Summary: An old friend gives Lee a little push toward recognizing and admitting his growing feelings for Amanda.
Timeframe: Early 3rd season
Disclaimer: These great characters are the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions, they don't belong to me, nor will I get one dime for writing this story. The story, however, is mine. Please don't archive without my permission.
Feedback: Please. Read and review.
Author's Notes: This story contains some references to the episodes "A Lovely Little Affair" , "Over the Limit", and "Legend of das Geisterschloss". This is my second story (and first full-length story), hope you like it—if you don't, oh, well, life is hard...
Chapter One – Constant Frustration
It had already turned into a long, frustrating day. Billy Melrose, Lee Stetson, and a handful of senior agents had been in an all-day strategy session, working on preventing the terrorist group Red February from disrupting public events during the upcoming papal visit to Washington, DC. A few of the members of Red February had been arrested just two weeks earlier, in connection with the Alan Chamberlain case, but none of them were talking.
When the strategy session ended for the day, Lee headed for the interrogation room, to try one more time to get whatever information he could squeeze out of Franco Necci about the target, the timing, and the method of the anticipated "disruption". But either Necci was just giving a very good impression of a clam, or he really didn't know about Red February's plans. In any event, they had no new leads and by this time it was well after 8:00 p.m.
"Great. Just great," Lee groused to the now empty room. Not only were they getting nowhere on the case, but he was supposed to have had a date with Leslie O'Connor, dinner at L'Ornate at 7:00. He couldn't blame her if she never wanted to see him again. After all, this was the third time in a row. Oh, well, all he could do now was to try and apologize. Again. And promise to make it up to her somehow. When he dialed the number for her hotel room, he was greeted by a friendly, pre-recorded voice, which said that the guest in room 705 was unable to take his call at this time, and that he should leave a message after the beep. Beep - Schmeep! Click! 'I am NOT talking to this machine!' he mentally shouted as he hung up the phone in frustration.
He wanted desperately to forget everything and get a decent night's sleep, but no, that wouldn't happen either. And in his few, fitful moments of sleep, he would have The Dream. He'd been having variations of this same dream for the last week. There was a tall, beautiful brunette with lovely, almond-shaped eyes. They seemed to be at a fancy dress party: she was wearing a red ball gown with spaghetti straps, a form-fitting bodice and a long flowing skirt...he couldn't take his eyes off of her. The two of them danced and laughed, and had a wonderful time together. Then the music would stop and the dream would end. And he would wake up, remembering how terrific this woman was, but not quite remembering her face. He'd tried to convince himself that the woman in his dream must be Leslie, but he just couldn't be sure. The identity of this mystery woman remained just beyond his grasp. "Oh, good. Something else to be frustrated about!" he shouted to no one in particular, just before the clock radio alarm shrieked. "Arrrrgh!"
When Lee Stetson stormed into the Q-Bureau, he failed to notice that Amanda King was already there. She had just brought up some closed case files from the bullpen for storage in the vault, so she couldn't help overhearing Lee's phone conversation with Leslie.
"Hello, Leslie? Look, I'm really sorry about last night. We had a full day of meetings that ran into night, and I just couldn't get away. I did try to call, but apparently you'd already left to meet me at the restaurant, and I wasn't able to catch you later in the evening, and I didn't want to apologize to an answering machine. I thought you deserved a personal apology...I know, I know, this was the third time in a row, but, please give me another chance. Do you have any plans for tomorrow evening? ...Okay, then, how about I pick you up at your hotel at 7:00, and we'll go to Spencer's? ...Good. Can't wait to see you, either. Bye."
It wasn't until he'd hung up the phone that Lee saw the vault door was slightly ajar. He circled around from behind his desk, crossed the small room and flung the door open, and shouted, "Amanda! What are you doing in here? And how long have you been here, anyway?!?"
"Oh, excuse me for interrupting your social life!" Amanda huffed.
"My soc-?" Lee attempted to ask, only to be cut off by the continuation of Amanda's heated response.
"I've been here filing closed case files from Mr. Melrose's office for the last hour, if you must know! And besides what's got you so bent out of shape?!?"
Lee stuffed one hand in his pocket and ran the other through his hair, and began his apology with a half-smile. "Sorry, Amanda. Yesterday was a really bad day. The Red February strategy sessions are all smoke and mirrors, for what they're worth, and my 'social life' as you call it, keeps getting put off by Agency business, and I've been having trouble getting any sleep lately besides. But that's no excuse for giving you a hard time. I really am sorry. Forgive me?"
"Of course I'll forgive you. We're friends, right?" Amanda asked.
Lee answered, "You bet. Good friends. The best. "
Amanda smiled, "Okay. Well, you'd better let your 'friend' get back to this filing, or I'll still be at it when you come in tomorrow!"
"All right," Lee said. "I guess I'd better get on down to Billy's office and see if there's any news on Red February's plans. See you later." Turning back to Amanda before leaving the Q-Bureau, he asked, "Hey, if both of us can catch a break later, how about lunch at Nedlinger's?"
"Sure. That'll be fine. I'll either be right here or down in the bullpen. See you later!"
In a moderately posh hotel room, only a few blocks away from the Georgetown building known as International Federal Film, a handsome dark-haired young man was discussing final plans with his two associates. Early on Friday morning, before 6:00 a.m., each of them would "neutralize" one of the Georgetown University students who had tickets and ID badges for the Pope's Youth Rally at RFK Stadium. Buses from the university would carry the students to the stadium starting at 8:00 a.m., and the rally itself would begin at 10:30 a.m. Because of their young, clean-cut good looks, these three would easily disappear into the crowd.
At 11:45 a.m., Billy Melrose, the Agency's Chief of Field Section was about to wrap up the morning's strategy meeting. "All right, people, we have a special Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday evening, but that one is invitation-only, mostly dignitaries of some sort or other. Duffy, you're in charge of security for that venue; cover the exits and the streets around the church. Next is the Motorcade from the hotel at 16th and H Streets over to RFK Stadium; we've got agents lined up at various places through the motorcade route, and the Pope's own vehicle protects him fairly well for that trip. Stetson, you will be in charge at the stadium. Make sure all the exits and the tunnels are covered, and that ID's and tickets are thoroughly checked."
Lee responded, "Got it, Billy. That's why the students are being brought in by bus from each of the schools, and have staggered arrival times beginning at 8:00 a.m."
"Good, then that's all for now," Billy said, effectively ending the meeting.
Five minutes later, Lee found Amanda in the Q Bureau vault, inserting the last file, closing and locking the drawer. "Is now a good time?" he said, not realizing that he had startled her, as usual.
"Good grief, Lee!" Amanda almost yelled. "When are you gonna stop doing that, huh?"
"Sorry. Force of habit, I guess. So are you ready to go to lunch?" he asked.
Amanda said, "Sure. Let me just close the vault and get my purse."
Moments later at Nedlinger's, they had just ordered their lunches, caesar salad for Amanda, and a roast beef sandwich for Lee. The two of them chatted amiably about how their days had gone so far.
Lee told her, "It's still all 'smoke and mirrors', but at least the team did put together some kind of a plan. It makes us feel like we we're doing something, even though we still don't know what we're up against. How was your morning?"
Amanda replied, with a weak smile, "Oh, it's been an OK morning, I guess, but I could certainly use something a little more interesting to do than filing. I mean, I'm not on the 'team', but if there's any way I can help...you know, contribute in some way, I'd really"
"be glad to," they said, in unison, and Lee continued, "Yeah, I know. Sometimes this 'need to know' stuff gets a little old, doesn't it? Tell you what. Although I can't reveal any 'deep, dark secrets'," he said, making quotation marks in the air, "I can tell you what's common knowledge. And if you have some useful suggestions, I'd be crazy not to take advantage of them, right?"
Lee had flashed one of his killer smiles at her when he asked the question, and she couldn't help grinning when she answered, "Well of course you would! I don't care what anyone else says, Big Fella, you're all right!", and she gently chucked him on the shoulder. She could be so funny sometimes, and those eyes, when they sparkled like that, it just wasn't fair. It almost made him want to...Oh my gosh, Stetson! Where did that come from? He shook his head slightly and smiled, and finally was able to continue, "OK so there are just a few big events where the Pope and his entourage might be in danger. There's the private mass on Thursday evening, and the motorcade from the hotel to RFK Stadium on Friday morning early, and then the Youth Rally at the stadium, which starts at 10:30."
"Oh yeah, that's right. One of the kids from our neighborhood, Jimmy Gianetti – he's a student at Georgetown – anyway, he has a ticket to go to the rally. His mother is so proud, she's been talking about it with Mother and anyone else down the block, and... well, at any rate, Jimmy told her that he has to be ready to get on the bus by 8:00. Didn't you say the rally doesn't start 'til 10:30?"
Would Amanda's rambling never cease? Although he had to admit to himself that it was sort of cute...
"Lee?", she called to him, probably for the second time, he wasn't sure.
Oops. Busted again. "What? Oh, right, the rally doesn't start until 10:30, Amanda, but we have to get over 20,000 students delivered safely to the stadium, check all their tickets and ID badges, and have them seated before the Pope's arrival at 10:15," Lee explained.
A quiet little "Oh" was all she said. 'Good, Amanda, throw me off balance by NOT rambling,' he thought.
"What, no suggestions?" Lee asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Well no...not yet, anyway. Just a couple of questions, really," Amanda offered. "What kind of weapons could they possibly bring in? And with all your double ID checks and all, how could anyone unexpected get in? Wouldn't they have to bring in weapons that were somehow disguised NOT to look like weapons, and wouldn't they have to steal or duplicate somebody's real ID badge?"
"Well, Mrs. King, for someone who doesn't have any 'suggestions', you sure are good at puzzling out the right questions. We'll kick those around with Billy and Francine when we get back to the office, OK?"
"Sure. That'll be fine, " she said with a sweet smile. Funny how a nice lunch with a 'friend' can improve your day.
In Billy Melrose's office, Lee and Amanda had brought up her questions about disguised weapons and faked or stolen ID badges, and the three of them were in the midst of discussing possible ways to uncover each, hopefully before the start of the pope's Youth Rally on Friday, now only two and a half days away, when Francine Desmond burst into the office, bearing catalogs.
"What are those?!?" asked Lee.
"Mail order catalogs - you wouldn't believe what your average Joe can buy these days! I just came back from the Research Department. They had pulled these at a local newsstand, looking into possible means of concealing or disguising weapons. Look, here's one: '1/2 ounce Pepper Pen-looks like a fountain pen. Easy to carry in your pocket or purse.' That little item is only effective up to 6 feet, but it definitely could have its uses. And then there's the 'Pepper Pager - it contains two 10% pepper spray canisters and has an effective range of 8 to 12 feet and holds 10 to 12 one-second bursts. Looks like an ordinary pager...giving you a distinct tactical advantage.'"
