Summary: A game is more dangerous than they thought
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the S&MK universe, or any of the games mentioned. I am writing for entertainment purposes only – I don't make any money from this. Any copyright infringement is unintentional.
Feedback: of course!
Timeline: A couple of years after the 4th season. The marriage is common knowledge. This story is a continuation of the "It's All Fun and Games..." storyline. I hadn't meant to do more than the two stories already posted, but then this popped into my head and wouldn't leave me alone. I may write more in this universe, but it won't (in theory) be a direct sequel.
Special thanks to Ceeg for beta-reading this. She helped to make sure that what was in my head showed up on the page, so the whole thing could make sense to more than just me. And thanks to my husband, for understanding while I ignored him to write, helping with some of the game info, and posting my stories on ff,net (that site just doesn't like my Mac).
Philip and Jamie raced up the stairs, yelling "Hi mom!" as they flew past. Watching them reach the top of the stairs, smiling to herself at their energy, Amanda didn't hear Lee walk up behind her. She jumped slightly as his arms wrapped around her, then relaxed as he placed a soft kiss on the back of her neck. He loosened his embrace enough so that she could turn around in his arms. Amanda obliged, and proceeded to kiss her husband hello. She had intended it to be a quick peck, but he once again tightened his hold on her, and deepened the kiss. When the kiss finally ended, he pulled back only far enough to rest his forehead on hers. They were both breathless from the experience, and it took Amanda a moment to find her voice.
"Hello, Mr. Stetson." Her eyes sparkled with love for the man who held her.
"Hello yourself, Mrs. Stetson." The same look was mirrored in his eyes.
She leaned back a bit and nodded her head in the direction of the stairs. "Looks like your trip went well. I take it that Philip and Jamie will be completely occupied for a while?"
"Probably. They were talking about their game the entire way back. I didn't understand a lot of it, but they sure were excited about the whole thing."
She sighed softly. "I was hoping to get them to help me out some more today, but it sounds like there's no way I'll be able to pry them away from their new books." She grinned up at Lee. "Looks like it's just you and me."
His look turned sheepish, and Amanda began to shake her head. She pulled herself slowly out of his embrace. "Oh no, buster, you're not getting out of this too. You've had your break - it's time to get back to work."
"That's just it, Amanda. I have had my break - finally." He waited a moment, and saw her eyes widen as she realized what he meant.
"You mean, the case?" She asked softly. He nodded with a grin. "But how, what - I thought you were just going to the gaming store? You didn't take the boys to meet a contact, did you?"
His look turned serious. "Of course not, Amanda. I'd never do that."
She gave him a look of apology - of course he wouldn't. She knew that. "Then what did happen?"
Lee took his wife's hand and led her to the couch. He continued as they sat down.
"It was the most amazing piece of luck, Amanda. We went to the store. Philip and Jamie immediately went to the gaming section. By the time I'd walked back there they were already chewing Erin's ear off."
She laughed lightly at that. "That poor girl. I think Philip and Jamie have a little crush on her. They're always talking about her."
"I know. Good thing she's married, or Philip might ignore the age difference and try to ask her out."
Lee went on to tell his wife about the rest of the trip. "So you see, I really do need to get over to the Agency and try to start doing some research on this company."
"You mean WE need to get over there - I'm still your partner."
Lee's response was cut off by Philip's shout from upstairs. "Mo-om!"
Amanda rose from the couch and went to stand at the foot of the stairs. The look she gave Lee as she passed him let him know that this conversation wasn't over. "Sweetheart, come down here if you want to talk to me," she called up to him, emphasizing the word 'talk'. However, it was Jamie that came halfway down the stairs in response.
"Mom, Philip's on the phone with Matt. He's got a new module he wants to try out, and he wants to know if we can come over tonight and play!" He gave her a pleading look. "We did clean our room today, and we don't have a lot of homework, and it is Saturday, so can we? We won't be out late, we promise!"
"Well, all right, I guess it's okay, as long as his parents will be there. And you both have to promise to help me do some more cleaning tomorrow."
Jamie nodded enthusiastically as he ran back up the stairs. "They are, we will, we promise! Thanks Mom! Hey, Philip -"
Amanda shook her head at her youngest son's retreating form, then turned back to her husband. "Well, Scarecrow, it's your lucky day. Looks like I'll be free to help you tonight."
