Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

by smkukfan

Rating: PG

Summary: While Lee is on assignment, Amanda must team up with a new partner. Then her mother is taken hostage.

Timeline: July 1987.

Disclaimer: The characters in this story belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions and I claim no ownership of them and make no money from them. The story is mine.

Thanks: Just Browsing and Not Exactly being my betas on this story, SMK720 and moosemonger for the encouragement and MayBSleepy for the inspiration in the first place.

Notes: This is a sequel to my story Secrets and Lies which can be found at While this one can stand alone, it may help to read that one first –then you'll know who knows what and how. If you can't be bothered,then you should know the marriage is known to everyone, the spy stuff is not…until now…

Feedback: Yes please, good or bad

Archive: At and and here. Please don't archive this anywhere else without my permission (though why you should want to anyway is beyond me).

Chapter One

Tuesday 21 July 1987, 5:00am

Dotty stepped out of her bedroom and into the hall. Her daughter's bedroom door stood open and she could see that, despite the morning's early hour, the bed was empty…again. Dotty went downstairs to the kitchen and prepared a pot of coffee. Pouring a cup for Amanda, she took it out into the garden where, since Lee had been gone, Amanda was spending a lot of her time.

"Here." Dotty held out the coffee.

"Huh?" A distracted Amanda was surprised to find the mug in front of her face. "Oh, thanks Mother."

Dotty looked down at the pale and drawn face of her daughter. Amanda's eyes had none of their usual sparkle. "Couldn't sleep?"


"Can I sit down?" Amanda nodded. "Amanda. Please tell me what's going on. You've been like this since Lee left. Is there a problem between the two of you?"

"What? Oh, no, we're fine." She wanted to assure her mother that it wasn't anything like that, but they were not fine. At least, she wasn't. She missed her husband terribly and since he'd gone on his contact-zero case to Columbia, she had no idea what was happening to him. She certainly couldn't tell her mother that. Dotty thought they were filmmakers for the government production house International Federal Film, or IFF. Security needs of the Agency required that they did not disillusion her, but this time it had been really hard. This was the first time since Lee and Amanda had revealed their secret marriage a few weeks ago that Lee had gone on a solo mission. Amanda had heard nothing for two weeks, the grapevine was silent and Francine and Billy had no clue. She believed he was alive but had no way of proving it. She was convinced that she would feel it if something happened to him, they were that close. He must be alive. What she didn't know was when he would come home to her. Amanda let out a sigh.

Dotty put her arm around her daughter and drew her closer. She took the mug from Amanda's hand and placed it on the bench beside her.  Like a little girl, Amanda reached out to hug her mother, seeking the comfort of her mother's arms. Although Amanda didn't say anything, she felt safer being held. Dotty stroked her daughter's hair. "I know there's something you're not telling me," Dotty said quietly.

"What?" Amanda's eyes opened wide and she tensed, but she didn't move from her mother's embrace.

"There's something about you and Lee that you're not telling the rest of us."

Amanda didn't look up. She didn't think she'd be able to look into her mother's eyes and continue to suppress the truth. She always had a really hard time lying to her mother. "What? No. Why would you think that? What wouldn't we…? What on earth are you talking about?"

"It's all right," Dotty interrupted. "I know you'll tell me when you feel you can."

"But, Mother," Amanda protested, "I don't know what you're talking about." Amanda sat up and looked into her mother's eyes. Immediately, Amanda knew she shouldn't have done that; her eyes betrayed the fact that she did indeed have a secret. "I don't want to lie to you, Mother."

"Then don't. I'm not asking you anything, so there's no need to lie to me."

"I wish I could tell you, Mother, I really do, but I promised someone that I wouldn't…so I can't…." Amanda's voice faded away, as she could think of nothing she could say to explain.


Tuesday 7 July, 2:15pm – Two weeks earlier

Amanda was working at her desk in the Q-Bureau when her husband walked in. She could tell from his expression that the meeting with Billy hadn't been a good one.

"I'm going to Columbia." He looked down at her sitting at her desk.  As she looked into his beautiful hazel eyes, she could see the sorrow he felt at leaving.

"How soon?"

"Twenty minutes. It's contact-zero, but I told Billy there was no way I was going anywhere without talking to you first." She jumped up and came around to him, embracing him with her arms around his neck. He wrapped his strong arms around her and they just held onto each other, like drowning people clutching their life jackets. That's what she is, thought Lee, as they stood silently in each other's arms. He spoke into her hair, "Thank you, Amanda."

"For what?"

"For rescuing me. I was lost before you came into my life. It's funny that Billy could see that but I couldn't. I'm just sorry it took so long to realize it." He sighed. "We…I've already wasted so much time."

Amanda leaned back in his arms to look at him. "It wasn't wasted, it was a foundation. That's why we're as strong as we are now, because we laid the proper foundations."

"I love you."

She reached up to touch his face. "I love you, too, Scarecrow. Remember that." She reached up and claimed his lips with her own.  When the oxygen stores were virtually empty they came up for air, but they didn't move apart, just stood silently with their foreheads pressed together, staring into each other's eyes.

Amanda reached up to caress her husband's face. "I'm gonna miss this, you know."

"My cheek?"

"Your cheek." She nodded, then reached up and kissed it. "Your ear." She traced small kisses along his face around to his ear before nibbling on his earlobe. "Your neck." Her kissing trail continued across his face to his chin. "Your chin." Then up around the other side of his face to the other ear. "This ear's pretty good, too."

Lee reveled in the attention. His past experiences with all those women hadn't prepared him for the feeling of being kissed by Amanda. He was amazed at how a simple look or touch from his beloved wife could make him feel. Suddenly, Amanda trailed her tongue over a particularly sensitive area on his neck and he felt his knees turn to jelly. "A-man-da!"

She stopped what she was doing and looked up at him, and donned her most innocent expression. "Problem, Stetson?" she asked, knowing full well the effect she was having on him.

"No, no problem, Mrs. Stetson…well," he cleared his throat, "er…well, nothing I couldn't ordinarily handle…it's just that…" He choked as Amanda returned to what she had been doing. "Amanda, the door's not locked, you know."

"So?" came Amanda's voice, muffled due to being directed into his neck. Amanda laughed and stopped what she was doing. She snuggled against his chest. "Can't stand the heat, huh?"

"It's not the heat, Amanda, it's the fact that any second now Billy is going to come through that door and drag me off. I'm not sure he's quite ready for what he would've walked in on if you'd carried on much longer."

"Coward." Amanda didn't look up at him as she spoke.

"Coward, am I?" he said. "See how you like it." He reached down so that his lips were covering hers. He gave her a kiss that he figured would make her toes curl.

As they gasped for air, Amanda asked, "Is that the best you can do?" Despite her attempts at visible resistance, he could see her breathing had quickened as her chest rose and fell rapidly.

"Well, there's this." He tried again. Placing his arms around her, his hands on her back, he pulled her tightly toward him. Meanwhile she entwined her hands in his hair at the base of his neck, pulling his lips even more firmly onto her own. This time when they separated, Amanda's face was flushed pink and her breathing had become ragged.

"Not bad," Amanda whispered.

This was war. Lee reached down and swept Amanda up into his arms and gave it his best shot – at least, his best shot for someone who was standing in the middle of an office with an unlocked door.

As they began to get swept away with their emotions, Lee turned around with Amanda in his arms and caught his desk lamp with her feet. It crashed to the floor, drowning out the sound of the urgent cry of "Lee!"

"Amanda!" Lee called back as he placed her onto his desk, maintaining his close proximity to her. Abruptly, he stopped. He leaned his head to the side and looked quizzically at Amanda.

"Lee!!" It wasn't Amanda's voice he heard. It was that of his boss, Billy, from the other side of the Q-Bureau door.

"Thank God!" Lee stood upright, and pulled Amanda back on her feet. "I thought I was having a nightmare for a second." They collapsed into hysterical laughter, hugging each other.

There was a tentative tap on the door. "Lee? Amanda?"

Lee stepped away from Amanda and crossed the Q-Bureau to open the door. "Billy," Lee said. "Sorry, we didn't hear you, we were…er…" Lee looked across and smirked at Amanda.

"That's okay, Lee," said Billy. "I don't think I want to know what you were, er…" He smiled, intending to be the soul of discretion. "Amanda." He nodded in her direction.

"Hello, Billy," she replied. "We were…er…just working on the outstanding case files." Her face flushed again.

"So I see." He laughed as he bent down and picked up the lamp and a couple of files that had fallen to the floor. Turning to Lee, he asked, "So, you ready to go?"

"No," Lee said, honestly. He instinctively reached his arm around Amanda's waist and pulled her to him.

"One minute," said Billy. "I'll wait outside." He made a strategic withdrawal.

Lee drew Amanda around in front of him, and they held onto each other tightly. Looking directly into the eyes of her husband, Amanda spoke quietly, "You will be careful, won't you?"

Somberly he promised, "I will." He rested his chin on the top of her head.

"We've only just become a family, Lee, we're not ready to lose you." There was a catch in her voice.

"Don't worry, 'Manda. Wild horses couldn't stop me from coming back to you."

"It's not the horses that worry me." Lee felt a lump form in his throat as she spoke. "It's the guns."

"I know, but, hey." He placed his finger under her chin, making her look at him, "I'm one of the top agents in the country, remember?" He laughed, trying to lighten the mood, picturing himself and Amanda tied up in an amusement arcade closet.

Forcing herself to put on a brave face, she stepped back, and tapped his chest lightly with her finger. "And don't you forget it." Once again, she pulled him to her and they held each other.

Suddenly, there was a bang at the door of the Q-Bureau. "Time to go, Scarecrow!" Billy called. "Clock's ticking."

Lee bent forwards and kissed his wife again, a long lingering kiss. They parted and as he started to leave, he said, "Tell the boys I'm sorry about the baseball tournament. I'll make it up to them. I love you, Amanda."

He walked down the corridor, and Amanda followed to the doorway of the Bureau. She watched him and their Section Chief walk to the top of the Georgetown foyer staircase. At the door to the stairs, Lee looked back one last time to see his Amanda. "I love you too, Lee. Look after yourself." Lee smiled his most disarming smile, then turned and was gone.

About half a minute later, Amanda was still standing in the doorway, gazing where she had last seen her husband, when Francine appeared at the top of the stairs. Reaching around Amanda, she pulled the door to the Q-Bureau closed and locked it. "Come on, Amanda. We're going to lunch." Smiling, she said, "You'll never believe what I heard about Charleston in Purchasing."

Amanda didn't say anything, but allowed Francine to lead her away. She attempted a half-smile at Francine's efforts to keep her spirits up, then sighed. Mentally she pulled herself together and forced a wider smile. Expressing a brightness she didn't really feel, she asked, "Not about him and Kelley from Scenarios and Ciphers?"

"Oh, no. That was last week. The story I've got for you now is so much better…"

Since then, Francine and Amanda had been to lunch together almost every day.


For the first week of Lee's absence, Amanda had mostly worked alone in the Q-Bureau, occasionally popping into the bullpen to bring or collect a file. Although she was trying to put on a professional face for her colleagues, they could tell she was missing her partner and husband, the great Scarecrow. When he and Amanda had announced their secret marriage a short while ago, the news had spread through the Agency like wildfire. Lee Stetson was off the market once and for all and many of the Agency's female staff had been inconsolable.

Some, however, were happy about of the announcement. Many of the Agency's staff had developed a fondness for Amanda King over the years. She had started out as a civilian auxiliary but after three years had been given full agent status and officially partnered with Agent Scarecrow, acknowledged as one of the Agency's best. Even as a member of the Agency's hot-shot duo, she still found time for everyone, stopping to talk about their children and Little League, or she'd bring in an extra one of her now Agency-famous poppyseed cakes, `left over' from a PTA bake sale, she'd say. She'd gained in confidence during her time there and it showed by the sparkle that could be seen in her eyes. In Lee's absence, the sparkle had gone. Collectively, they sought to make her time without him a little easier.

No one had acted more surprisingly than Francine. For years Francine had sniped at Amanda and Amanda had given as good as she got. An outsider would have thought that these two women were at each other's throats, but there was an underlying respect between them. In Lee's absence, Francine had taken Amanda under her wing and Amanda was grateful for the attention. Francine's persistent gossiping about people in the Agency allowed something other than Lee's absence to occupy her thoughts, to save her from dwelling on the void she felt.

Before the couple had gone public, they had caught moments together when they could. They were unaccustomed to being together day and night, but this time she felt his absence from her daily life so much more keenly. Although she still had her boys to occupy her, they were increasingly involved with their friends and didn't want to spend as much time playing games with their mom - although they still appreciated her taxi-driving skills. However, it was in the lonely hours of the night when she really missed Lee. Lying in bed thinking about him just made matters worse. She had taken to spending many of the late-night hours sitting out in the gazebo, thinking of all the times he had unexpectedly popped up in her garden over the years.


Chapter Two

Friday 17 July, 1:30pm

Francine and Amanda entered the bullpen after lunch together, at the end of the second week of Lee's mission. At their appearance, Billy beckoned them into his office. "I have a job for you two." He pointed from one to the other.

"Two?" Amanda looked puzzled.

"What?" Francine exclaimed.

"I'm putting you on a case … together." He had a hard time suppressing a smirk as he thought of how his latest brainwave would sit with these two incredibly different women.

"But-" began Amanda.

"Look," Billy interrupted. "I need two operatives for a case and you two are just what I need. You've worked together before anyway, so there'll be no problem, right?" They realized it was a rhetorical question. Amanda and Francine looked at each other, then back at Billy, but remained silent. "Good. I want you here bright and early on Monday morning."

As Francine and Amanda stood up to leave, Francine noticed that Amanda was hanging back a little. Silently acknowledging this, Francine made a discreet exit from Billy's office, closing the door behind her. Amanda was left alone with the Section Chief.


"I haven't heard anything, Amanda."

"Oh." Her disappointment was evident.

"Amanda, sit down." She did as she was told. "So, how are you holding up?"

"Surviving." Amanda looked down at her hands as she twisted her wedding ring around on her finger.

"What about your family? What do they know?"

"Just that Lee's on a film shoot in Columbia and that he's nowhere near a phone. I just wish I knew he was all right."

"Well, we haven't heard otherwise. You know we didn't expect to hear from him at all." Amanda nodded and her eyes filled up with tears, but she took a deep breath and swallowed, suppressing her emotions.  This was not the time or place. "Look Amanda, why don't you go home and spend some extra time with your family, maybe we'll hear something soon. I'll call you if anything comes in over the weekend."

Amanda looked up, hopefully. "You will? Thank you, Billy, I'd really appreciate it. It's just hard, you know?"

"I know, Amanda. It does seem quiet around here without him. Without me having to apologize for his behavior to the brass." He chuckled, and Amanda joined in, her mood a little lighter. "Now go home. Call me if you need anything, or if you just want to talk. Anything."

Amanda stood up and gave him a half-smile. "Thanks, Billy. I will. Have a good weekend."

"Trust me. He'll be fine. He's got too much to come back for now; I'm sure he'll be back soon as he can." He smiled at her as she left. He felt for her. Lee was like a son to him and he hated the lack of intel back to the Agency on this case. It was part of the job, though; they just had to accept it. He made a mental note to give Amanda a call tomorrow, just to make sure she was okay. He stood up.  He needed another cup of coffee…and maybe another donut. He still had a pile of paperwork to finish before he could leave for the weekend.


Saturday 18 July, 5:20pm

"What's for dinner, Mom?" asked Philip eagerly.

"Yeah, I'm starving," agreed Jamie. "I didn't know playing baseball could make you so hungry!"

Amanda laughed. "Everything makes you two hungry. Now why don't you go change and wash up while I get dinner ready."

"Okay Mom."

"Yes Mom."

"Will they ever stop eating so much?" Amanda asked her mother.

"I don't think so." Dotty smiled.


Thirty-five minutes later, Dotty stood in the hall and yelled up the stairs, "Boys! Dinner!" She cowered against the wall as a herd of stampeding buffalo, masquerading as two young boys, hurtled down the stairs and into the kitchen. They sat themselves at the table as Amanda placed plates of food in front of them.

As they began eating, Philip spoke. "It's a shame Lee wasn't there today." He was obviously disappointed. "He missed my best hit ever."

"Yeah, that was awesome, you crushed it," Jamie agreed.

"Yeah, well, I almost had a home run."

"Your triple was great, Philip." Amanda spoke proudly.

"Then I stole home and made that awesome slide under the tag," he continued.

"You caused quite the dust storm." Amanda mock-coughed and waved her hands as she remembered the dirt flying everywhere.

"I still can't believe that Jamie got two people out." Dotty joined in the excitement of reliving the events of the afternoon.

Philip rolled his eyes. "That's called a double play, Grandma."

Dotty smiled indulgently. "Whatever you call it, it was great."

"That's the first double play I've ever turned. I bet Lee will be sorry he missed it."

"He certainly will be sorry he missed the tournament." Amanda agreed. "You were both awesome!" She smiled, indulgently. "The job came up at the last minute though, boys. He just couldn't get out of it."

"An emergency film shoot?" asked Jamie. "How weird is that?"

Amanda coughed and began to study her food as she searched her mind to find an adequate response to his question. "Well…he, er, he had to fill in for someone who was sick and they couldn't reschedule."

"So what's the film about, mom?" Jamie enquired.

An expression of guilt flitted across Amanda's face as she struggled to come up with a way to minimize the lie. "It's about drugs, sweetheart."

"Yeah, but what about them?" Jamie asked curiously. "Is he interviewing drug lords?"

"Oh, Jamie, where do you come up with these questions?"

"I saw a feature on TV. He's not in danger, is he?" Amanda tried and failed to keep the concern off her face. Jamie's voice reflected Amanda's anxiety. "Mom?"

Dotty could feel the tension at the table. "I'm sure he'll be fine, Jamie. He's just making a documentary."

"Listen to your Grandma, Jamie. Lee's too smart to get into danger.  Besides, he has us to come home to. He's not going to jeopardize that." As she spoke she wondered who she was trying to convince more – them or herself.

"But in the Columbian jungle? That's so cool," said Philip. "Do you think it's anything like in `Romancing the Stone'? Do you remember, Jamie? When that guy did that leap over the river in his truck, he was a drug dealer or something… What did he call it? You know, the truck?"