"Good grief, Francine. Do you mean to tell me it says that right there in the catalog?" Lee interjected.
"Here, let me see that!" Amanda requested, taking hold of the open catalog. "Look what's on the opposite page here - blowguns! Look, it says they're '.40 caliber, with seamless T-6061 aircraft aluminum tubing....you can expect ranges over 250 feet and muzzle velocities as high as 350 feet per second or more...the darts can penetrate ¼" plywood.' Any one of these things could be pretty dangerous, and easily disguised. I mean..."
"A-mannn-dahhh," Lee interrupted, stretching out her name in annoyance. His sidelong glance darted to Billy and Francine, and back to Amanda as he continued, "Pepper spray is an irritant, for sure, but it's not life- threatening. And how are they going to conceal a blowgun? The smallest one they show there is eighteen inches long!"
Amanda was a little disappointed at his reaction, and said, dejectedly, "I know that, Lee. But what about someone who is carrying a cane, or someone who's on crutches, or someone in a wheelchair? Couldn't a blowgun be hidden that way? And what if they switched the canisters of pepper spray for some kind of poison or something? Isn't that possible?"
"Yeah, you're right, I suppose it is possible," Lee had to admit. "Francine?"
Francine made eye contact with both Lee and Billy, then turned on her heel and left the office, shouting back over her shoulder, "All right, back to Research! Later!"
As Francine exited, the receptionist came in with a small pink slip of paper. "Mr. Stetson, you just received a call from a Mrs. Farnsworth. She said to tell you she's here in DC, and she'll call again in about half an hour."
Taking the message slip, Lee said, "Thank you. When the call comes through, just put it through to the Q Bureau, all right?" Then he turned to Billy and pondered, "I wonder what Emily's doing here. I hadn't heard about any joint operations with MI-6, had you, Billy?"
"No, but there must be some reason. Mrs. Farnsworth doesn't usually choose DC for a relaxing holiday," Billy replied. "Just keep me posted after your call. I'll let you both know whatever else Francine and the Research staff are able to figure out," he stated, dismissing them from their impromptu meeting.
As they left the bullpen and headed toward the closet-elevator, Amanda turned to Lee and asked, "Lee, unless there's something you need me for this afternoon, would it be all right if I went ahead and took off for home? See, I have plans for this evening with an old friend who's just in town for a day or two, and..."
"Oh, sure, taking off early is fine, Amanda. I can let you know later if we turn up anything interesting," Lee stated, matter-of-factly. But then he couldn't seem to stop himself asking, "So who is this old friend, anyway? What's her name?"
"His name...is Reed Davenport. We knew each other in college," she said, knowing she was holding back part of the answer.
Lee knew it, too. "Old boyfriend?" he asked as the elevator doors opened and he pushed aside the coats for them to enter.
OK, spill it, Amanda. "Well yes, I guess you could say so. We dated for about 3 months or so...that was before Joe and I met. Anyway, he transferred to Stanford, and I haven't seen him in a long time. We still send Christmas cards and stuff...but anyhow, why are you asking?!?"
Good question. Really good question. "Oh...no reason. You are my partner and my friend, after all, and I just care what happens to you, okay?"
Just then the elevator door opened onto the Georgetown foyer, and the two stepped out, when Amanda accepted Lee's feeble answer with "Okay. Well, I'll see you later...tomorrow, I guess. Good afternoon, Mrs. Marston."
Twenty minutes later, at his desk in the Q Bureau, Lee took Emily Farnsworth's call. He smiled and exclaimed, "Emily! It's great to hear your voice, but I have to admit I'm a little curious. What brings you to this side of the pond just now?"
"Good afternoon to you too, Lee," she gently reprimanded, then continued, "The papal tour's next stop is London, so we thought it best that we coordinate efforts between the UK and USA intelligence agencies, to provide seamless security coverage for when His Holiness arrives on British soil."
"Oh, I see. Makes a lot of sense. Would you like to come in to the Agency, or would you rather meet somewhere else?" Lee inquired.
"Well, Lee dear, unless you have 'plans' for this evening, we could meet over dinner at my hotel, the Jefferson, at 16th and H Streets, say, at 7:00?"
"That will be just fine, Emily. I have no plans for this evening but to dine with you."
"Excellent, Lee. I'll see you this evening. By the way, how is my lovely 'niece'?*** Is there a chance she can come along as well?" Emily prodded.
"Amanda? Uh, well, I'm afraid she can't come tonight. Seems she does have 'plans' for the evening...with some guy from her distant past," he said, disdainfully.
Emily didn't fail to notice his tone of voice, but decided not to press the point. It could keep. At least until dinner. "Ah, well...perhaps I will get another chance to see her before I leave. I'll see you at 7:00 then."
*** Author's note: In an aired episode ("Legend of das Geisterschloss") about one year before this, Amanda had to pose as Emily's niece, in order for Lee and Amanda to follow up on clues she'd left behind when she (Emily) was taken captive in Salzburg, Austria.
Amanda hadn't seen Reed in about fifteen years, gosh, had it been that long? They'd kept in touch once or twice a year, just a friendly note in a Christmas card or a birthday greeting of some kind, if they remembered. So it had been a little bit of a surprise when he had called her last Friday and asked if they could get together for dinner when he came to DC the following week. He suggested they ought to 'paint the town red' as he called it, starting with dinner at the Monticello, a very fancy restaurant in the posh, 5-star Jefferson hotel, and then they would 'play it by ear'.
By now it was 6:30 p.m. and Reed would arrive any minute now, and Amanda wasn't quite ready. She had two dresses and the appropriate accessories laid out on her bed—should she wear the black dress with the spaghetti straps and pearl-button trim? She seemed to remember that Lee had liked that one on her—whoa! don't go there, Amanda. He may finally appreciate you as a friend, but that's as far as it goes. Besides, tonight's date was with her old friend, okay, old boyfriend, Reed Davenport, so no, definitely, it would be the low-cut royal blue silk dress. She'd wear her white sequined jacket over it, just in case it was a little chilly in the restaurant. She was just slipping on her high-heeled black shoes when the doorbell rang.
"Hello, Mrs. West! It's been a long time, but you look as young as ever!" Reed gushed.
Dotty answered "Welcome to our home, Reed. And that kind of flattery will get you everywhere! Come have a seat in the living room. Amanda's almost..."
"I'm right here, Mother, " Amanda said, as she gracefully descended the stairs. Smiling cheerily, she said, "Hello, Reed! It's so good to see you again!"
Reed met her in the entryway and took both of her hands in his as he exclaimed, "Amanda! It's wonderful seeing you! You look fantastic!"
"Why thank you, kind Sir. You're not too shabby yourself, " she said with a grin. He wasn't, either. Shabby, that is. Unless you consider someone who is 6' 3" tall with jet-black hair, midnight blue eyes, a stunning smile and a great physique 'shabby'.
They said their goodbyes to Dotty, and Amanda told her mother not to wait up for her, it might be pretty late. Reed took Amanda's hand and helped her into his black Mercedes for the ride into DC to the Jefferson hotel.
While this scene was playing out, Lee Stetson, wearing one of his devastating deep navy blue suits with a stylish blue silk tie, had just allowed the valet to park his silver Corvette, and was knocking on Lady Emily Farnsworth's hotel room door. Emily opened the door and invited Lee in for just a moment. She needed his help in fastening her necklace, and they would be ready to go down to the restaurant, the Monticello, she was sure it was called.
By 7:15, Lee and Emily had been seated in the restaurant and had placed their orders. The two old friends chatted about cases they'd worked on together and good times they had shared, notably the case they had worked on with Amanda in Salzburg, Austria just a year before. Emily remarked on how clever Amanda had been in picking up the letter-clues she had left for them in her sketches.
"Yes, Emily, she definitely does have moments of insight," Lee admitted. "In fact, it appears that she may be the catalyst to us finding a way to better protect the Pope at the large public gatherings scheduled for later this week."
"How so?" Emily asked.
Lee proceeded to tell Emily how Amanda's questions about disguised weapons and stolen ID badges caused the Agency's Research Department to look harder at those possibilities, and that they actually had seen some disguised 'self defense' weapons in a mail order catalog that could have been shipped anywhere in the country.
All of a sudden, Lee's jaw clenched, and he turned his head abruptly, as his smile transformed itself into a scowl.
Emily couldn't help but notice the change in his demeanor, so she turned her face in the direction he was looking, only to see her dear friend Amanda walking into the restaurant, arm in arm with a dashingly handsome dark-haired man. 'Aha!' Emily mused. 'So that's what's upset him.' "Is there a problem, Lee?"
"What?" he said, trying to pull himself back together and recover. "Oh, no," he said with a half-smile, "I mean, I knew she had plans for this evening, I just didn't know they would bring her here, to the same restaurant. I guess I was just a little surprised, that's all."
"She looks stunning tonight, doesn't she?" Emily prompted.
"Yeah..." he said, staring in Amanda's direction, before he could stop himself, then looking back at Emily, "...well, uh, she does look very nice." Good, Stetson. Embarrass yourself.
Emily asked, "Lee, dear, may I ask you a very personal question, as an old friend?"
"Sure...I suppose so," Lee said, haltingly.
So Emily plodded on, "Why does it upset you so to see Amanda with someone else? It's not very fair of you, you know."
"It does not—" As soon as he said it, he knew he was lying to himself. "Okay, I guess it does upset me, and I can't explain it. And yes, I know it isn't fair, since I still date other women, and I've done just about all I could to let Amanda know I wasn't interested in a romantic relationship with her, but..."
"Still?" Emily interjected.
"I beg your pardon?"
Emily continued, "Just now, you said you knew it wasn't fair to be upset with Amanda for dating someone else, when you 'still' date other women. That sounds like something you say when you're working up the courage to stop doing something, like, for instance, smoking. You might say, 'Six months ago, I smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day, but although I'm still smoking, I've reduced that to one pack every two days.' Is that what you mean by 'still'?"
While Emily was talking, Lee had suddenly found the tablecloth very interesting. Finally responding to her question, he looked up and said, "You don't miss a trick, do you Emily? Okay, yes, I suppose 'still' means something like that. As you know, I used to play the field quite a bit. But I have narrowed that down recently. I'm dating only one person, if you want to call it that. We've only gone out two times, and I've managed to miss out on three other dates with her because of work. So I really don't know if that relationship will develop, either, or where it will go from here if it does."
"Do you mind telling me about her? What is she like?" Emily asked.
