Michael Davidson. She hadn’t heard that name in nearly twenty years. Truth be told, she had tried awfully hard to forget it. The loud music wasn’t working and her mind wandered back to the Agency briefing that afternoon.
Amanda walked into the Bullpen with a spring in her step. It was Friday and she and Lee had a date planned for Saturday evening. He had promised to cook for her so, knowing Lee, they would most likely be eating Chinese takeout. She peered through the glass window into Billy's office and knocked on the door. Billy looked up and motioned her in. She opened the door and entered.
“Hello.” she cheerfully announced. The three people sitting in the office turned to acknowledge her. Two of them smiled, one of them rolled her eyes.
“Aren’t you disgustingly chipper today.” Francine mumbled. Billy shot her a look and invited Amanda to join them. Amanda smiled a thank you, took her customary seat to the left of Lee, and made a slight face at the grumpy blonde. Billy caught the exchange and suppressed a chuckle.
Lee spoke first, bringing Amanda up to speed. “Amanda, I need your help with a little assignment.” Amanda immediately turned to Lee and gave him her undivided attention, eyes open wide.
“There’s an embassy reception tonight. One of our informants is supposed to be there. He contacted us yesterday. Apparently he’s been discovered and needs us to bring him in.” Lee paused, giving Amanda time to process the information.
“So why do you need me?” Amanda looked over Lee’s shoulder at Francine who was making quite a show of examining her fingernails.
“This guy is kind of jumpy. We want to make him feel comfortable, not scare him off. I want you to make the initial contact.” Lee smiled a crooked smile at Amanda, which she returned.
“Are you sure you want me to go?” She looked at Billy who nodded the affirmative.
“Absolutely.” Lee replied. “You are perfect for the job." Amanda blushed slightly and lowered her eyes at his comment. Lee continued, "It is vital that we make sure he is totally comfortable and not spooked. He has some important information that we have to protect at all costs. We told him that our contact would be a brunette, soft spoken, wearing a black evening gown. Do you still have the one with the straps?”
Amanda sighed and rolled her eyes at Lee. “Spaghetti straps, and yes I do. What exactly will I have to do?” Amanda shifted in her seat, sitting up a little straighter and turning her attention to Billy.
Billy leaned back in his chair and gave Amanda the full run down. “All we need you to do is make the initial contact, make him feel comfortable and then lead him to the back garden. Lee will be waiting in the gazebo. You will have to do this as discretely as possible. We don’t know who discovered him and whether any one else will be there looking for him. Once you lead him to the gazebo, Lee will bring him over here for debriefing. You'll be free to enjoy the rest of the party, or go home, whichever you prefer.”
“Sounds simple. What time do I need to be there?” Amanda looked to Lee who had stood and was now near the door.
“Meet me at my place at 7:00. We’ll drive to the party together and Francine can take you back to my place to get your car when you are ready.” Amanda stood to join Lee, nodding a goodbye to Billy and Francine.
“Well then, I’d better get going so I’ll look presentable.” Amanda and Lee left Billy’s office together and headed up to the Q-Bureau. Once they were safely inside their office Lee whirled Amanda around and pulled her into an embrace.
“I can’t wait to see you in that dress tonight.” he growled with a grin.
“Really? I always knew you liked it, but I had no idea how much.” Amanda kissed him quickly on the lips and broke away before things went any further. “I really need to leave now if I’m going to make it to your place by 7:00.”
“Okay, okay...I’ll behave...for now.” He smiled at her as he sat down in his chair.
“For now? You’ll behave all night.” Amanda cleaned her desk off and picked up her keys. “By the way, what is this guy’s name?”
“Right, I never did mention that, did I? His name is Michael but he goes by Mickey. We don’t know his last name. Not that it’ll matter too much after tonight. He’ll be a whole new person by Sunday.” Lee regarded Amanda's spotless desk and cast a glance at his own cluttered desk, sighing.
“Mickey.” Lee looked up when Amanda spoke the name. She looked deep in thought for a moment, but then shook it off.
“Amanda?” Lee worriedly questioned.
“Hmm. Ooh nothing. That name just reminded me of someone I used to know a long time ago.” The look she had worn only moments before was gone and her smile was back. “I’ll see you tonight.”
With that, she was gone, leaving Lee to wonder who this name from Amanda’s past really was and why it had affected her so.
The rain was just starting to fall in a light drizzle when Lee and Amanda arrived at the embassy. They made their way inside together but split up as soon as Lee pointed out where the exit to the garden was. Amanda had been instructed to mingle and that Mickey would find her.
With as convincing a smile as possible, Amanda mingled among the guests nervously holding a glass of champagne. She hated being left alone at parties like this almost as much as she hated having to 'mingle'. She scanned the crowd that was filled with politicians and dignitaries looking for anyone that could be Mickey. Of course, she had no idea what he was supposed to look like, and no one in attendance resembled what she thought an informant looked like. She smiled as Lee's 'snitch', or as he preferred 'information broker', Augie Swan came to mind. He was always having trouble blending in to a crowd.
She had made her way to one side of the grand room and was admiring a painting when a hand touched her elbow.
“You look striking in that black gown this evening ma’am.” Amanda slowly turned to see who was speaking to her. When she saw the man she nearly fainted.
It was Michael Davidson.
“Michael?” Amanda squeaked out.
“Amanda?” was his equally surprised reply.
“What are you doing here?” both asked in unison.
Amanda laughed and composed herself. “I’m supposed to be meeting someone here this evening.”
Michael looked at her, squinting his eyes, trying to read her thoughts. “Me too. A beautiful lady in a black dress is supposed to be meeting me here tonight.”
Suddenly realization dawned on Amanda. This was the man she was supposed meet? But this was impossible. Michael couldn’t possibly be the informant that Lee was so concerned about. But here he was, standing in front of her, looking very worried.
“Mandy, can we go outside and talk?” Michael asked, looking over his shoulder the entire time.
“Of course Michael. Let’s go.” Amanda led him to the patio doors and outside to the garden. Once outside, away from prying eyes, Michael took her hand in his and kissed her knuckles softly. Amanda involuntarily shivered. She had forgotten how Michael could thrill her. But then, that had been the attraction all those years ago.