"Little, er, Little Mule, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, that's right." Philip nodded. "His shipment of drugs had crashed in that plane. Then the guy killed that big snake. `Very tasty,'" he mocked, replaying the scene.

"Yeah, that was a rad movie. Shame about all that stupid mushy stuff though."

"Yeah," Philip agreed.

"Girls like that mushy stuff, boys," interjected Dotty, smiling.

"Oh, but who cares what girls think, huh, Philip?"

"Well, er…" Philip searched for a response, as his plans to go to the movies with Linda on Sunday flashed through his mind. "Some girls are okay."

"Dream on," Jamie said, seeing the need for some guys versus girls solidarity at the dinner table. "I knew it was a good thing having Lee in the family, huh, Philip?"

"Why?" Philip was puzzled.

"Cos then we outnumber them." He pointed towards his mother and grandmother. They all laughed.

"Well, yeah," said Philip, "that's true. Mind you, sometimes Lee can get mushy too."

"That's true. Especially when he's with mom. Then they're just gross. All that kissing and stuff. And in public too!"

"Yeah," agreed Philip. "At their age, it's just…disgusting."

"It is not!" said Amanda indignantly. Then she saw the two boys grinning at her.

"Darling," said Dotty. "I think they're teasing you."

"Yep!" Philip turned and high-fived his brother. "And she falls for it, every time!"

"Oh, Mom!" Jamie laughed and rolled his eyes. "I still think action movies without girl stuff are the best though. Who needs some sappy girl getting in the way?"

"Jamie!" admonished Amanda, though with a smile.

"It's true. Guys can do stuff – you know, shoot guns, drive cars, fly planes; all girls can do is scream and get tied up and wait for the hero to come to the rescue."

Amanda opened her mouth to speak but Dotty got there ahead of her. "Jamie, Jamie, Jamie." Dotty shook her head. "Girls can do a lot of things."

"Watch out, dude," said Philip. "She's gonna mention the having babies thing again."

"Ew, I hope not. I mean, how useful is that for getting away from the bad guys?"

"Philip, I was not going to mention the having babies thing. I was going to say that girls are quick-witted, they can think on their feet. Guys have to be able to get out of trouble because they're always getting into it. Girls, on the other hand – or women, I should say – don't get into trouble in the first place. Isn't that right, Amanda?" Amanda's thoughts, however, were far away in the depths of Columbia and she didn't respond.

"Yeah, right," snorted Philip. "Real guys don't need girls to do things for them."

Dotty looked at Amanda and was puzzled by the strange expression on her daughter's face. "Amanda, am I right?"

Amanda was suddenly jolted back to her Arlington kitchen. "Of course, Mother." She took a quick drink of water. "So that's how it is? Well, I'm glad we sorted that out. It means your grandma and I can have that apple pie all to ourselves. Seeing as how a girl made it, I'm sure you wouldn't want to demean yourselves by eating something a girl made. Right?"

Jamie and Philip looked horror-stricken. Their comments had backfired. "Well, as girls go, mom, you're okay. So I guess we could, you know, make allowances," began Philip.

"Yeah," Jamie jumped in. "I suppose we could even wash the dishes for you after dinner. I mean…if you'd like for us to."

Amanda and Dotty exchanged amused glances at the boys' attempts at digging themselves out of the hole they'd just made.

"Doesn't that sound a bit girly to you, Mother?" Amanda asked Dotty innocently.

Dotty nodded. "I'd have thought washing the car was more to their tastes."

"The Jeep?" Jamie was incredulous. "But it's huge!"

"Too much for you?" mocked his mother.

"Er…no, I didn't say that." He deepened his voice a little. "I'm sure we can handle it, can't we Philip?"

"What?" It was Philip's turn to be incredulous. Jamie tried to communicate with his brother using eyespeak but was failing miserably. Philip just looked confused. Jamie mouthed the words "apple pie" to his brother and a light bulb metaphorically appeared over Philip's head. He assumed a super-hero style voice when he replied, "Wash the car? Of course we can. That's no problem." In his usual voice he added, "We can have pie first though, right?"

"What do you think, Mother?"

Dotty feigned thinking about the question for a second, then said, "I'm sure they made their offer in good faith. I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt."

Both boys audibly sighed, relieved. "Thanks Grandma," they said together.

After they'd finished two helpings of apple pie, it was time to head out to the yard for their mission. Before they'd even left the kitchen, they were arguing over whose fault it was that they had this latest task to do.

"Now, who was it that said guys were smarter?" asked Dotty. Amanda laughed.


Chapter Three

Monday 20 July, 8:00am

Amanda and Francine sat across from Billy in his office as he briefed them on their assignment.

"California Congressman David Wile has received several threatening letters from a group calling themselves `Rights of the Unborn,' an anti-abortion group that's been getting more vocal in recent years.  They're a radical group and they've been involved in hate-mail campaigns to various members of the pro-choice lobby. Last week, the congressman received a letter bomb – the day after he opened the new clinic on Q Street where his daughter works. Fortunately, the bomb was intercepted and destroyed, but the group has also threatened to blow up the clinic. I want you two to see what you can find out about the attack."

Amanda shook her head. "I'll never understand how you can claim to be saving a life by taking another. It's just so…arbitrary."

"They see it as protecting the innocent," said Francine. "Yet they don't see politicians as innocent. At least, those who don't agree with their point of view. They see them as culpable and fair game in their war."

"I just don't get it," said Amanda.

"No," agreed Francine, "it doesn't make sense to me either."

"Right," interrupted Billy, sensing the gloom that was descending over his office. "Let's see what we can do to fix this, yes? Amanda, you go through the Agency files and check into the MO, see if we've encountered this particular type of bomb before."

"Yes, sir."

"Francine, go find Max and see if he's dug up the building plans yet."

"Nooo, not Max in Planning?" She groaned. "Where does the Agency find these guys?"

"Who's Max?" asked Amanda.

"You don't want to know. Last time I went down to his office – or should that be lair? – I was lucky to get out of there with my life . . . not to mention my dress."

"Ooh." Amanda shuddered.

"You remember the grabber?" Francine asked Amanda.

"Do I," Amanda nodded sympathetically.

"Well imagine that yutz but ten times worse and twice as many hands."

"Oh, Francine. Why does the Agency put up with him?"

"He's a genius. He has a photographic memory. He has the entire filing system in his head. Trouble is that means he's the only one who can find anything. Quickly, at any rate. It's okay, Amanda, I can handle him. This time I'm ready for him."


"Maybe. And if that fails, there's always pepper spray and a stun gun." Francine smiled.

"Francine, please," Billy interrupted. "Can you quit scheming for a second and concentrate?" She nodded. "The clinic was converted for use shortly before it opened so the plans may not be filed yet. We need to know what we might be dealing with."

"Okay, Billy, I'll go see Max. But if you hear him screaming, just ignore it." She grinned. "Once we've got all the data from here we'll head on over to the clinic and see what we can find out."

"Francine, I think we should speak to one of Lee's information brokers – Augie Swann."

"Augie Swann? The Bonanza guy? How sweet." Francine spoke unconvincingly.

"I'll call him. I'm sure he can get something on this for us."

"That's fine, Amanda, set it up," said Francine. "Can I leave you to contact the Congressman too? We need to talk to him as well."

"Sure. Is he under protection?"

"Yes," answered Billy. "There are a couple of our guys on watch around the clock and his personal security team has been increased.  There are also people on his daughter."

"I'll make an appointment."


Monday 20 July, 11:15am

Amanda parked the Jeep in front of the clinic. As the women emerged from the car, they were hit by the cacophony of noise coming from the chanting protesters. Like their arguments, protesters were split down the center, separated by the clinic entrance. Pro-choice supporters stood to their left as they approached and pro-life supporters to their right. Between the two groups were a number of police officers who manned the barriers keeping the two groups apart and the clinic staff and clients safe.

Francine and Amanda walked through the mass of people and headed into the clinic to the sound of cheers and jeers. As the door closed behind them, muffling the noise, Francine spoke. "That's a scary crowd."

"Yes. I don't envy anyone making the decision to come here. You'd have to be determined to walk through them."

"It certainly wouldn't make the decision any easier, that's for sure."

They were interrupted as a man in his late thirties approached, dressed in a business suit. "Ms. Desmond, Mrs. King?"

"Yes," they agreed, showing him their IDs. "I'm Daniel Hawthorne, the manager here at the Family Center. We've been expecting you. Would you come this way?" They headed to his office and sat down. "Now, how may I help you?"

As agreed on the way over in the car, Amanda began. "We're following up on the letter bomb that was sent to Congressman Wile last week and the other threats to him and the clinic. I understand he's quite an advocate?"

"He certainly is that. He's campaigned to get funding for us and has attended a number of charity events to get sufficient funds to get us off the ground. Of course, it doesn't hurt that his daughter interns here.

"I'll bet," said Francine, looking a little skeptical at the Congressman's motives.

"No, no," said Daniel. "The clinic was Catherine's idea. She's the one that convinced the Congressman to get involved. She's been working for our cause at other locations for a couple of years, but now she's interning here. She won't accept a salary though. Says that she doesn't want to suggest any conflict of interest or impropriety, given her father's position."

"Sounds very…altruistic," remarked Francine.

"Not at all. Well maybe a little, but she's very committed to our cause."

"Do you know why she's so dedicated?"

"I believe a friend of hers from college – she's at Georgetown - committed suicide a while ago. She'd gotten pregnant, and tried to obtain an abortion. After a great deal of harassment from pro-lifers when she visited a clinic, she felt she couldn't take the pressure. Apparently, she took an overdose of pills. Catherine was away on a weekend field trip and was devastated when she got back and found her friend's body. That's when she took up the cause to make abortions freely available to anyone who felt they needed one."

"So it's a personal crusade?" asked Amanda.

"Definitely, yes," Daniel agreed. "And she can be very, er. . .persuasive." He laughed. "She's a great person to have championing your cause. Trouble is, champions generate enemies. The service we offer is legal, but controversial. Feelings run deep. Bomb threats are par for the course, an everyday occurrence. No big deal."

"Bomb threats are no big deal? You're kidding, right?" Amanda was incredulous.

"Don't get me wrong. We take these kind of threats seriously. Very seriously. But what can we do? We have to be an accessible operation.  Too much security may deter women who desperately need the help from coming here so we have to balance security with accessibility. Anyone working here knows the risks and accepts them. It's as much a cause to us as it is to those of the opposing view. We, however, are operating within the law."

"So, how many threats do you get here?"

"Well, we've been operating for about three weeks now, although the Congressman officially opened the clinic last Thursday. We get at least one bomb threat, or something, by telephone every day, then there are the letters. We've not had anyone actually carry out their threats however."

"Until the Congressman's letter bomb?" questioned Francine.

"Exactly," Daniel agreed. "That made the threats seem more real, but we have to carry on."

"Wouldn't it make more sense for the Congressman to stop being so vocal in his support here?"

"Catherine asked him to. It doesn't seem to have worked though. You'd have to ask her for the details."

"Is there anything else you can tell us about the threats? Any pattern?"

"No more than I've already outlined to the cops and the Emergency Response Team," he said. "It seems the group behind the bomb claimed to be called `Rights of the Unborn.'

"Have you heard of them?"

"They're not a group I've ever come across before. But these groups appear and disappear from day to day. Many of them are loud but often they're inactive, hoping threats will accomplish the results they desire. Looks like this group may be different."

"But it won't stop you operating?"

"Not if I have anything to say about it. Sometimes it's easier to live with the threats than have innumerable visits from the various agencies. Like I said before, too much security makes people nervous."

"Well, we'll be out of here as soon as we can, Daniel." Amanda reached out to shake his hand as she stood. "Is Catherine here now?  We'd really like to get her perspective on the threats."

"Sure. Please follow me."


After the introductions were over and Daniel had returned to his office, Francine and Amanda began questioning Catherine Wile.

"So, Miss Wile," Francine began this time, "can you tell us anything about the bomb that was sent to your father?"

"Nothing much, and it's Catherine. I just know that it'll take more than a threat of a bomb – or even an actual bomb - to scare me off!" She was obviously angry.

"You think it was just a scare tactic?" Francine was curious.

Catherine nodded. "Yes. They know that Daddy is a supporter of the clinic. They wanted to give him a message. They're cowards! If they wanted to target anyone, they should have sent the letter to me. I'm the one driving this. I asked him to keep a lower profile, said that it could be dangerous. You know what he said?"

"What?" asked Amanda.

"`I always taught you not to run from a fight, Catherine. This is a time to put that into practice.' He's right, too." She laughed. "We make a good team. A stubborn one. I'm definitely my father's daughter. I guess it's because we both lost mom so long ago. Since then we've always been `The Two Musketeers.' Maybe it makes us a little reckless, or maybe we're just belligerent. Neither of us will be pushed around."

"That's why he's insisting on still coming here tomorrow?" Francine and Amanda were beginning to see why the various security agencies hadn't been able to stop the Congressman from holding his press conference at the clinic reception.

"It is." She nodded. "He's launching another fund-raising drive tomorrow for the clinic. We want to continue to make abortions available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. For that we have to raise funds all the time. We hope he can persuade donors that we wouldn't ordinarily reach. If he doesn't go ahead with the press conference, they win. The bomb threat actually gives us more publicity."

Amanda's face showed her concern. "You're both taking a big risk. If they back up their threats with a bomb at the clinic this time, all your lives will be in danger. The patients too."

"We've informed the clients. Some have chosen to stay away, but some refuse to bow to the pressure. As long as they wish to come, we'll continue to operate. We all know the risks."

"That's a brave stance to take," said Amanda.

"Some would say stupid." Catherine smiled. "Have you been to see Daddy yet?"

Francine responded, "That's our next stop."

"Well, good luck. He doesn't think highly of the security services."

"No? Why's that?"

"Oh." She laughed. "Probably because they won't let him do half the things he wants to."

"Hmm. His file reads that he's a bit of a maverick?"

"Let's just say he likes to do things his way," Catherine answered. "One time, he handcuffed two of his security team to the fence outside of his office. He said he had an important meeting." She paused. "He wanted to go and see the latest Indiana Jones movie and they said he couldn't. Of course, he did bring them back popcorn."

Amanda stifled a chuckle and Francine glared at her partner. "At least we've got advanced warning, Francine. Thanks for the heads up, Catherine."

"Good luck," she returned.


Monday 20 July, 12:45pm

Francine and Amanda were seated before Congressman Wile's desk at his Capitol Hill office. The conversation was not going well.

"Congressman, don't you think it would be safer for everyone if you didn't hold your press conference at the clinic?" asked Amanda.

"Of course it would be safer. But it would also make me look weak. All of us, in fact. It would show that a simple little device was enough to put a stop to us providing a basic freedom."

"It was hardly a simple little device, Congressman," interjected Amanda. "If it had gone off, it could have killed you."

The Congressman deflected her words with a wave of his hand. "A minor detail and it didn't. I'm doing my press conference and I'm doing it from the clinic. If you…people can't handle that, maybe you're in the wrong business."

"It's not that we can't handle it," said Francine, a little defensively. "We prefer to minimize risks. You're just exacerbating a volatile situation."

"Tough. Get over it. We go ahead."

Francine decided it was time to play hardball. "We could order you not to do it."

Congressman Wile laughed, then glared at Francine. "You're at liberty to try," he said coldly. "Do you like popcorn?" The temperature of the room seemed to drop at least ten degrees.

Amanda stepped in. "Congressman. We're not saying you can't go ahead with the conference, we just want to make sure that everyone is safe. You, the clinic patients, your daughter." Amanda mentioned Catherine pointedly.

"Catherine can take care of herself. She's cut from the same cloth."

"Yes, you're both stubborn," said Francine sharply.

"Francine," interrupted Amanda, "that's not helping."

"Oh, that's okay," spoke the Congressman. "I like a lady who speaks her mind." He smiled an empty politician's smile in her direction. "So, I'm assuming I can leave security in the hands of the various agencies, right? Leave it to the professionals?"

Francine was obviously riled by his tone. "Yes, Congressman. You do your job and we'll do ours."

"Good, then I'm sure it'll be fine." He stood up, indicating that this meeting was obviously over.

As they left the Congressman's office, Francine turned to Amanda. "Well wasn't he Mr. Charm?" She rolled her eyes. "Now I know why someone wants to blow him up."

"Fran-cine!!" Amanda could think of nothing else to say to that.


Monday 20 July, 1:25pm

"Fowl Play?" asked Francine, her disdain obvious. They were looking up at a sign on the roof of a large, single-story building. The two letter `l's were in the shape of bowling pins that were painted to look like chicken drumsticks.

"Does it really matter, Francine?" Amanda sighed.

"No," mouthed Francine, silently, while shaking her head. She waved with her hand that they should continue inside.

They arrived at the shoe rental counter. Behind the counter stood an obviously bored, pimple-faced youth wearing a `chicken-head' hat, an open beak as the front visor. His jaw moved back and forth as he chewed gum while leaning forward onto the counter. "Size?" he asked, the effort almost too much for him.

Francine glared at Amanda. "Give him your shoes," Amanda said firmly.

Horrified, Francine responded, "No way! I'm not wearing those! They're hideous – they don't even match my outfit! Nowhere in my contract does it say I have to wear other people's shoes. I'm not going to do it!"

"You have to!"

"But these are $75 shoes. You want me to leave them with him?" she spat out the last word. "Forget it."

Amanda was losing her patience and her mild-mannered demeanor. "Fran-cine. We have to meet Augie, right?"

"Yes, but I don't see-"

Amanda interrupted, "And to do that, we have to bowl. This is a bowling alley, Francine. And what is it that normal people do in a bowling alley? They bowl. So, put on the shoes!"

"But thousands of strange, horrible feet have been in these shoes."

"Look around you. I don't think they've had that many customers –it's like a library in here. I doubt that more than a couple hundred feet have been in them and probably some of them even wore socks." She smirked.

"And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"No," argued Amanda. "It's supposed to make you put on the shoes!"

"I don't like this," Francine said angrily. She grabbed the shoes from the guy at the counter, laced them up and muttered, "Billy's gonna get a piece of my mind when I get back to the office…"

Amanda set off to their lane, taking her ball out of her bag. She was glad she had her own bowling shoes.