"No, I don't mind. Well, let's see...her name is Leslie O'Connor. She's an interpreter at the UN, but she's been doing some work in diplomatic circles here in DC recently. She's tall, about 5' 9", slender, has long, dark hair, and a great smile. Dresses pretty conservatively, compared to many of the women I used to date. And I guess you could say she's what most people would consider 'normal'. "
"Somehow your description sounds very familiar. Has that thought crossed your mind?" Emily pushed on.
"No...well, it hadn't, not until last Friday, when Amanda and Leslie met. I guess the similarity in their looks and lifestyles did cross my mind then, and when I called Leslie 'Amanda' by mistake...that one definitely goes in my memory book as one of life's most embarrassing moments!" What was this, the confessional? Now he'd really done it, admitting this slip of his.
Emily smiled at him and shook her head slightly, then asked, "How did that happen?"
"Well...confession time continues," he grinned, "I had done something really dumb. Of course, I guess, being a guy, I didn't even realize it at the time. Anyway, Amanda and I were out working on the Agency's 'Spring Cleaning', you know, following up on crackpots and splinter-groups, etc., and in between a couple of those follow-ups, that's when I did it. I mentioned a dress Amanda had worn to the New Year's eve party at the Soviet Embassy the year before, talked about how we danced and had such a good time, and how beautiful she looked that night. I remember her smiling at my compliments. And then I went on to ask her where she got the dress, because I had a friend that I though would look wonderful in a dress like that one."
"Lee! You didn't."
"Oh yeah. When I mess up, I do it 'royally'. Amanda took it just the way you'd imagine. She stormed off and we went our separate ways. Then this smart guy here" he said as he slapped the top of his forehead with the heel of his hand, "went ahead and bought a dress as close to Amanda's as I could find, and had it delivered to Leslie's hotel room. On Friday, Leslie managed to get the doorman to let her into my apartment so she could make a surprise dinner for me. Only thing was, when Amanda and I came back to my apartment after apparently winning a round with the 'bad guys', Leslie was there, and the two of them met. And to make matters even worse, Leslie had brought 'the dress' and even told Amanda how special she thought it was that I'd given it to her. Amanda couldn't get out of there fast enough, and she was more than a little angry with me. At the time, I thought it just had to do with my ideas about the case we were working on. The more I think about it, I'm not so sure...anyway, after Amanda left, Leslie went to try on the dress, and I was pouring the wine for dinner, and it just came out, 'Amanda, I...'. I caught myself, but not before Leslie heard me. She tried to pass it off, saying that Amanda was very nice and that I was lucky to have her. I said that 'yes, Amanda is very special.' I smiled at Leslie, letting her know that I thought she looked very pretty in the dress, although to be honest, it wasn't exactly the look I'd expected. At any rate, work interrupted once again, and we never did share that dinner."
"When will you see Leslie again?" Emily asked.
"Tomorrow evening, if my luck finally changes. Only time will tell."
It wasn't until Lee and Emily were leaving the restaurant that Amanda saw them. Her face must have registered either surprise or alarm, because Reed noticed her change of expression and asked, "Amanda, is something wrong?"
"What?" Amanda was caught off guard, then answered, "Oh, no, it's nothing, really. I just saw a couple of friends of mine. I didn't know they'd be here, too. That's all. I was just surprised to see them here, and we didn't get a chance to say hello."
"Who were they?" Reed inquired.
"Oh, well, the guy is someone from work, and the lady, Emily, she's a friend I met a little over a year ago. I took her on a tour of DC, and later, we had a nice visit in Europe, Austria, actually. What a beautiful country! Anyway, it would have been nice to see her."
"And the 'guy' you work with – he knows her, too?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say we have a 'mutual friend'."
"So you're friends with this guy?" Reed was getting a little irritated, but he was trying hard not to let it show.
"Well, yeah, I mean, Lee and I work together just about every day, and we talk a lot, sometimes go to lunch together, you know, the kinds of things that good friends do."
"Oh?" he said, raising his eyebrows questioningly, meaning to imply that 'friends' didn't usually become visibly shaken when one or the other entered or left a room.
"Yes. We're friends, that's all." Goodness knows Lee's made that clear enough. "Now, can we please drop this subject, and get back to OUR evening?"
"Of course, Amanda. Now, where were we..."
Amanda and Reed continued their conversation of pleasant reminiscences and talk of plans and dreams for the future. This evening had turned out all right, but somehow it wasn't as exciting as she had imagined, hoped it might be.
Lee Stetson had yet another restless night. The thoughts that Emily had forced him to face were churning through his mind, and when he did finally drift off to sleep, The Dream started again. Lee and 'the woman', as he thought of her, were together at a party. This time, though, the woman was wearing a royal blue dress with a white sequined jacket. She smiled and looked at him with her lovely, chocolate-colored almond-shaped eyes. Then she walked away from him, on the arm of a tall dark-haired man. Then the dream ended, and he woke up, thinking, 'No. It can't be. Just because I saw her with that lothario tonight, and okay, I got a little irritated about it, that doesn't mean...no, of course not. My dream was just mixed up, what with seeing them there at the same restaurant, and all that Emily and I talked about...yeah, that's all it is.' But he didn't do a terrific job of convincing himself, and sleeping was a lost cause once again.
Amanda hadn't slept well either. It had been nice to see Reed Davenport again, and yes, they had passed a pleasant evening, but the old sparks definitely did not ignite. And what was with him anyway, questioning her reaction to seeing Lee and Emily at the same restaurant. It was just an odd coincidence, that's all. Oh well, Reed would be on his way back to California today, so she wouldn't be seeing him again any time soon. Just as well.
"Good morning, Mother, " Amanda said cheerily.
"Good morning, Dear," Dotty said, "did you remember that Jamie has that orthodontist appointment this morning at 9:00?"
"Thanks for reminding me, Mother. I'd better call them at work to let them know I'll be in a little later than usual this morning," Amanda said, before dialing the direct number for the Q Bureau.
"Good Morning, Lee. I'm sorry, but I'll have to come in later than I usually do today..." Amanda began.
Lee cut her off with "Late night? Just how was your evening with Ralph?"
"Reed. His name is Reed, and my evening was just fine, thanks, but it has nothing to do with why I'll be late today. I'd forgotten to let you know that I have to take Jamie to the orthodontist this morning. I should be in about 10:30 or so," Amanda stated.
"Okay, then," Lee said, "I'll see you later."
Amanda called up the stairs, "Jamie, are you ready to go? Come on, we only have 20 minutes!"
"Coming, Mom!" Jamie called back as he hurried down the stairs.
By the time Amanda arrived at IFF, Lee and Francine had just finished briefing the security team on what kinds of disguised weapons to look for, and reminding them to require secondary picture ID before letting anyone into RFK stadium on Friday morning.
Lee Stetson was just saying, "...but before we let you go, we do have some potentially good news. We've picked up some radio transmissions from the vicinity of the Georgetown campus which may help us find the Red February members who've been selected to carry out their 'activities' for tomorrow and Friday. We'll have those tapes transcribed by some time this afternoon, and we'll bring you up to date. That's all we have right now." With that, the team members exited the conference room.
Lee noticed Amanda just entering the bullpen, and greeted her with "Good! You're here. We have some tapes we need you to transcribe, ASAP."
"Good morning to you, too, Lee, " Amanda half-scolded, as Lee turned her around and guided her toward the elevator.
"Good morning. At least I hope it's a good morning," Lee said. "See, we picked up some radio transmissions from somewhere near the Georgetown campus, and if you can transcribe our tapes as quickly as possible, it may help us to figure out something about who we're dealing with, and maybe where they are staying. So you'd be contributing even more to helping us to solve this case and protect the Pope and his aides and all the innocent people who will be at either the private mass or the youth rally. You can use my PC in the Q Bureau if you want."
"Okay, sure, I'll get right on it. Are the tapes upstairs?" Amanda asked.
"Yeah, on my desk." Lee replied. "And if you have any questions, or if you pick up on anything interesting, I'll be in with Billy for awhile, so you can call down to his office."
"All right," Amanda said, as she entered the elevator for the ride to the Georgetown foyer.
Amanda had been typing the transcriptions for just half an hour when she placed a call to Billy Melrose's office. "Melrose here."
"Mr. Melrose? It's Amanda. I've just been working on these transcriptions for a little while, but I think I've noticed something you all may want to follow up on."
"Just a second, Amanda, let me put you on speaker. Okay, go ahead."
"All right. Well, for one thing, there appear to be three people in the room, someone called 'Aldo', and there's a 'Paolo' and a 'Gianni' that he refers to, and seems to talk to part of the time. This Aldo sounds fairly young. At any rate, Sir, do we know any of the names of the Red February members? I understand that many of them are Italian college students, and there must be thousands of Italians with those first names, but...does this help?"
"Maybe so, Amanda. We'll look into the names we do know already, and check airport security tapes for the last several days to see if we find a match with any of the photos we have on file as well," Billy offered. "In the meantime, please finish the rest of the transcriptions and bring the printouts down to my office as soon as you can."
"Yes Sir. I'm on it," she said, as they disconnected.
There would be no friendly lunches today. Amanda worked through and finished the transcriptions by 1:30 and carried the printouts down to Billy Melrose's office.
Billy thanked her for finishing so quickly, and asked, "Was there anything special that you noticed on the rest of the tapes?"
"Well, yes, Sir. One of the transmissions was interrupted by Room Service, " Amanda replied. To Billy's and Lee's questioning looks, she answered, "I heard a knock on the door, and then I heard another man say 'Franklin Room Service', and then 'Aldo' told 'Paolo' to send the guy away, because they hadn't ordered anything from room service, and he didn't want to be disturbed."
"Did you say Franklin?" Lee asked.
Amanda replied, "Yeah, that's right, the guy did say 'Franklin Room Service'."
"Okay," Lee went on, "There are probably half a dozen hotels in the DC area with 'Franklin' in their names. At least we have a bit of a head start, since we know the transmissions are coming from somewhere in or near Georgetown. Billy...do you have a DC Yellow Pages?"
Billy handed the thick yellow book across to Lee, and he started thumbing through the Hotel listings, "All right, there's a Hotel Franklin on M Street...that's too far away...then there's the Benjamin Franklin Hotel on Thomas Jefferson Street in Georgetown. That could be it. We'll need to have someone watch that hotel, starting tonight. It'll help once we have ID's on the other two suspects Amanda heard in the room, but..."
Amanda cut him off mid-sentence. "Other two suspects? Does that mean you've identified one of them?"
Billy answered, "Yes, Amanda. While you were upstairs working on the transcriptions, we got a confirmed match on a photo we have of one Aldo Necci. He just arrived at National Airport this past Sunday, on United flight number 805 from Rome."