She had been a senior in high school. She was a straight A student and was on the varsity cheerleading squad. Michael was what Amanda would now classify as ‘unsavory’. But, something about him had drawn her to him. Now, here he was, standing in front of her, and the memories she had tried for so long and hard to push from her mind, had all come back to the surface.
“Michael...” Amanda started, pulling her hand from his.
“Call me Mickey. You used to, remember?” Michael flashed a smile at her and his eyes twinkled.
Amanda cleared her throat and nervously smiled. “Mickey, I think I’m supposed to take you to someone. Someone that is going to help you out of whatever mess you are in.”
“So, again, you are my guardian angel.” Amanda smiled at the reference and Michael continued. “I can’t believe you are one of them.”
“I could say the same thing about you.” Amanda started to turn away when Michael grabbed her arm and pulled her close to him. She could smell his aftershave in the heavy night air and it was almost intoxicating.
“One more kiss, for old times sake?” Michael whispered. Amanda could only nod as his lips pressed against hers. She swayed for a moment and thought she might fall, but Michael held her close. When their lips parted, he smiled at her. She stepped back a pace, composed herself, smiled back and took his hand.
She led him around the garden to the gazebo where Lee was waiting. Amanda knew Lee and Michael were talking to each other but she didn’t hear a word. Her thoughts were filled with memories of the times she and Michael had shared so long ago. Finally, Lee touched her on the arm and she came back down to earth. “Amanda? We’re leaving now.”
“Oh - okay. I guess I’ll head home.” Amanda turned from the two men, never making eye contact with either one. She never saw the look that Lee was giving her, nor had it occurred to her that he had seen the entire scene between she and Michael from his location in the gazebo.
Back in her car, Amanda was again berating herself for allowing Michael to kiss her. She was almost home and couldn’t wait to get out of her dress and into bed. She was not looking forward to explaining her odd behavior to Lee tomorrow night and was frantically thinking of something, anything, to tell him that was close to the truth. Amanda really didn’t want to have to explain to Lee why she'd had a 'thing' with Michael, or why she had been attracted to Michael in the first place. It was a long time ago, but Amanda was fiercely protective of her reputation. She prayed that Michael wasn’t spilling the beans to Lee right now.
Amanda had a bad feeling that it was going to be a long night.
The insistent tapping on her bedroom window awakened Amanda from a fitful sleep. She rubbed her eyes and her vision cleared to find Lee motioning for her to open the window the rest of the way and let him in. She looked at her alarm clock and shook her head. Climbing out of bed, Amanda hurried to the window before the neighbors called the police. Lee climbed in and closed the window behind him. It was still drizzling rain and Lee didn’t want to get her carpet soaked. He shook the rain off of his hair and jacket as Amanda returned to her bed and sat on the edge.
"Do you have any idea what time it is?" she whispered, the irritation evident in her voice.
Lee looked at her, apologetically and sat next to her. "It's 3:45 and I'm sorry. I just had to see you tonight." Lee nervously ran his hand through his damp hair, a mannerism Amanda knew well.
"What's the matter Lee. Is something bothering you?" Amanda reached for his arm but he moved out of her grasp. Amanda slowly withdrew her hand, placing it on her lap. One thought echoed through her mind, Michael had told Lee about their past.
“What did he tell you?” Amanda whispered dreading Lee’s response.
“What did who tell me?” Lee asked, confused. He shook his head as if to remind himself of the sole purpose for his visit. "Why did he kiss you?" Lee looked down at his hands as he spoke.
"You saw that?" Amanda asked in surprise. Lee only nodded. "Lee, please look at me." Amanda pleaded. She had no idea Lee had seen the exchange between she and Michael and could only imagine the thoughts going through Lee's head. He raised his head and turned to face her. What she saw there broke her heart. His eyes were filled with the pain of loss. A pain he knew all too well. Amanda reached for his face and caressed his cheek.
"Lee," she whispered, "Michael and I were friends in high school. Actually we dated for a while. That's all. I really don't know why he kissed me. I wasn't expecting it and he caught me off guard."
"Did you enjoy it?" Lee asked, his voice hoarse. He flinched slightly at the surprised look on Amanda's face.
"Did I enjoy it?" Amanda smiled and shook her head sadly. "Oh Lee, it brought back a lot of memories, and yes, I did enjoy that." She hurriedly explained herself when Lee drew in a sharp breath. "But I most certainly did not enjoy it the way I enjoy kissing you."
"If I wasn't supposed to be protecting him, I would have killed him." Lee eyes were filled with anger and hurt as he spoke. He bowed his head again and looked at his hands. Amanda scooted closer to him and put an arm around him.
"Lee, sweetheart…" Amanda felt Lee relax a little as she spoke. "…do you believe me when I say I love you?" Lee's head shot up and he looked directly into her eyes as if he couldn't believe Amanda was asking him this question.
"Of course I believe you Amanda. That has nothing to do with this." Lee replied indignantly.
"Yes, it does. If you believe that I love you, then you also have to believe that what Michael and I had happened a long time ago and it's over." Amanda rested her head on Lee's shoulder. He reached up and touched her cheek. She looked up and turned her face toward his.
"I'm sorry Amanda, I guess I just don't like seeing you kissed by anyone but me." Lee smiled a small, sheepish smile.
"Well then, we do agree on something after all." Amanda leaned in and kissed Lee, softly at first, but more intensely as the emotions of the evening took over. Lee wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer to him, almost possessively. The kiss took Amanda's breath away. Lee pulled back slightly, cupping her face in his hands.
"I love you Amanda King." He leaned forward and rested his forehead on hers. "I’m so afraid of losing you."
Amanda leaned back and stared at him, as if boring a hole straight through to his soul. "I love you too Lee and I'm not going anywhere without you." Amanda assured him.
After a few moments Lee sat up straight. He looked at the clock then back at Amanda who was yawning.
"I'd better be going. It's late. I shouldn't have awakened you." Lee stood and made his way to the window. He paused before he climbed out, sitting on the windowsill as he turned to Amanda with a curious look on his face.
"Amanda, one more question." Lee whispered.
"What now?" Amanda replied as she stood to close the window behind him.
"What did a girl like you possibly see in a guy like him?" Lee had climbed the rest of the way out and was hanging onto the trellis now, waiting for Amanda's reply.
