Timeline: This story takes place during late third season, shortly after "Fast Food for Thought". Lee and Amanda are partners, but are not dating yet.
Summary: Can Amanda handle an assignment on her own?
Feedback: Of course, and I actually prefer on-list feedback. That's what this list is for, right?
Archive: For this list, yes, otherwise, just ask first.
Author's Notes: I have tried to stay within canon and true to the characters. Any perceived deviation from such is merely due to my own interpretation of events and is open to debate. My team of betas has once again proved their worth. Thanks, ladies.
A noise from above caused her to catch her breath as she listened ... footsteps ... and the scraping of a chair leg. She hoped her captors would leave her alone long enough for her to figure a way out of this.
'A milk run. It was supposed to be a milk run,' she mused. She was beginning to hate the sound of that particular terminology. 'Why is it my milk runs always turn sour?'
She sighed as she remembered Lee's concern over her taking this assignment. Any caution she may have felt had been overwhelmed by her stubbornness and determination to prove herself. She'd told him, "Lee, I'm perfectly capable of retrieving this drop. It's in the middle of the day; lots of people will be around. What could possibly happen?" She now knew she was going to have to eat those words.
Francine had even offered to serve as backup. Lately, Francine
had seemed to be developing a grudging respect for her capabilities.
Her resolve to show Francine she could handle a simple milk run had been
another determining factor in her decision to do this alone.
She'd told her, "Francine, I don't need backup. All I have to do
is order a ham-n-Swiss with a pickle on the side. I've done drops
like this with Lee a hundred times." She was not looking forward
to Francine's inevitable gloating.
Shaking her head at her knack for finding trouble, she closed her eyes at the sudden pain that throbbed in her temples. 'What did they hit me with?' she wondered. She could now hear the steady hum of a TV from above. She found the sound oddly reassuring. While her captors were preoccupied, maybe she could figure a way out of this. As the pain in her head eased, she
carefully moved her arms, feeling the ropes cut into her wrists. Fortunately, her captors had underestimated her abilities and had tied her hands in front. She attempted to grasp the knot with her numb fingers, but they refused to cooperate. So, grimacing at the taste and coarseness of the rope, she brought it to her mouth and worked at it with her teeth.
After several interminable minutes, she finally felt the knot slip. Pulling the offending rope from her wrists, she rubbed the circulation back into her hands. She ran her sore tongue across her bruised lips, the salty tang of blood indicating the toll her efforts had taken. 'Amanda King, how do you get into these things?' she wondered again, futilely.
If only she could see better ... She vaguely remembered the sound of her purse hitting the floor right before she passed out. Squinting, she could barely make out a dark mass a few feet in front of her. Since it didn't appear to be moving, she shifted her weight away from the wall and grabbed at the shape. Relieved to feel soft leather and not coarse fur, she pulled her purse towards her.
A small circle of light appeared as she flipped the switch on her key-chain light. It wasn't very bright, but it would have to do. Sweeping the light across the confines of her prison, she was relieved to see nothing larger than a spider scurrying across the floor.
Thankful to find herself alone, she resumed her search. There appeared to be no doors other than the one at the top of the stairs, the one through which she'd been unceremoniously pushed. But maybe the windows could be useful? Realizing that she needed to get closer, she cautiously rose to her feet. She steadied herself against the wall behind her as her head spun. "They must've hit you pretty hard, Amanda. Don't faint now. That won't help you one bit," she muttered under her breath.
As her head cleared, she took a quick inventory of her anatomy. Other than a knot on her head the size of her fist and the abrasions on her wrists and mouth, she seemed to be intact. 'How am I going to explain this to Mother?' she asked herself. 'Another mugging, perhaps? Ah, well, I'll worry about that later.' Making her way over to the first boarded-up window, she pulled on each plank, grimacing at the pain in her hands as the wood held fast. She quickly gave up and crossed to the other window. When it, too, refused to budge, she realized she needed a pry-bar of some sort.