"Excuse me, Sir, did you say Necci?" Amanda asked.
Lee answered this time. "That's right, Amanda. This Aldo Necci is Franco Necci's nephew. Apparently Aldo's father and mother died in an accident when he was 7, and Uncle Franco took him under his wing, so to speak."
Billy took matters in hand and assigned a team of watchers to the Benjamin Franklin Hotel starting at 6:00 p.m., and told Lee and Amanda, "well, I suppose that's as much as we can do for right now. If we pick up any more transmissions tonight, do you think you could come in early tomorrow and transcribe them, Amanda?"
"Yes Sir. I can be here by 8:00 tomorrow morning" Amanda said, with a nod.
With that, Billy gave them both a wave of dismissal, and they left his office. As they moved toward the elevator, Amanda started, "Lee, I'm sorry to have to do this to you again today, but..."
"What?" Lee stopped her, "Another hot date with Reed?"
"No. Phillip's Soccer practice. And no, no date, hot or otherwise, with Reed. He left for California this morning,"
"What?" she said, realizing she'd let out too much, "oh, well, I guess I just meant, last night was okay, but there was just no 'spark', if you know what I mean..."
"Yeah, I think I've heard enough 'Amandaspeak' to catch the meaning, " Lee countered with a lopsided grin. 'Good,' he thought, but he wasn't volunteering to say it.
She just laughed softly and shook her head as they entered the elevator. When they arrived at the Georgetown foyer, Amanda was surprised to see that Lee was also headed out of the building. "Leaving so soon?" she asked. "Another date with...what's her name?"
"Leslie. Leslie O'Connor. Since I've missed the last three due to work, I think I owe it to her not to miss this one, " Lee said.
"All right. Well, have a good evening. See you tomorrow." But Amanda thought, 'He owes it to her? Why did he make it sound like an obligation he had to perform, not an encounter he was looking forward to? Sometimes I don't think the man knows his own mind!'
Lee Stetson stood in the shower, letting the hot water wash over him, as he anticipated what the evening would bring. He was looking forward to being with Leslie, but he did feel a little guilty. He'd said that the three dates they'd missed had all been work-related, but he knew that, technically, that wasn't quite true. The first one, last Friday, when they didn't get to share the surprise dinner Leslie had prepared in his apartment...that one had been work-related, true. And Monday's meetings and having to interrogate Franco Necci again...that qualified, as well. But Saturday night, he'd been mending fences and bonding with his partner and friend. Amanda had seemed really upset with him, and he'd guessed that it was all because he'd tried to keep her out of harm's way, when, as it turned out, she was quite capable of taking care of herself. So, okay, he could let himself 'off the hook' for that occasion, too, right?
At precisely 6:45 p.m., Lee arrived at Leslie's hotel, looking better in his dark blue suit and French blue shirt than anyone had a right to. He had just enough time to stop in at the little flower and gift shop just off of the lobby, before heading upstairs to room 705.
As Leslie opened the door, she exclaimed, "Lee! How wonderful to see you, and what a beautiful, romantic gesture...one perfect red rose!"
In response, Lee kissed her hand, and continued the thought, "...for a very lovely lady." Seeing her coquettish smile, Lee asked, "Are we ready?"
"Certainly," she said, as she spun around for him. "Look all right?"
"You look terrific," he answered. "Shall we?" he offered, as they ventured forth, arm in arm.
She was wearing what Lee would forever consider 'the dress', low-cut, black, spaghetti straps. He didn't know when he'd get over the guilt associated with that fiasco. But he smiled to himself, shook his head and tried to put it out of his mind. At least for tonight.
Spencer's was a restaurant that had what some travel guidebooks call 'casual elegance.' The main dining room was beautifully appointed, the lighting was just low enough to offer a romantic setting, and the service was beyond excellent. And the waiters didn't look down their noses at you if you didn't come in wearing black tie and tails, which made it just about right for this evening.
Lee and Leslie's dinner conversation was pleasant enough.
Leslie remarked, "Lee, I still can't thank you enough for this beautiful dress...it was so sweet that you saw it in a store window, and right away, you thought of me."
"Yes, well, I thought you'd look wonderful in it, and you certainly do," Lee said graciously. 'If she only knew,' he thought. He couldn't help remembering another lovely brunette, who'd worn a very similar dress. And looked fantastic in it. But he pulled his focus back to the present moment, and continued, "Leslie, I'm really glad we finally had another chance to go out together, after all my work-related 'snafus'."
"I know, Lee, I'm glad, too. I know these things happen...that's not to say I was happy about it at the time, but I do understand. All is forgiven, " Leslie said with a bright smile. The next thing she said threw him off just a bit. "How is Amanda?"
For a second, Lee looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, but he recovered, and said, "Oh, she's just fine. Why do you ask?"
"Well, Lee dear, it was obvious to me that she's much more than a 'secretary' to you, " Leslie began.
Lee cut her off, saying, "more than a..."
And Leslie interrupted, continuing her thought, "she's a friend, right, a very good friend?"
Lee gave a relieved smile, and said "Yes, that's right. She is a...very good...friend."
They passed a little more pleasant conversation, and left the restaurant to go back to Leslie's hotel. Her hotel room had a fairly large sitting-room area, and just after they arrived, Lee and Leslie exchanged knowing smiles, and eased down onto the sofa. They embraced and shared a few gentle kisses. Leslie stroked the hair at Lee's collar as their kissing intensified. As Lee planted soft kisses across Leslie's cheek and moved toward her ear, he whispered, "Amanda..." and Leslie stiffened in his embrace. She carefully removed her hands from around his neck, and gently pushed him away.
"Lee Stetson, you have some serious thinking to do before I'll ever agree to see you again." She'd spoken quietly, she hadn't shouted. That made it even more ominous.
"Leslie, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean..." he tried to say.
But Leslie wasn't going to fall for the 'oops, I didn't mean it' excuse. Not again. "Lee. Just leave. It's obvious to anyone with eyes and ears that there is someone who means much more to you than you're willing to admit, and that someone is Amanda, not me. So just go. Please."
As she closed the door to his retreating back, Lee shook his head and shouted to the elevator door, "I don't believe this!"
Somehow he found his way to the silver Corvette, and soon found himself in front of the Jefferson Hotel. It was only a little after 9:00, maybe Emily would still be up. He asked the desk clerk to phone her room to see if she was in and would agree to see him. The desk clerk made the call and "Yes, Lady Farnsworth is in, and she would be glad to have you come up to her room for a visit, Mr. Stetson."
Lee thanked the desk clerk and made his way to Emily's room. Emily opened the door, a look of deep concern written all over her face. She inquired, "Oh dear me, Lee, what have you done now?"
Lee Stetson studied the pattern of the carpet for a moment, then looked straight into Emily's eyes with a rueful smile, and said, "I guess you know me pretty well, don't you? Yeah...you're right, I've done it again. At the most 'inappropriate' moment, I called Leslie by Amanda's name. Again. And Leslie's pretty smart. She didn't buy the 'I didn't mean it' defense. Like I said before, when I screw up...well, let's just say, I'm a trained professional...don't try this at home!"
Emily smiled and shook her head, "Lee, dear, there's no need to be so hard on yourself."
"Not be so hard on myself? What else is there to do? But you know what, Emily, the strange thing is, I'm angry with myself for what happened, but for some reason I don't feel 'sad' about it. Shouldn't I?"
"Well now, Lee, let's take a step back for just a moment. Remember our conversation, wasn't it just last night? Something about...similarity of appearance, and so forth, between two very lovely brunettes?"
"Think about it, Lee. Have you and Amanda ever been on a 'date'?"
"No, not really," Lee said, noncommittally. "I mean, we've spent a little time together away from work. I took her to the opera once. And we've been out for a drink after work, and a few dinners, one just last week."
"And you didn't consider those 'dates'," Emily prompted. "Let me just ask you a few questions, just to clarify the matter. On any of those occasions, did you pick her up at her home?"
"Okay, yes, the night we went to the Verdi Festival at the Kennedy Center, and again last Friday night."
"And what, may I ask, prompted you to ask her out on at least those two occasions?"
"Madame Interrogator! You're a tough one!" he said in mock indignation. Then he grinned and went on. "Oh, all right, I'll try and answer. The week that Pavarotti was in town for the Verdi Festival was the same week that we worked on the Alan Chamberlain case. Amanda was assigned to follow the guy around DC as part of a security check, and as usual, things got a little out of hand and she actually met the guy by accident. He asked her out one night, and I told her to go ahead and go, and she could give us any information she picked up. Then I found out that someone the guy had met in the park could put her in danger, so I went to her house in the middle of the night to warn her. She'd already set up a 'breakfast' date with this Chamberlain fellow, and I didn't want her to go, but she insisted on going, and said she'd leave right away as soon as we got the information we needed. We shook hands to seal our agreement. Anyway, to make a long story even longer...we solved the case together, and then of course, Amanda felt she had to apologize to the guy for deceiving him. I left them alone to say goodbye. I don't think Amanda was aware of it...that I saw him kissing her. Anyway..."
Emily couldn't hold back her outburst, "Aha! So you were jealous! And you thought, 'I'll one-up this fellow, and take her out for an unforgettable evening,' right?"
"Well...I don't know as I'd put it exactly like that, but...I guess you have me cornered on that one," Lee had to confess.
Emily wouldn't be put off. She prodded once more, "And on the most recent occasion, last week, I believe you said..."
"Oh, yeah. Well, as I told you last night, I knew I'd made Amanda pretty upset, and I wasn't sure exactly why. I mean, at the time, I thought it was because I'd asked what seemed to me to be an ordinary question, 'you're going straight home, right?', when Amanda took off on a tirade like I've never heard from her before. At the time, all I was trying to do was to consider her safety, but she very definitely didn't see it that way. At any rate, she did her part to save the day, as usual, and I even managed to give her a hard time about the way she managed it. Anyway...whoa! I'm even sounding a little like her as I ramble on! Anyway, I knew I had a lot of fence mending to do, and, I do consider her a really good friend, and..."
"And you didn't want to lose her," Emily finished. "As a friend. Is that what you're so afraid of?"
"Afraid of?!? What do you mean by that, Emily?" Lee asked.
"The friendship, Lee. It's one of the best you've ever had, and you're afraid of losing it, if you should move the relationship to a new level." Emily continued, "And one more question, Lee. Do you enjoy Amanda's company?"
"Well, sure...I mean, she's a terrific friend, you know. And she's pretty, and has a great sense of humor, and a great smile, and those sparkling, chocolate-colored eyes, and...oh...my...gosh!!" , Lee uttered, and slapped his hand over his mouth, not quite believing what all he'd revealed.