She smiled at him and began to shut the window. "Tomorrow Stetson. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow at dinner." Amanda shut the window, leaving it open an inch, laughing at the face Lee was making. He was trying to think of something to say, and looked much like a fish out of water. Amanda waved goodbye and climbed back into bed, falling into a peaceful sleep.
Amanda was sitting at the kitchen counter enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. The rain had finally stopped and the sun was shining brightly. She had slept in a little and the house was unusually quiet. The boys had baseball practice and were gone when she finally crawled out of bed. She was feeling better about the previous evening’s events and was glad that Lee had stopped by to talk, even if it was in the wee hours of the morning.
The phone rang and startled Amanda. She closed her eyes and tried to calm her heart. She took a breath and answered. “Hello.”
“I need you to come down to the Agency.” Lee stated bluntly. He sounded slightly aggravated, but Amanda presumed it was because of the early hour and the fact that they were going to have to work on their day off.
“I’m having a nice morning, thanks for asking. And you?” Amanda was determined to teach Lee how to behave on the telephone. She could hear him sigh on the other end as he gave in.
“Good morning Amanda. I trust you slept well?” Lee sarcastically asked.
Amanda smiled in triumph. “I slept wonderfully after my late night visitor left.”
“Good, how soon can you get down here?” Lee was through with the niceties.
“As soon as you pick me up. Mother has the car this morning.” Amanda took a sip of her coffee and turned the page in the paper. An article caught her eye as Lee began to speak again.
“I can be there in thirty minutes. Will you be ready?” There was silence for a moment as Lee waited for Amanda to respond. “Amanda? Are you still there?”
“Oh, I’m sorry Lee. What were you saying?” Amanda put the paper down in an attempt to focus, but her eyes kept falling on the article that had caught her attention.
“I said I could be there in thirty minutes. Amanda, what are you doing?” Lee asked in an exasperated tone of voice. Amanda just knew he was instantly regretting having asked the question. She carefully responded, trying not to ramble, as she was prone to do.
“Lee, did you see the paper this morning? There’s an article about the American Ambassador to Turkey. There was an assassination attempt on him two days ago and I was thinking that would be something you might need to know, I mean, if you didn’t already know, which I’m sure you did, so really it was a silly question and I should never even have brought it up.” She took a breath and waited for Lee’s patient reply.
“Actually, I’m glad you brought it up.” Lee surprised her with his response. She had been expecting the usual ‘thanks-for-your-input-but-I-know-how-to-do-my-job’ retort, but this time he was ready to talk about it. “Michael had learned of the attempt and gave us enough warning to stop it in time. That was the one that got him in trouble and the sole reason why he had to be brought in for protection. In fact, that was the last piece of information your friend Michael gave us.” Amanda flinched at his choice of words.
“Oh.” Amanda quietly replied. She closed the paper, wanting to be done with this assignment as soon as possible. Had it been anyone else but Michael, she could have handled the impromptu reunion. But it was Michael and she could sense how it was disturbing Lee, even if he was trying to be diplomatic about the whole sordid situation. And at this point he only knew the bare basics of their relationship. She shuddered to think of what kind of damage control she might have to do once she told Lee everything tonight.
“That’s part of the reason why we need you to come in today.” Lee continued. “Michael’s missing.”
“What?!” Amanda jumped to her feet. “I thought he was at the Agency. How could he possibly be missing?”
“Amanda calm down. It looks like an inside job. Michael must have seen it coming though. He left a letter for you. We need you to come down and see if he left any clues in it for us.” Amanda could hear the distaste in Lee’s voice. He was obviously no happier about having to deal with this than Amanda was.
“Well? What did it say?” Amanda was growing impatient and was pacing in the kitchen.
“I’d rather you read it yourself, down here.” Lee breathed out. Amanda could visualize him sitting at his desk with his head in his hand as he spoke. “I’m on my way.” He hung up, leaving Amanda staring at the receiver. She hung up the phone and sat down.
What kind of letter could Michael have left her? And why did Lee seem so upset about it?
Lee arrived at Amanda’s house exactly twenty-seven minutes after their phone call had ended. Amanda wouldn't have known he was there if she hadn't been keeping watch out the front window. He parked in front of her gate and sat in the car waiting for her. She stepped out and closed the front door behind her. As she made her way down the front walk, she noticed that Lee still had not moved. She reached the car and opened the door for herself. Lee had not even looked at her.
"Good morning." she said, trying to elicit some kind of response out of him.
"For some." was his only reply as he started the car, shifted into gear and pulled away from the curb.
The rest of the ride was in total silence. It was obvious to Amanda that Lee was upset about something. She could only guess that it involved the mysterious letter Michael had left behind. Apparently he was in no mood to discuss it with her. He stared straight ahead, his eyes on the road and the traffic. His face was devoid of expression and showed no emotions. Amanda quietly sat in her seat with her hands in her lap. She was fidgeting with her pinky ring, twisting it around and around, wanting to speak to Lee, but afraid of what he might say.
When they arrived at the Agency, Lee was a bit more polite. Amanda figured that had everything to do with them being around people who knew them. Since their relationship was secret, he couldn't be openly upset with her about this, whatever this was, at the Agency. People would talk.
They arrived at Billy's office. The door was open and Billy motioned for them to enter. Amanda sat down across from Billy, but Lee remained standing, leaning against the window and paying more attention to the activity in the bullpen than to Amanda and Billy.
Billy noticed the tension between the two and gave Amanda an apologetic look. "Amanda, I'm sorry to call you in on your day off like this."
"That's okay Sir. I didn't have any plans for this morning." She glanced at Lee when she spoke, wondering if she still had plans for this evening. His gaze was still directed out the window. She turned back to Billy and gave him a nervous smile as if trying to offer an explanation for Lee‘s behavior.
"So, I understand you know Mr. Davidson?" Billy selected his words carefully. He could sense Amanda's reluctance to discuss her acquaintance with the missing informant. Unfortunately, it couldn't be helped.
"We went to high school together, Sir." Amanda still held her professional manner; sitting up straight with her hands folded in her lap. She looked straight into the Section Chief's eyes as if to tell him that, although she didn't want to bring up the past, she would do it willingly for him.
"You must also know that he is now missing." Billy opened a desk drawer and withdrew a folded piece of paper. "We know it was an inside job and we are now going though our personnel records to see who was here last evening. However, it seems that Mr. Davidson realized he was in trouble and he left this letter for you. It seems innocent enough, but we are hoping he might have left you a clue to his whereabouts."
