Rating: PG-13 (For somewhat strong language at times – and some 'innuendo' of the intimate nature.
Summary: In “Fatal Flaw”, gunrunner Anthony Mancini targeted the Great Scarecrow and Amanda fell into the line of fire. Now, three years later, Lee wants his revenge. But he’s not the only person with an agenda.
Disclaimer: Lee Stetson, Amanda King, and any other prominent character related to the television series Scarecrow and Mrs. King do not belong to me. I only wish I could create such chemistry on my own – and try every day. References are made to “Do You Take This Spy” and hint at all following episodes. Several subtle comments are made from events and/or comments from “The First Time”, “DOA: Delirious on Arrival”, “Stemwinder”, “Any Number Can Play,” and “Need to Know”. Also, references my other story “Fatal Flaw”.
Timeline: Late Spring 1989. Over two years since they married, and it is a mystery to all. The Agency. Their families. Everyone.
Notes: I was never a fan of the mystery marriage – simply because of the way the show was forced to end. BUT, had the mystery marriage continued it would have been interesting to see how good they were at hiding it, how long it would remain hidden, and just how it would come out.
Feedback: Absolutely! More than welcome!
Archive: I’m posting to FanFiction.net, it can be archived to smkfanfic archives, Bromfield Hall, anywhere else – if you’d like, just ask.
SPECIAL THANKS: To Miriam/KingMissy and LeftyLikeLee for being my BETA’s and helping me out!
*Thursday – 10:48PM
“Ok, everyone. Whatever is left on these reports can wait until tomorrow,” Billy Melrose boomed through the nearly empty bullpen. “Another good job well done. Especially you two,” he said nodding toward Lee and Amanda. “Scarecrow. Amanda. Good work.”
Amanda tilted her head to the side and smiled. She shifted in her chair, obviously uncomfortable with the direct praise from their section chief. Her partner, Lee Stetson, rested his hand on her shoulder and smiled down at her.
“Thank you, sir,” she said in the soft, yet femininely husky voice everyone knew.
“I expect no less from my best team,” Melrose said and walked away through the bullpen.
The watcher mumbled under his breath and kicked at a nearby chair. **“I expect no less from my best team. Blah! Blah! Blah! Scarecrow and Mrs. King, best team in the Agency. Tough case? Give it to Scarecrow and Mrs. King.”**
Everyone filed out of the room, and the watcher followed Stetson and King at a safe distance. They stopped outside the elevator, standing close together, and spoke in hushed voices. The watcher stopped around the corner and strained to hear, but only caught a small giggle from Mrs. King.
“Amanda!” Mr. Melrose called as he came down the hall.
Their watcher smirked at the step they took away from each other, hiding their close proximity from Melrose. Who did they think they were fooling?
“I meant to tell you earlier, before this thing with Mancini blew up, but Leatherneck has some time set aside for you tomorrow in the shooting gallery. Two o’clock.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll be there.”
“I’ll make sure of it,” added Stetson, with a chuckle.
Another wave of annoyance hit their watcher, who vowed to be there as well.
“Once you’re done, come by my office. I want to go over the recent evidence you’ve put together on Anthony Mancini. Now that we’ve shut down his local weapons distributor, we have a chance of getting right to him.”
“Sure thing, Billy. No one wants Mancini more than I do,” Scarecrow said sternly. His eyes darted down to the slight woman at his side.
From his position, their watcher saw Mrs. King slip her hand back and wrap her fingers around Stetson’s arm. He knew the story, remembered when it happened. The first time Mancini and Scarecrow butted heads, Amanda King ended up with a bullet in her shoulder. Stetson’s bullet. For that, Stetson wanted revenge.
Revenge. Retribution. The final word. Their watcher knew this all too well.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday Morning – 1:00AM**
The first heavy tendrils of sleep tugged at Amanda’s senses. Sweet satisfaction left her body tingling, yet called to her to slip into dreamland. Then the rousing awareness of fingertips across her stomach brought a long, slow hum to her lips.
“Are you asleep?” Lee’s deep timbre whispered against her ear.
Amanda shifted and turned toward the sound, her movement causing the bedsheets to rustle, and she opened her eyes. Lee leaned over her, his weight supported on one elbow with his curled fist against his temple, and a smile on his face. His bare chest brushed her arm and his fingers moved slowly across her abdomen.
“Not yet,” Amanda mumbled. “But I’m not too far from it.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea? It is almost one in the morning. Won’t Dotty wonder where you are?”
Amanda moved into the hollow created between his body and the bed. She pressed her palm against his chest and felt the pounding of his heart beneath his ribs. The heat of his body warmed her skin, and she had no desire to move from this spot.
“I talked to her earlier and said it would be a late night. Mother probably went to bed hours ago and won’t have any idea when I come in.”
Her husband nuzzled his face into the bend of her neck, and the feel of his lips on her throat sent a warm hum through her body.
“I hate this,” he said, his voice vibrating over her. “We’ve been married over two years and I can count on my fingers and toes the times we’ve spent the entire night together until morning.”
Amanda heard the resentment in his voice, and it only mirrored what she felt. She pushed her fingers into his hair and held his head as his lips played sweet music against the pulse of her throat. “I hate it as much as you do.”
His kisses grew in intensity against the column of her neck, and she shifted closer to him.
“Is there enough time, Cinderella, to make love to your husband before you have to be home? It is after midnight . . .”
Amanda slipped her arms around his body, feeling the muscles of his back shift and tighten beneath her palms. “I think there might just be time.”
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday Morning – 8:15AM**
“Good morning, Mother,” Amanda said as she bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen the next morning. “Hello, boys.”
She was greeted with “Hi Mom” in stereo as Phillip and Jamie worked on their bowls of cereal. Her mother turned from the sink, a cup of tea in her hand and a stern look on her face. Amanda kissed each of her son’s heads as she walked by.
“You had a very late night last night, didn’t you darling?” Dotty said, the tone in her voice telling Amanda she wasn’t really asking a question.
She shrugged and poured herself a glass of orange juice. “I told you it would be when I called, Mother.”
“I heard you come in, Amanda. It was after two.”
Amanda felt the heat rise in her cheeks, a flash of memory of why she was so late hitting her. She turned away on the pretense of making some toast.
“Jamie, I want to work on your World History project tomorrow morning. If we finish it by noon, I’ll take you to the new photo gallery like you wanted.”
“Will Lee be with us?” Jamie asked around a mouthful of banana.
“I’m not sure, but I’ll ask him today.” A smile tugged at her lips. Not many thinks warmed her heart as much as Phillip and Jamie spending time with Lee. Jamie had a hard time with her relationship with Lee at the beginning, but they had come a long way in the last two years. It meant so much to her that her teenage boys had a roll model like Lee in their lives, even if they had no idea his true place in their lives. He was their step-father, and more of a father to them than their own at times.
“Cool,” Jamie said and stood up, leaving his dirty bowl on the counter. “I gotta go, Mom.”
“Wait up, nimrod!” Phillip shouted and slung his book bag over his shoulder as they headed for the door.
“Bye!” Amanda shouted after her children as the front door slammed shut.
Silence settled into the King kitchen. Amanda leaned her hips against the counter edge and looked out the small window over her sink. Her mother’s spring flowers bloomed with the oncoming of spring. Staring out into the greenery beyond, Amanda thought of how many times she saw her husband’s face pop up to startle her and motion her outside. Nowadays, he tended to comeright to the front door, but she almost missed those nights of sneaking into the dark back yard to whisper about cases and conspiracies and to steal clandestine kisses.
“I know you’re a grown woman, Amanda,” Dotty said, breaking the silence.
“I just don’t understand you two.”
Amanda rolled her eyes and set her cup down. “Mother, please.”
Dotty waved her hand in the air and walked across the kitchen. “I just don’t understand it, Amanda. I adore Lee. The boys adore Lee. It’s obvious you adore Lee. And I know he adores you. You’ve been dating for well over **two years**. There is obviously something more here than casual dating. He is here almost every night and every weekend. He’s here for Phillip and Jamie more than Joe, not that Joe isn’t a good father, mind you. And he is a very handsome man, Amanda! But whenever I mention marriage, you’d think I lit the house on fire. What does Lee have against marriage?”
Lee’s familiar knock at the front door saved Amanda from answering. “Come on in!” she shouted, thankful for the interruption.
Within moments, Lee’s handsome face peeked around the corner with a wide smile on his lips. “Good morning! How are my two favorite ladies today?” He stepped down into the kitchen and kissed Dotty’s cheek before moving to Amanda’s side.
“Tired, I would suspect,” Dotty mumbled. “You kept my daughter awful late last night, Lee.”
“It would have been earlier if the film splicer hadn’t broken down,” Lee said, not missing a beat. “I never thought we’d get out of there. But we met our deadline and the producer is happy.”
Dotty mumbled something about wondering how blind they thought she was, and headed upstairs. As soon as she was gone, Lee wrapped his arms around Amanda and pulled her into a deep kiss.
“I feel like it’s been days since I saw you,” he whispered against her lips. “Instead of hours.”
Amanda laid her cheek against his chest and listened to his heart beating through his jacket. “Lee, do you still think we’re doing the right thing?”
He sighed heavily and his arms tightened around her, his chin resting on top of her heard. “I don’t know, Amanda. I don’t know anymore. At one time I did. I thought this was the only way. But I’m not so sure anymore.”
They both remained silent for several minutes, and Amanda enjoyed the feeling of standing in her kitchen in her husband’s arms. It was a sensation she didn’t experience very often. Since that October day almost six years before, Amanda had made many decisions she questioned the rightness of – but none more than hiding her marriage from her family. It would be different if they didn’t know Lee, or didn’t like Lee, but as her mother just pointed out that just wasn’t the case.
“I saw the guys outside,” Lee finally said.
Amanda leaned back and looked up at him. “Did Jamie talk to you?”
Lee shook his head. “No, we just kind of waved. They were already down the street. What’s up?”
“I was going to take him to a photo gallery tomorrow. He wondered if you would go with us.”
Lee smiled, and Amanda recognized the emotion behind it. Lee Stetson, top Agency Intelligence Operative and until three years ago a confirmed bachelor, now enjoyed being a dad to two teenage boys. In whatever capacity he could.
“Just tell me the time, and I’ll be here.”
Amanda smiled and pushed up on her toes to kiss him. “I love you.”
He returned the kiss, with more intensity, and that kiss was his response.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Agency Shooting Gallery
Friday Afternoon – 2:20PM**
Lee stood behind his wife, her back pressed against his chest. His hands enveloped hers, and both wrapped around the gun she aimed down the far end of the room.
“You want to squeeze the trigger, don’t pull. Squeeze,” he said against her ear as he leaned into her warm body.
Amanda laughed. “Lee, I’ve shot a gun before. I didn’t like it, but I’ve done it.”
“I know you have,” he said, deepening his voice and was rewarded with a slight shiver that moved through his wife’s body. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stand this close to you and whisper ‘squeeze’ in your ear.”
He laughed and moved one hand to pull headphones over his ears to protect from the echoing boom the gun would create in the small space. Amanda did the same.
Their blatant pawing at each other turned their watchers stomach. From the vantage point on the other side of the soundproof windows, every smile and touch could easily be seen. Did they have any idea how obvious they were? They had to be stupid to honestly believe no one had any idea about what they had going on the side. If Dr. Smythe, or any other higher up in the Agency, had any idea . . .
A plan formulated in their watcher’s mind. It would take no effort at all to take ‘the best team in the Agency’ and break them up forever, maybe even remove them from the pool of competition for good. But it had to be done right. There had to be no questions, no deniability, and if their lives were shaken up in the process then all the better.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Billy Melrose’s Office
Friday Afternoon – 3:30PM**
“Did any of the men we brought in give us any leads on Mancini? Where his home base is here in DC? How he’s getting the weapons in and out of the country?” Billy asked, looking over the overflowing file folder on his desk.
“No,” Lee said and paced behind the two chairs adjacent to Billy’s desk.
Amanda glanced over her shoulder and watched her husband rake his fingers through his hair. She knew this particular case was the bane of his existence, and it haunted him. It would until Anthony Mancini was behind bars, or something more permanent. Three years Lee had been on his tail, and somehow Mancini had managed to sidestep their efforts each and every time.
“Was there anything at the warehouse where we nabbed them?”
“No, Billy!” Lee boomed, but immediately drew himself back and curled his lips over his teeth in frustration. He leaned his arms into the empty chair and his fingers curled into the fabric. “I think Mancini knew we were getting close. Us catching his men at that **particular** warehouse,” He pulled the words out slowly, his anger apparent. “It was a slap in my face!”
Billy’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about, Scarecrow?”
Amanda leaned forward, resting her hand on Billy’s desk. She was afraid her husband would burst at any moment, the fury flashing in his eyes.
“Sir,” she said, drawing their section chief’s attention. “It was the same warehouse Mancini surprised us before. Three years ago.”
Understanding flashed on Billy’s face. Lee hung his head and sighed heavily. Amanda’s heart hurt for him, because she knew what a painful memory it was for him. Memories flashed through her mind, still vague to her, but there all the same. They made her pulse pound and her skin chill.
**“Don’t leave me, Amanda,” Lee begged as he pulled away the cardigan sweater she wore to reveal the blood-saturated blouse beneath. “Damn it, don’t leave me. Do you hear me?”**
**With trembling fingers, sticky with her blood, Lee unbuttoned her blouse and shoved it back to reveal the entrance wound just below her collarbone. The way the blood pooled beneath her, Lee suspected his bullet had gone straight through.**
**“Somebody help me!” he yelled into the empty warehouse, his voice echoing back to him again. “Somebody please help me!”**
**He yanked his jacket off and rolled her enough to shove it beneath her in an attempt to staunch the blood flow. His finger searched again for her pulse, again reassuring himself her heart was still beating, before tearing off his tie and yanking over his shirt, not bothering with the buttons.**
**“Amanda,” he whispered as he pressed his shirt into her wound. “Amanda, please open your eyes. Please.” His eyes burned and his throat was raw as he tried to swallow against the panic and emotion that choked him.**
**Lee brushed some tendrils of hair off her forehead, smearing her own blood across her deathly pale skin.**
**“Stay with me, Amanda,” he whispered. “You’re right. I need you. Stay with me.”**
**A salty droplet fell from his cheek and landed on her lips.**
It was painful for her, too, but Amanda tried to focus on the final outcome of that terrible experience. It had been his fear of losing her that pushed Lee into finally admitting what they had both known for a long time. How much they loved each other.
**“I don’t know what I would do if I lost you, Amanda. You mean more to me than anyone else in my life.”**
**Amanda couldn’t say anything, the lump of emotion in her throat too thick. She felt the same way. That was the very reason she went into the warehouse that night, because Lee was in danger and she couldn’t lose him. She just couldn’t.**
**“I just don’t know what to do about it,” he whispered against her hair.**
**Amanda leaned back and looked up at him. He met her gaze with a nervous smile.**
**“What do you want to do about it?” she asked.**
**She held her breath as Lee lifted a hand and brushed her cheek and lips with his fingertips. “I’m not sure that what I want to do, and what I should do, are the same thing.”**
**“That’s not what I asked. I asked you what you wanted to do about it.”**
**“This,” he said in a husky breath before his lips covered hers.**
**It wasn’t a faked kiss, and it wasn’t a tentative kiss. This was a kiss to claim her, and Amanda let herself be claimed. She leaned into him and let him take her breath away. Lee’s fingers pressed against her back and held her as close as possible. Lee pulled his lips away and buried his face into the bend of her shoulder.**
Amanda blinked and pulled her thoughts back to the present conversation. Billy said her name, and the hint of irritation and possible concern told her he must have said it more than once.
“Yes, sir,” she said, probably too quickly.
Lee sat down in the chair beside her. “Amanda, are you okay?” He reached across the space and took her hand between both of his, something he did more and more when people could see. It was getting harder for them to keep their natural need to touch each other at bay.
“Oh, fine,” she said with a flip of her hand. “Thoughts just wandered for a moment. I’m sorry. What were you saying, sir?”
Mr. Melrose smiled and closed the folder. “Nothing we need to worry about right now, Amanda. I’m sending a tactical team to the warehouse and see if we can find any clues Mancini might have inadvertently left behind.”
“I doubt it,” Lee mumbled, and Amanda turned toward him.
“We’ve got to give it a try, Scarecrow. Listen, you two have had a couple of long days. Why don’t you head out? There’s nothing left to do today. If anything comes up, I’ll let you know. I’m assuming you’ll be at Amanda’s?” Billy asked, a hint of laughter in his voice.
Amanda suppressed her smile and diverted her eyes from both men. Lee chuckled once and stood, offering her his hand. “I’ll be around,” he said in non-commitment.
They left Billy’s office, and without needing to discuss it, headed out of the bullpen to the elevator and their office upstairs from the Georgetown foyer. The entire way, Lee’s hand pressed against the small of her back. Once inside the Q Bureau, Lee shut the door and locked it with a click – a habit they developed before ever getting married. Amanda moved to the leather couch near the fireplace and sat down. Her husband quickly joined her.
His arm circled her shoulders and he pressed his lips against her temple. “So, what were you thinking about downstairs?”
Amanda looked up at him, and his hazel eyes immediately pulled her in to a warm, comfortable place where she felt safe. Her fingers toyed with his tie, and she fought the need to curl into his side.
“I think you know.”
Lee leaned into the back of the couch with a sigh. “Yah, I think I do. Mancini. What he did. What he caused. What I did to you.” His voice dipped low and strained.
Amanda pressed her finger to his lips. “Enough of that, Lee Stetson.”
He pursed his lips against her finger, then turned her hand to kiss her palm. “It’s true.”
“Lee, What Mancini did was wrong. It was cruel. Heartless. But I thank goodness for it.”
“What?” His brows furrowed and a dimple formed in his cheek with his cockeyed smile that served as a look of confusion.
“Lee, what we went through was hard. It would have been hard for any two partners, but for us it was different. It was a turning point for us, and if you think back, you’ll know it.”
Lee’s slow, sexy smile answered her. He kissed her palm again. “I do. Almost losing you made me realize how much I needed you. I still need you. But it doesn’t change the fact that I want to see Mancini pay.”
Amanda wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face into the bend of his neck. He embraced her in return. “I know, Sweetheart,” she whispered. “I know.”
**Agency Fabrication Dept.
Friday – 4:15PM**
Junior Agent Janice Bigelow leaned over her desk, staring down at a Russian Passport through her giant magnifying glass. Making some final changes, she sat back with a deep sigh.
“Even Gorbachev himself couldn’t tell the difference,” her visitor heard her mumble.
Janice looked up. “Thank you! I’ve been working on it all afternoon. It’s for an upcoming mission Mr. Melrose is planning.”
The new person nodded. “It’ll work out fine. I have something else for you to work on. It shouldn’t take nearly as long.”
Janice took the envelope offered to her and opened it, removing the information inside. She nodded as she read it over. “This shouldn’t be a problem. Mr. Stetson and Mrs. King have had similar documents made up before.”
“This is top priority and need to know only. You are to speak to no one about this but me. Understood?”
Janice nodded. “Sure thing. When do they need it by?”
“This is to come to me only. I need it immediately.”
She nodded. “Sure thing. I’ll get right on it.”
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Sunday Afternoon – 2:33PM**
“Amanda!” Lee shouted from the backyard. “Amanda, I need a plate before these steaks burn!”
Phillip bolted out the back door, a large platter in hand. “I got it, Lee.”
“Thanks, buddy.” Lee took the plate and moved the ribeyes from the grill onto it. “Why don’t you go make sure your mom is done with the potato salad?”
“Sure,” Phillip said, heading back to the kitchen door, slapping Jamie up side the head as he passed.
Lee shook his head and closed the lid to the grill. He walked to the picnic table where Jamie sat and put the platter down. Jamie was engrossed in a book on photography Lee had picked up for him at the gallery the day before. The young man never looked up as Lee retrieved a can of soda from the cooler on the ground and sat down beside him. He leaned over and glanced at a page over Jamie’s shoulder.
“Interesting book, huh?”
Jamie jumped and scrunched his nose, shifting his glasses on the bridge. “Oh. Yah, it is. I’m reading about using black and white film to create more contrast.”
“I’m glad you like the book.”
“I do. Thanks, Lee.”
Jamie went back to his reading, and Lee popped open his can of soda with a smile. He finally felt like he had found a connection with Jamie, and he liked it. Phillip had been easy. He was just like Lee at that age – athlete, cocky, well liked by the girls. Jamie was just the opposite. He was still in his awkward stage, and the braces and big glasses didn’t help. Maybe he could broach the subject with Amanda about getting the kid some better frames, or maybe even look into contacts. It’d help with his self-confidence, Lee was sure of that.
He was brought back from his musings by Amanda, Phillip and Dotty coming through the kitchen door – each carrying something to set on the table. A warm sensation wrapped around Lee’s heart and he smiled when Amanda’s eyes met his. This was what he wanted: backyard cookouts with his wife and sons. His sons. Just thinking it felt good. The one thing missing was the truth. Lee felt like he was play-acting, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep it up without slipping. What if he showed up at work one day still wearing his wedding band – which he always put on when they were alone. What if he referred to Amanda as his wife? Or the guys as his sons?
“How are those steaks?” Amanda asked as she took the space beside Lee.
“Not too charred,” he said as he kissed her. Her hand touched his thigh beneath the table and Lee had to fight the groan.
Just as they were about to cut into their steaks, the phone inside rang. Dotty huffed and rolled her eyes.
“It’s always in the middle of dinner,” she mumbled.
“I’ll get it,” Amanda said as she stood, her hand resting on Lee’s shoulder.
Lee watched her go inside and listened as she picked up on the third ring. Just by the way her voice changed, and the way she addressed the caller, Lee knew who it was. He was on his feet before she came back to the door. She motioned him inside.
“It’s Mr. Melrose,” she whispered as she handed him the phone.
“Hi Billy,” Lee said as he took the phone.
“Scarecrow, I need you and Amanda here pronto.” Billy’s voice was stern and Lee recognized the edge in it.
“What’s up? Did they find something at the warehouse?” Lee asked as he glanced first at Amanda then over his shoulder to their family outside.
“No, this is something different. Get here now.”
“Billy!” Lee said in frustration. “What the hell is going on?” Amanda’s hand touched his arm when he cursed and he mouthed a quick apology.
“An agent has been killed.”
“We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Agency Parking Garage
Sunday Afternoon – 3:48PM**
Lee and Amanda walked hand in hand through the nearly empty parking garage. They had arrived in the Georgetown Foyer, only to be directed by an MP that Mr. Melrose would meet them in the garage.
“Mr. Melrose didn’t tell you who it is?” Amanda asked as they walked toward the small huddle of people in the far corner. She could see Mr. Melrose speaking with some other agents whose faces she recognized, but their names escaped her at the moment.
“No,” Lee said, his voice low and rough. “He just said an agent had been killed.”
Amanda nodded, not knowing what else could be said until they knew the situation. They released each others hands as they neared the group, and Amanda shoved hers into the front pocket of her jeans. Mr. Melrose saw them approach and stepped away from the other agents. He touched Lee’s arm and led them several paces away.
“This isn’t a good situation, Scarecrow, and I wanted to speak to you before brass got down here.”
“What are you talking about, Billy? Who’s the agent?”
Amanda glanced into the far corner of the garage as they passed. Her stomach immediately flipped when she saw the dark spatterings of blood and gore on the cement walls. All she saw of a body was one arm and part of a torso. It was a woman. Her clothing was covered with blood.
“Agent Junior Class Janice Bigelow.”
Lee shook his head. “I don’t know her.”
“Doesn’t she work in Fabrication?” Amanda offered.
Billy nodded. “She did. Our forensics guys put her death sometime late Friday night.”
Amanda’s gut clenched and she pushed her hand against her abdomen. “How terrible,” she whispered.
“Are you sure you don’t know her, Scarecrow?” Billy asked again.
Lee shook his head again, placing his hands at his hips. “No, I don’t. I might have spoken to her once or twice, just coincidently on a case. I went to Fabrication all the time. Who are you asking me?”
Mr. Melrose held out a plastic evidence bag with a piece of paper inside. Lee took it and turned it over to read the writing. Amanda leaned over his arm to read it with him.
**I need to see you. I’m ending it with Amanda this weekend, and then we can be together. Just as I promised. Meet me tonight in the parking garage – level three. No more hiding. No more games.**
A cold wave washed over Amanda. It was his handwriting. The same slanted scrawl she had learned to decipher years before. But it couldn’t be true. She looked up at her husband, who’s confused hazel eyes looked down at her. A muscle jerked with tension along his jaw.