Emily replied with a smile, "Oh my gosh, indeed! "
"But Emily, what can I do, I mean, after all the times I've made it 'perfectly clear' to Amanda that we are NOT involved, how can I suddenly change direction and tell her the opposite, that I do care about her, very much?" Lee implored, wanting Emily to solve his dilemma.
But all she would volunteer was, "Lee, dear, I'm afraid the next step is up to you."
Lee's emotions were in turmoil, after his failed evening with Leslie, and then Emily practically forcing him to confront his feelings for Amanda. A part of him wanted very much to rush over to Arlington and tell Amanda exactly how he felt about her, but what would he say? And how would she react? Truth be told, Emily had been right, he feared losing their close friendship...and he wasn't prepared for the rejection that might come. So, no, it wouldn't be tonight. How in heaven's name would he face her in the morning? With all of these thoughts spinning through his mind, he knew that sleep would be extremely hard to come by.
He was right about that; it was after 3:00 a.m. when he finally fell into a restless sleep, and after a short while his recurring dream began. On this occasion, there were two beautiful dark-haired women vying for his attention, one in a black dress, the other in the red dress from the first occurrence of the dream. Each of them was lovely in her own way, but only one of the two caught his attention, his 'lady in red', and they danced, and laughed, and had a wonderful time, but this time, when the music stopped, the dream didn't end. This time, he took her hand in his and they strolled out onto the terrace. He looked into her sparkling, almond-shaped, chocolate-colored eyes, and saw the reassurance he needed. He wrapped his arms around her slim waist, and kissed her lips tenderly. Just then, the dream was interrupted by an awful buzzing sound. Lee Stetson punched off the raucous alarm buzzer (could it possibly be any louder?!?), but somehow, he knew now who this 'mystery woman' was, and that he could trust her with his heart. Still, it would have to be business-as-usual for today...maybe tomorrow, after their current assignments were completed, they could begin to discuss 'other aspects' of their relationship.
At 8:30 a.m. when Lee Stetson entered the Georgetown foyer of IFF, Mrs. Marston greeted him, saying, "Good morning, Mr. Stetson. Mr. Melrose wants to see you immediately."
"All right, thank you, Mrs. Marston. Has Mrs. King arrived?"
"Yes. She's upstairs in the Q Bureau...she had taken a few tape cassettes with her, about half an hour ago."
"I see. Thank you," Lee said as he entered the elevator to descend to the third underground level.
Lee went straight to Billy Melrose's office. "Morning, Scarecrow," his boss started, "as it turns out, we did pick up some more radio transmissions last night, and Amanda's already started on those. Stevenson and Jenkins, who were watching young Mr. Necci and his friends at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel last night, spotted Aldo leaving the hotel and tailed him to the Lambda Chi fraternity house near the Georgetown campus. He didn't go inside the house, just seemed to be 'casing' the place. From there, he went to a bar and grill called 'Dooley's'. Stevenson said it didn't appear to be a meeting, but the guy did seem to be listening in on a few other conversations from his seat at the bar, and then he left and went back to the hotel about an hour later. That's as much as they saw."
"Okay, Billy, so it's possible that one or more of the students living in the Lambda Chi house may be targeted for one of those stolen ID badges that Amanda talked about a couple of days ago," Lee stated. "If that's true, those students could be in danger. We know these Red February guys won't hesitate to harm someone to get what they want."
"Right, Lee," said Billy, "that's official. Come in, Amanda," Billy called in response to her knocking and waving at the window.
"Good morning again, Sir. Good morning, Lee," she said with a cheery smile, then continued, "Sir, here are the transcriptions from last night. The only news that I heard on these tapes was that the Lambda Chi house was the residence of at least one of the students targeted for replacement, and that one of the people they planned to 'replace' was a wheelchair-bound student by the name of Larry Calcagno."
Billy Melrose said, "Thank you, Amanda. Lee, get a list of the students living in the Lambda Chi house, and get over there right away and let them know to be on their guard. I'll put some of our people on the frat house as well. This still may not cover all the bases, but at least we'll be protecting everyone we know about."
As Lee and Amanda exited Billy's office and headed for the elevator to the Georgetown foyer, Amanda had a pensive look, and Lee simply asked, "What?"
"Oh, it's nothing, Lee. I just seem to remember that my neighbor, you know, Jimmy Gianetti, the one I mentioned the other day? Well, anyway, I think I heard Mother say something about him pledging the Lambda Chi fraternity last fall. So I guess he could be in danger, too, that's all."
Lee smiled as he guided her into the elevator and said, "Well, Amanda, we're doing whatever we can to minimize that danger, right? So hopefully, everything will come out all right. Don't worry."
The two partners crossed the foyer with a goodbye to Mrs. Marston as they relinquished their ID badges and left on their errand. Lee helped Amanda into the low Corvette, and they drove toward the fraternity house.
Amanda, making friendly conversation, had to ask the inevitable question, "So how was your evening with...Leslie?"
Somehow, he just knew this would happen. Okay Stetson, better tell her at least part of the truth. "I've had better. Leslie and I sort of, well...parted company last night," he pieced it out, hesitantly.
"Why?" Amanda asked, before she could find a way to stop herself. Then she thought better of it, and continued, "Oh! I'm so sorry, Lee. Never mind. I had no right to ask that question...it's none of my business, really."
"Don't be sorry, Amanda," he said with a rueful smile, with his eyes fixed firmly on the road in front of him. "Remember, I've already told you that it's important to me that you care. It's just that I'm not sure I'm ready to open up to anyone with the complete answer to the 'why' question right now. Let's just say that the phrase 'conflict of interest' enters into the equation." He turned to her to say, "And most of the blame falls on me, for stupid things I've said and done."
At her incredulous look, he went on, "Seems I've told you once before, sometimes, I'm really bad at 'these things'."
"And I agreed with you on that, but only after you kept insisting it was true, over and over again, and wouldn't believe otherwise," Amanda reminded him. "There's no need to be so hard on yourself. Sometimes things just don't work out, that's all."
She couldn't quite figure his mood this morning. He seemed disgusted with himself, and more than a little nervous, but he didn't seem to show sadness or remorse over the breakup with Leslie, and that was kind of a surprise. He'd seemed so determined to 'fix things' with her just yesterday.
They arrived at the Lambda Chi house to find only the 'house mother', a young man named David Johnson, and the student whose name Amanda had heard on the tape, Larry Calcagno. Larry's Thursday classes didn't start until 1:00 p.m., so he hadn't left yet. Lee introduced himself and Amanda to the two young men, and explained the situation as they knew it. He told them that the Agency was providing additional protection, but that they and any other residents of the house should be on the alert for the next couple of days.
After their visit to fraternity row, Lee and Amanda drove back to the IFF building, and headed up to the Q Bureau. Just as they entered the office, Lee's phone rang. "Q Bureau. Stetson here...oh, hello, Emily."
"Hello, Lee. I was just calling to see if I could interest you in going out to lunch today, " Emily proposed.
"Well, I'm sorry, Emily, but I have a meeting at 1:00 this afternoon, so that would make it tough for today," Lee answered.
Emily countered, "Is your lovely partner about? Perhaps she might be interested in lunch with an old friend."
"Why, yes, she's right here," Lee said. Then he handed Amanda the receiver, whispering, "Emily wants to talk to you."
Amanda smiled brightly, and exclaimed, "Hello, Emily! How nice to hear your voice!"
"Amanda, dear, are you free for lunch today? We missed seeing each other a few days ago and I really would like to spend some time with you before I return to the UK on Saturday. I'm at the Jefferson Hotel. Would you mind coming here first? We can have a friendly visit over lunch at a nearby restaurant, if you like."
"Emily, I'd be glad to have lunch with you today. Just let me check my schedule..." at which point Amanda exchanged glances with Lee, and he gave her an 'OK' sign to let her know there was nothing pressing that she needed to hurry back for. Amanda continued, "Emily? Okay, it looks like my schedule is pretty much clear for this afternoon, so I'll come to your hotel right around noon, and we'll decide where to go, all right?"
Even though she had initially invited Lee, Emily was glad she would get to have a nice visit with Amanda, alone. Emily might not be able to take the next step for Lee...he'd have to do that for himself. But at least she could test the waters, to see which way Amanda's feelings might lean.
At ten minutes to twelve, Amanda King pulled into a parking spot about a half a block from the Jefferson Hotel. She covered the short distance quickly, finding her friend Lady Emily Farnsworth already in the lobby of the hotel.
"Amanda, dear! How wonderful to see you!" Emily exclaimed with open arms.
As the two friends embraced, Amanda returned the greeting. "Oh, Emily, it's so great to see you, too! What's it been? Nine or ten months, now? I really did enjoy having you at my house that time, even if we were on a case, I mean, at least we had time for a little visit when Mother and the boys came home. Oh, I'm sorry, Emily, I know I do tend to run on, especially when I'm excited, like now, and...", mentally shifting gears, Amanda continued, "anyway, there is a really nice restaurant, the Coeur de Lion, in the Adams Hotel just down the street here. Would that be all right for our lunch?"
"Of course, dear. I'm much more interested in being in your company, than which restaurant we choose. It's just down the street, you say? Why don't we take advantage of the lovely weather today, and walk there?" Emily suggested.
"Okay, that'll be fine," Amanda assented.
The two women chatted amiably about the beautiful autumn day, as they strolled to the restaurant.
Once they were seated and had placed their orders, Emily tossed her opening salvo. "So, Amanda, how is it going for you, working with our fair Scarecrow?"
"What do you mean, are we getting along all right? Well...yes, I'd say so. I mean we're friends now, really good friends. And I'd trust him with my life," Amanda answered, with a wistful look.
"It's a good thing you can, my dear. I understand you've had to, on more than one occasion. The same goes for Lee, you know," Emily said.
Amanda interjected, "Oh come on, Emily, he didn't say that."
"He most certainly did, Amanda," Emily stated plainly. "He trusts you implicitly. And I have it on good authority that he treasures your friendship," Emily said with a smile. She looked directly into Amanda's eyes, and inquired, "Amanda...may I ask you a very personal question, as a friend?"
"Well, yes...I suppose so," Amanda answered, hesitantly.
"How do you really feel about our 'mutual friend'? Are you the least bit attracted to him, as more than a friend?"
Amanda's flushed cheeks were already giving her away, and although she wished desperately she could take back her previous answer, she couldn't lie to Emily. "Emily, this is a really hard question to answer, I mean, yes, I guess you could say that I am attracted to Lee in 'that way', but...gosh! how do I put this? It's just that Lee has made it so clear on so many occasions that he is most definitely not interested in any kind of a relationship with me, other than friendship, I mean, and...I suppose I've kinda given up on the idea, and tried very hard to hide whatever feelings I might have for him, and..."
