More Than You Know
Authors: Jenny and Love
Summary: Lee and Amanda learn something about Dr. Smyth.
Warning: You might want to reach for the tissue box for some parts of this story.
Jenny: Thanks to the best beta readers in the known galaxy, Chris. I may confuse her and even abuse her, nah not really, but she still comes through for me. Thanks Chris, you are the best! And Sybil, what would I do without you? You are and always will be the comma queen!
Love: A big thanks to Jenny for letting me co-write this with her and for helping out with the betaing. Another big thanks to Chris for her betaing. A special thanks to Sybil for not only betaing this, but for coming up with the title. A super huge thanks to the SMK 5 team for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful project. I really need to thank my uncle for putting up with my questions. He had no idea why I was asking them, but he answered them anyway. I also need to thank my mom for her help. All locations mentioned in this story are real places.
Austin Smyth departed the plane at Dulles with a quick step and a light heart. He looked eagerly into the crowds at the terminal, searching for that one special face that never failed to make him smile. One scan, then, a second, of the people gathered there did not reveal the beloved face to him. He shrugged mentally. ‘Oh, well, Thornton must have given her an assignment.’ He usually did when he thought they were getting too close. If he only knew how close they already were.
The tall, slim man with sandy blond hair worked his way through the crowds. He made his way to the outside exit and hailed a cab. The address he gave the driver took him to Georgetown. He paid the cabbie, took his carryon from the seat, and proceeded up the walk of the average looking building. The sign outside read, "International Federal Film." Austin retrieved his key from his pocket and, after a quick look over his shoulder, entered the foyer. There, an attractive blond sat at a desk, her hands hidden underneath its flat surface.
"Hello, Marge. How are you?" Austin smiled charmingly at the ‘receptionist.'
The title on her desk nameplate was misleading. She was no ordinary receptionist. She did, indeed, sit in the foyer and direct any and all visitors to the appropriate area, but only after clearing them with security. She waited for Austin to give the word of the day. If he gave the correct word, she would push the button that verified his clearance, and the boys downstairs would be informed that he was in the building. He would receive his badge, enter the elevator, and go to his section chief for debriefing.
"Good day, Mr. Smyth." Nothing more nothing less. She would say no more until he gave the correct password. He knew this well, and still he enjoyed the game of trying to get her to break her rules. He spoke of nothing much for the next few minutes, all the while meeting her stony gaze. Finally, eager to see his partner, he relented and gave the password for the day.
"Blackguard, Marge. The word is blackguard." He stood from where he had perched on the corner of her desk and accepted his badge. He secured it to his lapel and started to enter the elevator. Almost as if in afterthought, he called over his shoulder. "Oh, Marge, is Nancy here yet?"
Marge Marston’s face became closed once more. She thought rapidly. If Smyth knew, he would be out of the elevator and in search of his partner, Nancy Michaels, before she could get someone here to stop him. And Mr. Thornton had made it abundantly clear that Smyth must be debriefed immediately upon his arrival. He carried very important information that was vital to the well being of several ongoing investigations. She swallowed her own beliefs about right and wrong. She lied.
"Oh, I believe she's due in later, Austin. I’ll let her know that you’re here, okay?" She darted her gaze to the place where Nancy Michaels’ badge should have been hanging, next to her partner’s now empty one. She and Austin had been friends for several years. She hated to lie to him, but what else could she do. If he barged out now, he would have no future at the Agency. And she knew that soon, his career would be all that he had.
Austin quickly made his way to the office of Section Chief Harry V. Thornton. Why he retained that particular title, no one knew. The man was the creator of the Agency. He had been the first man in the doors when Project Pyramid had been completed, and by all rights, he should now be in some bureaucratic office, pushing papers and taking it easy. But Harry just refused to go. He’d been part of the active workings of the Agency longer than there had been an Agency, and he wasn’t going to stop now. He refused any and all promotions that would take him away from working directly with the agents he had recruited.
Thornton had taught Smyth a lot. Austin admired and respected him. But lately, it seemed that the older man had an inner voice that told him things no one else knew, and he seemed bound and determined to get in their way. He and Nancy had discussed this new phenomenon just before he left. Nancy had laughed and told him he was being a paranoid spy again. She was certainly the easier going of the two. She could laugh off things that he could not. Perhaps that was why they were good partners. What one lacked, the other supplied. It worked, in the field and out.
Austin arrived at his destination, knocked, then entered. Thornton looked up and nodded. He was on the phone. He finished his conversation, then greeted the younger man. "Austin, glad you’re back. What have you got?"
"A lot, old man. A lot." Smyth laughed lightly. Thornton really hated to be called old man.
Thirty minutes later, the debriefing complete, Austin stood to go to his desk and file his official report. As he was leaving, he casually asked, "Oh, by the way, where is Nancy? I expected her to be here already. I want to get caught up on what I missed with our other cases."
Harry seemed to hesitate. He looked at Austin, thoughtfully.
He knew something, Austin was sure of it. The older man opened his drawer and pulled out a single paper. It was single-spaced and typed on IFF letterhead. The whole of it didn't even cover the top quarter of the page. Harry held it out to the agent in front of him. Austin reached for it, and for some inexplicable reason, felt a shiver go through his body. A sense of foreboding such as he had never experienced before washed over him.
He spoke without reading the words. "What’s this?"
Harry Thornton stood from behind his desk and walked to the door. He closed it and pulled the blinds. He stood before Austin and motioned for him to sit.
Austin shook his head. "No. Harry, tell me what is going on! Nancy should have met me at the airport. Marge says she isn’t here yet, but she always comes in early. Where is she?" His voice had become agitated, and images of all the worst possible things flew through his mind. ‘Had she been shot? Kidnapped? Was she in the hospital, or worse?’
"Austin, read it." Thornton indicated the paper, hanging limp in the other man’s hand.
Smyth stared into his superior’s eyes. As usual, they were blank. You didn’t get anything out of Harry V. Thornton, unless he wanted you to. He lowered his gaze to the paper and began to read aloud.
To whom it may concern:
I, Nancy Michaels, do hereby resign my position as field agent and official representative of The Agency. This resignation is effective immediately. I will, of course, continue to abide by my oath of secrecy and will not, in any way, reveal my knowledge of this facility or its purpose.
Austin read this twice, not comprehending the first time what he was seeing. He sat heavily. What in Hell was going on? Nancy would never leave the Agency. She wouldn’t leave him. Dear Lord, they were more than partners. They were best friends, lovers. She was his wife, damn it. She loved him and he loved her. She wouldn’t just leave him.
Austin crumpled the paper in his fist and hurled it at Thornton. "No. No, I don’t believe it. Don’t you dare file this thing, yet. I’m going to find her."
"Austin it’s too late. She filed this herself. She bypassed me and went straight to the top. I didn’t know until it was already too late. I’m sorry." He laid one reassuring hand on the younger man’s shoulder, only to have it shrugged off. He stepped back and held up a placating hand. "Fine, Austin, but don’t let this get in the way of your job. You lost a partner to another job or a way of life. It’s not like you lost your wife to another man, or something." His tone was light and jovial. He had no idea of the dangerous ground he trod on.
For one brief instant, Thornton believed that Smyth was about to hit him. He braced himself and even thought of calling for security. Smyth glared at him for long moments, then whirled and rushed out of the office. He took the hall at a dead run and jabbed at the elevator buttons viciously. When the bell dinged, announcing its arrival, Austin stepped in and rode down to the Georgetown foyer. He flew past Marge’s desk, flinging his badge heedlessly in her direction. She considered calling after him, but didn’t. It seemed he’d heard the news.
Twenty minutes later, Smyth rushed up the stairs of his apartment building. He ran past the other tenants, unmindful of their stares. He fumbled with his keys, finally locating and using them to open the door of his apartment. He had been gone two weeks and his rooms were dusty and smelled stale when he flung open the door and flipped the light switch. He stopped short. Nancy never let his apartment get like this. She always came by and watered the plants. After all, they were her plants. She usually opened the windows and let the place air out occasionally. Sometimes she even slept here even when he wasn’t home. She said it made it easier to wait for him to return.
He rushed to the kitchen, but the plants on the windowsill were brown tipped and droopy. He went to the bathroom. Her make up and hairbrush were gone from his cabinet. He turned next to the door of their bedroom. They spent most of their nights together here. They had spent their wedding night here. The first time they’d made love had been right here. On the nights they had to be apart, he’d lay, holding her pillow, inhaling the faint smell of her shampoo and the scent that was uniquely her own.
His hand shook as he turned the doorknob and allowed the wooden panel to swing open into the room darkened by the pulled blinds and heavy drapes. He reluctantly turned on the overhead light. He closed his eyes tight, unwilling to see what was before him. All traces of her were gone. Her robe no longer hung on his closet door. Her dresser drawer stood open and empty. Her nightgown and slippers were nowhere to be seen.
His mind whirled as he reasoned away the obvious. She was mad at him. That was it. He’d done something to irritate her and this was her way of telling him. Once she had gone two whole weeks without speaking to him in private when he’d made her angry. He’d had to buy two-dozen roses and one very expensive bottle of wine before she’d opened up and told him what the problem was. She must be hiding at her own apartment, just waiting for him to figure it out and come to apologize to her. His heart slowed from it’s frantic beat. That was it. Well, whatever she wanted today, she would get. If it would bring her back into his arms, he would beg on bended knees, all night.