"I am lucky. You're much better at interrogating that computer than I am."
"And yet you were about to go to the Agency without me."
He knew he wouldn't be let off that easy.
"I honestly didn't think you'd want to go. It's Saturday, you've been spring-cleaning all day - I figured you'd rather stay in, have some quiet time to yourself." He shrugged as he spoke, then ran a hand through his hair as he continued.
"But for me - I've been so frustrated by this whole thing. To finally get a break, to be able to do something... you know that patience has never been my strong suit, Amanda. I really need to check this lead out, and I'd love to have your help. I just didn't want to make you feel like you had to go in just because I am."
Amanda wanted to believe him, but had to be sure. "And that's the only reason you were going without me?"
Lee sighed deeply. "You know that I wouldn't try to keep you from working on the case, don't you?"
"I should hope not, after what happened the last time you tried it," she replied.
It was still something of a sore spot for them both. After Amanda had been shot on their honeymoon, Lee had become overprotective, shielding her from even the safest of assignments. It had taken some time to work through that, and neither of them wanted a repeat performance.
Lee got up from the couch and walked over to his wife. He reached up to brush a stray lock of hair from her face, then placed a finger under her chin and lifted it, making sure her eyes met his.
"I'm just anxious to get this thing solved, that's all. I do want your help on this, and I'm very glad that we're both free to start on it tonight. Okay?"
She saw the sincerity in his hazel gaze, and relented, smiling softly. "Okay."
Amanda wrapped her arms around Lee's waist, pulling him gently to her. She could feel some of the tension leave his body as he returned the embrace.
He kissed the top of her head, then sighed softly into her hair and asked, "So now what?"
"Now we find out if this game the boys are going to includes dinner. If it does, we can just pick up something on the way in to the Agency." She looked up at him, a teasing glint in her eye, "Wouldn't want to try your patience too much, now would we?"
The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully. Lee and Amanda had done what they could with the records the Agency had, cross-referencing the information that had been stolen with the books he'd purchased. Amanda had been able to get a little information on the company in question from the computer, but it became apparent after a few hours that they'd done all they could until the working world resumed its pace on Monday morning.
They entered the bullpen Monday morning ready to get back to work on the case. Lee felt better than he had in days - the progress they'd made had finally allowed his mind to stay quiet long enough for him to get some much-needed rest. Amanda had even let him sleep in on Sunday, despite all the 'spring cleaning' she still wanted done. The two walked hand-in-hand to Billy Melrose's office and knocked on his door.
"Good morning, Billy." Lee said as he entered.
"Good morning, Sir." This from Amanda. Lee gave his head a rueful shake - would Amanda ever call Billy anything but 'Sir'?
Billy nodded his head at his two best agents as they sat down. "Good morning, Lee, Amanda." A closer look prompted him to say, "Looks like you finally got your husband to get some sleep. I hope that means you've got some good news for me."
Lee leaned forward in his chair and tossed a book onto the desk. "Ever seen one of these before?"
Billy looked at the book briefly, not sure where this conversation was heading. "What is this, Scarecrow? You don't have enough work to do here, so you play spy games on your time off too?"
Lee shook his head and smiled. "Take a closer look, Billy. Try page 114." He sat back, waiting to see how long it took for his Section Chief to recognize the drawing in front of him.
It didn't take long. "Is this some kind of joke? What are top secret layouts doing in a-" He flipped to the front cover. "A role-playing book?!"
"That's what we've been trying to find out, Sir." Amanda chimed in. "You see, Philip and Jamie have really gotten interested in role-playing games. Well, not anything like this book, more like the Dragons and Dungeons kind of thing. They really enjoy it, and it seems pretty harmless, so Lee and I didn't see any problem with letting them play. I mean, a lot of their friends are playing it, and it isn't dangerous, and at least we know where they are and what they're doing, which at their age is not the easiest thing to do, and-"
"Amanda." Lee interrupted, giving his wife a look. It was one she recognized - she'd been rambling again. What was it someone had once told her - 'They should have named you Brooke, you babble so well.' She sighed and looked at Billy apologetically. "Sorry, Sir."
Billy chuckled indulgently - it wasn't like he'd never been there before. "It's all right, Amanda. But about this map?"
