The Paper Chase
Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King and all related characters are copyrighted to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. No copyright infringement is intended. The Fifth Season Project is not endorsed by Warner Brothers or Shoot the Moon Productions in any way. The plot is the creative property of the author. This is intended for entertainment purposes only. Some situations and characters used in this episode have been drawn from Scarecrow and Mrs. King. A list of those episodes and their writers can be found at the end of this story.
Summary: Lee and Amanda receive a simple assignment, but something goes terribly wrong. Will help find them in time?
Time Frame: June, 1988. Virtual Season 5 - Episode 21 Lee and Amanda are, of course, married and everyone knows it.
Author's Notes: First and foremost, my thanks to my betas, Shelly and Shawn, for finding all the missed and misused parts of speech, punctuation, and even an occasional temporal anomaly in this work. To Karen, my excellent location consultant, thank you for your help and generosity, both in time and materials, to make this episode believable. To all three of you, your never ending support and encouragement were, at times, the only thing that kept me from running, screaming into the night. To dotty, if you hadn't picked up the ball and run with it, Season 5 would have ceased to exist long ago. You kept this project alive by making sure that it had a home, and for that, you most definitely deserve acknowledgement and applause. Shelly, yes, again, thank you for having the foresight to get this project off the ground. You did an amazing job in organizing Season 5. Finally, to Larry, I'll always be grateful to you for sharing your time and patience, and for teaching me how to build a story. To all of you, I value your friendship. Onward, SMK Season 6!!
Billy Melrose stood up, faced the group of agents in the conference room, and dismissed them. "Lee, Francine, hang on a minute."
Francine Desmond glanced at Lee Stetson and shot him a look. They'd been locked in the conference room since early morning, and she was tired. She still had a stack of paperwork to finish before she could head home to a nice hot bath. She'd had to cancel dinner with David Marcos, an assistant under secretary in Senator Prindel's office with a future that looked bright. At least David had understood, and she'd been able to reschedule the date for Friday night.
Lifting an eyebrow in return, Lee turned toward Billy, anxious to get moving himself.
The looks between his top agents had not been lost on Billy. The Section Chief chuckled silently to himself as he organized his files. Things had definitely changed for them in the last year or so.
"Listen, you two, thanks for your help getting these meetings organized. I want you both to try and think of some way we can tie up all the loose ends. Now, get out of here. I don't want to see either of you until tomorrow morning at the staff meeting.
"But Billy," Francine protested.
"Francine, there's nothing pressing. Now, out," her boss ordered.
Lee didn't need a second invitation. His hand reached for the door, and he quickly made his way through the Bullpen exit and out into the corridor. As he walked toward the elevator, he reached up his hand, loosened his tie, and undid the top button of his shirt.
After a grueling day of meetings, Lee Stetson wanted nothing more than to see Amanda. With his finger, he jabbed the elevator button, and waited impatiently for the infernally slow apparatus to appear. Totally oblivious to his surroundings, his mind wholly concentrating on his trip up to the Q-Bureau, where he would finally get to see his wife for the first time since seven that morning, he was rudely brought out of his reverie by a shout.
Lee looked up to find Leatherneck hailing him. An abashed smile crossed his lips as he replied, "Leatherneck, I didn't see you there. How're you doing?"
"Great. Have you got a minute?" the Agency's Quartermaster, their all purpose technical advisor, trainer, and supplier asked.
Trying to ease his way out, Lee responded, "Uh, Amanda's waiting for me up in the Q-Bureau. We've got some reports to finish." He sheepishly smiled at Leatherneck, aware of his legendary reputation for hating paperwork and dealing with it in a haphazard way, at best. "I'm kinda hoping we can finish it up in a hurry and get home in time for dinner with the boys." Realizing that Leatherneck showed no sign of changing direction, Lee acquiesced. "Hey, I suppose, if it won't take too long, I can lend you an ear for a minute or two."
"Thanks, Lee. Listen, I have a bunch of new equipment that needs some checkin' out. Think you could help me with it?" Leatherneck asked, tilting his head and opening his arms in question.
"What did you have in mind?"
"This," Leatherneck said as he tossed a small cylinder in Lee's direction.
Lee reached up, caught the item, and looked at the small brown object, an inch long, half inch in diameter. It had an open loop attached to its side, and a small spring-loaded button on one end. Curious, Lee held the gadget up between his finger and thumb. "And this is . . . ?"
"It's a new type of tracking device. Come here, I'll show ya," Leatherneck enjoined him. Lee walked over to Leatherneck's side, and placed the small instrument into his fellow agent's hand. "Lookee here," Leatherneck said, pointing to the loop. "You tie this to your shoelace, see put the lace right through this here loop, it becomes almost invisible as long as you're wearing brown shoes." He smiled broadly at the cleverness of the object. "We've got it in other colors, black, white, tan . . . whatever you think you might need, just let me know. Anyhow, it activates by pushing this button, here, and then holding it down for a couple of seconds. That's all there is to it." Leatherneck looked down at the miniature instrument with reverence. "Lee, this little gizmo has a super powerful transmitter, one of the strongest made."
"Yeah, Leatherneck, great." Lee was getting antsy; he wanted to get upstairs to Amanda. He knew that she would begin to wonder where he was, and he didn't want her to worry. He still felt like a honeymooner, never having enough time with his bride, the love of his life. "Listen, why don't you come up to the Q-Bureau and tell me more about it . . . um . . . sometime?"
Leatherneck smiled. Stetson had become lousy at hiding his feelings since he and Amanda had revealed their marriage. Leatherneck could easily read Lee's anxiety to get back upstairs to his wife. "Look, Lee, this will only take another minute; I know you're busy. Could ya help me out?" he appealed. "I need someone I can trust to randomly test this thing, to see if my receiver works without priming. Ya see, once you activate this baby, I should be able to pick up the signal from anywhere in or near the DC area and pinpoint your location. Sometime, when you're in the field, if you could just turn it on, that would be a big help."
Lee looked at him and shrugged. "That's it? You just want me to turn it on sometime, so you can test it out?"
"Yep, that's it," Leatherneck nodded his head.
"Sure thing, Leatherneck. It's the least I can do." Leatherneck handed the device back to Lee. Slipping the device into his pocket, Lee asked, "I just tie it to my shoelace, huh?" Lee laughed, shaking his head slightly. "If they make these things any smaller . . ." he let the thought go unfinished. "No problem, consider it done."
Reaching over to shake Lee's hand, Leatherneck said, "Thanks, man, I really appreciate it. I'll let you go, and please," he grinned broadly and winked at Lee, "give my regards to Mrs. Stetson."
Lee looked surprised. It still caught him off guard, sometimes, when someone, especially someone at the Agency, referred to Amanda as 'Mrs. Stetson.' "I'll do that, Leatherneck. You should come up to the Q-Bureau and visit us sometime. I know Amanda always enjoys your company."
"Now, that's an offer I can't refuse," Leatherneck answered as he gave Lee a pat on the back and walked away.
In the homey surroundings of the Q-Bureau, Amanda sat at her desk working diligently on the reports from their last case. She had just looked up and checked the clock on the wall for the umpteenth time, hoping that Lee would be done with his meetings soon, and that they could head home in time to have dinner with her mother and the boys. Just then, she heard a key sliding into the lock as the doorknob jiggled and she relaxed. Lee had finally arrived.