"Amanda, dear, what was that you said earlier about tending to run on when you were excited?" Emily interrupted, with a smile and a wink. "At any rate, dear, I shouldn't abandon all hope just yet."
"Oh?" Amanda asked, surprised at Emily's comment. "How's that?"
"Think about it, Amanda. Have you and Lee ever been on a 'date'?"
"No, not really," Amanda said. "I mean, well...we have spent a little time together away from work. He took me to the opera once...the Verdi Festival at the Kennedy Center...that was really nice," she said with a dreamy smile. Returning her attention to the present, she continued, "And we've been out for lunches, or for a drink after work, and a few dinners, one just last week."
"And you didn't consider those 'dates'," Emily prompted. "Let me just ask you a few questions, just to clear up the issue. On any of those occasions, did Lee pick you up at your home?"
"Yes, the night we went to the Verdi Festival at the Kennedy Center, and again last Friday night."
"And what do you suppose prompted him to ask you out on at least those two occasions?"
"How on earth would I know what prompted him to ask me?" Amanda asked, not really knowing where Emily was going with this line of questioning.
When Emily didn't volunteer an answer, Amanda shrugged her shoulders and went on. "Oh, all right, I'll venture a guess. I was assigned to follow Alan Chamberlain, a document expert and art restorer, around DC as part of a security check, and things got a little out of hand and I actually met Alan by accident. He asked me out one night, and Lee told me to go ahead and go, and I could give him any information I picked up. Then Lee found out that someone Alan had met in the park was a very dangerous person, so he came to my house in the middle of the night to warn me. Alan and I already had a date for breakfast at his hotel the following morning. Lee didn't want me to go, but I guess I got a little huffy about always being cut out of the assignment just when it got interesting, and I'd done a good job so far, and anyway...Lee finally agreed I could go, but he made me promise that I'd leave right away as soon as we got the information we needed. Anyway...we ended up solving the case, and then I felt I had to apologize to Alan for tricking him...I really hate that part, you know. Anyway, Lee went on to the car, and Alan and I said goodbye. I don't know if Lee saw it or not, but Alan kissed me. Anyway..."
Emily couldn't wait to interrupt, "To make a long story somewhat shorter, dear, how did Lee go about asking you out on that occasion?"
"Oh, that." Amanda smiled, remembering, "Well, I have to admit, that was kinda cute. After the case was over, and we were getting ready to take the Chamberlain file and several others back to the Q Bureau for storage, Lee was giving me a hard time about the case, saying that it turned out all right, but that it all hinged on an accident. And then I said something like, 'God forbid a compliment should escape your lips!' And Lee went on about how a professional agent plans every detail and, 'the word accident does not even enter his vocabulary!' He then proceeded to illustrate how it takes 'technique'. He sat down on the love seat in Mr. Melrose's office, and said, 'I'm sitting here on this park bench. Your assignment is to make a casual contact, establish a relationship with me, and get me to ask you to the Kennedy Center for the Verdi Festival.' And I frowned and said, 'How am I supposed to do that?' And Lee said, 'You just sit, and I'll show you.' Then...you'll love this! He said, 'Hey, Toots!' (which I wasn't buying for a minute) 'Heard any good opera lately?' Then he gave me a big smile, sat down beside me on the love seat, wrapped his arm around my shoulder, and said, 'whaddya say we hit the Kennedy for a little Verdi?' I told him 'No thanks, I'm busy!', and looked away and pulled his hand away from my shoulder. He shook his head and pulled 2 tickets out of his jacket pocket and said, 'Gee...that's too bad...these were for tonight.' I whipped my head around and asked, 'Are those real?' Then he looked into my eyes and asked, 'About eight?' 'Love to,' I said. And he gave me that cute, dimpled grin of his and said, 'See how easy that was?' ." Amanda smiled and shook her head slightly.
"Yes, dear. Our boy can certainly be charming. How could you possibly have said 'no'?" Emily asked. Then she continued her inquisition. "What about this last occasion, Amanda, just last week, correct?"
"Yes. Well...I guess I'd been pretty upset with Lee, over a couple of things, really. For one thing, when we were out working on the Agency's 'Spring Cleaning', in between a couple of the follow-ups, Lee brought up a pleasant evening we'd spent together. It was last New Year's Eve...he'd been working, and I'd been 'window dressing', I suppose...anyway, it was a party at the Soviet embassy. He reminisced about us dancing together, and having a really nice time, and how beautiful I looked that night. Silly me, I took it as a compliment. Next thing I know, he's asking me where I got the dress, since he had this 'friend' who would look great in it. Oooh! I couldn't get away from him fast enough right then. Men!" she shouted, then took a 'cleansing breath', and went on, "The other thing that made me angry happened last Friday, the day that his girlfriend Leslie and I met. After he rushed me out of his apartment and we had a minor disagreement about Leslie, which is neither here nor there, he told me that he'd checked in with Billy and then he asked me if I was going 'straight home'. I had heard that kind of question enough times, that this time, it was just the 'straw that broke the camel's back', if you know what I mean. I guess you could say I really lit into him, and we had our biggest argument ever. Anyway, the case we were working on did come out all right after all. And after we'd both gone to say goodbye and good luck to Beth and her husband...they're the people we were able to help...anyway, that's when he asked me. He wanted us to have dinner together, no shop talk for a change. And he said, 'We don't do enough of that, do we?' And being honest, I said, 'Not by half!' Anyway, it was a nice, friendly dinner, with no shop talk, as promised. As to WHY he asked me, I couldn't say...maybe just some fence mending with a friend?"
"That's a very good possibility, Amanda. He wouldn't want to lose you," Emily finished. "As a friend. That may very well be what he's so afraid of."
"Afraid of?" Amanda asked, with a puzzled look.
"Your friendship, Amanda. It's one of the best Lee has ever known, and he may very well be afraid of losing it, if the two of you should move your relationship to a new level." Emily continued, "And one more question, Amanda. Do you enjoy Lee's company?"
"Well, yeah...I mean, he's a great guy, and a really good friend, you know. And he has a really good sense of humor," Amanda tossed her head slightly and continued, "...and, okay, I have to admit, he's pretty easy on the eyes, too...with his killer smiles, and those gorgeous hazel eyes, and...oh...my...gosh!!" , Amanda shouted, a little embarrassed.
Emily had to smile, remembering a very similar conversation with Lee. "Amanda, dear, please be patient with him. People can change, you know. Just give it time."
Now it seemed it was Amanda's turn to ride the emotional roller coaster. Why had Lee and Leslie 'parted company', as he had said? What did he mean by a 'conflict of interest'? Was it possible that he did harbor deeper feelings for Amanda after all...that he was as nervous about 'rocking the boat' as she was herself? So many questions. How could she face him when she went back to the office this afternoon? Well...Rome wasn't built in a day, was it? She would have to act as normal as possible, at least for now. Emily had asked her to be patient with him. 'Just give it time,' she'd said. All right...what else could Amanda do?
When she arrived back at the Agency, Mrs. Marston greeted her, and handed Amanda a sealed envelope made of high-quality ivory-colored stationery with her name written on it in calligraphy. "Thank you, Mrs. Marston," she said, "isn't it lovely? I wonder what this is about."
As she rode the elevator down to the 3rd level, Amanda opened the envelope, to find an engraved invitation from the British Ambassador to the United States, for a reception at the embassy on Friday evening at 8:00. 'I'll just bet Lady Emily Farnsworth had something to do with this,' she thought. She would love to go to the reception, but what on earth would she wear? And with Jamie just getting his braces, Amanda's budget was already stretched pretty far. So a new dress was just about out of the question. But then again, it would be so nice to see Emily one more time before she left on Saturday.
At least Amanda wouldn't have to see Lee right away. His meeting with the Stadium security team would go on for another hour or more. All right then, she'd check in with Mr. Melrose.
She tapped on Billy's door, and said, "Mr. Melrose?"
"Yes, Amanda, come on in," he answered. "Unfortunately, we haven't picked up any more transmissions from our friends at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel. So there's nothing new to transcribe right now. In the meantime, the receptionist out there in the bullpen has another cart load of closed files for the vault, so if you wouldn't mind..."
"Oh no, Sir. I don't mind at all," she replied cheerfully. "I'll just run them up to the Q Bureau and start filing them." And she didn't mind, really. Not today. A little mindless filing might be exactly what she needed to calm her nerves.
Amanda made a determined effort to forget her luncheon conversation, to no avail. Thank goodness, after two hours of 'mindless' filing, the telephone rang. She answered the phone, "Q Bureau, Amanda King speaking."
Emily Farnsworth's cheerful voice was on the other end of the line. "Amanda, dear, are you all right? You seemed a bit shaken after our lunch."
"Oh, I'll be all right, Emily, it's just a lot to think about, I guess," Amanda answered, as honestly as she could. "I mean, I had pretty much given up hope, and now you tell me I shouldn't, that I should be patient, and, well, I suppose I don't want to lose Lee's friendship either, because it means so much to me, too, you know? I guess I'm a little confused right now."
"Just take it one day, no, one moment at a time, dear. I have a very good feeling about the two of you, Amanda. You must remember that sometimes men are a little 'slow' about these things. Getting in touch with, and, God forbid, expressing, their feelings can be very difficult for them, poor dears."
Amanda respected and trusted Emily, and she decided to accept her advice. "All right, Emily, I'll remember that, and do my best to be patient." Changing the subject, Amanda asked, "Now, Lady Emily Farnsworth, did you have the least little bit to do with my receiving an invitation to a reception at the British Embassy on Friday evening, hmmm?"
"You received an invitation to an embassy reception?" Emily asked, 'innocently'.
Silence. The bluff wasn't working. "All right, well, yes, dear, I did have the 'least little bit' to do with that invitation. You see, my late husband was a close friend of the current Ambassador, and we've known him for ages, and if you must know, yes, I did ask him to invite two of my dearest friends..."
"TWO of your dearest..."
"Yes, two," Emily confessed. "After all, both you and Lee are my good friends, aren't you? And I really would like to see you both again before I leave."
Amanda said, "That's a lovely thought, Emily, and I love spending time with you, too, but...how do I say this? What on earth will I wear?? I mean Lee has already seen just about every decent dress I own, and really, a party at the British Embassy, I mean that calls for something, I don't know, elegant, dramatic, beautiful...where am I going to find something like that, at a moment's notice? And that my little budget can afford? I mean, what am I going to do?"
Emily smiled and said, "Amanda, dear, don't worry yourself so. Why don't you let me help you? There is a lovely little boutique here in the hotel that may have just the dress you need. Now...do you have any pressing appointments late this afternoon, with your family?"