Lee decided to answer that one. "That map is one that has been printed as part of this 'game'. I found it this weekend when I took Jamie and Philip to get some new Dungeons and Dragons stuff." His look turned serious. "In fact, I found several books, all with supposedly top secret information in them."
"There are more of these?"
Lee nodded. "You wouldn't believe how much stuff like this is out there, Billy. We don't have all the details yet, but from what we've been able to figure out so far, this company has been using classified information in every book they publish. What we don't know yet is how they're getting the information, or if they even know that it's classified."
"Is that possible? How could they not know that they're publishing government secrets?"
"It could be that the information is being given to them by someone claiming they made it up, and since it's supposed to be classified, there's no way that the publishers could find out otherwise." Lee answered. "But we don't think that's very likely. My source told me that this company does very short print runs of these books, and never reprints, even if there's a big demand. That just doesn't make any sense, if they're really interested in the game making money."
Billy saw where Lee was headed. "But it does make sense if the game is just a cover for where the real money's coming from - selling government secrets, and right under our noses." He shook his head at the thought. "What kind of proof have you got?"
"Nothing solid, just the fact that the information is there, in black and white. And, Billy, it's beginning to look like it's been there for a long time. This company has been in business for years - what I've got may only be the tip of the iiceberg. I bought a copy of everything they had at that store, but based on what I was told, it sounds like there could be a lot more out there that's out of print. We've still got a lot of digging to do."
"Well then, what are you two waiting for - get out there and get the evidence we need to shut this operation down!"
Hours later, though the pair was no closer to finding out just who was leaking the information, they were seeing just how large the operation really was. It wasn't just stolen maps this company had printed - there were sections on weapons, different departments of government agencies - even missions that were disguised as 'adventures' for the players. Lee had also recognized a few names from organizations like the CIA and FBI, each listed as what was called an "NPC" - Non-Player Character.
He turned the page on one of the books, remarking, "I keep expecting to see my own name on one of these pages, Amanda." He continued, trying to lighten the mood a bit. "After all, if they're going to use real agent's identities, why not go for the best."
Amanda looked up from the computer at that. She'd been checking all the names listed against their files, and wasn't happy about what she was finding. "Be glad you're not, Scarecrow."
Lee got up and walked over to Amanda's desk, leaning over her shoulder to look at the computer screen. He'd been half-kidding, but the statement on his wife's face told him that this was no joking matter. "What have you found?"
"Well, some of these people really are fictional - or else they're hidden so well that you need better clearance than I've got to find them."
"And the ones that aren't?" he prompted. If Amanda was quiet, he was sure that what she'd found wasn't good.
"They're dead, Lee. Every real person whose name is in one of these books is dead, and not from natural causes." She handed Lee the list of names, which had notes on each person she'd tried to find.
He read over what she'd found so far. She was right. While some of the deaths had been labeled 'accidents', not one was from natural causes. It wasn't a large list, but still... there were enough names on it to make the hairs on the back of Lee's neck stand on end.
Each death, no matter the cause, was at least several months apart. And the organizations they came from were varied enough to keep too many deaths from occurring within the same agency too often.
By themselves, there was nothing to raise too much suspicion. As part of the bigger picture, however... Lee saw Amanda's point - this was not a list he wanted to be on.
He raked one hand through his hair, then checked his watch. It
was nearly one o'clock - no wonder he'd been having trouble
"Hey, how about we take a break from this - get some lunch. I don't know about you, but I am very hungry."
"Lunch sounds great. Though you know you wouldn't be so hungry if you'd just have something besides coffee and a piece of toast for breakfast. It's -"
"The most important meal of the day, I know," he finished. He opened the door for his wife. "Amanda, are you ever going to accept the fact that I just can't eat anything that early?"
A mischievous grin appeared as she answered. "I don't know, Scarecrow - are you ever going to stop trying to get mme to wait in the car?" She was out the door before he could respond.
They'd had a nice, albeit brief lunch, and were headed back to the Agency to continue following the paper trail. They were at a stoplight when Lee realized just where they were. He had an idea.
"You know, Amanda, that gaming store isn't too far from here. I'd like to stop in for a minute."
"Why? I thought you'd bought a copy of everything they had."