He opened the door as quietly as he could. He still loved to stand in the doorway, unnoticed, and watch Amanda at work. He loved the way she sat there, lost in thought, her pen etching its way down the sheet of paper as she filled in the answers to the questions on the form. He loved the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed, the way she wriggled her nose when an answer evaded her, and the smile that crossed her face when she would arrive at an acceptable response. He loved her and everything about her. A content smile had taken up residence on his face as he finally stepped into the room, crossed to her desk, and perched himself on the edge. He cleared his throat, "Hi there, beautiful."
Amanda had been playing along with Lee's little game. She loved the fact that he still felt the need to "spy" on her in their office. She often found herself doing similar things at home, when she thought he wouldn't be aware of her intent scrutiny. She looked up and greeted him with a radiant smile. "Hi there, yourself, handsome."
Lee leaned down, gently placed a finger under Amanda's chin, and gave her a light kiss. He lifted his head to look deeply into her eyes, and then leaned in for another more passionate joining. Amanda finally pulled away and said, "Listen, as much as I'm enjoying this, and I assure you, I am, why don't you let me finish up the last of these questions, and then we can get home to some dinner. We can continue this a little later," she teased in a breathy voice.
Lee nodded his head as he eased back and moved over to his own desk. "I guess. I'd rather not wait, but I am hungry," he groused, picking up his mail. "What's your mother making for dinner tonight, anyway?"
"I'm not sure. She said something about pot roast yesterday when she left for the store, but we got home so late, and left so early this morning, that I don't know what she actually decided on. Guess we'll find out when we get there, if we get there before the boys eat it all up," she raised an eyebrow and pointed her pen at Lee.
Amanda leaned back in her chair and laughed heartily. Lee joined in, then agreed, "You're right, if we don't get there early enough, those kids are going to snarf it all up. Come on," he reached for Amanda's hand, "that report can wait for morning, my stomach can't."
They'd made it home just as Dotty was ladling the meat and vegetables onto the serving platter. "Oh, Mother, you did make pot roast. Succotash, too? Oh, you're wonderful." Amanda leaned around and encircled her mother's shoulders with her arms, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Lee and I were trying to figure out what would be for dinner tonight. You've made him very happy; me, too." Amanda shot her husband an amused look before she headed over to the table where Jamie and Phillip sat, waiting for the food to fill their always-empty stomachs.
"Hi, boys. Have a good day?" Amanda asked as she ruffled each boy's hair.
"Mooommmm," Phillip groaned, ducking his head.
"Yeah, Mom, cut it out, would ya?" Jamie joined in, putting up his hand to run interference. "We're not babies anymore."
"Sorry, guys, I keep forgetting that, " Amanda laughed. "Okay, just the facts, good day? Bad day?"
Phillip chimed up first, "It was awesome, Mom. Those girls . . . the ones I told you about the other night?" He shot a knowing look at Jamie. "They both called. Can you believe it? Both of them . . . and on the same day. There are major decisions to be made," he snickered.
Amanda bit her lip, trying to stifle her response as Phillip did his best to let her know all about those calls Jamie had received from the two girls he had been drooling over for weeks.
The conversation was more than poor Jamie could stand. Squirming in his chair, he knew that Phillip's teasing resulted because he hadn't had the courage to make first contact with the young ladies in question.
Lee stood in the corner, out of the way, enjoying the warmth and congeniality that flowed from his family. For the millionth time since their marriage had become known, Lee marveled at the blessings of fate, and offered up a silent thank you to whatever power-that-be that had brought Amanda, her family, and him together.
Jamie, looked over his shoulder, trying to figure out how to change the subject of the conversation, saw Lee, and shouted, "Lee, whatcha doin' over there? Come on and sit down, so we can eat." Then, looking at the cook, he asked, "Grandma? Is that food ever going to make it to the table?"
Dotty, scooping the last of the succotash out of the pan and into the bowl, turned her head toward her grandson and said, "I'll have it there in a minute." Then, she solemnly added, "But no one is eating until . . ." she raised her voice, ". . . everyone washes their hands." With that said, she looked sternly at both Lee and Amanda, then turned her attention back to her task.
Lee picked up on the message and responded, "We're going, we're going." He walked over to Amanda, drew her hand into his, and led her out of the room. A few moments later, they returned. Lee walked over to where Dotty sat, and held out his hands for inspection. "You know, Barney used to make me do this before every meal; I thought you might want to clear me for mess, too."
Letting out a snort, Dotty swatted his hands away, and motioned for him to sit. "Don't be smart with me, young man," she laughed. "Now, everyone, dig in."
Dinner progressed without much conversation. All members of the West/King/Stetson family were hungry and concentrated all of their attention on the food upon their plates. As they were finishing up, the phone rang. "I'll get it," Lee said, rising from his seat. He walked across the room to the island. Picking up the receiver on the third ring, he answered, "Hello?"
On the other end of the line, he heard a friendly and familiar, although, unwanted voice, "Billy?"
Lee stood and silently listened to his boss fill him in on a new assignment. He turned and looked at Amanda, smiled, and shrugged. After a few minutes of the one sided conversation, he brought the call to a conclusion. "Yeah, Billy . . . uh huh . . . I understand . . . Right . . . Yes, we will, in the morning . . . Okay, you'll get that file ready? . . . Sure, no problem . . . Goodbye."
Amanda looked over toward her partner and tilted her head in question. Lee shook his head, a glum expression upon his face. Amanda quickly understood that he didn't want to discuss the call then and there. "Fellas? Homework all done?"
Both boys groaned. "Let's not ruin dessert," Phillip protested.
"Dessert?" Amanda asked in disbelief. "Mother, did you make dessert, too?"
Dotty smiled. "Yes, Darling, I did." She rose and began to clear the plates from the table. "You will all love it. It's a new recipe I found in this little cookbook I picked up at a yard sale."
"Oh, Mother, I don't think I saved any room for dessert."
"Well, I did," Phillip declared, proudly patting his stomach with his hand.
"Me, too," Jamie concurred. "What kind did you make, Grandma?"
"Ahhh, it's something that will soon be one of the family's favorites," Dotty beamed. "Chesapeake Creek Cherry Cheesecake. I just know you will all absolutely love it," she decreed as she spread her hands out before her.
"Sounds good to me," Lee said genially as he stood to help Dotty carry the dishes to the sink. "I think a piece of cherry cheesecake is the perfect topping for a wonderful meal." He leaned over and gave Dotty a quick peck on the cheek as a reward for her thoughtfulness.
Amanda walked out of the bathroom dressed for bed in a pair of baby doll pajamas, her freshly brushed hair softly playing around her face and shoulders. The weather had been unusually warm, even for the month of June, and she was determined to have a restful night.
Lee, preparing for his nocturnal slumber, looked up to see her enter the bedroom. His breath caught in his throat. He'd seen her in all manner of nightclothes in the last year, but this outfit was new to him, and he was intrigued.
Heading for the bed, Amanda pulled back the comforter and sheet, and settled herself contentedly. A few moments later, Lee slipped in beside her. She snuggled up against his solid warmth and relaxed. He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the forehead, before bringing up the subject both knew they needed discuss.
"Amanda?" he sighed into her hair.
"Hmmm?" she responded.
"That call from Billy?"
"Yeah, what did he want?" she asked sleepily.
"He's got a new assignment for us. He didn't go into much detail." He pulled her closer to him, and ran his free hand up and down her arm, stopping at her shoulder to play with the straps of the pajamas. "He said he'd have everything for us in the morning."