Billy handed Amanda the piece of paper. Amanda looked at it for a moment before unfolding it. She looked up at Lee. He had been watching her, she could tell, but he whipped his head around when she glanced up. She took a deep breath and began to read.
By Sunday I'll be nothing but a memory again. I had almost forgotten how beautiful you are, but seeing you again tonight brought back all the wonderful memories. Do you remember the drive in? We never did see an entire movie, did we? Or, how about the time we stole away for the weekend and stayed in that cabin in Sky Meadows Park? Oh, but how your mother hated me. We tried so hard to keep 'us' a secret from everybody, when all I wanted to do was shout it from the rooftops. I still can't believe, even after all these years, that you, the cheerleader, pep-squad member honor roll student took an interest in me. But then, you always seemed to see the good in everyone. I loved that quality about you. I never stopped loving you. When you went off to college, I thought my world had ended. Then I heard about Joe and that you were getting married. I came to your wedding, you know. You didn’t see me. I stood across the street. I watched you as you both were leaving. You were absolutely radiant and you still are. I'm only sorry that we won't be able to pick up where we left off all those years ago.
Amanda sighed and folded the letter. Billy had been watching her as she read, as had Lee. She looked at Billy, forced a smile and handed the letter back to him. Billy shook his head and motioned for her to keep it.
"Have you read this Sir?" Amanda asked, knowing the answer before he replied.
"Yes, so has Lee and half of the guys in crypto.” Amanda cringed at the thought of Lee having read Mickey’s letter, but it did explain his fowl mood. Billy continued, “They gave up when they realized it was just a simple letter." Amanda flinched at his description. It was more than a simple letter to Mickey.
Lee spoke up for the first time, startling Amanda. "Was there anything of use in the letter? Or was he just mooning over a lost love?"
Amanda shot Lee a dirty look at his comment. "Actually, yes there was something in the letter." She turned back to Billy, not wanting to encourage Lee's nasty mood. "Michael mentioned a weekend at Sky Meadows Park. We never went to Sky Meadows or spent a weekend together for that matter. I mean, I was only seventeen. Mother would never had let me go for a whole weekend."
"Smart woman." Lee mumbled.
Amanda made a face and continued. "Maybe they took him to Sky Meadows. I know there are a lot of hunting cabins out there."
"It's worth looking in to. Lee, you and Amanda go check it out. I‘m sure I don‘t need to tell you that this is one hundred percent ‘need-to-know‘. Until we know who got Davidson out of here, we don‘t know who to trust." Billy stood up, signaling that their meeting was over.
Lee walked out the door as Amanda rose to her feet. She watched him walk quickly through the bullpen and round the corner, heading for the elevator. She was about to follow when Billy laid a hand on her shoulder.
"He'll get over it Amanda. Sometimes men act stupid when they're jealous." Billy explained.
Amanda laughed nervously. "Jealous? Sir, Lee's not jealous. What would he be jealous about? I'd better get going before he leaves me behind." Amanda hurried after Lee, notarriking back.
Billy smiled a knowing smile and closed his office door.
The first ten miles of the sixty-mile trip to Sky Meadows was as uncomfortable as the trip from Amanda’s Arlington home to the Georgetown front of the Agency. They were headed west on I-66, enveloped in silence. Finally, Amanda could take it no longer. Lee was being childish, especially after their conversation last night. He had plenty of ex-loves and she never got all bent out of shape about it. At least, she thought she didn't. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
"Lee, we need to talk." Amanda cleared her throat. She waited for a reply but got nothing but silence. "Lee, please?"
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and nodded. She was going to have to do all the talking but at least he was willing to listen.
"Okay, I'll start at the beginning. I was a senior in high school when I met Michael. It was the late sixties and, well, he was a typical hippie. He had long hair, a motorcycle and some rather illegal habits. He was a senior, too and needed to pass his Algebra class to graduate. I was a tutor, you know, volunteering to help the other students with their problem subjects. Algebra was a strong subject for me so I was chosen to help Michael. Mind you, being a cheerleader, I would not have been caught dead with him under any other circumstances." Amanda paused for a moment. Lee continued to watch the road.
"So, for a few weeks, we met at my house after school and worked on his homework together. I started to realize that although the outer packaging wasn't attractive, that didn’t automatically mean that what was inside wasn’t beautiful. He was so polite around me, as if he were afraid to offend me. I really don’t think anyone of my 'status' had ever paid him any attention before. Kids can be so cruel, especially in high school." Amanda leaned against the passenger window and was watching the scenery whiz past as she continued.
"Three weeks after I started to tutor him, he took his first Algebra test. He passed it and was so thrilled that he wanted to thank me. He invited me out to dinner and to a movie at the drive in. Mother wasn't too thrilled about me going out with Michael, but then she always was a bit more protective of me after Daddy died. The night of our first 'date' Michael showed up on his motorcycle but he had changed. He had shaved, cut his hair and was wearing a dress shirt under his leather jacket instead of his customary T-shirt. He looked so handsome and he had done it all for me. He took me into Alexandria for dinner. He knew people would talk if they saw us together and he didn't want to cause me any unnecessary problems. They were doing enough talking with me only tutoring him. We continued to see each other, in secret, for the rest of the school year. I never did approve of several of the things he did but he was always sure to keep those elements of himself away from me. At graduation, he gave me a dozen roses and thanked me for being his ‘guardian angel‘. I didn't see him after that. Until last night that is." Amanda looked at Lee, glad that it was all out in the open. He still looked ahead, unflinching in his stubborn resolve.
Amanda sighed and looked out the window again. "I guess you could say that Michael was my first real love. You never do forget your first. That's why seeing him last night caught me off guard. If it had been under any other circumstances, I probably would have slapped him for kissing me like that. But it was so surreal. Being at the Embassy, waiting for an informant and finding a lost love. It all sounds like a bad romance novel." She sighed and looked back at Lee, still driving along, lost in his own thoughts, whatever they were.
It occurred to her, quite suddenly, that she was getting very tired of Lee's behavior. How dare he sit there and judge her on a relationship she had twenty years ago! She felt her blood pressure rise and finally could hold back no longer.