Moving the narrow beam of light across the small room, she gasped as
she illuminated a small pile of scrap metal. Thankful for the times
she'd helped her boys with building projects, she searched the pile for
something appropriate. She located a short, slightly bent, but solid
piece of metal pipe, extricated it from its companions, and carried it
to the window. Hefting it with some difficulty, she worked it behind
the bottom board and began to push. She smiled when the board gave
a satisfying 'crack,' then
paused to listen, hoping her efforts had not been detected. Reassured by the continuing hum from the upstairs TV, she quickly went to work on the remaining wood.
After she succeeded in uncovering the window, she felt around its edges
for a clasp or lock. Through the dingy glass, she noticed the sky
outside darkening. She knew she had missed her check-in. 'Will
Lee be worried?' she wondered. The thought of her partner,
no doubt pacing across Mr. Melrose's office like a caged animal, made her
smile. Her smile faded as
she considered that, this time, his worry might be warranted. She wasn't sure whether he'd be angry with her for letting herself get caught or proud of her if she succeeded in escaping. "Most likely a little of both," she decided.
Finally locating the rusty latch, she pulled and tugged to no avail. Somehow, she had known this wasn't going to be easy. Sighing, she went back to the pile of scrap and looked for something to use. After some thought, she settled on a narrow, rough piece of metal that could double as a screwdriver. Fitting the end of the 'screwdriver' under the catch, she pried at it until she felt it give way.
Suddenly, she noticed a change in the noise from above. In place of the sound from the TV, she now heard voices, angry male voices. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but she had no desire to wait for them to come down the stairs and find out what she'd been up to. Reaching back up to the window, she gave it a good push. After a moment's resistance, it opened with a loud creak. She quickly pulled over a wooden crate she'd noticed in the corner and set it beneath the window. She retrieved her purse, clambered on top of the rickety perch, and tossed her purse through to the outside. She then pushed her upper body through the opening and, placing her slight weight upon her arms, pulled the rest of her body free.
Not waiting around for her escape to be discovered, she grabbed her purse, forced herself to her feet, and began to run. As she left behind the abandoned warehouse, relief flooded her being, the adrenaline that had kept her going for the last few minutes beginning to drain away. She needed to find a pay phone. Her feet were slowing, her heart forcing its way out of her chest, and she knew she was in danger of passing out.
Stopping to lean against a building, she lowered her head below her knees and took in several deep breaths. 'Slow and easy, Amanda. You need to get to a phone. You are NOT going to pass out.' After the blood returned to her head, she slowly stood back up and looked at her surroundings. She spotted a pay phone next to a vacant loading dock across the street. Trying to look inconspicuous, she made her way to the pay phone. Thankful that no one else was around, she gingerly picked up the filthy receiver, heaving a sigh of relief at the reassuring sound of the dial tone. She then fumbled in the bottom of her purse for loose change. Sighing in relief upon locating a quarter, she quickly inserted it and dialed the Agency's number.
"International Federal Film," the nasal voice intoned.
"This is Amanda King. I need to speak to Mr. Melrose, please."
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but he can't be disturbed. Would you like to leave a message?" the familiar, but annoying, voice droned on.
"No, I need to speak with him immediately. It's a matter of national security. Oh, shoot, what is that code word, again?" Lowering her voice, she whispered into the phone, "Blue something ... Um, Bluebell? No, Bluenose? Shucks, no ... Bluenote. That's it! Bluenote," she exclaimed proudly.
"I'll get him for you, Mrs. King; hold on."
"Amanda?" The reassuring sound of her boss' voice came through loud and clear.
"Oh, Mr. Melrose, sir, I'm glad I caught you. I ordered the sandwich at the drop site, just like you said, but then these two men grabbed me, and I managed to escape but--"
Billy interjected, "Amanda, is Lee with you?"
"Lee, sir? No, he isn't. Should he be?"
"I was afraid of that. Lee left over an hour ago to look for you. And he missed his last check-in. Where are you?"
Looking around, she noticed a sign above the loading dock. "Well, sir, I'm at a pay phone in front of an abandoned warehouse for 'Amalgamated Industries, Inc.' Does that help?"
"Yes, it does. I'm sending Francine to help you, Amanda. I need you to show her where you were being held; can you do that?"