"Sounds good," she yawned. "Guess we should get a good night's sleep, so we'll be rarin' to go," she said as she stifled another yawn.
Lee smiled. "Uh, Amanda?"
"Yeah?" She opened her eyes and turned her head to look into his handsome face.
"He wants us there at . . . five-thirty."
Amanda bolted upright. "In the morning?" she groaned as her eyes opened wide.
Lee laughed at her response. It seemed out of character since she was the early morning lark; up before daylight, flitting around the house, doing small quiet chores while the rest of her family slumbered peacefully.
"Yes, my love, in the morning," he chuckled.
Amanda sighed, and slowly nodded her head in resignation. "Did you set the alarm?"
"Mmm-hmm," Lee responded, gently pulling her back against his body. Now, it was his turn to yawn. "All taken care of."
"Good." She burrowed deeper into his arms, and settled her head comfortably onto the cushion of his chest. Then, remembering an essential ritual, she disturbed their coziness just long enough to rise up and plant a kiss on her husband's lips. "Goodnight, my love."
Rousing himself to return her kiss, he mumbled, "Goodnight, Amanda. I love you." With those sweet words, he fell into a blissful sleep.
The next morning, after rising early, showering, and dressing, Lee and Amanda arrived at the Agency. A blurry-eyed Lee made a beeline for the coffee maker and poured a cup for Amanda and himself. Each taking a hearty quaff of the robust liquid, they ambled over to Billy's office. Amanda reached the door first and knocked. Hearing Billy's, "Enter," she opened the door and walked in.
"Good morning, Sir," Amanda said, trying to sound more awake than she was.
"Good morning, you two," Billy beamed up at them from behind his desk.
Lee grumbled as he closed the door behind him and slumped against it. He took another gulp of his coffee, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes.
Billy looked up at his top agent, and worked to control the laugh that began to bubble up within him. He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry about the early hour, but I'm scheduled to be in meetings at the Pentagon all day. This was the only time I had available to brief you."
Amanda, sitting in one of the chairs in front of Billy's desk, lifted her own mug of now lukewarm coffee and replied, "It's okay, Sir, we'll manage, but what's so important that it couldn't wait until tomorrow?"
Billy opened the file folder that lay before him. "This," he tapped the papers with his index finger, causing the pages to jump.
"Sir?" Amanda questioned.
"Sorry, Amanda." Billy apologized for jumping ahead without filling them in. He, again, looked down at the information and began to explain. "Yesterday afternoon, one of our agents was following a member of the KGB, Konstantin Grebenev. Grebenev was carrying a packet of stolen diplomatic credentials when our man caught up with him and gave chase. Unfortunately, he lost the Soviet agent for a while, and when he caught up with him, Grebenev no longer had the papers." Billy looked up to find that Lee had moved from the door to sit in the chair next to Amanda, his attention now fully focused on his Section Chief. Billy continued, "They never left the Hill, and as far as we know, Grebenev never had the opportunity to contact anyone or hand the papers off. Our best bet is that he must have stashed the papers somewhere in the area."
Lee set his coffee cup down on Billy's desk, then reached up and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Lifting his head, he again reached for his cup, but finding it empty, set it back down. In a voice still slightly scratchy from sleep, Lee asked, "And you want us to find him?"
"That's pretty much the story, " Billy responded, "only not him . . . em . . . the papers. Grebenev isn't what we need, this time, it's the papers that are top priority."
"Sir, I think I understand the assignment, you want us to find those documents," Amanda tried to stifle a yawn, "only couldn't a rookie agent go out and search?"
Billy looked at her, and then at Lee, hoping to make them both understand the gravity of the situation. "Not on this one, Amanda. Grebenev is a pro, and he's managed to get himself diplomatic immunity. It's going to take some digging to find those credentials." Billy leaned back in his chair and gave his head a slight shake. "I'm sure the word is out. The Soviets have probably put a price on recovering the documents."
He turned to fix his gaze on the sleepy man sitting before him. "Lee, talk to your family. See if they've heard anything." He reached into the file and pulled something out. "Here's Grebenev's photo, and here's a list of what we think those credentials might consist of. If we don’t recover them first, Heaven help us."
Lee reached out and took the offered materials from Billy. Amanda leaned her head over, close to his, and together, they perused the information. Lee let out a long, low whistle. "I can see why you're so concerned. We'll get on this right away." Lee handed the photo and list back to Billy and stood, reached out his hand for Amanda's, grabbed his coffee cup, and headed for the door.
Billy returned the information to the file, closed it, and laughing, summoned his agents' attention. "I think you forgot something."
A sheepish Amanda turned and walked back to take the offered folder from his hand. "Thank you, Sir." She smiled awkwardly and then handed the folder to Lee.
As Billy saw Lee reach for the doorknob, he called out, "Good luck, you two, and be careful."
Exiting Billy's office, Lee headed directly to the coffee pot for a refill. He turned to ask Amanda if she wanted more, only to find her gone, and nowhere to be seen. Taking his full mug, he headed out into the hallway, and saw her standing, waiting for the elevator. He walked up to her side and teased, "Excuse me, Mrs. Stetson, but where are you going without your partner?"
She looked up into his hazel eyes and flashed him a sweet smile. "Why, Mr. Stetson, I was just headed upstairs to our office, to put on a pot of coffee. I thought at least one of us might need it for reinforcement as we prepare for our little foraging expedition." Just then, the elevator doors opened, and they stepped inside. As the doors began to close, Amanda turned to her partner and asked, "Any idea where Grebenev might have stashed those papers?"
Lee shook his head. "Not a clue. He could have left them almost anywhere up there, inside or out. We're gonna have to work this one by the seat of our pants. Let's go over this information," he held up the file, "and see if there's any indication in the report." They exited the elevator into the Georgetown foyer, then, headed up the stairs to the Q-Bureau.
"Yes, I understand . . . Right . . . No, but I'll check it out . . . Yeah, Terry . . . Yeah, I will . . . Thanks, I owe ya one." Lee reached over and hung up the phone, and then wrote a few notes on the pad of paper before him. He stood and walked over to Amanda's desk, the pad in his hand.
Amanda looked up at him expectantly. "Anything?" she asked.
"Not a lot, but it's better than nothing." He tossed his scribbled notes down in front of her and went to refill his coffee cup, once again. "That was Terry Palmas on the phone. He's the agent that was following Grebenev yesterday. He swears that Grebenev never had a chance to leave the Hill, or get much beyond the Capitol or Union Station." He turned to the bookshelf behind Amanda and pulled out a map. "Here, Palmas said that he lost him along the plaza between the Capitol and the station. Along that route," Lee traced the path with his index finger, "there are some office buildings, but they tend to be Federal ones, and he'd have to produce some ID to get in, so I don't think we need be too concerned with those."
Amanda looked over the map carefully. "What about here?" she asked pointing to some restaurants and hotels along the way.
"Yeah," Lee said, "those are possible, but I don't think so. It's not the way he works; too obvious. No, I think he probably took a direct route through the plaza. The only problem is that he might have slipped off to the old main post office, the one they closed a couple of years ago, or one of the memorials that line the edge of that route. Now, Terry said that he'd only lost him for about forty-five minutes. He didn't have a lot of time to get too creative. Here's how I think we ought to approach this…"
Before leaving the Agency, Lee made arrangements for several teams to begin searching the grounds of the plaza, memorials, and office buildings, just in case Grebenev had managed to hide the packet among the abundant shrubbery along the suspected path. Lee still didn't think that it was likely that Grebenev had done that, as the chance of the credentials getting damaged or found by the wrong party was too high. No, he was certain that Grebenev had managed to get inside one of the more public buildings, and had hidden them inside for later recovery. The question was: which building? Lee had studied the map meticulously and attempted to puzzle out the solution. The more he worked it over in his mind, given the time constraints and where Palmas had reconnected with Grebenev, the more certain he was of the direction the KGB agent must have taken.
