Lee Stetson paced the small room directly across the hall from where Natasha was being “held”. He was antsy. Something was going to happen soon. He could feel it. Natasha had been the bait to lure in Piotre Rominav. And he was about to jerk their line.
Other than the first phone call and the phone call from Piotre this morning, Natasha had had no further contact with her brother. The plan had been put into motion just as they had discussed. She had phoned Piotre from the Stetson house on a phone line dummied up to appear to be from the hospital. Meanwhile, at the hospital, guards had been placed outside an empty room. NEST nurses had gone in and out as per the normal routine of the ward and to all looking on, it appeared that Natasha was indeed inside, a prisoner, until she was stable enough to be transported to an Agency holding cell..
She’d spent several days resting with the family before she had been cleared by Dr. Mahone to be up and around. She had come to the hospital under the disguise of any other pregnant woman arriving to give birth and had then been escorted to her room under heavy secrecy. That had been three days ago. Secretly, he and Amanda had hoped Piotre would make his move before Natasha arrived back at the hospital. They abhorred the thought of her being in further danger. Especially, since Phillip had refused to be swayed from his intention of staying with her.
Even now he sat next to her bed, holding her hand as they discussed baby names. The nervous movement of his hands on hers betrayed the tension in the young man. Only those closest to him could tell how wired he was. Lee felt an immense pride in his stepson. Phillip had been handling himself admirably. He could hear them over the one-way microphone hidden on the wiring of the bed controls. They had discussed any and everything in the last 3 days, except for her brother and the plan to capture him. You could almost see the love growing between them. Phillip had already loved Natasha and Natasha certainly appeared to be growing to love him. Just as Lee had noticed how she didn’t look at Phillip in the beginning, he now saw how she did look at him. Her eyes followed him as he moved around the room. Lee hoped that the young hearts would survive what was to come. Their plan was dangerous and both Natasha and Phillip were determined to see it through.
Piotre had been shocked to learn she was alive and being held by the Agency. He had assumed that his men had finished the deed and that she had died with Andre at the home of her childhood. She had managed to convince him that she did indeed now want to help him bring about the downfall of the Scarecrow and his partner. If that included the demise of the communication between the US and the USSR then so be it. Her tone had been truly desperate and he had believed her.
Her brother had told her to just wait in the hospital. He would get to her before she could be taken to the Agency. He had given her those terse instructions and hung up. Until this morning they had heard nothing else. This morning’s call had been short and to the point. ‘Be ready, today.’ The call had been untraceable and now all concerned were anxious for something, anything to happen. The hospital was blanketed with Agents. Lee and Amanda both waited in the observation room across the hall. The camera hidden in the TV showed them that Natasha and Phillip were both growing unsettled as the day progressed without Rominav having shown his presence.
“Lee, I just wish I could speak to them, reassure them. Look at Phillip. He’s wound so tight he’s going to break soon.” She stood near the monitor screen and touched the boy’s image with her fingertips.
“Amanda, he and Natasha are doing great. If you go over there now, we might blow the whole deal. I’d bet my life that Rominav is in the building even as we speak. It’s going to be soon. I know it. When he shows up to take her out of here, she is going to get him to talk and then we will nab him. He’ll never even get her out of the building.”
“What if he finds the wire in her clothes?”
“He’s not going to take the time to look. He wants to get in and out fast, before he gets caught.”
“Lee, are you sure?”
“Amanda…” A knock on the door stopped his reassurances. “What the hell? No one is supposed contact us this way. What’s going on around here?” He drew his gun and approached the door, glancing back to see Amanda take up position behind him with her own weapon ready. He cautiously called, “Yea, who is it?”
A familiar voice answered him, “Hey Stetson, it’s Kellet. Change of plans. Let me in.”
Lee breathed out and opened the road to allow the other agent to enter. “What do you mean change of plans? Who changed the plans? Billy?”
“No man, Smyth. Got a twinge of conscience I guess. He wants to pull the girl. Put in a ringer. I’m supposed to take her out the back and to the Agency. Said to take your boy, too. Get him out of the way. He didn’t want to risk you two losing family on this.”
“Thank goodness. He came to his senses. Are we going to the Agency or staying here?” Amanda couldn’t hide the relief in her voice.