Twenty minutes later, Amanda was getting annoyed at Francine. "I guess you and Lee went to the same bowling school, huh, Francine?"


"You're not bowling. You have to bowl. You look ridiculous just sitting there. This is a bowling alley and I'm having déjà vu."

"You're what?"

"Lee brought me bowling. You remember when the Agency went into Operation Possum? Well, I had one heck of a time getting him to bowl. Then it turned out he was a natural."

"Oh, he was, was he? Well, I'll show you who's a natural." She stood up and took a ball off the rack. "I'd better not break a nail doing this." She stepped up on the lane and saw the chicken footprints leading up to the line. She rolled her eyes. "Give me a break!"

"What?" asked Amanda.

"Have you seen these?" Francine pointed at the footprints. "Who is running this place?"

Amanda sighed. "Francine, stop procrastinating and throw the ball."

Francine's approach lacked style; she released the ball with two hands. The ball slowly rolled about halfway down the lane until it teetered off into the gutter. Amanda fought to muffle a chuckle.  Without turning around, Francine said, "If there is so much as a smirk on your face when I turn around, I'll-"

"You'll what, Francine?" Amanda was fighting her mirth. "Maybe you should've followed the footprints?"

"A-man-da!" Francine snarled.

"Francine, you get another shot." This time Francine was determined. She took a ball, stepped up to the line and released the ball. It rolled a little farther down the lane this time before it clunked into the gutter again. Francine wasn't happy about it. "Would you like me to give you some pointers?" Amanda asked.

Francine turned around to face Amanda. "Sure. But if word of this gets around, I'll have to kill you. You know that, right?"

"I know that, Francine. My lips are sealed." She mimed locking her mouth shut and throwing away the key.


They were still playing forty-five minutes later. Unsurprisingly, Amanda was winning – she was the PTA's MVP last year, after all, but the margin was narrowing.

"Is this guy ever going to get here, Amanda? He will be here, won't he? After all I've gone through this afternoon?"

"He'll be here, Francine. He may be a little flaky, but he usually comes through with the goods for Lee. No reason to think otherwise this time."

"So where is he?" Francine asked, testily. "If we're here much longer I'm going to have to burn these clothes. My dry cleaner will never be able to get the stench of fried chicken out of them."

"Trust me, Francine. He'll be here."


"Strike!" Amanda turned to look at Francine, unable to suppress the smug smile on her face. That was her eighth strike of the day.  Suddenly, her eye was caught as a molting six-foot chicken walked across the bowling alley.

Francine followed her gaze and nodded towards the big bird, wearing `Fowl Play' bowling shirt. "Friend of yours?"

Amanda studied the approaching example of human poultry. "Augie?"

"Hey! Mrs. King!" yelled the chicken. His `wing' did a little wave thing. As he reached them he continued, "How's it goin'? Who's the dish?" He ogled Francine.

Giving him an icy glare, she said, "No one you'll ever know."

"Well, brr…it suddenly got real cold in here." He addressed Amanda, "What's with her? I was just being friendly."

"She's just not a bowling fan, Augie." Amanda made introductions, "Francine, this is Augie Swann; Augie, this is Francine."

"Good to lay eyes on ya, Franny." Augie smiled, waiting for Francine's reaction. There was none. "Lay…get it?" Still nothing. "Tough crowd."

Amanda asked, "So do you have the information? And why are you dressed like that?"

Augie struggled to squeeze the suit into the bench to sit down next to Francine. Francine moved as far away as possible.

"Business is bad," said Augie.

"We saw," Amanda sympathized.

"Seems no one wants to go Chicken Bowling."

"Who'd'a thought," interjected Francine, sarcastically.

Augie gave her a withering look. He carried on. "I mean, business picked up a little after we stopped using egg-shaped balls…"

"Oh, Augie." Amanda placed a comforting hand on his wing.

"Anyway, this is my last attempt to get it off the ground." He thrust a flyer into Amanda's hand.

"Bowl and a bucket, five dollars," read Amanda. She arched an eyebrow in Augie's direction. "You think this will work?"

"If it doesn't work, I'm walking!" responded Augie.

"Waddling more like," came the next barb from Francine.

"Ducks waddle, Francine. Augie's a chicken," responded Amanda.

"That's what I heard."

"Hey! I'm right here!"

Francine jumped in again. "Your point being?"

He flinched at the verbal assault. Realization suddenly dawned on Augie. "She's the one Lee told me about. I knew the name was familiar. He was right."

"Right about what?" asked Francine. "Lee said what?" At Francine's glare, Augie blanched. He quickly stood up and retreated behind Amanda, seeking her protection. As Amanda turned to face him, he rifled inside the costume. He pulled out a brown envelope. "Here." He thrust the envelope into her hand, a few more feathers dropped from the chicken suit as he moved. She opened the flap and looked inside to see photographs of two men and a couple of pages of data.

She gave him back a smaller envelope. "Here's what we agreed." She turned to her partner. "Come on, Francine, let's go…unless you want to finish the game?"

Francine almost ran to the shoe counter, the shoes already held tentatively in the tips of her fingers.

"Thanks, Mrs. King. Stop by anytime. You can bowl free whenever you want…as long as you don't bring her."

"Well…er, thanks Augie. Maybe I'll do that." She didn't sound convincing.

Suddenly, they were interrupted by a high-pitched, "You did WHAT!!!!?"

"Gotta, go, Augie. I guess you'd better make yourself scarce. She has a gun you know, and she's not afraid to use it." She laughed. She'd never seen a guy in a chicken suit run so fast, feathers flying all around him. She walked over to a very angry Francine. "You screamed?"

Red-faced, Francine said, "This guy says he doesn't have my shoes!"

"What?" asked Amanda. The attendant shook his head sheepishly at Amanda, whose smirk was back. "You're kidding. Tell me you're kidding."

"No," said the guy, weakly, looking very nervous. Amanda smiled.

"This isn't funny, Amanda," said Francine, testily.

"Oh, I know." She held her hand over her mouth, but she couldn't hide the sparkle in her eyes. "Looks like you'll have to wear them then." She indicated the bowling shoes Francine had placed on the counter.

"I'd rather go barefoot."

"Well, if you'd rather," Amanda agreed. "But we've got to get moving so come on." Francine looked at the floor, then at the shoes, then back at the floor, weighing up her options. "Well?" Francine was still internally debating her dilemma. "I'm leaving now so you'd better hurry up and make your choice." She headed toward the door.

Francine bent to put the shoes back on and set off in pursuit of her partner. "All right, all right, I'm coming. Amanda! Can we stop at the store on the way back to the office? I need to get some bleach. I'm going to have to soak my feet for a week." She was talking to herself; Amanda was already in the parking lot.

As she got to the door Francine stopped – a striking realization having hit her. They don't have any customers. They couldn't have lost my shoes. "That attendant! I'm going to kill him. He must have done it on purpose." She turned around toward the counter but the attendant was nowhere in sight. "Hmph!" exclaimed Francine. She turned and followed Amanda out of the door.


Monday 20 July, 3:55pm

As Amanda and Francine crossed the bullpen, wolf whistles rang out as the various observant agents spotted Francine's footwear. Beaman appeared from nowhere. "Cool shoes, Francine. Are they new?" He winked.

"Can it, Beaman," Francine returned. "Or you'll feel their imprint on your butt as you fly across the room."

Beaman took a sharp intake of breath. "Oh, Francine, that's soo harsh." He reached for his heart. "I'm wounded."

"You soon will be!" She took a step toward him and he retreated behind a partition, his hands in the air in submission.

"Jeez! What's with these guys today?" Francine asked Amanda angrily.

"Why are you so hard on Efraim?" asked Amanda. "He's a nice guy."

"Nice? Nice!!? Don't you remember the Christmas party? I couldn't get him off me."

"We-e-ll…he was drunk." Amanda smirked.

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, nothing." Amanda raised her hands too. "I just meant that you could do worse to than have a friend like Efraim."

"Efraim? A friend? Hell, is that what I've sunk to?

"That's not nice, Francine. You can never have too many friends, you know."

"Not nice? Good. I don't feel nice. I feel violent, especially after the day I've had." She paused for a second as though formulating an idea, then spoke again. "On second thought… Efraim!" Francine called.  Fortunately for him, he was out of earshot.

"Fran-cine!" admonished Amanda.

"Desmond! Stetson! Get in here!" Billy was standing in his office doorway making a performance of looking at his watch.

"Coming, sir!" said Amanda.

"About time." Noticing Francine's footwear, he continued sarcastically, "I do hope I'm not keeping you from something more important?"


"Good. Great shoes Francine. New fashion?"

"Agghhh! - Men!"

The agents in the bullpen looked toward the Section Chief's office as they heard Billy's laugh ring out, then it muffled as he turned and shut the door behind him.

After Billy had finally stopped laughing, he looked at the two women in his office. Francine's face was still red, though whether from anger or embarrassment it was too hard to tell. "Well, ladies," he asked, "did you get anything useful?"

Amanda handed the envelope Augie had given her to Billy and he emptied it out onto his desk. Amanda and Francine stood either side of him as he flipped through the pictures. Amanda looked to her partner. "Francine, you read the notes Augie gave us, do you want to explain?"

"Sure." Francine pointed to the first photo. "That's Hal Stark. He's the leader," Francine continued. "`Rights of the Unborn seem to have hired him on occasion to do the less legal work of their operation, if you know what I mean."

Billy nodded. "Who's the other guy?"

"That's his cousin, Ricky Ford," Amanda supplied. "He's worked with Stark on several jobs. They don't seem to have a standard MO, though."

"No, it seems they usually act on pretty short notice, using whatever's available at the time. Stark seems to have some kind of hold over some pretty influential people. Our guys haven't been able to get anyone to talk. Yet."

The women walked around to the other side of the desk and sat down.

"Are we sure these are the right guys?" asked Billy.

"Yes," said Amanda and Francine simultaneously.

"Augie said he was sure his informants had the correct information. That's why he was so late getting the information to us."

"I thought it was because he was getting the chicken suit dry-cleaned," interjected Francine. Billy raised an eyebrow and Amanda sighed. "Doesn't matter."

"So, we need to get as much information on these guys as we can," suggested Billy. "Get Clarkson and Fielder working on it. Background, contacts, anything they can dig up. Tell `em to work all night if necessary. They can present what they find at the briefing in the morning."

"Right." The women spoke as one.

Amanda and Francine exchanged a glance and grinned at the way they had so rapidly become a team. Billy leaned back in his chair and grinned too. "I knew I was right to put you two together. I am sooo good at this job," he laughed. Amanda and Francine rolled their eyes.

"Yeah, that's right, Billy," agreed Francine. "You're our fearless leader." They all laughed.

"Well, I guess you need to speak to Fielder and the guys, then head on out to Rockville to follow-up with the Congressman. After that, the evening's all yours," said Billy.

"What?" asked Francine. "But I have a date-"

"The date can wait," Billy interrupted.

Francine glared at her boss. "Yes, but I expect the opera won't."

"Oh, which one?" enquired Amanda.

"La Traviata. It's on at the Kennedy, but it's only in town for one night. It's on a national tour. Lord Bingham was taking me."

"Fran-cine! If you talk less, you'll be done sooner," Billy said firmly.

"Okay, okay. So, Billy, why on earth do we have to go back and see that…that…er…." For once Francine was at a loss for words.

"That strong-willed gentleman is what I think she's trying to say, sir," Amanda added helpfully.

"I was thinking more of arrogant jerk, actually."


"So, why are we going back there?"

"To show him the photos of these two." Billy indicated the photos on his desk. "See if he recognizes anyone. And to try once again to convince him to stay away from the clinic tomorrow. That would make our lives much easier."

"Billy, we tried," said Francine, sounding a little whiny about her disrupted evening. "What else can we possibly say?"

"Francine. I'm sure you can charm him into a raincheck. How could he possibly ignore your dulcet tones?" Billy smirked.

Amanda chuckled and Francine glared at her. Then she switched her glare to Billy. "But Billy-"

Billy held up his hand to cut her off. "I don't wanna hear it. Get over there and work your magic." He indicated the door with his finger.

Francine stood up. "I'm going, I'm going. But, don't say I didn't tell you it was a total waste of time, Billy Melrose."

As Francine and Amanda left through Billy's office door, he called after her, "Don't worry, Francine. I'm sure Lord Bingham can find someone else to accompany him to the opera. I hear this production is a masterpiece.


Monday 20 July, 6:30pm

"I can't believe Billy is making us go back to see the Congressman. You will make sure I don't shoot him, won't you Amanda?"

Amanda laughed and looked across at her partner. "You are kidding, aren't you Francine?"

"I haven't decided yet," Francine replied. "It's a good thing I had a spare pair of shoes in my desk," said Francine as Amanda drove towards the Congressman's house.

"Lucky they matched your outfit too, hmm?"

"Okay, okay, so I have seventeen spare pairs of shoes in my desk."


"Well, you never know. A good agent has to be prepared."

"What crisis is ever going to warrant the need for seventeen pairs of shoes? I don't think I even own seventeen pairs of shoes."

"However do you manage?" asked Francine, genuinely.


Monday 20 July, 7:05pm

"Now what?" The Congressman was obviously not pleased to see them again.

"Congressman Wile," Amanda placated. "We just need to follow up on some information we've obtained this afternoon."

"What is it?"


Monday 20 July, 8:15pm

After they left the Congressman's mansion, Amanda stopped and turned to look at Francine. "I can't believe you just did that!"

"What?" asked Francine, in feigned innocence.

"Agreed to go out with him. I thought you wanted to kill him before we went in?"

"Well, yes, but he kind of grows on you." She grinned.

"Ya think?" Amanda rolled her eyes. They began walking towards the car.

"Okay, okay, so his season tickets for the Kennedy grew on me. He can't be that bad with those!" Amanda looked disbelieving and Francine winked. "You just have to get used to his manner," Francine continued.

Amanda shook her head. "Whatever are we gonna do with you?"

"Look, Amanda. I bought a new dress for tonight, and now I'm not going to get the chance to wear it. If a distinguished-looking, mansion-owning Congressman from California wants to buy me an expensive dinner and take me to the opera tomorrow, who am I to discourage him?" Amanda could see the glint in her eyes as she looked at her partner across the roof of the Jeep.

"Francine, you're incorrigible."

Francine grinned again. "I know. Must be my amazing combination of charm and natural beauty that makes me so hard to resist."

"Get in," said a deadpan Amanda. "Unless you need me to get the door for you?" She smiled artificially at Francine who bent to get into the car.

"No, no, it's fine. I'll manage."

Amanda coughed. "You bet you will," she muttered under her breath.

Francine looked back up. "Did you say something?"

"No, no, no," replied Amanda as the two women sat down in the car.


Chapter 4

Tuesday 21 July, 7:10am

It was chaotic in the West-King-Stetson household. The boys were fighting over the toy in the Cracklin' Critters breakfast cereal; Dotty was planning her day, preparing for `Grandma's hot date' this evening - as Philip had described it. It wasn't even seven-thirty yet and Amanda had already received a couple of phone calls. The first was from Billy at IFF to tell her the briefing had been moved to eight-thirty and the second was from Mrs. Jackman, asking if Amanda could give her daughter, Hannah, a lift to soccer camp along with Philip and Jamie. By seven ten, they were all behind schedule.

"Have you seen my lipstick, Amanda?" asked Dotty.

"No, Mother."

"Oh, well, I'm sure it was in my bag last night and now I can't find it."

Amanda sighed. "Is it really important, Mother?"

"No, not really."

"Mom, tell Jamie it's my turn for the space creature!" cried Philip.

Before she could reply, Jamie responded. "It is not! You had the last one, Philip, remember?"


"You did too. You must remember! You took it for that boat ride in Rock Creek Park, you know in that paper boat thing you made? It sank!"

The expression on Philip's face indicated that he did remember the occasion. "Yeah, so that means I should get this one, to replace the one that sank," he said, using logic as only a fourteen year-old can.

"That's not fair, that's-"

"Fellas!" Amanda yelled, instantly getting their full attention. "If you carry on like this, you'll be having Bran Oaties in the future." The boys stopped arguing immediately and silently looked up at their mom.

"Sorry, Mom," they said in unison, guilty expressions on their faces as they looked at their mom's frazzled expression. They knew she missed Lee - so did they. She'd been shorter with them lately, and their grandma had asked them to give her a break. For the last few days they had been trying to be on their best behavior, but this morning they'd forgotten.

"You can have it, Philip," said Jamie, in a conciliatory tone. "Seeing as how the last one, er,…escaped."

"Thanks, Jamie, but it's okay. You can have it. It is your turn."

Amanda began to relax. "That's better."

Suddenly, Dotty called out, "Found it! Would you believe it? It was right here in my purse, just where I thought it should be. That purse is like a black hole if you ask me. Come on now, boys. Time to go.  Don't want you to be late for soccer camp. Do you have everything you need? Are your bags packed? Don't forget, we have to pick up Hannah."

"Yes, Grandma," said Philip. "You can sit next to her Jamie." Jamie's face reddened. "You know you like her."

"Do not."

"Do too!"

Before the arguments could progress any further, Dotty pointed to the door, "Car! Now!"

The boys both shut up and walked out to the car, giving each other black looks as they got in the back seat.


Tuesday 21 July, 8:25am

Billy was pouring his second cup of coffee when Amanda walked into the bullpen.

"Morning, Billy." Amanda smiled at her boss.

"Good morning, Amanda. How are you today? Coffee?"

"I'm fine, sir. Thank you." She took a mug from his hand. "Is Francine in yet?"

"Yes, she's just going over the logs from last night. Go ahead into my office, Amanda. I'll go round her up and we'll get underway."


Francine walked into Billy's office and sat next to Amanda in front of Billy's desk. "Morning, Amanda."

"Morning Francine."

"Well, Billy," asked Francine, "shall I go through the plan for today?" Billy indicated she should proceed. "The Congressman is due at the clinic this afternoon at five, so we're going over this morning to ensure that our guys have the security plan fully implemented. Davies is our lead guy and he's been there since six this morning. They've been setting up the checks on all employees, clients and visitors arriving there today. His team is making sure no one else gets in or out."