He rapidly made his way back out of his own deserted apartment. He rushed up two flights of stairs to Nancy’s door. He inserted his key and tried to turn the knob. It wouldn’t budge! His key didn’t work. So she changed the locks. She must really be hot. He shook his head ruefully. Whatever he had done, he had a lot of making up to do. He looked around furtively, then removed his lock picks and quickly gained entrance to Apartment 4B. It was empty; no furniture, no curtains, no dishes, no Nancy. Dear God, what was he going to do? He leaned against the wall and felt his knees give way. He sank to the floor with his head cradled in his hands. For some time, he remained where he fell, his mind desperately trying to make sense of what it had been given. Finally, he stood and returned to his own rooms; sure he would find some clues there. He knew one thing as well as he knew his own name. Nancy loved him and he wasn’t about to give up on finding her.
Once back in his own apartment, he looked much more carefully. Still, he found no trace of their lives together or their vows to each other. His last sweep brought him to the locked drawer in his bureau. His hands shook as he used the tiny key to open the mechanism. He pulled open the door and stared at what lay before him. A single sheet of paper lay where their wedding bands and marriage certificate should have been.
He picked up the paper and saw his own band shining dully in the bottom of the drawer. Nancy’s was not to be seen. He slipped his on the fourth finger of his left hand. It fit perfectly, just as it always had, just as Nancy always had fit into his arms. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the letter he held. He knew it held the answers to all his questions, yet he feared to open it. Could he stand to read what was written there? Could he stand not to read, not to know? No of course not. He opened the folded paper and began to read.
My dearest Austin:
Please do not hate me. I have loved you as I have never loved any other. You have been friend, partner, husband, and lover to me. You held me up when I could not do so for myself. You made me smile and laugh when my world was ending. I owe you much and it is for this reason that I leave you now.
We cannot continue as we are. I’m holding you back. I don’t enjoy our work as you do. I fear that one day I will hinder you in some way and cause some harm to befall you. Neither can I sat back and watch you go off into the field day after day, never knowing if you will return or not. It eats at my soul and at our love, until I fear that I do not truly love you, as I should as a wife should.
Neither can I live with the half-lives that we are now leading. I need to love and live openly and freely, and we may never do that. Don’t search for me. I do not wish to be found. I know how to insure that. I had a good teacher.
For the two weeks that followed Austin Smyth’s homecoming, he searched for his wife day and night. He simply could not believe that she would leave him. He had read the note, but he had also seen that her wedding band was nowhere to be found, so she must have taken it with her. If she truly had wanted to leave it all behind, she would have left that tiny gold circlet as well.
He took leave of the Agency without explanation, not that one was needed. Most anyone who worked with Smyth and Michaels knew that he was in pursuit of her. Not once did he come close to finding her.
He spent long days with contacts, and even longer nights alone; not sleeping, not eating, merely existing. Finally, nearing exhaustion and mental collapse, he went home. He purged his mind and his soul of every trace of his wife and their former life together. He removed his wedding band and swore that he didn’t love her anymore and that he would never love again. Sometimes, he even believed himself.
He stayed with the Agency and soon made his way to the top of the bureaucratic ladder. He never had another partner and he never married again.
The Q bureau was alive with sound and activity as Lee and Amanda attempted to clear their desks in preparation for their upcoming weekend. They had plans with the boys for their spring break and were eager to get started. They were going to the mountains to stay in a rustic cabin in the wilderness, near their favorite campsite.
Plans included hiking, fishing, and even a fireside cookout, if the weather permitted. Phillip and Jamie were psyched and, so was Lee. Amanda had been calming them down for two days and this morning, when she woke at five AM to the sounds of Lee and the boys pulling out backpacks, tents, and camp cook wear, she simply gave up and let them have their fun. She had even joined in by starting to organize what they would and wouldn’t need, and by making a list of supplies to pick up on the way home this evening.
Now, they were just turning off the computer, filing their reports for this week, and heading out the door, when the phone jangled loudly.
"Don’t answer that!"
"Lee, we have to answer. Mrs. Marston knows we're still here. If we don’t answer, whoever it is, might just call her, and we are going to be caught." Amanda’s voice was calm and logical.
Lee just grimaced and shook his head. "Let’em call her. I’ll go bribe her. She loves flowers, I bet!"
The phone rang for the fourth time. Amanda put her hand over the receiver and rolled her eyes at her husband. "Lee, you don’t have any flowers and Mrs. Marston can’t be bought! You should be ashamed." She picked up the phone and answered, "Q Bureau, Amanda King speaking."
She shot an affectionately exasperated glance at the now sulking Scarecrow and listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. As the voice began to speak, she sat up straighter and visibly tensed. "Yes, Sir. We’ll be right there, Sir." She hung up the phone and sighed hugely before facing her husband who had flopped on the sofa and was refusing to look her in the face.
She walked to the sofa and kneeled next to it. Her voice was soft and persuasive, "Lee, look at me."
He angrily turned his head to the wall, crossed his arms, and shut his eyes tightly. "No." The response was short, but certainly not sweet. Amanda laid her hand on his arm and firmly pulled his hand into hers
"Lee Stetson, now you listen to me. You stop this sulking right now." Her tone was firm and brooked no argument.
Lee opened his eyes and stared at her. "Amanda, I am not one of the boys."
"Then stop acting like one of the boys. Now, that was Dr. Smyth, and he wants to see us before we leave today." She smiled to soften the blow.
Lee closed his eyes, again, and groaned. "I told you not to answer that phone."
"I know. Come on. It might not be anything. Maybe he just wants to yank our chains before we take our long weekend. You know how he is."
Lee straightened his long frame and grasped her other hand in his. He pulled Amanda up to sit with him and said, "Yes, I do know exactly how he is. He would love to find a reason to stop us from taking this much needed break. We’ve been working six days a week, for the last two months, to wrap up this last case, and I am not going to let him take this away from us."
She laid her hand on his knee and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. She nuzzled his cheek briefly, and knew that taking away their weekend was probably exactly what Smyth intended. Ever since they had ‘come clean’ about their marriage in January, Smyth had been contemptuous and even more belligerent than usual. Only the interference of Billy Melrose, on several occasions, had saved Scarecrow from his own temper and its consequences. Amanda looked deep into Lee's eyes and recognized that same anger now coming to light. She shook her head at him and began to talk.
"Lee, there is no need for you to get all angry and upset. Dr. Smyth is going to do what Dr. Smyth is going to do. We can’t argue with him and we can’t do anything about it. We might as well go on down there, and maybe we can save at least part of our weekend."
"It isn’t just us, Amanda. It’s the boys. You know how excited they are about this weekend. How can we go home and disappoint them like this?" He ran his hand through his hair and sighed in frustration.
Amanda had no answer for him, and, so they left the Q Bureau, headed toward the suite of offices that housed the head of the Agency, Austin Smyth.
In his luxurious office, Austin Smyth stared with heavy lidded eyes at the report in front of him. He had been quite surprised when it crossed his desk this morning. After all these years, he had his first real lead in a case he had desperately tried to forget. He had forgotten, at least, that was what he assured himself. Until this morning, that is. For the last eight hours, he had wrestled with this decision. His first instinct was to run, run as fast as he could and take care of this himself. Then he remembered, he questioned his instincts, and began to think of other ways to take care of this. He had immediately thought of his best team, Scarecrow and his partner, his wife, Amanda King.
Smyth grimaced as he thought of the pair. Without a doubt, they were the best team of agents he had in this section, possibly in the entire Agency. Unfortunately, they had crossed the line when they married. Then they had flung it in his face when they proclaimed it to the rest of the world.
The rage that had enveloped him had been overshadowed only by the renewed coldness that had encased his heart when the memories had overcome him. That coldness had tempered the fire of his rage and saved the partnership of Stetson and his housewife. As long as they got the job done, and stayed out of his face, he had decided to leave them be. After all, one never knew when such leverage could be very useful. Now was going to be one of those times.
His intercom beeped and Smyth responded to his receptionist, "Yes, Ms. Tyler?"
"Dr. Smyth, Lee Stetson and Amanda King are here to see you."
Smyth sneered at the use of the housewife’s old name. So she was an independent woman? Well, he knew about them as well. "Show them in, by all means." He sat up straight in his padded chair and turned to face the window behind him.
The door opened and closed and footsteps stopped near his desk. After few minutes, Stetson cleared his throat. "Dr. Smyth."
The chair turned, and the cool, cynical face of Smyth, wreathed in a puff of smoke from the ever-present cigarette, stared back at them. He perused them briefly then handed over the folder containing airline tickets and an address. ‘You’re both going to Kansas, Scarecrow. Tonight. How fitting is that? However, you can fly from Dulles on TWA, instead of in the eye of the storm. And I doubt that you’ll see the other side of the rainbow."
Lee held the folder and his temper tightly. He exchanged looks with Amanda and handed the file back to Smyth. "No, sir. We are not going to Kansas. We have a long weekend and we are just about to leave for it." He laid the file back onto the desk when Smyth refused to take it.