"Lee Stetson, you are a hypocrite!" she shouted. Lee jumped in surprise. Amanda seldom, if ever, raised her voice. He looked at her, eyes wide.
"Hypocrite?" It was the first word he had said to her in an hour.
"That's right. You heard me. Hypocrite!" Amanda spat back. "It's okay for you to have four black books full of Candi's and Randi-babies and Sherri's but heaven forbid I have more than one past love. You are so jealous of Joe, for reasons I can't fathom and now you are jealous of a high school sweetheart? High school Lee, I was seventeen years old! I don't know what you are thinking, mostly because you've wrapped yourself up in a cocoon of self pity, but you need to get over it, and soon." Amanda took a deep breath, folded her arms across her chest and sat back in the seat with a huff.
Lee just stared at her in shock but had the presence of mind to pull off the road before he wrecked the car. He turned off the motor and stared ahead for a moment. Amanda was looking out the passenger window, her lips pursed in anger. She felt, rather than saw, Lee gather his strength to talk to her.
"Amanda…" he reached for her arm, which she jerked away. "…come on, look at me."
"I'm tired of looking at you Lee. I want to hear you. You need to talk to me." She whispered as she looked down at her lap, her arms still folded in a defensive stance. "I just poured out my heart to you. I shared something with you that I've shared with no one else and you just stare ahead. I am so tired of this Lee. I just want all of this to go away."
"I'm sorry." Lee paused for a moment as if searching for the right words to say. "You are absolutely right. You always are. I am terribly jealous of Michael. I'm not even sure why, to be totally honest. Maybe because he knew you when you were younger. Maybe if I had known you back then, I wouldn't have had four black books."
Amanda sighed and looked at Lee. He was looking at her, his gaze deep and his hazel eyes wide, practically begging for forgiveness. "Lee, I don't want to fight about this."
"I don’t want to fight either. I guess my dumb male ego got in the way of my usual level headedness. You have that effect on me." He smiled and reached for her hand, which she freely gave.
“Can I ask you one more small question?” Lee cautiously requested.
“Of course, Lee. You can ask me anything.” Amanda replied.
“I thought I remember you saying once that you don’t have a nickname, but he called you Mandy.” Lee half-grinned, as if she was supposed to be amazed at his memory.
"He's the only person who ever called me that." Amanda leaned back in her seat and got a far away look in her eyes. "My Father used to call me 'Panda' but Mother dropped that after he died. I think she could tell that it reminded me of Daddy and it upset me a little. Anyway, after high school, I sort of dropped 'Mandy' too, it reminded me of Michael and sounded a bit childish for a grown woman. I guess I equate nicknames with loss or something psychological like that."
“Freud might agree with you there.” he teased, reminding her of a conversation they’d had long ago when he had been in the hospital with a busted knee.
Amanda smiled at him, glad that they had once again cleared the air. "Come on, we’re almost to Sky Meadows. Let's find Michael and get him out of there. I want to get back on track with our present and future. I've had enough of dealing with my past."
"I‘ll second that." Lee leaned over and kissed Amanda on the cheek. He started the car and they continued down the highway.
A short while later, Lee and Amanda had reached the turn off for Sky Meadows State Park. Lee pulled off to the side of the road and picked up his car phone. He dialed the Agency and waited. Amanda looked around at the surroundings while she waited for Lee to get through to Billy. Finally, he was connected.
“Billy, we’re at the park. What did Francine find out?” Lee asked and then waited as Billy replied. Amanda tried to read Lee’s expression, but was finding it difficult.
“Okay then. That’s sounds like a logical place to start.” Lee pulled a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and unfolded it. Amanda inquisitively regarded the page. She had not known that Lee had already procured a map of the park and concluded that he must have taken care of that tiny detail after he had stomped out of Billy’s office. “According to the map, that area is about 2 miles into the park. We’ll check back in an hour. Scarecrow out.” He replaced the phone into its cradle and looked at Amanda. She was playing with the charm on her necklace, trying to keep from flying out of her seat with curiosity.
“Well?” she prodded.
Lee grinned at her insistence. “Francine checked ownership on all of the hunting cabins in the park. Most of them are owned by the park for overnight campers to use. However, there are a few cabins that are private. They were owned before the land was declared a state preserve. Guess who owns one of those cabins.”
“Who?” Amanda was on the edge of her seat, waiting for the answer.
“None other than Mafia Don Antonio Scalzetti. We’ve been trying to nail him for the last five years.” Lee stated.
Amanda looked at him, thoroughly confused. “What does the Agency want with the Mafia?”
“Usually nothing.” Lee conceded. “That is until they start meddling in politics and foreign affairs. Don Antonio was up to his eyeballs in the intelligence field. Michael apparently was working for him. He had been giving us information on Mafia funded assassination attempts and robberies for just about four years now but he would never reveal his source.”
“So, let’s go check out Scalzetti’s cabin.” Amanda faced forward, ready to go.
Lee laughed. “I will check out Scalzetti’s cabin. You will stay in the car and phone for back-up if I need it.”
Amanda, her expression never wavering, calmly replied. “Of course I’ll stay in the car Lee. I always do. Let’s go.” Lee shook his head, shifted gears and started down the narrow dirt road.
After a while, the dirt road became more of a rutted path. The woods had closed in on the small car ensuring that the only way to get out, at this point, was in reverse. Amanda had rolled the window down in an attempt to stave off her unsettling feeling of claustrophobia. Lee was driving slowly, apparently trying to save the undercarriage of his beloved car from bottoming out.
Suddenly, bright sunlight broke through the trees and they pulled into a clearing. Taking advantage of the extra space, Lee turned the ‘Vette around to make for a quick exit, if necessary. He killed the engine and opened his door. Amanda watched him as he walked around the car and opened the door for her. She took the hand he offered her and climbed out. Stretching, she looked around.
“The cabin is on the other side of the clearing.” Lee pointed in the direction they had been heading before he had turned the car around. “I’m going to go check it out. You stay here and be prepared to leave quickly.” He handed her his car keys as he spoke which she placed in her pocket.
“Do you think Michael’s here?” Amanda whispered. Despite all her Junior Trailblazer experience, these particular woods were giving her the creeps.
“I’m relatively sure. The grass here in this clearing is depressed where a car has recently driven over it.” Lee turned to face Amanda, taking her hands in his. “Amanda,” he paused, looking deep into her eyes. “I am very sorry for behaving like an ass this morning.”