The meetings with members of Lee's family at the Rayburn House Office Building had been fruitless, as had their stops at the other House offices. Lee and Amanda had just come across Independence Avenue, and Lee now bounded up the Capitol stairs, two at a time, holding tightly to Amanda's hand and pulling her along with him. Halfway to the top, he heard her shout as she stumbled, "Lee!" He stopped, and turned, reaching out a hand to steady her, a question written on his face. "Lee," she said more quietly and slightly out of breath. "Could we take these things a little slower?"
Again, he studied her without comprehension. She looked at him as she would a small child, and defended herself, "Hey, you try doing these steps by twos in high heels."
His eyes locked on hers, then they slowly drifted down her body and settled on her feet. A small understanding smile crossed his lips as he tilted his head and shrugged. His hand pointed in the direction of her feet, and drew little circles in the air as he laughed, "Ah, yeah, sorry. I sometimes forget that you do this job on those mini-stilts." He gave his head a shake and grew serious. "I hope you brought something . . . ah . . . a little more appropriate should we need to do some digging around, later."
"Don't you worry," she reassured him, "I'm prepared for whatever this assignment might entail." As she flashed him a smile, his hand again reached for hers, and they began up the stairs, anew, but at a somewhat slower pace.
Amanda followed Lee as he led the way, her eyes drinking in the beauty that was Washington in the early summer. The heat had become oppressive, downright sultry, foretelling of stormy weather to come. She could feel trickles of moisture dripping down her back. Looking at her husband, she couldn't imagine how he survived in his sports coat and tie. She scanned the landscape surrounding the building that represented the heart of the government for which she and her husband daily laid their lives on the line. The vibrant green leaves of the bounteous trees shimmered in the bright sunshine. A breeze tousled her hair, blowing it into her eyes, but offered a brief respite from the thick and heavy air. She absent-mindedly lifted her free hand to push the lock back into place, and inhaled as deeply as the muggy atmosphere would allow.
"Amanda," Lee called, anxious to get inside, away from the searing sun.
Her enjoyment of the beauty had slowed their upward movement to a near stand still.
"Amanda," he said louder, exasperation apparent in the rise of his voice as he said the last syllable of her name.
She felt him tug on her arm, and gave her head a shake, bringing herself back to reality. She squeezed his hand, and then renewed the charge up the steps.
Lee shot her a look and then fell in behind her, his left hand reaching up to return the blown strands of his own damp hair to their rightful location.
As they reached the top of the stairway, and approached the overhanging roofline, moving toward the doors, Amanda took one last look around, before they entered the shaded terrace of the white marble and sandstone building's temple façade.
"Now, Amanda," Lee said, finding that he had to lower his voice when he heard it reverberate off the hard stone walls that surrounded them, "just follow my lead once we're inside. Leave it all to me, understand?"
"Leave it all to you," Amanda said with a tone of long practiced acceptance. "Just follow your lead. Yes, I understand."
Lee slipped his hand around her back, and they confidently entered the hallowed edifice.
An hour later, they exited the building with more speed than they had entered.
"I don't believe you did that," Lee shouted in annoyance.
Amanda turned her head to look at him. "What?"
"That . . ." he stopped short. With each foot planted on a different level of step, he turned back toward the building and pointed.
Still not comprehending his meaning, she repeated her question. "What?"
"That…" he stabbed his finger into the air, "Leslie."
"Lee," Amanda's eyes opened wide against the bright sunshine, "what did I do?"
Lee puffed out a breath, "Leslie," he repeated as his free hand shot in agitation through his wind-ruffled hair.
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Look, it's not like I went in there to find her. I just went into the Ladies' Room, and there she was."
Lee tilted his head, a sneer plastered across his face.
"Listen," Amanda continued, "she's a very nice woman, just not the right woman for you." She swatted his arm playfully, a grin dancing across her lips. "She wasn't nearly as surprised to see me as when we bumped into her in Miami."
Lee narrowed his eyes and shook his head, a smile fighting its way, unbidden, onto his face. "Uh, we should get moving over to the Senate Office Building," he informed her, trying to change the subject.
Amanda, intent on what she was saying, didn't seem to hear him, and continued. "It's not a bad thing that I ran into her, either. She thinks she saw our man."
"What are you talking about?" Lee looked at Amanda closely, trying to follow her meaning.
Amanda took a deep breath, and began to explain in the same parental tone she often used with the boys. "Leslie's been here for the last few days with one of the UN delegates. He's testifying before a Senate committee, and she's his translator. Anyhow, it was a good thing I ran into her because yesterday, she had just put him into his limo, and she was walking over to the train station to go visit a friend," she raised an eyebrow and shot Lee a knowing look. "She was walking through the plaza, right near that little fountain, you know, the one between Delaware and Louisiana, when this one guy ran by and nearly knocked her down. She'd just gotten her balance back, when another guy did the same thing." Amanda grinned at Lee, "What are the chances of that kind of thing happening twice in one day?"
Lee exhaled and ran his hand violently through his hair. "Look, she might be mistaken. They might not have entered the building. I mean, they might have headed over to the Senate Office Building or to that closed post office." He half-heartedly continued, "We don't know that Leslie saw our men. What time did she say this all happened?" Lee asked.
"About the time Terry Palmas said he was chasing Grebenev. Look, she was pretty sure that Grebenev, well, I think that's who it probably was . . ." She stopped for a moment, her brow furrowed in thought. "This guy that Leslie saw, he headed over toward Union Station, not to the Senate Office Buildings."
As Amanda filled him in on the details of her conversation with Leslie, his mind began to click and whirl, attempting to pinpoint the path Grebenev might have taken. He rubbed his chin, still considering the information Amanda had just relayed. "Okay, let's head back to the car, check-in with Francine, and change."
"Change?" Amanda asked in confusion.
"Yeah," he smiled, then pointed in the direction of the station. "Union Station is undergoing some serious renovation. If we're gonna fit in, then . . ."
Amanda bounced on her toes as she nodded her head, "Gotcha."
They made the return trip to Amanda's Jeep, stopping along the way to call Francine, and grab a quick bite to eat. Once at the car, Lee opened the rear hatch and rifled through the assortment of wardrobe and accessories he'd put together earlier in the day. "Aha!" he crowed as he finally laid his hands on the items he desired. "Here you go, Amanda."
She looked up to see him holding out a white jump suit. She reached out and accepted it, not exactly certain of his plans. She turned to find him removing his sport coat and tie. "Um, Lee?"
"Yeah?" he answered, not slowing his activity.
"I don't know, Amanda. What does it look like I’m doing?"
He stopped and glared at her for a moment. Then, leaning against the side of the car, he began to unbutton his shirt. "I'd guess that'd be as accurate of a description as any." Seeing her confusion, he let out a deep, full laugh. "Changing, Amanda, remember?"
Her face still held a blank look.
"Renovation?" he hinted.
Comprehension crossed her features. "Ah, yes, at the station." She smiled and nodded, her eyes darting back and forth between Lee and the direction of the terminal building, she asked, still confused, "And you're changing into . . .?"