Smyth leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the desk. "So how are you enjoying married life, Scarecrow? Waking up in the same bed, eating dinner with the family, homework and dessert after dishes? Sounds idyllic, really…" His tone clearly stated that this was the farthest thing from idyllic he could imagine. He picked up the folder and re-extended it to the pair in front of him, thrusting it into Lee’s hands. "So much wedded bliss and you get to work together, too. How lucky can one couple be? Just like the fairy tales, happy ever after. If you want to stay that way, I suggest that you pick up this folder and get your bags packed. You’re going after a witness for an Agency related case. Her name is Melanie Michaels and you will find her at the address included."
Lee, trembling with rage, began to throw the file back down. Amanda, seeing the glint in Smyth’s eye, and fearing that Lee’s outrage was precisely what the man wanted to see, laid her hand on Lee’s arm and intervenes. "Dr. Smyth, perhaps we need a bit more information. Who is this Michaels woman and what case is she involved in? What does she look like? Do you have a picture, in case we have to search for her, other than at that address?"
Smyth, now more than slightly angry himself, threw her placating manner back in her face. "No, Mrs. Stetson, I do not think you need a picture to do your job. I suggest that you get your tamed Scarecrow and get him on the plane to Kansas, now, before you only have the happily ever after in your own little castle. Despite obvious beliefs to the contrary, I am the head of this Agency, and if I want you separated, you will be separated!" Smyth pushed the button that opened the door to the outer office and dismissed them with a wave of his hand. He then turned away once more.
Lee started around the edge of the desk, but was stopped by his wife. She shook her head, pulled him through the door, and out of the suite.
"How dare that man threaten us that way?" Lee exploded.
"Because he is the head of the Agency, just like he said. Lee, we don’t have any choice. Now, let’s just go see if Billy knows anything about this, okay?"
With one last glare at the suite behind them, Lee acquiesced, led his wife down the hall, and to the elevator to seek out their Section Chief, Billy Melrose.
Amanda and Lee stood in their bedroom, discussing how to break the news of their imminent departure to Dotty and the boys. Despite their obvious misgivings about their newest mission, they knew that they had no choice, and that they would be on the flight to Wichita, Kansas, as planned.
"Look, Lee, there is no sense in lying to them. We should just tell them that we have to go away on business, and that we will be back as soon as we can."
Amanda’s ever practical approach made sense to Lee, but he hated to think that his stepsons were going to believe that he was putting his job before them, just as their father had. He grimaced at her logic, but in the end, he agreed that her way was best. They descended to the family room, where the boys were watching TV, and broke the news.
Lee and Amanda stood at the doorway to the family room, where both boys were, for once, quietly sharing the TV and the remote. Lee cleared his throat and began the conversation. "Uh hum, hey, guys, can we talk to you a minute?" He approached the couch and perched on the arm, uneasily. He really hated doing this, and he really hated Smyth at this time more than ever.
"We have to tell you something." Amanda’s tone was calm and Lee drew his cue from her.
He spoke quietly but firmly, hoping they would understand and believe that he and their mother were very sincere in their apologies. "We’re going to have to cancel the trip this weekend. Your mother and I have to go out of town for a few days and we have to leave tonight."
"Aw, man! I knew it. I knew something would happen to get in the way. It was just too perfect." Phillip shook his head in disgust. Just when they had Lee and their Mom all to themselves, work had to interfere.
Amanda attempted to smooth the ruffled feathers. "Now, look, fellas, we’re just as disappointed as you are. We were really looking forward to this a whole lot. It just can’t be helped."
While Phillip continued to grouse, Jamie took in the expression on his stepfather’s face. What he saw surprised him. Lee really was sorry. It wasn’t like when his dad canceled and apologized. When that happened, the look on his face said he just wanted to get away as fast as possible and return to his own life, without his sons.
"Hey, Phillip, they said they were sorry. Give’em a break, huh?" Jamie elbowed his big brother and nodded in Lee’s direction.
His face had been growing increasingly somber and even Phillip knew that this was not the time to be a whining teenager. He nodded, suddenly understanding, "Oh, sure. We understand."
Lee and Amanda exchanged surprised glances. Lee studied their faces and asked, "Are you sure you understand? I hate to disappoint you and me. I’ve been really looking forward to spending some time with you two. I don’t want you to think I am going to make a habit of this, like your…well, like anyone else might."
Amanda had shot him a quelling look when she realized where he was going with that line of thought. Quickly, he rethought and rephrased. He really didn’t intend to put Joe down in front of his boys. He had promised himself he wouldn’t be that kind of a stepparent, and, so far, he had done well.
Jamie, hearing the near slip and knowing what it really meant, eased their minds with his next comment. "We know that you would never be like…anyone else, I mean, you’re Lee not…anyone else, and we know that you mean what you say, right, Phillip?"
"Right. And when you say that you will make it up to us, we know that you really mean it." He grinned widely as his parents picked up on his obvious hint of bribery, offering forgiveness for an even better trip next time.
Lee only shook his head and grasped both boys by the shoulders as he stood from his perch on the couch arm. "You know I will, we will." He grinned at Amanda over their heads. "How about we do this later in the week? Maybe we can stay another day and take a trip to that theme park you like so well?"
To their surprise, Phillip and Jamie took the change in plans quite well. They chose a philosophical approach. They agreed that they would return from their father’s early at the end of their spring vacation, and attempt to have their wilderness outing at that time. They also decided to go ahead to their father’s now. They didn’t want him to feel cheated of time with them when they told him that they would be returning three days earlier than planned. Phillip went off to tell his girlfriend of the change in their plans, while Jamie went to repack his bag for the trip to Joe’s apartment instead of the cabin.
As Lee and Amanda were congratulating themselves on a job well done, Dotty arrived and they moved to the kitchen and started to tell their tale, again.
"Uh, Dotty? Amanda and I have been called away on business and we will be leaving for Wichita, Kansas tonight," Lee began the spiel, and Amanda took up when he left off.
"We’ll only be gone a few days and there shouldn’t be any danger, so there is no need for you to worry while we're gone."
"Well, Darling, if you are going…" Dotty began.
Amanda held up her hands to indicate that she wasn’t through when Dotty attempted to break in to the conversation. "We’ve already spoken to the boys and they are just going to go ahead to Joe and Carrie’s, and you won’t have to change your plans, you can still go away with Kurt this weekend."
Dotty began to speak once more, "Amanda, I am…"
Lee headed her off before she could finish that thought as well. "We are planning to be back in plenty of time to take the boys on our trip to the cabin next weekend, and they really do understand, so don’t feel like you have to go out of your way to do anything special with them, really, just enjoy your weekend away." He smiled winningly and shrugged his shoulders.
Dotty threw up her hand in exasperation. "Well, really! If you two would stop trying to convince me long enough for me to speak, I can tell you what I want!" Her daughter and son-in-law grew silent and sheepish in the face of her outburst. Amanda smiled hesitantly and shrugged her own slim shoulders in response. "Sorry, Mother. What is it you want to say?"
Dotty shook her head at the pair before her and started to explain, "While you are in Wichita, I wondered if you would mind looking up an old friend for me?"
Lee stared at her, "You mean, you have no objections to our winging off like this?"
"Why, Lee, why would I have any objections? You are both grown, responsible adults. And I am sure you know exactly what you are doing." Dotty seemed truly perplexed.
Lee and Amanda exchanged surreptitious glances. They could never predict what kind of reaction they were going to get from Dotty.
Dotty waited for more interruptions. When no more were forthcoming, she began to explain again. "I would like for you to go to see my friend, Nancy. She is very sick. She has cancer and a very short time to live. I spoke with her on the phone last week and she was very worried about her daughter. I want her to know that she can call on me anytime. She was a very good friend, and if she needs me, I want her to know that I'm here for her."
"Mother, I didn’t even know you knew anyone in Wichita. Of course, we will be happy to see her for you." Amanda laid her hand on her mother’s on the counter between them.
"Oh, I met Nancy while you were away at college. She was new to the area and we met at the grocery store. One thing led to another, we had tea, then lunch, and soon we were very close. It just broke my heart when she up and left. I so wanted to help her, but she wouldn’t let me and before I knew it she had moved. We’ve kept in touch briefly over the years, and her call last week really upset me terribly." Dotty smiled sadly and Lee found himself reaching out to comfort her.
He laid his strong arm around her shoulders and hugged her, slightly. Dotty affectionately patted his hand. "It’s so nice to have a man in the house, Dear. There is nothing more comforting than a strong shoulder to lean on. And I don’t worry too much about you two as long as you’re together, you know. I promise, I won’t worry if you will just check in on Nancy and Melanie for me. Their last name is Michaels and here is their address."
She took the envelope from her purse and extended it to them. Without waiting for a response, she walked briskly up the stairs, presumably to prepare for her evening dinner date.
Meanwhile, Lee and Amanda stared at each other in amazement. Lee shook his head before he began to speak. "No way, Amanda. There is simply no way that it can be the same person. I mean, what are the chances?"
"This is our life and our family we are talking about. I don’t question chances anymore, Lee. It just isn’t safe."
"You’re right. Go ask your Mother if she has a picture of either Nancy or Melanie. I’m going to tell Billy we need a background check on this Nancy Michaels."