“Can you explain this, Scarecrow?”
“No,” Lee forced out, his voice strained. “I didn’t write it. I don’t know where it came from. And I don’t know Janice Bigelow.”
“This doesn’t look good, Lee. Smyth has already gotten wind of it and he wants a full investigation.”
Amanda took a step back and crossed her arms over her body. A frightening sense of dread sank into her bones. She had felt this before. A frame. A set-up. Conspiracy. Whatever word you wanted to use, it all came down to the same thing. She knew her husband. She knew the note wasn’t written by his hand. That could only mean one thing.
“Do you have an alibi for Friday night? About ten o’clock? That would be a start.”
Lee looked in her direction. She nodded once, slowly, letting him know if there was ever a time to be honest it was now. Lee nodded his head and turned back to their boss, handing him the plastic bag.
“Well, where were you, man?”
“He was with me,” Amanda said, hearing her own voice crack.
“Where? A restaurant? A movie?”
Her husband’s hazel eyes met hers for a brief moment before dropping away. “No. My apartment.”
“Did anyone see you arrive? Did you arrive together?”
Lee nodded. “Yes, we arrived together. The doorman would have seen us, I’m sure of it. I remember speaking to him briefly.”
“What time was that?”
“Between nine-thirty and nine-forty-five. I don’t remember for sure.” Amanda heard the tension in Lee’s voice. He was sharing more than he wanted to, and she didn’t blame him.
“Damn!” Billy cursed. “That’s too damn close to the suspected time of death. The coroner will narrow it down for us, but right now I don’t like the numbers. What time did you leave, Amanda?”
Lee raked his hair with his fingers and looked at Amanda again. She stepped closer to him and laid her hand on his arm. His fingers covered hers and squeezed gently.
“It’ll be okay,” she whispered to him before turning to Billy. “I left just after midnight.”
Mr. Melrose motioned them further away from any other ears that might pick up on their conversation. The bubbling fury behind his eyes was an expression Amanda had seen many times, and she didn’t like it. It didn’t bode well.
“I’ve asked this question before, and I damn well better get a straight answer this time. What exactly is going on between you two?”
Lee stared down at her, and for the first time since she could remember, Amanda couldn’t find any words. What could they say? Could they blow the cover of the marriage they’d hidden for two years over a forged note found in a dead woman’s hand?
“What do you want me to say, Billy?” Lee snapped back, his voice echoing through the empty garage. “You’ve said yourself you didn’t get to be section chief by being blind. What do you think?”
Billy nodded and ran a hand over his bald head. “Who else knows about your relationship?”
“No one, sir.” Amanda finally found her voice.
“No one but Barney,” Lee added under his breath.
“Looks like the great Scarecrow is spreading around his straw,” said a voice from behind them. Amanda immediately recognized it as Austin Smythe, and she pressed her eyes closed as he approached. The stench of his cigar wrapped around her. “Rumor was you were off the playing field, son. Sounds to me like you’re playing more than one game. Or maybe just hitting more than one home run?”
Lee clenched his jaw, and the muscles along his jaw jumped with the tension. “Can we drop the word games, Smythe?”
Dr. Smythe puffed on his cigar and blew the smoke in Amanda’s direction. She fought not to choke on the cloud.
“All we have is a note Lee says he knows nothing about and no physical evidence putting him here. He has an alibi. Let’s just wait, Dr. Smythe, and see what other route we can take on this,” Billy interjected.
“Tell me, Mrs. King, did you know your rooster was visiting another chicken coop?”
“That’s enough!” Lee snapped and took a threatening step toward Dr. Smythe, his fists clenched at his side.
“Lee,” she cried, pressing her hands against his chest to hold him back.
He turned away from Dr. Smythe and Mr. Melrose, his arm circling her waist. “Billy, let me know when you have something substantial. We’re leaving.”
Amanda was pushed along by his momentum, but didn’t dare look back. Lee didn’t say a word as they left the garage and walked to where the ‘Vette was parked in front of the building. He opened her door and offered his hand as she slipped inside, and marched around the front of the car. His door closed with a slam and the tires squealed as he pulled away from the curb.
Lee remained silent until they were nearly back at Maplewood Drive. Then when he spoke, Amanda jumped.
“You know I didn’t write that note,” he snapped.
“I would never betray you like that. Never! I love you too much to even **think** about another woman. I don’t know who she was, or why someone would try to make her look like my lover, but she wasn’t, Amanda.”
She grabbed his hand where it rested on the stick shift. “Lee.”
He slowed the car and parked in front of her house. He was breathing hard and his grip on the shift whitened his knuckles. Amanda leaned across the car as best she could and rested her other hand on his shoulder, her fingers brushing his cheeks.
“Lee, I know. I trust you with my heart, my life, and my children. It never occurred to me, not for one second, that you wrote that note. We’ll figure this out. We’ll find out who killed that poor woman, and why, and why they want you blamed.”
The lines around Lee’s eyes softened and he leaned over to kiss her. “I guess I’m still not used to having someone believe in me the way you do.”
“And I do believe in you. I love you.”
“Thank you for loving me, Amanda.”
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Office of Anthony Mancini
Tuesday Morning – 11:23AM**
Anthony Mancini sat behind his desk, a date book in front of him and a phone nestled against his shoulder.
“The M-16 shipment will be ready to leave this Friday. It will be out of DC by midnight. I assume your payment will be received no later than Thursday at noon.”
He listed to the client on the other end of the line, and nodded. “Good. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” With that, he hung up the phone.
A knock at his door drew his attention. “Come in!”
One of his long time employees entered the room. “Mr. Mancini, we got a delivery this morning from your contact at the Agency. I thought you’d want to see it right away.”
“Thanks, Jimmy,” Mancini said as he took the proferred envelope. Once alone again, he opened the clasp and slipped out the documents inside. As he read over the information provided, and the plan his contact proposed, a smile stretched across his face.
“Very interesting,” he said to himself as he leaned back in his chair. “Very, very interesting.”
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Wednesday Afternoon – 3:17PM**
Amanda walked through the pristine halls of the Agency, her eyes on the document in her hands but her mind was some place entirely different. Her thoughts were with her husband, and the strain current events were putting on him. First, it was Mancini and the fact he managed to slip through their fingers again. And now, the death of Agent Janice Bigelow with evidence that seemed to point at him.
A paper slipped from her folder, and Amanda crouched down to pick it up. As she did, the voices of several women drifted around the corner. Amanda paid no attention until she caught her husband’s name.
“This was before you started here, Jolene, but Lee Stetson used to be seen as a real ladies man around here. He dated just about every eligible skirt in the place!”
Amanda tried to place the voice, but couldn’t. They were probably some of the girls from the steno pool or secretarial.
“So, what happened?”
“Amanda King happened.”
“She’s his partner, right?”
“Partner is a good word for it. I mean, nothing **official** has ever been found out – but anyone who pays attention just knows those two are a thing. By what I hear, the first couple of years she was with the Agency, he did his best to avoid her, which was tough since he was the one who brought her in. Being the romantic that I am, I think it was because he wanted her.”
“Anne Marie!” another voice said in shock.
“Well, it’s almost the nineties for goodness sake! Don’t act so shocked.”
“But I heard someone say there was a note with Janice. From Lee Stetson. Was she seeing him?”
“Not that I know of. But he’s kept his affair with Amanda King under wraps for years, it would stand to prove he’d hide an affair going on behind her back.”
Amanda stood, frustrating tightening her chest. The gossip mill had already begun to grind out stories about Lee and Janice Bigelow. But how did anyone find out? Mr. Melrose swore it all would be kept under wraps – eyes only – until the mystery was solved. Somehow, someone found out.
“Maybe this means the Scarecrow is back on the market? He’s older, but he’s very attractive. And besides, you know what they say about mature men.”
“Jolene, they think he **killed** Janice!”
Amanda couldn’t listen anymore, and pushed her palm against the wall to move away. This was the part of working here that she hated. She couldn’t count the times her name, or Lee’s, or both had been pulled through the wringer. Either because someone was setting them up, or taking revenge for some long past wrong, or just because the rumor mill was quiet and someone decided to liven it up some. She knew there was no workplace where whispers and stories weren’t carried, but here, in the business they were in, lies could be deadly.
“Amanda! I’m glad I caught you!”
Mr. Melrose’s booming timbre snapped Amanda from her thoughts and she turned back to the doors of the bullpen, which she had just passed.
“I was just going to my office to call up to the Q Bureau. I have something I need you to take care of for me tomorrow.”
Amanda fell in step with Billy Melrose as they headed to his office. As they walked, he filled her in.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Wednesday Afternoon – 4:05PM**
Lee stood at one of the two windows behind his desk and stared down into the street below. The trees were budding and flowers bloomed with springtime sun. He took a sip of his coffee, grimaced at its bitter taste, and set it down on the file cabinet beside him.
Nothing new had developed from Janice Bigelow’s death. There was no other evidence. No fingerprints. No weapon. No other forensic trace other than the note found in her purse. Lee didn’t like it. He had been set up before, and this tasted just about the same.
He knew the basic truth: that he didn’t know Janice and had nothing to do with her death. He hadn’t been having an affair. But it dug at him all the same. Lee worried what Amanda thought about it. She told him she trusted him, but it was hard to look away and not think about it. Perhaps, in this situation, it was better no one knew of their marriage. Amanda was at least spared the humiliation of rumors that her husband was having an affair behind her back.
As if manifested by his thoughts of her, the door opened and Amanda came in. Her eyes met his, and her smile immediately lightened his heart and warmed his skin. His Amanda. She was the first person he ever felt he could say belonged to him. He couldn’t remember enough of his parents to say they belonged to him. And he was his uncle’s responsibility. That was different than belonging. But Amanda. Amanda belonged to him, purely because he knew he belonged to her just as much.
“Hey, pretty lady,” he said as she walked toward him.
“What are you doing up here all by yourself?” she asked as she came around the desk to stand beside him.
“Waiting for my wife,” Lee whispered as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his chest. He pressed his lips against her hair.
Amanda hummed, deep and low in her chest, and rested her cheek against his lapel as she slipped her arms beneath his jacket. “Will she be here soon? Maybe I should leave so we don’t get caught.”
Lee laughed and held her tighter. It was a wry laugh, because her teasing words were too damn close to the truth. She shifted against him and he worked his hands up and down her spine, feeling the soft yarn of her sweater shift beneath his palms.
“I’ve missed you,” Amanda whispered, so low he almost didn’t hear her.
The tone of her voice, tighter and more restrained than usual, set off alarms in Lee’s head. He tightened his hold, knowing immediately something was up.
“Amanda, talk to me. What’s wrong?” he said against her hair.
“Just what I said, Lee,” she said, not looking up. “I miss you. I miss you so much. I miss everything I don’t have.”
Lee sighed. “Amanda . . .”
“I know. I know. We’ve talked about this so many times, and I know this was the best way to do things and still be together. I know we decided this was the best way to keep our family safe.”
She was rambling in that way Lee had fallen in love with so many years ago, but this was a different kind of ramble. It was a side of Amanda he rarely saw. She was talking fast and furious, and Lee knew it was to keep from losing the slipping grip she had on her emotional control.
Lee pulled back enough to press his palms against her cheeks and make her look up at him. He brushed his thumbs across her skin to dry the tears and leaned in to kiss her lips.
“Amanda, I promise you that this won’t be for the rest of our lives. I couldn’t do it any more than I could ask you to. We’ll figure it out. I promise you.”
She touched his cheek and Lee pressed his eyes closed at the tenderness of it. Of all the women he had ever known, he had ever been with, none seized his heart with the sheer force of their gentleness the way Amanda did. She touched him in a way that made him feel precious, which was an odd feeling for him. Not since he was a small boy, memories that were vague shadows to him know, did he remember feeling safe with another human being.
Her fingertips silently urged him down until their lips touched. He tasted the salty tears and pulled her closer. Amanda leaned into him and her fingers curled into his shirt, a soft moan reverberating against their joined lips. Lee wasn’t sure if the sound came from his wife or from deep within his own chest.
“Amanda,” he whispered as he trailed kisses down her throat.
“Mmmmm,” she hummed.
“Did you lock the door?”
Her eyes opened and their gazes locked. A slow smile bowed her lips. “Yes.”
Lee smiled back, and with a low chuckle, swept the slight form of his wife into his arms and rounded his desk toward the couch on the other side of the office.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Streetside – Georgetown Entrance
Wednesday Afternoon – 5:12PM**
Lee Stetson and Amanda King came out the door of the Georgetown foyer, hand in hand. From his vantage point across the street, their watcher could plainly see the sparkle in Mrs. King’s eyes as she smiled up at her partner. Stetson said something and she shook her head slowly, her smile widening, and pressed her free hand against his chest.
**“Disgusting,”** the watcher mumbled and leaned against a nearby tree.
Mrs. King’s car was parked right along the curb, and Stetson walked her to the driver’s door. They were still talking, smiles on their faces like two teenagers in love. Before she opened her door, Stetson lifted her hand to his lips and placed a long kiss on her knuckles. He glanced around quickly, and leaned in for a prolonged kiss. Finally, Mrs. King opened her car door and slipped behind the Wagoneer’s steering wheel.
Scarecrow stood on the curb, lifting his hand in a farewell wave until she disappeared around the next curve. The watcher grimaces at the satisfied grin on Scarecrow’s face as he tossed his keys in the air, caught them, and headed down the sidewalk to where his silver Corvette was parked.
“Go ahead, Scarecrow. Enjoy your peaceful little existence tonight. By this time tomorrow your life will be falling apart like the walls of Jerico. Then we’ll just see what happens to the **best team in the Agency** then!”
If Mancini used the information provided the way their saboteur hoped, it would be quite a show. And several birds will be taken down with a single stone. Mancini’s biggest shipment ever will leave DC without a sideways glance from the Agency. His biggest threat for shut down – the team of Scarecrow and Mrs. King – will be a nuisance finally out of the way. Which would in turn, solve another problem. With Stetson and King out of the way, perhaps some light could be shed on other ‘not so well recognized’ agents – their watcher included. And the enjoyment of watching them try to squirm their way out of the web of lies that was about to fall down around them would be the sweetest satisfaction of all.
**Arlington Junior High
Thursday Afternoon - 3:05PM**
"Hey, King! King!"
Jamie stopped short of swinging his leg over his bike and looked toward the group of kids coming toward him.
"What's up, Matt?"
"We're heading over to the park to play some basketball. You wanna come?"
Jamie shrugged. He had started playing ball more and more with Lee and Phillip, but still didn't feel very confident about his game. He was always afraid his glasses were going to fall off or something. But Matt was one of the cool kids, and Jamie was surprised someone like Matt would ask him to play.
"I guess so. My house is on the way, so I'll just drop my books off. I don't think my grandma will care. I just gotta let her know."
As they talked, Brittany Sylvan walked by and she looked in Jamie's direction. She flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder and waved her fingers at him. "Hi Jamie!"
He raised his hand in a dumbfounded wave.
"So, you coming or what?" Matt asked again.
"Yah. I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes."
The other guys walked away, bouncing a ball between them. Jamie pushed his glasses up on his nose and straddled his bike. Even after several months, he felt weird riding his bike home all alone. Phillip was at the high school now. He peddled his bike down to the sidewalk in front of the school and headed home.
As he passed, the passenger door of a dark blue van opened and Jamie had to swerve to avoid running right into it. His front tire wobbled and he toppled into the grass.
"Woa!" said the man who stepped out of the van. "Sorry about that! I didn't see you coming."
Jamie stood up and dusted himself off, shifting his backpack into a more comfortable position. "I'm okay," he said. "I went in the grass."
The man stepped forward and picked up Jamie's bike. He looked down at Jamie and furrowed his brow. "Hey, aren't you Jamie King?"
Jamie wrinkled his nose, adjusting the position of his glasses. "Yah. Do I know you?"
"No, but I know your mom. Amanda, right?"
"Yah. Do you work with her or something?"
"Something. I know your step-father, too."
Jamie looked back from his bike to the man. "I don't have a step-father."
"Sure, you do. Lee. Lee Stetson."
He shook his head. "My mom and Lee aren't married."
The man's once friendly face suddenly changed. His smile disappeared and his eyes darkened. "Well, Jamie, I guess there are a few things you don't know about them. Things I plan on educating you on."
He lunged at Jamie, who tried to dodge his move, but he grabbed Jamie's arm. Jamie winced painfully.
"Let me go!" he screamed.
"Oh, I will, Jamie. As soon as you hear everything I have to tell you."
The side door of the van opened and Jamie was tossed inside. He flung himself around and lunged at the opening, but it slammed shut before he could. Another set of hands grabbed him and yanked him back.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Thursday afternoon - 4:00 PM**
Lee and Francine sat in Billy Melrose's office across from their section chief. All three had open folders in their hands, going over recently discovered information.
"Mancini's man wouldn't give us any more than a shipment is going out soon?" Lee said, his eyes scanning the affidavit of the stooges statement.
"Yah," Francine said, rolling her overly lined eyes. "And that was after our **best** interrogation tactics."
"Damn!" Lee cursed. "This gives us nothing!"
"Scarecrow, we've been nearly three years trying to sack this guy. It's not going to just fall into our lap."
"After three years, Billy, I'm not expecting it to suddenly fall into our laps but it'd be a damn nice change of pace to get somewhere." Lee restrained himself enough to keep his voice just short of a shout.
His frustration was at the boiling point this week. Between the death of Janice Bigelow and the fingers being pointed at Lee, the internal investigation and the suspension Billy barely avoided with Dr. Smyth, the rumors he now knew to be circulating, and the frustration of going nowhere on the Mancini case, coupled with Lee's magnified need to spend more time with his wife, had him at snapping level.
"What's the matter, Scarecrow? Not enough women to fill your free time?"
Lee shot her a venomous look.
"That's enough, Francine!" Billy snapped.
"Sorry," she said with a huff.
"No, I'm sorry," Lee apologized and leaned back in his chair. "It's just been-"
The door to Billy's office burst open and all three agents leaped to their feet. Lee's heart immediately sank into his gut when he saw his wife, panic and terror as evident on her face as her brown eyes, standing in the doorway. She was trembling.
"Amanda?" Lee nearly leaped over his chair to reach her. As soon as his hands closed around her arms, he felt her legs give way and his hold on her was the only thing that kept her standing. "Amanda, what's wrong?"
She gripped the front of his jacket and he watched as she desperately tried to form words.
"Amanda!" Billy snapped.
Their section chief's voice seemed to shock her out of the terrifying haze she was in. She finally managed to form words, and Lee held his breath as she tried to speak.
"Jamie," she whispered.
"Jamie? What about Jamie? Is he hurt?"
She shook her head and swallowed hard. "Gone. He's gone."
Everything disappeared but Amanda, and Lee's heart froze between beats - a pain seizing his chest. "Gone? What do you mean gone?"
"He never came home from school. The principal of the school called. They found his bike near the school, and one of his friends said they saw - they saw --," She fought to speak, but her wordds were coming in short burst and she hyperventilated.
Lee held her face in his hands, making her lock gazes with him. "Amanda, please. Tell me what they saw." Panic wrapped around him and his blood ran cold.
"They saw someone grab Jamie and force him in a van. They ran inside and found Principal Harwick immediately, but the van was already gone. Oh, Lee."
"Francine, call the school and get any and all information this Principal Harwick can give us. Find out the names of the kids who saw them take Jamie." Billy continued to list off jobs for Francine, who nodded and took off out of the office.
Lee led Amanda to the couch in the back of Billy's office and sank down onto the leather upholstery beside her. He did his best to try and calm her, but his own emotions were tumbling beneath the surface like the sea during a hurricane.
"Where is Dotty and Phillip?" Lee asked, fighting to keep his voice steady for his wife.
"At home. They're waiting there in case Jamie somehow comes home, or if I hear anything. Lee, what are we going to do? I'm scared."
Lee touched her cheek and squeezed her hand. "I know. I'm scared, too."
Billy sat down in a chair adjacent to them, his hands clasped together and dangling between his knees. "We'll do anything we can, Amanda, to find your son."
**Our son**, Lee thought, clenching his teeth so hard his jaw hurt. **We'll do anything to find our son.**
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Outside the Agency
Anthony Mancini leaned over and spoke close to Jamie King's face, seeing the fear and anger in the young teenager's face. The boy's lip was split and his hair stood on end where Jimmy had yanked him to his feet with a fist full. His broken glasses were clenched in shaking hands. Tears streaked his face, and his lips were drawn tight.
"You remember everything I told you, Jamie boy. Now, I never intended to hurt you, but you shouldn't have tried to get away like you did. I told you I wasn't going to hurt you."
"Let me go!" Jamie screamed.
Mancini admired the boy's spunk. "Of course, Jamie. I told you I would. Do you think I've lied to you?"
"I assure you, my boy, I haven't. Everything I told you is true. And everything that has happened to you is because of what your mother and Lee Stetson are doing to me. You remember that. Don't you forget it."
He reached out to touch the boy's arm, but Jamie King shrank away. Mancini smiled.
"I'm going to let you leave right now, in fact. As soon as you get out, you're going to see the building where your mom works. Go right inside. I'm sure they'll be happy to see you."
He reached behind him and grabbed the handle to the van door. Once it was open, he glanced around quickly, and shoved Jamie out of the vehicle. The son of his greatest adversaries landed on his hands and knees on the concrete sidewalk.
"Go!" he shouted to the driver of the van as he slammed the door shut.
Jamie sucked air in through clenched teeth, the pain in his knees and palms bringing hot tears to his eyes. He forced them down and stumbled to his feet. The man hadn't lied. In front of him was the brick building where he knew his mother worked, with the sign out front that read International Federal Films.
What that man had told him was beyond belief. He couldn't believe it. Didn't want to believe it. If he believed it, it meant knowing his mother had lied to him for years. Jamie didn't want to accept that. But he had to know.
Taking slow, deliberate steps toward the front entry. His lip hurt, and when he winced, he felt it split again and blood warmed his cheek. But he didn't care. He paused at the door, his hand on the knob, before turning it and walking inside.
The only person he saw in the foyer was an older woman sitting at a large desk. She looked up, and surprise and concern immediately changed her expression.
"Dear God!" she exclaimed as she started to stand.
"I want my mom," he said as he stumbled toward her desk.
She said something, but Jamie didn't register it. His head hurt, and he couldn't see very clearly without his glasses.
"I want my mom!" he shouted. "Amanda King! I want my mom!"
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Billy Melrose's office**
Amanda's stomach clenched and twisted with the fear and anxiety that tore her apart. Lee held her against his chest, his hand stroking her hair, but she heard the irratic pounding of his heart against her cheek. She knew he was as terrified as she was.
Francine came through the door and Amanda looked up. She knew by the look on the woman's face, she had no good news.
"I spoke with the principal," she said more to Billy than Amanda and Lee, but Amanda listened with rapt attention. "There wasn't much they could tell me. Blue, older van. No windows. Nothing on the sides. The kids didn't get any license plate - not even a partial."
Hot tears came to Amanda's eyes and her heart seized in her chest. She fought to take a breath.
"Lee," was all she could manage to say. Over and over again. "Lee. Lee."
There was a commotion outside and Billy stood to move to the door. He opened it as one of the MP's posted at the door ran up to him.
"Sir, they just brought a young boy down from the Georgetown Foyer. He's asking for Mrs. King."
"Jamie?" Amanda leaped to her feet, Lee moving with her and taking her hand. His grip was almost painful.
"I didn't catch his name, Mrs. King. But he says you're his mother."
Amanda shoved past all of them and ran through the bullpen. As she reached the hall, Dr. Kelfer was coming by pushing a gurney. She saw her youngest son's face, swollen and bloody, and Amanda nearly collapsed again.
"Jamie!" she called and ran to his side.
Jamie turned toward her, their eyes met for a moment, then he frowned and turned away. Amanda's breath was stolen from her lungs.
"Is he alright, Dr. Kelfer?" she heard Lee ask as the doctor's assistants moved the gurney down toward the infirmary.
Dr. Kelfer stopped at turned back to them. "I think he'll be fine, Mrs. King. It seems to be mostly some minor abrasions and bruises. I'm just taking him to the infirmary for a check up."