"I did. But I'd still like to get hold of the older stuff, preferably without calling the company directly. I don't want them getting suspicious."
"We've got people checking out the other bookstores in town. Besides, if they can't order more, then why go at all?"
"I'm hoping that Erin will be there. I'm guessing she'd have some good ideas as to where to find more of the out-of-print books, maybe some places we haven't thought of."
Amanda smiled as she spoke. "You should have just asked the boys before school this morning - I'll bet they have her schedule memorized by now."
Lee answered with a grin of his own. "They probably do."
They got to the store without incident, and were even lucky enough to find a reasonably close parking space, no mean feat.
As they walked to the back of the store, Lee was happy to see that Erin was, in fact, working that day. She was helping a customer, so he and Amanda just browsed a bit, waiting for her to be free to help them.
As her customer walked away, Erin looked up and saw them waiting. "Mr. and Mrs. Stetson - hi! What can I do for you today? Jamie and Philip can't be needing more books already?"
Amanda smiled as she answered. "Hello, Erin. No, they're still working through what they got this weekend. Besides, they prefer picking out their own books."
Lee nodded in agreement. "And coming in to hear more of your stories. No, actually, we're here about the books I picked up this weekend."
Erin gave Amanda an odd look. "Mrs. Stetson, you aren't the 'friend' he was buying those for, are you?" She couldn't picture this woman being remotely interested in spy games.
Amanda laughed lightly. "Heavens, no. Can you picture me playing some kind of game where I'm an international spy?" She glanced at Lee, who was trying his best to keep a straight face. He gave her a look, which she cheerfully ignored.
"Actually, I can't, but then most people don't see me as the gaming type either." She shrugged, then went on, "It just goes to prove that whole 'can't judge a book by its cover' saying. So, what is it you need?"
Amanda let Lee take the lead - after all, this was supposed to be a gift for a friend of his.
"Well, I was hoping you could help me out again, actually. I still want to get some of the older books - you know, try and complete the set, before I give them to my friend. The company wasn't any help - they either didn't have anything, or they weren't willing to sell it."
"Sorry about that. I wasn't sure they'd have anything."
"No, no, that's okay - you didn't say that they would. But now I'm back where I started. And since you had one idea as to where I could get the out-of-print stuff, I thought maybe you'd have some other ideas."
"Well, there's always the used bookstores - most of them have a gaming section. And there are a couple of stores in the area that sell both new and used stuff."
"Would you mind making a list for me? If it won't get you in trouble here, of course."
"It won't. It's not like we have the older stuff here, or could even get it."
"Oh, and Erin," Amanda added. "We were wondering if you had any kind of list of those older book titles, too. It'll be a lot easier to find these things if we know what to look for."
Erin thought for a minute. "Yeah, I guess it would. Let me see what we've got in the back. It might be a little bit - are you two needing to be somewhere?"
Lee checked his watch. "Nope. We're doing just fine. Take your time. And thanks again."
She smiled at them both. "Like I said before - anything for my favorite customers. I'll be back as soon as I can." She went over to another employee to let them know where she'd be, and then walked to the back room.
"That was a great thought, Amanda. I just hope she can find that inventory list."
"Well, it just makes sense that a store would keep records of that kind of thing, even if they never re-order any of it. I just hope we don't get her into any trouble with this."
"We won't. If it comes down to it, I can always take the manager aside and discretely flash my badge. You know, the `this is a matter of national security' routine."
It hadn't come to that. Erin had, after some digging, found the information Lee and Amanda needed. They thanked her and returned to the Agency, making a stop to update their Section Chief. Lee handed the list they'd gotten to Billy. He looked it over, concern appearing as he saw just how many books were out there, and how long ago some of them had been published.
"This is not good news, Scarecrow. Do we know if all of these books contain compromising information?"
Lee shook his head. "Not yet, Billy. We just got this list. I do know that it's complete – that's everything CounterIntelligence Games has ever published. We're hoping that the company started out as a legitimate organization – that they haven't been selling government secrets from the start."
At Billy's skeptical look, Amanda replied, "It is possible, Sir. There do seem to be a lot of these games out there - people really do like them. It could be that whoever's behind this found a small, struggling company and made them such a good offer that they didn't think to ask where the money was coming from, or why anyone would be interested in them."