Lee headed to the phone, and Amanda to the bedroom her mother occupied upstairs. She paused outside the door and tapped as she called out, "Mother? May I come in?"
Dotty’s wavering voice responded, "Yes, Dear."
She eased the door open and found her mother sitting on her bed with a framed picture in her hand. "Mother, are you okay? You’ve been crying!"
"Oh, Darling, I just can’t imagine what Nancy must be going through right now. To know that you are dying is bad enough, but to know that you are leaving your sixteen year old daughter alone is just terrible."
"Melanie Michaels is only sixteen years old?" Amanda softly inquired.
"Yes. Look, this is the both of them. I got this just last week, right before I got the phone call." She held out the photo, and Amanda saw a dark haired woman of about 45 with her arms around a lovely blond girl. Both wore big smiles and stared back at her through the glass with beautiful blue eyes. "They are so close, like you and me, Amanda. I’ve never met Melanie, but I’ve spoken with her on the phone, so often that I think I know her." Dotty sighed and her shoulders slumped dejectedly. "I just wish I could help them."
"Mother, I know how you feel. And I promise that we will do anything we can for them while we are in Kansas. Do you mind if we take this picture?"
"Well, okay, just so that you are very careful with it. It is very dear to me." Dotty clasped the picture to her chest, briefly, before handing it over, while staring thoughtfully at her daughter. "Amanda, why do you want the picture? I gave you the address. And Nancy has seen pictures of you. I sent her a snapshot just last month of you and the boys."
Amanda held the picture in a manner similar to her mother's, then leaned over to hug Dotty. "Mother, I may as well tell you, we’ve been sent to Kansas to find someone and that someone’s name is Melanie Michaels. Now, we know that the chances are slim that it is the same person, but we’ve seen more bizarre things happen, and my gut tells me that this is related."
"Your gut?" Dotty seemed dubious.
"Yes, Mother, my gut, my instincts. Lee agrees with me. He’s asking for more information right now."
Amanda voice and face were sincere, so Dotty questioned no more. She only sighed mightily. Amanda patted her mother on the hand. "Oh, Mother, you’re so upset. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"No, Dear. I’m going to stay in tonight. I’ve already called Kurt before you came upstairs and told him. You go and hurry home. I’ll miss you both."
Amanda walked slowly downstairs, gazing at the smiling visages of the women in the photo before her. She felt deeply for their plight. How on Earth would she feel knowing that her mother was dying and that there was nothing she could do about it? Not to mention how, as a mother herself, her own heart ached as she thought of leaving her boys alone and without the comfort and security of parents who loved them.
She vowed to herself, right then and there, that no matter what Smyth was up to, she would do everything in her power care for and safeguard Melanie in the weeks that were to come. She would, also, try her best to comfort and reassure the dying Nancy that her daughter would be cared for, and to ease her passing from this world.
Unaware that she had halted at the top of the landing and was leaning against the banister, Amanda was somewhat surprised when Lee called her name, dragging her back into the present.
"Amanda? What are you doing? Are you all right?" Lee stood at the base of the stairs and looked up at her, concern on his face.
"What? Oh, yes, I’m fine. Sorry. I guess I sort of zoned out there for a minute. Lee, here is the picture of Nancy and Melanie." She now rushed down the rest of stairs, holding the picture out to him.
"Nice looking people…wonder how Smyth knows them?" Lee sarcastically intoned.
"I don’t know. Did you get anything from Billy?"
"Not much. He says Smyth isn’t talking and no one else seems to be aware of the case. I ran the names by him, but they didn’t ring any bells. He says he’ll let us know if he comes up with anything." Lee shrugged as if to indicate that he wasn’t holding out much hope.
"Well, I don’t like this. Something is wrong with the whole situation. Why on earth would he send us to bring in a kid? And not mention the mother? I just don’t like it, Lee." She shook her head vigorously as she repeated her sentiment.
Lee reached out to pull her close and rubbed his hands along her back. "Shhh…I know. I don’t like it either. Look, I’ll go get our bags and we’ll swing by the Agency before we head for the airport. We’ll get answers from Smyth, one way or the other!"
"Right!" She headed to the family room to call the boys and yelled for her mother to come downstairs. "Boys, we’re leaving now. Come say goodbye."
She quickly grabbed both boys into hugs and kissed their heads. They ducked out quickly and headed back to the TV. They passed Lee on the way and exchanged hi-fives and ‘see ya’ laters.' Lee and Amanda both admonished them to behave in their absence, and kissed Dotty on the cheek on their way out the door.
Lee paused long enough to whisper. "Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of her and she’s going to take care of me. We always do."
Dotty smiled and patted his cheek. "I know, dear. I don’t worry, too much."
Amanda looked back to see what was holding up her husband, and grinned at his closeness to her mother. In many ways, Dotty seemed to have accepted Lee, not only as a son-in-law, but as a second child as well. Just like Amanda, mothering came naturally to the older woman and Lee never turned it down. That was quite a change from the Lee that Amanda had known just a few short years ago. The sight of this Lee and her mother together always made her smile.
Lee joined her on the stoop. They loaded the car and headed out to confront Dr. Austin Smyth about the exact nature of their case.
Lee and Amanda entered the hall outside the offices of Austin Smyth for the second time that day. The hour was late, and they weren’t sure that Smyth was, indeed, still there. They approached the receptionist, Ms. Tyler, and asked to see the man. Ms. Tyler, thinking to save her boss and herself from another late night, immediately began to tell them that Smyth was not available at that time.
"I’m sorry, Mr. Stetson, Dr. Smyth isn’t available right now. Perhaps you could make an appointment to see him in the morning?" She stood as if to usher them out of the office.
"NO, that won’t be possible, Ms. Tyler. We must see him tonight, now…" Lee began to step toward the inner door and put one hand on the knob only to feel the door swing open from the inside.
Smyth stood framed in the doorway, looking the other man straight in the eye. "Scarecrow, what can I do for you? Did you forget the way to the Emerald City? Need me to call the Munchkins to show you to the right airport terminal?" His tone mocked the Stetson’s and Lee began to grow angry again.
"Now, you look here, Smyth…" Lee forced his way into the room, brushing past Smyth rather roughly.
"Lee, let’s just discuss this rationally, all right?" Amanda stepped into the office behind them with her hands outstretched. "Let’s just all sit down. Dr. Smyth, we need to ask you something about Melanie Michaels."
"Glenda, the good witch, always trying to maintain peace and harmony, eh? Very well, what is it you want to know?" Smyth retreated behind his desk and lit another of the thin cigarettes he preferred and inhaled through the elegant holder.
Amanda, as irritated as Lee by the overuse of the Wizard of Oz references, decided to cut right to the chase. She thrust the picture of Melanie and Nancy Michaels in his face and abruptly asked, "Is this the same person you want us to bring back here, and do you know that she is only sixteen years old?"
Austin Smyth slowly laid down the cigarette and reached for the frame. His gaze swept the faces captured there, and for several long seconds, Amanda would have sworn that such a look of intense pain and anguish was seen in his eyes, that she very nearly reached out to comfort the man. She thought better of the action, and instead, sat in the chair directly across the desk from him, watching as the cool blue eyes took in every detail, then quickly shuttered themselves behind the same old mask of sardonic amusement.
"Where did you get this?" Smyth irreverently tossed the frame back at Amanda.
"That’s not important. What is important is for you to answer the question. Is this the same person we are going to see?" Lee spoke again, still obviously feeling angry toward the man across the desk.
"Not just see, Scarecrow, to apprehend and bring back to the Agency. Or don’t come back at all, at least not together."
Amanda interceded again. "So this is the same person? Dr. Smyth, we can’t just bring her in, she’s a minor. She has a mother and they have rights. Why do you want her so badly?"
"Not that I think it any of your business, Mrs. Stetson, but I suppose you have a need to know a bit of background." Smyth paused just long enough for Scarecrow to become even angrier than before.
Lee leaned to the edge of his chair to look directly into Smyth’s face. "Oh, yes, this time you had better believe we deserve to have more information. It’s our lives we’re putting on the line every time we go out into the field on some crazy stunt you’ve dreamed up, not yours."
His voice had taken on the deceptively calm tone that indicated how angry he really was. He stood from his chair and leaned over the desk, dangerously close to his superior.
"It’s our family that’s sitting at home wondering if we’re coming home for dinner, or at all for that matter. It’s our children that miss us when we’re on some all night stake out, trying to bring in the bad guys, so that you can gloat up to the White House and take all the glory!"
Smyth, blown away by the pain that had overcome him as he heard Lee expound on all the things that he could have had with Nancy, and what he could only assume must be his child. Their child, had she not betrayed him so many years ago. He grew enraged at his loss and began to speak in the icy tones that had brought many other agents to their knees.
"Don’t you dare throw your total lack of respect for the rules and regulations of this Agency in my face. You should be on your knees, both of you, thanking me for not breaking your partnership up, for not charging you with insubordination and everything else I can think of!"
Smyth paused for air in the midst of this diatribe, and Amanda decided to intervene once again before this situation grew totally out of hand.
"Dr. Smyth, sir, we didn’t come here to argue with you. We just felt like we needed a little more information to do this job correctly and safely." She picked up the previously discarded frame and weighed it thoughtfully in one hand, hoping to draw his attention to it. When his gaze had indeed come back to the photo and away from Lee, she added, "Safely, for everyone concerned."