Amanda nodded, not able to speak. The doctor turned and headed back down the hall. Lee pressed his hand against her back and they followed, Billy and Francine bringing up the rear. They stopped outside the infirmary when Dr. Kelfer shut the door and halted their entrance. Amanda pressed her fingertips against the door, willing Jamie to feel her presence.
"I have to call Mother," she whispered.
Lee wrapped his arms around her from behind, and Amanda let her head fall back against his chest. His embrace kept her from exploding into a thousand frantic fragments, and his soft whisper near her ear soothed her pounding heart.
"He's okay," Lee whispered. "Our son is okay."
"Who did this to him?" she asked, knowing Lee didn't have the answers any more than she did, but needed to voice them all the same. "Why would they hurt him? And why did they bring him here? Why wouldn't he look at me?"
"We'll find out, Amanda. We'll find out."
After what seemed like an eternity, the door opened again and Dr. Kelfer motioned them inside. Jamie sat on the side of the examination table, bandages on his knuckles and his forehead. His lip still looked swollen, but he dabbed at it with an ice pack. Amanda rushed to him and tried to touch his face, but Jamie pulled away.
"Sweetheart, are you okay?" she asked.
He didn't answer but tossed a scathing glance between her and Lee, who stood behind her. Amanda looked over her shoulder at her husband, shrugged slightly at his confused expression, and looked back to her son.
"Jamie. Can you tell us what happened?" Lee asked.
The glare Jamie shot at Lee was twice as angry as the one he gave his mother.
"You. You're what happened," Jamie said in a frighteningly low voice. "Scarecrow."
Amanda gasped and sensed the tensing of Lee's body.
"I guess he wasn't lying. You're a spy. And you made my mother a spy."
"Jamie, sweetheart, who told you this?"
"Does it really matter?"
"Yes, Jamie, it does matter. Because whoever took you, and hurt you, and if they think they know things that can be used to hurt you and -"
"Shut up!" Jamie shouted, cutting Lee off.
"James King!" Amanda reprimanded.
"No, Amanda, it's all right," Lee said. "Jamie, we'll talk this all out, I promise you. But right now we need to know who did this."
"He didn't tell me his name."
"What did he look like?"
"Black hair, green eyes," Jamie said with resignation. "Tall. Almost as tall as you. Old."
"Old? Like sixties old?"
"No, like you old."
Lee cleared his throat and glanced at Amanda. Jamie certainly was getting his digs in. But apparently, he felt justified. Amanda's heart pounded at a furious pace, and a cold sweat had washed over her since Jamie called Lee by his code name. Just how much did he know? In the same moment, Amanda realized it didn't matter how much he did or didn't know. They would have to answer whatever questions he had now. He knew too much already, had gone through too much already, not to deserve at least that.
Lee brushed his hand down her spine before going to the door and opening it. He called Francine over, who still stood outside in the hall, and whispered something to her. What he asked, Amanda couldn't hear. She curled her fingers on the top of the examining table and took a deep breath to calm her raging nerves. When she looked back at her son, the expression on his face was softer, almost sad.
"I'm sorry, Sweetheart," she said.
Jamie looked away, but his face wasn't as incriminating as when they first walked in. Lee shut the door again and came back to them. In his hand he held a folder.
"I need you to do something for me, Champ. Is this the man who took you?" Lee opened the folder and handed it to Jamie.
Jamie stared at the picture inside and slowly nodded. "Yes. This is him."
Amanda watched her husband and saw the tension immediately strain his expression. The muscle along his jaw leaped as the unseen fury took him over. She knew that look all too well.
"Who is it, Lee?"
Lee took the folder from Jamie and handed it to her. She stared down at the picture and caught her breath. "Anthony Mancini."
"This time he's gone too damn far!" Lee snapped. "First you, now Jamie. He's going to pay if I have to wring justice out of him with my own two hands!"
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Two hours later**
Lee sat on the corner of Billy's desk, wringing his hands in his lap, and watched Amanda and Jamie where they sat on Billy's couch. Amanda stroked Jamie's hair, but even though he allowed her the contact, Jamie's expression did little to hide the anger that lie beneath.
Billy came in with a quick glance from Lee to Amanda. "We've called your mother, Amanda. She is aware Jamie is fine, and you are with him. I let her know you will be home as soon as you can."
Amanda nodded. "Thank you, sir." Her voice was husky and cracked when she spoke, the way it always did when she was doing her damndest to hold in her emotions.
"You're a spy too, right?" Jamie said, his first words in over half an hour.
Billy glanced at Lee and cleared his throat. "I guess you could say that. I'm your mother's section chief. It's kind of like a supervisor."
Jamie looked at Lee. "I thought you were her supervisor."
Lee sighed. This was not a conversation he planned on having. Especially not now. And especially not this week. But it seemed to be par for the course.
Just another log on his fire. Another day in his week from hell.
"Your mother and I are partners. I'm the -," he nearly choked on the words, never imagining he would be explaining this to Jamie. "I'm the senior agent."
"So, what happens now? I'm supposed to keep this a secret from Grandma and Phillip? And Dad?"
Amanda looked to him, and in her brown eyes he saw everything he needed to know. It wasn't the way they wanted it. It wasn't the best way. But they had to come clean. They had to tell their family the truth. At least this part of the truth. They would have to decide later when to reveal everything. His wife nodded once, letting him know she knew what he was thinking.
"No, Sweetheart. We won't ask you to keep a secret like this. We'll tell your grandmother and brother everything, too. It's time it all was out in the open. But I want you to know, Jamie, we didn't tell you because we wanted to protect you."
Jamie shifted on the couch, his movement making the leather squeak. He looked at his mother and then to Lee. "So, tell me."
"Tell you what, Sweetheart?"
"Tell me how it happened? How did you become a spy? Did you apply or something?"
Lee and Amanda exchanged glances, and her small smile warmed Lee's heart. "That's a very interesting story, Champ. You see, almost six years ago I was being chased by some guys who wanted what I had pretty badly. In a desperate attempt, I grabbed the arm of this beautiful woman who was waiting for the train and asked her to help me."
"You, Mom?" Amanda nodded, her gaze holding Lee's. "And you helped him?"
"I had to. My country needed me."
Lee almost laughed. That was the line he always used on her, those first few months, to convince her - and himself - to help him **just one more time**. Eventually, he didn't need excuses. She helped willingly. And he willingly asked.
"Things just went from there, Jamie. Your mom worked on more and more cases with me. She took on more and more training. And about eighteen months ago she was made a full-fledged agent."
"There's more than that, Sweetheart, and we'll answer all your questions, but I think we should wait until we can talk to your grandmother and brother. They'll have questions, too."
Jamie smiled and nodded, and Lee wondered if he wasn't perhaps warning up to the thought of having an international intelligence operative for a mother. Lee always hated the word spy. Then a different expression crossed Jamie's face, as if remembering something.
"The man that grabbed me said something else to me. He said -." Before Jamie could finish, there was a knock on Billy's door.
"Come on in, Francine," Billy said.
Francine opened the door, a strange expression on her face. Her eyes seemed wider than usual, and the glance she shot at Lee was cryptic at best. That could only mean one thing. More news he didn't want to hear.
"Billy, I just found this on my desk. I thought you should see it," she whispered, but loud enough that Lee could hear. "It's the results of Amanda's routine background check."
Amanda must have heard, because she sat forward. "What is it?"
Billy opened the letter size envelope and took out the contents. Lee stood off the edge of the desk as a dark frown took over his boss's face.
"What is it, Billy?" he asked.
Billy didn't look in his direction. "Tell me you correlated this with their cases at the time."
Francine nodded and glanced at Lee. "I did, Billy." She shook her head. "It's not from a case. By what I can tell, it's real." Her usual sarcastic tone was gone, and dread dragged her voice down. "There's documentation from legal that says they confirmed the authenticity."
When Billy looked back at them, Lee could almost see flames shooting from his eyes and smoke from his ears. "Damn it, Billy! What is it?"
"Amanda, I think your son should step outside while we discuss this. Francine, can you take Jamie down to the cafeteria and get him something to eat?"
Amanda stood with her son and kissed his head before he walked out with Francine. Her eyes were wide and rounded as the door closed behind him and she looked back to Lee, her hands folded together in front of her.
"What this time? Billy, if something is just now showing up in Amanda's background check, and it's not good, you know the routine. It's not the first time someone has planted information to make one of us look bad."
Billy's lips were set in a tight line. "You damn well better hope so, Scarecrow. Because if you don't have a damn good explanation for this, it could be BOTH your careers."
Amanda stepped to his side. "Please. Sir. What is it?"
Billy held up the document he had been handed. Lee didn't see the fine print from where he stood, but the fancy calligraphy across the top told him everything he needed to know.
**Certificate of Marriage.**
Amanda gasped. "Oh my gosh."
The series of words running through Lee's mind were a great deal harsher than his wife's eloquent 'oh my gosh'. He let a few slip out and raked his fingers through his hair.
"Can I assume from your mutual reactions this is not a fake?"
Lee and Amanda exchanged looks. "I'm sorry," Lee mouthed to her. This was all wrong. All so wrong. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. He promised her so much more.
"Scarecrow!" Billy snapped.
"No, Billy, it's not a fake."
"We're sorry, sir."
"Frankly, Amanda, I don't want to **hear** sorry right now!" Billy shouted.
Lee raised his hand. "Hey, back off alittle, Billy. Amanda has been through hell today. She doesn't need you shouting at her."
"Fine! I'll shout at you, Scarecrow! Damn it, man! What the hell were you thinking? You're the senior agent here. You know better than to pull garbage like this. Why the hell did you hide this? Don't you think this is something that I, as your section chief, should have known?"
"Why, Billy? So it could get up to Smythe and he could break us up? We're a team, Billy. We're partners. Both on the job and off. Neither of us wanted that to change."
Amanda laced her fingers through his, loosening the tight fist he had clenched at his side. His chest heaved with the effort of arguing with Billy yet keeping his frustration at bay.
"Dr. Smythe is going to have a field day with this," Billy snapped back, slamming the document down on the desk. "Especially after the murder last week. Do you have any idea how bad this looks? Maybe, MAYBE if I knew this ahead of time, I could have convinced him to keep you together. But now." Billy shook his head, his voice suddenly dropping. "I mean it, Lee. You two will be lucky to come out with your jobs."
Lee dropped into a nearby chair and rested his head in his hands. Amanda stood beside him, her hand on his back.
"What do we do now, sir?"
Billy sighed and Lee looked up to see him shaking his head. "I don't know, Amanda. I just don't know. Smythe will see this tomorrow morning, no doubt. Until then, I guess the only thing you can do is go home and talk to your family."
With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Lee stood. Amanda took his hand again.
"Ok, Billy," he said. He wanted to just get out and find some way to piece together the suddenly shattered pieces of their lives, but knew Billy deserved better than that. Lee stepped to his section chief and friend and sighed. "Billy, we didn't want you to find out this way. But at the time we just didn't see an alternative. It was a bad situation. The only good part of it being that we finally figured out how much we needed each other."
Billy nodded and reached for Lee's hand, shaking it. "You know this is what I wanted for you two. You're good for each other. I knew that from the beginning. They didn't make me Section Chief -."
"-For nothing," Lee finished with a wry chuckle. "Thanks, Billy."
He reached again for Amanda's hand, but she was no longer at his side. Lee turned and looked over his shoulder. His wife stood at Billy's desk, the document in her hands, and her eyes skimmed it. Her mouth hung open, and as he watched, her head shot up and their eyes met.
She shook her head and held the paper out to him. "It's not . . well, it's not . . . **ours**."
"What?" Lee took the paper from her, and now that he held it in his hands and could read it in detail, he saw what she meant. Rage immediately hit him and he slammed his hand against the license. "Damn it!"
"What is it, Scarecrow?"
"We've been set up. Again. This isn't our marriage license."
"What are you talking about? You just admitted you got married six months ago."
Lee shook his head, his lips pulling tight over his teeth. "No, Billy. We admitted we're married, but not six months ago. I didn't see the date when you held it up. This says we were married in Arlington six months ago."
Lee looked at his wife, who shrugged one shoulder and shook her head. They had dug their hole. What was another foot deeper?
"Billy, we were married two years ago February 13th. And we were married in Marion, not Arlington."
"Then this -."
Lee threw the forged document across the room where it fluttered to the floor near the couch. "This is a forgery. Someone **was** trying to set us up, except this time they came too damn close to the truth!"
**4247 Maplewood Drive
Thursday Night - 11:35PM**
Lee wrapped his arm around Amanda's shoulder as they walked toward his 'Vette parked at the curb. She leaned into him and rested her hand on his stomach, inhaling deeply of the cologne that still lingered on his shirt. He kissed her hair as they rounded the hood of the car and stopped at his door.
Amanda sniffled and took a deep breath, doing her best to look cool and calm when she looked up at her husband. It must not have worked, because his eyes darkened and his face changed expressions when their eyes met.
"Hey," he said in his soothing, husky voice and brushed his thumbs across her cheeks. "No more tears."
Amanda wrapped her fingers around his wrist and kissed his hand. "I'm trying. I think I've cried more in the last six hours than I have in the last six years."
"Well, it's been a rough day. For everyone. But I know the brunt of it is on you. For that I'm sorry."
Amanda shook her head. "Don't be sorry, Lee. In all of this you've been the one thing I could hang on to."
Lee smiled, two deep dimples forming in his cheeks. Amanda reached up and touched one, smiling. With a tenderness she hadn't ever felt from him before, Lee leaned down and kissed her lips. Even in its tenderness, Amanda felt her body immediately come alive. His mouth brushed over hers and she eased against his chest, letting herself melt into his embrace. Her lips parted and Lee deepened the kiss. Even in the warmth his love created, Amanda felt another sob work its way up through her. As her shoulders shook with it, Lee pulled her against him and buried his face against her throat.
"I promise you, Amanda Stetson, I will make this okay. We will make it through this."
"I've never seen Mother so angry. And Phillip! Phillip wouldn't even look at me."
"They're in shock, Amanda. Frankly, so am I to an extent. I didn't wake up this morning thinking we would be coming clean to just about everyone about just about everything."
Amanda sighed and wiped at her cheeks. "We've made quite a mess of things, haven't we?"
"Shuuuush," he whispered and kissed her cheek. "There is no denying that. But it's not unsalvageable. We'll do it. Together. As a family." He smiled as he said it. "Our family."
Amanda wrapped her arms around him and laid her cheek on his chest. "I love you so much."
He kissed her hair and rocked her back and forth. "I love you, too. I love you, too."
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday Morning - Dawn**
Amanda sat on the den couch, her legs curled up into her chest and a cup of tea, long cold, rested on her knee. She watched through the window as the first tendrils of sunlight spread pink and orange streaks across the treetops outside.
She had yet to go up the stairs to her bed. Sleep had evaded her all night long. After Lee left, she spent another two hours suppressing the tears that shook her, trying to keep them quiet enough as to not disturb anyone else in the house.
In her heart, Amanda had known that her family would be angry when her deception was revealed. She knew they would wonder why so many years of lying had passed. But she hadn't been prepared for the pain and hurt she saw in her mother's eyes, and the fury in her eldest son's. Jamie had calmed down by the time they came home, but that wasn't much solace in the following hours.
She slowly lowered her legs and stood, heaviness of soul weighing her limbs down. What did all this mean? What did they do now? Did Lee just move in now that everyone knew he was her husband? Could the boys handle that? And what about the Agency? What if what Billy said was true? What if this was the end of their careers? Amanda knew she could handle it - she wouldn't like it - but she could handle it as long as Lee came home to her every night.
But what about Lee? This was the only thing he had ever been. It was in his blood. He discovered that a few years back when the truth about his parents was discovered. His father was an intelligence operative, and after he and Lee's mother married, so was she. She couldn't imagine Lee doing anything else. Being a spy - even though she knew he hated the word - was who he was. It would tear Amanda's heart out if she knew he lost that because of her.
She wanted answers, but she knew they wouldn't be soon in coming. Not today. Probably not tomorrow.
Amanda felt like she was caught in the eye of a storm. Having just survived its violent onslaught, she was in that calm place just before being sucked into it again.
There was a noise upstairs. Someone was awake.
Amanda realized, in one split second decision, she wasn't ready to face them again. They all needed time. Time to digest. Time to calm down. Time to recover from the shock. She looked around the kitchen quickly for a piece of paper, and wrote a note to her mother. Just as footsteps started down the stairs, Amanda slipped out the back door and pulled her Wagoneer down the driveway.
She didn't have to think about where she was going. Her car just seemed to know the way. As the first tendrils of pink light started over the horizon, Amanda pulled into an open spot outside Lee's apartment building. With a polite nod to the night doorman, Amada rode the elevator to his floor.
Her movements were subconscious as she flipped her keys around her keychain until she found the apartment key. The need for her husband growing exponentially, Amanda unlocked the door and slipped inside.
The apartment was quiet in the daybreak hour. Amanda dropped her keys on the foyer table and her purse on the floor, moving quickly through the living room. As she opened the bedroom door, Lee turned over in the bed to face her. The blanket slipped down to expose most of his upper body and he pushed up on his hands. He was awake, and by the look on his face, he didn't seem surprised at all to see her.
"Hi," Amanda said in a small voice.
"I hoped you'd come," Lee whispered and shifted to make room on **her** side of the bed.
She nearly fell on the mattress, immediately pressing her face into the curve of his shoulder and sighing as his arms wrapped around her. They both settled back on the sheets, drawing strength from each other's embrace. The storm was about to descend again, and they needed all the strength they could get.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday Morning - 8:30AM**
Lee Stetson and Amanda King - correction - Amanda Stetson stepped off the closet elevator hand in hand. Their expressions were strained and they both looked tired as they walked toward the bullpen. Neither seemed to be able to ignore the glances and hushed whispers that followed them.
Had this been a normal situation, no one would have known about the 'discovered' marriage certificate and the scandal that now surrounded the Agency's best team. Just like after the unfortunate death of Junior Agent Janice Brown, the details of the situation quickly spread through the Agency - like flames on a prairie. With a few extra tidbits thrown in for good measure. In a normal situation, the secret lives of Lee Stetson and his housewife partner would remain behind closed doors. But, of course, this was not a normal situation.
Their watcher, saboteur, and peer watched from a safe distance making a valiant effort to hide their smug smile. It had been so easy. Almost too easy. It didn't matter, though. The damage was done, and they would have a hell of a time fixing it. And it would have to be fixed because there was no covering it up. That was made sure of. The entire staff might as well just say bye-bye now, because their expulsion was as good as done.
"Say good-bye to your stuffing, Scarecrow."
Lee and Amanda walked through the bullpen, and Lee felt the tangible burn of several eyes watching them as they passed. A wave of protectiveness slammed into him, and he moved his hand to Amanda's shoulder, his arm crossing behind her. He'd be damned if he'd hide anything now, since somehow everyone seemed to know something was going on.
Snatched of conversation hit his ears. Words like 'married', 'hid it', 'split them up' and 'fired' popped out of the hushed whispers.
"Lee?" Amanda said, leaning toward him. "How could everyone know already?"
"I don't know," he said, clenching his jaw. "But I'm willing to put money on whoever managed to forge that marriage certificate."
Amanda froze in her steps, bringing Lee to an abrupt stop as well. He turned and looked down at her. "Amanda?"
Her smooth brow furrowed and she tapped a slender finger against her lips. Lee recognized it as her being in deep thought, and probably on the edge of a revelation.
"Lee, we both know that you didn't write that note found on Janice, right?"
Lee nodded, "Yah."
"And Janice worked in Fabrication, right?"
Again Lee agreed.
"It's got to be someone inside the Agency doing this to us, Lee. The note was forged. The marriage certificate was forged. An agent that worked in Fabrication was killed - probably because she knew who made them, OR because she was told to make them and that person didn't want her to tell anyone. And both times, everyone in the Agency seemed to know way more information than they should have, which probably means that they themselves are spreading the rumors to put more focus on us and not something else. Something we would be seeing if we weren't so worried about - well - about everything else!"
As Amanda spoke, the ticked each point off on her fingers and her words came faster and faster as each step formed in her mind. Lee had seen this dozens of times before. Sometimes it took his wife a bit longer to get around to the point, but in cases like this, she still got there faster than anyone else. She had the mind of an agent, that was for sure. Better than some, in fact. Sometimes better than his own. This being a case in point. Lee had been so wrapped up in the recent revelations, he wasn't putting the obvious points together.
He glanced around the bullpen and raised his finger to his lips, indicating to Amanda to stop talking. "If that's the case," he said, leaning toward her. "I don't want that person to think we've figured them out."
"Oh, of course," Amanda said with a nod, and glanced around herself.
"Let's go see if Billy is in his office."
Lee rapped his knuckles on Billy's door and swung it open. The office was empty, except for Francine who sat behind Billy's desk. She glanced up, and a cold expression crossed her face.
"Billy isn't here. He had an early morning meeting," she seemed to grind out. "Probably about the two of you."
"Did he give any indication as to when he'd be back?" Lee asked.
Francine stood and collected the file she had spread across the desk. Avoiding any direct eye contact, she moved to walk past them and head for the door.
"No, he didn't," she said, reaching for the doorknob. "But I don't think I want to be you when he gets back."
"Francine," Lee called after her as she turned away.
When she met his gaze, Lee was taken back by the hurt look in her heavily lined blue eyes. "I don't think we should talk right now. Give me a few days to digest this."
"Francine," Amanda said in her soft voice. "We're really very sorry. You have no idea how sorry."
Francine's blue eyes darted between them and she sighed heavily. "I know we aren't best buddies or anything. And I'm sure I'm not the first person on your list of people to confide in. And it probably would have been easier to deal with if the license I found was correct - that you only got married six months ago. But in two years neither of you felt you could say anything? Two years?"
Lee raked his hair and dropped his chin to his chest. Obviously, Billy had filled Francine in on the facts this morning before his meeting. Yet another person they would have to eventually explain their actions to. The average Agency employee in the hall was one thing. But Francine was a long time friend and equal. Her contempt cut deep.
Before he could form some response, the phone on Billy's desk rang. Francine brushed by him, bumping his arm with her shoulder as she passed, and picked up the phone.
"Billy Melrose's office," she said in a strained voice.
Lee looked to Amanda. She had moved away to stand near a bookshelf at the back of the room and now stood with her arms crossed over her body and her head bowed low. Something tugged at his chest and he went to her, laying his hand on her shoulder.
"Hey," he said simply.
Amanda looked up at him, her fathomless brown eyes glistening. She brought her hand up to cover his and squeezed gently. Lee rubbed his thumb across her shoulder. They both smiled, and nothing else needed to be said. It was going to be a long road, and the hardest thing they had ever been through, but the decision was made and they would see it through to the end.
"Lee," Francine called. He turned back to her and she held out the phone. "It's for you. A woman named Annemarie Lipowski."
Lee gave his wife's shoulder one final squeeze before retrieving the phone from Francine. Annemarie Lipowski was a member of his 'family', so he wondered what type of information she would be calling him with. She worked at the incoming wires desk at the largest national bank in the District of Columbia and surrounding states.
"Hi Annie," he said when he held the receiver to his ear. "I hope you've got something interesting for me."
"I think maybe I do, sweetness," she purred in her slightly southern drawl. Annemarie came to DC by way of Georgia. "You remember telling me to keep an eye on Inicnam Industries?"
Lee's interest immediately perked. Inicnam Industries was a suspected front for Mancini. While Anthony Mancini was a criminal genius, his creativity did not extend to naming his front companies.
"I certainly do. Tell me something good, Annie!" Lee stood up straighter and searched for a pen and paper. Maybe this day wouldn't be a total wash after all.
"Well, money has been going in and out of the account pretty regular like. Nothing that would really stand out. You know, afew grand here and afew grand there. Until yesterday, that is."
Lee chuckled. "Annie, you're reminding me of my partner. Get to the point." He caught Amanda's eye, and she smiled. It was a damn beautiful sight.
"I thought a seven-point-four million dollar deposit into his account - by wire - from a bank in Iraq might get your attention."
Lee nearly dropped his pen. He must have had an astonished look on his face, because both Amanda and Francine moved closer, intent on watching him. He wrote the information down and saw Amanda's eyes widen as he finished. She had mastered reading his left-handed writing upside down years ago.
"Do you have a name for me, Annie?"
"Sure do. Prince Ali Ham Shambi Rahib."
He couldn't help but smile as he wrote out the information. "Annie, if I weren't already married I'd come down there and kiss you!" he said without even realizing it.
