee placed the green
book on the table on top of the blue one and wrapped his arms around Amanda. It
felt good to accept her comfort. It didn't matter that Chaucer was watching, Lee
needed Amanda to help fight the monsters again.
Chaucer allowed them several moments, not interrupting their embrace. He sighed,
once begun, he had to complete this, consequences be hanged. "Lee," he
called them back to him, "open the white book."
Lee pulled out of Amanda's embrace and took out the remaining book. Amanda
continued to rub his back gently as he leaned forward. He was grateful for the
continued contact. He opened the white book and saw the expected baby picture.
He didn't recognize this one either, but he suspected he knew who this baby
would grow up to be. This picture was flanked by a birth announcement printed in
flowing script. Lee squinted to read the words: "Mr. and Mrs. Jacob
Hamilton are pleased to announce the birth of their daughter, Jennifer. . .
." Lee stopped and stared at Chaucer.
"Jacob. . . Hamilton?" Amanda asked.
"You're my grandfather." Lee stated simultaneously.
Chaucer nodded, maintaining eye contact with Lee as though his life depended on
it. Lee's eyes bored into the older man's. The shutters were beginning to open.
Lee was determined to force them all the way.
"Why did you leave me alone?!" Lee threw the words in Chaucer's face,
not breaking eye contact. "You were there all along. You knew where I was.
Why did you leave me with him?"
"Keep looking," Chaucer replied in a strained voice.
"No! Not good enough!" Lee nearly shouted. "I want an answer
"All right, you can watch your mother grow up later," Chaucer
relented. "Turn to the last few pages. Do it, Lee," he added as Lee
started to argue.
Lee did as instructed. Once again, he was looking at pictures from the funeral.
"This isn't their funeral. . ." Lee looked from one photo to another.
"There's Dad and me. . .that's Mom standing next to. . .that's you, isn't
it?. . .married in 1920, died 35 years later. . .this was your wife's funeral,
my grandmother's funeral?"
Chaucer nodded. "She died less than three months before Jenny and Matt. You
all stayed for a while, but you were starting school in September. And then we
heard the rumors about Blackthorne. You all left. I never saw Jenny and Matt
"When they died, I was still mourning my wife. I couldn't bear the thought
of seeing my daughter buried as well. I didn't even go to the funeral, Lee. I
thought about you, but I had just lost my wife and my daughter and my son. .
"I had just lost my parents," Lee hissed. "Maybe we could have
helped each other. Did you think of that?"
"Yes I did," Jacob Hamilton replied, "and I've thought of it
every day since."
"Why didn't you do anything about it? Why did you leave me with the
"I did do something about it. I'm doing something else about it now."
"What, you followed me, spied on me? I didn't even remember you
"Grief does things like that. Children are more resilient than
"I'm 37 years old. Why spring this on me now?"
"I know how old you are, Lee. I was there when you were born."
"You know why," Jacob said softly. "You and Amanda have been
using the same poor reasoning to justify your actions over the last year."
"This is a dangerous business we're in," Amanda recited woodenly.
"Everybody's safer if nobody knows. You thought you were protecting
"I was protecting Lee. I had just lost the three people I loved most to his
business. wasn't about to lose my grandson, too."
"How did she die?" Lee asked.
"It doesn't matter now," Jacob said.
"I want to know," Lee insisted.
"Oh, yes, of course, and if the great Scarecrow wants to know a thing it
will be known, won't it, my boy?" Jacob stood and began pacing in front of
"You are my boy, you realize? I tried to keep Jenny out of this, too, but
it didn't work. When Matt dragged her into the game she went willingly. Do you
have any idea how I felt when I lost you to this business anyway? There must be
something in our blood that draws us to this, it's sickening. So many times I
wanted to come here and shake you till you came to your senses. I thought about
setting you up for failure several times so they'd boot you out. I'd have hated
myself, but at least you would have been safe.
"Instead, I sent Emily. I trust her. I should, I trained her. I sent her to
watch you and direct you to Harry Thornton. Between them I knew they could train
you to keep yourself as safe as possible."
"I guess it worked," Lee said, some of his anger and resentment
"So far, my boy, so far."