After briefly seeing the faces in the picture again, with a curt nod, he concurred with her statement and turned away from the couple to compose himself.
Amanda turned to her husband, who had paced several steps away from the desk as she spoke, and raised one hand to his chest to stroke softly over his lapel. His fists were clenched tightly at his sides as he struggled to contain his temper. After several moments and the sound of Smyth turning to again face them, Amanda stepped away from him and together they approached the desk again.
All three sat, and after a few seconds, Smyth began to speak. His normally sarcastic tone was subdued and he spoke in a near monotone. "Nearly twenty years ago, I worked in the field, just like you. I was under the direct supervision of Harry V. Thornton. He was still Section Chief, then, and had personally recruited me. Shortly after I started to work for the Agency, Thornton presented me with a partner. Her name was Nancy Michaels. She was one of the first women to be recruited to the field section of the Agency and I was to be her preceptor, her trainer, and eventually her partner."
Smyth stopped and relit the cigarette he had discarded during their previous ‘discussion.' He inhaled deeply, then continued in a slightly stronger tone of voice. "We had worked together for nearly three years when I was sent on a solo run to Europe. I returned to find that she had disappeared. Quit the agency and totally dropped out of site. I’ve had no knowledge of her, until today, when a report of her and her daughter crossed my desk this morning. It said that they were living in Wichita, Kansas."
"Sir, if I might ask, why are you so concerned with her now? Especially her daughter, Melanie?" Amanda held the photograph, once again, tipped it toward Smyth, and pointed at the young, blond girl.
Smyth, never once looking down at the picture or betraying the emotion in his heart by the tone of his voice, said, "Because when Nancy Michaels dies…she has cancer and has very little time to live…she will be leaving her daughter alone. Left to her own devices or with Nancy’s family, she might become just like the mother, a traitor. To prevent that, I, myself, am willing to take on her care."
He spoke the last quite calmly as if he confessed to the desire to raise an orphaned child everyday. He next stood and reached for his coat on the rack behind his desk. He pulled it on and walked past the stunned pair to the outer door. He looked back and offered one more comment. "Now, I suggest that you do not miss that plane. Or else, you will be coming back to separate offices and separate jobs!"
After a few moments of stunned silence passed with Lee and Amanda attempting to assimilate the information that had been shared with them, Ms. Tyler appeared at the door.
"Mr. Stetson, Mrs. King? You really must go now. Security will be here soon to lock up the offices."
Lee and Amanda filed past her and into the outer hall. They looked into each other’s eyes and spoke almost as one, "Well, what do you think?"
Lee shook his head and answered, "I’m not sure. We still don’t have the whole story. I’m sure of that much, anyway!"
"I agree. What are we going to do?"
"We’re going to Kansas. Come on, or we’ll miss our plane. Suddenly, I’m very eager to see just what this Nancy Michaels has to say about all this." Lee grabbed her hand. They rushed out of the Agency, headed for Dulles and their plane.
Marshall Henderson and his son, Ricky, sat at the end of the bar at Nicky’s Hideaway lounge. They were waiting for Nicky, himself, an old informant, to show up and reveal what urgent information had prompted him to call them down to the bar this late at night.
At least Marshall knew him as an old informant. Ricky just thought he was a good, although strange, friend of the family. For several years now, Nicky Donner had been calling his dad and leaving weird messages, or just showing up at unexpected times and pulling his dad away for private conversations. His dad always seemed glad to see him, and Nicky usually always had pocket change he was willing to pass on to the younger Ricky. As Ricky grew older, sometimes, Nicky even slipped him the odd cigarette or a can of beer.
So when the phone rang at ten thirty Friday night, and Ricky heard his dad greet the other man, he wasn’t extremely surprised to see Marshall leaving for the bar shortly afterward. What had surprised him was Marshall’s agreeing to let his son accompany him, for the first time.
Ricky had recently turned eighteen, and while he still wasn’t of legal drinking age, he could enter the bar and drink soda as his father nursed his whiskey. Besides, sometimes, Marshall overindulged and Ricky felt better knowing that he was available to drive him home when the night was over.
Now, as they sat in the smoky room and listened to the jukebox belt out drinking songs, Ricky watched the ladies flirt with his dad, and his dad flirt with the ladies, and he waited patiently for his chance to break away and do a little flirting of his own with the small blond sitting in the corner by the back door.
As he imagined how he would offer his best line, he heard Nicky enter and loudly yell at his old man. "Hey, Marsh! You no good, cheating, whiskey-drinking son of a gun! How ya been?"
Ricky rolled his eyes and saw his father jump up to return the sentiment in equally fond terms, and he used the distraction as his chance to escape to try his opening line on the cute little blond, who was also eyeing him. Ricky totally forgot them both as the blond took his hand and led him to the dance floor way in the back of the room.
Big, burly Nicky lit his cigarette and took a long drag through thin, hard lips. His dark eyes watched Henderson intently as if determining how to play this little exchange to his best advantage. He and Marshall had had this little arrangement for quite some time now, years, to be exact. Nicky listened to the air around him and heard interesting things. Then, he’d call good ole Marsh, who paid him big bucks to tell him what he heard.
Marshall finished his shot of whiskey, ordered another, and finally looked to the man across from him. "Well? What have you heard? Is she really there?"
"Yep. She’s there. Been there for about seventeen years now. Seems to have settled in Wichita after leaving DC and never left." He shrugged his shoulders, and the black, serpent adorned T-shirt stretched over the large biceps. "She’s been living a nice quiet suburban life, with her daughter Melanie."
"Daughter? What daughter?" Henderson looked genuinely surprised. He’d been watching out for Nancy Michaels since she had left DC years ago. He just wanted to make sure that she followed directions, so that he kept his own hide intact. Unfortunately, she’d been well trained, and when she disappeared, she disappeared completely.
"The one she had about six and a half months after moving there." Nicky watched as the other man’s eyes gleamed with the information and knew that he would be well paid tonight.
"Six and a half months, huh?"
Nicky nodded and said no more. He sat back and waited for the questions he knew were coming.
"Why now? Why is she contacting the Agency now? It’s been nearly two decades. If she was going to talk, she would have already would have, damn it." Henderson slapped the small table and sloshed his whiskey over the rim of the glass.
"Maybe she didn’t contact them? Maybe they found her? You said yourself that Smyth still works for the Agency. Maybe he still wants her?"
"No, I saw Austin Smyth after he came back from searching for her all those years ago. He was through with her and all women. He never bothered to remarry or get attached in any way."
"Well, there may be one reason…" Nicky's voice trailed off, and he waited for Henderson to rise to the bait.
"The kid? You think Smyth is her father?"
"Well, maybe…" His tone said there was more, for a price.
Marshall Henderson recognized the message. He reached for his wallet and began to leaf through the bills. He pulled out two one hundred dollar bills and laid them on the table between them. He left one finger on the corner of the bills and waited for the rest of the information.
Nicky thought briefly, then nodded. He pulled the bills toward him, pausing as Henderson resisted. "Yeah, I think she’s Smyth’s. And according to my sources, soon, she’s gonna be an orphan."
The finger on the corner of the bills lifted, and Henderson watched as the other man swiftly pocketed it. "How?"
"The broad has cancer. Only got a few weeks to live." Nicky Donner shrugged as if this was inconsequential to him.
Marshall thought about this newest twist. What if Smyth was looking for Nancy and the girl? Who knew? Maybe Nancy would feel compelled to confess all when she was reunited with her lost love. He wasn’t about to take any chances.
Henderson hailed the nearest waitress and inquired about his son, Ricky. After learning that he was on the dance floor in the back of the bar, he sent the girl to bring the boy back to his table. Nicky left after promising to keep Henderson informed of any further developments, and soon, Ricky appeared with the small blond attached to his right arm.
"Yeah, Dad?" Ricky grinned from ear to ear and was obviously proud of his prowess with this particular female.
"We've got to go, son. We’ve got a flight to catch."
Disappointed, he watched as the perky blond wandered away, disinterested in the father-son interaction. "Flight? What flight? Where are we going?"
"The flight you are going to book for us as soon as we get home. I’ve got some business to attend to. So you’re going home to call the airlines, and I’ll join you as soon as I get done." Marshall Henderson stood and left several bills on the table to cover his bar tab. He pulled his credit card from his wallet and handed it to the young man. "Use this and we’ll pick up the tickets at the airport."
"But Dad, I still don’t know where we are going!"
"Wichita, Kansas, my boy." With those words, he ducked into a phone booth at the back of the bar and left the baffled Ricky staring after him.
The next day, after an overnight layover in St. Louis, Lee and Amanda arrived in Wichita promptly at 11:00 A.M. They stopped to rent a car and get directions to the Wichita Royale Hotel, where they planned to stay. Half an hour later, Lee and Amanda were on their way.
"I can't believe Smyth gave us detailed directions to Nancy Michaels' house, but not to the hotel. We lost fifteen minutes of time waiting for the rental clerk to find the directions on his map," an angry Lee lamented as Amanda drove.