“It’s okay. I understand why you reacted the way you did.” Amanda lowered her gaze and bit her lip.
“No.” Lee stated. “It’s not okay and I intend to make it up to you. Are we still on for dinner tonight?”
“Absolutely.” Amanda smiled then sighed. “That is, provided we aren’t working.” Lee pulled her close and surrounded her in an embrace.
“Amanda, you just gave me the incentive to wrap this up as soon as possible.” He stepped back and kissed her hand. “I’ll be right back. Stay here.” He punctuated his words by pointing at the ground where she stood.
“Be careful.” Amanda pleaded. “And hurry back, please. These woods are giving me the heebie-jeebies!”
Lee laughed in spite of himself as he turned away and walked toward the woods that concealed the cabin. Amanda watched him walk away, saying a little prayer for his safety. The forest fell ominously silent and she walked toward the driver's side door, pulling the keys out of her pocket. She wanted to make sure they were handy in case she needed to use them.
Amanda looked at her watch, It had been almost fifteen minutes since Lee had left her there alone, while he looked for Michael in Scalzetti’s cabin. She had paced around the car for the first ten minutes and was now leaning against the front quarter panel, trying to keep calm and look like the consummate professional.
A voice shouting her name snapped her to attention. “Lee!” Amanda shouted in return. “Oh my gosh!” She took off in to the woods toward the cabin, running as fast as she could. She plunged headlong into the trees with one thought echoing through her mind. Lee was in trouble and the longer it took to get to him the worse it was going to be.
She broke into another clearing and stopped. The cabin loomed in front of her. It was large and well built with a raised porch along the entire front facing. There was no sign of Lee. In fact, there was no sign of anyone. The silence here was even thicker than it had been by the car and Amanda involuntarily shivered. She tip-toed toward the front of the cabin. The front door was open, but the interior was dark. Straining her eyes, she could see no movement from inside.
Amanda crept up the wooden steps hoping they would not creak. She was straining her ears trying to hear anything that would indicate Lee was inside. The silence worried her and she was debating whether or not to turn and run back to the car to call for backup when she heard footsteps coming up behind her. Closing her eyes in attempt to summon more courage, she whirled around to confront her would be attacker and fell right into Lee’s arms.
“Oh my gosh!” Amanda squeaked. “Lee, you scared me to death! Where did you go?”
Lee helped Amanda regain her balance and testily replied. “I was looking behind the cabin.”
“They’re gone aren’t they.” It was more of a statement than a question. Amanda could tell by the sympathetic look Lee was giving her that she was right. “Were they ever here?” She turned to face the open door, waiting for Lee’s response before venturing inside.
“Someone was here all right. I don’t know if it was Michael though.” Lee paused as Amanda started toward the open door. “I looked all over and couldn’t find anything in there.” By the time he had finished his sentence, Amanda was fifteen feet inside.
She looked at everything carefully. There had to be something. No matter how careful, people always made some small mistake. Amanda was counting on that fact to hold true here as well. She walked around the room slowly, taking in everything. The cabin was well kept and spacious. The living area took up the entire first floor with a gigantic stone fireplace taking up most of the right wall. There was an ornate antique couch flanked by small end tables against the opposite wall. Amanda focused on the end tables and strode toward them with a purpose. Lee remained in the doorway, leaning casually against the frame, watching Amanda at work.
Amanda had noticed the telephone on the table to the right of the couch. Next to the telephone there was a small note pad. She picked it up and held it sideways against the light coming from the door. She squinted hard then looked toward Lee.
“Lee, you’re blocking my light.” she stated. Lee raised his eyebrows quizzically, and then dramatically moved out of the way. Amanda nodded a thank you and turned her attention back to the pad of paper. It was just as she had thought. Upon close inspection, she could make out the indentations where someone had written and then torn off the previous sheet of paper.
Smiling in triumph, Amanda turned to face Lee. “We’ve got him. Let’s go.” She started toward Lee but stopped when she saw the look on his face.
“What do you mean ‘we’ve got him’?” Lee started toward her, reaching for the pad of paper.
Amanda held it up to the light and motioned for Lee to come closer. He stood behind her, resting his head on her shoulder. Amanda took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of his cologne. She shook off the feelings that was arousing in her and turned her focus back to the task at hand.
“Look here,” she said, pointing at the blank piece of paper. “Can you see the indentations? Someone got a phone call and wrote a message on this pad of paper. You can just make out what it says.”
“Looks like Manassas AF.” Lee said after a few moments of contemplation.
“Right.” Amanda turned to face him. “Manassas Air Field. Lee, they’re going to fly him somewhere. They were just holding him here for the night.” Her eyes were filled with concern for her friend. She knew that if they didn’t get moving soon, he might be gone for good. She couldn't have that hanging over her shoulders.
Lee took her hand. “Let’s go. We can call Billy from the car.” Lee started toward the front door but Amanda stood her ground, pulling her hand from his grasp.
“Lee, it’s all my fault.” She sat down on the couch and stared blankly at the floor. Her mind was swimming with ‘what-ifs’. What if she and Michael had never met? What if she had been less concerned with her reputation? What if she had stayed with Michael and had not married Joe?
Lee knelt in front of her and took her hands in his. Amanda raised her head and looked at him. He was trying so hard to be understanding, she knew she wasn’t making it easy.
“What’s your fault?” Lee asked, his voice barely a whisper.
Amanda shrugged. How could she make him understand without upsetting him? “I don't know, Lee. I’ve been thinking about how Michael’s life could have been so different.” She paused for a moment trying to select the right words to say.
“You mean if you had stayed behind with him?” Lee guessed.
“Yeah.” Amanda breathed.
“Amanda, look at me and listen, please?” Amanda focused on Lee’s eyes as he continued. “I used to think that if only I had been the one to run across that airfield, that maybe Dorothy would be alive today.”
“But Lee, then you’d be gone.” Amanda argued, trying to follow his logic.
“I know, but when you’re upset, you don’t think about things like that. You only focus on the ‘what ifs’ and you can do that for hours, days even weeks if there’s no one there to pull you out of it. Now, if you had stayed behind with Michael, sure he would have been much better off. But, you wouldn’t have Phillip and Jamie would you?” Lee smiled as Amanda started to come around.