"Well, no, nothing but the boys' dinner, and Mother will be glad to help me with that," Amanda said. "But Emily, I still don't know...I mean, I don't want you to spend your money on a dress for me, it's just that..."
"Nonsense, dear," Emily said, determinedly. "You can go ahead and pay the part you feel you can afford right now, and I'll pay the rest. Consider it a loan, if you like."
"Emily! You'd do that for me?" Amanda asked, gratefully.
"Of course I would, Amanda. You've risked your life to save mine...why wouldn't I give...all right, lend you...a little money? What are friends for, after all?" Emily asked. She continued, "All right then. I'll meet you in the hotel lobby at 5:00 p.m., and we'll shop for your elegant, dramatic, beautiful gown."
"Oh, Emily, you are just the sweetest, most wonderful person. Thank you so much!" Amanda gushed. "I'll see you at five."
Amanda went back to her filing. At least she had something pleasant to look forward to. Shopping with Emily sounded like fun. It was already 3:30, and she could handle another hour or so of filing before she would leave to meet Emily.
At about 4:15, Amanda heard the door to the Q Bureau opening. This time, Lee did his best not to startle her. He tapped on the vault door before popping his head in to say, "Hi, Amanda."
"Oh, hello, Lee. Actually, I was just getting ready to leave for the day," Amanda said, as she closed the file drawer and stepped out of the vault.
"Oh really?" he asked. "What's up today?"
"I'm going shopping with Emily," Amanda stated. "You see, I got this invitation to a reception at the British Embassy, and well, I don't have a thing to wear, and Emily suggested..."
"Think red, Amanda. You'd look terrific in red," Lee said, with a broad smile.
"Oh," she said quietly. "Well, I'll take that under advisement, Scarecrow," Amanda said with a wink, as she exited the Q Bureau.
Lee smiled and tilted his head toward the closed door. 'She'll take it under advisement...cute!' he thought to himself. Then he remembered the envelope Mrs. Marston had handed him earlier. Wait a minute. He ripped open the envelope which had been sitting on his desk, 'cordially invited...reception...British Embassy...Friday...8:00...'
"Em-i-ly!" he shouted to the empty room. "What are you trying to do to me?!?"
He didn't like being pushed into anything, even by his dear friend Emily. But then again, spending the evening with Amanda, all dressed up in her brand new evening gown, especially if it was red...wouldn't be so bad, would it? No...not bad at all, he had to admit.
At 5:00, Amanda and Emily met in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel, and found their way to the Bonne Temps boutique and dress shop. Emily was right. They had a lovely selection to choose from. Amanda tried on three dresses. The first was a simple black column dress with a slit up the left side, very nice, but just not quite right for the occasion, especially if dancing might be included in the evening's entertainment. The second was a strapless, royal blue silk dress with a form-fitting bodice and long, sweeping skirt. It was very nice, really, and it looked great on Amanda. Strong colors always did. But she was a little uncomfortable with the 'strapless' aspect. The third dress, which was really the first to catch Amanda's eye, was a bright red, chiffon, full-length gown, with spaghetti straps, a form-fitting bodice, and a free-flowing skirt which draped beautifully. "Oh Amanda, dear!" Emily cried, "this one is perfect! You look wonderful!"
Amanda knew it as well. 'You'd look terrific in red,' Lee had told her. She had the broadest smile as she looked at herself in the mirror, well, in all three mirrors. "Thank you, Emily. It's a fabulous dress, isn't it?"
"Yes dear, it is. Now, let's just see to the accessories, and..." Emily went on.
They took care of all the necessities that went with the lovely gown, and Emily and Amanda said goodbye for the evening. The mix of anticipation and nervousness Amanda felt about the following night would not allow her to sleep tonight. Of that, she was absolutely sure.
Amanda King hadn't cornered the market on that heady mix of anticipation and nervousness. No, Lee Stetson definitely had his fair share of both. He'd been on pins and needles all day, not knowing what to say (or not say) to Amanda, and he was thankful that the Stadium security meeting had gone on as long as it had. He'd only had that brief exchange with Amanda, before she left to go shopping with Emily, shopping for something red, he hoped. She did look terrific in red. Oh well, at least he could keep busy through the evening, checking in with Frank Duffy and his security crew for the invitation-only mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Two hours after the church doors had opened, the special mass ended and all of the invited guests exited the magnificent structure. Happily, nothing unexpected had marred the occasion. So the first event could be removed from the Agency's checklist. When the other agents left to follow the papal entourage back to the hotel, Lee Stetson headed for his apartment in Georgetown. He drove past the Lambda Chi fraternity house and checked in with the surveillance team there by radio. So far, they hadn't seen or heard anything unusual, but it was just after 10:00 p.m., and they had at least ten more hours to stay on the alert. There would be a staggered shift change between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., so that it wouldn't be so obvious as it would have been if there were five or six watchers, all trading places at the same time. He'd done what he could do for tonight. It would be a short night and an early morning. The Agency's security team for the youth rally at RFK Stadium had to be in place by 7:00 a.m., long before the audience would begin to spill out of the 300-plus buses and vans which would start arriving shortly after 8:00. Lee felt as though he was mentally exhausted enough to finally get a little sleep, and for once, it was true. Trouble was, he missed 'The Dream'.
After Amanda's shopping excursion with Emily, she had a little explaining to do when she arrived at home with her brand-new ball gown. "Hello, Mother! I'm home!" Amanda called into the kitchen as she carried her treasures in through the back door.
"My goodness, Amanda, what is the occasion? What a lovely new dress!" Dotty exclaimed. "Did I hear you correctly, you went shopping for it with your friend Emily?"
"Yes, Mother," Amanda began, "You remember Emily, Lady Emily Farnsworth? She was here for a visit last December...we painted the dining room..."
"Gray. Yes, I remember. I remember re-painting it later on. But yes, I do remember Emily, too. Such a nice lady," Dotty said. "What brings her to our fair city?"
"Well..." Think fast, Amanda. "Emily's late husband Charles was a close friend of the current British Ambassador to the U.S., and he invited her for a special party that will be held tomorrow night at the embassy."
"All right, Amanda," Dotty said, "that explains Emily's invitation. How did you get invited?"
"I asked Emily about that, and she said that she had asked the Ambassador to invite us, too, because we're her good friends," Amanda admitted. 'Oh my gosh!' she thought, 'did I say US?'
Dotty doesn't miss a trick. She didn't miss this one, either. "Amanda! Did you say 'us'? Does that mean your family is invited? What on earth would I wear? And there's Phillip and Jamie...what about them?"
"Motherrrrr!" Amanda cried, trying to stem Dotty's flood of questions. "I didn't mean 'us' (pointing between Dotty and herself), 'us'. I meant me and someone else, 'us'."
"Ohhhh," Dotty said, with one eyebrow threatening to reach the ceiling. "Was your 'Mr. Steadman'..."
"Stetson, Mother. Lee Stetson," was all Amanda could get in edgewise.
"All right, Stetson. Was he invited, too?" Dotty asked.
Amanda nodded slightly and answered meekly, "Yes, Mother."
"There's no need to explain the beautiful new dress, Amanda...I understand, dear." Dotty said as she rolled her eyes and turned to ascend the stairs. "I hope you two...er, three...have a wonderful time."
'I love my mother. I really do. I just wish she'd leave well enough alone sometimes!' Amanda thought, as she gathered her packages and went upstairs to put them away and check in with Phillip and Jamie before bedtime. Bedtime...sleep...she didn't hold out much hope for that, but it had been a long day, with so much to think about.
At 5:30 a.m., Gianni Costello was already inside the Lambda Chi house. The fact is, he'd been there since before any of the agents had arrived to watch the place. He'd hidden up in the attic since Wednesday morning, two days ago. Aldo had provided him with the drugs he would need to keep the students in the back bedroom on the third floor from interrupting his activities, when the time came. It took him a little while to store the blowgun and the curare-tipped darts within the tubing of Calcagno's wheelchair. He had to be careful not to touch any of the poison-coated tips. The prospect of dying by curare poisoning isn't a pretty one. The victim simply stops breathing when their skeletal muscles become relaxed and then paralyzed. The poor guy is wide awake, but can't call for help, because he can't move. Gianni shuddered involuntarily, just thinking about it. Aldo and Gianni had decided not to replace Larry Calcagno. They would let him attend the rally as planned. They would just make use of his wheelchair. The other kid, what was his name, Giannetti? Well, Gianni could easily pass for him, so he had already taken some of Jimmy's clothing, along with the all-important ID badge, driver's license, and his ticket for the rally. The Giannetti kid was safely tucked away in the attic. Not to worry. Gianni would just make sure he was the last one out of the building, act all rushed, and hurry onto the bus.
Paolo Cusanelli, the third member of the Red February team, was across town in a dorm room at George Washington University. He would replace Enrique Rodriguez, a student who had transferred in late and wasn't very well known on campus. Better yet, this guy didn't have a roommate. Once again, the photo ID would be close enough to pass, and Paolo would blend right into the crowd.
Aldo Necci would take a different route. He would attend the rally in priest's garb. Father Scardelli, the young priest he would replace, was the lone pastor of the small St. Anthony's parish in Arlington. He hadn't been in the area for very long, and wasn't well known. Another good choice.
By 7:30 a.m. all of the Agency's security personnel were in place. Because of her contribution to their advance preparation for the event, Mr. Melrose had allowed Amanda King to attend the rally, just as another pair of eyes and ears, so to speak. Amanda had been given a Press pass, and she brought her camera, just as she had done on one of her first assignments. Come to think of it, that had been at a football stadium, too.
"Good morning, Lee," Amanda greeted him warmly. "Everything all set?"
"Good morning, Amanda," Lee either smiled or was squinting against the sun, it was hard to tell. "I guess everything's as set as it can be, for now. We just have to keep our eyes wide open until the rally's over and everyone's gotten away safely. Then, and only then, will I be sure!"
"I understand. Well...I guess I'll move along, somewhere close to the front, so I can be in place to uh...take pictures, you know, 'play my cover'," Amanda said, with a nervous little laugh.
"Yeah," Lee said, smiling for sure this time. "You do that. And if you see anything that we should know about, don't be afraid to sing out!"
She was already a good ways down the stairs by now, but she gave him a wave and a smile, saying, "Okay. See you later!"