"I hope you're getting this out of your system. It won't do us any good if you're still upset. I think Dr. Smyth is more concerned with Nancy Michaels than our hotel," Amanda said in an attempt to calm down her partner.
"Smyth will find a way to blame us for it. I swear, that man does these things on purpose, so he'll have a reason to separate us," Lee continued. He took a look at the directions. "Turn left at the next stoplight."
"I'm surprised that you let me drive. Usually you'd insist on taking the wheel," Amanda said, trying to change the subject.
"I can barely sit in this thing, let alone drive it. This makes the 'Vette look like a limo. You'd think, at eleven in the morning, the rental places would have a better selection of cars."
"The man at the last counter explained that they don't get the cars in for the day until noon." Amanda reminded him as she turned into the hotel parking lot. As soon as Amanda parked the car, Lee quickly eased out. They retrieved their luggage from the trunk and walked to the hotel lobby.
"Good morning, Sir," the desk clerk addressed Lee as he and Amanda stopped at the front desk.
"We have a reservation under the name Stetson," Lee told him.
The clerk checked the reservation book. "Yes, Sir. You are in the honeymoon suite, room 411."
"The honeymoon suite?" a surprised Amanda asked.
"The man who made your reservation insisted on it," the clerk answered as he handed Lee a set of keys. "He told me to give you a message. 'Do as you are told, or this will be the last time Scarecrow and his beloved work together as partners.' Strange man," the clerk stroked his chin, "he kept talking in riddles and rhymes. I hope you have a nice stay."
"Thank you." Amanda said as she and Lee went to the elevator.
An hour later, Lee and Amanda parked in front of Nancy Michael's house on Belmont Street. They exited the car and proceeded to the front porch, where Melanie sat on a swing reading a book.
Amanda tapped the young woman's shoulder. "Excuse me, but is your mother home?"
Without looking up from her book, Melanie said, "If you are the Avon lady, we're not interested."
"I'm not the Avon lady," Amanda assured her. "My name is Amanda Stetson. My mother is a friend of your mother's. Her name is Dotty West. My husband and I are here to visit your mother on my mother's behalf."
Melanie looked up from her book and studied Amanda's face. "I recognize you from the picture Mrs. West sent us. My mother is out back. She likes to sit out there with her flowers." Melanie paused for a few seconds. "I'll take you to her."
Melanie led Lee and Amanda through the house to the backyard.
"Mama, this is Amanda, Mrs. West's daughter," Melanie announced.
"I've heard so much about you," Nancy said. She took a look at Lee and asked, "Who is this good looking fellow?"
"That's my husband, Lee," Amanda answered as she and Lee took turns shaking Nancy's hand.
Nancy looked up and smiled, "It's nice to finally meet you."
"Same here," Amanda returned her smile.
"If you would excuse me, I think I'll go back out front," Melanie announced.
"Okay, Sweetie," Nancy said as Melanie left the backyard.
Nancy pointed to a carafe and some cups arranged on a nearby table. "Would you like some coffee?"
Amanda nodded. "That would be nice."
Nancy stood and reached for the coffee pot. Shakily, she struggled to lift it. Amanda noticed and said, "Why don't I pour the coffee? I don't want you to overexert yourself, for us."
As Amanda poured the coffee into the cups, Nancy said, "You remind me of your mother. Did Dotty send you?"
"Yes, she's very concerned about you. Mother said you were very ill."
"I'm not just ill, Amanda," Nancy confessed, "I'm dying."
"Is there anything we can do for you?" Amanda asked, distress evident in her voice. "How is Melanie coping with this?"
"It's always been just the two of us," Nancy said sadly. "It's going to be really hard on her when I go."
Amanda reached over and placed her hand gently on Nancy's arm. "My mother wanted us to tell you that you and Melanie can call on her if you need anything."
"Tell her, thank you." Nancy patted Amanda's hand and nodded. "We'll keep that in mind."
Lee decided that it was time to move onto the other purpose of their visit. "Ms. Michaels . . . " he began.
"Please, call me Nancy," she answered.
"Nancy, this isn't just a social call." Lee's eyes met hers. "Amanda and I work for the Agency. Our boss, Dr. Smyth, sent us here."
Nancy stood there in shock. She never thought that she would ever hear the words "the Agency" again. Sitting back down in her lawn chair, Nancy asked, "Do you mean Austin Smyth?"
"Yes. He wants us to find Melanie and bring her back to DC."
Nancy sat there for a few minutes. "Why does he want you to do that?"
Amanda explained, "He told us that you had been his partner and had suddenly disappeared while he was on an overseas assignment. He discovered that you were dying and he wants to take care of Melanie when," Amanda paused awkwardly. "Well, when you're gone, so that she has a better life."
"Better than what?" Nancy wanted to know.
"He thinks you're a traitor," Lee told her bluntly.
"You mean, so she doesn't end up like me? Austin really thinks I'm a traitor?" she asked with disbelief.
Both Lee and Amanda nodded yes.
"I can't believe this. He thinks I'm a traitor," she shrugged her shoulders and turned to study the bed of tulips before her. "I knew he would be devastated when I left, but I never thought he would think bad things of me. Austin and I were more than partners. We were husband and wife."
Lee and Amanda were speechless. Dr. Smyth had been married to his partner.
"You see, the penalties were very strict for agent partners who became romantically involved. Austin and I fell in love and married in secret. I was forced to leave him all those years ago, but I'm no traitor." She sighed and pointed toward the door, "Why don't we go inside and I'll tell you what happened?"
Lee helped Nancy to her feet and escorted her inside. She led a stunned Lee and Amanda into the living room. As soon as everyone was comfortably seated, Nancy began her story. "Austin was on an overseas assignment. One month before his return, I went to see my doctor and discovered that I was pregnant. After my appointment, I went to work . . . "
Nancy strolled into the Georgetown foyer. Nothing could ruin her great mood. Noticing her good friend, Marge Marston, she said, "Morning, Marge. Today's password is 'blue ribbon.'"
Mrs. Marston handed Nancy her ID pass. "Nancy, you're in a chipper mood today."
"Marge, I just received the most wonderful news," she bubbled with excitement. "Are you free for lunch this afternoon?"
Mrs. Marston nodded. "Is that when I get to hear your good news?"
"I wish I could tell you right now, but I can't. Don't want the wrong people to overhear."
"I understand. How about Nedlinger's at one?"
"That's fine. I better get down to the Bullpen and see if Harry needs me for anything."
Nancy was on her way to the elevator when Mrs. Marston called after her, "Wait a minute, Nancy. Martin Miller wants to see you in his office."
"What does Old Man Miller want with me?" a curious Nancy asked.
"I have no idea, but you better go see him right away."
Nancy nodded. "I will." Then, she added with a smile, "See you at one." Nancy entered the elevator and pressed the button to the bottom floor, the location of Martin Miller's office.
Nancy entered the office. Marshall Henderson, Martin Miller's assistant, sat talking with his boss. Suddenly, the conversation stopped and Henderson rose and left the office.
"Agent Michaels, how nice of you to join me." Martin Miller motioned to a chair. "Please sit down," he sarcastically said as Nancy entered his office.
Nancy sat and asked, "You wanted to see me, Sir?"
"I want to talk to you about your marriage to Austin Smyth."
A dazed Nancy couldn't believe it. 'How did he find out?' she wondered. After taking a few seconds to compose herself, she said, "I have no idea what you're talking about. Austin and I are just partners."
"Don't give me that. I have proof that you and Agent Smyth are married," Miller barked. He took an envelope from his desk. He opened the envelope and removed a slip of paper and several photographs, and handed them to Nancy.
Nancy looked at the items. They included a copy of her and Austin's marriage license, their wedding picture, and several other more compromising photographs. Studying each item carefully, she demanded, "Where did you get these?"
"That's need to know, and you don't," Miller said with a cruel smile. He raised an eyebrow, "You are aware that it's against agency rules for partners to marry."
Nancy nodded her head. "I'm very aware of that detail, Sir."
"The rulebook says that partners who marry are immediately terminated and charged with insubordination and whatever I deem necessary. Normally, I'd throw the book at you both, but I'm willing to make a deal."
Nancy gulped, "What kind of deal are you talking about, Sir?"
"I'm giving you a choice, you can stay here with your husband and take your punishment, together, or you can disappear, out of his life never to be heard from again. If you stay here, I promise that I'll make both of your lives miserable. I can 'produce' evidence that'll make it appear that you and Smyth are working with the Russians. However, if you leave, I'll take Austin under my wing and give him the training and guidance he'll need to become head of the Agency. No charges will be brought up against either of you," he lowered his voice, "and no one will learn the truth." A sinister edge punctuated his words as he added, "I'd hate for anything to interfere with your health."
Nancy looked at him in disbelief. She couldn't believe what he'd said. She put her hand on her stomach. If she stayed here, not only would Austin's career be ruined, something might happen to her baby.
Miller noticed Nancy's placement of her hand, and took advantage of her shock at the turn of events. "I know you are expecting a child. You underwent the semi-annual Agency physical last week, and I just received the results this morning. You don't want to stay here and possibly lose your baby, now, do you?" The tone of his voice was threatening. "Taking the second option will be the best for everyone involved." He got out two envelopes and handed them to her. "These envelopes contain your resignation from the Agency and the letter you'll leave Agent Smyth. You need only to sign the resignation letter and copy the other letter in your own handwriting. Now, which option are you going to take?" He looked at Nancy, waiting for her to make her move.
