In her aunt’s house in historic Washington, D.C., Natasha walked the empty, echoing halls where she grew up and had so many wonderful memories. She remembered the friendly-faced aunt who welcomed her to the new home so soon after she had lost the mother she adored. She recalled learning to know and trust the gentle woman who would raise her in the years to come. She recalled special days like birthdays and Christmas’s and even the not so special days with genuine love and joy.
No matter how the confused young girl had screamed or pushed the loving aunt away, she was never allowed to forget that she was loved and wanted. She truly missed her but in her heart was glad that the kind soul was not here to witness her appalling behavior these last few months.
At the sound of a car pulling into the drive, she walked rapidly to the door and peered thru the stained glass window. Yes, it was Piotre and he had brought Andre just as he promised. She could not believe she would be allowed to see him again after all these months. The information she had given her deceitful brother weeks prior had been exactly what he wanted. He had arranged to have the homes in the Betsy Ross estates observed and when he was sure the delegation was entrenched in their temporary homes he planned to destroy all they sheltered. As a ‘reward’ for her good behavior, as Piotre termed her cooperation, she had been instructed to be here today and that she would be allowed time alone with Andre. She had told Phillip this morning that she had last minute shopping to do and had taken a cab to her childhood home.
She threw open the door and rushed down the walk to embrace the shaky Andre. He was pale and thin. His eyes were circled in dark shadows and he looked every bit the captive he had been for so many weeks. The site of her beloved in such terrible condition infuriated her and she began to berate her half-brother for his abuse.
“Piotre, how dare you treat him this way! You promised he was being cared for. That he was well and fed. I did everything you asked and more.”
Roughly grabbing the very distraught young woman by the arm and forcing her into the house, the dark Russian hissed, “Get in the house, Tatiana. Mind your voice. Not to mention your manners. He is alive. You should be very grateful. It is more than you deserve for your reluctant service to your homeland and your family. You should have been ready, even eager to help me in this noble quest.” He indicated to his accompanying henchmen that they should watch the outside while he spoke to the young couple in front of him.
Staring balefully at the self appointed savior of the Russian world, Natasha led Andre inside the foyer to the antique bench. She caressed his face and gently pushed his hair from his face. Meeting her gaze for the first time, he seemed to shake off the daze he was in and found his voice, “Natasha, are you okay? Our baby? He said if I tried to leave he would kill you and our baby. I didn’t even know there was a baby.”
“Oh yes, we are having a baby. He took you before I could tell you.”
“I waited for you at the teahouse and before you got there these two men grabbed me and pushed me into a car and took me away.”
“I know. Piotre was there that day at the teahouse. He said if I didn’t do as he wanted, he was going to kill you.”
Throughout this exchange the young people had held each other close. The love they felt was obvious to see and Piotre snorted in disgust when they continued in hushed tones.
“Natasha, he said that you had moved on and that you were going to marry someone else. He said that you were cheating on me and that you were helping him to kill some people.”
Natasha swallowed hard. How could she tell him that she had betrayed him? She had to make him understand it was to save his life. She blurted out the truth in one rush of words. “Oh Andre, it is true. I am so sorry. But I had no other choice. If I hadn’t helped him he would have killed you. I had to befriend Phillip and …..be his lover. He thinks the baby is his.” Her eyes pleaded with him to understand. She gripped his hands and gazed up at him in silent longing. She saw anger then understanding flash across his face.
He silently acknowledged that she had no other option and nodded his affirmation to her. He leaned forward and kissed her lightly. “I understand. It hurts but I understand.”
A cold laugh came form the tall, dark man watching them. “How sweet. He understands.”
Angry now that his Natasha had been manipulated that way, the young American man stood and demanded their release, “You have what you wanted. Leave us alone now. We won’t help you anymore!”
Visibly amused by the outburst, Piotre laughed coldly. “Oh what bravery. Indeed I do have what I wanted. Today, the Delegation arrives. The fools at Betsy Ross Estates are going to be obliterated in exactly two hours. I could not get into the houses but I could certainly get above the houses. They will never know what hit them. The helicopters will be in and out before the first tank of nerve gas hits the ground. The sniveling beggars who would bring Mother Russia to her knees are arriving even now. Soon, the world will know that this betrayal of our forefathers will not be allowed and those cowards in Moscow will have me to thank for saving them from themselves.”