Lee nodded as she spoke - he'd thought of that angle as well.
"Good work, you two, but we're not going to find out any more sitting around here speculating. Let's get back to work, people."
Their next stop had been to see if anyone else had had any luck locating more of the books. Francine confirmed that they'd found two more of the older texts, but that was it so far. Amanda made a copy of the list and gave it to Francine, who was uncharacteristically grateful.
"Thanks, Amanda. This should make the calls a little easier." She rolled her eyes. "You would not believe how rude some of these people can be, just because I don't have the exact title of the book. You'd think I was asking them to make some huge trip, not just look something up. After all, aren't I a potential customer, and aren't they supposed to be in customer service?"
Lee and Amanda shared a knowing glance during Francine's outburst - they had no doubt that Francine had made sure that each and every person she'd called knew just how annoyed she was with them. And that they weren't the first to have to hear about it in the bullpen. The area around Francine's desk was uncharacteristically devoid of traffic.
Several long days and late nights later, a copy of every book on the list had been acquired. It hadn't been easy - it was a good thing the Agency had contacts in so many places. As each book arrived, every possible piece of classified information was catalogued and checked out. More people had been assigned once the scope of the project had been revealed, but it was still primarily Lee and Amanda's case.
It was also an Agency-only case, despite the fact that it affected several government organizations. There were still too many unknowns about who was behind this, and it had been decided that the less people who know about the investigation, the better. It had made things a bit difficult when trying to find out if certain portions of the material actually were based on fact, but it hadn't yet become enough of a stumbling block to change the decision.
They'd been relieved to discover that the earliest books released were entirely works of fiction, and not particularly great fiction at that. Research had shown that the company hadn't done well at all for the first few years, for obvious reasons. Even a rookie could see that the game had very little to do with the reality of the business.
That gradually changed, however, and the person or persons responsible had known what they were doing. The first release that had information to be leaked was small, and what it entailed was actually fairly trivial. It had to have been a test run, to see if anyone was watching closely enough to discover the truth behind the game. As time went on, and no one caught on, the material became more detailed, and more obviously real, to anyone who knew what to look for.
The other piece of good news was that only one or two items per book were actually based in fact, and that no more than three or four books were ever published a year. Whoever was behind this was being very careful not to tip his hand.
Discreet inquiries into the owners and writers of the books brought their next lead. They'd discovered that two new writers and one new artist had started making contributions to the projects at the same time as the classified material had entered the picture. Background checks had revealed that the artist and one of the writers appeared to be legitimate - they'd worked for other gaming companies for years, as well as other freelance work. Unless they had really gone overboard with their cover, neither one was a suspect.
The other writer, Rick Jensen, was a different story. The name had turned out to be false, though that in itself wasn't unusual - a lot of writers used pen names. What was unusual was that they hadn't been able to come up with any other information on him. Jensen had gone out of his way to cover his tracks. It was beginning to be a very frustrating situation.
"I just don't know, Amanda - maybe we should bring the CIA or FBI into this." Lee was pacing back and forth in the small office, an action which did nothing to calm Amanda's already frazzled nerves. This case was getting to them both.
Lee rubbed tired eyes, then ran both hands through his hair in frustration. "We've hit a wall, and this trail was anything but warm when we started."
"I know, Lee, but I keep thinking that we're missing something obvious, some kind of pattern. I'd hate for us to alert our informant that we're onto him by getting anyone else involved."
"I know, I know - I feel the same way. But I just don't know what we should do next."
"Maybe it's time we went to the publishers directly. If nothing else, maybe they give us a description of whoever this author is. It isn't much, but it's more than we have right now."
"That could tip off our man just as easily as getting other agencies involved."
"Not if we do it right. If we go in as something other than federal agents, we might be able to find out what we need to know without anyone suspecting a thing."
"Maybe. But I don't think that my story about wanting the books for a friend is going to work on them."
Amanda shook her head as she spoke - she had an idea. "No, but they might talk to reporters. There's a new James Bond movie coming out soon - that could be our angle. You know - ways to play a spy without actually being one?"
Lee stopped pacing for a moment, a smile starting to appear as he thought Amanda's idea through. "You know, that might just work. Even if the entire company is bogus, they'd still have to pretend to be interested in selling their books. And who doesn't like a little free publicity?"