“Nah, you two stay here. He wants Rominav, today!”
Lee studied the man’s face and finally decided he was on the up and up. “All right. Just explain to Natasha and Phillip that we’ll see them tonight when this is all over.”
Kellet left the room and crossed the hall to Natasha’s room. He entered, then Lee and Amanda heard him explain to the young people the change of plans. Natasha protested but Phillip overrode her objections. He was relieved not to have to go through with the plan. Soon they were leaving under the care of Agent Kellet.
The ringer came in and settled in the bed. Lee and Amanda waited for about twenty minutes before the sense of foreboding became too much for Lee to ignore. They faced each other and spoke simultaneously. “Something’s not right.”
“I’m calling Billy.” Lee went to the secured phone line and put through the priority call code that would get him Billy no matter where he was. “Billy, something’s not right with this whole ringer set-up. Did Kellet get to the Agency with the kids?”
“Kellet? Ringer? Scarecrow what are you talking about?” Melrose demanded.
“Damn. Billy, get a team up here now. Kellet has Natasha and Phillip. We have a bigger leak than we thought.” Lee slammed the phone down and faced Amanda.
“It was a set-up, wasn’t it?”
“Now he has Natasha and Phillip. Lee, we have to find them.”
The pair exchanged looks of desperation. Suddenly Amanda leaped up and started for the door. “Lee, the wire. She’s still wearing the wire. Is it just a wire or can we track her with it?”
“We can track her. It’s a homing device, too. Let’s go.”
The two run out of the room and into Billy and Francine as they careen around the corner. They explain quickly what Kellet had said. “I should have known he was lying. Smyth doesn’t care about our family. He wouldn’t care if we lost everything. So long as he gets Rominav.” Lee’s tone betrayed his disgust with himself and Smyth.
Billy replied, “We’ll find them, Lee. Let’s go. Francine, stay here and figure out what is going on here!”
Together the section chief and Lee and Amanda head to the TAC van waiting nearby. Leatherneck waited inside.
“Leatherneck, I need you to trace the wire Natasha’ s wearing from here.” Lee and Amanda breathlessly waited on the answer.
“Sure, but why? She is in the hospital, isn’t she?”
“Not anymore. Come on, man. Start this thing up. We have to find them.”
Lee sat on the seat next to Amanda held her hand as they watched the radar screen blink into life. “There, that’s the signal, isn’t it?”
Leatherneck checked the radar, and replied, “Yep, that’s it. Let’s go. Hold on.” He stated the van and pulled away from the curb with tires squalling.
The team traced the signal back to where it all started, the Russian teahouse on the college campus. Billy, puzzled, asked, “Isn’t this where Natasha said she first made contact with Rominav?”
“Yeah and it’s where Kellet first found them and also where we lost them. Kellet said they just quit showing up.” Lee surveyed the area closely as they talked.
“You think Rominav got to Kellet? Bribed him? Threatened him? What?” Melrose fired the questions at his top agent.
“I’m betting he bribed him. I think he paid him nicely to volunteer for that nice, long, undercover assignment. Kellet never volunteered for anything in his life.”
Amanda added to the evidence, “He’s driving a brand new car as well. I saw it last week at the Agency.”
“Damn, we should’ve seen all of this earlier.” Billy steamed in frustration.
“Lee, Mr. Melrose, look. That’s Kellet. In the window upstairs.” Amanda pointed up.
Billy nodded. “I’m going to go talk to the owner. Maybe he knows more than he should.” The black man left the van, straightened his jacket and entered the establishment. He returned a few minutes later, rushing across the street. “He says that a man matching Rominav’s description rented the upstairs apartment this summer. He also just came back to retrieve his belongings, or so he said. Natasha and Phillip are with him.”
“Why didn’t we know about the apartment sooner, sir?”
“Kellet filed that report.” Disgust was obvious in the older man’s tone.
“I’m going in.” Lee tried to leave the van. Amanda rose to accompany him. “No, Amanda, stay here.”
“No way. I’m going with you. I’m your partner and your back up. We haven’t had this fight in a long time and I’m not having it now.” She stared at him adamantly.
Tersely, Lee nodded. “Fine, let’s go. I’d rather have you with me anyway.”