Annie whistled. "Sweetie, you're already busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger! Does your partner - that Mrs. King - know you're married? And more importantly, does your **wife** know how sweet you are on your partner?"
Lee smiled and winked at Amanda. "She sure does. Thank you, Annie. You may have just given me the break I've been waiting for."
Lee hung up the phone and slapped the piece of paper with his fingers. "That was my contact at First National," he explained for Francine's benefit, knowing Amanda already knew most of the results of the conversation. He relayed the information Annie provided to him. "This probably means Mancini has a big shipment going out within the next twenty-four hours. And by the size of this deposit, I'd say the shipment is huge."
"What do you need?" Francine asked, the tension of moments before temporarily forgotten.
"Get me everything you can on a Prince Ali Ham Shambi Rahib of Iraq. Any connections he might have to either rebel forces or any connection he might have to Saddam Hussein."
Francine nodded and turned for the door.
"I'll look into any ships or transports leaving the area in the next twenty-four hours and see if I can find one heading for the Saudi Arabian area," Amanda stated, following Francine.
"No, Amanda. Hang on. Francine, could you look into that, too? Amanda, I have something else I need you to look into."
Francine nodded again and headed for her desk. Amanda spun back to him on the balls of her feet, her face showing the keen interest always apparent there when a case started to fall into place.
"What do you need?"
Lee sighed and placed his hands on her arms. "I need you to go down to
Fabrication. Find out the last several cases Janice Bigelow was assigned to. See
who gave her the assignments, and exactly what she was doing. I've been
thinking about what you said. Janice Bigelow was killed because someone didn't want her to tell something she knew. And putting the attention on me was to throw everyone else off the scent."
"Where are you going to be?" she asked.
"I see a bowl of tutti fruiti in my future," Lee hinted.
Amanda smiled, glanced out the door to see if anyone was watching, and pushed up on her toes to kiss him briefly. "Tell T.P. I said hello."
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday Morning - 10:07AM**
Amanda stepped through the door into the Fabrication Department that was housed on the fourth sublevel of the Agency, in a dark corner where the fluorescent lights seem to blink and shutter and fight to stay on. The walls were concrete block and brick and mortar, feeling cold and harsh.
Several workers looked up from their tasks. Some wore odd-looking magnification goggles and others peered at their work through large, round magnifying glasses. She didn't recognize most of the faces, but then again, a lot of the people in Fabrication weren't seen much in other departments.
"Can I help you with something, Mrs. King?" a young woman asked as she approached.
Amanda immediately recognized the woman's voice, if not her face, as one of the gossipers in the hall earlier in the week. If Amanda was right, she was the instigator of the conversation. The one that said Lee wanted her from the first time they met. And the one who adamantly repeated the fact that Lee was suspected of Janice's death. She did her best to hide any expression that might reveal the fact that she knew what the woman had said.
"Hi," Amanda said, adding as much perk as possible. "Yes, I hope you can."
A door off to the right opened and Efraim Beaman came out. He had worked in Fabrication for several years, but had also been involved with Amanda's formal training.
"You can go back to those defection packages, Erin, I'll help Mrs. King with anything she might need."
Amanda thought she caught a slight change in Efraim's voice when he said her name, but she wasn't sure. She thanked Erin with a nod as the girl went back to her desk.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
"Well, actually, I'm down for Mr. Melrose," Amanda said. It was a small lie, but with a definite goal, so she forced herself to continue. "He would like a report on the types of tasks your department have taken on over the last month, who was assigned to each task, and how long each took. I think it's part of a budget review and they're making sure your department has sufficient staff."
Efraim nodded and smiled. "Certainly. We keep a log book with as much information we're allowed to. You must understand we often aren't able to record too much. National security and all."
Amanda shrugged one shoulder and brought her hands together in front of her. "Oh, of course. Whatever you can provide."
Efraim led her into his office and motioned for her to sit down. She did and he pulled off a nearby shelf a black binder. He set it down on the desk in front of her and opened it up to a date four weeks back.
"As you can see, Mrs. King," he began to say, but then paused. "I'm sorry, but I feel inclined to ask. Do you still wish to be called Mrs. King? Or would you prefer Mrs. Stetson now that, well, now that -."
Heat rushed to Amanda's cheeks. The news had apparently already traveled into the deepest corner of the Agency. She cleared her throat and avoided meeting Efraim's eyes.
"Why don't we just leave it at Amanda?"
He smiled, but it was a diminutive one at best. "Fine then, Amanda. As I was saying, as you can see we log each employees work by type of assignment, the agent who requested it, time in and time out."
Amanda nodded and skimmed her eyes over the pages. She paid little attention to the columns of the other staff members, but focused on Janice Bigelow's.
"I'm not sure how little or how much information you need."
"Would it be alright if I just looked it over for a minute or two?" Amanda asked.
"Certainly. Take all the time you need."
With that, Efraim left her alone. As soon as the door closed, Amanda flipped the pages to the last week before Janice Bigelow's death. She pulled a small notebook out of her pocket and wrote down all the assignments the deceased agent had taken on. They all seemed pretty normal Agency stuff: Foreign Passports and other forms of identification, Defection packages to help newly arriving individuals to build a life in America. Amanda herself had worked on those types of packages on occasion, before she was full time and officially partnered with Lee.
On the night of her death she had been working on a Russian Passport until about 5:30PM. She logged out the assignment as complete. Amanda stared down at the log. Something seemed odd to her. Glancing over her shoulder to make sure Efraim wasn't watching her through the small pane of glass in his door, she removed the page from the binder and held it up to the fluorescent light overhead.
Janice had logged in another assignment after the Russian Passport. But the entry had been removed. There were pens in stores with eraseable ink, but the Agency had certain chemicals that could erase even regular ink. The trace indication of the words were too light for her to read. With another glance at the door, Amanda turned the page over and set it down on the desk. She took a page from her notebook and laid in on the log page, but on the backside. Borrowing a pencil from Efraim's desk, she gingerly ran it across the blank page. She smiled as symbols began to form.
The door opened and Amanda jumped. She snatched the notepaper off the desk and slipped it into the pocket of her sweater.
"Finding everything you need Mrs. - Amanda?"
"Oh, yes!" she said, leaping to her feet. "I think I have enough information now for Mr. Melrose. Thank you so much for your help, Efraim."
"You're welcome. We always enjoy visitors down here in Fabrication. Be sure to tell Francine I said hello. Oh, and of course, Scarecrow."
Amanda nodded and moved around him to the door. "Oh, I will. I certainly will. Thank you again."
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Georgetown Sundae Shoppe
Friday Morning - 10:45AM**
Lee pulled up to the curb outside the ice cream parlor and scanned the outside tables with their pastel colored umbrellas for a certain ex-Library of Congress employee. He smiled when he saw who he looked for, nearly hidden behind a gigantic bowl of hot fudge and marshmallow doused tutti fruiti with a mound of whipped cream and nuts on the top. Seeing the gooey creation almost made Lee's stomach turn as he weaved his way through the tables.
"Isn't it early for ice cream, TP?" he asked as he slipped into the chair beside his long time friend.
"Au contrair, my good Scarecrow," TP Aquinas said as he swirled his spoon in the melting concoction. "It is never too early or too late for ice cream. Benjamin Franklin was once quoted as saying Beer was a sign that God loved us. I think he had it wrong. Ice Cream is a much better example."
Lee laughed and shook his head. "Whatever you say, TP."
TP looked at Lee over the top of his glasses with a knowing arch of his brow. "Perhaps wedding cake is more your taste?"
"Ahhhh," Lee sighed and leaned back, folding his hands on the table. "You don't miss a thing."
"Apparently I did, or I wouldn't be six months behind the times."
Lee drew his eyebrows down in thought and leaned toward T. Percival Aquinas, the best Fact Man in DC. "TP, how did you hear? It's important."
"Why is that, Scarecrow? You know me, I usually just pick up on the scuttlebutt."
"It's important because it's wrong."
Interest widened his friend's eyes. "Is that so?"
Lee pressed his lips together and nodded slowly, hating that once again a good friend would have to find out the truth because of a lie. "TP, Amanda and I got married two years ago in February."
"Well, that **is** a horse of a different color, isn't it. And I can certainly see why you would want to know the source of such erroneous information."
"Yes. Yes, I would. What can you tell me?"
TP took a gigantic bite of his sundae and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. "Well, I'm pretty sure my source isn't the one you're looking for. Pretty low on the tittle-tattle scale. But I'll see if I can do some backtracking for you and get back to the source. I suppose this is something you want to know right away?"
Lee nodded. "TP, I think this came from inside the Agency. And I think whoever it is had something to do with the death of Janice Bigelow, a junior agent who was murdered last week."
"I heard about that, too. Heard she was an acquaintance of yours, Scarecrow."
"Yah, well, I'm pretty sure that little tidbit came from the same person. And if they killed Janice Bigelow, I need to find out who it is. I don't like the focus he's putting on Amanda and I. Especially Amanda." Lee stared at his hands as he spoke and worked the knuckles of one into the fingers of the other.
"Seems there's more I need to hear," TP said with a leading tone.
Just thinking of the incident of the afternoon before made Lee's skin crawl and his blood heat up. "Jamie, our youngest boy, was kidnapped from his school. He was missing for a couple of hours, only to be dropped off at the Agency. His kidnapper, who I suspect was Anthony Mancini, told Jamie about what his mother and I do for a living."
"Getting too close to home," TP stated.
"Way too close. I need it to stop. Whoever it is creating false information and leaking it out to whomever will listen, needs to be stopped. They're putting my family in danger."
TP smiled and winked at Lee. "Family Man looks good on you, Lee."
Lee chuckled. "Thanks, TP."
"No thanks necessary," TP added as he delved into his ice cream again.
"Actually, TP, I've got another question for you. Have you heard anything about any hush-hush shipment leaving DC for the Middle East? Saudi Arabia or Iraq? You probably wouldn't hear about the actual product. They'd keep that too quiet. But we're looking to stop it."
TP rocked in his chair and adjusted his hat. "Well, now, if someone is taking something out of DC, I haven't heard about it. And if that's the case, they're very good and keeping a secret."
"Yah, well, they're keeping all the wrong secrets."
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday Afternoon - 12:30PM**
Amanda scanned the computer print out Francine had left on her desk while she was down in Fabrication. It was a print out of all forms of export leaving the District for the next two days. She had been reading over it for nearly two hours and her eyes were beginning to cross. The dull headache that had sat behind her eyes since the night before was now a pounding drumbeat that went straight down her neck and tied her shoulders into knots.
She realized one major cause of the problem was the stress of the last twenty-four hours, but another part was not eating since lunch the day before. Except for the tea she drank during the night. Not nearly enough to provide any sustenance. As if triggered by the thought, her stomach rumbled and clamored for her attention.
Amanda shook her head and tried to focus again on the printout. She had taken every ship and transport leaving the area, followed it to it's next destination, and then tried to follow all the possibilities there to find some combination that might somehow ultimately end up in Iraq. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Getting shipments from America to most countries in the Middle East was nearly impossible. If Mancini was doing it, he had to be using one of those transporter things she remembered from Start Trek when she was a kid.
There was a sharp rap on the office door window, and it immediately opened. Francine swept in with her usual overbearing presence.
"Is Lee back yet?" she asked shortly.
Amanda leaned back in her chair, thankful for the momentary reprieve even if it was Francine. "No, but I would imagine he'll be back any time now."
"Oh," the blonde woman said and rolled her blue eyes. "Well, I guess I can wait until he gets back."
"Is it something about the Prince?"
"Yah, but I'll just wait."
"You can tell me, Francine. I can get to work on whatever you found out until he gets back." Amanda knew Francine had a tendency to forget that she was now a full-fledged, full-time Agent and Lee's official partner.
Francine sighed, as if resigning herself to telling Amanda whatever she had discovered. Just as she was about to drop on Amanda's desk the papers cradled in the bend of her arm, the door opened again.
"Hey, pretty lady! I've got lunch!" Lee said as he swept in, stopping with his hand on the doorknob and the other holding up a takeout bag from the Blue Fox. "Oh, hi Francine."
Francine hummed before speaking. "Hi, yourself. The Blue Fox, huh? I seem to recall being condemned for my preference for that particular establishment."
Amanda stood and took the bag from him, deeply inhaling the delicious scent of Chicken Cordon Bleu. "Thank you, sweetheart. I'm starving."
"There's enough for three, Francine," Lee added.
"No, that's okay," she said with a sarcastic tone. "I just wanted to pass on what information I found."
Amanda paid attention, but was much more interested in the tantalizing aromas drifting from the white bag that now sat on the corner of her desk. Lee stepped beside her and his hand slipped to her back as he faced Francine.
"What did you find out?"
Francine set the papers on Amanda's desk and leaned her palms into the edge. "Not much. Prince Ali Ham Shambi Rahib has a muted connection to enemy factions, at best. He is the fourteenth son of a brother to Saddam Hussein's top General."
"Fourteenth son?" Amanda said with shock.
Francine made a sound somewhere between a snort and a chuckle. "Families of that size are not uncommon among Middle East royals, Amanda. It's not hard when you have five or six wives and a handful of mistresses. There are a total of twenty-three children in the Rahib family, to date. I myself once had a brief yet fiery affair with the second son of an Afghani prince," she said fondly.
Amanda did all she could to refrain from puffing a breath out her lips and rolling her eyes at Francine's latest romantic tale.
"Other than that, nothing much to tell. Ali Ham is not politically active. He doesn't move in political circles. He doesn't seem to have any reason to purchase weapons in mass quantity."
"Damn it," Lee cursed and picked up the papers Francine had deposited. "Another damn dead end."
"Where is he now?" Amanda asked. "Is he in Iraq?"
"My intelligence tells me he's currently at one of his many estates just outside of Venice."
"Yes, Amanda, that Venice. I don't think it's Venice, New York."
Amanda dropped in her chair and thumbed madly through her own stack of printouts. Alarms wnt off in her head, and if she could ignore the smell of lunch long enough, she might be able to put it together.
"What's the matter, Amanda?" Lee asked, leaning down to look over her shoulder.
She held up a hand and shushed him, only catching out of the corner of her eye the amusing glance Francine threw his way. Amanda snatched up a highlighting pen from her desk and began marking different referenced transport ships on several pages. On the final page, she jabbed her finger triumphantly against the paper.
"Aha!" she proclaimed.
"What, Amanda? What have you got?" her husband asked again.
"Dog biscuits?" Francine said in her typical 'what on earth is she talking about now' annoyance.
"I remembered seeing something about Venice, and I think I know how Mancini is planning on getting the weapons out of the country."
Lee bounced his hand in the air, silently asking her to proceed. Amanda picked the papers up and balanced them on her arm as she explained.
"Okay, there is a container ship loaded with dog biscuits leaving DC tonight with SA Brazil Transport."
"Lee, this is pointless," Francine tried to say.
"Now, wait a minute!" she said, holding up a finger and almost dropping the printouts. She pointed to one of the areas she highlighted. "The transport is going from here to Miami and from Miami to Fortaleza, Brazil - its home port - with a stop in Antigua and Barbuda."
"Amanda, we're talking Iraq not Brazil," Francine began.
"Hang on, Francine. Let her finish," Lee said. Amanda could hear in his voice he was getting annoyed at Francine's interruptions.
"Well, just about the time the SA Brazil Transport, a cargo ship from Libreville, Gabon will be making it's final drop and heading back to Africa." Before Francine could interrupt again, Amanda pushed forward. "Another transport in Gabon is then scheduled to leave the Gulf of Guinea and head around Cape Verde to Tangier, Morocco. An Italian transport, owned by a Venician import/export company is leaving Morocco three days after the Gabon ship reaches Tangier and returning to Venice. So, in theory, Prince Ali Ham Shambi Rahib could have his shipment leaving DC tonight in approximately three months."
When she finally took a breath and looked from her various shipping manifests to Lee and Francine, Lee had a wide and proud smile on his face. Their eyes met and he winked at her.
"Okay, I'm pretty sure I followed all that," Francine said with a tilted nod.
Lee pressed his hand to her back and rubbed up and down her spine. "I followed it, and it was brilliant. I don't think even the best computer correlation program would have come up with those connections."
Francine moaned. "You two belong together, you know that? Only you, Lee, can appreciate such longwinded ramblings and call them brilliant. How do you manage to live with that day in and day out?"
Lee smiled down at her, and Amanda felt pride in his pride for her.
"It's easier than you think."
Francine rolled her eyes again. "Okay, we know how it's getting there. But where is it leaving from?"
Amanda flipped back to her first page. "Dock 47B. Tonight."
Lee tapped the paper with his knuckles. "Then that's where I'm going to be. Mancini likes to see the really big shipments off himself."
"I'll go tell Billy," Francine said, heading for the door. "We'll put together a tactics team and be ready. You two enjoy your lunch."
As soon as Francine was gone, Amanda was surprised when Lee wrapped his arms around her and devoured her lips in a deep, powerful kiss. When she was able to collect her wits and fully give in to the kiss, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pushed her fingers into his hair. A low hum vibrated between their lips. She gasped for air when Lee finally broke away.
"What was that for?" she asked.
"For being the most incredible agent I have ever known. Your mind might take an indirect route sometimes, but you're still more likely to get there faster than anyone I know. And most importantly because I love you."
Lunch was forgotten as Amanda smiled and pulled her husband back down to her for another kiss. The door opened again and Francine stuck her head in.
"Lee, Billy wants - oh, good lord," she moaned.
Lee chuckled, and his laugh echoed against her body as he held her close and made no move to let go. "What does Billy want?"
"He wants you in his office. Now. And Dr. Smythe is with him."
Lee looked down at her, and Amanda made an unpleasant face. "Do we make a run for it?" she asked, only half joking.
"I wouldn't," Francine interjected. "Dr. Smythe ordered Mrs. Marsten to not let you leave. You know how she can be with a semi-automatic."
Amanda slowly lowered her arms, her fingers skimming Lee's lapel, while a feeling of dread sank into her stomach. Suddenly she wasn't the least bit hungry. This could be it. The end. Smythe could demand their badges and have them escourted from the building - or worse.
Holding her gaze, Lee laced his fingers with hers and brought her hand up to kiss her knuckles. He smiled, but she saw in it that he thought the same things she did.
"Lead the way, Francine. We're ready."
**Agency Sublevel Three
Friday Afternoon - 1:10PM**
Lee, Amanda and Francine stepped of the coat elevator and turned toward the entrance to the bullpen. Amanda worked her hands nervously in front of her, so Lee reached out and separated them, linking his fingers through hers. She squeezed his hand and looked up at him, nervousness pulling at the corner of her lips.
"It's going to be fine," he whispered as they walked. "Whatever happens, it's going to be fine."
"How can you say that, Lee? This could be your career. This is what you've always been."
He stopped short and pulled her back with him. Francine continued on, but stopped at the entrance of the bullpen with her arms crossed over her body and a perturbed look on her face. She tapped one high-heeled foot at a staccato beat. Lee turned Amanda so she faced him, and put his hands on her arms, rubbing her sweater with his palms.
"Amanda, being an Agent is what I was. It used to be that was the only definition I had of myself. But that's not true now. Not anymore. I'm an Agent, but I'm a husband, too. And a step-father. And a son-in-law. And so many other things. So, I mean it when I say it'll be fine, no matter what happens. Because I'll still have you."
Amanda smoothed his lapel and did her best to put on a confident smile. She slipped her hand beneath his jacket and laid her palm against his heart. The smile that seemed to fill her entire face and sparkle in her brown eyes warmed Lee's blood.
"I love you," she said in a slow, raspy whisper.
"Billy is waiting," Francine said impatiently.
With their hands joined, Lee and Amanda Stetson walked into the bullpen. The other agents and staff throughout the room made no effort at hiding their blatant stares and whispers as they passed.
**Dead Agents walking . . .**
Francine knocked on Billy's door and opened it. "They're here, Billy," she said and stepped aside so they could walk in.
As they passed her, Francine mumbled, "I hope it was worth it."
"Every minute," Lee replied and walked inside.
Billy sat behind his desk, his hands pressed together on top of his blotter. He looked up, but Lee couldn't read the clouded expression on his face. Dr. Austin Smythe sat across from Billy with his legs crossed and a thin cigar in his fingers. The thick smoke hung heavy in the air, and Lee heard Amanda stifle a cough.
"Scarecrow. Amanda. Have a seat," Billy said, motioning to the two empty chairs beside Dr. Smythe. An extra one had apparently been brought in from the bullpen. Lee waited for Amanda to sit, then took the seat between her and Dr. Smythe. He continued to hold her hand in the space between them.
"I'm sure the two of you know why we're here," Billy said, leaning forward on his desk.
"Yes, sir," Amanda squeaked and Lee felt a small tremor go through her hand.
"Billy, we know - but before the ax falls, can we talk about what we came up with this afternoon?" Lee asked.
"Too late for reestablishing priorities, Scarecrow," Dr. Smythe said in his singsong voice. "Tick tock tick tock. For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you."
Immediate annoyance, just like every time he spoke to Dr. Smythe, rushed through Lee's veins. "Can the nursery rhymes, Smythe. Let's just get to the point so we can move on, okay?"
"Tsk tsk, Scarecrow. Be careful of the hand that feeds you. Bite, and I might bite back."
Lee raised his hand in concession. "Fine. What happens now."
"Nothing," Billy stated.
Silence settled between the four until Lee could absorb what Billy said. "Nothing?"
"Sir?" Amanda said in question.
"Nothing. Nil. Zip. Zilch. Nada," rattled off Dr. Smythe.
"Okay, so let's just drop the other shoe and get it over with. What's going on here?"
Dr. Smythe stood and walked to the window, looking out onto the bullpen through the shades. He puffed on his cigar and blew smoke rings into the air, then snapped the blinds shut with a jerk. "We need no curious eyes to let the cat out of the bag, until we say so." His voice had a strangely cryptic tinge to it, even more so than usual.
Lee looked from Dr. Smythe to Billy and back to Smythe. He then stole a glance in Amanda's direction. She just shrugged and shook her head. She was as lost as he was.
"Let's just move to the main event, shall we, kiddies?"
"Yes, please," Amanda said in a voice barely above a whisper.
"I've been aware of your secret little love affair since your unfortunate incident in California, Mrs. King. Oh, I really must stop doing that. Do you prefer Mrs. Stetson? Or is it Mrs. Scarecrow?"
"You've known for over two years?" Lee exclaimed, knowing Dr. Smythe referred to their honeymoon when Amanda was caught in the middle of a shoot out and nearly died.
Dr. Smythe made a clicking sound in his cheek and touched the side of his nose. "You got it, bucko."
"Why didn't you say anything? Why didn't you -." Lee lost the ability to speak, his thoughts running wild. Why didn't Smythe split them up years ago? Why did they both still have jobs?
"I may not be a romantic, Scarecrow, but I'm not a fool. As William here has pointed out on numerous occasions, you are one of the best teams in the field. Why should I rock the boat when it's sailing so smoothly? I watched you for awhile, made sure your little change in status didn't effect your job performance, and after awhile I stopped watching. If anything, I think you're doing a better job for it."
Lee realized his jaw was open, and snapped it shut with a click of his teeth. Amanda's grip on his fingers grew tighter by the moment, and he figured the same sense of relief was probably hitting her that was making his own skin tingle.
"Does this mean, Dr. Smythe, that you won't, well," Amanda tried to ask, sputtering around her words.
"That I won't split you up? That I won't pull one or both of you out of the field? That I won't kick you out on your behinds?"
"Well, yes, sir."
"No, I'm not. But, you do understand your deception cannot go unpunished."
"I knew there had to be a downside," Lee muttered.
"Officially, as soon as the two of you walk out of this office you will be on Administrative Leave pending an investigation that will determine whether you keep your jobs or not," Billy explained.
"But Billy, we've got this Mancini case cracked open! We could land him tonight!" Lee protested.
Billy raised his hand and tilted his chin, silently telling Lee he wasn't done quite yet. "Unofficially, the two of you begin a six week paid leave to get your minds back on track and get away from the stress of the last few days. Paid, of course. Your leave will begin as soon as we have Mancini in the bag. Hopefully, that will be tonight."
"Thanks to the quick wit of your perceptive partner, by what I understand, Scarecrow."
Lee smiled and looked to Amanda, his partner. A deep blush stained her cheeks, and he wasn't sure what caused it more. The realization that they weren't losing their jobs, the thought of an extended vacation, or the compliment from a man who had been out to tan their hides on more than one occasion.