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I'm sure I can backtrack."
"Good, Amanda. Hold tight, Francine should be there shortly."
"Thank you, sir."
"Oh, and, Amanda?"
"Thank you, sir."
She hesitated as she hung up the receiver. A sudden sense of being cut off from her lifeline flooded through her. 'Deep breaths, Amanda.' Moving to sit down in the shadows of the loading dock, she resigned herself to what could be a long wait.
"Amanda ... Amanda!" The insistent voice and the hand roughly shaking her shoulder finally penetrated her grogginess.
"Wha'? Oh, Francine, you're here," she murmured. "I must've fallen asleep."
"I'll say. Geez, Amanda, you look like hell. What'd they do to you?"
Determined not to get into a 'snide remark exchange' with Francine, Amanda answered, "Well, let's see. They grabbed me, hit me over the head, tied me up, and then left me in a cold, dark basement."
"And you escaped?"
Suppressing a smile at the grudging respect evident in Francine's voice, Amanda merely nodded. The movement renewed the pounding in her head, causing her to emit an "Oh!"
Reaching a hand out to feel the back of Amanda's head, Francine said, "Well, Amanda, that's quite a bump you've got. Maybe we should get you back to the Agency."
"No, Francine. I'm okay. Besides, you need me to help you find Lee, remember?" She rose shakily to her feet as she spoke, leaning her hand against the wall for support. As she took a deep breath, the pain in her head eased and she stood tall, saying, "C'mon, let's get going."
Mumbling under her breath at her need to seek help from a part-time, half-trained agent, Francine agreed, "Okay, Amanda. What direction did you come from?"
Ignoring Francine's muttering, she pointed to her right and said, "This way ... I think. Or was it that way?" She swung her arm around to indicate the opposite direction. "No, I'm sure it was this way," she stated firmly, facing again to the right.
"Amanda," Francine sighed. "Are you absolutely sure?"
"Yes. It's this way." Amanda headed off in the direction indicated, determination in her stride, while the seasoned agent resolutely followed.
"Amanda, are you positive this is the right building? This is only the third one you've been sure about," Francine remarked, her voice high-pitched in frustration.
"Yes, Francine," Amanda answered tiredly. "I was unconscious when they brought me here, and when I escaped I didn't stand outside the building studying the details. But, yes, I'm sure this is it." She didn't know which was more annoying, her own confusion or Francine's condescending tone.
"Okay, okay. Let's check it out." Francine walked closer to the abandoned warehouse, Amanda close behind. As the two eased around the side of the building, Francine stopped suddenly. "Ouch, Amanda! Would you mind not following quite so close?"
"Sorry," Amanda muttered. "Look! That's the window I came out of," Amanda exclaimed as she pointed to a small, broken window at ground level. "Now, I'm really sure."
"You fit through that?" Francine asked incredulously, a tinge of envy coloring her voice. Bending down to study the window, she said, "I wonder if Lee's in there. You said you heard voices when you escaped?"
"Yes, angry voices. But none of them sounded like Lee ... at least I don't think they did," Amanda said as she stooped next to Francine. "If they're holding Lee, don't you think they'd have boarded this window back up?"
"Perhaps. But maybe they're not worried about Lee escaping through that tiny window. Amanda, you stay here. I'm going around back to see if there's a door we can use."
"But--" Amanda protested.
"No 'buts,' Amanda. Stay here," Francine ordered as she pulled her gun from her shoulder holster and eased herself around to the other side of the building.
"Stay here, Amanda. Wait in the car, Amanda. Go home, Amanda," her voice mimicked as she leaned heavily against the wall, crossing her arms in disgust.
Suddenly alert at the sound of angry voices, Amanda made her way cautiously
to the corner around which Francine had just disappeared. Peering
out from behind the wall, she glimpsed two large men supporting a limp
Francine between them. As she watched, the trio disappeared through
a door at the far end of the building. "Oh, my gosh! Now they have
Lee and Francine.
Well, Amanda, what are you going to do now?"
She quickly made her way back to the basement window, bending down to peer inside. It was as dark as she remembered. Hearing a low moan, she whispered, "Lee? Lee, is that you?" Getting no response, she muttered, "Well, Amanda King, now you're going to have to crawl back through this window."