“Fine, brother. You have what you wanted. Now leave and let us be!” If she could just get him to leave them alone. She vowed she would call the Stetsons and reveal his actions. Andre was alive and she would take her punishment if she must. She must stop Piotre from killing all those innocent people. Nerve gas would destroy the entire community, not just the delegation.
“Now, now Tatiana. You do not really think that I can let you just walk out of here? I am no fool. You would go straight to the Scarecrow and tell him all. No, my dear little sister, I am afraid that I cannot allow that to happen. You see, you are no longer useful to me and I can’t trust you to keep your mouths shut. You will have to die as well.” With a jerk of his head, he indicated to his associates that he meant for them to die, and then he exited the house.
The man closest to the pair pulled a lethal looking weapon, attached a silencer, and aimed at Natasha. He stared at her coldly for long seconds, then slowly pulled the trigger. At the first motion of the man’s finger, Andre threw himself in front of the pregnant woman and took the bullet straight to his heart. He collapsed, taking Natasha down with him. Seeing the point of impact on the young man’s chest and that he was not breathing and noting that the girl was not breathing either, he assumed that the bullet had killed them both and left the bodies lying where they fell.
After several minutes, Natasha groaned aloud and stirred under the body of her fiancé. She fought to catch her breath, having lost it when Andre had fallen on her. Realizing that he was not moving, she gently pushed him to his back and called his name.
“Andre. Andre. Please answer me! Oh God. Oh God, no please no.” She sobbed her pleas aloud.
“Andre! I love you. I am so sorry, please speak to me.”
Her voice rose and fell with emotion. She shook him over and over.
He wouldn’t answer her. He wouldn’t breath no matter how she begged
him to. He would never hold her again. He would never hold
their child or see it walk or talk or call him daddy. They would
never look into each other’s eyes and know without speaking that all was
right in the world as long as they were together. She lay over his
dead body and absorbed the pain of his death. She lay for what seemed
an eternity next to him on the hard floor of the home where, until now,
she had only good memories. She knew that she could never forget
this day or what her brother had tried to do to her. He must be stopped.
As she rose to leave, unsure as to where she should go or do, she realized that perhaps she had been spared for a purpose. She could still save the Delegation. She could stop Piotre from fulfilling his horrific plans. She put aside all thoughts of what punishment lay in store for her. She would worry about that later; for now she had to get to the Betsy Ross estates and stop the destruction that was imminent.
Lee and Amanda stood by the window of the house assigned to the head of the faux delegation for the Russian people. They were waiting for the arrival of Piotre Rominav or whatever he might send. The neighborhood was deluged with agents. The perimeter of the estates was surrounded. At the last minute, airspace above the immediate countryside had been restricted as well. The only way in was on the ground and whoever came in was definitely not going to get out.
Lee peeked at Amanda while she was not looking. Her face was closed with worry. She knew what was coming and hated every aspect of it. Natasha was their leak. They had spent the last four weeks planning this sting operation while she had been living in their home. She had eaten meals with the family, slept under their roof, all the while giving her treacherous brother Rominav sensitive information to use as a weapon to destroy relations with the USSR. She carried their grandchild in her womb. How could they just arrest her and hope that Phillip would understand? They didn’t even understand. They had discussed the ramifications of her actions over and over. No matter what happened she would be charged with at least conspiracy and would go to prison.
“Lee, I’m not sure if I can do this. What are we going to tell Phillip? I feel like I am betraying him somehow.”
“Amanda, we’re doing the only thing that we can. We have to catch Rominav before anything happens to endanger the conferences again. To do that, we have to use Natasha to get to him. She’s feeding him his information. She was in our home and in our office. Leatherneck said that our office lock had been breached with a descrambling device. That is the only way to get past it. Rominav had to have supplied that. She willfully broke into our private space and betrayed us.”
“I know all that. What I don’t know is why! All our records show that she didn’t really know her brother, that they were raised separately and since childhood, had no contact with each other until they started meeting at that teahouse last summer. I just feel that there is more to this than we know.”