"And was there anything on the overnight log?" the Section Chief asked.

"Yes. It seems that late last night, representatives of the Pro- Choice lobby started to arrive in large numbers - there to support the Congressman apparently. The cops had set up the security fences already, so their arrival wasn't a problem. The trouble only started after large numbers of Pro-Life people arrived."

"What trouble, Francine?" Amanda questioned.

"Well, there was a lot of shouting and a few minor scuffles, but the cops managed to keep them under control."

"And how are things now?" Billy interjected.

"Tense at the moment, but under control. Davies and his guys are patrolling the crowds, looking for familiar faces based on the information we gleaned yesterday. The Metro cops have crowd control.  The biggest problem we have is the guy in charge over there."

Amanda looked puzzled. "Why's that?"

"Cooper," Billy said.

"Cooper?" asked Amanda.

"Donald Cooper is a lieutenant over at Special Tactics Branch. He always makes a point not be helpful when we're involved."

"Yeah, right," laughed Francine. "He's totally obstructive. Just because he never made it through Station One."

"What?" queried Amanda. "He tried out for the Agency?"

"Yes," informed Francine. "We rejected him. His attitude was appalling. Thought he knew everything. His behavior since then has proven our point. He's a pain in the-"

"Fran-cine," interrupted Billy.

"Sounds like you have some history there, Francine," Amanda observed.


"Ladies, we seem to be drifting off the point." Billy brought the briefing back to order. "Francine, did you get anything new from the daughter?"

Amanda looked curiously at Francine. "I called her at the clinic this morning," Francine enlightened her partner. "She's still refusing to listen to us. She insists she's not going to be intimidated and that it's business as usual." Amanda nodded silently.

"What about her father?" questioned Billy. "Did you get anything?"

"Well, I got a date," replied Francine.

"About the clinic, Francine," said her long-suffering boss.

"We did try to convince him to cancel. To get his daughter out of there," said Amanda.

Francine laughed. "You should have seen him, Billy. He's so proud of Catherine. They're probably both nuts. What did he say, Amanda?"

"`No one is going to tell me or my daughter what we can or cannot do.'" Amanda shook her head. "I don't think he appreciates the scale of the problem. He refuses to be intimidated."

"You've got to give him credit for sticking to his guns, I guess," commented Francine.

"Hmm," returned their boss.

"I don't think anyone has ever made the Congressman do anything in his entire life," Amanda replied. "He seems determined to be his own man, no matter what the consequences."

"And he didn't understand what would happen if there was an actual explosion? Why we would ask him to stay away while this threat was a strong possibility?"

"He wasn't listening, Billy," said Francine. "Don't think we didn't try, but when we went back, he hadn't moved an inch. He's either a brave guy or very stupid and I'm not sure which."

"So, how's the Congressman getting in and out of the location?"

Francine and Amanda filled Billy in on the routes that had been agreed upon with the Congressman's personal security detail the day before, together with the contingency plans, should things go wrong.

"Okay. So we work around him. And Cooper if it comes to that. Get out there and make sure nothing goes wrong. There have been several threats to Congressman Wile's life already. There is not going to be an attack on our watch. If Cooper causes any trouble, let me know. I'll tell him who's in charge." Billy had a serious look on his face.

"Yes, sir," agreed Amanda.

"We'll get right on it, Billy."

As they left the office, Francine spoke to Amanda. "You know, I hope the Congressman doesn't get blown up today."

"What!?" enquired Amanda.

"Well," continued Francine, "I wouldn't want to blow two classy dates in two days. I have a reputation to maintain."

Amanda opened her mouth for a retort, but she couldn't find anything to say that could top that. She closed her mouth again.


Tuesday 21 July, 8:45am

The seedy hotel room was sparsely furnished with twin beds, a table, and a threadbare armchair. Ford sat on the bed cleaning his gun as Stark paced up and down the small room.

"You not finished that yet?" Stark said angrily to his partner.

"No!" Ford shot back. "Why don't you get some coffee? Or some tranquilizers," he finished under his breath.

"I don't need coffee. I just wanna get on with this. We need to get in during the morning shift-change before they tighten security."

"He's due to be there at five, right?" Ford asked.

"Five, yeah. But we need to get in at 10:45, the regular delivery time. Then we leave the bomb and get the hell outta there."

"Won't the increased security mean they've stopped all deliveries?" asked Ford.

"Normally, yeah. But `Congressional Coolers' has high-level security clearance. They deliver to the Capitol, the Offices, even the Supreme Court. They won't stop us."

"I don't know how you got us in."

"The head guy at the cooler service owes me big-time. I called in his marker," Stark said, icily.

"That must be some marker."

"Damn straight. He took the special bottle in last week. Now we go in and place the explosives and the timer. Then we just have to put the bottle on the cooler and get out. They'll never trace it to us. By the time it goes off, we'll be on the way to Phoenix, then, over the border into Mexico."

"So it's hasta la vista, Congressman Wile, huh?" Ford laughed.

"Exactly. Now, you ready?"


Tuesday 21 July, 10:20am

Despite the chaotic morning in the West-King-Stetson house, Dotty made it to Emelio's right on time.

"Agnes!" said Dotty as she saw her neighbor sitting in Emelio's.

"Dotty! How are Amanda and the boys?"

"They're fine. What's with all the commotion?"

"Oh, it's the new clinic next door. The Family Center."

"Well," said Dotty, "there certainly is a lot of activity outside. I had a hard time finding somewhere to park. I thought I was going to be late."

"Oh, I know what you mean. We never had this trouble when all we had next door was the coffee shop."

"No, and do you remember their blueberry muffins? Like homemade…well, almost. How's Ralph doing? How's his foot feeling now?"

"It's getting better; the cast's coming off on Tuesday."

"How did he manage to fall over the ladder like that?"

Agnes turned a little pink in the face. "Oh, well, I was up on the ladder, you know, cleaning the windows and he didn't see the ladder."

"I thought Bob cleaned your windows?" I'll bet she was snooping again.

"Er…yes, well, ordinarily he does, yes. But he-"

"And the bump on Ralph's head. Did that happen at the same time?"

"What? Oh, well, when he tripped on the ladder, it caused me to drop the…er, sponge I had in my hand." I knew I should've put the strap to the binoculars around my neck. But surely Dotty doesn't know about them?

"Ralph got a bruise like that from a sponge? Amazing. Who would've thought," responded Dotty, feigning innocence. Washing her windows? Knocked out by a sponge? I don't think so. She was snooping, I'm sure of it.

"Ladies," said Mr. Emelio, the proprietor of the salon. He was a larger-than-life figure in his traditional orange suit and black bow tie. For a hair styling guru, his own hair was non-existent. His head was as shiny as a billiard ball. "Please excuse me for interrupting."

Agnes breathed an indiscernible sigh of relief. "Oh, are you ready for me?" asked Dotty.

Who is? thought Agnes. 

"Yes," said Mr. Emelio. "I'll get Katy to wash your hair. You'll like her, she's new. She's been with us a little over a week."


Tuesday 21 July, 10:40am

Stark and Ford were sat in the `Congressional Coolers' truck two streets from the clinic. Stark looked at his watch. "Five minutes, Ford. Let's get it on." The two men exchanged sinister glances, then Ford started up the truck. Stark reached into the backpack in his lap and pressed a switch. The big red LED timer read 6:20:00 and immediately the numbers began to count backwards. He closed the bag.  Once again, he checked that the safety was released on his sidearm.

Outside the clinic, the crowds were chanting and yelling, each group trying to drown out the noise of the other. There was a stronger police presence at the barriers than the previous day and it was obvious tensions were high. Dead on 10:45, the truck pulled up outside the front entrance to the clinic. Before getting out of the truck, they both put on their backpacks, and descended from the cab.  As planned, they opened up the side of the truck and lugged several bottles of water onto the dolly. As they turned towards the front steps of the clinic, all hell broke loose.

The barrier between the opposing groups was breached as angry protestors surged forwards. As they approached the other group, they returned the advance. The police tried to intervene and split up the groups but the numbers were overwhelming. From the top of the steps, Agent Davies scanned the crowds. He'd considered that a diversion might be used to breach security and wasn't totally surprised when something happened. He was surprised, however, at how quickly the police lost control.

His eyes swept the crowd once again and suddenly he locked eyes with a familiar face. He'd seen that face at the morning briefing. "Stark!" he exclaimed. As the crowd on the sidewalk surged again, the eye contact was broken and he lost track of his assailant. As Davies ran down the steps in pursuit, he radioed his men. "Stark is here! I lost him, but he's here somewhere. We need back-up here, now!"

Stark, followed closely by Ford, forced his way through hordes of people, some yelling, some pushing and shoving and a few attempting to throw punches amidst the crowds. Staying focused on his task Davies moved to the position he'd last seen Stark. He turned in a full three-sixty, desperately seeking his quarry who was wearing a blue `Congressional Coolers' jumpsuit. He had to find him again.  Lives depended on it. Then he saw him, the back of Stark's head bobbing amongst the crowd, seemingly oblivious to the scuffles around him, moving towards the clinic steps.

At that moment, police reinforcements arrived, together with Agency back up. The police took up station blocking the entrance to the clinic and Stark saw his plan was thwarted. Ford saw the cops and yanked on Stark's backpack, grabbing his attention. He yelled, "We're not gonna make it. We have to get outta here!" 

Stark nodded. Pointing up the street away from the chaos, he shouted, "That way!"

Davies was catching up as he saw Stark and Ford clear the rioting crowd and run down the street. As he continued his pursuit, Stark stopped running and turned. Raising his gun, he fired at his pursuer, then Stark turned again and ran for the nearest cover, dragging Ford behind him. Davies fell to the ground as his legs gave way from under him. He was aware of severe pain as he collapsed. Someone in the crowd screamed and Davies passed out.


Tuesday 21 July, 10:50am

The salon was filled with gossip as the stylists went about their business, talking to their clients. In the center of the melee was Mr. Emelio. He was directing operations, preparing his latest client for another stunning masterpiece, when the double doors from the street burst open and two men ran in. They had guns in their hands and carried backpacks. As they ran inside, all the faces in the salon turned to look at the source of the disturbance. All except Dotty, who had done her usual trick of falling asleep under the dryer.  Everyone else in the salon froze as though playing the children's game Statues. Stark forced the six customers and five staff members into a corner and held them at gunpoint.

Ford walked over to Dotty. "Hey!" There was no response. He poked Dotty with the nose of his pistol. "Hey!! Sleeping beauty!"

"What?" said a sleepy Dotty. "Am I done?" Looking into the mirror in front of her, she saw a man holding a gun on a woman under a dryer.  For a second, it didn't register that it was her. Gradually, she tore her gaze from the mirror and looked down to the actual gun, pointed at her chest. "What the-? What's going on?"

"Get over there!" Ford twitched his hand to his left, indicating Dotty should go join the rest of the shop's newly formed hostage association. When she didn't move quickly enough for him, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her out of the chair, pushing her violently across the room.

The other hostages were not taking their ordeal very well. The new assistant, Katy, was sobbing uncontrollably; others were whimpering or had stunned expressions. Dotty could see fear reflected in their eyes. Suddenly angry, she turned back to her assailant. "What's the meaning of this? What's going on? If my hair's ruined because of this . . .this . . . " she searched for a word, "this…hair-brained scheme, then I'll, I'll-"

"Shut up, Lady, why don't you!" yelled Stark. He turned to the other hostages. "Listen to me! We represent `Rights of the Unborn.'" He searched for something suitably hostage-y to say. "We're here to stop the murders done in the name of choice."

"Er . . . excuse me . . . " interrupted Dotty. Stark glared back at her. "In case you haven't noticed, this is a hair salon!" A couple of hostages laughed nervously.

"Quiet!!" ordered Stark.

Dotty was not. She continued, "Well, I just wondered what you thought you were doing? What you hoped to achieve, by holding up a hair salon? I mean, if you were called `Rights of the Unpermed' then maybe I'd understand, but…" By this time, Stark had had enough of Dotty. He pointed his 9mm into her face. At this, Dotty fell silent. Briefly.  Then, looking her attacker directly in the eye, and said, "Young man. It is very rude to-"

Stark started to pull back the trigger on his gun, all the while keeping it in Dotty's face. "So help me, I'll-"

Ford intervened, putting a hand on his forearm. "Keep it calm, Stark. We can't afford any more slip-ups." He turned to Dotty. "You'd better shut up before you get into more trouble."

Dotty said nothing but nodded and threw up her hands in surrender. She turned to her fellow hostages and spoke quietly. "I see good manners aren't considered important in hostage-taking circles." A couple of the other hostages smiled, half-heartedly, impressed at her attitude.

"Okay," said Stark, addressing the hostages. "As you can see, you have become involved in our little… er, conflict, here and you are now our hostages. If you sit down and…" he looked pointedly at Dotty, "shut up, this whole thing will go much more easily. You should be out of here and back with your families in no time."

Dotty opened her mouth as though to say something, then closed it again as Ford approached them with a roll of duct tape. He bound the hands of each hostage as they sat on the floor.


Tuesday 21 July, 11:10pm

Amanda looked around as the back door to the surveillance truck opened and Francine clambered in. Amanda, who had taken that position, while Francine went to talk to the officer on scene, removed the headphones she'd been wearing to listen to the radio traffic. So far, the captors had refused to respond to the negotiator, either by telephone or the police bullhorn and the Metro ERT were running out of options.

"So, do we know why they're holding the hair salon rather than the clinic?" Amanda asked Francine.

"Well," Francine began, "I spoke to the cops on scene at the time. According to them, these wiseguys were trying to enter the clinic just as the two sides were getting nasty. They got blocked and ran.  Seems Davies recognized one of the guys from Augie's pictures and set off after him. Once they got clear of the crowd, one of them turned and fired."

"Did you get to talk to Davies?"

"Yeah, they were just putting him in the ambulance."

"Oh, my gosh, is he okay?"

"He will be. The NEST guys are on standby over at Parker General. The bullet lodged in his thigh but missed the bone. I spoke to him before they left and he said he only saw two guys and that they headed toward the hair salon next door."

"Emelio's," said Amanda.

"That's right. Seems a strange place to go. The nearest cover I suppose."

"Poor Mr. Emelio."


"Well, it's not the first time his salon's been attacked. Lee and I were here a couple years ago and there was this big fight and the place was trashed. My mother slept right through it. She was under the dryer." Suddenly, Amanda turned pale as she remembered her mother's plans for the day. She looked at her watch. "Oh, no."

"Amanda?" asked Francine. "Are you okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"More like a nightmare. I think Mother could still be in there." She pointed to the salon.

Francine was beginning to understand why Amanda's face had turned white. "What? Your mother? Why?"

Amanda gave Francine a look of contempt. In an uncharacteristically sarcastic voice, Amanda said, "She's buying groceries." Francine looked confused. "She's getting her hair done, what do you think?"

"So let's get this straight. Your mother is inside Emelio's, where two armed gunmen are currently holding the customers hostage? Now I see where you get it from. Does your family come with a psycho-magnet, or is it a skill you develop as time goes on?"

"Fran-cine," Amanda said, glaring at her current partner, though mentally acknowledging a certain amount of truth in the remark.

"So," asked Francine, "is the police negotiator getting anywhere? I heard him using the bullhorn."

Amanda shook her head. "No. They wouldn't answer the phone so he reverted to the bullhorn in the hope that that would get a response."


"Nothing. For now we all just sit and wait."


Tuesday 21 July, 1:45pm

More than two hours later, the hostages at Emelio's had quieted. The sobbing had subsided, leaving a generally subdued atmosphere as the customers and employees sat on the floor, leaning against the outside wall of Emelio's office. Ford sat on a chair in front of them, glaring from face to face whenever anyone moved. Meanwhile Stark paced back and forth by the door to the street.

Suddenly, Dotty spoke up. "Er, excuse me?"

Ford rolled his eyes before asking, "What?"

"Well, we've been sitting here for a long time now and, er, well, I suspect that, well, if we're going to be here much longer, then you are going to have to do something about bathroom breaks. Otherwise, things could start to get a little…difficult."

"God, woman! Don't you ever shut up?"

Dotty knew it was a rhetorical question, but couldn't help saying in reply, albeit quietly, "Well, not as a rule, no." One of the hostages laughed nervously at the comment and Dotty reached over to her to touch her shoulder with her taped hands. "Don't you worry, Katy. We'll be fine. These people will have to give up, eventually."

Ford jumped to his feet and yelled, "Agghhhh!!!" He picked up the chair he'd been sitting on and threw it at the mirrors over the sinks to the side of him. Bottles of various solutions and other hair-styling paraphernalia fell to the floor.

As the mirror shattered into thousands of tiny fragments, Dotty leaned over to Katy conspiratorially. "See, dear, that's seven years of bad luck he's just got himself, right there."

Katy couldn't help but smile at the feisty woman sitting beside her. She'd been terrified at first, but Dotty's calm demeanor had helped her get herself under control. "I'm glad you're here," she said, with half a smile.

"Well, I'm not," returned Dotty, with a wink. "I don't think they're too thrilled to have me here either." She nodded to their captors.  Dotty leaned toward Katy. Though her hands were tied, there was enough leeway that she could raise them over Katy's head, enveloping her in her arms, offering comfort. Dotty rested her chin on the top of Katy's head. "Don't worry, we'll get out of this all right. I'm sure the authorities are doing all they can." Silence returned to the hostages.


Tuesday 21 July, 1:55pm

In the surveillance truck, Francine was bored and Amanda had started biting her fingernails. Despite several attempts, the hostage negotiator could not make contact with those inside the salon.

"What are we going to do, Francine?"

Francine looked across to Amanda. "Do? What can we do? At least, not while Metro retains jurisdiction."

"But my mother," Amanda's spoke nervously.

Francine reached out to Amanda, placing a comforting hand on Amanda's shoulder. "It'll be all right, you know."

"Will it?"

"Sure it will."

"You don't know that, Francine."

Francine nodded her agreement. "Yes, you're right. I don't know that. But we've been in worse scrapes than this before, haven't we? And we're still here."

"Yes, Francine. But this time Lee's not here to save the day and we don't even have any chocolate." Amanda and Francine shared a half-hearted chuckle.