Nancy opened the envelope containing the letter of resignation and signed the letter inside. "Does this answer your question? I would do anything to keep Austin out of trouble, not to mention, protect the life of our child. But, you knew that, didn't you?"
He never answered her question. "After you copy the other letter in your own writing, you are to finish the day. Come back here at five. To make sure you do as you are told, after you leave the Agency today; I will accompany you to Los Angeles. In addition, I will tap Smyth's phone lines, bug his apartment, and read his mail. Keep that in mind if you ever try to contact him, because if you do, both of you will be brought up on charges. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Sir." Nancy said with tears in her eyes as she began to copy the letter . . .
Nancy paused. She took a couple of breaths and continued, "After I left his office, I went to my cubicle and cleared out my desk. I decided to get out of there as soon as I could, without him knowing. I left the Agency and cleared my belongings from Austin's apartment and my own. I met Marge for lunch and told her everything. She promised to keep quiet. She gave me the address of her sister in Wichita, Kansas. After we said goodbye, I went to visit Dotty. She wanted to help, but for her own good, I couldn't let her get involved. I used her phone to make airplane reservations under an assumed name. By the time I was supposed to meet Miller in his office, I was in Wichita." With the memory still fresh in her mind, she started to feel overwhelmed. Holding back her tears, she finished her story. "I stayed underground until I gave birth to Melanie. Marge called and told me that Austin and everyone else from the Agency had stopped looking for me. That it was okay to come out of hiding. For her safety, I insisted that she not keep in contact with. I've been here ever since."
"Wow," Amanda said, trying to get the image of a brokenhearted Dr. Smyth out of her head.
"Nancy, I'm sorry that happened to you, but I've gotta ask this. Did Dr. Smyth always talk in rhymes and riddles? Was he cold and sarcastic?" Lee asked, a sheepish smile upon his face.
"No, he was a warm, fair, and honest man. He always watched out for me while we were in the field. He was compassionate, sincere, and filled with love." She paused. With sadness reflecting in her voice, she continued, "The man you're describing sounds like Martin Miller. He said he would take Austin under his wing. I can't believe Austin turned into him." She shivered at the thought.
"He certainly has, but at least, now, we know why." Lee said.
"I guess my leaving was the final straw. The day of our wedding, Austin's whole family was killed in a fire. All he had left were his career and…well, me. Austin had worked too hard for his career to be ruined. I had to leave for his sake and the sake of our child." Nancy burst into tears.
"Don't be too hard on yourself," Amanda said as she walked over and slipped her arm around the older woman's shoulders in an attempt to comfort her. "You did what you had to do. We know what the Agency is like. We understand and we'll help you to make him understand."
Lee ran his hand through his hair. As much as he hated Smyth, he could identify with how the man must have felt at the sudden disappearance of his wife. Lee shuddered at the thought. Against his better judgment, he heard himself saying, "Amanda's right. "We'll help you reach him."
Marshall drove down the street. He pretended to go to a movie with Ricky. As soon as Ricky had sat down in his seat and distracted by the film, Marshall left the movie theater. Although the Michaels woman's house was within walking distance, Marshall took the rental car. The Wichita Mall proved itself the perfect hiding place; large enough to allow him to hide, yet, small enough to make a quick escape. It had an empty store to hide in, and plenty of things to distract Ricky and keep him from asking questions. Parking the car a couple of houses away, he got out and walked to the Michaels' house. On the front porch sat a beautiful young, blond girl. She was reading a book.
"Excuse me, are you Melanie Michaels?" Marshall asked. Melanie, caught up in her book, ignored him.
Marshall took out a bottle of chloroform and a washcloth from his pocket. He put a little of the chloroform on the washcloth and covered Melanie's nose with it as she started to struggle. Within seconds Melanie passed out, Marshall took the book out of her hands, lifted her up, and carried her to his car. He didn't notice that he'd dropped his movie ticket stub, or that it had gone under the porch. Marshall started the car and drove off with Melanie safely stowed in the backseat.
"I guess, I'd better go get Melanie and explain all of this to her," Nancy said as she got up. "I'll be right back."
"I still can't believe that Dr. Smyth was ever able to feel love," Lee admitted.
"Now that I think about it, it explains a lot of things to me," Amanda told him. "Especially his reaction to our marriage. I thought for sure that he would separate us."
Before Lee could respond, Nancy screamed. Lee and Amanda jumped to their feet and rushed to the front yard.
"Melanie's gone," Nancy cried hysterically. "Her book's still here. Melanie wouldn't go anywhere without telling me; her car's still in the driveway."
Amanda put her arm around Nancy to console her. "Let's go inside. I'll get you a cup of tea, then Lee and I will call Dr. Smyth."
An upset Nancy shook her head. "No, don't call him. Call the police first, better yet let me call some neighbors. Maybe she went to talk to one of them."
Lee, Amanda, and Nancy went back inside. Nancy tried to lay down on the sofa, but was too agitated to stay still. Amanda went into the kitchen. Ten minutes later, Amanda returned with a cup of tea and two coffees.
"Did you call the police?" Amanda asked Lee.
"Yes, but they said that they couldn't get involved until Melanie was missing for 24 hours. I then tried calling Smyth from his office, but Ms. Tyler said he wasn't in," Lee told her.
"Did you try his private line?"
"I was just about to. Why don't you call and tell him. Maybe he'll take the news better from you," Lee suggested.
"I agree." Amanda went to the phone and dialed Smyth's private number.
After two rings, Smyth answered the phone.
She identified herself and reported, "Dr. Smyth, we have a bit of a problem. It seems that . . . I don't know how to tell you this, but it appears that Melanie Michaels was kidnapped while we were talking to Nancy." Amanda said the words as delicately as possible, expecting the worst. After a few seconds, Amanda hung up the phone.
"That didn't take long," Lee noted.
"He only said that he's taking his private plane and he'll be here as soon as he can," a stunned Amanda responded as she shook her head.
"Guess he's waiting until he gets here to yell at us," Lee said, rolling his eyes to the ceiling.
Three hours later, Austin Smyth stepped out of a limo and turned to tip the driver. He noticed that Scarecrow and the housewife were talking to neighbors. Satisfied they were doing an effective search, he picked up his garment bag and walked to the front door. As soon as he got to the door, he knocked.
The door opened. Nancy stood in the doorway, leaning to one side for support. Despite the paleness of her skin and her thinning hair, she looked as beautiful as the day he had met her. "Come in," a nervous Nancy said as she led the way. She couldn't believe that Austin was here. The only thing that kept her from running away was the fact that her daughter could be in danger.
"Why did you leave?" Austin, temporarily forgetting why he'd come, calmly asked the one question that had been burning in the back of his mind for seventeen long years.
As she and Austin sat, Nancy said with tears in her eyes, "While you were away, Martin Miller found out about our marriage. He gave me two options. Have your career ruined by staying, or leave and save the position you worked so hard to reach."
"You should have waited for me to come back." Austin said softly, looking into her eyes.
"He'd have thrown me in a holding cell. I couldn't warn you. An Agency holding cell wouldn't have been the best place for me in my condition. My two concerns were you and our unborn child." Her hands balled up in agitation.
"Melanie?" Austin questioned, knowing what her answer was going to be..
Nancy nodded. "She's the only thing that kept me alive. She reminds me so much of you," she told him longingly.
Before anything else could be said, the phone rang.
Austin and Nancy raced to the phone. "Hello," Nancy said as their heads moved closer, so both could hear the conversation.
"I've got Melanie," a male voice said.
"Who is this?" Austin demanded.
"It's nice you could join us Smyth. This is Marshall Henderson. I'm the one who told Old Man Miller about your marriage to Nancy. You see, it was the only way I could protect myself. I couldn't have Nancy tell him that I was working for the Russians, now, could I?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Nancy exclaimed. Then, pleading, she asked, "Where is Melanie? Is she safe?"
"She's safe. I'm keeping her until you die. The only way you're getting her back is if you keep quiet about my double-dealing. Do you both understand?" The desperation was evident in his voice. He was still worried after all these years.
"Yes," Austin and Nancy said.
"Good," Marshall answered, and then, the dial tone was heard.
"I'm all Melanie has. She'll be devastated if she's not here when…when I…" She looked pleadingly at Austin. "I had…" Nancy started sobbing. "I want Melanie with me when I died. I had no idea Marshall Henderson was working for the Russians."
Austin took her into his arms. "I'll get her back. I promise you," he said in fierce determination. "I'll get her back." He turned to Lee and Amanda, who had been standing in the doorway since the beginning of the phone call. "Go back outside and see if you can find any clues that might help us find the girl. I don't care if you've already searched. Search again."
Lee and Amanda left Nancy and Smyth and headed out front. They searched the yard over and over again.
"Lee, I think I found something," Amanda announced. Lee rushed to her.
"What is it, Amanda?" Lee demanded.
"A movie stub with today's date and a starting time of just over three hours ago. Melanie and Nancy were here then. It must belong to whoever took her!" She looked up at her partner and explained, " I found it under the porch. I'll bet it fell out of Henderson's pocket when he grabbed Melanie."