"Coveralls, and so are you. We have to blend in with the construction crew. Move," he motioned toward her with his head. "Time's a wastin'."
As Lee slipped on a white tee shirt and, then, the coveralls, Amanda climbed into the Jeep, slipped out of her skirt, and pulled on the work suit. A few moments later, as she finished knotting the laces of her Keds®, she joined Lee outside.
Reaching into the cargo area, Lee pulled out two bright yellow hard hats and handed one to Amanda. "Here you go." Then, he grabbed a clipboard and pen, and slammed the tailgate.
Ten minutes later, they walked past the statue of Columbus. They approached the station's Massachusetts Avenue arcade, and stepped out from under the blazing sun, into the shaded coolness that the vaulted, white marble walkway offered.
"Man, it's hot," Amanda said as she lifted her hard hat off of her head and swiped at the perspiration on her face with the long heavy sleeve of her coveralls.
Lee looked at her and laughed at her hair, now plastered down by the heat and humidity. Then, he viewed her face and his laughter died off. "Amanda, are you okay?" he asked with concern over her vividly flushed appearance.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Let's get inside and hope it's cooler in there." She nodded toward the one door that was held open with a length of rope.
"Right," Lee agreed, then added, "besides, if we don't get moving, and these guys are anything like that bunch that decorated my apartment last time, they'll all head home before we get a chance to look around."
They stepped into the vestibule, and then through to what had been the immense main hall of the station.
Amanda stopped and looked up at the barrel vaulted ceiling paneled with deep coffers, which were in the process of being reguilted by several artisans raised up on scaffolds. Sunshine poured into the room through the arched skylight. "Lee," she whispered, "it's magnificent." She loved architecture and delighted in the fact that she lived in an area with such a great reserve of styles to feed her appetite.
Amanda's eyes grew to resemble the massive arches over the doorways. Yes, Washington, D.C., with its plethora of Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts, Palladian, Georgian, and Federal style buildings served well anyone who loved history and architecture. Someone like Amanda. Washington had been designed by some of the greatest architects the world had ever seen: L'Efant, Latrobe, Burnham.
What she liked most about buildings such as the one in which she now stood was their strength, the solidness, the fortitude, and the endurance they represented. These traits were the same ones she looked for and appreciated in people, and saw daily in her husband. Lee epitomized those traits. She glanced over at him and found him fidgeting and returning her look, his head cocked to the right, no doubt wondering why she had stopped.
She smiled and cleared her throat. "Beautiful, isn't it?" She swept her arm in an arc, indicating the length and breadth of the massive room.
"Yeah," he replied. "They sure knew how to build them back then. This place is like a fortress. Listen, we'd better get started."
The camouflage of their coveralls seemed to work to their advantage. Walking across the wide expanse of floor, stepping gingerly over the odd assortment of lumber and spent nails that littered the area, she avoided going under the multitude of scaffolds. Scattered workmen; carpenters, plasterers, and masons, covered the colossal station, all oblivious to the entrance of the agents.
All except one. As Lee turned to survey the room, a man decked out in denim overalls and a red hard hat approached them. "Hey, you two, can I help you?"
Lee responded as casually as possible. "Depends on what kind of help you're offering." He shot the man one of his most disarming smiles, then offered the man his hand. "Hi, I'm Lee Stedman, and you are?"
"I'm the general manager of this," the man laughed as he motioned toward the busy station. "But this is a restricted area. What can I do for you?"
Just then, Amanda stepped to Lee's side. "Yes," she jumped in. "You see, we . . ."
Lee took over, "We're inspectors, just checking up on things."
"Inspectors?" the general manager asked, tipping back his hard hat and scratching his forehead. "Who for?"
Lee answered without hesitation. "For the committee, of course."
"Committee?" The man seemed truly perplexed.
"Yes," Lee assured him. "The committee."
Lee was caught off guard, but Amanda readily took over. "As my associate told you, he's Lee Stedman, I'm Amanda Keane. We're here to inspect all phases of the reconstruction and restoration on behalf of the Congressional Redevelopment Committee and the Secretary of Transportation. Surely you were informed?"
The man, obviously flustered at the high ranking origin of his visitors, sputtered, "Uh, no." He laughed uncomfortably. "They must have forgotten to send word down from the main office. I'm really sorry about that." He pulled a grimy handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at the perspiration forming on his face. "Hot one today, isn't it?"
Lee stepped in, "It's not bad in here. Listen, it's getting late. Why don't we get to work?"
"Sure, sure," the project supervisor responded. "Just give me some idea of what you're here to look at and I'll point you in the right direction."
"Why, we're here to check everything, from…" Lee quickly looked around to see what type of work was underway. "From the tile being laid, to the people working up there." He lifted his hand, index finger outstretched, and indicated the workers cleaning the statuary above the entrance. "Soup to nuts. You don't have a problem with that, do you?" He raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips as he waited for a reply.
"Uh, no, Sir, Mr. Steadman. I'll be glad to show you around."
"Oh, that won't be necessary," Amanda chimed in. "We feel that we get a more realistic view of things if we work on our own. Well, then," she rapidly rubbed her hands together and turned toward Lee, "should we get started?"
"You bet." He turned to the man, again offering his hand. "Uh, thank you, you've been most helpful. We'll make sure to mention that in our report." With that, he stepped to Amanda's side and the two of them leaned their heads over the clipboard, effectively dismissing the general manager.
A few minutes later, as Lee motioned toward one of the scaffolds, over the din of saws and hammers in use, he called out, "Amanda?"
"Yeah, did you find something?"
"No. Don't look, but that guy's watching us like a hawk. We need to get out of sight."
"Well, do you have an idea?"
"There are some stairs, over there," he motioned toward them with a rapid jerk of his head. "Let's work our way over there and head down to the basement."
Amanda nodded her understanding. Carefully, they made their way across the room, and quietly descended the stairs.
Once in the basement, Lee scrunched up his face and let out a loud breath of irritation. "I don't believe it, they have all this torn up, too?"
Several bricklayers stopped to look at the unexpected twosome standing in their midst. "Need some help, there?" one of them called out.
"No, no," Amanda answered, offering them a coquettish smile. "We're inspectors for the Redevelopment Committee. We'll just be checking out a few things. I don't think we'll get in your way."
The mason shrugged and returned to laying the course of brick on which he'd been working.
They moved away from the workmen, and Amanda turned to face Lee. "Do you think Grebenev could have even gotten down here? I mean, we dressed the part and they can still pick us out."
Lee ran his hand slowly through his hair. "I don't know," he shrugged. "I just don't know. Look, we'll spend a little time down here, searching, and hope we either find something or that the manager guy forgets about us."
"Okay." Amanda agreed and with a flourish of her hand, added, "Lead the way."
They had spent several minutes checking out the areas of new construction when they came across a small, dark room, separated from the rest, the door held open a few inches by a cut-off piece of scrap wood.
Lee stuck his head inside and hissed at Amanda over his shoulder, "I'm gonna go on in and check this out. You stay here and hold the door open. Make sure it doesn't close, okay?"
"Yes," she replied and grabbed the edge of the door as Lee pulled it open.
As Lee stumbled around in the near darkness of the tiny enclosure, Amanda caught sight of a 2x4 about six feet long, sitting a few feet to her left. She let the door close part way, holding it open with her foot; then, she reached over and pulled the piece of lumber toward her.
"Amanda?" Lee shouted, annoyed. "What's going on? It's darker than night in here," he complained.