Knowing she really should go back to the pay phone and call Mr. Melrose again, she swallowed the lump in her throat and proceeded to slide back through the window. 'Lee says I never do what I'm supposed to, so why start now?'
She lowered herself carefully to the basement floor, stifling a gasp as her feet made sudden contact with the concrete. 'It would've been nice if they'd left the crate for me to stand on,' she mused, smiling slightly at the absurdity of it all.
The smile left her face at the sound of another low moan. Reaching into her purse, she retrieved her small flashlight and turned it on, illuminating a small circle in front of her. She scanned the area and gasped when the light fell upon the source of the moan. "Lee!" she whispered. She made her way to his side and knelt beside him, gently shaking his shoulder. "Lee, are you okay?" she asked.
Lee moaned and his eyelids fluttered open. "A ... Amanda?" he mumbled, attempting to sit up.
"Shh. Yes, Lee, it's me. Are you hurt?" she whispered as she put her arm behind his shoulders to help him sit up.
"I don't think so ... they ... ow ... they hit me over the head with something," he offered as he gingerly felt the bump on his head.
"Well, they're nothing if not consistent," she said wryly. "What happened, Lee? You were looking for me, weren't you? I managed to get out of here, once, you know," she said as she glanced nervously at the ceiling above them. "If you'd just waited, you could've--"
"What?" Lee interjected. Lowering his voice as she put her finger to his lips, he said, "Amanda, you disappeared. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to know you'd manage to escape? You obviously needed my help, and--"
"What?" Amanda echoed. Standing up, she crossed her arms and glared down at him. "Lee Stetson, I can handle a simple milk run on my own. Why did you think I needed your help? Just because I missed ONE check-in, you have to act like a hero and--"
"You can handle a simple milk run on your own, huh? Well, Mrs. King, I think you've proved you can spoil the milk, but beyond that--"
"Well! Of all the--I can't believe you'd--Now listen here, buster," she sputtered. Lowering her voice, she continued, "I have a mind to just crawl out that window and leave you here. To think I climbed back through that tiny hole to rescue you and Francine--"
"Francine? Amanda, slow down." He reached up and grabbed her hand. His voice was low and soothing as he said, "Amanda, please, I'm sorry. Now will you sit back down and tell me what happened. Please?"
Her face softening, she relented and sat down next to him, her hand still clasped in his. "Okay, Lee. I'm sorry, too, but, you know ... Lee, why aren't you tied up?" she whispered suddenly, looking down at their entwined fingers.
"You know, I was just wondering that myself. I don't think our two thugs are very bright, and when they saw you were gone they left in a big hurry. I think they just forgot," he added ruefully. "Now, from the beginning, what happened?"
The feel of his strong hand gently caressing her palm erased all of her earlier tension. Sighing softly, she began, "I went to the deli and ordered the sandwich, just like Mr. Melrose told me. As I left, two large men grabbed me from behind and tossed me into the back of a van. They hit me, too ... " She paused as she felt his hand tighten on her own. "Oh, I'm okay. Then I woke up briefly when they brought me down here, but passed out again. When I woke up the second time I decided to get out of here, and I did. But ... now I'm back, and you're here, and so is Francine."
"How did Francine get involved?" he asked.
"Well, I ran to a pay phone to call Mr. Melrose. At first, I was afraid I wouldn't remember the password, but I finally did, and that annoying woman put me through, and Mr. Melrose said he was sending Francine to help me find you, because now you were missing, and Francine arrived, but it took me awhile to remember where this place was. When we finally found it, Francine told me to stay put, and I did, but I heard angry voices, and when I looked around the corner, they had Francine and she was out cold. So, I decided I had to find you, so I did," she finished proudly.
Shaking his head at his partner's rambling, he said, "Well I guess you and I need to find Francine and get out of here."
"Yeah. But, Lee, there's no way you can fit through that window."
"I know--Shh, listen," he whispered. "I think I hear voices."
Filtering down from above, Amanda could hear two deeper male voices and one higher-pitched, female voice. "Francine must be awake," she offered.