Lee walked over to Amanda and gently pulled her up from her chair and into his arms. "Have I told you lately how lucky I am to have you for a partner?"
She smiled up at him. "The feeling's mutual, Scarecrow," she responded, kissing him softly.
"We'd like to thank you again for taking the time to speak with us, Mr. Palmer." Amanda gestured as she spoke to include Lee, who was posing as a photographer. Mark Palmer, president of CounterIntelligence Games, bought their cover and the interview seemed to have gone well, but they still weren't much closer to finding out any of the information they were really after. "This really is a fascinating business. I had no idea until recently that the world of role-playing games was so vast. I mean, usually the only type that gets press is that 'Dungeons and Dragons' stuff."
Palmer smiled as he nodded in agreement. "I know what you mean, Ms. Kane. That's part of why I agreed to this interview. I'm sure there are a lot of people that would enjoy this type of game - they just don't know that it exists. Is there anything else you'd like to know?"
Amanda looked over the notes she'd been taking. "I don't think so. You've been very helpful." She gave a self-deprecating laugh as she continued. "I think you've explained it so well that I might even be able to play."
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then looked up, inspiration lighting her face. "There is one thing. I'd love to be able to ask your writers and artists a few questions - you know, what got them interested in this kind of work, where they get their ideas, that sort of thing. I think the readers would love it."
"That might not be the easiest thing to do. Most of my contributors are free-lance - they don't actually have offices here."
"Oh. Well, perhaps you could give us their contact information - we could take it from there."
"I could give you a name or two, I suppose. But not all of my contributors are interested in being in the spotlight."
"I can assure you that we won't pressure them. If they say they don't want to answer any questions, we'll respect that. It's not like this is some kind of expose, after all. I'm just hoping for one or two more quotes."
"All right. If you'll just wait a moment, I'll make copies of the contact list."
"Of course. Thank you very much."
Lee walked over to Amanda, and whispered, "You don't really think our man will be on that list, do you?"
"No, probably not. But it's worth a try. If nothing else, it should confirm that we're on the right track."
Lee nodded, then took a step back as he heard Palmer coming back toward the office.
He held the sheet out, then pulled it back slightly, asking, "You promise not to badger any of them?"
Amanda gave him her most convincing smile. "Of course we won't - I promise." She held out her hand, aand he gave her the list.
The list had been helpful. It gave them contact information for nearly everyone that had ever contributed material to one of the books. One name, however, was conspicuously absent.
"Are you sure Rick Jensen isn't anywhere on that list, Amanda?" Lee asked.
"Not unless he's here under another name." She held up a hand to stop the question she knew was coming. "And the rest of the people using pen names are listed that way."
"Then that's it - he's who we need to focus on."
Amanda agreed, but felt that she needed to clarify a point. "You know, Lee, not every name from the books is on this list."
"No, but the ones that are missing are all one-time contributors, probably people that didn't work out. Except for Jensen - he's listed in every book that's come out for the last five years, which, not surprisingly, is when the leaks started."
Lee got up from his chair, and started to pace - now that he was sure they'd found a solid lead, he was impatient to act. "We need to get into the company's files - tonight. See if they have any real information on this Jensen character."
Amanda nodded in agreement. "Were you able to get a good look at their security system?"
Lee stopped and grinned at his wife. "Better than that - I've got pictures. The lab should have them developed any time now." He shrugged at the look of surprised approval she gave him. "What's the point of a cover if you aren't going to use it?"
Getting past the security system and into the files had been ridiculously easy. For a company that publishes spy games, they sure don't know how to keep a real one out, Lee thought with a quiet chuckle.
He'd been glad to see that most of the files were still on paper, rather than in the computer. He could find his way around one when he needed to, but still preferred looking through hard copies. His dislike of the machines was something he knew he'd have to overcome. But for now, since Amanda was much better at working her way through operating systems, he left that department in his partner's capable hands.
The filing system left something to be desired, but after some searching Lee thought he found what he was looking for. After discussing it with Amanda, it had been decided that the financial records would be the best place to start. Even if this wasn't where the real profit Jensen made was coming from, he still had to get paid something - and that money had to go somewhere. He flipped through a file of paid invoices, a small flashlight held between his teeth the only source of illumination. Finally, he found the sought-after document about one-third of the way into the stack.