"Does it have an address?" Lee asked.
"No, but I bet Nancy knows." Amanda said as she and Lee hurried back into the house.
Amanda called out as they entered the living room, "Nancy, we found a movie stub with today's date under the porch. Do you know where the theater's located?" she asked, handing Nancy the movie stub.
Nancy examined the ticket. "This is from the Mall Cinema. It's in the Wichita Mall."
"Where's that? Lee inquired
"It's not very far from here. Go onto Lincoln. Go down a block and turn left on Bluffview. Keep on Bluffview. When you get to Harry, you'll see the mall."
"Let's go," Lee said. Amanda, Smyth, and Lee went to the door.
"Wait a minute. One of us should stay with Nancy," Amanda said.
"Okay. Scarecrow will stay." Smyth announced.
"Wait a minute. Why should I stay?" Lee demanded.
"That man has my daughter. I promised Nancy I would get her back. I want King to come with me. You stay here and that's an order."
Lee started to say something, but Amanda gave him a look. "Let it go. Put yourself in his position."
Lee nodded, knowing that he wouldn't be able to stay put, and Amanda and Smyth bolted out the door.
Five minutes later, Ricky holding Melanie's hand, led her out of the mall. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea my father would do something like this. Do you know why he kidnapped you?"
"I've never seen him before in my life. I appreciate you helping me get away." Melanie said, her voice shaking.
"It's nothing. I don't understand it. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I would have doubted you. My father doesn't go around kidnapping people. I want no part of this. I only wish I'd rented my own car."
"I think we should call the police when we get to my house. We better get moving. I don't want him catching up with us. Good thing my house's not too far. Otherwise, we might be in trouble."
"As soon as my father realizes you're are gone, he's going to come after us. He has a bad temper. If I can distract him, you can still get away," Ricky explained with a serious expression on his face.
As they crossed the street, back toward Nancy's, a car sped past them. The car slowed, then backed up, until it caught up with them.
The window rolled down. "Melanie, are you all right?" Amanda asked.
"Yes," she nodded, her eyes darting back toward the mall. "I'm okay. This is Ricky. His father took me from the house. Ricky helped me get away from him."
"As soon as I realized my father took her against her will, I helped Melanie out. We were just on our way back to her house," Ricky explained.
"Do you know where your father held Melanie? Where is he now?" Smyth asked.
"An abandoned store in the mall, the one next to the 'Orange Julius' and across from the 'Hallmark' store," Ricky answered.
"The mall isn't that big. You should find it, no problem," Melanie told them.
"You get Melanie home and stay there," Smyth directed Ricky. "Tell the people there your story."
"Yes, Sir," Ricky said as he and Melanie continued on their way.
"Sir, there are lots of people around the mall. Henderson's going to realize that Melanie's gone, and he's going to look for her. He'll probably be in the parking lot. If he sees you, I don't think he'd make himself known. You stay in the car while I distract him. As soon as Henderson's distracted, you come up from behind," Amanda instructed.
"Good plan, King. I see why Scarecrow wants to work with you," Smyth admitted.
By the time they entered the parking lot, Henderson was searching the parking lot. Smyth parked the car as Amanda headed toward Henderson.
She approached Henderson. "Excuse me, but I'm lost. Can you help me?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, but I'm in a hurry," Henderson replied, trying to get past Amanda.
"This won't take long. Do you know where the nearest McDonald's is?"
"Look here, lady, I told you I'm in a hurry." Henderson yelled, unaware that Dr. Smyth was behind him.
"Looking for Melanie?" Smyth asked in his usual sing-song tone.
Marshall spun around at the sound of his enemy's voice. As Smyth moved closer to him, Marshall reached for Amanda. He pulled out his gun, pointed it at her, and yelled, "Leave me alone or the pesky lady dies." People started to gather in the parking lot to watch from a distance.
Smyth drew a small gun from his pocket. "Don't let the size fool you. This is a powerful weapon."
"I don't believe you," Henderson growled. "You won't shoot." He tugged Amanda closer to his side, preparing to pull the trigger. "I'm going to kill her."
Smyth fired his gun, and Henderson dropped, limp, to the ground. Amanda quickly reached down and picked up Henderson's gun. The police arrived as people started to gather in closer around the scene of the shooting.
"What's going on here?" an officer asked.
Smyth and Amanda produced their Federal ID's and for the officer. "He isn't dead," Smyth told him. "He'll be in a lot of pain when he wakes up, but he isn't dead."
"Sir, we are going to need for you and the lady to come to the station to give your statements," the officer told them. He tilted his head in the direction of another officer, "My partner is calling for another squad and an ambulance."
Forty-five minutes later, after talking to the police, Amanda and Dr. Smyth returned to Nancy's house. Lee and Ricky greeted them.
"It was all too much for Nancy. She's lying down in her room. Nancy wouldn't allow us to get any help until you got back, despite Melanie's arguments. Melanie is with her now," Lee gently told them. He turned to Dr. Smyth. "They want you in there with them."
Dr. Smyth nodded his head. "I'll go join them." He walked into the bedroom.
Melanie ran and hugged him. "Mama told me everything. I'll leave you two alone for a few moments while I go call the nurse."
Melanie left as Austin went to Nancy's side. "Nancy, I understand why you left, but I wish you'd waited for me to come back before you did. We could have faced Martin Miller together. You could have called me sometime during these past few years."
"Austin, you worked so hard to get where you were in the Agency. I couldn't let the career you dreamed of get ruined because of me," Nancy replied, her voice raspy with fatigue.
"That didn't matter to me. It stopped mattering to me when I fell in love with you. I would have given up everything to be with you." He knelt at her bedside and gently lifted her hand, stroking the delicate skin on her wrist as he spoke.
"I didn't want you to make sacrifices for me." Nancy's eyes shone with unshed tears and all the love she still held for this man before her
"It wouldn't have been a sacrifice. I only wanted to be with you. You were the only family I had left." Wonder tinged his voice as he asked, "If you hadn't been pregnant, would you have waited for me?"
"Yes, I would have waited for you. But I couldn't chance anything bad happening to our baby." She clutched his hands in hers as she begged him to understand and forgive what she had done.
"For that reason, I believe you did what was for the best. Of course, you would have done the best thing for our child. I always knew you'd be a wonderful mother." He paused and reflected on all the lost years between them. Hanging his head, he berated himself, "I should never have stopped searching for you."
"Austin, we can't dwell on the past. What's done is done. We can't change it now."
Austin brought Nancy's hands in close to his chest. Gazing into her eyes, he said, "I love you and never stopped, you know."
Nancy smiled. "I know, and I love you, too. Please, promise to take good care of our daughter?"
"I promise," Austin declared as Melanie reentered the room.
Looking at her daughter, Nancy smiled as she said, "Melanie, I'd like to introduce you to your father." "He'll take care of you when I'm gone."
"Hi," Melanie said. "I hardly know you, but I've loved you for as long as I can remember. Mama said that you would have loved me, too, if you had known me. I didn't believe her at first, but, after a while, I understood."
"I love you, too, Melanie," Austin said as he released Nancy's hands to hug his daughter.
Father and daughter broke from their embrace. Austin took one of Nancy's hands, Melanie took the other, then, they closed the circle by taking hold of each other's. They spent one night together as a family. They would never spend another.
Dr. Smyth's private plane: two days later
Nancy Michaels was cremated the day after her death. Her will stated that her ashes would be spread around the cherry blossoms in a ceremony including Mrs. Marston and Dotty. Austin, Melanie, Lee, and Amanda sat in silence on their way back to DC. Austin held Nancy's urn tightly in his arms.
Amanda broke the silence, "Melanie, my mother is going to want to see you when you get to DC. Would you like to come over for dinner?"
"You're invited, too." Lee told Smyth.
"No thank you. I don't think . . . " Smyth started but Melanie interrupted.
"*We* would love to," Melanie said. "Mama would have loved to have dinner with your family, too."
"She would have," Austin agreed. He fidgeted nervously in his seat. "And I guess we would, too."
Lee and Amanda exchange grins that seemed to say, "This girl is going to change the old man for the better.'
"Father, what's going to happen to Ricky?" Melanie asked in a thoughtful tone. "He wasn't part of his father's plans. He isn't being punished, is he?"
"No, of course not. He told me he'll be starting classes at NYU this summer," Austin replied.
Melanie smiled. "That's good." She shifted around uncomfortably in her seat. "I have to go to the bathroom. Exactly where is it?"
"Behind the curtains," he pointed.
"Thanks." Melanie followed her father's directions.
"Listen up, you two. Don't think that this little adventure gets you off the hook with me and the Agency." Smyth observed the Stetsons as they sat across from him, holding hands.
They exchanged incredulous looks. After all they had done for this man…
"Just because I personally agree that you two belong together, in every sense of the word, doesn't mean I'm willing to openly approve of your insubordination or throw away all those years of you into the fine working team that you've become," Smyth smirked.
Lee and Amanda once again look at each other, truly puzzled by where he was going with this.
"So if I yell at you, or, well, act like I always do, just don't take it too seriously, okay, Kiddies?"
"Yes, Sir," Lee and Amanda answered together. Some things would never change.