"Yeah. Amanda, listen, I have an idea. I'll create a diversion and get the men to come down here." He stood up, pulling Amanda to her feet. "You hide in the shadows and stay out of the way while--"
"Lee, that won't work. What if only one of the men comes down here? You need my help," she whispered urgently. "I'll go back out the window and sneak around to the front--"
"Amanda--" Lee interrupted, shaking his head.
"Lee, you need my help. Don't argue," she insisted. "If you get one of the men down here, Francine and I can handle the other one. Divide and conquer--"
"Lee, I am not going to argue this with you," she said, crossing her arms again. Lowering her voice as she looked at the window, she continued, "I'm going out that window. As soon as I'm free, you start that diversion."
"Yes, ma'am," he replied with a heavy sigh, shaking his head in resignation. He smiled at the determination on her face and added, "Be careful."
"You, too," she said with a shy smile. Starting to pull the crate back over to the window, she stopped as she felt Lee's strong hands grasp her waist.
"Allow me," he said as he hoisted her up to the window.
She reached the ground on the other side and turned to look back down at her partner. She could still feel his hands at her waist, the sensation causing her heart to race. "Thanks," she said, swallowing hard. "You can start that diversion now."
"Yes, ma'am," he said with a wink.
She hurried around the building, the sounds of Lee's shouting and yelling coming from the broken window. She reached the door through which Francine and the thugs had disappeared. Catching her breath, she peered through the small, dingy window set into the top of the door. Inside what must be the office, she could barely make out one large silhouette disappearing down the basement stairs as the other one yelled after him, "Shut him, up, will ya?"
While the second thug was busy shouting after his cohort, Amanda waved her arm across the window, hoping to get Francine's attention. 'Oh, good, she saw me,' she thought as Francine's smaller figure stood up. Amanda turned the doorknob and eased the door open a crack as Francine nodded her head in approval. Suddenly, Francine yelled, "Now!" Amanda swung the door open, hard, right into the back of the large man while Francine added a powerful kick to his backside. He went sprawling down the stairs with a loud "Oof!"
"Francine, are you all right?" Amanda asked as the two women stared down the steps at the now still form of the large man.
"Yeah, Amanda. You?"
"Better than him, I'd say." She indicated the man at the bottom of the stairs with a nod of her head. "Should we go check on Lee?"
"Yeah, we should."
Making their way quickly down the stairs, the two women stepped gingerly over the unconscious man at the bottom and then stopped.
"Lee?" Amanda called.
"Over here," the reassuringly strong voice of her partner came from the far side of the basement. "Just making sure this ... Hold still! ... one doesn't ... I said, hold still! ... get up again. Tie that one up, will you?" he asked, tossing a length of rope in their direction.
"Sure, Lee," Amanda said, as she picked up the rope. "Francine, you take this end and--"
"Would you mind helping me with my rope, first?"
"Oh, my gosh, Francine. I'm sorry," she said as she noticed, for the first time, that the other agent's hands were tied firmly behind her back. As she worked at loosening the knot, she grinned and said, "Looks like these two were maybe not as dumb as Lee thought."
"Oh? Why is that?" Francine asked as she rubbed the circulation back into her hands.
"Well, at least they learned to tie their captive's hands in back," she teased as she bent down to tie the unconscious man's wrists.
"Ha, ha, very funny," Francine said as she heard Lee's choked out laugh from across the room.
"I'm glad that's over," Amanda said as she stood to leave Billy Melrose's office. The three agents had just suffered through a lengthy debriefing.
"You can say that again," Francine added as she walked out the door. "Oh, Amanda?"
"Next time you decide to go on a milk run ... "
"Yes, Francine?" Amanda asked, her voice developing a guarded edge.
"... try not to curdle it, okay?" Francine added with a smirk on her face.
"Very funny, Francine," Amanda said. She elbowed Lee in the ribs at his snort of laughter and squared her shoulders as she walked out the door.
As the door closed behind the three agents, Billy Melrose's deep chuckle could be heard as he said, "Try not to curdle it! Oh, that's rich ... "