"Thank you, sir," she said in a low voice.
"So, we're going ahead with a stakeout at the dock tonight," Lee confirmed.
"Francine is already putting it together. The two of you will head it up, but incognito. Not even Francine knows. Only the agents and TAC team that meet you there will know. According to anyone here in the office, you're off the case. Permanently."
Lee nodded and leaned forward in his chair. "So, you believe there's someone in the Agency trying to sabotage the case."
"The case. You. I'm not sure what their ultimate goal is, but I intend to
find out. We figure if it's know you're going in there tonight, it'll get back
to Mancini before you get to the front door. This way, with alittle play acting
your parts, we'll throw them off the scent."
"Play acting?" Amanda asked.
"Burn out, act two," Lee said with a smile and sat back in his chair again.
"Oooh," his wife said with rounded lips.
They discussed the details further for that nights raid, and when all had been gone through, Billy stood with a nod. "Curtain time."
"Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch the golden ring, Jack fell down and broke her heart, learning what pain deception brings," Dr. Smythe said as he stuck his nearly gone cigar in the corner of his mouth.
Lee shook his head and stood. Someday he would figure out what plane of existence that man's mind worked on, but today he just tried to ignore it.
"Are you ready for this?" he said to his wife.
Amanda gave him a small smile and touched his arm. "I think so."
"Now remember, make it look good. We want everyone out there convinced you're both out of here, and not on pleasant terms. With the Agency, or with each other if you can manage it. If our double-crossing agent isn't in the bullpen, I want them to know about it within minutes. The sooner they know, the sooner they let Mancini know. And the sooner he lets his guard down alittle. If he thinks you're out of the way, Scarecrow, he won't be watching as closely tonight.
"Right," Lee agreed and offered Amanda his hand to help her from the chair. She came to her feet and they stood close together between the two chairs they had recently occupied.
Lee circled her waist with his arm and touched her cheek with his other hand. "This isn't going to be easy, or fun."
"I know," she said barely above a whisper.
"I'm sorry for the things I'm going to say. I don't mean any of it. I swear that to you."
"I know, Lee. I understand."
He cradled her cheek in his palm and leaned down to kiss the corner of her lips. "I love you, Mrs. Scarecrow," he whispered with laughter lacing his words.
Amanda chuckled softly. "I love you, too."
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
The tension in the bullpen was so thick, one could almost cut it with a knife. Everyone tried to at least appear as if they were working, but eyes remained on the closed door to Billy Melrose's office more than on any work. Voices were raised in the small office, but the thick glass prevented any of the words to be clear enough to understand.
Things were going even better than planned. A Tchaikovsky ballet couldn't have been better choreographed. The person who, in their own mind, felt solelyresponsible for the downfall of Scarecrow and Mrs. King stood near the coffee machine and waited for the show to really begin.
Melrose's door flew open, and Scarecrow stopped short of storming it to turn and point a finger back into the office.
"You can't do this to me!" he shouted. "I'm the best damn agent you've got, Billy! You're going to clip my wings over this? I've got Mancini by the short hairs and he's going to get away because you want to be the big boss and throw your weight around."
"You broke the rules, Scarecrow. It's time to pay the price."
Amanda appeared in the door, a stricken look on her face. Even from across the room, the damage done to her make-up from crying was apparent.
"Lee, sweetheart, please calm down," she begged.
"Calm down? I damn well will not calm down! Are you happy now, Amanda? Huh? You got what you wanted. I'm done."
"No, Lee, this isn't what I wanted," she tried to interpose.
"You haven't heard the last of this, Smythe. You haven't heard or seen the last of me."
Scarecrow stormed across the bullpen, his meek spoken wife quick on his heels.
"Lee," she called after him, finally catching his arm. "Lee!"
He yanked his arm from her grasp, and the look on her face couldn't be more shocked if he had slapped her.
"You," he sneered, pointing down at her. "You did this to me. You messed with my head, teased me, and talked me into this whole stupid mess."
Amanda planted her fists at her tiny waist. "Me? Me! Who proposed to whom? Wasn't me, buster. This was your idea. Don't blame me because you screwed up everything."
"I used to think the biggest mistake I ever made was giving you that damn package at the train station, but I've changed my mind. The biggest mistake I ever made was marrying you. You've cost me my career, darling." He said the endearment with a near-growl.
Stetson turned away, moving with such force Amanda wavered in his wake, and stormed out of the bullpen. She stood stock still, her hands hanging limp at her side, and tears streamed down her face. A small sob shook her slight frame.
Francine Desmond moved from her desk to touch Amanda's arm. The two women, who were often more rivals than friends, exchanged pained looks and Francine led Amanda from the room.
"I've never seen him so angry," Amanda forced through a strained whisper as she neared the coffee machine.
"What did Billy do?" Francine asked, and their watcher was surprised by the genuine concern in her voice.
"He's put both of us on Administrative Leave pending a full investigation. But Dr. Smythe told us there is a slim to none chance either of us will end up with a job, in any capacity, in the Agency. I can't believe I've caused this," she cried softly, leaning into Francine.
Francine patted her arm in an attempt at consolation. "It wasn't just you, Amanda. Lee had an equal part. What will you do now?"
Amanda shrugged and picked up a napkin from the coffee station. Their watcher took several steps back so as to appear not to intrude, but stayed close enough to hear.
"I don't know what Lee will do. I probably won't see him for days now, **if** he ever speaks to me again. I think I'm going to go away for a few days. Clear my head."
Francine nodded. "Sounds like a good idea, Amanda. You go. Get some fresh air. I'll talk to you later."
Amanda dabbed at her eyes. "Thank you, Francine. You're being very understanding, considering the circumstances."
The two women walked away again, and the Scarecrow Saboteur made a valiant effort at hiding the giant grin of satisfaction that threatened to appear.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
**Office of Anthony Mancini
Friday Afternoon - 2:56PM**
Anthony Mancini sat forward in his chair, and hung his phone up with a smile. He just confirmed with his bank that the seven-point-four million from Prince Rahib had in fact arrived in his front account the day before. Everything was a go, with only one small detail left open.
If anyone could bring this shipment down around his ears it was Scarecrow. But if his person inside the Agency did their job, coupled with Mancini's brief kidnapping of Jamie King the day before, Scarecrow would not be a problem for much longer.
The idea of throwing the Agency off his scent by giving them a more tasty fish to fry was brilliant, and he would admit it even if he hadn't come up with the original plan. Planting a note on a murdered agent to implicate Lee Stetson, then having a forged marriage license show up, was perfect. The higher ups at the Agency would be so enraged at Stetson's deception, no matter how much he denied it, Mancini knew who did the license and knew it would be difficult proving anything different, they would spend the next week decided what to do with their top agent and not focusing on a shipment of M16's leaving DC.
Scarecrow had been a thorn in his side for three years, since he first made his move into DC. He heard about Scarecrow. What gunrunner or drug smuggler worth their salt hadn't? Scarecrow played hardball and took no prisoners.
But without even intending to, Mancini found Scarecrow's Achilles' Heel; that pretty little brunette that stumbled on their jump three years before. She had blown it for him that day, but also gave him the out he needed. Mancini smiled at his own ingenuity. Playing the game so Scarecrow shot his own partner, and basically leaving the door open for them to just walk out. A sardonic grin spread his lips as he pondered what it was like for Scarecrow to see his partner, and as Mancini now new, his future lover, bleeding and in pain on the cold concrete warehouse floor. Did Scarecrow curse his name? Did he swear revenge? Mancini's source in the Agency made it quite clear that the two were far more than business partners, which made the set up all that much easier. Made the solution all that sweeter.
His phone rang and he snatched it up, a strange sense of euphoria filling him.
"Yah," he answered simply.
"It's me," and Mancini recognized the voice as his contact.
"Fill me in. What's going on down there?"
There was a laugh over the line. "Better than you can imagine. Are you ready for this?"
"I'm already in a good mood. Can it get any better?"
"Sure can. Seems that Scarecrow and Mrs. King - pardon me, Mrs. Stetson - really were secretly married. They have been for two years. Melrose and Smythe nearly took out the moon when they shot through the roof."
Mancini laughed hard, leaning back in his chair. "Damn, that's sweet!"
"All hell broke out here last night, after you dropped of the King boy. And by the looks on their faces when they came in this morning, their night didn't fare so well either. Smythe and Melrose called them into Melrose's office acouple hours ago. The yelling was incredible."
Mancini was feeding on every word, seeing the one obstacle he considered moving right out of his path.
"Stetson and King come out of the office, and Stetson is yelling at everyone. Then he turns on her! By the time he stormed out, she was reduced to tears." The glee in his contact's voice was contagious.
"So, what did they do to them?"
"They're both on Administrative Leave until Smythe decides what to do, but my understanding is that the chance of them keeping their jobs is slim to none. Stetson has taken off, no one knows where, and his wife," the caller snickered, "she told someone she was going away for awhile. I don't think you'll need to worry about either of them for quite awhile. And even if this were to somehow blow over, I doubt they'll be partners ever again."
Mancini slapped his hand down on the desk. "Hot Damn!"
"I take it you are pleased."
"Pleased? Damn straight! And I am so damn pleased I'm going to make sure you get a big fat bonus for this one."
With a flourish, Mancini hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. Life was good. Life was very good. He stood up and headed for his liquor cabinet to toast his success.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday Afternoon - 5:22PM**
Lee paced the length of his apartment, from bedroom to kitchen and back again, desperately trying something to calm his nerves and kill the time. He moved to his dining room and stared out the window, scanning the street below for Amanda's Wagoneer. There was no sign of it.
"Come on, Amanda," he mumbled to himself. "Come to me."
He hated how they parted at the Agency, but they decided in Billy's office it was the best way. If anyone paid attention, they would see him leave in a fury, and she would leave some time afterwards. Lee went to a local bar, downed two or three stiff drinks which he made sure the bartended watered down for him first. He and Matty had a code worked out so the man knew this was what Lee wanted.
After some time at the bar, Lee left and came straight home, making sure again that whomever might be watching saw a stagger in his step and tightness in his doubled fists.
But once inside his apartment, Lee began to worry, began to think about what went down in the bullpen, and the regret set in. He knew it had been an act. Amanda knew it had been an act, but one of the hardest things he ever had to do in his life was tell her marrying her was a mistake. The look in her eyes nearly killed him. It was everything he could do not to call the whole charade off and pull her in his arms.
Lee went back to the kitchen and pulled a can of soda from the refrigerator. He wasn't all that thirsty, but he needed something to occupy his hands.
The sound of a key in a lock brought Lee's attention around full focus. By the time the apartment door opened, Lee was out of the kitchen and headed for the entry. Amanda barely had the door closed behind her when he pulled her into his arms and held her so tight he was afraid she would break, but he couldn't let go. Her arms wrapped around him, and Lee wanted to hold her for the rest of his life.
"Amanda," he whispered against her hair and kissed her temple. "What took you so long to get here?"
"Francine," she answered simply, but Lee needed no further explanation.
Lee pulled back enough to look down at her, holding her face in his hands. He could still see the redness and puffiness of her eyes from crying. The glistening of unshed tears still made her eyes seem brighter than usual, and her cheeks were flushed pink.
"I've been watching out the window for you," he told her as she kissed his wrist.
"I took the car home and went out the back to catch a cab down the street. So no one would see my car here."
Lee smiled. "You're getting better at this every day."
Amanda's chin trembled and she took a deep breath, closing her eyes. "I'm trying."
Lee covered her lips, tasting the salt that still lingered there, and tried to confirm with the intimate touch that she was there and with him and the last twenty-four hours had just been a nightmare. The need to feel her, to know his wife, flooded his body like an ocean wave slamming into his chest. It pulled at him, leaving him unsteady but needful at the same time.
Amanda's fingers shifted to his side, and he felt her fingers curl into his shirt. Her breath warmed his cheek as he deepened the kiss and tasted his wife. She hummed against his lips, and the shockwaves pummeled his body.
"What time are we meeting Billy at the docks?" she whispered against his mouth, not breaking the contact.
"Nine thirty," he answered, pulling her closer.
"Good. We have time."
Needing no further encouragement, Lee bent his knees and swept Amanda into his arms. She pressed her face against his neck and clung to his collar as he maneuvered around the living room furniture and carried her to the bedroom. He didn't even bother kick the bedroom door closed as he lowered her to the bed.
Friday night - 9:30PM**
Lee and Amanda sat in the 'Vette just down the street from the parking area for Dock 47B, away from any streetlights, with the interior of the car in darkness. He held his hand across the center console, his thumb rubbing small circles across her knuckles.
"Do you see any sign of them?" Amanda whispered.
Lee smiled. Only his wife would feel the need to whisper in a dark car in an even darker parking lot. The thought made him chuckle. After two years, the thought of Amanda as his wife still made his skin warm and his heart skip. What would it be like when they could actually live as husband and wife?
"No, but I'm sure he'll be here any minute. He wanted to be with us when we meet up with Francine. She might not believe we're heading up this raid otherwise."
"Not after our performance this afternoon," Amanda said, and he could hear the ironic sarcasm in her voice.
Lee lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "I meant to tell you this before, when you first got to the apartment." Lee sensed more than saw her turn toward him, and her smirk was almost tangible, "Okay, so I got sidetracked."
"Sidetracked?" she said in a high-pitched spurt.
Lee laughed. "Okay, sidetracked is a far from adequate word. But I did mean to tell you - I really hated what I had to say."
"Sweetheart, I know."
"I know you know, I just need to say it."
Amanda leaned across the small space between them and laid her head on his shoulder. Lee turned just enough to kiss her forehead. Her hair smelled like tangerines and was still slightly damp from the shower they took before preparing to meet Billy.
"I know, Lee. And I think I needed to hear you say it."
Comfortable silence settled again between them as Lee continued to scan the street and parking lot. Amanda sighed heavily.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Oh, just wondering what we should do with our extended vacation."
"You know, I hadn't even thought about it. There has been so much going on it slipped my mind. What do you want to do?"
Amanda sat up again and twisted in the bucket seat so her back was against the door. She pulled one leg up and wrapped her arms around it to pull her knee to her chest. The light of the moon was just bright enough to highlight the features of her face. God, she was beautiful.
"Well, we still have a lot of bridges to rebuild."
Lee nodded deeply, resting his wrist on the top of his steering wheel and flexing his fingers. "Yes, we do."
"We could take a trip as a family."
"That sounds fun," Lee said, images of spending time with Phillip and Jamie flashing through his mind.
"Where is the Colonel posted now?"
"Colorado. Do you want to go see my Uncle?" he asked in surprise.
Amanda shrugged. "I'm just thinking out loud. You know we have to tell him, too."
Lee scrunched the corners of his eyes and shook his head once. "I know, but I'm not worried about it. The Colonel won't see it the way everyone else did. In fact, believe it or not, he might be the most understanding."
"There is something else we should consider," Amanda said, the slow tone of her voice implying it was going to be a doozie.
Lee took his eyes off the parking lot again to look to her. "Oh, boy. This should be good."
Amanda leaned forward and touched his arm, her finger curling around to brush his side. "Lee, we should talk about you moving into the house. I mean, that is, if that's what you want."
A smile spread across his face and he covered her hand with his own. "Amanda, there is nothing I want more. It's what I've always wanted. And you're right, we should talk about it."
"But we should talk about it with Mother and the boys," she finished.
Lee nodded. "Exactly."
A loud rapping on Lee's window ended the discussion. He twisted to see Billy standing outside the car, dressed head to toe in black, just like he and Amanda. They exited the car and Amanda came around to the driver's side to speak with their superior, her hands pushed into the front pockets of her jeans.
"Is everything ready?" Lee asked.
Billy nodded, but he could barely be seen in the darkness. "Francine will be here shortly. Then we'll let her know you're in on this."
"Is she going to be upset, sir?" Amanda asked. "I mean, we kind of tricked her earlier today."
Billy smiled, his teeth flashing white. "I can pretty much guarantee it."
Their relationship with Francine Desmond was definitely of the love-hate variety. She was the type of woman you loved to hate, but in a pinch, she was the one you wanted by your side. Francine was a good agent, and although she would probably not even admit it under the worst interrogation situation, she was a good friend. Amanda had told him how Francine sat with her for an hour after he left, until she was 'calmed down'. Not really offering words of advice or comfort, just kind of being there.
The three agents walked across the parking lot to a side alley that led indirectly to the dock they wanted. Francine had established a small command center in an empty wing of a warehouse, and her orders of preparation could be heard as they came through the side door. She was busy handing out five-by-seven glossies of Anthony Mancini to all the armed and outfitted TAC team members.
"We're going to set up a perimeter around the ship we suspect to be the means of transport for the weapons. Now, for the first hour or so, we are strictly observing. Those of you while cameras, take photos liberally. We want as much evidence as possible when all is said and done."
Billy led the way through the open space, walking several paces in front of Lee and Amanda. Amanda crossed her arms over her body and Lee saw her glance around the dark, cavernous warehouse. He pressed his hand against her spine and rubbed his palm along her sweatshirt until it rested on her shoulder.
"Hey. You okay?" he asked.
"Oh, sure!" she said just a tad too adamantly.
"A-man-da," he said, squeezing her shoulder.
She looked up at him with a shrug and slanted grin. "You know me pretty well. I'm just not much of a fan of warehouses."
"Yah," Lee said, shifting his hand enough to touch her cheek with his thumb. "I'm not much of a fan myself."
Amanda smiled and moved to walk closer to him, her arm brushing his side. They neared their group of peers, but still stood behind Francine and Billy. Francine was still unaware of their presence.
"We will keep in contact with earphones and small mouth transmitters. Do not move in until you hear from -."
"Scarecrow," Billy interrupted.
Francine spun around to question Billy, and her eyes widened when she saw Lee and Amanda standing nearby. Lee had to give her credit. She regained her composure immediately, squaring her shoulder and straightening her spine as she looked from Billy to them.
"Scarecrow," she said, as if finishing her previous sentence, but her voice had an obvious tension laced through it. She turned on her heels to face the other agents. "He will make the call to move in. Anything you want to add, Scarecrow?"
Lee reluctantly dropped his hand from Amanda's shoulder and stepped forward. "I don't need to tell you this is big. The Agency has been after Mancini for years, and we want him brought down. There is no room for mistakes tonight."
They went over the stakeout pattern once again, so there was no question where each shooter and agent was to be. The radio equipment was checked and checked again. Finally, at quarter past ten they all began to move out, heading silently to their posts.
Lee found his wife standing near the set up of radio equipment, her arms crossed over her body and her fingertips drumming her upper arms. He pressed his hand against her back when he reached her.
"Hey, pretty lady," he whispered and was immediately rewarded with her warm smile.
"You look like you were pretty deep in thought about something. Want to tell me?" Lee asked, taking the last few minutes before he had to leave as an opportunity to wrap his arms around his wife and rest his chin on the top of her head. She leaned back into him and laid her hands on his arms.
"I was thinking that my assignment for this evening didn't seem to be covered in the agenda. Are you planning on telling me to stay in the car? Because I'll tell you right now, I'm not."
Lee had to laugh at her adamant tone. "No, I'm not going to ask you to wait in the car. I'm going to ask you to play a role you've played before."
She twisted enough to look up at him. "Oh?"
"I need you to be my eyes. See the places I can't see when I'm down there on the dock."
Amanda settled back into his embrace, and he knew she understood what he meant. It was, indeed, a role she had played before. When they were on the run during the Stemwinder case, she had been his lookout and his backup when they met Rostov at an empty football stadium in an attempt to clear their names. And when he was poisoned, just a week before their wedding, it was her voice that led him through the Russian Embassy and brought him back out again. During many cases since then, Amanda had been his guide and his guardian angel, whispering the way in his ear.
"You know it drives me crazy not to be there with you," she said in a husky voice.
"I know, Amanda, but this is going to be dangerous. More dangerous than usual. I need to know you're going to be safe. And I need you to get me in and out alive."
Amanda turned in the circle of his embrace and wrapped her arms around him. She pressed her cheek against his chest, and Lee stroked her hair.
"I will. I promise."
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Friday night - 10:56PM**
Amanda stood against the giant window that looked down on the freighter ship in docking slip 47B from three stories up. She held the high power, night vision binoculars to her eyes and scanned the deck of the ship below. Several workers moved about busily, carrying crates and boxes of various sizes into the cargo hold. Two forklifts moved in and out of the belly of the ship, moving pallets of cargo.
With a slight shift of stance, Amanda scanned the dock area surrounding the ship. With a trained eye, and the knowledge of where to look, she spotted all of the approaching agents except for those beyond her realm of view. Everything appeared in strange green and black shades through the night vision lenses.
"Amanda?" she heard Lee's voice whisper in her ear.
She adjusted the mouthpiece to rest at the corner of her lips and looked down to the dock again, scanning where she knew her husband crouched in waiting.
"I'm here. You're coming in good and strong."
"Good," he answered and his voice was nearly drowned out by a rustling, crackling sound. Amanda watched him shifting in his position.
"I'm getting a lot of background noise from your clothes, Lee."
"Well, there's nothing we can do about that at this point. Is everyone in place?"
On cue, the leader of each team reported in.
"Alpha Red Leader - in position."
"Alpha Blue Leader - in position."
"Alpha Green Leader - in position and ready to roll."
"Alpha Orange Leader - all set here."
"Alpha Yellow in position, Scarecrow," Francine's voice said as the final leader to check in.
"How is it looking, Amanda? Do you see anything we need to know?" Lee asked.
Amanda shifted her view back to the ship, not wanting to take her eyes off Lee but knowing she had to. "Nothing unusual. There are between a half dozen and maybe ten workers total, moving cargo crates onto the ship; some through the hull door and some down through the deck hatch."
"Any sign of Mancini?"
"No." Amanda leaned forward, as if the fraction of an inch would make the ship easier to view. Her binoculars bumped the glass.
"Keep your eyes open. It does little to no good to move in if we aren't going to get Mancini."
"Got it," she confirmed and continued to scan the setting below her.
As she watched, a dark car - probably a Monte Carlo - pulled up from the opposite direction and stopped near the ramp. The driver jumped out and walked around the front of the vehicle.
"Amanda," Lee's voice came in her ear.
"I'm checking it out," Amanda came back quickly, not needing him to ask the question to know that he saw the car, too.
The driver opened the back passenger door, and a man stepped out. His back was to Amanda, so she couldn't yet identify him. The dockmaster came down off the ship and approached the mystery man. They talked and shook hands, and as they walked toward the ship, the new man turned.
"Lee, it's Mancini!" Amanda burst out, a flood like a cold Atlantic wave hit her at the site of him. Memories flashed in her mind of his strong hand smothering her mouth and his wicked voice slithering in her ear like the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
"Hold on everyone!" Lee instructed. "Let's see if we get something powerful to work with. Keep your eyes on him, Amanda."
Amanda nodded, even though there was no one there to see her. She watched as Mancini walked to a crate that sat waiting to be loaded. The dockmaster produced a crowbar and pried open the wooden box, pushing shredded packing material out of the way.
Mancini reached inside and extricated a large weapon from the stuffing. From this distance, Amanda could not positively identify the weapon, but she thought it might be an M16. Her weapons identification wasn't great, but she didn't need to know exactly what it was - knowing it was a weapon as enough.
"Lee, he just opened a crate and pulled out a very large, very nasty looking gun. He looks like he's inspecting it."
"That's all we needed to hear. All teams, move in on my mark." Brief pause. "Now!"
The ensuing flood of noise in her ear was almost enough to make Amanda pull
the earpiece out - but she just winced and listened, watching through her
binoculars. Agents rushed in from all directions, weapons aimed and ready,
taking down everyone in site.
"Don't move, Mancini!" Lee yelled, and Amanda watched with rapped attention as he made a direct line for Anthony Mancini.
Her heart pounded irratically, and Amanda fought to keep her breath steady and calm as she watched her husband bear down on the man that had been the thorn in his side for three years. She wanted to whisper to him to be careful, to mumblea prayer for his safety, but pressed her lips together tightly and did the only thing she could do. Watch helplessly. Anything she said would not only go to his ears, but to every agent down there risking their lives.
Lee moved toward Mancini, his weapon drawn and aimed. "Everyone step away!" he instructed of the dockworkers and Mancini associates, motioning with the wave of his gun for everyone anywhere near Mancini to move back. Everyone complied. Amanda held her breath as Lee walked right up to Mancini.