"Well, at least in the back of this truck we're not running out of air, right?" Suddenly, Francine jumped up. "Right!"

Taken aback by her partner's sudden movement. "Right, what?"

"Right, this. We've been waiting and waiting for Metro to do something, right?" Amanda nodded. "Well I reckon it's time the Agency took charge of this operation."

"But Francine, we don't have jurisdiction here."

"You stay here. If anything happens, call me on the car phone. I'll be back as soon as I can. Trust me."

Amanda looked puzzled. "Where are you going?"

I'm going to call in a few debts."


"More than that you don't need to know Amanda. See ya later."

"Bye," replied a confused Amanda to a closing surveillance truck door.


Tuesday 21 July, 3:05pm

Emelio's was silent. Even Stark had stopped pacing to sit in a chair he'd pulled to the door, watching the activity outside the salon.  Suddenly, the silence was shattered by the telephone ringing again.  Everyone jumped. Ford looked at Stark who didn't move. "Ignore it!" hissed Stark. The caller was persistent, however. As the ringing continued, the hostages were becoming edgy and the whimpering noises were getting louder. Katy had started to cry again.

Releasing her hold on Katy, Dotty stood up. "Oh, this is just ridiculous!" she exclaimed. She picked up the telephone on the nearby desk. "Hello?" Stark was immediately at her side with the gun back in her face. Dotty wasn't speaking and took the phone away from her ear just long enough to push away the muzzle of the gun away from her, then she listened. She held the receiver toward him. "It's for you."  Stark just looked blankly at her. Unfazed, Dotty put the phone back to her ear. "I'm sorry, my captors can't come to the phone at the moment. This is Dotty West, one of the hostages, can I help you?"

This woke Stark from his reverie. "Give me that!" he yelled, snatching the phone from Dotty's hand. Before speaking into the phone, Stark looked at Ford. "Lock her in that storeroom. Now!" he ordered. Then he turned his attention to the phone. "What?"

Ford pushed Dotty out of the salon into the corridor that housed the storeroom, guiding her with his gun like a cattle prod. As the door slammed shut, and Ford turned the key, he heard Dotty exclaim, "Well, really!"

As Ford stood outside of the storeroom door, Stark joined him.

"What did they want?" asked Ford, referring to this latest call.

"Same thing. Exchange the hostages for our escape."

"So," said Ford. "What did you say?"

"I told `em not to hold their breath."

"What are we gonna do, Stark?"

"Hell, I don't know. I didn't exactly plan for taking hostages in a hair salon did I? All we had to do was sneak in, plant the bomb and get out of town before anyone was any wiser. Now we're stuck in here.  It's the last time I take a job from those anti-abortion people. They told me it would be a simple job."

"Simple?" asked Ford. "This has been anything but."

"Yeah," agreed Stark. "I can't believe the same people who're funding our operation prevented us from carrying it out."

"Well, it wasn't just them."

"No, but talk about unprofessional. When I get outta here, I'm going to have to have a little talk with our employers. Tell them our rates have gone up."

"What about the bomb?"

"That still goes off, we can't stop it now, so we have to get out of here. We can leave that behind. How long have we got?"

"About two hours."

"Right, then I think we need to start upping the ante. Let's get back in there." Stark indicated the salon and they returned to the hostage-filled room.


Tuesday 21 July, 3:30pm

The car's brakes squealed as the Agency car pulled alongside the surveillance truck. Billy got out with Francine in tow. In his hand he held authorization papers. He was determined to take charge of the operation. Francine grabbed Amanda from the surveillance truck, while Billy headed straight for the Mobile Command Center. Running to try to catch up with their Section Chief, Francine told the puzzled Amanda, "Come on. I'll explain later." They followed Billy as he strode purposefully into the trailer serving as a temporary HQ.

Billy ignored the protests of the guarding officers as he strode across the trailer. The Metro Lieutenant was already on his feet and met Billy half way. Billy stood nose to nose with Cooper. "I'm taking control and I'm doing it now." Billy spoke with a quiet tone of authority as he shoved the papers into Cooper's face.

Cooper was having none of it. "You're taking what? I don't think so. This is a Special Tactics Operation. There's a hostage situation and we don't need the Agency involved. You don't have the authority."

Francine and Amanda entered the room. Billy acknowledged their presence and returned his gaze to Cooper. "You don't think I have authority?" Cooper shook his head. "These papers are signed by the Chief of Police. You might want to take a look at them." He threw them at Cooper and they bounced off his chest to the floor. "A Congressman's life has been threatened, there's rioting in the streets, one of my officers has been shot and a group of innocents has been taken hostage. All part of your operation. I'm taking control before you screw anything else up."

"This is a hostage situation," interrupted Cooper, arrogantly. "It's a police matter and I have the situation under control."

"Man, you don't have control. Don't you see that?"

"Just get outta here, Melrose, and you'll see that the situation is safe in my capable hands." Cooper grinned.

"Your capable what!? So when do they get here?" Billy asked.

The grin dropped from Cooper's face. "Oh, that's funny, Melrose. You doing turns at the Comedy Club these days? You're a natural."

"Why you…" Billy grabbed Cooper's lapels.

Cooper raised his hands, "Touchy guy!" He laughed.

Billy forced himself to regain control and let go of the man. There was no way he would be shown up by this idiot. In a deliberate tone, Billy said, "I am taking over this operation. I'm doing it now and I'm doing it fast. Get your men out of here."

"Oh, I'm quaking in my boots, Melrose. You think you can threaten me?"

"I don't need to threaten you, Cooper. You are an embarrassment to the uniform. You've done nothing since this thing started."

"We put a negotiator on it, but these wiseguys won't talk. So we wait."

"Wait? Wait!!? That's your big master plan?"

"They'll have to come out eventually."

"Yeah, but how many hostages have to die before that happens?"

"No one's gonna die, Melrose, there'd be no point."

Billy's blood pressure shot through the roof. "Great!" he bellowed. "So now you're doing psychology 101? Do you really think these guys are thinking rationally? They've already sent one bomb and are now threatening the lives of innocent bystanders! Their plan's gone wrong and you think they'll be acting reasonably? If they were going to be reasonable, they'd have turned themselves in by now. They want to escape. They've already shot one of my guys and there's no reason to think they'll have any qualms about killing a hostage or two in the process."

Amanda and Francine flinched at Billy's tirade. Even Cooper had blanched a little. He knew he was running out of options, but he wasn't going to give Billy Melrose the satisfaction of admitting it.

Cooper indicated the women standing behind Billy. "And these are the agents you've got lined up to solve this problem?" said Cooper sarcastically. "A housewife and a whore?"

"Why you-" Francine stepped forward but Amanda put her hand on her shoulder and Francine stopped.

"That's Agent Desmond to you." Billy was angry. "She's a better agent than you could ever hope to be."

"I'll never understand how I got involved with you," muttered Francine.

"Cos I'm a passionate guy, Franny," he mocked.

Billy saw red. "You're not the only one who's passionate. Only my passion is for the job." He emphasized this point by poking Cooper in the chest before turning away and staring out of the window.

"You and your damned Agency!" Cooper yelled. "You think you're sooo smart. You flounce in here, taking all the glory and screw everyone else. You don't give a damn about loyalty." By now he had lost Billy's attention so he turned to look at Francine.

She replied harshly, "Cooper, you are the screw up. Why do you think the Agency didn't want you? Cos you wouldn't know loyalty if it smacked you over the head. You bailed during that operation. You left your guys hanging in the breeze and saved your own ass. We don't operate that way and that's why I reported you. You're a liability. If you didn't have connections you'd have been booted from more than just the Agency training program. You'd be out of all law enforcement agencies in the United States. You'd be lucky to be allowed to clean the Police social club."

"I have this job on merit and I-"

Billy turned back from the window and calmly interrupted, "You have this job because you're brother's the Mayor. Don't kid yourself it's anything else."

Cooper changed the subject. "Why do you even care, Melrose? What's so special about this case?" His face was red as he spoke.

Billy spoke quietly and deliberately. "I care when any life is threatened, Cooper. Which is more than I can say for you. But this time, one of my agent's family is at risk and I assure you that we will get her out safely. Whatever it takes."

Cooper was stunned momentarily. "You what? You're taking over because of family obligations?" He raised his eyebrows, "You couldn't make this stuff up!"

"Mr. Cooper," Amanda stepped forward and tried to diffuse the tension in the room. "My mother is one of the hostages."

Cooper started to laugh. "Nice one, Billy. Way to be objective there, huh? You want to handle this operation, my operation, because the housewife's mother's a hostage?"

"Cooper." It was Francine's turn to step forward and she glared, unblinking at the man who had briefly played an intimate role in her life. "This is Agent Stetson. She's a professional. She could take you down with one hand behind her back…both hands," she growled. "We are going to ensure that nothing happens to her mother." In a quieter voice, she continued, "I cannot, however, make the same guarantees for you." She paused. "Remember Alexandria?"

Subconsciously, Cooper's hands moved to protect a vulnerable part of his anatomy as the memories of his last run-in with Francine came flooding back. He took a step back and sat down in the chair, defeated.

Billy leaned over the desk next to Cooper's chair. "Now these agents," he paused, "my agents," he indicated the two women, "are going to run this operation. You can step down or I can push you out.  It's in your interest to settle for the former. That way, you might keep your job a little longer."

Francine laughed. "Yeah, not to mention part of your anatomy you seem quite attached to." 

Cooper glared from Billy to Francine and back. He stood up. "Take it!" He threw the file he was holding onto the desk. "It's all yours.  You can handle the whole damn thing. I could care less. I was right about you Agency people. You're all psychos." Cooper grabbed up some files from the desk and exited the temporary office. 


Chapter Five

Tuesday 21 July, 3:55pm


Ford turned away from his boring observation of the hostages at gunpoint, "What?"

"We need to talk." He indicated the hostages Ford had been watching over. "Leave them. They're not going anywhere."

Ford got out of the chair and joined Stark in the corridor by the storeroom.

Stark was still angry. "Why did those damned protestors have to pick that exact moment to start a fight? We should've been in and out. We would've been home free."

"How come that guy was onto us so fast? He pulled a gun on us."

"I don't know," replied Stark. "But he won't be doing that to anyone else for a while. It's more important that we figure out a way outta here. The explosives are gonna blow whatever happens and we need to be long gone when they do."

"But this place is surrounded," said Ford, weakly. "We're never gonna get out of here."

Stark pulled the blinds on the corridor window back a little to see snipers on the roof across the alley. Coldly he spoke, "We'll get away. And we'll leave the explosives here. We won't get them out anyway." He lowered his gaze to the entrance to the alleyway to see two cop cars blocking that exit. Police officers, with their guns drawn, leaning across the hoods. "We're gonna have to use the hostages. Show them we're serious. Use that to get us transportation out."

"You think they'll go for that?"

"I'm not planning on making it an option. What time is it?"

"Nearly four."

"Right," said Stark. "We go back in there and tell the negotiators we want a truck to get us out of here. In exchange we'll give them the hostages."

"You really think it's gonna work?" asked Ford. "As simple as that?"

"It might if we shoot one of the hostages. Let `em know we're serious. Hell, I've already shot one guy today. What's another? Let's go."

They re-entered the salon and felt the gaze of all the hostages fall on them. Stark crossed to the telephone and picked it up. "I want a truck outside and clear passage out of here or I'm shooting a hostage. You've got fifteen minutes." He hung up without waiting for an answer. He turned to the hostages. "So, which one of you is it gonna be?" he asked.

The entire group of hostages visibly cowered against the wall.


Tuesday 21 July, 4:05pm

"Are they nuts?" Francine asked her partner. "How on earth do they think they're gonna get out of here in a truck?"

"Do you really think they're serious about shooting a hostage?"

"There's no reason to think not, Amanda. I mean, shooting Davies didn't seem to bother them."

"Yes, but he was armed. These people are unarmed, defenseless."

Francine saw the concern in Amanda's eyes. She reached out to place her hand on Amanda's arm. "She'll be all right, Amanda."

"You don't know that."

Francine looked a little guilty at that. She shook her head. "You're right, I don't. Look, Amanda, we'll get her out of there."

"I hope so."

"Hey! We're the best…well, almost." Francine winked.

Amanda smiled. "We will get her out, Francine. And the others. Lee would expect nothing less, right?"

"Right." She nodded.

Amanda pulled the blueprints back to the surface of the desk in front of her in the Command Center. "The only way I can see to go in is along the alleyway, here." She pointed to the map, indicating the delivery entrance. "We know there are only two of them and they can't watch the back and the front easily if they're distracted or something."

"So, maybe we can use the phone to distract them while we sneak in the back door."

"And if they shoot the hostages?" Amanda was chewing her lip again.

"We're gonna have to be quick so they don't have time to realize what's happening. Besides, they don't seem to be very smart."

"I'm just worried about mother, Francine. I'm scared what could happen to her."

"You can't let it cloud your professional judgment, Amanda. You have a job to do. The Agency and all the hostages are counting on you. You have to set aside your emotions."

"What? Like you and Cooper?" She attempted a laugh.

"Er, no, not like that," Francine hedged. "You know what he said to me?"

"No, what?" Amanda asked, curiously.

"Women were too unstable for police work. Of course, he waited until we'd been out on a few…er…dates by then. Said he was just indulging me."

"What did you do?"

"I indulged him, all right. Right into next week!" She grinned. "I got over him in a hurry. Not that there was much to get over. I don't know what I was thinking."

"Was this before the Station One thing?"

Francine nodded. "About a month before. I couldn't believe it when I heard what had happened on the overnight exercise, but that's a story for another time. We have work to do here."

Amanda cleared her throat. "Yes."

"We need to get in there right now, Amanda. Are you ready?"

"Just you and me?" asked Amanda, hesitantly. She wouldn't have thought twice about it if she had been with Lee, but this was Francine! And her mother's life could be at stake.

"Amanda, you've been a full agent for almost a year now. Besides, I've read your personal file."

"You have?"

"Yes." She winked. "And Lee's told me about some of the scrapes you've both gotten into that didn't make it to the official files. We can handle this."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. I'm sure. One of us needs to go in and create a diversion. While they're not paying attention, the other one gets the drop on them."

"Maybe I should create the diversion? Lee always says my black-belt in confusion is my secret weapon."

"He's got that right," Francine responded sarcastically. Amanda shot her a dark look and Francine grinned. "Hey! I'm just agreeing with your husband. Look, you and I have had our differences over the years, but in spite of all that, I know that you'll back me up in a crisis. We're a team." She smiled. "Though if anyone finds out I said that, there'll be big trouble!" It was Francine's turn to glare at her partner. "Now, are you coming?"

More positively, she said, "Yes, let's go, partner." Amanda nodded as she took out her gun from her purse, and released the safety.  Francine did the same with her gun and the women exited the truck.


Tuesday 21 July, 4:15pm

Stark looked at his watch. "Seems like they didn't take me seriously," he said, coldly. "You!" He looked directly at Emelio. "You're the boss around here, right?" Emelio nodded and his face whitened, contrasting sharply with the bright colors of his suit. "Stand up, and move over there. Ford, help him." With his hands taped together it was tricky to get to his feet, but with Ford's help he managed. Ford pushed him to isolate him from the others. 

"Mr. Emelio," said Stark. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to shoot you."

"No-no," said Emelio, nervously. "Surely that cannot be. I have done nothing wrong. What can I do?"

The whimpering from the hostages had started up again, and this time there was no Dotty to hold them all together.

"Unfortunately," Stark continued, "they have forced me to make a point. They think they can sit and wait-" The blast of a gun rang out as Stark shot his hostage, without missing a beat in his conversation. "while I get tired, or stupid or something."

Emelio looked quizzically at Stark. He was still standing, but he'd heard a gun shot. What was happening? Stark nodded his head to indicate Emelio's arm and Emelio followed his gaze. That was when he saw the expanding red patch of blood on his upper arm, blending with the orange fabric. The orange-suited man fell backwards in a dead faint. One of the hostages screamed as the telephone rang out.

"No!" shouted Stark into the phone. "No one's dead. But the proprietor is missing a small chunk of his arm. Get me that truck, now!" He slammed the receiver back onto the cradle.


Tuesday 21 July, 4:20pm

Wearing a bright red cleaner's smock, Amanda crouched by the rear door of Emelio's as she picked the lock. Francine stood to the side and waited as Amanda disappeared inside, a mop and bucket in her hand. She dropped the bucket heavily on the floor and started to mop, loudly.

Hearing the noise in the corridor, Ford opened the door leading to the salon and, seeing Amanda at work in the hallway, cried out, "Who the hell are you?"

Neutrally, Amanda responded, "I'm the cleaner, who are you?" She allowed her eyes to drop down to Ford's hand, holding a gun. She feigned surprise. "You have a gun," she said quietly. "Why do you have a gun?"

"Get in here!" yelled Ford.

As Amanda stepped into the salon, her eyes scanned the room. Her stomach gave a leap when she saw her mother wasn't amongst the captives. Where is she? Her thoughts were interrupted by an encouraging shove by Ford, forcing her to join the other hostages.

"Who are you?" salon owner Emelio asked weakly from where he sat on the floor. With taped hands, he attempted to press a towel against the wound to staunch the bleeding.

Ford looked suspiciously at Amanda but without skipping a beat Amanda replied, "I work with Janine at the agency. You know, `Come Clean?' She fell on a newly mopped floor over at `I'm Alive,' you know, the fitness center? The one over at M street? The bone just snapped, in two places, can you believe it?" Emelio opened his mouth and looked puzzled, but before he could say anything further, Amanda rambled on. "A compound fracture I think they call it. She's going to be on crutches for weeks so the Agency just gave me the keys and the instructions and I came on over."

Suddenly, Stark exploded. "God! Another talker! Listen lady. I don't know how you got in here-"

Amanda interrupted. "In here? Well, I used the key, I have the key, so I just opened it right up and came in. The bucket was right where Janine said it would be – I saw her over at the hospital – and she said it would be in the bathroom and it was, so I just came right on in and started working. Of course, I didn't know there'd be people with guns here. If I'd known that, I wouldn't have taken the job. Why do you have a gun?" Amanda took a breath.

"AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What is it with all the talking today?" Stark pointed the gun at Amanda. "Now look, lady. Just sit down there with the rest of them." Amanda sat on the floor. "Did you lock the door behind you?"

"Of course I did. I'll have you know I'm a certified, bonded mopper…" Ouch, maybe that was a little too much?

Ignoring Amanda, Stark gave an order. "Ford, check out the back. Make sure everything's secure."

"Right, Stark."

Ford pushed the door open and stepped into the corridor, the door closing behind him. He felt something cold touch the side of his face. He jumped at the sensation and swiveled around to see what it was but was met with the feel of steel against his forehead as Francine pistol-whipped him. He fell to the ground, out cold.

Francine reached for the door to the salon and quietly opened it. She saw Stark with his back to her as Amanda stood before him, still talking. Hoping to take advantage of the diversion, Francine stepped into the salon, gun drawn, and yelled, "Freeze!"

Stark saw Francine's entrance reflected in the salon mirrors on the wall. As Francine yelled, he grabbed Amanda and spun them around so that Amanda was placed between him and Francine. Pointing his gun at Francine, he calmly said, "You freeze." Francine sighed as Stark held out his hand. She placed her gun into it. "Who are you anyway?" he asked.

"I'm a cop," Francine replied. "Just an off duty cop. I heard what was happening on the radio."

"You expect me to buy that? Hell, it's like Grand Central Station in here! What is it? Is there a sign on the back door saying welcome or something?" He looked back into the hallway. "Ford! Where'd you go?"

Francine replied, "I think he's sleeping right now."

"AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HATE women!! Why did I even get up this morning?"

"Homeless shelter kick you out?" enquired Francine, sarcastically. Stark forcibly pushed Francine towards the other hostages, causing her to stumble. "Mind the heels, bub! I've already lost one pair this week!"

"I think I'll just shoot myself now…it'll be easier."

"Works for me. You can even use my gun if you want," responded Francine. "Hi!" she said to the hostages as she leaned nonchalantly against the wall.

Amanda leaned in Francine's direction. "I think this guy's losing it, Francine. I think he's going to start shooting again soon. He really looks like he's on the edge."

"Well, let's see if we can push him all the way over then, huh? Hey, dogbreath!" Francine addressed their captor. "Why don't you just give it up? This place is surrounded you know."

"Why me? Why do I get the mouthiest, noisiest, most annoying bunch of hostages ever on this planet?"

"Just lucky I guess," returned Francine.

"Hostages are never this much trouble on TV!" ranted Stark.

"Maybe you should watch another channel," razzed Francine.

Stark strode over to Francine. "Maybe you should try keeping your mouth shut!" With that he slapped Francine across her face. Francine responded in the only way she knew how. She raised her knee in a lifting motion. At that second, Stark took a step backwards so Francine didn't get the full result she was hoping for and as Francine moved forward to follow through, Stark began to lift his gun to point at her.

"Noooooo!!!!" yelled Amanda, hitting Stark from the side at a full run. His attention full on Francine, he hadn't seen her coming and the two of them ended up in a big heap on the floor, her hands reaching for the gun in his hand.

The gun went off and Amanda heard an "Oomph," sound in the background. She saw Francine fall to the ground.

With Amanda distracted, Stark was able to push her off him and she was forced to take cover behind one of the chairs. Stark fired at Amanda but his aim was way off and the bullet hit the hair dryer, pieces flying everywhere as the plastic cover smashed. Amanda could see Francine lying on the floor but she couldn't reach her partner to check on her. She saw Katy crawling towards Francine, then ducked as another bullet ricocheted off the upright metal part of the chair and Amanda had to dive away across the floor, landing amongst the miscellany of hair-care products that had fallen there earlier. She grabbed several objects and threw them in Stark's direction.

Another shot rang out and this time plaster fell from the ceiling. Diverted by Amanda, Stark's legs were swept from under him as he fired. Francine had entangled her legs with his. As he fell, Stark reached out with his gun hand to save himself and the gun fell from his hand, skittering across the floor out of reach.

Amanda ran across the salon, with a pair of scissors in one hand and a can of hairspray in the other. She pointed them both at Stark's face. "Don't move. I'm armed and I know how to use these."

Stark glanced at the scissors, then the can of in Amanda's hand and smirked. "You've gotta be kidding."

"I wouldn't mess with a suburban housewife packing ultrahold," responded Francine. "You'll come out worse, I can assure you."

Amanda thrust her can hand towards his face to emphasize Francine's warning. The anger on Stark's face faded and he looked more like he was about to cry. "Why me? Why me?" he whimpered.

As Amanda looked to Francine, she could see a big red bloodstain spreading over the left shoulder of Francine's blouse. "Are you all right?" Amanda asked.

"What?" replied Francine. "Oh, the shoulder? Yes, the shoulder is fine. This blouse, however, was a designer original!" She glared at Stark, "I should just shoot you now."

Francine bent down to pick up the gun and covered Stark as Amanda rolled him onto his stomach. Taking her cuffs from her jeans pocket, she handcuffed him behind his back. Stark then shuffled himself around into a sitting position.

"Uh-oh," said Francine. Amanda looked at her partner, who had turned very white. She reached for a chair and placed it behind Francine who slumped into it. "You'd better take this, too." She handed the gun to Amanda.

"Are you okay?"

"Sure," chuckled Francine, weakly. In an attempt to deflect Amanda's concern she asked, "Didn't your mother tell you never to run with scissors?"

"My mother!" cried Amanda. She looked to the hostages, "Did anyone see a lady here earlier, she's so tall," Amanda held her hand at her mother's height, "Her name's Dotty West."

"Dotty West?" questioned Katy quietly. "She was here."

"Was?" asked a puzzled Amanda. "So where did she go?"

"Well," Katy replied. "She wouldn't stop talking, so he," she pointed to Stark, "locked her out back, in the storeroom."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" asked Francine.

Without even looking at her, Amanda said, "Shut up, Francine." Amanda turned to the other hostages. As she bent to cut through the tape on the first hostage, she said, "I think now would be a good time for you to get out of here." To the newly freed hostage she said, "Can you take care of the others?" The assistant nodded and Amanda addressed the grateful group. "Be careful how you leave - through the front door would be best. Katy, can you come here and look after Francine for me?" Looking back at the hostages now starting to head towards the exit, "You. Mr. Emelio isn't it?"

"Yes," said the ashen-faced man, surveying the shop.

"When you get outside, tell them we need a paramedic in here."

"Yes," was the only reply as the man shuffled out the front.

"You might want to get one for yourself, while you're at it." Francine called to Emelio, as he left.

"Are you going to get Dotty?" Katy asked Amanda.

"I sure am."

"I left the other guy lying in the hallway, Amanda. He's out cold. Take some tape or something to tie him up."


Tuesday 21 July, 4:35pm

Amanda picked up the duct tape off the desk and headed out into the hallway. When she got there, the hallway was empty. Amanda looked at the storeroom door that was no longer closed. The keys were dangling from the keyhole. "Oh, well. Here goes nothing." With her best John Wayne swagger, gun pointing in front of her, Amanda stepped forward and pushed the storeroom door fully open. What remaining color she had in her face drained as she looked into the face of her mother. Ford, who had blood congealing in streaks down his face from the cut where Francine had hit him, was holding a bottle of peroxide to Dotty's eyes.

"A-man-da!" cried out her mother. "What are you doing here?" Dotty's eyes fell to the gun in her daughter's hand. "And what are you doing with that…that…that gun?" Amanda saw confusion and fear in her mother's eyes.

Amanda thought calm authority was the way to go. "Hello, Mother. I see you've been having a busy day."

"I'll blind her," interjected Ford, squeezing the bottle so a little of the solution squirted into the room. Amanda flinched but Dotty remained still. "Now get out of my way."

"I don't think you're going anywhere. And if you hurt my mother, I will be forced to shoot you." Was that a bluff? Even Amanda wasn't sure but she played the only card she had.

As Amanda looked into Ford's eyes, and attempted to stare him down, she could see nearly as much fear in his eyes as in those of her mother. Calmly, she said, "Now, put down the bottle." Silence. No one moved. Amanda raised the gun to point it directly at Ford's head over her mother's shoulder.

"Amanda?" Dotty's voice cracked as she spoke her daughter's name.

"You'll be okay Mother. I can handle this," she said, as she continued to stare down the man threatening Dotty.

Suddenly, Dotty moved slightly, raising then lowering her foot sharply on Ford's instep. He yelped and Dotty elbowed him in his ribs. Surprised, Ford relaxed his grip on Dotty and she ran over to Amanda, who used her free hand to guide her mother behind her protectively. Amanda now had her gun directly at Ford and he had no means of finding cover.

"All right, all right, I give up," he cried. He backed up as far as he could go and allowed his body to slide down the wall to sit on the floor. He put his head in his hands.

"Well, I don't understand what's going on, but I'm glad to see you, Amanda."

"I'm glad to see you too, Mother." Amanda smiled and took her mother's hand in hers. Surreptitiously, Amanda engaged the safety and placed the gun in the belt of her pants, at the small of her back. She then took her Mother's other hand in her now free hand.

"Now tell me, young lady. Why are you here? And what are you doing with a gun?"

"A gun, Mother?" asked Amanda, with her best innocent expression. "What gun?" Amanda released her mother's hands and held her open hands to show her mother, as though showing her they were clean before dinner.

"Hmm," was Dotty's reply.

Looking a little uncomfortable, yet very relieved, Amanda reached around and draped her arm around Dotty's shoulders. "Let's get you out of here, Mother. Explanations can wait."

They exited the storeroom and Amanda locked the door behind her. As they returned to the salon Dotty indicated the smock, "That's a lovely color on you, Amanda."


Tuesday 21 July, 4:50pm

Amanda removed the smock as she and her mother re-entered the salon. A variety of people with different acronyms on the back of their jackets were present. Amanda also recognized a couple of Agency colleagues. The last of the hostages were being escorted outside, with blankets around their shoulders. Paramedics were attending to Francine.

Amanda crossed to her partner. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?"

"I'm sure, Amanda," said Francine crossly. Then she relaxed a little. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap like that."

"That's okay. I wish I could come with you to the hospital, but I need to finish up here, you understand?"

"Of course, Amanda. It's just a flesh wound. No I don't need a gurney!" she exclaimed.

The paramedic who was attending her flinched at her outburst as he tried to maneuver her onto the rolling stretcher. "It's protocol," he said.

"I don't care, I can walk. It's just my arm."

"Francine, let the man do his job. Listen. I'll get someone from the Agency to come over to the hospital and pick you up. Okay? I mean, you really shouldn't be driving with your arm like that. Not that you'd have a car there anyway."

"What? Oh, okay Amanda. Yes, you do that." Reluctantly, Francine sat on the gurney, though she refused to lie down. The EMT guy knew when not to press a patient too far.

As Francine was being pushed through the door, Amanda called out, "When shall I tell Efraim to pick you up?" She chuckled.

"What? Nooooo!!" The rest of Francine's expletives were muffled as the door to Emelio's closed behind her.

As the various law enforcement officials dispersed outside, Amanda dismissed the final Agency operative with instructions to call Beaman. Just then, Emelio re-entered his salon, a bandage wrapped around his upper arm. He stood framed in the doorway, surveying the scene, at the devastation that was once his salon. His eyes swept from the mess to meet Dotty's gaze. A look of recognition fell across his face. "You! Again!"

Dotty looked puzzled. "Me again?"

"It…it…it was you. You were here last time this place got trashed. Those two men, brawling in here. You were…you were under the dryer." His attention turned to Amanda. "You were here then, too!" he said, accusingly.

Amanda looked embarrassed. "Erm…well…nice to see you again, Mr. Emelio," she feigned cheeriness.

"Nice?" He spoke too calmly, then he erupted like Jamie's volcano with the little village at the bottom. "Nice!? Look what happened to my place! Again!!!! What is wrong with you? You're a jinx! How could this happen twice? Why does this happen to me? Why?" His mouth continued to open and close, but no further sounds were emitted.

A man in an Emergency Response Team vest came into the salon with a blanket in his hand. He placed it around Emelio's shoulders. "Mr. Emelio. You really should come with me. We're going to need a statement."

"But…this mess…but…" he squeaked, as he allowed himself to be led away.

As he turned, Amanda patted him on the shoulder. "Don't you worry, Mr. Emelio. It'll clean up. Trust me. It'll be as good as new in no time." Emelio and the ERT man left, leaving Amanda alone in the salon with Dotty. Amanda turned her attention to her mother, who was sitting behind the reception desk. Amanda perched on the end of the desk and looked at her mother. "Your hair looks nice," she said, a slight twinkle returning to her eyes.

"Oh, very funny," Dotty replied, reaching up to touch her the rollers that were no longer firmly secured in her hair. Amanda returned her mother's smile. "I don't think I'd better go on my date looking like this."

"You could be right. So, how are you Mother?"

"Me? Oh, I'm all right Amanda. A little shaky but nothing that a little Galliano and milk won't put right." She smiled. "Now, do you want to tell me what's going on?"

Amanda started to study the floor tiles. "No. Not really, Mother."

"Well, tough," Dotty replied.

"Later, Mother. We need to get out of here."

Suddenly, Dotty looked at her daughter. "Amanda?"

"Yes, Mother?"

"With all those people milling around here just now…I didn't see anyone with a jacket that said `Bomb Squad.' Don't you think that's odd?"

Amanda looked curiously at her mother. "Bomb squad? Why would there be anyone here from the Bomb Squad?"

"To defuse the bomb, silly."

Now Amanda was looking worried. "Bomb?"

"Yes, didn't I tell you? When I was in the storeroom, I heard them talking. They said `the bomb is set for 5 o'clock. Something like that anyway."

"Something like that, Mother? "What did they actually say?"

"Five o'clock. I'm sure they said five o'clock."

"Did they have it with them when they came in? Did you see a bomb, Mother?"

"Well…let me think…when they came in I was under the dryer so I didn't really see them. But I think I saw a bag or something earlier.  Now where did they put it?" Dotty started looking under the desk and looking around the salon. Amanda did likewise.

"Could this be it Mother?" Amanda had found a backpack on a chair that had swivelled to face the wall during the scuffle, hiding it from view.


"I think I've found it." Carefully, Amanda, opened the bag

"Amanda," interrupted Dotty.

"Not now, Mother."

"Amanda," said Dotty, more firmly.

"Mother, I've got to do this carefully. Please don't distract me. Now shush."

"Amanda West-King-Stetson, don't you shush me."

Amanda stopped what she was doing and looked over to her Mother. "Mo-ther."

"It's five o'clock, Amanda."

"So, it's getting late. We'll be out of here in a second."

"Amanda," said Dotty, sounding more desperate now. "Five o'clock…. The bomb."

Amanda had already returned her attention to the bag and was looking inside. She stared at a big red LCD clock that was counting backwards. 0:13…0:12…0:11 "Mother, Run!!!!"

Dotty stared back only to be grabbed by an advancing Amanda who half pushed, half dragged her mother out of the door to the salon.

Amanda just had time to yell, "Bomb!!!" when Emelio's hair salon blew up. The windows exploded, throwing shattered glass and brick fragments into the street and Amanda and her mother to the ground from the force of the blow. They lay on the pavement in a heap, dust and debris falling around them. Amanda looked up. "Are you all right, Mother? Mother?"

Dotty sat up. "What? Oh, Amanda! How will I ever face Mr. Emelio again?"

"Oh, Mother," returned Amanda and laughed.


Chapter Six

Tuesday 21 July, 9:15pm

After her mother's full debriefing with Billy at the Agency, Amanda was allowed to take her home. Amanda, however, wasn't looking forward to the forthcoming conversation - the one that would explain her odd behavior for the last four years. Billy had agreed that she could fill Dotty in on the basics - beyond what had become obvious during the previous day - that IFF was a cover for the federal government's Agency.

"So you're a spy?" asked Dotty as her daughter pulled the Wagoneer out of IFF's underground parking lot.

Amanda smiled to herself as she remembered that had been one of the first things she had asked Lee. "We prefer agent, Mother."

"I see." Dotty nodded. "So, how long have you been an…agent?"

"Well, officially, just about a year. But, I've been helping out around here for nearly four years now." There was a pause as both women sat in silence. "I did tell you once, Mother. Don't you remember?"

"You told me you were a spy? I think I'd remember that." The disbelief in Dotty's voice was clear.

"I did, Mother." Amanda spoke deliberately. "Don't you remember? That morning when I hustled you onto a train to Vermont in the early hours to see Aunt Lillian? Before you left, I told you then."

Dotty closed her eyes and rested her head on the back of her car seat as she trawled through her memories. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and looked at her daughter. "You said there was a nuclear bomb in Washington! Something about the answers being inside your head." Dotty was obviously struggling to remember what else was said, but she couldn't. She resumed her posture of eyes closed and head leaning back.

"It's true, Mother, there was a nuclear bomb and it was hidden at Arlington Cemetery but it was okay because I told Lee about the dishwasher."

Dotty's eyes opened again. "You did what?"

"The dishwasher. You know when it's acting up, you just jiggle the blue wire? Well, I told Lee to pull the blue wire on the nuclear bomb and it worked. Lee saved us all."

"Oh." Dotty still wasn't convinced she wasn't having one of her dreams, like she had after reading a particularly lurid spy novel.  She opened her eyes and looked again at her daughter. "You're really a spy?"

"Yes, Mother."

"And our dishwasher saved us all from nuclear destruction?"

"Well, sort of."

"I hope this is that other secret you've been keeping from me."

Now it was Amanda's turn to look confused. "Mother? What other secret?" The slight tinge of pink in her cheeks indicated to Dotty that Amanda remembered more than she was willing to admit.

Dotty smiled, deciding it was time to turn the tables and gain the upper hand in the conversation. "That day, when you told us you were already married to Lee. You told the boys that there would be no more secrets. I knew then that you were lying."

"But…how?…what? Why didn't you say anything?"

"What could I say? I knew you must have a good reason for lying, or you wouldn't do it. Like I said this morning, I knew you'd tell me when you felt the time was right. Although, I could've done without finding out this way." She laughed, and reached out to cover her daughter's hand with her own.