“Look, I agree. I had Billy tell the TAC team that if she shows up here today she isn’t to be injured. He even agreed to let us speak to her first, alone.” He looked her in the eye and smiled. “I know that you are fond of her. So am I. That’s why this hurt so bad when we found out who she was. We will do everything we can to help her, if she was coerced into this someway.”
Amanda blinked back the tears in her eyes. She knew everything he said was true. By all appearances Natasha had willingly betrayed their home and their hospitality. But Amanda also knew that what she said was true. There had to be a reason for the girl’s actions.
The two operatives held each other close for several minutes. They parted when the two-way radio crackled to life next to them. Francine’s voice filled the room.
“Scarecrow, Amanda, here comes someone. I can’t tell who it is. It’s a female, long dark coat, hood pulled up over her face. Agent Kellet says it could be the same girl he saw at the teahouse with Rominav. It could be Comrede.”
The Agent from the teahouse had just arrived back into town this morning. He had been voluntarily reassigned before he could be asked to put together a composite drawing of the girl. He had gone into deep cover and they had been unable to contact him for months now. Lee cursed the fates when he realized that so much pain could have been avoided if only they’d had that composite drawing months ago. But, they hadn’t and now they had to deal with what they did have.
“Amanda, are you ready?”
She gulped and nodded her head. “Yes, let’s do this. But it’s early isn’t it? The fake party isn’t due for 30 minutes.”
“I know. This could be a set-up to make us reveal ourselves.” His voice was tight with tension and worry. They had been in an emotional upheaval for weeks now and he wasn’t sure how much more they could take.
The agent picked up the radio and relayed this to Francine and Billy. They agreed to wait for Lee’s signal before surrounding the approaching woman.
Lee and Amanda walked to the door with weapons drawn. At his signal, Amanda opened the door and stood behind the wood panel. Lee rounded the door and ordered the still unseen person to halt. He aimed his gun at the form and instructed it to show itself. “Whoever you are, pull down the hood and slowly walk to the door.”
The small figure took two more steps, raised her head to look at the man filling the doorway and whispered, “Please, Lee. I must speak to you.” She lowered the hood and looked at him with cautious eyes. “You must leave here at once. Take the Russian delegation and leave. He is going to destroy you all.”
Amanda left the safety of the door and stood next to Lee. Despite all their preparations for this event it was just too unreal to be believed. Natasha had indeed betrayed them. Why else would she be here now? Rominav had to have sent her. “Natasha, why? Why did you do this?”
The guilty Natasha begins to speak louder, “Didn’t you hear me? Piotre is going to kill you all. You must leave this place.” Her agitation was growing and she stepped forward quickly.
Instinctively, Lee raised his gun once more. Seeing the weapon Natasha stopped and held up her hands. “I’m sorry. Yes, I betrayed you. I had no other choice. I didn’t want to.”
Angrily Amanda demanded, “Then why did you? What do you mean you had no choice?”
The young woman finally gave in to the distress she had been subjected to that day. She started to rant at the top of her voice. “Because he was going to kill Andre and hurt my baby. But he killed him anyway. He tried to kill me.” Natasha flung the words at the older woman just as she began to faint. The long coat blew open in a sudden gust of wind. The soft, white maternity top the girl wore was covered in crimson blood. Lee rushed forward and caught her body as she fell toward the cold, hard ground. He looked at the blood and then at his wife. She was already on the radio. “Francine, get an ambulance here right now.”
“Amanda. Who is hurt? What happened?”
“I’m not sure. Natasha is bleeding. Please hurry.”
“Natasha? Who is Natasha? You mean Tatiana Comrede?” Her voice was bewildered. Only Billy knew of the connection between the suspect and the Stetson family.
She received no answer. Amanda had abandoned the radio to go help Lee with the burden he carried into the house. They laid her gently on the floor and Amanda cradled the blond head in her lap. “Can you tell where she is hurt?”
“No, I don’t see anything. Amanda, I don’t think it is her blood.”
“Yes, Andre. Whoever that is.”
The girl stirred slightly and struggled to whisper, “Andre is my fiancé.
He is dead. Piotre killed him anyway.” The distraught girl
sobbed briefly, then passed out once more.