Bingo! He'd found an invoice submitted by Rick Jensen. There was no return address on the top page, so Lee flipped to the next to see the name on the attached check stub. What the - Mark Palmer? The man they'd interviewed earlier? The implications were just starting to sink in when the lights came on. Lee squinted at the sudden brightness and started to turn, the flashlight falling from his mouth - then the unmistakable click of a gun hammer being drawn back stopped him cold.
"Just stay right there, no sudden moves." Lee stiffened as he recognized the voice - Palmer hadn't been fooled by them after all. "You must be Agency - I hadn't heard anything about this investigation until you two showed up today."
"Agency? I don't know what you're talking about - I work for a newspaper."
He laughed derisively. "Oh, please - don't try that with me." He scanned the room quickly, then asked, "So where's that pretty partner of yours?"
Amanda hadn't been caught! Lee hid his relief as he answered.
"I'm here alone," he called over his shoulder. It was true, to a point. Amanda was supposed to be his lookout, making sure he wasn't spotted breaking in, and keeping an eye out for anyone else entering the office. When Palmer had shown up without any warning from Amanda, Lee had worried that she'd been found. If Palmer didn't have her, Lee had no idea where she was.
"I seriously doubt that. Not that it matters. Now that I have you,it should be easy enough to flush her out. Then we can see just how much you know, and who else you've told."
Lee wanted to fight the other man, but until he was sure Amanda was safe, he decided it would be best to ride the situation out.
Amanda watched the scene from a nearby office, trying her best not to draw attention to her presence behind the nearly closed door. She'd seen someone enter the building, but hadn't been sure it was Palmer at first. Once she'd gotten a closer look, she'd tried to warn Lee, but found that she wasn't able to contact him. Something was interfering with the signal. She'd gotten far enough from the building to be able to call Billy for back-up, and then returned, in case Lee needed her help.
Now Amanda wasn't sure coming back had been the best idea - if Palmer threatened Lee, she knew that she'd give herself up. She wouldn't talk, but neither would she stand by and watch someone harm the man she loved. Where was Billy with that back up?!
As she returned her attention to the scene in front of her, Amanda heard Palmer tell Lee to slowly turn around to face him. Lee turned, then slowly straightened, hands above his head. Palmer ordered Lee to divest himself of any weapons he had, and Lee sullenly found his gun and tossed it to the side.
While Palmer's attention was focused on her husband, Amanda, still hiding in the office, very carefully closed the door, careful not to let it latch. Sound carried quite well down the empty hall. She listened to the two as they walked past her hiding place, waiting until she heard them turn the corner before opening the door a crack to peer out into the darkened corridor.
Satisfied that she was alone, Amanda crept to the now empty office across the hall. She found the file Lee had dropped when he'd been discovered, and gathered up its contents, as well as his gun. She checked to be sure she was still alone, then stealthily made her way down the hall. She stopped at the end, back to the wall, listening for what might await her around the corner. Voices drifted toward her from farther down the hall.
"Where could that partner of yours be hiding? You don't suppose she's gone and left you all alone, now do you? Palmer 's tone was mocking - he hoped to upset the agent he held at gunpoint.
His words didn't have the desired effect. Lee fervently hoped that Amanda had left him. He hoped that she'd made it out of the building, had contacted Billy, and was waiting outside for the back-up teams they'd had standing by. Knowing his wife, however, Lee had to admit to himself that the odds were on her still being in the building. Had their positions been reversed, he knew that's where he'd be, Agency procedures be damned.
Lee stopped their progress down the hallway and tried his bluff again, stalling for time. "I told you I was alone, Palmer. And I'm not what you think - I'm no agent."
"Oh, that's right - you're a newspaper photographer. One who happens to be able to break into offices, bypassing some of the security systems in the process. Try another one."
"Okay, so I'm not just a photographer. You've got me. I was just looking for a way to make a quick buck, you know? I thought that maybe I'd find something in your files that I could sell to another company." It sounded lame, even to him, but Lee didn't care - he just wanted to keep Palmer talking.
"And you want me to believe that you saw selling gaming secrets as your ticket to the big bucks? How stupid do you think I am?"