Amada pushed the door open all the way, bouncing it off the wall it opened against. "Sorry."
She returned her attention to the door and propped the 2x4 between the door edge and the floor, to hold it open. Certain that it was solidly in place, she brushed off her hands, a satisfied look upon her face. "There."
She followed Lee into the darkness of the room, intent on helping him search the area. A few steps in, she heard voices in the hallway.
"Here, Jack. This one oughta work."
"Good. Grab it and let's get back upstairs. It's almost time to head home."
"Wanna stop for a beer?"
The answer was blocked out by the slamming of the door.
"Oh, no," Amanda moaned.
Lee spun on his heel. "Amanda? Amanda? What was that?"
"I'm here," she answered softly, holding her hand up. The only light to illuminate it came from an exit sign centered over the now locked door.
Lee approached the door in hopes that it would open. No such luck. He ran his hands over the surface hoping to find a keyhole or a combination lock. Again, their luck seemed to be failing. "Damn," he slammed his shoulder into the door.
"What? What's wrong?" Amanda hurried to his side.
"Huh? Oh, nothing much," he said in a mocking tone. "Just that this is a security door."
Amanda tried to focus on his face in the reddish glow of the exit sign. "Is that a problem?"
"For some reason, I've always had problems opening security doors, not sure why…might be because there are no keyholes and the hinges are hidden." Lee's voice rose with each word, and he couldn't control his sharp tone.
"Want me to try?" Amanda asked in all earnestness.
Lee shot her a look, most of which was lost in the poorly illuminated room, then, his words shedding sarcasm like a snake sheds scales, he said, "Maybe I should try saying 'Open Sesame?' No, I'll manage, thank you very much. All I asked you to do was hold the stupid door open, but no…"
Amanda moved away from Lee and began to walk around the bedimmed room. She stopped in a corner and stretched, then turned her head from side to side. The atmosphere was heavy, and the tension was already getting to her. She knew this was one of the bigger errors she had made since she'd become a full fledged agent, much more reminiscent of the rookie civilian she had been three or four years ago, than the competent and trained operative she was now. She only hoped they would be found soon, and that he would forgive her. She lifted her hands to her neck to try and work out the knots that were forming.
Lee leaned back against the door observing Amanda in the scantily lit shadows. He knew that he shouldn't have been so harsh with her. He could just make out her faded movements, and felt ashamed of his behavior. "You okay?" he called out to her in an appeasing tone.
"Yeah," came her dull reply. "Just kind of getting a headache.
Lee lifted himself off the door and strode the few feet to her. "Here, let me," he said replacing her hands with his.
"Magic fingers, Scarecrow?" She started to turn to face him, but he held her in place.
"You might say that," he answered with the hint of a smile in his voice. He began to slowly rub her neck and shoulders, paying special attention to the tighter spots along the way. After a few minutes of gentle kneading, he asked, "Better?"
"Much," she sighed and leaned back into his strong arms.
Francine Desmond looked up from checking Agent Michael's latest case report. 'This guy,' she thought, 'could use an accounting class or two.' She shook her head in disgust.
Just then, Billy Melrose walked through the Bullpen doors. Francine rose to meet him. She'd been half anticipating, half dreading his arrival for over an hour. "Hey, Billy. I have the Borger case ready for your okay." She lifted a file off the corner of her desk and handed it to him.
"Thanks," he mumbled, reaching over to accept the folder, then slipping it under his arm.
"Man, Billy, you look beat."
"Yeah, totally bushed." He reached up and rubbed his eyes, then, pinched the bridge of his nose. Letting out a sigh, he said, "It's been a rough one." Lifting his head to look his assistant in the eyes, he asked, "How are things around here?"
"Oh," Francine responded, then, stopped short, averting her eyes. "Uh, things are pretty good."
"Pretty good?" Billy questioned, lifting his eyebrows in suspicion.
"Yeah, well, except . . ."
"Spill it, Francine, what's wrong?"
"Oh, Billy, I don't really think it's anything, I mean, you know Scarecrow." She spoke rapidly, trying to avoid burdening him. She knew that his wife, Jeannie, had called an hour earlier, none too pleased with her husband. She'd left a message with Francine, commanding her to inform Billy that she expected him home for dinner . . . on time.
An exhausted, and somewhat crabby, William Melrose had no patience for her beating around the bush. He growled, "Cut to the chase, now, Desmond."
Francine eyed him cautiously, trying to decide just how much to tell him about what.
Melrose frowned at her hesitation, then, offered one last gruff warning, "Desmond?"
"Okay. Okay," her voice rose. "Lee and Amanda have missed two check-ins." Trying to cover, she quickly added, "They probably just forgot. Like I said, you know how Lee is."
"Is that it?" he questioned, reading the edge that stuck to her words like white fuzz on black clothing.
"Well," she slowly drew out the word, trying to phrase the message from his wife as gently as she could. "Jeannie called."
"Damn!" The imprecation escaped his lips.
Meekly, Francine said, "She left a message for you."
"I can imagine," Billy snorted. "Let me guess. If I'm not home on time for dinner, I'm on my own?"
"Yeah," she smiled uneasily. "Something like that." She reached up and straightened her earring. Immediately, she sought to ease her Section Chief's mind. "Listen, why don't you head home. I can handle this. I'm sure it's nothing. Just Scarecrow's old cavalier self."
"Nice try, Francine. Look, get Jeannie on the phone for me, then check to see if either Stetson filed a search route before they left." He attempted to smile at her as he struggled to release his collar button. "Amanda would have seen to it that they check-in if everything was okay. No way would she skip two." He shook his head. "I'm afraid it's going to be a long night."
He rubbed his hand over his now bristly cheek. "Call the Steno pool and have someone make a dinner run." Billy turned on his heel and headed toward his office as Francine dialed his home phone.
Silence had fallen heavily over the room. Lee and Amanda sat separately, lost in their own thoughts. Feeling as if a third portly party had entered the room, taking up most of the space, Amanda rose, and in the dim blush of light, slowly made her way to the far side of the room. She turned and leaned her forehead against the cool, damp wall and let out a sigh.
Lee became aware of her change of location, and roused himself from his dark meditations. Heaving himself off the floor, and quickly brushing off the seat of his pants, he walked toward his wife.
"Amanda," he asked softly, concern wrapping itself tenderly around his words. "Are you all right?" He reached out to her faint form and set his hands firmly upon her stiffly held shoulders. He didn't need to wait for her to answer, he could tell by her inflexible stance that something was most definitely bothering her. He lowered his hands to her arms, and turned her to face him. Reaching up to cup her face with his fingers, he said, "Tell me what you're thinking about."
Amanda didn't relax, but continued to stand silent and rigid.
Lee closed his eyes, and set his jaw. Taking in a deep, fortifying breath, he pleaded, "Don't do this, Amanda," the words came out in little more than a rough whisper. "Tell my why you're acting like this. Was it what I said?"
With a voice as icy as the tundra, Amanda answered, "You'd have been much better off with a different partner . . . like Francine. She'd never have let the door shut, she'd have stayed there and watched it like you asked." Choking back tears, Amanda continued with a sigh, "You'd have probably been better off with different wife, too." She knew in her heart that his love ran deeper and truer than either of them could comprehend, but her mind, caught in a maze of insecurity, refused to believe it.
Her words cut him more thoroughly than any stiletto ever could. He dropped his arms and took a step back, trying to control the desperation he felt forming in the pit of his stomach. He answered, his voice a seething combination of hurt and anger, "How could you even think of saying that to me?"