Thirty minutes later the buses started arriving. 'Okay, now the real fun begins,' Lee thought. He passed from one checkpoint to another around the stadium, as the agents carefully checked two forms of ID and each person's ticket. Lee was there when Larry Calcagno came in at one of the wheelchair-accessible entrances, and he was surprised to find that Larry had not been replaced as the radio transmissions had indicated he would be. Since he was close to the front of the stadium seating area, Lee looked to see if he could spot Amanda. He knew she would think that this change of plans was somewhat strange, too. Lee finally caught her eye, but didn't call attention to the fact. He just looked over toward Larry Calcagno, and Amanda knew just what he meant. She would watch Larry and anyone who came near him.
After another thirty minutes had gone by, Lee walked close to the area where Amanda was sitting, but didn't make eye contact. He just said, "I saw your young friend, Jimmy..."
"Giannetti," she finished for him.
Lee continued, as he moved on, "Six o'clock, coming your way."
Amanda did her best to act as though she hadn't heard a word. But she kept her eyes open, and a minute later, when she saw a young man wearing a badge that said, 'James Giannetti', she thought, 'Gosh! Is Jimmy still growing?' But other than being a little taller than she remembered, he looked pretty much the same. She'd keep an eye on him though. He was sitting right behind Larry's wheelchair, on the aisle.
Lee stopped at one of the outside entrances to the stadium where he checked in with Francine Desmond.
"Well, Francine, how are we doing so far?" Lee asked.
Francine replied wearily, "I suppose we're doing as well as can be expected. So far, we've seized 250 of those cute little 'pepper pens', about 30 of the 'pepper pagers', and about 100 canisters of mace, all told, but no guns, and no blowguns that we've been able to spot, either."
"Thank God for small favors, right?" Lee said, as he looked heavenward. "I'll check back later. Amanda's up front, watching the kid in the wheelchair, the one we thought was going to be replaced, according to the radio transmissions we picked up. And that kid from her neighborhood, Jimmy Gianetti...he's here too, sitting right behind Larry Calcagno's wheelchair. I told Amanda to let us know if she saw anything suspicious. So I guess for now, we watch and wait. Catch you later."
At exactly 10:15 a.m., right on schedule, the 'Pope-mobile', as it's been dubbed, entered the stadium, and the crowd roared. The Holy Father himself stepped out of his vehicle and was helped up onto the raised platform. The audience stood to their feet and cheered again. Next, there would be a few greetings, one by the Archbishop of Washington, DC, another by the city's mayor, and another by the Vice President of the United States, before the Pope would stand to greet the audience.
While Vice President Anderson was in the middle of his greeting, Amanda detected movement out of the corner of her eye. A priest, was that Father Scardelli? It didn't look much like him, but that's what the name badge said. Anyway, this priest was moving closer and closer to the area where Amanda and the two young men from the Lambda Chi fraternity house were sitting. Just then, she saw Jimmy bending down...was that a screwdriver he had in his hand? And then the priest leaned over and seemed to be talking to Larry, when all of a sudden, Larry's head drooped forward. Amanda saw what looked like an aluminum tube coming up out of the top right portion of the wheelchair. Immediately, she did two things. First she took a flash picture of the Vice President, long before he'd said anything interesting. And next, she yelled, "GUN!!!"
The agents closest to the Pope immediately jumped between him and the blowgun, and one of them, Agent Jack Henderson, was struck by the first, and only, dart. Agents surrounded the two would-be assassins and took them into custody. Amanda rushed up toward the platform.
Lee had started moving forward at the sight of the flash, recognizing it as Amanda's signal. When he saw her going to try and help Jack Henderson, he rushed up to her and said sadly, "I'm sorry, Amanda, it's no use..."
But Amanda wouldn't be put off. She said, "No, Lee, you don't understand, as long as we can keep him breathing, he still has a chance." So she put her non-Agency knowledge to work again, and performed artificial respiration on the downed agent until the paramedics arrived. The EMT crew thanked her for not giving up, and keeping the agent's airways clear. Henderson would be sick for awhile, but he had a more than even chance of survival, thanks to Amanda King.
After the dust settled, the rest of the youth rally went on as planned. The agency had caught two out of three of the Red February terrorists. Aldo Necci and Gianni Costello were in custody. The third of them, Paolo, hadn't shown himself, so he was still at large.
When the last bus had pulled away, and most of the other agents had cleared out as well, Lee smiled, shook Amanda's hand, and said, "Well! It looks like you've saved the day one more time, Amanda. I'm sure glad Billy gave you that Press pass."
"I'm just glad I could help," Amanda said graciously. "And I'm glad to know that wasn't really Jimmy Gianetti. His mother would have died a thousand deaths!"
Lee just chuckled and took Amanda's hand in his as they walked to his car.
The afternoon consisted of writing up their case report, in which Amanda figured prominently. She tried to downplay her part, but Lee wouldn't hear of it. He was so proud of her, of the lives she'd saved.
Once their reports were finished and turned in to Billy's office, Lee turned to Amanda as they walked back toward the elevator, and said with a grin, "You have an invitation to the reception at the British embassy tonight, too, right?"
"That's right," she said, a little hesitantly.
"Well...in the interest of togetherness and friendship, and 'energy conservation'," he paused for a little wink, and continued, "...what do you say we go together? Would it be all right if I pick you up at your house, say, at 7:30?" Lee asked.
She couldn't stop herself smiling, when she answered, "Sure. That'll be nice. I'll be ready at 7:30." Talk about anticipation and nervousness. Now the butterflies in her stomach were dancing the jitterbug!
Lee walked Amanda to her car, and each left for home. Somehow, Lee couldn't stop hearing that old Carly Simon song, 'An-ti-ci-pa-tion, an-ti-ci-pa-a-tion...is making me wait'...it kept running through his mind, over and over again.
At 7:25 p.m., Lee Stetson turned the corner onto Maplewood Drive. Tonight, he wouldn't park halfway down the block. No. Tonight, he'd pull right up in front of the house...like real people. No guts, no glory, right? Right. He'd climb out of the silver Corvette, square his shoulders, and casually walk to the front door. This was easy. Piece of cake. Then he almost turned and ran, just after ringing the doorbell. 'Oh my God!' he thought, 'what if Amanda doesn't come to answer the door? what if it's Mrs. W—'
"Well! Hello, Mr. Stetson. How nice to finally meet you! We've spoken on the phone before, I believe. I'm Dorothea West, Amanda's mother," Dotty said, ushering him into the entryway. 'Very nice, Amanda. No one ever said you didn't have good taste,' she thought.
"How do you do, Mrs. West. It's nice to meet you, too," Lee said, politely.
Dotty saved him the trouble of saying more. "Amanda's just putting on the 'finishing touches'," she went on, "I'm sure she'll be ready any minute now..."
"I'm ready now, Mother. Hello, Lee," Amanda said softly, smiling brightly and pausing for effect. For just a second, she remembered their first formal meeting, when Lee had asked her to meet him at a party, for which she had been 'hideously underdressed', and she'd seen him standing there at the top of the spiral staircase, looking better in a tuxedo than any man on earth had a right to.
Lee Stetson turned around to look up the stairs at the stunning brunette standing there in her fabulous red evening gown, with her chestnut hair pulled up and held by diamond clips, and was very nearly speechless. She took his breath away. "Amanda! You look wonderful!" he said, in a rush.
As Amanda descended the stairs, she took in his appreciative glance, and she had to admit she was pretty pleased with herself. She did look wonderful. And tonight, she knew it, by the look on Lee's face. "You should talk!" she said with a sweet smile. Well, she had to give him his due. He still looked better in a tux than any man she'd ever seen.
Lee helped Amanda with her white fur wrap, and they managed to disengage themselves from Dotty's presence. Lee took Amanda's hand and guided her to his car, and they drove to Embassy Row in relative silence, stealing glances and offering smiles to one another whenever their eyes locked, which, as it turned out, was quite often.
When their names were announced, "Mr. Lee Stetson and Mrs. Amanda King...", Lady Emily Farnsworth turned her attention toward the entrance, where she saw the attractive couple, arm in arm. She left the small group of people she'd been chatting with and rushed forward to meet her American friends.
"Lee! Amanda!" she exclaimed, taking each of their free hands in hers. "You look positively amazing, both of you! I'm so glad both of you could come to the reception this evening."
"Thank you, Emily!" the two of them said, in unison. Then they looked into each other's eyes and smiled.
"Oh, my dears," Emily said, "Come with me, to the ballroom. In just a moment, they will start the music, and the dance floor will be opened. I don't remember if the invitation mentioned tonight's guest of honor, but it's none other than Richard Rodgers. We are in for some delightful music this evening."
Emily was right again. Just as the three came into the ballroom, the small orchestra started up the strains of "Some Enchanted Evening," and British Ambassador Richard Evans invited Lady Emily Farnsworth to dance.
Lee Stetson gazed at his lovely partner, took her hand in his and said, "Just dance with me?"
Amanda remembered a very similar phrase, the first he'd ever spoken to her, and said, " I most certainly will."
And dance they did. Each time there was a slow dance, Lee pulled Amanda a little closer, until, toward the latter part of the evening, his arm was wrapped snugly around her waist and his lips were brushing her hair. Her scent was nearly overwhelming him. When this dance ended, they'd have to go outside for some fresh air.
Lee linked their arms, and, in silent agreement, they strolled out onto the terrace. "It's a beautiful night, isn't it?" Amanda said, with a sense of wonder, looking up into the night sky.
"It most certainly is," Lee answered quietly. But he wasn't looking at the stars.
Somehow, she felt his penetrating gaze, and turned to look into his eyes. So much for fresh air. Lee pulled her into an embrace, and kissed her lips tenderly. Then the two of them just stood there, holding each other for a moment.
Lee pulled back slightly, and started to say what was in his heart. "Amanda...I...well, I guess what I'm trying to say is..." and then he forged ahead, after a slight shake of his head, "what on earth took me so long? I mean, here you are, this beautiful, wonderful woman, and I've wasted so much time..."
Amanda placed a finger on his lips to silence him. She whispered, "It's a two-way street, Lee. I guess we both made wrong assumptions about each other in the beginning. But we've come a long way in the last two years, and I for one am glad to have taken that journey...with you."
Their lips met again, this time in a more passionate kiss. All right, several of them. But when things were beginning to feel a little too intense for 'public display', Amanda pulled back. Lee had a puzzled look on his face, but Amanda settled his fears. "Lee! I'm as glad as you are that we've come to this point, but we don't have to make up for all our lost time tonight. Can we just take one step at a time?" she asked, smiling reassuringly.
"Yeah...of course we can," he said with a sheepish grin. They shared one more gentle kiss, and Lee led his lovely Amanda back into the ballroom.
Emily Farnsworth had seen the last part of their 'conversation' through the doors to the terrace. As she spied the two of them, Emily thought, 'Mission accomplished. I'm really glad I gave them a little push. It seems that's all they needed.'