She heard Mancini's sadistic laugh echo back to her. He and Lee stood close enough his voice was picked up by Lee's transmitter. It was strange, connecting the actions of the men so far away with the sounds and voices in her ear. But just the hint of the man's cold cackle made Amanda flinch.
"I can see I grossly underestimated you, Scarecrow."
"Big mistake, Mancini. This is it for you."
Mancini stood with his hands held at shoulder level, away from his body, and glanced around. "So it would seem. I don't see your pretty little partner anywhere, Scarecrow. She always made our little tete-a-tete's more interesting. Don't you think?"
"Watch it, Mancini. All I need is a good excuse."
Billy and Francine joined Lee, each pushing a handcuffed detainee along with them. Throughout the entire dock area, agents were rounding up anyone and everyone who might be remotely connected to the outgoing shipment. Amanda knew some were completely innocent and ignorant to what was really going on. They would be weeded out and send on their way. Those with any information, but not necessarily part of it, would be pumped for whatever they could offer so it could be turned around on Mancini. Those involved would hopefully never breathe free air again.
"I heard I caused you a bit of trouble, Scarecrow. Hope your stepson isn't too traumatized by our time again. He's a feisty boy. Tried to get away more than once. I told my men not to hurt him, but I'm afraid they got carried away."
Having to listen to this monster talk about her son like that, and remembering the anger and fear in Jamie's eyes, made Amanda as angry as she was heartbroken. She gasped and jumped as Lee lunged forward, slamming Mancini back into a stack of crates, bending the man back over them. Lee's forearm pressed against Mancini's throat, and she could hear the labored breath of both men rasping over the earpiece.
"You worthless son of a!" The end of Lee's statement was lost in the physical struggle as Mancini pushed back against him.
Amanda pressed her palm against the cold glass, holding the binoculars with one hand. Billy grabbed Lee's shoulders and yanked him back while two other armed agents subdued Mancini.
"Oh, Lee," Amanda whispered, not thinking about or caring if the other agents on the circuit heard her.
A motion caught her eye and Amanda shifted her vision to a stack of crates thirty-five feet down the dock from where Lee stood. Her breath caught and her heart jumped when she saw a man lean over the top crate and level an automatic rifle at Lee.
"Lee," she said urgently. "Down the dock. Someone with a gun."
All the agents shifted into action, hunkering down and turning in the direction Amanda indicated. Shots rang out, the bright flashes of their rifles glowing white through the night vision goggles. Amanda yanked the binoculars away from her eyes, the burst of light momentarily blinding her.
The thunder of shots echoed through the night. Amanda cupped her hands around her eyes and pressed her face against the glass. All she could see was dozen of red bursts from all directions indicating the gunplay below.
"Don't let Mancini loose!" Lee shouted and Amanda was thankful she had that connection to him, even if she couldn't see him.
"Get him down! Get him down!" someone ordered.
"Get the gun!"
Amanda heard another shot, this one echoing through her earpiece. Which meant it was close to someone. She only prayed it wasn't Lee.
"Murphy! Murphy!" There was a scuffle. "Murphy's down!"
"Damn it!" Lee cursed. "Mancini!"
Amanda didn't have to see what was going to know. Somehow Mancini had broken away during the gunfire melee. As long as the shots were going off, she couldn't use the binoculars, and she slammed the flat of her fist against the glass in frustration.
"Amanda, Mancini is on the run!" Lee's voice came to her. "Can you see him? Which way did he go?"
"I can't see! The gunfire is blinding with the night vision," she answered in frustration.
The echo of struggles and voices dimmed, to be replaced by the steady pounding of Lee's footsteps as he ran along the dock in search of Mancini.
"I'm down near the end of the pier. Can you look in this direction without the gunfire blinding you?"
Amanda lifted the binoculars to her eyes again and scanned the dock below. She caught sight of Lee, crouched behind a pylon with his handgun at the ready. His hazel eyes shimmered an eerie light green through the special lenses as he glanced up at her position.
"I see you, but I don't see him. I'm still looking."
The background noise of the other agents finishing up the bust became distracting, and Amanda mumbled her sentiments under her breath. She continued to scan. Lee ordered all other agents on the frequency to break off, and when they did, the silence that settled gave Amanda the calm she needed to continue her search. The only sound she could hear was Lee's heavy breathing as he waited for her response.
"I'm moving further down the dock," he told her.
"Okay. I don't see him."
Lee cursed again, a tad more colorfully than before, and moved from his hiding place to edge down the pier.
"Be careful," she pleaded in barely a whisper.
"His careful won't be careful enough," said a voice behind her that Amanda remembered all to well.
She spun around to face Anthony Mancini. He stood so close her hand hit his arm as she twisted. A gasp caught in her throat. Amanda thought of calling out to Lee, but immediately saw the futility of it when Mancini held up the disconnected cord of her headset. Nothing she said would carry beyond the walls around her. One step back brought Amanda's spine against the glass behind her.
"What's that cigarette ad say? You've come a long way, baby. At our first encounter, Mrs. King, hardly anyone who was anyone knew who you were. You were just the wide-eyed and faithful assistant to the great Scarecrow. Now, I might dare say you've found your niche. Your groove, as they say. Why, you're almost part of the team."
Amanda remained silent, watching him intently and trying to formulate a means of both escape and capture.
"Oh, I'm sorry. It's Mrs. Stetson now, isn't it? I hope I didn't offend you."
"Not at all," she said, finding her voice.
"Good. I would hate to be accused of offending a lady." His hand came up and Mancini touched her cheek, rubbing the back of his knuckle along her jaw line.
Amanda turned away, pushing down the wave of panic. Once upon a time she would have been to afraid to think or act, but not anymore. That was the one thing she had as an advantage. Mancini had no idea what or who he was really dealing with. Was she afraid? Yes. She knew what he was capable of. Would she let it paralyze her? Not in this lifetime.
"Please," she whispered, letting a quiver take over her throat. "Please don't."
He didn't move away, but took a step closer until Amanda was sandwiched between him and the glass behind her. His finger left her cheek to move down her throat and along her shoulder, pushing the collar of her sweatshirt open. She didn't have to look down to know he found the now barely visible scar near her collarbone. He brought his other hand up to rub the blemish with the muzzle of his pistol.
"Is this the mark left by your lover's bullet? Was he your lover then? I know he wasn't your secret husband then."
Mancini leaned into her, his nose brushing her face and his breath shifting her hair. Amanda wanted to double her fist and swing, but he was too close for a hit to be effective, so she bought her time.
"I watched the two of you. After he thought we were gone. I watched him kneel over your body and beg for you **not to leave him**." The tone of his voice was mocking, but it only succeeded in making her more angry. "I watched him rip open your shirt and try to staunch the flow of blood with his own hands. It was so touching. Almost made me misty."
Amanda waited until she felt the subtle shift in his stance that told her he was letting some of his guard down. He thought he had her too intimidated to fight back. Chump. Recalling the many lessons she had taken with Leatherneck and Dr. Pain, Amanda pushed her foot between his ankles, took his arm in a maneuverable hold, and threw her weight into her hip. With a grunt, Mancini fell and landed on the hard concrete, pulling Amanda down with him.
Amanda used the momentum of the fall to her advantage and kept them rolling. Her shoulder slammed painfully into the hard floor, and as they rolled the leg of the table containing their sound equipment dug into her back. Mancini had a good hundred pounds on Amanda and she quickly lost any footing she had gained as he tossed her like a ragdoll into the table leg again. The sound equipment rained down on them. A loud groan escaped Mancini as the recording apparatus landed on his thigh.
She tried to use the opportunity to break away, and nearly made it to her feet when he grabbed her arms and yanked her back, his fingers digging painfully into her skin. Amanda got a hold on another piece of radio equipment and threw it back over her shoulder, hitting him on the side of the head.
"Ow!" he howled. "You little bitch!"
Amanda twisted and came up on her hands and feet, lunging forward to free herself from the range of any more electrical equipment that could come her way. She spotted Mancini's gun lying on the ground eight feet away and lunged for it.
Mancini lunged at the same time. Their hands closed around the handle of the weapon at the same time. Amanda's fingers curled into the trigger ring and Mancini's hand covered hers, digging the sharper points of the weapon into the palm of her hand.
"Oh, no you don't!" he cursed and shoved Amanda with his shoulder, trying to gain the upper hand in the battle over the weapon.
Amanda didn't think about what she needed to do, she just did it. They struggled again, the power shifting from one to the other, until Mancini twisted her around and pinned her to the ground with the weight of his body and the gun pointed away from them, somewhere over Amanda's head.
Mancini smirked down at her, blood dripping from the gash across his forehead to mingle with the sweat that glistened on his skin.
"Feisty one, aren't ya?" he hissed out.
Amanda tried to shift, but he slammed her shoulders back into the concrete, her head bouncing with a dull thud. Black spots flashed in front of her eyes, but she refused to pass out. With a twist and lunge, Amanda closed both hands around the pistol but her arms were pinned over her head. A scream of frustration squeezed through her clenched teeth as she fought with every ounce of strength she had.
Lee took the stairs two at a time, rushing to the third floor level he knew Amanda had been stationed. A rush of panic, like a dozen wild birds beating against the inside of his chest in a feeble attempt to escape, pummeled him the moment the radio line went dead. Something told him he needed to get to Amanda. And now.
He hit the landing and reached for the sliding steel door that blocked his entrance, but before his fingers could close around the handle, a single shot rang out and echoed through the cavernous space beyond.
Lee yanked open the door with a pure adrenaline rush that left it crashing and clanging into its recessed pocket. He spun on the balls of his feet into the room, weapon drawn and ready. His pulse pounded at a furious pace in his temple as he scanned the room.
At first he saw nothing - no one. The table of recording equipment lay in
sparking and broken heaps on the floor. Then he heard movement and scanned the
floor. Protruding from behind the table were two sets of feet, mingled
together, one of which he recognized as Amanda's. Heat rose up into his face when he realized the position they were in and he lunged forward.
"Mancini!" he shouted to get the man's attention.
He entered the room, his gun trained on the two people. The sight of Anthony Mancini on top of his wife churned his stomach and made him see red with the blood pounding in his temples. Lee came around the stack of equipment.
"Lee," Amanda's strained voice called to him as he got his first full look at them.
Amanda's hands sandwiched between their bodies and she tried to push Mancini's mass off her. Lee shoved his gun into his waistband and lunged forward, pulling the criminal off. Mancini rolled away with a groan, blood staining his shirt below his right shoulder. Amanda scurried away, grabbing Lee's arm as she came near him.
"I don't think he's dead," she whispered.
They linked fingers and Amanda held his hand with both hers. He hunkered down and pressed his fingertips against the side of Mancini's throat. Mancini groaned again and his head rolled to the side as his eyelids fluttered.
"No, he's not dead." Lee quickly forgot about Mancini and turned to his wife, releasing her hands to hold her face in his palms.
Her skin was pale and blood smeared her cheek as she took quick, short breaths. Amanda's hands trembled as she curled her fingers into his sweatshirt.
"Are you okay, Amanda? Did that bastard hurt you?"
Amanda nodded her head vigorously. "I'm fine. I'm okay."
Lee pulled her against him and hugged her fiercely, rubbing his cheek against her hair. "I heard the radio connection go dead and I just knew I had to get to you."
"I'm fine," she said again, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Remembering the task at hand, Lee pulled back and gently removed the headset that hooked around her ear. She reached up and helped him free the cable from where it tangled in her now-mussed hair. Lee stood and walked to the mangled mess that had been their expensive radio transmitter. With a flip or two of the switches, some knob turning, and one good whack, the equipment hummed back to life and Lee plugged the headset it.
As soon as he slipped the headset over his ear, he heard Billy's loud and annoyed voice booming over the earpiece.
"Scarecrow! Amanda! Respond!"
"I'm here, Billy. I need a medic unit in the warehouse. Stat."
"Amanda?" Billy asked.
"I want her checked over. She's got some cuts and bruises, but I don't think anything serious. It's Mancini. Bullet in the shoulder."
"On our way. We're just about done cleaning up down here."
Lee took the headphone off again and returned to Amanda's side. She was trying to stand, using the table near her as an anchor, and Lee immediately took over. He wrapped his arms around her waist as she straightened, and she moaned softly as she straightened her back.
"Where does it hurt?" he asked, concern making his voice tight.
A small sardonic chuckle escaped Amanda's lips as she reached back to touch the back of her head. Lee immediately followed with his own fingers and felt a large lump forming.
"Where doesn't it hurt might be an easier question to answer."
Mingled with the intense concern he felt for his wife's well being and the rush of adrenaline that flooded his veins, was a swelling sense of pride for the way his partner held her own. She obviously gave Mancini a run for his money.
Billy arrived just a few short minutes later, followed by four medical personnel. Three headed directly to Mancini and went to work preparing him for transportation. The fourth motioned Amanda to sit down in a chair he pulled, and Lee helped her ease down. While the paramedic checked his wife out, Billy pulled Lee to the side to get the rundown on what happened once radio contact was broken.
Lee told Billy what he knew, which was precious little. After running over the details of the bust, the paramedic who worked on Amanda came over to them.
"Is she okay?" Lee asked.
"Nothing that four or five days in bed and some TLC won't cure. She's bruised on her back and arms. The back appears to be a contusion from blunt impact, and her arms are physical. Meaning she was grabbed roughly. She's got a nasty knot on the back of her head, but I've ruled out a concussion. Other than that, some scrapes and cuts which I've dressed. Like I said, I recommend acouple days of rest and relaxation and she'll feel much better."
Lee nodded. "Thanks, Dave."
"What do you know about Mancini?" Billy asked.
"Shoulder wound, but nothing life threatening. Jake Paterson worked on him and said he thought he might have a fractured thigh. Mrs. King really gave him hell by the looks of it."
Lee smiled, pride once again swelling his heart in his chest. For the moment, the worries of Mancini and the future were gone. He looked past Dave to where Amana sat. She looked up and their eyes met. His wife smiled at him, her head tilted to the side and one shoulder lifted in a small shrug. A gesture that was so his wife. So Amanda.
"That's **Mrs. Stetson**, Dave."
Saturday Morning - 7:12AM**
Amanda curled her body into the leather cushions of the sofa in their office, exhaustion leaving her limbs heavy and aching. She shifted on the cushion, the cowhide squeaking with the movement, and groaned softly with the discomfort that shot up her spine. It had been a very long time since Amanda's body hurt this much.
She blinked against the light shining through the twin windows, sleep leaving her with each new ache and pain. Moving slowly and stiffly, Amanda swung her legs of the couch and sat up. A quick glance around the office told her she was alone.
Last she remembered, Lee had helped her into the Q Bureau and had her lie down while he finished his debriefing with Billy. She had already completed hers at that point, and as Lee and Billy spoke, she had fought to keep her eyes open. But that had to be hours ago. A glance at her wristwatch confirmed it. She had been asleep over three hours.
Amanda ran a hand over her face to try and clear the fuzziness in her brain, feeling the bandage over her eye. She felt muzzy, probably from the painkillers given to her after returning to the Agency. But one thought pushed its way through.
"I've got to call Mother," she mumbled and tried to push herself up off the couch.
The door opened and Lee poked his head inside, obviously checking to see if she was still asleep. When he saw her trying to stand, he pushed the door open and crossed the room in three long strides.
"Hey," he said in a soft voice, easing her back onto cushions with his hands on her shoulders. "Where do you think you're going?" Lee sat down beside her, his hand still on her back.
"I need to call Mother. She must be worried." Even to herself, Amanda didn't sound right. She heard the slight slur in her words. A flashback of candlelight, a baseball and Lee saying something about 'a hill of chicken salad' hit her, but she blinked her eyes and shook it off. What a weird dream.
"I'll call Dotty. You just stay put."
Amanda smiled and arched her brows. "You still try that line on me, huh?"
Lee laughed. "This time I mean it." He pushed off his knees with the palms of his hand and crossed the office to his desk. "We can leave as soon as you're up to moving."
Amanda leaned back into the couch, folding her hands between her knees. "That might not be for awhile."
Lee's glance was sympathetic as he picked up the phone and dialed her home number. It couldn't have rung more than twice before her mother answered.
"Um, hi Dotty. It's Lee." He paused and glanced at Amanda, a silent chuckle pulling up one corner of his lips. A deep dimple formed in his cheek. "No, I'm not calling because something is wrong. Amanda is fine. She just didn't want you to worry."
Amanda watched Lee's eyes close and he pinched the bridge of his nose as he listened to Dotty West on the other end of the line. She must have been going on and on, because he wasn't even trying to get a word in. A smile tugged at her lips, knowing full well how her mother could go on.
"Yes, Dotty, I - well, no. To be honest, last night wasn't very typical - - - Yes, yes. I agree, but - Okay. Okay, Dotty. We'll be there soon." With an exasperated expression, Lee hung up the phone and shook his head slowly.
"Sounds like she had a lot to say," Amanda commented.
"Yah, you could say that," he said with a sigh. Lee took a deep breath and came back to sit beside her, gingerly and gently touching the bandage on her brow. "She wants us to sit down and talk when we get there."
Amanda rounded her lips and let out a slow "Oooh."
"But, she didn't sound angry. Just," he seemed to hunt for the right word, tapping the tips of his fingers together as he looked down at them. "Concerned."
Amanda reached out to slip her hand between his two. "Are you ready for this?"
Lee looked at her, and the genuine love that shined from his beautiful hazel eyes made her body light and seemed to ease some of the discomfort. He smiled wide, flashing white teeth and forming those adorably sweet dimples in his cheeks, and squeezed her fingers.
"With you, I'm ready for anything, Amanda."
They both moved at the same time, and their lips met in a tender kiss. As they separated, Amanda shook her head so the tips of their noses brushed each other. Lee chuckled, but almost immediately his expression sombered.
"How are you feeling? You took a lot tonight. More than I ever imagined you'd have to."
Amanda smiled and tried to put on her best face. "Oh, I'll be all right," she said with a nonchalant toss of her hand. The movement pulled at the tense muscles in her shoulder and back and she did her best to hide the wince.
"No, you're not all right. I want to get you out of here and home to bed. You need a hot bath and several hours of solid sleep."
Amanda closed her eyes and hummed softly. "That sounds glorious."
His fingers brushed the hair at her temple and Amanda leaned into the touch.
"I'm sorry about tonight, Amanda. I should have gotten to you faster."
Amanda opened her eyes and looked at her husband and partner. "Oh, Lee. No one expected things to happen the way they did. But I'm fine, and you're fine, and we have Mancini. **And** we stopped the shipment of guns to Iraq. Everything ended just fine. Oh! Did they begin interrogating anyone yet?"
Lee smiled and shook his head, and Amanda knew she was successful in diverting the conversation.
"We've been questioning several of them, including Mancini, for the last couple of hours."
Lee shook his head. "Not yet. Mancini is being a hard-nosed SOB, and his men are as faithful as I've ever seen. No one is talking."
"So, no one gave us any leads as to who the Mole is?"
Lee shook his head and stood. "Nope. But I'm not going to worry about it any more today. Today you are my number one concern, pretty lady. Let's get out of here, go talk to your mother, then you can get some rest."
He offered Amanda his hand, and she took it as he helped her stand. Muscle spasms gripped her back, and a sharp hiss escaped her lips as she pressed her palm against the small of her back. Lee closed the space between them and pressed his lips to her forehead. She saw the flash of regret in his eyes before the kiss. His arm slipped behind her shoulders and they walked out of the Q Bureau and down the stairs to the Georgetown Foyer.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Saturday Morning - 7:53AM**
Scarecrow and his partner walked through the lower level of the parking garage, their soft-soled shoes making only muffled sounds against the concrete floor. His arm was around her shoulders, and hers behind his back. She looked like she had been through a session with Dr. Pain. There was a hesitant limp to her walk and a dark bruise formed on her forehead.
**What am I going to do now? They tricked me. How could they have done this? I'm dead. If Mancini doesn't hand me to them on a silver platter, he'll send someone after me and I'm dead. Prison doesn't stop a man like Mancini.**
Thoughts ran through their watchers head at a fevered, chaotic rate - bouncing erratically like a tennis ball in a closed court. Terror and panic made blood run cold and desperation nearly forced their saboteur to play their hand too soon.
**No. Now is not the time. Soon. So soon. So very, very soon. Then it will be over. I will take down Scarecrow and Mrs. King myself!**
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Saturday Morning - 8:34AM**
As Lee and Amanda drove down the Maplewood toward number 4247, Lee saw the late model blue sedan parked along the curb. He didn't even attempt to hide the groan as he pulled into the driveway along the side of the house.
"What is Joe doing here this early?" he mumbled.
"I'm sure he came to check on Jamie," Amanda said with a shrug. "I told him we all need to talk."
"As much as I hate to admit it, Amanda, Joe is a smart man. Not all of our secrets are going to surprise him. I'm willing to bet he figured out all, or at least part, of it years ago."
Amanda sighed, a deep breath tinged slightly with a soft laugh, and shrugged one shoulder. "Maybe you're right. At least about part of it. When I spoke to Mother earlier, she asked how much she should say to him."
"Well, like you said, I'm not so sure the Agency is going to be much of a surprise to him. So, I told her she could tell him that. She doesn't know much, so we'll still have to fill in the holes for him."
"And our marriage?"
Amanda shook her head, her chocolate-brown eyes looking at him sideways. "I asked her not to say anything. I think that is something we need to tell him face to face."
"That's a moment I can't wait for," Lee mumbled. Amanda shot him a look and he shrugged, giving his best forgive-me-but-I-can't-help-it look. Amanda just sighed, chuckled, and shook her head.
Lee reached across the small space between them in the car and took her hand. He ran his thumb across her knuckles and scrutinized the purple hint of a bruise forming there. Although the doctor at the Agency had warned Lee about the types of bruises she would probably end up with, he dreaded seeing them on the rest of her body. That would be when the intensity and seriousness of last night's events would sink in.
With one last gentle squeeze and wink, Lee released her fingers and extricated himself from the 'Vette. As he walked around the front of the car, he heard the sound of the boys running through the upstairs hall coming through the open windows. He came around the side of the sports car and opened Amanda's door. Offering both hands and his body as support, Lee helped her out of the car. Her small groan did not go unnoticed.
They walked together toward the back entrance of the house, and the voices of Dotty West and Joe King came through the windows.
"I just don't understand it, Joe. Why on **earth** would Amanda and Lee feel like they had to hide so much from us? Did they really think we couldn't handle this?"
"I think its more than that, Dotty," Joe said. "Lee and Amanda are involved in a very dangerous business. Now, I'm not saying I like it, or that I agree, but I think I can understand."
Amanda took in a deep, shaky breath and Lee felt the shudder that moved through her body. Just short of rounding the corner to a point in the back yard that they would be visible to the two in the kitchen, Lee stopped and turned to his wife to wrap her in his arms. She leaned into him without hesitation and pressed her cheek against his chest. Lee stroked her hair.
After several moments, Amanda pulled back and smiled up at him. "Thank you, Lee. I needed that."
"Yah," he said as he touched her cheek. "So did I."
Hand in hand, they crossed the back yard and went through the back door into the kitchen. As soon as the door closed behind them, Dotty and Joe's conversation stopped abruptly. The four of them stared at each other in a painful silence. Finally, Amanda cleared her throat.
"Good morning," she said simply.
The one phrase seemed to bring everyone to life. Dotty stepped forward and her eyes widened as Lee assumed she saw the bandage on Amanda's forehead.
"Amanda, darling, are you all right? Oh, my goodness. What happened?" As quickly as she said it, she rushed on. "Oh, never mind. After so many years, I don't expect an answer. Do you want some tea? Something to eat?"
"Yes, Mother. Some tea would be nice."
"Amanda, sit down at the table," Lee instructed softly and led her toward the small table in the breakfast nook. Amanda sank heavily onto the bench seat and rested her forehead in her hand. Lee rubbed his hand across her shoulders before moving back to the kitchen to help Dotty.
As Amanda's mother filled the tea kettle, Lee retrieved a loaf of wheat bread from the bread box and pulled out two slices to make her some toast. She needed to get something in her stomach, and then she needed some rest.
Once the kettle was on, and Lee dropped the bread into the toaster, Dotty slipped up beside him and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially.
"Is she all right, Lee? She looks terrible!"
Lee looked over his shoulder to where Amanda sat. She had her hands folded on the tabletop and her head down. Joe had taken up post in the doorway nearest her, his shoulder against the jamb, and silently watched her.