"I don't plan on doing anything stupid," Lee said as he took Amanda's
hand in his own. "I've got too much to live for. Besides, you're still
"You know very well that I am the exception, not the rule," Chaucer
"Jacob," Amanda said softly as she reached out to take his hand as
well, "I have it on good authority that exceptional runs in this family. We
know the risks, we're as careful as we can be."
"Those of us who take the risks are entitled to every bit of joy life has
to offer, my dear. Don't waste a moment of it," Jacob cautioned.
"I seem to recall a relative of ours saying something very similar a long
time ago," Amanda turned and smiled at her husband. "I'm glad he's
finally ready to act on it."
Lee smiled weakly and kissed Amanda on the cheek.
"You still haven't told me why you came to me now," Lee said to
Jacob looked from Lee to Amanda.
"She's why. When I learned you'd gotten married, I thought you might leave
the business. When that didn't happen and you were obviously keeping your
relationship secret, I could see you falling into the same trap I laid for
myself. I should have been there for you, Lee. I am profoundly sorry that I
"And. . .I thought if I could put this to you just right, you would
understand and give me the chance to make it up to you. Or at least the chance
to do right by your children." Jacob looked from one to the other again.
"There will be children, won't there?"
"Well, we. . .uh," Lee didn't want to answer for Amanda and they
hadn't really talked about children since before the 'mystery marriage' idea. He
looked at her, trying to read her expression. After nearly five years together,
he thought he knew all her expressions, but this one was new to him.
"Jacob Hamilton," Amanda scolded gently, "you are as bad as my
mother's going to be, once she gets used to the idea of Lee and I getting
married." A baby, she thought. A baby with Lee. She really hadn't given it
much thought. Between work and wedding secrets, keeping her life so segmented,
it hadn't even been a possibility.
But maybe now.
Yes, that would be very good.
"I'm sure we'll make that happen eventually," Amanda looked at Lee to
be certain she hadn't overstepped herself. His smile was all the response she
"Just don't be too long about it, children. Even I won't live
"What now?" asked Lee.
"Now, my boy, you take me back to my hotel. I'll be here for the remainder
of the week. I'd like to get to know you both much better, if you'll permit me.
Then, as soon as possible, you come visit me in London, and bring those fine
boys of yours, and," he smiled, "anyone else who happens to come along
between now and then."
Lee returned home, yes, this is home, he thought, sometime after returning his
grandfather to his hotel. That idea is going to take some getting used to. He
smiled as he pulled into the driveway. He walked to the back door and peered
through the window.
Amanda was still up, cleaning in the kitchen. He smiled as he watched her, of
course she'd want it to be perfect Christmas morning. Forgoing his key, Lee
tapped softly on the window. Amanda turned in surprise.
"Hi," he said as she opened the door for him.
"Hi, yourself," she said as she circled her arms around his neck and
Lee was not going to argue with her. He pulled her closer and deepened the kiss.
Amanda squirmed out of his embrace after a few minutes.
"We can't," she told him, pushing him back.
"Yes, we can," he said reaching for her, "we did before. Where's
that whipped cream?"
"Lee, no, absolutely not," Amanda turned her back on him, but he
encircled her from behind, trailing soft kisses from her ear to her shoulder. As
his hands reached for the buttons on her blouse, Amanda caught them and firmly
pushed them to her sides. His kisses were still intoxicating, but she was not
going to let his skillful hands distract her further.
"Lee, let me tell you about the fifteen cans of whipped cream. . . "
Dottie woke in the middle of the night, consumed with curiosity. She made her
way quietly down the stairs. Amanda and Lee were talking quietly in the kitchen.
She couldn't quite make out their words. Wedding plans, she hoped. Honeymoon
plans, more likely, she thought. She wouldn't bother them now. She crept
silently to the closet in the foyer. There, on the shelf, was the gift Lillian
had given to Amanda. That gift had embarrassed Amanda to no end. Dottie had to
know what it was. She pulled the box down from the shelf, removed the lid and
stared at the dish towel inside. She removed the dish towel and saw the bottle
of. . .
"Amanda!" she gasped in surprise.
"What is it, Mother. . ." Amanda's voice floated from the kitchen,
"oh, no. . ."