"I'm sorry, Mother." Amanda couldn't think of anything else to say. For several minutes, Amanda drove on and the two women sat in silence. Suddenly, Amanda spoke again. "It's why we tried to keep everything a secret, you know. To protect you…you and the boys. We thought you'd be less of a target." Suddenly Amanda smiled. "It seems, though, that you are quite adept at getting yourself into trouble."

"A-man-da!" exclaimed Dotty. "What happened today was not my fault."

"No, it never is," Amanda said wryly, thinking of the many times she had stumbled into something the Agency was involved in. Under her breath, she muttered, "Must be a family trait." Dotty just looked at her curiously. Glancing across to her mother, Amanda said, "You are all right, aren't you Mother? After today, I mean?"

"Oh, yes," Dotty said, and her eyes suddenly became more animated. "I know that Mr. Melrose said I can't talk about specifics but I've still got enough that I can talk about to keep the Women's Circle interested for months. I know for a fact Agnes is going to be really sorry she missed all the excitement. I mean, she must have left just minutes before those men came into the salon."

"Moth-er," said an exasperated Amanda.

"It's okay, darling," said her mother, conspiratorially, "I'll remember to keep your name out of it." Dotty smiled and Amanda sighed in relief. At least she was taking today's trauma pretty well. All those spy novels must have paid off. They drove the rest of the way home in silence, each of them wrapped up in their own thoughts of the day's events.

As they pulled onto the drive at 4247 Maplewood, Dotty finally spoke again. "So are you going to tell the boys?"

As she put the car into park, Amanda looked at her mother. "I don't know. I wish Lee was here. We didn't tell them for their own safety, but maybe, if they knew more, they could protect themselves better.  It might put them on their guard, but I don't want it to ruin their lives and have them always looking over their shoulder. I just don't know."

"They're growing up, Amanda. And they're smart, too. They're not your little babies anymore."

"Hmm," was Amanda's only response.

"Maybe you should wait until Lee gets back. I assume he's on a… mission, do they call it?"

"Yes," said Amanda sadly. "It's contact-zero." Dotty looked puzzled. "It means he's not allowed to contact anyone from the Agency, no one from his real life at all. For security reasons. It means he's on his own in the field and I've no idea when he'll get back." She paused, then added as an afterthought, "If he'll get back."

"Amanda, now don't you think like that. Of course he'll be back. He's a very resourceful man. I'm sure he'll be fine and back before you know it. No wonder you've been behaving so oddly lately."

"I'm sorry mother. I tried not to let it get to me, but it was different this time."


"Well, before, we weren't a visibly married couple. You know what I mean?" Dotty nodded. "Before, we weren't supposed to be seen together all the time. Now that we can be, it's harder when we're not. I just miss him."

"We all miss him. So, knowing what you do - or don't, rather - I'm surprised you've held together as well as you have."

They got out of the car and entered the darkened kitchen in silence. Dotty turned on the lights and Amanda began to prepare a pot of coffee as Dotty continued the conversation. "You've not had it easy, have you Amanda? Bringing up the boys alone and everything."

Stopping what she was doing, Amanda interrupted, "I wasn't alone, Mother. I had you."

Dotty smiled. "Yes, darling, but it's not the same as the boys having a full-time father. Now I find that you're not only a Den mother, an active member of the PTA and a volunteer for more charities than I care to remember, but that you've also been a spy for the last few years. I'm really very proud of you, you know?"

"You just do what you have to do." Amanda's eyes filled with tears. "Thank you, Mother." She gave her mother a hug, then resumed her coffee-making. When she was finished, she gave a cup to her mother. As they sat down to drink together on the couch in the family room, Amanda spoke. "Why didn't you ask why I did it? Why I kept doing it? Why I didn't stop putting you all in danger?"

"Amanda." Dotty reached over and squeezed her daughter's free hand. "I trust you. You wouldn't do anything to deliberately hurt us.  I know that - and the boys will understand that too. And besides…"

Amanda saw a grin forming across her mother's face. "Besides what, Mother?"

"I may be your mother, Amanda, but I'm also a woman. You forget that I've had occasion to look into Lee's eyes myself." She winked at her daughter.

"Oh, mother!" said Amanda, as her face turned bright red.

Dotty laughed. "So, why did you do it?"

"It all started out as an accident, a chance meeting. Then I kept getting involved. Soon I began to feel it was too important to let go. That I was helping to make the world better for Philip and Jamie.  Besides, Lee really needed me."

"He doesn't strike me as the type of man who would admit he needed help from anyone."

Amanda smiled. "No. Not at first, but we became a team before we even realized it. Looking out for each other, knowing what the other was going to do before they did it."

Dotty looked knowingly at her daughter. "You've been in love with Lee for a long time, haven't you?"

"Yes. Well, no. Well, I don't know. I certainly liked him, but he could be so…so…infuriating!" She laughed.

"It's usually the most important people that we find the most annoying, love. If you don't care about them, what they do doesn't matter."

"I suppose so. He certainly didn't seem to like me much in the early days. But his boss, Mr. Melrose kept putting us together. I think Billy saw how well we complemented each other, before we even knew. Then, more and more, Billy would find excuses for getting us to work together. He loves to take credit for the two of us."

"Amanda, I've always thought that Mr. Melrose was a charming man." Amanda's mouth fell open. "Close your mouth, dear. You'll catch flies in there." Dotty winked. "So, you've no idea how long it will be before Lee gets back?"

Amanda's lip trembled. "No," she said weakly. "It wouldn't be so bad if he'd been making his check-ins, but he can't. Ooohh!," she said, flinging a sofa cushion across the room in frustration, "it's just not fair!"

"Come here," said Dotty. Her daughter felt like a small child again as she was enveloped in her mother's arms. "He'll be fine, Amanda. He loves you, and no one will be able to stop him coming back to you. No matter how hard they try."

"She's got that right." A voice behind them spoke from the kitchen doorway.

Amanda sat up and looked toward the sound. "Lee!" She ran over and engulfed him in a hug, with a grip that would have made a limpet envious. As he hugged her back with almost the same force, neither said anything.

Eventually, Lee spoke, although his voice sounded quiet and a little strained. "Amanda?" He paused, then tried again when she didn't reply. "Amanda, I'm gonna need to breathe real soon, you know."

Without lifting her face, which was buried into his chest, she said, "What?"

"A-man-da…breathe…I can't-"

"Oh." She eased her grip, just a little, looking up at her husband. "Sorry." She gazed into his eyes, as if trying to believe this wasn't a dream. "You're back? You're really back?"

"Obviously," he grinned at his wife, glad to have been missed. "Now, can I come in?" He was still standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Of course you can, Lee," interjected Dotty, as she leaned around her daughter and dragged him into the kitchen, with his own human limpet still attached. She closed the door behind them. "So, how long have you been standing there?"

"Oh, just a few minutes, Dotty. I didn't like to interrupt." He smirked at his mother-in-law, with a twinkle in his eye. He reached down and picked up his wife and carried her to sit on his lap on the family room sofa. Looking into her eyes, he asked, "So, did I miss anything?"

Dotty placed two cups of coffee onto the table in front of the sofa, totally loving the sight of her two favorite people, her children, who were so obviously in love with one another. Time to make a discreet exit. "Well, I'm going to take a long soak in a hot bath, then I'm off to bed. I've had a long day, you know." Dotty stopped talking as she realized Lee and Amanda weren't listening to her. "Goodnight Moneypenny, 'night James," Dotty said, chuckling as she headed up the stairs.

"Thanks, Dotty," called Lee as his mother-in-law retreated. As her words sunk into his consciousness, he looked quizzically at Amanda.

"It can wait," she replied.

Accepting her words, he returned his attention to his wife and said, "Well, Mrs. Stetson. It looks like we're all alone." He leaned forward and his lips sought Amanda's. The second their lips touched, the world around them disappeared, taking away so many unpleasant thoughts and worries.


Chapter Seven

Wednesday 22 July, 10:05am

Lee heard his mother-in-law in the kitchen as he descended the stairs, wearing his robe. It sounded like she was baking and the smell of freshly baked cookies was very enticing. He walked through the kitchen and took a cookie from the cooling rack. As he sat at the table in the breakfast nook, Dotty handed a mug of coffee to her disheveled son-in-law; he and Amanda had decided to sleep in. "Good morning, Lee."

"Morning, Dotty." Lee yawned. "Thanks."

Silence fell over the kitchen as the pair considered their own personal thoughts. Lee sat drinking coffee as Dotty started tidying up the kitchen. After a few minutes of easy silence, Lee spoke.  Looking a little sheepish, he said, "So you know, huh?"

Dotty stopped her intensive cleaning regime and looked directly at her son-in-law. "I think it's safe to say that, Mr. Bond." She smiled.

Lee returned the smile. "I suspect you were a little shocked?"

"Well, it's not every day that you come face to face with your daughter holding a gun."

"We planned to tell you." Lee stared into his half-filled mug.

"Really?" asked Dotty. She sounded skeptical. "When?"

"When the time was…well…er, right."

"So never then?"

"Hmm," Lee answered, non-committally. There was a pause. "We thought it would be safer, you know? For the family. But now we're not so sure. This entire family seems to have a knack for getting into trouble." He looked up at his mother-in-law and laughed. Dotty smiled back, but it didn't reach her eyes. Lee was trained in observation, and he could tell something was wrong. Dotty had mechanically started cleaning again. "So, how are you really?"

Trying to sound light, Dotty said, "Oh, I'll get over it. Of course it was a bit of a shock." Her cleaning intensified. Lee watched as she rubbed and rubbed at a particularly tough spot on the work surface – although, for the life of him, he couldn't see what it was she was rubbing at.

He stood up and walked over to her, placing his hand on her forearm. "Dotty, stop." He spoke quietly but firmly enough to stop her activity. She looked up at him and Lee saw her upper lip quiver. "It's not unusual to suffer from late shock, you know?" Dotty just nodded her head. "You've been through a traumatic experience."

Dotty's façade began to crumble as she spoke. "Oh, Lee…I was so frightened. I mean, I woke up…I was under the dryer and I'd fallen asleep, you know, and there was a man with a gun, just standing there. I've never really seen a gun that close-up before, especially not one pointed at me."

Lee spread his arms, "Come here." He pulled his favorite mother-in- law into a protective embrace. "We don't expect you to carry on as if nothing happened, you know. You went through a lot. You need to take time to recover."

"But how? How do you handle that kind of thing every day?"

"It gets easier. Besides, I've been doing it for a long time."

"But Amanda! I can't believe she's involved in your work! I mean, how could she ever become a spy…sorry, agent?"

"Ah…well, yes. Maybe we should sit down?" They sat at the table in the breakfast nook, adjacent to each other. "You see," he began, "it all started at the train station in Arlington…"


Amanda went down the stairs, but before she entered the kitchen she stopped. Dotty and Lee were obviously having a heart-to-heart and Amanda didn't want to interrupt so she sat at the bottom of the stairs. As Dotty explained her experience to Lee, Amanda's eyes filled with tears realizing how much emotion Dotty had suppressed during her debriefing. It hurt to hear how much Dotty had suffered during her ordeal.

Eventually, Dotty appeared to run out of questions. Except one. "Lee. Can I ask you something?"


"Well, I've wanted to ask you this for a while now, at least, I thought of asking you but I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it, so I didn't ask you but now I have to ask you if you would, I mean I would love it but considering your past, but it's not like I'd be looking to replace her or anything but you mean so much to my daughter, and I can see how much we all mean to you so what do you think, would you?"

"I have no idea." Dotty looked crestfallen. Then he smirked. "I have absolutely no idea what you just said – and I've studied Amandaramble for years."

Dotty began to smile. "Lee. I said, would you call me Mom?"

"Mom," said Lee, the surprise and confusion on his face turning into a smile that would have lit up all of DC's memorials. "I would love that." When her mother asked Lee that question, the tears erupted from Amanda's eyes and she made no effort to stop them. She was amazed how quickly Lee had become an integral part of their family; she couldn't imagine life without him and it seemed her mother was quite partial to him too. Amanda decided it was time to join her family. As she entered, Lee hugged Dotty again.

"Do you have room for a third?" Amanda asked.

"Of course, darling," Lee and Dotty replied simultaneously. All three of them laughed, then hugged.

Eventually, the hug was over and Lee guided his two favorite women to the sofa. "Why don't you ladies sit. I'll get the coffee."

As he sat down between them, Amanda noticed he had another cookie sticking out of his mouth. "That doesn't look like a stale roll to me," she teased.

"Are you kidding? Fresh-baked cookies? Don't you know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?" He grinned knowingly at his wife.


Wednesday 22 July, 2:20pm

"He did?" asked Billy. He threw his head back and laughed.

"Well, after that it was me or Cordoba. He chose the lesser of two evils."

"You." Billy pointed to his best agent.

"Me," Lee agreed.

There was a tap at the door, and Amanda peered her head around into Billy's office. "Can I come in?"

"Sure, Amanda." He beckoned her with his hand.

"I have Lee's report." She handed it to her boss.

"Thanks, Amanda. At least I know I'll be able to read it. Sit down." She did.

"How's Francine doing?" Billy asked Amanda.

"She's fine, she's fine. Although she's a little mad about Efraim."

"What about him?" asked Lee, a puzzled expression on his face.

Billy grinned and invited Amanda to explain, "Amanda?"

"Well," Amanda grinned. "You remember when Billy made you my assignment when the doctors insisted you got five days bed rest after the Barnstorm case?"

Lee understood immediately and looked at Billy. "You didn't?" Billy nodded as he attempted to hold back the laughter. "You made Beaman Francine's superior?" Lee grinned. "Oh, I do wish I'd been there when she received those orders." Billy could contain himself no longer and released a huge belly laugh. Tears fell down his face while Lee and Amanda joined in the laughter.

"I was there," said Amanda. "She wasn't amused."

"I hope Beaman's armed," said Lee.

"Oh, I'm sure she wouldn't actually hurt him," said Amanda. "Well, I think she wouldn't. She's not so bad, you know?"

"Billy tells me you and Francine made a pretty good team."

"He did?" Amanda smiled broadly. "Well, it certainly was interesting."

"Not so much fun as with me though, right?" Lee began a fishing expedition.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. We worked well together and we got our man, well men actually."

"Maybe you should switch permanently." Amanda saw a twinkle in Billy's eye as he made his remark.

"That might be a good idea," said Amanda, playing along. "At least it would make my work simpler."

"What?" Lee's eyes sought Amanda's to see if she was joking but her feelings were cloaked.

"I'm serious," she nodded.

"You're kidding? You preferred working with Francine over me?"

"Well, she does do her own paperwork."

"There's more to life than paperwork," argued Lee.

"Yes and with Francine I don't have to wait in the car."

"But that's for your own good, Amanda."

"Hmm. Then there's girl talk. Francine's good at that."

"I can talk girl talk."

Billy made a choking sound as he tried to suppress his laughter at Lee's attempts to win Amanda.

"Actually," said Amanda, finally looking Lee directly in the eye. "Francine's even more frustrating than you are, Lee."


"Yes! Talk about high maintenance. She whines about every little thing, whereas you-"

"Whereas I what?" Lee interrupted.

"Oh," Amanda exchanged an amused glance with her Section Chief. "You only whine about every other thing." She reached for his hand. "Not that I don't love you for it." She laughed.

Lee raised his wife's hand to his lips and Amanda's cheeks became tinged with pink as she sat under the scrutiny of her boss. "Lee!" She tried to pull her hand away, but he wasn't having any of it.

"So, I'm better than Francine then?"

Amanda smirked. "No one should have to work with her." Billy cleared his throat. Amanda realized she'd actually voiced her thoughts. "Oh, I'm sorry, sir." She glanced at Lee who seemed amused to watch her digging her own hole. "You know what I mean."

Billy smiled at his favorite team. "I sure do. That's why I get the big bucks!" He laughed a deep belly laugh. When he stopped, he lifted a plate up of his desk and offered it toward Amanda. "Cookie?"

"Thanks." She took one. "What's happening with the clinic, sir?"

"Oh, well, fortunately there wasn't too much collateral damage in the explosion. Not all the explosives were in the bag that exploded –there was a second bag. The only real damage was to the hair salon."

"What about the Congressman?" Amanda continued.

"Oh, he's just postponed his visit, although it took seven of our men to stop him. He's determined to go there again next week."

"And Catherine?"

"She says it's business as usual too. Went straight back to work as soon as the all clear was given. They're a stubborn family."

"I'm familiar with the type," interjected Lee.

Amanda tried to glare at him in reproof, but as soon as she caught his eye she could only smile lovingly at him. Lee grinned.

"So. These guys that Amanda and Francine caught. Did they talk?" asked Lee.

"They sure did." Billy beamed. "I think after their ordeal they were so traumatized, they just wanted to go to jail."

"They were traumatized?" asked Amanda, incredulously.

Lee smirked. "Yeah. Those West women can be dangerous." Billy and Lee both laughed at that, until they noticed Amanda's glare.

"Maybe we should offer your mother a job, Amanda?" suggested Billy.

Amanda's mouth dropped open. The two men seemed deadly serious all of a sudden. "What? My…my mother?"

"Yes. She thinks on her feet, takes charge, she could be an asset around here."

"You're kidding…aren't you?" Amanda asked, a little warily. She appealed to her husband. "Lee, tell Billy that Mother cannot be a spy."

"That's agent, Amanda, and why not? I mean, I wasn't sure about you at first, if you recall, and look how well you turned out."

Amanda had gone pale. She made a final appeal to Billy. "Sir?"

A huge grin that lit up the room replaced Billy's deadpan expression. Billy grinned. "You were right, Lee."

"What? Right about what?" Amanda was having trouble following the conversation. She turned to Lee. "What did you say?"

Lee attempted to look contrite, but there was a twinkle in his eye. "Nothing. I just suggested to Billy that you wouldn't be too keen on having your mother on board with us. Seems I was right. Youshould've seen your face."

"What?" Amanda was on her feet, indignant. "You," she accused her husband, "you put him up to this."

Lee attempted to assume an innocent expression. "Do you really think I'd do that to you?"

Amanda placed her hands on her hips and stood facing her husband. "Yes. So?"

Billy stepped in. "I think you'd better plead the fifth on this one, Scarecrow."