Amanda listened to the exchange, waiting for her chance. She'd tried using a small hand mirror to see down the hall without being spotted, but the dim lighting made it hard to tell what was going on that far away. Realizing that this could be it, she quietly set down the folder and checked to make sure that her gun was still safely secured and out of sight. She then readied Lee's gun, wanting to save her own as a contingency.
Amanda took a deep breath in an effort to steady herself, then rounded the corner, shouting "Freeze!"
Palmer had been keeping an eye out for the woman - unfortunately he'd mistakenly assumed she wasn't behind him. The sound of her voice startled him momentarily.
That moment was all Scarecrow needed. He ducked below Palmer's weapon and rushed forward to tackle the other man. The combined impact of Lee to his front and a wall against his back was enough to cause Palmer to drop the gun. Lee kicked it out of range as Amanda crossed the distance to join him, gun carefully aimed at Palmer the entire time.
As she reached the two men, Amanda handed the gun to Lee and put a hand into her jacket pocket, pulling out a pair of handcuffs.
"Do you want to do the honors, or should I, Mr. Stetson?" she asked with a smile.
"Be my guest, Mrs. Stetson," he returned with a grin.
The back-up teams arrived shortly after that, took Palmer into custody, and confiscated the company's records.
"So it looks like Palmer got his information through a variety of methods, including blackmail, theft and, in a few cases, seduction. He had a source in nearly every organization in DC. It's just luck that the Agency wasn't one of them - otherwise he might've known we were onto him." Scarecrow reported to his section chief. He and Amanda were sitting in Billy's office, giving Billy a verbal summary of the report they'd just handed him.
"And the spy game he was using as a cover - that's all it was?"
Lee nodded. "Looks that way. It took him a few years to get his information and buyers lined up - that's why the business seemed legitimate at first. But it wasn't - he started the company with the intention of selling government secrets to the highest bidder. Or bidders, in some cases. From what we've been able to piece together so far, he was willing to sell the same information to several different countries."
The look on Lee's face as he continued showed how impressed he was with the system they'd just shut down. "It was a pretty nice set-up, Billy. All Palmer had to do was publish a book, and wait for one of his clients to contact him. Once the money was deposited in one of his Swiss bank accounts, he'd send them a list of which pages actually had viable information. The way he had it worked out, neither their 'requests' nor the responses he sent looked classified."
"There's one thing I'm still not clear on - if anyone could buy these books, why would anyone bother paying him anything?"
Amanda answered that one. "Well, Sir, even though it was just a cover, Palmer did his best to make that game seem real. It would take an awful lot of work to find out what was factual and what wasn't." Amanda shrugged her shoulders as she finished. "I guess they thought it was easier to pay him for the information."
"And as long as he kept supplying those page numbers, he was left alone." Billy shook his head. "Amazing."
"Frightening is more like it," Lee replied. "Who knows how much more damage he could have caused. And all with just a game."
Erin was unpacking some new metal figurines when a co-worker interrupted her, newspaper in hand. "Hey, did you see the paper today?"
She shook her head, and he held the front page up, showing her the headline. "Game Publisher Arrested" Erin took the paper from him and scanned the article.
"Can you believe it? Guess we won't have to worry about people asking when the next CounterIntelligence book will be out, huh?"
"I guess not," she replied absently as she handed the paper back to him. Something about the article bothered her - something about a customer, and those books in particular...
She laughed at herself as the memory came to her. She needed to get away from gaming for awhile - her imagination was on overdrive. The Stetson family involved in the spy business? Her favorite customers - secret agents? Erin shook her head at the absurd thought, and went back to unpacking the merchandise.
Author's Note: I've been told it's best to write about what you know. Any resemblance between myself and a certain staff member of the gaming store is therefore not at all coincidental. Just took a bit of time travel, and a hop, skip and a jump to an alternate universe!
Also, as an FYI, the idea for this story is very loosely based on actual events. In the late 80's one of the game publishing companies was raided by the US Secret Service, and materials on a new game were confiscated. When told that the information was just for a game, one of the agents was quoted as saying, "This is real." There is no indication that the makers of the game used or had access to sensitive information, but the raid took place nonetheless, and they never did get back the majority of what was taken. Truth is stranger than fiction!