"She needs to go to bed for about eighteen hours," Lee explained. "We had a rough night. Especially Amanda."
"Were you on a sting or something? A stakeout? I don't know all your spy jargon, but you know what I mean."
Lee had to suppress the chuckle that threatened to escape as his mother-in-law jammered on, her hands flipping in the air and her blonde curls bobbing against her cheek.
"Something like that," Lee said.
Dotty turned and leaned her hips into the edge of the counter, wiping her fingers on a hand towel. She stared at Amanda and Lee saw the concern that squinted at the corner of her eyes and drew her lips down in a near-frown. He laid his hand on her shoulder and squeezed.
"I'm sorry we make you worry, Dotty. And I'm sorry that the worrying will only get worse, now that you know more of the truth. And some days I am more sorry than I can explain how much I hate that I'm the one that brought Amanda into this business."
Dotty looked up at him, and he immediately recognized the forgiveness and acceptance in her eyes. She reached up and patted his hand. "But you love her, don't you, Lee?"
"More than anything."
The toaster popped up and Lee turned to put the slices on a small place. In silence, Dotty retrieved butter and jelly from the refrigerator and Lee finished preparing the scant breakfast as the teakettle whistled. He carried the plate and cup back to the table and set them down, crouching down beside his wife.
"Amanda," he said softly. "Amanda, try to eat something."
She lifted her head, exhaustion making her eyelids heavy as she looked at him, and smiled. "Thank you, sweetheart."
Lee sat down beside her on the bench and stroked her back as she picked up the cup of tea and took a sip. He felt Joe's hot stare boring into him as the man took a combatant stance in the doorway. Finally, Lee looked up.
"You have something to say, Joe?"
Amanda touched his arm immediately. "Lee --."
"Yes, I do. I have some questions I want answers for."
The demanding tone in Joe King's voice immediately got Lee's ire up, and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as he sat up straighter. Here is where the trouble would be.
"Joe --." Amanda quietly appealed to her ex-husband the same way she appealed to Lee, with just about the same response.
Joe pushed off the doorjamb with a jerk and stepped forward, his arms crossed over his chest. He pointed at them, and Lee did his best to contain his annoyance. Lee hated being pointed at.
"Who the hell do you think you are, Stetson, to take a woman like Amanda and drag her into --."
"A woman like Amanda?" Amanda asked with shock in her voice, but Joe just continued."
"-- The kind of life that she has absolutely no idea about? She is a mother and a housewife. She can't --!"
"No idea about?" Lee heard Amanda, but his attention was intent on Joe King.
"That's where you're wrong, Joe. She can. She **does**. Amanda is the best partner I have ever had, and one of the best agents the Agency has ever seen. She has saved your backside, even this entire country, more than you or anyone else will ever know."
Lee realized that **this** was why he didn't like Joe King. Joe had known Amanda in a lifetime that Lee would never know and only got a glimpse of those first few months he knew her. But she had changed, right before his eyes, with every case she worked on and every assignment she took on. Within months there was nothing left of the old Amanda King. The one Joe left behind. And even though Lee knew that, Joe wanted to hang on to the Amanda he once knew. He wanted her to still be that woman, even though he had moved on himself. She could never be that woman again.
"I don't believe it."
"You can believe whatever you want, but it's the truth," Lee ground out through clenched teeth.
"Okay, now come on!" Amanda interrupted, using the same tone of voice Lee had heard her use many times with the boys. "Arguing about it isn't going to change anything." She pressed her palms to the table and looked to Joe. "Joe, I am an Agent. I have been with the Agency for six years. Whether you believe it or not, that is the truth. Lee did not drag me into it, as you put it. It's true that I probably would not have become involved with the Agency if I hadn't met Lee, but after our first meeting, every decision was mine. Lee even tried to steer me away."
"He obviously didn't try hard enough," Joe interrupted.
"Stop it, Joe." Amanda's tone said she meant business. Lee had heard it enough to know not to push her when she sounded like that.
"Amanda, since I came back from Estocia you've been hunted down and on the run because of this guy, you've been shot, you've disappeared for days at a time. Am I supposed to believe this is the life you want? For our children?"
"Joe, I do what I do to make things **better** for our children."
Joe shook his head and pressed his knuckles into the table top. "No. No. You are my wife and the mother of my children. I can't --."
Something snapped in Lee's chest and he jumped to his feet. Joe straightened and they stood chest to chest, Lee glaring down at his personal emissary.
"That's where you're dead wrong, Joe. She may be the mother of your children, but she is MY wife."
The shock registered immediately on Joe's face and a flash of regret hit Lee. He knew he would pay later for bursting out the truth like that. It wasn't the way Amanda wanted Joe to find out. But the man just pushed him too far.
"Oh, my gosh," Amanda whispered and dropped her head into her hands.
"Amanda?" Joe said, the question in his voice.
Dotty came out of the kitchen and stood beside the two men, a hand on each of them. "Lee. Joe. Can't we please just calm down?"
"Did you know about this, Dotty?" Joe demanded.
"Well, yes," Dotty answered with a quick nod of her head. "I did. But Amana thought she should tell you herself. I don't think this was the way she intended."
"No, it wasn't" Amanda mumbled in a small voice.
Lee stepped back and took a deep breath, raking his fingers through his hair. He took several steps away from Joe before turning back. No matter how much he wanted to put this jerk in his place, Lee knew he had to calm down. For Amanda's sake. Whether he liked it or not, Joe would always be around.
"How long have you two been married?"
Lee looked to Amanda and their eyes met. She nodded once, gave him a small smile, and turned back to her ex-husband. With painful slowness, Amanda stood up from the bench. He needed to get her upstairs and into bed. She needed the rest. And she **didn't** need the stress. He stepped forward and linked hands with her.
"Just over two years," Amanda said, continuing on and cutting off Joe's argument. "Now, don't say we should have said something before now. We know that. But we had our reasons, and they were good ones."
"Don't you think I should have had some say about who became step-father to my sons?" Joe snapped out.
"Joe," Dotty pleaded.
Lee stepped forward, but Amanda's jerk on his arm stopped him. Amanda stepped around him and approached Joe.
"You had just as much say about Lee as I had about Carrie. Now, Joe, I know you're not going to like this but I think we should just take some time for everyone to calm down and then talk about this again. Things have changed, and we can talk about what it's going to be like in the future."
Joe looked from Amanda to Lee, his lips forming a tight line. Lee didn't know the man real well, but he recognized the anger in his eyes. He had never seen Joe angry, but he knew he didn't like that anger being focused on Amanda.
"Doesn't that sound like a good idea, Joe?" Dotty asked. "Why don't you and Carrie come for dinner tonight? We'll all talk then." Ever the peacemaker, Dotty did her best to soothe the raging emotions taking over her kitchen.
Without answer or saying anything further, Joe snatched his coat of the back of a nearby chair and stormed through the kitchen to the front door. It slammed shut with a resounding thunder. Silence settled in the kitchen again.
Dotty sighed. "Well, that could have gone better."
Amanda sighed and seemed to sag, her shoulder coming against Lee's side. He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her hair. "Come on, Amanda. Let's get you upstairs and into a hot tub. Work those aches out."
"Do you need some help, darling?" Dotty asked, then looked at Lee. A mischievious sparkle lit up her eyes. "No, I don't suppose you do."
**Agency Interrogation Room B
Saturday Night, 10:36PM**
Billy Melrose and Francine Desmond stood shoulder to shoulder and watched their prisoner through the two-way mirror. Anthony Mancini slouched down in the uncomfortable metal chair they provided, his clothing rumbled and blood-stained and his hair mused. The agent in charge of his interrogation leaned into the table and shouted something, to which Mancini only smirked. Billy reached to the side and switched on the speaker.
"We know you had an informant in the Agency. Who was it?" Agent Cauldwell shouted.
Mancini shook his head. "I told you, I don't know his name. To be honest, I didn't really give a damn what his name was. He gave me the information I needed, and I paid him well for it."
"You never saw his face? Not once?"
Mancini smirked again and didn't answer. What he didn't say spoke louder than anything he proclaimed. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but either way he wasn't telling.
"Damn it!" Billy cursed and turned away from the window. "This is getting us no where! I don't want this two-faced agent in this organization for another minute!"
"We can't keep him here much longer, Billy. He has to be formally booked and charged and taken to a holding cell," Francine said, regret in her voice. She wanted to beat the information out of Mancini with her own hands, and understood her Section Chief's frustration.
Billy shook his head and sighed heavily. "Have you heard anything from Scarecrow? How is Amanda doing?"
"He called about three hours ago. She's resting. I guess she's just really sore. Probably feels a lot like I did when I took on those three Moroccan body guards in '81. . ."
Billy didn't hear much more of what his assistant said. He was too annoyed, too frustrated, and too concerned to care. Mancini had someone in the Agency that helped him all along the way to set Lee up, and tried to bring both Scarecrow and Amanda down. Whoever it was, they were probably responsible for the death of Janice Bigelow, and that made them very dangerous. Junior Agent Bigelow was killed in a very gruesome, extremely brutal attack. Whomever it was, they had no conscience.
"Well, until we find who it is, maybe Lee and Amanda **are** better off not being here. Keep them out of the line of fire for awhile. Maybe once they get back from their extended vacation, we'll have this guy in the bag."
Agent Cauldwell opened the door and came into the room with a loud huff. He stripped off his jacket and tossed it on a chair. "He's not budging. Refuses to tell me anything."
"We heard," Billy mumbled. "Let's go up to my office and talk this through. Maybe we can look at the evidence again and piece this together. Maybe there's something we've missed."
Left alone again in the interrogation room, Mancini leaned forward and pushed his fingers through his tangled hair. This would take some interesting maneuvering to get out of this mess. Where did it go wrong? How did Scarecrow figure it out? He was supposed to be out of the Agency. Off the case. And on the outs with his partner. Unless, of course, his information had been wrong . . .
The door opened again, and Mancini looked up expecting to see the big agent named Cauldwell returning. When he saw who it was, he chuckled and leaned back.
"I figured you'd show up here eventually."
Before he could move, the muffled blast of a silencer-rigged gun echoed through the small room. Mancini jerked and slumped forward onto the table with a thump. His killer smirked and slipped the gun back into the holster nestled beneath his left arm, hidden by his non-descript, plain-as-dirt, off-the-rack suit jacket. He turned on his heels and walked back out of the interrogation room, stepping over the still body of the guard who had been posted outside. Bits and fragments of the destroyed surveillance camera littered the floor and crunched beneath his feet as he walked.
**One problem down . . . just two more to go.**
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Saturday Evening, 11:24PM**
The shifting of the bed mattress as Lee slipped between the sheets stirred Amanda from the edge of sleep that had begun to claim her again. Her husband curled himself against her body, so her back settled against his bare chest. She hummed softly as she settled against him, and Lee kissed the back of her neck.
"How are you feeling?" he asked as they snuggled down together into the bed.
"Mmmmmuch better," she said on a hum. "After a nice long massage from my partner, and several hours of sleep, I felt pretty good."
"Your partner? May I remind you you're a married woman?"
Feeling blissful and just a tad bit silly, she pressed her finger to her lips. "Shush," she said and chuckled. "Don't tell my partner. It's a secret."
Lee wrapped his arm around her waist and gently turned her onto her back so she could look up at him. The moonlight that streamed through the windows, and the light in the bathroom that escaped through the cracked door, let her see his handsome face as he looked down at her.
"It's not a secret anymore," he said in his huskiest whisper, and it hummed over Amanda like a caress.
She reached up to touch his cheek, his skin smooth and cool from shaving. He pursed his lips and kissed her thumb as she brushed it across his mouth.
"Do you know how long it has been since I spent the entire night with you?" he asked, his fingers brushing her hair as he leaned into the pillows with his elbow.
She shook her head slowly, never breaking her gaze with his beautiful hazel eyes. Most men would probably not want the word beautiful to be used to describe him, but it was the most appropriate word to describe the depths and prisms and emotions that swirled and emanated from his eyes. They could make her afraid with their intensity, calm with their confidence, and warm with their passion.
Neither spoke as they just looked into each other's eyes. The thought of waking up with him, without worrying about being caught or who might find out, sent a warm flush over Amanda's skin and tears prickled her eyes. But she blinked them back, afraid Lee would misunderstand their meaning.
"How do you think the guys handled the announcement that I'm moving in right away?" he asked as his gaze dropped away and the fingers of his free hand toyed with the bow at the neckline of her nightgown.
Amanda saw the concern in his face, despite the dim light. They had talked a long time that afternoon, just the two of them, about what would happen and how to handle it. When everything first came out, they had thought the best approach would be to ease the family into the situation. But in the end, they decided they had been deprived of their lives for too long.
"Oh, they'll be fine. It'll take time, Lee. But it's not like they don't know you. You're not a stranger in their lives. You didn't just show up one day and announce you're their step-father."
"No, I'm just the man who . . ." he tried to say, but didn't seem to be able to finish. Lee sighed and arched his brows, a lost look in his eyes.
"The man who what, Sweetheart?" she asked gently, shifting her head on the pillow to look at him slightly sideways.
Lee laughed and smiled, the deep dimples she loved so much appearing in his cheeks. "Who taught you how to pick a lock, lose a tail, shoot a gun, and shake down a hotel room. Not exactly your normal Husband of the Year stuff."
Amanda chuckled. "You taught me everything you know, isn't that what you told your uncle?"
He settled down into the pile of pillows they relaxed on, resting his cheek near her temple. "Yeah, but Amanda, I wasn't the only teacher. I taught you the ins and outs of espionage, but you taught me so much more than that. I think you may have gotten the short end of the deal."
"No, I didn't. I got you," she said and warmed at her husband's sincere smile just before he kissed her.
Amanda moved into the warm curve of his body, her ear resting against his chest. The steady beat of his heart whispered to her. His strong hands, that she had been drawn to and admired almost from the first moment on the train station platform, rubbed her arm and back as he pressed a kiss to her temple. She chuckled softly and Lee shifted to look down at her.
"What are you laughing at?"
"Oh, it's nothing. I was just thinking of all the little tricks you've taught
me. Sometimes I don't even know if you realized you were doing it. I used one
the other day . . ." Amanda trailed off as a realization hit her. Slowly, she
sat up. "Oh, my gosh! How could I have forgotten?"
Lee sat up with her. "What is it, Amanda?"
She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and looked around the room. Where was it? Where was the sweater she had on . . .
"Amanda! What is it?"
"My sweater. I must have left it in the pocket of my sweater. The one I wore yesterday. Not to the warehouse, the one I wore to work."
"The red one?"
She twisted quickly and looked back at Lee. "Yes!"
"You left it at my apartment when we changed clothes."
Amanda hit the mattress with the side of her fist. "Shoot!"
"But I picked it up this afternoon when I went back to pick up some things," Lee amended. He stood up and headed toward the duffle bag he had brought back with him. Rummaging through it, Lee pulled out the sweater she wanted.
Amanda stood and walked quickly across the bedroom carpet and took the folded garment from him.
"Are you going to tell me what this is about?" he asked, the slightest hint of aggravation in his voice.
As she searched for the pockets, she explained. "I went to Fabrication yesterday morning, like you wanted, to see if we could find out anything about what Janice had been working on. Efraim keeps a logbook of all assignments that each agent has to fill out every time they have a new one, and he let me look at it. There wasn't anything unusual for Janice, except that I though maybe her last entry had been erased. You know, the ink was gone but the impression was still there?"
She continued to search, and Lee stood with hands planted at his waist, nodding as she spoke. "Yeah? And?"
Amanda's fingers closed around the paper and she yanked it from the pocket, much like she once had a small bit of paper with the name Cindi 'with an i' on it. "Aha! Here it is!"
"Here **what** is, Amanda?"
Amanda quickly walked back to the bed and turned on the lamp on her side. She unfolded the hastily hidden clue and stared at it.
"I did a rubbing of the last entry. But I had to do it off the back, and Efraim came back just as I was doing it, so I didn't have a chance to read it. I just shoved it in my pocket because I didn't want to make him think anything was wrong. Then Francine caught me in the hallway with the shipping records and I guess I just got sidetracked and forgot about it.
The writing was difficult to read, as she hadn't had sufficient time to do a complete job, and the words were reversed and the letters backwards. But after years of deciphering Lee's chicken scratch, and practice at reading upside down, it didn't take long. She gasped when she read it.
"What? What does it say?" Lee asked, standing over her.
"1620PM SMK Mar Lic. Auth: Beaman. I think Mar Lic could be marriage license?" Amanda offered, looking up at him.
Lee's eyes rounded and his brows arched. "Marriage License. Janice was told to forge the marriage license."
"I think **we're** SMK." Lee's puzzled look urged her on. "Ever since the Stemwinder case, I've noticed that everyone seems to refer to us as . . .well, kind of as a unit. It's not just Stetson, or Scarecrow. It's . . ." she paused, a blush warming her cheeks, though she wasn't sure why. "It's Scarecrow and Mrs. King. SMK."
Lee smiled and nodded his head slowly. "I never realized that."
Amanda tilted her head and shrugged her shoulder. "Yeah, well, I hear a lot of things you don't."
Lee cleared his throat and took the paper from her. "So, according to this she was assigned the job of forging the marriage license around 4:20 in the afternoon last Friday."
"Just hours before she was killed," Amanda added with dread.
"And Beaman was the one who gave her the assignment."
Amanda jumped and gasped when the phone beside her rang. She glanced quickly at the alarm clock beside it. The giant red numbers read 11:36. It was nearly midnight. Who would be calling at this hour, unless it was Agency business. She looked up at her husband. Lee frowned and reached for the phone.
"Hello," he answered.
She watched his face as he listened to whomever was on the other end. Lee tilted the phone away from his mouth to tell her "It's Billy," before listening again.
"What?" Lee shouted. "How the hell did someone get past the guard?!" He paused and shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "Damn it, Billy!"
Amanda moved to her feet and stood close to Lee, hoping to hear some bit of the conversation. His arm circled her waist and pulled her close. He looked from her, to the paper still in her hand, and back to her. Lee's lips formed a thin, tight line as the pieces of information came together in his head.
"I know who it is, Billy. Who the mole is. Beaman. Efraim Beaman." Billy said
something, but Amanda couldn't hear it. Lee shook his head and raked his fingers
through his hair. "I'll explain later. But Amanda discovered the last
piece of the puzzle."
Billy spoke again, and Lee nodded his head. "Okay, Billy. I'll be right there."
He hung up the phone and took her hand. "Billy is issuing a D1 Manhunt on Beaman. If we're right about this, he killed an MP and Anthony Mancini about an hour ago."
"Does Billy want us in office?"
Lee smiled wryly and huffed. "Not we. Me. I guess we're not on vacation quite yet, I'm afraid."
"What do you mean, not we?"
Her husband put his hands on her arms, just below the shoulder, and bent his
knees just slightly so they were eye to eye. She recognized the
Amanda-you're-just-going-to-have-to-trust-me-this-is-for-your-own-good look in
his hazel eyes.
"Amanda, you have had a rough twenty-four hours -"
"**We** have had a rough twenty-four hours!" she interjected.
"But physically, you more than me. I want you to get some rest. Hopefully, I won't be gone long. Beaman is probably running for the hills and we'll catch him on his way out of DC. I'll be home before you know it." Lee smiled and leaned forward to kiss her forehead, speaking against her skin. "Home. That sounds great, doesn't it?"
"Lee, I'm fine."
"Amanda," he said on a sigh. "Please. Just stay here and get some more sleep. We have a vacation to start in a couple of days, and I want you in tip-top shape."
"Lee . . ."
Her husband silenced her by taking her face in his hands and kissing her soundly, snatching away her breath and blurring her cognitive abilities. His open lips worked over hers, and under their own volition, Amanda's hands came up to rest on his bare chest. Lee finally broke this kiss, came back for one more quick one, and smiled down at her.
"Amanda, I love you. I'll be home soon."
Giving in, Amanda nodded and sighed heavily. She crossed her arms over her body and watched as Lee hastily got dressed to leave. He gave her one final kiss before disappearing out the bedroom door.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Efraim Beaman pulled up to the curb and parked his car, sitting on a side street adjacent to 4247 Maplewood where he could watch the house in his mirrors. All seemed quiet, and the house was dark save one upstairs window. With his jaw clenched tight, and a heavy layer of sweat forming long droplets down his face, he pulled his gun from beneath his jacket.
His hands trembled as he removed the partially depleted clip from the gun handle and replaced it will a full one. He let go a long string of curses and swiped his fingers across his forehead, mopping away the sweat.
What was he doing? This was crazy! It was one thing to leak information out of the Agency to try and bring down the two agents he hated the most. This was something entirely different! Did he really think he could take on Scarecrow? An hour ago he had the guts to kill one unsuspecting MP and then get rid of Anthony Mancini. But no one had any idea the person on the inside was him. For all he knew, Stetson had figured it out by now. They could be hunting him down. Stetson could be waiting for him.
As he glanced in his mirror, one of his questions was answered. The front porch light flicked on and he watched Lee Stetson leave the house. Moments later, the oh-so-familiar silver corvette backed down out of the side driveway and drove off in the opposite direction.
Beaman chuckled and his adrenaline-charged heartbeat slowed. This was going to be easy. Like taking candy from a baby. He may not be an Agent anymore, but killing Lee and Amanda Stetson would be a hefty consolation prize.
A light came on downstairs, seeming to come from the back of the house as it was only a light glow. After feeling that he had waited a sufficient amount of time to avoid a hasty return of Scarecrow, he checked his gun one more time and got out of the car.
Saturday Night, 11:54PM*
Amanda didn't even bother try to go back to sleep after Lee left. After
sleeping for several hours that afternoon, her body wasn't ready to shut down
again, despite the events of the last twenty-four hours. And her mind worked
too fast to let her relax.
So much had happened in the last week, beginning with the death of Janice Bigelow and ending with the raid on Anthony Mancini the night before. But that was what bothered her the most. Amanda didn't feel like it was over. It was just too easy. Too cut and dry. And now Mancini was dead and Efraim Beaman, an agent she had known since her early days at the Agency, was suspect.
That was what bothered her the most. Lee said he figured Beaman was running. Half way to China unless they caught up to him.
But she wasn't so sure. If he had enough courage to carry out this whole twisted plot and feed information to Mancini, only to turn around and kill the man before he could rat him out, then chances were this wasn't done. Not by half.
With a heavy sigh, Amanda set a small saucepan on the stovetop and pulled the milk from the fridge. Stifling a yawn behind her hand, she poured the milk and turned on the burner.
"Amanda, darling?" Dotty said as she stepped down into the kitchen and tied her robe belt around her waist. "I heard the phone ring. Is everything all right?"
Amanda looked up, and started to speak and find some fanciful story to cover up the real purpose of the call. It was second nature, instinctive. But when she met her mother's gaze, she sighed and remembered that **most** of the hiding and lying was behind them now.
"It was our boss, Mother. Lee needed to go back in."
"Oh, I see," Dotty said and moved past Amanda, opening the cupboard door to take out some baking cocoa for hot chocolate. "That happens a great deal, doesn't it."
Amanda sighed again. "I'm afraid so, Mother."
"Kind of like being married to a doctor. Phone calls in the middle of the night. It's not exactly a nine-to-five job is it?"
Amanda stirred the milk as her mother added cocoa and sugar. "No, it's not."
Dotty West dropped her spoon loudly and planted her hands on the edge of the counter. "Darling, I know you can't tell me everything about whatever it is the two of you do. But isn't there something you can tell me? Help me feel like I'm not completely kicked out of your life!"
Amanda looked up with a jerk of her head. "Is that how we've made you feel?"
Dotty's expression softened and she reached out to put her hand over Amanda's. "Well, maybe not that bad, Amanda. But I do feel like you've been living some life completely separate from us."
Her chest hurt, the emotions that raged in her almost overwhelming her. Never had Dotty been so right - so close to the truth. Amanda had truly been living more than one life, and for the last two years - she had been living three. One for her family. One for the Agency. And one for Lee.
She tried to smile, and hoped it was convincing. As she removed the saucepan from the burner and poured two mugs of cocoa, she asked. "What do you want to know, Mother? I'll tell you whatever I can."
Each woman took a mug and walked into the den and claimed their respective ends of the couch. Amanda curled her legs under her and blew across the top of the drink. Dotty sighed and flipped back a blonde curl that fell forward.
"I don't suppose you can tell me much more about what you do? Where it is? Who you work for?"