“Lee, I’m calling for more back up. Be careful.” Billy spoke with his hand already on the phone on the van control panel.
Lee and Amanda left the van and crept up to the rear of the teahouse, concealed by the hedges of the neighboring building. They entered the back door and stealthily made their way up the back stairs. They stopped at the door of the room that corresponded to the window in which they saw Kellet earlier. Inside could be heard voices, raised in anger.
“Rominav, you owe me something. I got you the girl and Scarecrow’s precious stepson. You can get anything you want out of him now. You at least owe me the other million you promised.”
“Oh, indeed, Kellet, I do owe you something. And you shall receive it.” A gun blast followed. Natasha screamed and Lee had to restrain Amanda from running in. He placed a strong arm around her waist and shook his head. She swallowed hard and nodded her understanding. He released her and stepped to the other side of the door. As he reached for the door handle, it swung open before him.
There on the other side stood Rominav, with Natasha held before him. “Welcome to my party, Scarecrow. You’ve tried so hard to catch me that I thought you at least deserved to see me once before I destroy you and your family. When those sniveling beggars from my country’s government hear that I have destroyed the great Scarecrow, they will never again try to enter this country on such a despicable mission.”
He held Natasha at gunpoint and motioned for the others to enter the room. Lee and Amanda entered the room after laying their guns on the floor near the door. Piotre released Natasha and pushed her toward the other occupants of the room. The force of the shove sent her toppling to the ground.
Phillip rushed to her side and helped her to her feet. “Leave her alone. How can you just use her like this? She’s your family. That should be what’s important to you. Family. Not destroying a nation. Or a person.” Phillip shouted at the man before him. “You’re a monster. You don’t deserve to have Natasha in your life.” He stood in front of her and glared at Piotre.
“Phillip, be quiet. Please.” Amanda pleaded with her firstborn.
“No, let him speak. I find it very sweet. He so obviously cares for the tramp that betrayed him and his family. She is worthless. And he is a spineless boy who can’t see what is before him. I think I shall kill him first. I cannot abide weaklings.” Piotre raised the gun in his hand and pointed it at Phillip. He released the safety and curled his finger around the trigger.
Behind Phillip, Natasha saw her brother preparing to pull the trigger of the gun that would kill the man she had come to love. She screamed aloud, “No, I won’t let another person die for me. I won’t let you do it.” She pushed Phillip with all her strength, then spun to the side from the force of the bullet that entered her chest. She dropped to the ground and Phillip fell with her.
Lee took the initiative and jumped the distracted Rominav from the side. He grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the tableau before him. A sharp jab to the nose stunned the shooter so that a hard chop to the neck disarmed him. The gun fell to the ground and Lee held the man by the collar and stared him disdainfully in the eyes. He shook his head and delivered the blow that knocked the other man senseless and to his knees. Lee retrieved the gun and went to the window to signal Billy.
“Lee.” He turned to the strained voice of his wife. “Lee, we have to get her to the hospital. She’s bleeding and I think she’s in labor.” Lee followed her gaze first to the bleeding wound on Natasha’s mid-chest, then lower. Even from the window, he could see the contracting muscles of her swollen abdomen. He fell to his knees next to his family. Phillip held Natasha’s upper body in his lap. Amanda was on the other side of her body looking at Lee.
“Natasha, hang on. Help is on the way. Just hang on.” Lee reached for her hand and urged her to fight.
She opened her eyes and made eye contact with Phillip. Her words came out in a ragged whisper, “Phillip, I’m so sorry. I love you. Please forgive me.”
“Don’t try to talk, Tash. It’s going to be ok. You’ll see. I love you, too. Just hang on.” Phillip pleaded with the young woman in his arms.
Natasha reached for the hands of the people who sat beside her. “Lee, Amanda, please take care of my baby. You’re such good parents. You raised wonderful children. Please make sure my baby is going to be taken care of.”
Amanda quieted the girl and promised, “Your baby is going to be fine and so are you. Just rest.”
The blue eyes of the brave woman before them closed and she lost consciousness
but not before she took the hands she held and placed them over her straining
stomach, over the struggle of life. The tides of life were ebbing
and flowing in her wounded body under their very hands.