"I don't know," came her barely audible response.
"Amanda, I'd have married you if you did nothing except get us snared like this every day, or if you never did anything except sit around eating bon-bons, getting plumper and plumper." A hint of a smile crossed his features and his voice warmed with his feelings. "Now, I'll admit that I'd miss the slim, trim, sexy creature that you are now, but it wouldn't, couldn't ever change the way I feel about you. Think about it."
Amanda closed her eyes and stepped in to rest her head against her husband's shoulder, relaxing for the first time since their entrapment. "Lee, I know, I know that's how you feel, I do know that it's the truth, it's just . . . well . . . I'm scared." The words came out in a strangled whisper.
"Shhh," he comforted her, sliding one arm smoothly around her waist and stroking his other hand over the soft curls of her hair. "It will be okay, we'll be all right. Remember? Think about the silver lining."
"Oh, Lee," she moaned softly. "How many times can we be lucky. What if we've used up all of our magic charms, what if . . ."
He cut her off, sensing the frantic quality that was creeping into her words. Again, he sought to comfort her, "Shhh, trust me, it will work out, we'll be fine." He pulled her closer to him, engulfing her tightly within his arms, hoping against hope that he was right about their fate. "Shhh, you'll see."
He continued to hold her, crushing her as tightly against his body as he possibly could without harming her. He rested his cheek against the top of her head, breathing in the essence of the woman that he loved. Closing his eyes, he allowed his mind to wander over some of the other hairy situations they had been in during their professional association. They flashed in his mind like firecrackers on the Fourth of July…hopelessly handcuffed to stationary heavy equipment in the middle of a blazing inferno; impossibly surrounded by crazed militia in a swamp in the dead of night; menacingly locked in a mental institution, no escape in sight; their hands bound together in the middle of a mad man's parlor . . . or den . . . or storage room . . . or . . . A laugh escaped his lips.
Amanda wailed, "What could you possibly find that's funny about this situation?"
He started to answer her when his foot began a fierce itching. He released her unceremoniously from his grasp, lifted the pricking appendage up against his leg, and began to rub it with gusto. As the irritation began to fade, Lee became cognizant of an odd feeling against his leg, something hard and unyielding. Recognition of the object burst over him, and he let out a loud whoop, grabbed Amanda around the waist, and swung her around the empty room in a dance of glory.
Amanda was astounded by Lee's actions. She didn't know what form of lunacy had overtaken him, but it concerned her greatly. She tried to pull out of his embrace, but he just pulled her in even more tightly, squeezing the breath from her slim form. She finally managed to work her arms free and pushed her hands against his chest, hoping to get his attention as she choked out his name. "Le-ee, Le-ee." In his jubilation, he didn't seem aware of her hail. "Le-ee," she gasped and increased the pressure of her hands against his chest.
Hours had passed. It appeared that Leatherneck's tracking device wasn't working. Amanda sat in contemplation. "Guess this time we won't have to worry about the bad guys getting us mixed up," Amanda teased as she rubbed her hands together.
Lee looked over toward the sound of her voice, "What do you mean?"
She sighed at how easily he could forget some of the things that had happened to her in her early days with the Agency. She guessed that he actually willed himself to forget them because their remembrance now mortified him so. She wiped away the small smile her thoughts had caused to form on her face, and cleared her throat. "Well, remember that incident when they thought I was you?" She chuckled as she remembered. It was funny, now, in retrospect, but not so much then, when she'd only been working with Lee for two months. "And don't forget the situation when we were at Station One and they thought 'I' was the ringer?"
Lee finally understood . . . or allowed himself to understand what she was talking about. "Amanda," he almost whined, "those were just stupid mixups."
"I know," she sighed. She scrunched up her face and started to laugh.
"What? What's so funny?" Lee demanded, starting to wriggle his back against the wall.
"Oh, I was just thinking. That time at Station One? When we were headed off to Dodge City?" The laughter was percolating up her throat and threatening to erupt. "Well, remember when you attacked that policeman? I mean, Gregorian, dressed as a policeman? Of course, I didn't know it was Gregorian at the time, but . . ." She couldn't control her amusement any longer, and it burst forth causing her to double over. "Oh, Lee," she choked out between gasps, "I thought you were nuts. I was sure that you had totally lost it."
Lee leered at the outline of her body convulsing. "Yeah, well that wasn't as funny as when Rostov kidnapped you from my apartment, now, was it?" An edge began to take over Lee's voice. "He really thought you were me. In either case, how could they have ever thought you were me? I still don't understand. Ridiculous!"
"Oh," Amanda spoke very softly, "I didn't think that time with Rostov was so funny."
"No," a wave of recalled fear briefly washed over her. Shaking it off, she continued, "Well, maybe at the end, in the warehouse, it might have been a little funny. I mean, the look on your face when I called you 'my helper' almost made the whole thing worthwhile, but when they locked me up in that box?" Again a claw of fear grabbed at her and she swallowed hard. "I . . . I was . . . scared," she murmured so softly that Lee could barely hear her. "I thought for sure I was going to die. I . . . I figured that I'd never see the boys or Mother or . . ."
"Amanda," Lee attempted to console her.
"No, it's okay. It's just . . . just that I was . . . um . . . new to this business then," she tossed her head like a dog shaking a bone, trying to elude the horrific feelings with which she'd been left that day. "I mean, I didn't know what to expect . . . not that you can ever really know what to expect in a situation like that. You always have to expect the unexpected." She turned her head to try and determine how Lee was reacting to her tale. She couldn't tell, and decided to continue.
Her voice dropped to an even lower tenor. "I felt like I was in a coffin." An icy chill shot through her veins and she wrapped her arms around herself. "You know, maybe I'll think about being cremated or something, when the time comes."
Lee couldn't take any more. He scooted to her side and, in a protective motion, wrapped his strong arms around her. He assumed his best senior agent tone, "Amanda, that's all over and it was a learning experience. Look how far you've come since then."
She lifted her face to his, wondering what effect this disclosure might have had on him.
He pulled her closer, running his hand slowly up and down her arm. "Amanda," he said gently, "did I ever tell you how proud I was of you that day? You took charge of the situation; you did what had to be done. I must say, you were really something."
"Honest?" she asked.
"Honest," he replied with true sincerity.
He released Amanda and squinted down at his watch, trying to discern the time, but the faint light from the exit sign did not allow him to make out the numbers. He scrubbed his hands against his face. Then, pulling Amanda more tightly against his side, he said, "Look, it's late. Why don't we try and get some rest?"
She nodded her agreement, and they snuggled against each other for warmth and comfort.
The hours ticked by slowly and there was no rest in the Bullpen. Scarecrow and Mrs. King had now missed four check-ins. Billy responded by calling a full scramble. Agents scurried about collecting information and assembling their strategy for finding the missing agents. Francine sat at her desk, typing information into her computer, hoping to find something that would lead them to her friends. She looked up a moment at the thought. Friends. Lee had been her friend for years, but she now realized that Amanda had become about as close of a friend as she'd ever had. She snapped out of her reverie and renewed her efforts, clicking away at her keyboard. She was going to see to it that they found Scarecrow and Mrs. King.
The next morning, an incessant beep whined through the Quartermaster's Office. Leatherneck had just entered and stood ready to prepare standard packages of various apparatus for later distribution to agents on assignment. Hearing the high pitched wail, he walked over to a small rectangular instrument giving off the shrill alarm to investigate. "Well, I'll be. Guess ole Scarecrow decided to get right down to business."