“Yeah, and I wouldn’t have you.” Amanda whispered. She smiled at Lee, who’s own smile now lit up his face.
“Are you going to be okay now?” Lee said, rising to his feet.
“Yeah, let’s get going. They’ve had one heck of a head start.” Amanda stood up and pulled Lee’s keys out of her pocket.
Lee looked at his watch. “I’d better get on the phone to Billy. We got to the head of the park road about forty-five minutes ago. They obviously didn’t pass us there so they were already on the highway when we got here. That means they’re probably already at the airport. We’ve just gotta hope they didn’t take off right away.”
Amanda silently nodded, taking in what Lee was telling her without words. The odds of finding Michael at this point were pretty slim and she shouldn’t get her hopes up. She knew that if they didn’t get to the airport in time, if that was even where Scalzetti’s men had taken him, they would probably never find him. Amanda shook the thoughts from her mind, grabbed Lee’s hand and headed out the door.
She was going to find Michael. She would not accept any other possibility.
As soon as Lee was out of the woods and had reached the highway he started dialing Billy. Amanda was being as calm as she possibly could while trying to convince herself that nothing was going to happen to Michael. Even though she had told Lee that she was feeling better about the situation she still felt responsible.
Lee touched her shoulder. Amanda opened her eyes, which she hadn’t even realized she had closed, to see what he wanted. “Billy’s got a team on the way to Manassas. He thinks they know who the mole was.”
“Who?” Amanda was still looking straight ahead. She didn't want to look at Lee right now. Her eyes would betray her emotions and she didn’t want to deal with that again.
“Agent Simmons. Brad Simmons. He was there last night and left only fifteen minutes before the night guard noticed Michael was missing. Plus, he didn't show up at the office today and isn’t answering his home phone. It may not mean anything, but that’s who they are focused on right now.” Lee placed his hand on Amanda’s leg. “It’s going to be okay, Amanda. We’re doing everything we can.”
Amanda turned to Lee, her eyes welling with tears. “What if we’re too late? Lee, how can I live with myself.”
“Amanda, you didn’t choose this line of work for Michael. He chose it for himself. He’s an adult and can make his own decisions.” Lee stated firmly.
“I know, no guts no glory and all that.” Amanda wiped an errant tear and sighed.
“Amanda, if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have been able to come this far. You were the one who pointed us to the cabin and you found the note about the airfield. Michael is lucky to have you for a friend. No matter how this turns out.” Lee removed his hand from her leg and shifted into gear. Amanda closed her eyes again as Lee pulled out onto the highway.
“Hold on Michael, for my sake, hold on.” she whispered.
Lee made record time into Manassas and pulled up in front of the small air field in thirty-five minutes. Billy was already there and walked over to the Corvette which rolled to a stop behind his car. Amanda fluffed her hair and composed herself before stepping out.
“Hello, Sir.” Amanda called as she walked around the car where Billy was talking to Lee. They were speaking in whispers and Lee was shaking his head. Instantly, Amanda knew something was wrong. As she drew closer, Billy stopped talking and smiled a sympathetic smile. Lee turned to her, his eyes wide with concern. Something had happened to Michael. Something they didn’t want to tell her. Lee stepped away from the Section Chief and took a step toward Amanda. It was then that she heard the sirens. Recognition crept across her face.
“No. Lee? Tell me we’re not too late.” Amanda took a step back and bumped into the car. She stood there for a moment, staring toward the airstrip. At the far end of the runway she could make out a ribbon of black smoke. The fire engine she had heard was now racing toward it and the siren was growing quieter.
Lee took her arm and led her to a small picnic table near one of the hangars. She sat on the bench, in shock. Lee sat next to her and put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.
She lay her head on his chest and spoke. “What happened?”
Lee answered quietly while rubbing her arm. “Billy got here about fifteen minutes ago. Scalzetti had a small prop plane waiting to take Michael to Chicago. A witness told Billy that he saw two men leading another onto a plane and that the third man seemed to not want to go. He put up a struggle but was put on the plane anyway. When the plane started to taxi, the witness said he saw the third man jump one of the two others and must have knocked him out. He saw the remaining man struggling but the plane was still taxiing. He tried to take off but somehow the plane went out of control and tipped. The wing caught on the ground and it flipped.” Lee paused, waiting for Amanda’s reaction.
Amanda closed her eyes. Michael was gone. How funny, she thought, that he had only been back in her life for twenty-four hours, yet she felt as if she had lost a life-long friend.
“Do they know for sure that Michael didn‘t make it?” Amanda asked, sniffing.
“They pulled three bodies from the wreckage. There were no survivors.” Lee held Amanda tightly and she let the tears flow.
Amanda morosely walked into her family room. She made her way to the kitchen in somewhat of a fog. She didn’t notice her mother sitting on the couch, eyeing her suspiciously over a magazine. Lee had tried to get her to come over to his place for the evening. She knew he was concerned about her, but she really wanted to be alone with her thoughts.
“I said...Amanda, what’s the matter with you?” Dotty put her magazine down and watched Amanda go through the motions of pouring herself a glass of milk. Dotty blinked in surprise when she saw Amanda grab her bottle of Galliano and add a shot of the amber liquid into her glass.
Amanda walked around the couch and sat in the chair opposite. She gulped at her drink, wincing at the taste. How her mother could stand that stuff was beyond her, but tonight she needed it. She set the glass on a coaster on her coffee table and sat back. It was then she noticed her mother staring at her, slack jawed.
“Mother, can I tell you something?” Amanda sat up a little and rubbed her eyes.
Dotty leaned forward and closed her mouth. “Of course dear. What happened to you today?”
“I had a particularly bad day.” Amanda leaned back again, not knowing what she wanted say or just how much she should tell her. It would be in the papers tomorrow, of that there was no doubt.
“That seems to be an understatement dear. What do you want to talk about?” Amanda smiled at her mother. Dotty could run an interrogation more ruthlessly than a KGB agent assigned to Siberia, but she knew when to talk and when to listen.
“Do you remember Michael Davidson?” Amanda eyed her mother, looking for an inkling of recognition. Dotty sat in thought for a moment, then her eyes flew open wide.
“Wasn’t he that lovely young man you tutored in high school?” Dotty said with a smile. She had the look of a woman who was trying hard to sugar coat her feelings.