Amanda looked off at an angle into the kitchen, tilting her head slowly side to side as she thought about the question. "Well, Mother, Lee and I are agents for the Federal Government but you already know that. I don't think I've ever really been given a job description, other than **agent**. And that covers a pretty big area. Where? Right where you've always known me to be."
"You mean IFF? Amanda, you told me that's a film company!"
"Well, Mother, we can't exactly put a sign out front that says 'Attention KGB - This is the Agency'. We're not the CIA, for goodness sake. We don't have a turn off from 495."
Dotty sighed and nodded. "Yes, well, I can see what you mean. So, Lee . . . he's not your boss?"
Amanda shook her head. "No. We're partners. He's senior agent, but we're partners."
"Can you tell me who your boss is?"
Amanda took a sip of the cocoa, and closed her eyes for a moment to both savor the chocolate and to prepare herself for her mother's reaction. This would be interesting. She opened her eyes and leaned sideways to put the cup of cocoa on the coffee table.
"Mother, do you remember when I told you the federal government was looking for Lee because they thought he had done something wrong? And then I disappeared for a couple of days and that Mr. Melrose came to the house?"
Dotty rolled her eyes and waved her hand in the air. "Yes, I remember him far
too well. Mr. Personality. Although he did help Harry get out of his little
jam." She sighed. "Oh, Harry Berringer. Sometimes I still miss him terribly."
Then her eyes widened and she looked at Amanda. "Amanda, are you telling me you work for him?"
"Mr. Melrose is really a very nice man, Mother. You've only had the opportunity to know him under, well, difficult situations. He was a great supporter of mine when I first became involved with the Agency, and ultimately is the one responsible for Lee and I working together."
"Ah, yes. Lee. There is another story. And I expect a little more detail in your answers about him, darling!" Dotty said, pointing at Amanda.
Amanda smiled. "Yes, Mother. What do you want to know?"
Dotty shook her head, her hair bouncing around her cheeks. "Everything! But I guess you can start with how you met him and how this all got started!"
Just thinking of the memory brought a smile to Amanda's lips. "It's quite a story. Mother, I doubt you'll remember but this is going back over six years ago. I had to take Dean to the train station --."
Amanda stopped short when she thought she heard something. She turned toward the kitchen and listened intently, waiting to see if the sound repeated. For the first time in years, she knew without a doubt it wasn't Lee sneaking through her back yard.
"Shhh," Amanda whispered, lifting her finger to her lips.
The sound came again. Someone was turning the doorknob to the door in the kitchen. Amanda stood up slowly, silently motioning for her mother to stand up. Dotty did, with a puzzled look on her face.
"Amanda, what on earth . . ."
Amanda covered her mother's mouth with her hand and leaned in close until their faces were only inches apart.
"Mother, I need you to go upstairs and stay with the boys. Get them into my bedroom and get the phone," she explained as she led her mother towards the stairs. As they walked she gave her mother the phone number that would get her directly into the bullpen, bypassing the switchboard and IFF front. "Ask to speak to either Mr. Melrose or Lee. He is probably there by now."
Her mother looked at her over her shoulder as she walked up the stairs. "Amanda, is something wrong?"
"Mother, please! Just do it!"
"What should I tell them?"
"Tell them Beaman is here."
Her mother turned and looked down at her, hands set at her waist. "Amanda is that some kind of code or something? I mean, if I have to relay some secret message . . ."
"Mother!" Amanda said in a loud whisper, stopping Dotty's ramble. "Mother, it means Beaman is here. That's exactly what it means. They'll know what I need."
Dotty shrugged, nodded, and turned to head back up the stairs. Amanda watched until she disappeared from the landing before crouching down and returning to the den. She slipped in between the refrigerator and center island to inch her way around and see the door. Her heart pounded in her chest, but she swallowed down the fear in her throat. Part of her hoped she was wrong, that it was the wind rattling the door and not the rogue agent.
She kept herself low to the floor and held onto the counter to keep her balance. With another deep breath, she leaned sideways and looked through the breakfast nook to the door. Amanda gasped. The door was open.
He was in the house.
"Looking for me?"
Before Amanda could even react, she was yanked to her feet and thrown back against the edge of the counter. Efraim Beaman's hot breath hit her face as he leaned over her, clutching the front of her robe.
"Scarecrow isn't as smart as I thought. Very stupid, leaving you home alone. Very stupid. Where are **Mother and the boys**?" he asked, his tone mocking as he satired the phrases she used so often.
Amanda refused to answer, clamping her jaw together and forcing her breath to remain even and steady. She wouldn't let him know how frightened she was. Facing down Anthony Mancini had been different. Then it had been just her and him. But now, her children were upstairs. With a strength that came from the knowledge that she would do anything to keep them safe, Amanda met his maniacal stare.
"Not talking, Amanda? That's unusual for you. You're always so willing to chatter on about softball games and bake sales and family outings. Come on, Amanda. Tell me something I don't give a damn about hearing."
In one automatic move, Amanda slammed her hand against his wrist, forcing him to release her robe, and swiped her slippered feet between his legs in an attempt to knock him off balance. Efraim cursed and swung back around, catching her cheek with the back of his hand. Amanda turned away, spotting the empty saucepan on the stove. Curling her fingers around the handle, she twisted hard and fast and clocked the side of his head.
He stumbled back, his hands coming up to hold his head. For the first time, Amanda saw the gun in his hand. Adrenaline charged her blood and she turned to run into the den. Her only thought was to get to Lee's spare gun.
The loud crack of a gun shot rang out, and Amanda felt the deadly projectile barely miss her head as it hit the shelf of books beside her.
"Stop there, Amanda! Or I'll shot you in the back and then go find those two good looking boys of yours!"
Amanda stumbled forward and leaned into the back of the couch, her heart pounding hard and fast in her chest. Her fingers curled to hard into the couch cushion, a sharp ache shot up her arms. She drew in a long, deep breath and slowly turned around to face the man who had once been her teacher. He stood with his arm extended, a trembling hand holding the gun on her.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, her voice cracking as she spoke. "Efraim, why have you done all this?"
"Shut up!" he shouted and motioned toward the stairs. "Get up the stairs!"
"Efraim, please. Listen to me."
"No! I said move!"
Buying herself time, and not wanting to send him any further over the edge, Amanda turned and walked toward the stairs landing. She prayed her mother made it through to Lee or Mr. Melrose, and that she could somehow keep everyone alive until her husband came home.
SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK ~~~ SMK
Lee raked his hair with his fingers and ran his palm over his face. He was tired and wanted to be home, in bed, with his wife. Now that he could actually spend the night with her, the way a husband and wife should be, he was in Billy's office . . . once again.
"Have we gotten any kind of bead on Beaman, Billy?" he asked on a huff.
"None. He's not driving his own car. It's still in the parking garage. We're doing an inventory on the car pool, so see if he stole one of them."
"Do you have someone at his house?"
"Two outside and one waiting inside. But no sign of him."
Lee shifted and leaned his elbows into his knees, his head resting in his hands. Fatigue scratched at his eyes and worked like sandpaper over his nerves. He'd be out there himself, hunting for the spineless weasel, but had no idea where to start. Efraim Beaman was a weak excuse for an agent, Lee had always thought so, and now he just wanted to get his hands on the idiot and ring his neck.
Francine knocked once on Billy's office door before stepping in. Lee looked up to see her face, and the way her eyes rounded and her lips turned town told him something was wrong.
"What is it, Francine?" Billy asked.
"Line three. Lee, it's Amanda's mother. She came in on the direct line."
Lee lunged forward and snatched up Billy's phone, jabbing the lit button for line three with his finger. "Dotty?"
"Oh, thank God! Lee, Amanda just rushed me upstairs, gave me this phone number and told me I needed to speak to you or Mr. Melrose."
"Dotty, what's wrong?" Lee snapped.
"She told me to tell you Beaman is here. Do you know what she means, Lee? I mean, she said you would, but I don't know what she's talking about - Oh!" Dotty screamed as the sound of a gunshot echoed through the phone.
Lee flinched at the sound, his heart jumping into his throat. "Dotty! Dotty!" he shouted into the phone.
"Lee, I think that was a gun shot!"
"I'll be home in five minutes," Lee said, slamming the phone down.
He charged toward the office door, Francine barely getting out of his way before he bowled her over. She and Billy followed hot on his heels.
"We'll meet you there, Scarecrow!" Billy shouted after him.
Lee barely heard them as he ran through the halls toward the parking garage,
taking the internal route rather than through the Georgetown foyer. He didn't
have the time or patience to wait for the elevator. Within sixty seconds of
hanging up the phone, Lee was in the 'Vette and flying across Georgetown towards Arlington.
"Damn it!" he cursed to the empty car.
How could he have been so stupid as to leave them home alone? He never guessed Beaman would have the testicular fortitude to actually go to the house!
Thankfully, the streets were nearly empty this time of night and Lee screeched to a halt outside their house. As he leaped out of the car and pulled his gun from his holster, an all-too-familiar blue sedan pulled up. Lee cursed again.
"Damn it, Joe! Get the hell out of here!" Lee ordered, forcing his voice down from a shout to a loud whisper.
Joe came around the front of his car and glared from Lee to the gun in his hand. "What the hell is going on?" He tried to step in front of Lee, blocking his way to the front gate.
Rage pummeled Lee's chest, and his blood ran so hot it infringed on the edges of his vision. With his jaw clenched and his lips pulled back tight over his teeth, Lee grabbed the front of Joe's jacket.
"God help me, Joe," he hissed through his teeth. "If my family is hurt in **any way** because you want to play Big Bad Ex-Husband, I'll . . ." The thoughts flashing through his mind were too crazed to put into words.
With one final shove, Lee pushed Joe King away and sprinted for the front door. He didn't know if the man followed, didn't care, as long as he made it in time. With care that was hard to muster in his current state of mind, Lee slowly opened the door and stepped into the front hall.
The downstairs was quiet. The kitchen and den lights were on, but there was no one to be seen. Lee stepped down into the den and looked around. Small bits of wood and paper were scattered on the floor, and Lee took the time to realize they were from several now mutilated books. A high caliber bullet had torn through them where they sat on the shelf. Clenching his jaw tighter, and adjusting his gun in his hand, Lee looked up the stairs. He saw the glow of a light, probably from one of the bedrooms, and moved to take the first step.
He edged up the stairwell, his back to the wall and his eyes trained on the upper landing. The sound of muffled voices reached him, but he couldn't make out who they were. Taking cautious steps, he continued.
At the top of the landing, Lee crouched down and stayed against the wall, gun raised, and moved toward their bedroom where the light came from. As he neared the door, the voices became clearer.
"Think, Beaman, think!" Lee heard Efraim mumble in a low voice. "He'll be here soon. Do I kill them now? Before he gets here? Or do I let him watch?"
The man was insane! He paced the room, back and forth, mumbling to himself. When he back was to the door, Lee quickly moved to the other side of the threshold so he could see the bed. On its edge sat his wife and mother-in-law and between them Phillip and Jamie. The boys were scared, Lee saw it in their eyes. They may be teenagers, but a lunatic with a gun was enough to frighten anyone.
Amanda looked toward the door and their eyes met. She didn't smile, but her eyebrows arched slightly and her lips drew together. With a quick glance in Beaman's direction, she nodded once. At least she knew he was there.
Lee took several seconds to assess the situation. Beaman was so distraught, and completely oblivious to his presence, it wouldn't be difficult to step in and take him down. He just needed to wait for the perfect moment . . .
"Amanda! Amanda!" Joe King yelled as he bounded up the stairs and flew past Lee into the bedroom.
"Damn it!" Lee cursed as he lunged for the idiot.
Things happened in quick succession. Joe burst into the room, Lee reached for and missed him, Amanda gasped and pulled back, trying to shield the boys, and Beaman turned fast on his heels to level his gun on Joe. Lee sprang forward, slamming his shoulder into Joe and sent him sprawling on the carpet. At the same moment, Lee squared himself and trained his own weapon at Beaman.
"Lee!" Amanda shouted, shock and fear cracking her voice.
"Put the gun down, Beaman!" Lee ordered. "This is done! Through!"
Beaman held the gun on him, sweating running down his face in streams and his hand trembling uncontrollably. The gun wavered back and forth, and Lee wondered if the guy could even hit him if he tried. Joe stumbled to his feet behind Beaman. If it were anyone but Joe, Lee might have confidence that they would know enough to distract Beaman, or tackle him, or something! But right now, Joe was a loose canon. Lee felt his guts twist when he saw Joe stumble back to the floor and scoot on his backside to the end of the bed, hiding partially behind it.
Beaman stepped away from them, switching his aim from Lee to Amanda and the boys to Joe. He took one hand off the gun long enough to wipe sweat from his forehead. Lee heard the sound of squealing tires outside. So did Efraim. He looked toward the window.
"That's right, Beaman. That's the Agency. You know you're not leaving here. But if you put the gun down, you might have a chance of leaving alive," Lee said, his jaw so tight sharp pains shot down his neck.
"Better dead than behind bars!"
Efraim lunged forward towards the bed. Within seconds he stood between Lee and his family, and Lee didn't dare fire for fear of risking their lives further. Beaman grabbed Phillip by the hair and yanked him forward off the bed.
"No!" Amanda cried and reached for her eldest son.
Beaman locked Phillip against him, his arm beneath the boy's chin and the muzzle of his gun at Phillip's temple. "What's he worth to you, Scarecrow? Worth letting me go?"
Dotty cried out from the bed, but Lee didn't dare a glance in their direction. His attention was fully on Beaman and Phillip. Lee took one split second to drop his eyes from the rogue agent's face to meet the gaze of his oldest step-son. Phillip's eyes were wide and he clutched at Beaman's arm, trying to pull it away from his throat, but there was no doubt. Just trust. Trust in him.
"Let my son go now," Lee forced through a tight throat, his voice raspy and menacing as he slowly brought his stare back up to Beaman's darting eyes. "Or you're **not** making it out of this room alive."
"What, no negotiations? Oh, that's right. The Great Scarecrow doesn't negotiate."
"Let my son go now!" Lee shouted.
It was then he saw it. A flash of fear rounded Beaman's eyes. At that moment
he knew. He knew it was over. Lee watched as Efraim moved the gun from
Phillip's temple to turn it toward Amanda. He didn't hesitate, but fired his
Beaman's body jerked and his arms flailed out, releasing Phillip. As he stumbled back, his blank eyes staring at the ceiling, Lee reached out for Phillip and pulled the boy behind his back. Efraim Beaman crumbled to the floor, the single, clean hole in his forehead staring up like a third eye.
Billy and Francine reached the bedroom door, undoubtedly drawn by the sound of gunfire. With his chest heaving, Lee let his hand drop to his side, his gun falling to the floor with a thud now that the danger was gone.
His eyes burned and he fought to swallow the lump in his throat as he brought Phillip from behind him, pulling the young man into a rough, hard embrace. Lee looked over the top of Phillip's blonde hair to meet his wife's gaze. With a smile on his lips, Lee reached out one hand to her, still holding Phillip against him with the other arm. Amanda stood, holding Jamie's hand and bringing him with her as she walked toward Lee and Phillip. Their hands joined, and Lee pulled them forward until he could bring both his wife and youngest son into his embrace. Dotty rested her head on his shoulder, standing behind him, and wrapped her arms around to touch both Phillip and Amanda. Holding everyone in the circle of his arms, Lee leaned towards his wife and pressed a hard, needful kiss to her lips.
With only one quick glance back to the still form of Efraim Beaman, now half hidden by the agents who surrounded him, Lee led his family out of the bedroom and down the stairs to the den. As they left the room, Lee subconsciously acknowledged Joe King rushing into the bathroom and getting summarily sick.
The boys broke away, and with Dotty right behind, ran down the stairs to the kitchen where more agents waited. Lee wrapped his arm around Amanda's shoulder and pulled her tight against his side, pressing a kiss against her forehead.
"I knew you'd come," Amanda said in a husky whisper.
"I told you a long time ago, Amanda. I'll always come."
**15 Sweet Home Way
5 weeks later
1:32PM, Sunday Afternoon**
Amanda sighed and smiled as Lee parked the Wagoneer in front of the five-bedroom colonial home she and her husband had visited twice over the last several days. She looked out her window and tilted her head to see up to the second story and dormered roofline. The house was just as beautiful as she remembered, though she somehow expected her reaction to change since the last time they were here. If anything, she felt more and more at home each time they came to Sweet Home Way.
"Whooaa!" Phillip said loudly from the backseat. "Check it out! This place is huge!"
Lee put the vehicle in park and leaned his hand on the steering wheel, turning to look back on Phillip, Jamie and Dotty. "Big enough that you each get your own rooms," he said, and Amanda heard the pride in his voice. Their conversation of the night before, when he confided in her that he finally felt like a contributing part of the family because he had found a home they could call their own, came back to her and she knew how much it meant to Lee to have the boys like the house.
"Cool! That means I don't have to keep tripping on your stuff, dork head!" Phillip said, elbowing Jamie.
"Yah, and I don't have to smell your dirty socks anymore!"
"Boys . . . " Amanda started.
"Sorry, mom," they said simultaneously in apology.
"Oh, Lee, this place is just beautiful!" Dotty said with a gasp, pressing her hand to her chest and then flipped it into the air dramatically.
"Can we check it out?" Jamie asked excitedly.
"Sure thing, Champ," Lee said and opened his door.
Amanda smiled as Lee came around to open her door, offering his hand as she slipped out of her seat. She looked up at him, the brilliance of his smile - the kind that reached all the way to his hazel eyes - warming her skin. Lee squeezed her hand and lifted it to his lips for a quick kiss, winking at her.
He immediately moved back to also assist Dotty from the back seat. As they moved toward the front door, another car pulled into the half-circle driveway and Amanda recognized the driver as their real estate agent, Angie. The blonde woman stepped toward them, waving in greeting.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Stetson! Oh, I'm so happy to see you've brought the whole family!" she called as she approached them.
Amanda pushed her hands into the front pocket of her jeans and smiled at the perky woman who had already met them more than once as they agonized over the purchase of a new home. Angie had been patient and helpful, and had helped them find a place they absolutely fell in love with.
"Hi, Angie," Lee said, putting one arm around Amanda's shoulder and extending the other to the woman. After they shook hands, Lee rested his hand on Jamie's shoulder. "Angie, this is our son, Jamie. And the tall one there is Phillip. And this is Amanda's mother, Dotty."
Angie nodded to the boys, smiling widely, and shook Dotty's hand. After several minutes of chitchat on the wide front porch of the house, Angie moved to unlock the front door. Amanda's breath caught in her throat when they stepped into the foyer, just as it did every time they came here. A warm feeling flowed over, like water in a river. It was like coming home after a hard day at work or a long vacation.
"Can we check it out upstairs?" Jamie asked.
"Sure. Go ahead," Amanda answered. "But, no running."
Her request fell on deaf ears as the two teenagers tore up the rounded staircase to the second level. Lee laughed beside her, and Amanda felt the rumble in his chest against her arm as he held her close. He had been hovering around her for days, never straying very far, ever since she made some inconsequential remark about feeling like she might be getting the flu. Now that they lived as a family, Lee took on the responsibilities and privileges with full vigor.
"Well, your boys seem to like it," Angie said with a laugh.
"Which way is the kitchen?" Dotty asked, her voice echoing through the empty house. "I always say you can judge a home by its kitchen. Doesn't need to be too big, but you don't want it too small, either. I never wanted to say anything, Amanda, but I always thought our kitchen was too small."
Amanda pointed to the left. "It's right down that hall, Mother. I think you'll find it's just right."
With a flourish of her hand, Dotty West moved away from them, her heels clicking on the hardwood floors, talking to herself about new wallpaper and light fixtures as she went. Amanda smiled and chuckled. Ever since she and Lee told her mother they were considering a new house, it was all Dotty could talk about. Everything from packing to cleaning out the attic and getting rid of anything they didn't need to picking up copies of Victorian Homes and Gardens and Bed and Bath magazines. She was almost more excited than the boys.
"Should I understand you've come to a decision about the house?" Angie asked, her penciled eyebrows arching.
Amanda looked up at Lee, and couldn't help but smile at the wide grin that spread across her husband's face. Deep dimples poked at his cheeks and his hazel eyes seemed to sparkle. He looked down at her, and she nodded once for him.
"We have, Angie. We want the house."
"Oh, that is wonderful! I can have the papers drawn up by the end of the day and couriered to your house. Would you like for me to begin showing the Arlington house right away?"
"No," Amanda said quickly, immediately pulling back with a deep breath. "No, um, let's wait until we've moved out. If that's okay."
"Sure thing! When would you like to close?
"As soon as possible," they said together.
"Wonderful! I'm just going to go out to my car and call my office, get the proverbial ball rolling, as they say. Feel free to walk through the house again."
Angie left them and Amanda stepped away from Lee, turning in a slow circle in the center of the foyer, looking up at the beautiful crown molding and high-polished wainscoting. She could move into this house, not change a single thing, and be perfectly happy.
"What are you thinking, pretty lady?" Lee asked.
She turned to look at him, and still found herself charmed by the wide smile on his face. He had been happier in the last five weeks than Amanda could ever remember seeing him. He had been right. He told her the night they came clean with their family that everything would work out. Never could she have imagined then that his words would ring so true now.
**"I promise you, Amanda Stetson, I will make this okay. We will make it through this."**
"I was just thinking about how wonderful you are," she said, her voice cracking with the words.
"You want to go check out the upstairs again?" he said with a wink. "Check out our bedroom one more time?"
Amanda walked toward him, reaching her hand out as she closed the space. They linked fingers and walked up the stairs. They could hear Phillip and Jamie fighting over who would get what bedroom. Two of the five bedrooms had attached bathrooms, and they already told the boys the second was for their grandmother. That left three rooms for two boys, and they decided to let the boys fight it out. Together they moved to the far end of the hall, to the large bedroom that faced out over the front yard.
She walked to one of the large front windows and looked down to the sandstone pebble driveway where their car was parked. The front yard was beautiful and the house sat several hundred feet from the road, but the back yard seemed fathomless in comparison to their little cottage in Arlington. Lee stepped up behind her, resting his hands on her shoulders and his lips against her hair.
"Are you happy?" he asked.
To answer his question, Amanda turned to face him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Their lips met and she put every ounce of happiness into the kiss. Lee's groan vibrated against her mouth and he pulled her closer.
"Oh, there you are! I nearly got lost in this place looking for you!" Dotty proclaimed as she came into the room. She had to be ecstatic over the house, because her hands flipped in the air as she spoke, punctuating each word, and her blonde curls bobbed. "Amanda, Lee, this house is absolutely beautiful! I don't know how much the two of you get paid for whatever it is you do, because I'm still not quite sure of that yet, but this is just beautiful!"
Amanda let the kiss break and slowly lowered herself down off her toes. She decided weeks ago that living with her husband and her mother meant she didn't have to hide her affections anymore. If she wanted to kiss Lee, she kissed Lee. And never again would she have to hide. It felt wonderful.
"I'm glad you like it, Dotty. Did you find your room?"
"If you mean that gigantic room at the other end of the hall, yes I did. And I think the boys are close to resolving their battle of wills."
"Good," Amanda said, leaning her head against lee's chest and taking a deep breath. Her limbs felt heavy and if there had been a bed in the room, she would willingly climb into it. "Angie is going to see how quickly we can close on the house and move it."
"Hey, are you okay?" Lee asked as he kissed her hair.
"Oh, sure. I'm fine. Just tired."
Her mother walked across the room and stood in front of Amanda, tipping her head back to look at her through the bottom of her glasses. Amanda pulled back, shocked, when her mother took hold of her chin and turned her face side to side, glaring at her.
"Mother! What are you doing?"
Dotty smiled, stepped back, and crossed her arms over her body. She looked from Amanda to Lee and back to Amanda, an all-knowing grin on her face. Amanda watched, shocked and confused, as her mother reached up and gently patted Lee on the cheek before turning on her heels and heading out of the room.
"You may want to help the boys pick out their rooms," she said as she walked.
Amanda chuckled, tilted her head up toward her husband, and shrugged. Lee arched his eyebrows and shrugged back. Dotty had them both confused.
"Ok, Mother, I'll bite. What are you thinking and why should we pick out the boy's rooms?"
Dotty stopped at the doorway and looked back at them. "Because you'll want the room next door as the nursery."
Amanda gasped and looked up at Lee. With a yelp, he swept her up and spun her around the empty floor, pulling her into a deep kiss before setting her feet on the floor again
The End . . .for now