Lee stood up and put his hands on Amanda's arms. She shrugged them off. "You should've seen your face. Really you should." He winked at her. Amanda tried to maintain a stern expression but it was impossible under the hazel-eyed stare of her husband. "Gotcha!"

Her face cracked into a smile. "Ooh, you." She turned her eyes to Billy. "And he got you to play along?"

"I'm sorry, Amanda. He," Billy pointed to his favorite agent, "convinced me it was a good idea. It's a good thing I'm giving you a long weekend off. Hopefully it'll give you time to forget my role in all of this." He laughed, a little nervously.

"Really?" asked Amanda. "Oh, thank you, Billy." She gave him a big smile. "In that case, you're forgiven. You, however," she looked sternly at her husband, "are in big trouble. It's gonna cost you a lot to get yourself out of this one."

"Really?" said Lee, a little too enthusiastically. "Then I guess we'd better get out of here, so I can start making it up to you. See ya, Billy." He hustled her to the office door.

Billy just gave them a wave. "Get out of here, Scarecrow. Bye, Amanda!" As the door closed behind them, he laughed to himself and reached for another cookie.


Chapter Eight

Wednesday 22 July, 6:55pm

The after-dinner table resembled one of that guy Dean's weather maps. A definite cold front had fallen across the table with Philip and Jamie sitting on either side of it. Philip sat under blue sky and sunshine – his face beaming at the other members of his family. They were spies. How cool was that? Jamie, however, was under a thundercloud. His face was red – nearing purple – and he was fighting to keep his emotions under control, to keep the tears that were filling his eyes from falling down his face. He glared at his stepfather.

"Lighten up, man," said Philip. "This stuff is cool."

Jamie switched his glare to his brother. "Are you kidding? Don't you know how dangerous this is? Mom's been shot, Grandma's been held at gunpoint. How is that cool? You need your head examined, worm-brain."

"Can it, Jamie!" Philip retorted.

"You can it! Don't you see? None of this…none of this would have happened if it wasn't for this…this…this jerk!" Jamie yelled, returning his attention to his arch nemesis.

"Jamie!" admonished Amanda, but Lee caught her eye and almost imperceptibly shook his head. He figured Jamie had a point.

"But Jamie," Philip tried again, "mom's shooting was an accident, and Lee wasn't even in the country when Grandma was held up." Philip's eyes canvassed the support of the adults at the dinner table. "How can that be Lee's fault?" He turned his attention back to his brother. "Get a grip, dude."

"Philip's right, Jamie," said Amanda, calmly.

"Yes, Jamie," agreed his grandmother.

Jamie continued to glare all the other table occupants. So I'm on my own. Figures. "We were fine before he came along," he nodded his head at Lee. "Mom was always around, we did stuff together. Now it's all Lee, Lee, Lee!"

"Now Jamie," said Amanda, her own eyes filled with hurt at her son's remarks, "you know that's not true."

"Right, dufus. We still do stuff all the time."

Jamie's face had now reached purple. He looked at everyone then glared at his mother. "Well, you've got a choice, Mom. Either he goes, or I go!" Jamie yelled. He jumped to his feet. "I'm not staying under the same roof with him." He pointed at his stepfather. "I'll go live with my dad! At least he's not a jerk!"

Lee's face paled at the onslaught. He remained silent, but his face betrayed the hurt he felt. Amanda quietly and calmly took her husband's hand. "Jamie," she began. "Lee and I love each other." She looked at Dotty, "and we both love your Grandmother," she switched her gaze to her eldest, "we both love Philip," then she returned her gaze to her baby, "and we both love you, Jamie. I love my work, too, Jamie, I really do. And I can't make guarantees for the future. I can't promise I won't get hurt….Accidents happen, and my getting shot was just that, an accident. It wasn't Lee's fault, it was fate. And if Lee hadn't been there to call an ambulance and look after me, maybe I wouldn't have survived." She paused to look at her husband, who gripped her hand firmly. "And what happened to your Grandmother wasn't Lee's fault either. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, like I was. Without Lee, I wouldn't have been in a position to go in and save her. Who knows what might have happened if I'd never met Lee? So Jamie, you should apologize."

Jamie was frustrated and losing the battle to control himself. A couple of tears had escaped his eyes. He resorted to unbridled anger. "Well, if he's staying, I'm leaving!"

Amanda looked calmly at her son. "You're going to have to do what you have to do, Jamie." Lee felt Amanda's nails dig into his hand as she spoke.

Jamie's mouth fell open as he stared at his so-called family. They're all against me. He pushed back his chair and it fell over. "Then I'm gonna go live with Dad!" he yelled. Tears began to stream down his face as Hurricane Jamie swept through the kitchen, deliberately knocking a vase of flowers off the counter as he charged through the backdoor, slamming it behind him. They heard a flowerpot crash as he stomped past the window. The family stared in stunned silence at the devastation he'd left in his wake.

Eventually Dotty looked at Philip. "I think now would be a good timeto go do your homework, Philip."

Philip nodded, then looked to his mother. "Don't worry about Jamie, Mom. He's just a kid. He'll come around. You know what he's like – he's a dufus! He doesn't know what's good for him. Lee," he turned his attention to his stepfather. "I think this stuff's cool." He held out his hand to Lee as he stood up. Lee stood up too, and shook his stepson's hand. "I think you're a great stepdad," Philip said and hugged Lee.

Nonplussed at Philip's show of emotion, Lee returned the hug and said, "I think you're great too, Philip." Then Philip let go and brushed his hand through his hair in a familiar way, mirroring the man he hero-worshipped. He looked sheepishly at his mom and ran upstairs before the situation got too mushy.

Lee sighed and pushed his hand through his own hair, causing Amanda to smile and exchange glances with her own mother. "Well, that went better than expected, huh?" Lee said. Amanda stepped into Lee's arms and hugged him.

"I'm sorry Lee," she spoke into her husband's chest. "He's just young, you know?"

"I remember teen-Lee," he replied. "I know the type."

"He's angry." Amanda sighed. "He'll come around; we just have to give him time."

Dotty started to collect the dishes from the table.


Wednesday 22 July, 8:45pm

It was getting dark outside, cooler since the sun had gone down, and Jamie was still sulking in the tree house when Lee decided he should try to talk to him. He hoped Jamie had had time to cool off by now.  They'd had a rocky start when he and Amanda had started dating publicly, but over the last few months, he thought they'd been getting closer. Until now.

As Lee peered into the tree house, with his head at floor level, he saw Jamie sitting on the far side. He'd obviously been crying, but now he was sitting calmly, just looking dejected and staring at the floor, picking at the wood floor with his fingernail.

"Can I come in?" There was no answer. "Jamie?" Jamie shrugged. Lee pulled himself up and stood, towering over Amanda's youngest. Lee surveyed his choice of seat. Lee remembered the very small Cookie Monster chair from the Zmed case. As he recalled, it wasn't very comfortable for a person as tall as him, so he decided to sit, like Jamie, on the floor with his back to the wall, in close proximity to his stepson. "How're you doing?" Lee asked. Jamie didn't respond. "Don't be hard on your mother, Jamie. It's not like she wanted to lie to you. It was just…necessary."

"Hmph," was Jamie's only response.

"Jamie. You've watched enough TV and movies to know about spies and secrets and stuff, haven't you?" Silence. "Haven't you?" Lee's voice was firmer this time.

"I guess," Jamie said sullenly.

It's a start. "When your mom got involved with The Agency she was sworn to secrecy - she still is. There are things that we are just not allowed to talk about. You know? National Security? So, Amanda, your mom, just followed those orders."

"But she said there'd be no more secrets."

Looking guilty, Lee replied, "I know." Jamie's withdrawal tugged at Lee's heart and he had no idea what would be the best method to reach him. He tried another tack. "Look, Jamie. I know you're upset. Do you want me to tell you how your mom got started in all of this?"

Jamie looked up for a second, a glimmer of curiosity on his face, until he remembered he was very angry at the world, particularly the man sitting beside him. His eyes returned to the floor and his interest in the floorboard intensified. He said nothing. Lee, however, had seen the look and thought this was the chink in Jamie's armor that might allow him to reach the boy. Lee sighed and Jamie looked up, but Lee didn't leave like Jamie had expected. Instead, Lee shuffled a little to make himself as comfortable as possible on the wooden floor, then he leaned back against the treehouse wall and stretched out his legs before him. Lee's legs now blocked Jamie's line of sight to the floorboard he'd found so fascinating.

"It happened in October, 1983," Lee began. "Just an accident really. Who'd have thought what it would lead to? I was at the train station in Arlington, being chased by some bad guys, and I had some information for a man on the train. I needed to find a way to get it to him and then I saw her." Jamie took a quick glance at Lee, then resumed his disinterest. "Your mom was walking toward me and, I still don't really know why I picked her, but I stopped her and I asked her to help me. She refused of course." Lee laughed.

This time when Jamie looked at him, with a puzzled expression on his face, he didn't look away. Lee smiled at Jamie. "Well, she refused at first. But I kept on at her, begged her. Even chased her down the platform. Then finally she just agreed. She took the package and got on the train. I figured I'd never see her again." Lee could now see that Jamie's curiosity was getting the better of his animosity.

"I told her to give it to the man in the red hat. I thought it was easy. That's all she had to do. Only it wasn't easy." Lee smiled to himself and drifted off into his own thoughts, closing his eyes and resting his head back to the wall.

After a couple of seconds, Lee heard Jamie utter a very quiet, "Why?"

Lee opened his eyes and allowed his head to lean forward. He laughed again. "Virtually everybody on the train was wearing a red hat apparently. There was a Shriners convention on board. Your mother has a knack for making the simplest of instructions complicated. Anyway, she refused to walk away. She ended up solving the case."

"Solving it?"

"Absolutely! You and Philip helped too."

Now Jamie was really confused. "We did? How?"

"Do you remember the broken music box? The one that Philip opened and you made him tell your mom?" Amanda had told him the story. Jamie nodded, but his puzzled expression remained. "Well there was a card in there with some words on it and your mom just wouldn't let it go. She found out what the words meant and then came looking for me. She knew I was on assignment. The Agency wasn't expecting to hear from me so they hadn't even missed me. Well, she found me."


"I was locked in a cellar. I didn't even know where I was. And as the bad guys were about to put me on a helicopter, I looked up and there she was."

"Were you surprised?"

"Surprised? I was stunned. I wondered what the hell," Lee cleared his throat and Jamie smiled, "I mean heck was she doing there?"

By now Jamie was engrossed in the story. "So what happened next?" he asked eagerly.

"You'll never believe it." Again, Lee laughed, as the memories played in his head.

"Lee, what?"

"She ran across the lawn, pointed her purse at the bad guys and yelled `Freeze!'"


"Yeah, freeze. Like she'd seen in the movies. Except she didn't have a gun."

"Did it work?"

"Well, it distracted them enough long enough that we were able to get away. In the helicopter. We just flew away."

"Wow! You can fly a helicopter?"

"Well, yes." Lee smiled at Jamie's enthusiasm. "But it wasn't me that flew us outta there."



"But she can't do that. I mean, she's just…well…she's Mom…she's not a pilot."

"Well she flew like a pro that day. Well, sort of. Anyway, we got away. Without your mom, I wouldn't even be here."

"Why? What would have happened to you?"

"Oh, I don't know." Suddenly Lee became self-conscious. How much should he tell his sensitive stepson?

"Would they have killed you?" Jamie looked concerned.

Torn between lying and protecting Jamie, Lee said, "It's a possibility."

"Then I'm glad she helped you."

"I am, too. Although I wasn't so sure about that at the time." Lee chuckled.

Curious, Jamie asked, "Why not? Didn't you like Mom?"

"Well…I liked her well enough, I guess, but she was a mom, you know, from the suburbs. And I was a risk taker, a loner, a spy. I didn't care what happened to me as long as I got the job done. I was a different man back then."


"Boy, those questions keep on coming, huh, Jamie?"

It was Jamie's turn to look guilty. "Sorry." He looked back to the floor.

Lee reached over and pushed up Jamie's chin with his finger, making his stepson look at him. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. Ask whatever you want. There are some things I can't tell you, but I'll answer what I can. What do you want to know?"

"Why didn't you want to work with mom? Because she was a woman?"

"Not exactly. Your mom was a mother, an ordinary suburban mother. What did she know about being a spy? And by the way, I prefer the term agent. I didn't think she should be getting involved in this kind of stuff. Besides, I was Lee Stetson, man of steel. I didn't need a mom rescuing me!"

"So how come she's still working with you?"

"Ah, yes, the million dollar question. You see, I was determined never to work with a partner. But my boss, and your mother, had other ideas. She was tenacious." Jamie looked puzzled. "Persistent, you know? Billy, my boss, asked her to help out now and again, just simple stuff. But, as I said before, your mother has the most amazing knack for making the simplest assignments complicated. I don't think any of us realized how useful she'd turn out to be, though. Including her."


"Yeah. Billy figured we worked well together and he was right. I'm sure glad he was. Without Billy, we wouldn't be here today, and you'd probably be off on a camping trip with Dan, Dan the Weatherman."

"You mean Dean?"

"Yeah, something like that." Lee had never been able to bring himself to say that weather guy's name correctly. He chose not to question why.

"Dean was okay. I guess," said Jamie. He paused for a second, weighing what to say next. "But you're better." Jamie looked up at his stepdad and smiled.



"Good enough to get a hug?" Lee asked. His chest swelled and his face beamed as all the day's barriers between him and his stepson fell away and Jamie hugged Lee. Admittedly not as tightly as Amanda had done the previous day, but a hug was a hug, right?

Suddenly, Jamie remembered he was almost a teenager and almost- teenagers don't hug. He pulled away from Lee and stood up. Immediately, Lee felt the loss. He also caught the guilty expression on Jamie's face, as his stepson now stood over him. Looking up at Jamie, he said, "Getting too big to hug, huh Sport?"

"Well…" said Jamie, slightly uncomfortable.

"You too big for ice cream, too?" Amusement was now playing across Lee's face.

Lee watched as Jamie's face betrayed his internal struggle between childish desserts and sugary goodness. "I guess ice cream's okay."

Lee held out his hand to Jamie, inviting the boy to help him up. Jamie obliged and Lee stiffly got back to his feet. Putting his hand between Jamie's shoulder blades, Lee guided him to the tree house ladder. "Let's go." As he vanished down the ladder, Lee heard Jamie exclaim, "Spies! Wow!"

Lee felt a stinging sensation in his eyes. Funny, I didn't think it was that windy up here in the tree house. Maybe it's pollen? He had a really stupid grin on his face. When did I get so emotional? He shook his head. As he stepped onto the ladder, he smiled and said, "Amanda."


Wednesday 22 July, 9:25pm

When Lee reached the ground he walked around the side of the house, to find Philip in the garage, with his head under the hood of the `Vette, again. "What ya doin' there, Chief?" He tried to maintain a neutral, fatherly expression while all his nerves were immediately on edge and the hairs were standing up on the back of his neck. It's a good thing I've had all that Agency training, he thought as he watched his stepson tweak various parts of his beloved car. Why is this so much easier when I'm up against the KGB?

"Oh, I just wanted to see if I could get you a little more power out of her. There's this article in my magazine that said if you make a slight adjustment here," he pointed into the engine, "it really makes a difference."

Lee cleared his throat to cover up his discomfort at Philip's experiments, even though he knew that Philip probably knew more about cars than he did. He thought a reverse-psychology approach was the way to go. He wouldn't say a word about the car. Mentally he repeated his new mantra, Don't mention the car, the car will be fine. Don't mention the car, the car will be fine. He wasn't sure he believed that, but aloud, he said, "Well, be careful. I'm heading in for ice cream."

Philip's head shot up, nearly catching it on the open hood. "Ice cream?"

"Yeah," said Lee, continuing towards the house without another glance in Philip's direction, or that of his precious car.

"Wait for me!"

Lee stopped and turned to look to his stepson, desperately trying to keep the expression of intense relief off his face. His baby was safe. This time at least, although he knew it was only a temporary reprieve.


As the guys entered the kitchen, Amanda looked up from the dishes she'd been washing to take her mind off the gloom that had fallen over the household. She had wondered how long it would take for the normally positive aura of the house to be restored, but figured it would be at least several days. Instead, her guys, all of them, were coming into her once again cheery kitchen, laughing and joking with each other as though the last couple hours had never happened. Have I stepped into some kind of time warp?

"Ice cream time," said Lee to his wife, as he headed straight for the freezer. He caught her questioning look and shrugged. Then he smiled and returned his attention to the hunt for the Rocky Road while Jamie grabbed the spoons. Placing the tub on the counter, Lee, Philip, and Jamie all started to eat straight out of it, as though by waiting for dishes they'd miss out on their share.

"Moth-er! If you want any ice cream you'd better come now!" Amanda called up the stairs. "It seems we have locusts in town again. Fellas, you might want to try using these," she said as she placed the dishes on the counter next to the guys. Then she laughed as they tried to beat each other to the biggest dishful.

As the competition heated up, Philip stole ice cream from Jamie's dish, supplementing that which he himself had already taken from the tub. "Hey! That's not fair!" yelled Jamie as he saw what happened.

Lee and Amanda exchanged a glance and simultaneously said, "Who ever promised you fair?" They laughed.

While Lee was distracted, Philip reached toward his dish to take some of Lee's ice cream but Lee had been on the Agency's course to counter sneak attacks. He managed to grab the dish out of Philip's reach. "I don't think so, buster!"

Leaning against the sink, Amanda just watched in amusement at the family's banter and competitiveness occurring in her kitchen. Seeing an opening, she suddenly reached across the counter and grabbed the ice cream tub for herself. As she stood away from the fray, she proclaimed, "Mine, I think!" She took two spoons from the drawer, and walked around to sit on the couch. "I've got you a spoon, Mother," she said as Dotty entered the room. Her mother sat beside her.

"For a second I thought we were back in Khartoum again," said Dotty. Amanda laughed as she dipped into what was left of the ice cream.

As Lee, Philip and Jamie continued their attempted sneak attacks on the others' ice cream, and behaved in a generally rowdy manner, Amanda just looked at her mother and raised her eyes. "Boys will be boys, I guess."

The End