“You didn’t think he was lovely back then.” Amanda sighed in response.
“Yes, well, people could change I suppose.” Dotty smile disappeared as she sat back and picked up her magazine again, laying it on her lap. “Did you run in to him today dear?”
“You could say that. I saw him yesterday, he died today.” Amanda stated it as if she were reading from a grocery list. She looked at her mother, who again was sitting with her mouth wide open.
“Amanda, what happened?” Dotty asked.
“There was a small plane crash this afternoon at the Manassas Air Field. It will be in the paper tomorrow I’m sure.” Amanda picked up her glass, stood up and walked back in to the kitchen. She could feel her mothers eyes following her. She rinsed the glass and set it in the sink. When she turned around her mother was staring at her.
“Amanda, dear, are you going to be okay?” she asked her gently.
“Yeah.” Amanda turned around and looked out her kitchen window. At that moment, she wished that Lee would be there, looking back at her, but all she saw was her reflection in the glass. It also occurred to her that, had she stayed with Michael twenty years ago, she probably wouldn’t have her mother with her now to comfort her, or to at least be a sounding board. “I’m going to bed mother. I have to go in for a few hours tomorrow so I won’t be home for lunch.” She was waiting for Dotty to argue with her, to point out how she shouldn’t have to work on her weekend, especially after what had happened.
“Good night dear, try to get some rest.” Dotty surprised Amanda with her gentile response. “Things will be better in the morning.”
“I hope so mother.” Amanda smiled and headed upstairs to bed.
Sunday morning, Amanda walked through the bullpen to Billy’s office feeling oddly refreshed. She had slept surprisingly well and was looking forward to debriefing. She wanted to get all of it behind her as soon as possible. She saw Billy sitting at his desk. He looked up and motioned for her to come in. Opening the door, she was surprised to see Lee already seated.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought I was supposed to be here for debriefing.” Amanda started to back out the door but Billy stopped her.
“No, Amanda. Come in and sit down.” Billy motioned toward the empty chair nearest the door. Amanda smiled and complied, closing the door behind her.
She took her seat and looked around the room. The expressions that met her were of repressed excitement. Billy cleared his throat and began.
“How are you holding up?” he leaned forward, his hands folded together in front of him. There was a large black tape recorder sitting on the corner of his desk. Amanda assumed it was for the debriefing that seemed was no longer going to happen.
“I’m doing much better today, Sir. Thanks for asking.” Amanda looked to her left at Lee. He was sitting back in the chair, one leg propped up over the other, looking very relaxed. He smiled at her in a non-committal way and nodded toward Billy.
“Amanda, we received this message today over one of the secure lines. I thought you’d want to hear it right away.” Billy pressed one of the buttons on the tape recorder. He sat back as the message began to play.
“Mandy...” Amanda immediately recognized Michaels voice and sucked in a sharp breath. “...I am sorry to have put you through this. I know you’re probably pretty angry with me right now, but believe me it’s for the best. In case you’re wondering, I obviously was able to get off the plane in time. Look, I’m going to be brief here. I’m okay, so don’t worry about me. I’m headed off to some new adventure out there. Don’t forget me. I won’t forget you.”
The tape continued on in silence for a moment. Billy pressed another button and the tape stopped with a loud click. Amanda couldn’t believe her ears. Michael was alive. He hadn’t died in the explosion the day before. But there were so many unanswered questions. She turned to Lee.
“You said there were three bodies pulled from the plane. Who were they?” Amanda asked. She had to know what really happened in order to finally put the whole affair to rest.
“Two of the men were Scalzetti’s men. The third was our man, Simmons. The witness saw three people get on the plane, but one more must have already been there. After the plane flipped, Michael must have been able to get away before it exploded.” Lee watched as Amanda’s eyes started to sparkle again.
“So, Michael’s all right.” Amanda smiled, more to herself than anyone else in the room. She felt as if a ten ton weight had been lifted from her heart. Although she had come to terms with Michael’s death, she had still felt responsible in a way and was elated he was alive. “Wow, thank you, Sir.”
“Why don’t you go ahead on home. I’ll get your statement on Monday.” Billy smiled as Amanda practically jumped to her feet. “You too, Lee. Get out of here.”
“Thank you, Sir” Amanda smiled as Lee stood to follow her. They left Billy behind and headed for the elevator.
While they were waiting, Lee leaned forward and whispered in Amanda’s ear. “They way I see it, I owe you a meal. How about lunch?”
Amanda grinned. “That sounds great. Your place?”
“Absolutely.” Lee followed her in to the elevator and the door slid shut behind them.
They enjoyed a quiet lunch with little conversation. Lee seemed to be allowing Amanda the time to process the information she had received, which she greatly appreciated. Finally, after the dishes were washed and put away, they sat together on the couch.
“How are you doing?” Lee asked. Amanda had snuggled in close to Lee with her head resting on his chest. She had closed her eyes and was relishing the peaceful feeling being so close to Lee always brought.
“I’m relieved.” Amanda replied. It was the best word she could come up with to describe how she felt. “I’m relieved that he’s not dead and I’m also relieved that he’s gone on his way.”
“Oh?” Lee seemed confused by her response.
“Remember what you said to me yesterday about all the ‘what-ifs’?” Amanda snuggled a little closer to Lee.
“Yeah?” He absentmindedly rubbed her arm with his thumb as he stared ahead.
“I’ve been reflecting on my life and some of the decisions I’ve made over the years.” She closed her eyes, sighing as she allowed herself to relax further.
“And?” Lee prodded.
“Well, the way I figure it, every choice I’ve made has sent me down a different course. Eventually, all those choices led me to you.” Amanda sat up and turned to face Lee. He was watching her intently, waiting for her to finish her thought.
“Choosing to marry Joe, choosing to stay in Arlington and not to move to Africa, choosing to date Dean, choosing to help you at the train station...all of these decisions have led me to this point in time.” She leaned in close to Lee, her lips inches from his. “And I want you to know that I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“You sound like you’ve given this some serious thought.” Lee grinned, teasing her ever so slightly.
“I have. Very serious thought.” She kissed him gently, then settled back into his arms. She had seen the look in his eyes and could tell that the uncertainty of the past forty-eight hours had been wiped from his mind. Closing her eyes, she lay her head on his chest and allowed the steady rhythm of his heart to lull her to sleep.