A grin crossed his face as he leaned over and jotted down the coordinates on the chart kept next to the machine. He'd need to check with Scarecrow when he came in from the field to determine the device's accuracy. Switching off the alarm, he returned to his chore.
Sitting on the floor, her back against the wall, Amanda smiled to herself as she remembered the case where Lee had pretended to be a football player. It had been a new situation for Amanda, playing a newspaper reporter putting together a story on this sport's has been, but it had offered her many interesting adventures, including spending the night in a bookie joint wearing a straight jacket. Then, she remembered the meeting she'd had with Lee. He'd told her to wait for him at the window of the dorm until he figured out a way to get there. When he arrived, he'd handed her a roll of film and told her to take it to the Agency for development. Amanda's smile broadened, and she hugged her bent knees close to her chest, when she recalled what had happened when Coach Leopold showed up. Lee had thought fast, leaned over the window sill, and kissed Amanda, trying to making it look like a not so innocent late night get together.
Lee became aware of a change in Amanda's posture. "Whatcha thinking about?"
"Oh, nothing, really," Amanda answered, trying to avoid discussing that case.
Something in her look, in her voice, intrigued Lee and he couldn't let it go. "Come on, what?"
"Oh, if you must know, I was thinking about that case we worked on shortly after I joined the Agency, the one with Bela Pravik . . . you know when you were a football player?"
Lee knew, he remembered that night well. He'd leaned down and kissed her. He hadn't known what had hit him. "Yeah, I remember that," he laughed.
"You do?" Amanda coughed in surprise.
"Oh, yes, Mrs. Stetson, I most definitely do," he sighed.
"I remember because it was our first kiss," he closed his eyes as he recalled the sensations evoked that night. "That kiss felt like lightening had shot through me. I remember thinking to myself, 'What the hell was that?'" He gave his shoulders a dismissive shrug. "I remember standing there and mentally struggling to clear my mind, to get my attention back on the case, resume my flip attitude. I managed. But I've always remembered that kiss." He turned to her and arched an eyebrow. "What about you?"
"Really?" she asked in awe. "I was . . . I'm not sure, shocked, irritated, flabbergasted, but I quickly realized it was all business and I dismissed it from my mind," she stammered as her fingers fluttered over her lips.
"Oh, you did, did you?" he asked, leaning in toward her.
"Yeah, Stetson," she poked a finger into his chest to stop his forward motion. "I did. Besides, Bela was the one that really knocked my socks off."
"Bela?" he yowled as he realized what she was implying. "What are you talking about? That guy was . . ."
Amanda cut him off, tilting her head. "Jealous, Scarecrow?" she asked with a smirk.
"Me? No way," Lee pshawed, waving his hand in dismissal.
"Really?" Amanda raised her eyebrows.
"Really," he responded with a determined nod.
"Oh, good," came her flat reply. A few awkward moments passed between them.
"Well?" Lee queried.
"Aren't you going to tell me what happened?" He framed his question in a tone that made it clear that he wouldn't stop until he reached the truth.
Amanda stifled a giggle. "Oh, well, it was purely innocent; no big deal."
"Amanda . . ." he warned.
"No," she protested, giving him a playful slap on the arm. "It really was. See, Bela had left the football field, and I saw the bad guys get up to follow him, so I went, too. They showed up, the bad guys, that is. Bela panicked and he, well, he . . ."
"He what, Amanda?" Lee demanded, his exasperation becoming apparent.
"Well . . ." she looked at him, then averted her eyes. In a near whisper, she said, "He kissed me. Are you happy?"
Lee's voice rose in disbelief. "You let him kiss you?"
Quietly, slightly embarrassed, Amanda answered, "I didn't really have much choice, or much time to think about it."
"Uh-huh. I take it that there's more?"
"More?" she said as she closed her eyes and pulled her lower lip between her teeth, "what would make you think there was more?"
"Uh-huh, I knew it," Lee hissed as his jaw clenched.
"Knew what?" Amanda tried hard to play the innocent.
"Amanda," Lee looked at her, studying her carefully, "every time you don't want to answer me, you just rephrase my question into a different question."
"I do?" Still, she tried to maintain a façade of naivete.
"Yes, you do." Lee was losing patience. His voice rose and he felt the muscles in his neck begin to tighten. "Now, Amanda, spill the beans." He gave her a look that dared her to withhold the truth. "Tell me what else happened."
She knew that there was no escape, and decided to be as straightforward as possible. "Not a lot, it's just that his kiss kinda took me by surprise and…" She again looked away from her husband.
"And . . .?" Lee asked, his patience wearing thinner and thinner with each word that wasn't said.
Surrounded with security engendered by the cloak of darkness, Amanda answered boldly. "It was great, okay?" Irritated at having to explain a situation that happened before they were in any way involved on a personal basis, she continued, "He was a really good kisser and I hadn't been kissed in a long time, except by you. It felt wonderful and it . . . well, I . . . oh, you know."
"Know? No, Amanda, I don't know." He vigorously shook his head. "Why don't you tell me?" he requested, sarcasm dripping from his words.
Amanda took a deep breath and fortified herself for the oncoming battle she feared. "If you must know," she said coolly, "it was spellbinding. I lost my equilibrium, I was totally disoriented by it . . . but it was just one brief kiss."
"Yeah, it was just one kiss," Lee muttered, running his hand roughly through his hair. Then, he added incredulously, "but it was better than mine?"
She answered calmly and without hesitation. "At the time? Yes, definitely. He didn't scare me and you did."
"I scared you?" he snapped at her. "How did I scare you?"
Amanda shook her head, seeing a glimpse of the old Lee as she remembered the way he had been. "You were always yelling at me, always displeased, always trying to pawn me off on someone else, anyone else." She looked straight into his eyes and asked, "Did you think I didn't know?" Not waiting for an answer, she continued. "Bela was kind and sweet; he was gentle; and while he's not my type, it was . . ." She turned her head and gave herself a shake, "Well, it just was, deal with it."
"Deal with it, huh? I'll deal with it," Lee edged closer to Amanda's side as he twisted around to face her, and slipped an arm around her waist. "And here's how . . ." With that said, he leaned in and kissed her solidly on the lips.
"Mmmm . . . mmmph . . . mmmm."
"Well?" he pulled back and asked impatiently.
Breathlessly, Amanda answered, "Well, what?"
Lee shot her a dirty look, and watched her expression through the corner of his eye.
"Lee," her voice low and teasing, "I'll tell you . . ."
He didn't give her a chance. He leaned back in and captured her lips once more, determined to wipe any memory of Bela Pravik forever from her mind.
Around three that afternoon, Leatherneck strolled into the Georgetown foyer. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Marston, and how are you today?" he asked cheerily.
"I'm just fine, thank you, Leatherneck." She peered over the top of her glasses, scrutinizing him closely, and noting grease spots scattered over his clothing. "You seem all chipper, a bit on the dirty side, but chipper."
"Yes, Ma'am. It's a beautiful day out there," he pointed toward the entrance door. Been over at the Motor Pool today. Got me some fresh air and sunshine." He smiled broadly, seeming pleased with himself.
Mrs. Marston shot him a disgruntled look. "Well, we all don't have that option," she said like a schoolmarm putting a child in its place.
"No," Leatherneck shook his head. "I guess not." A huge grin spread across his face and he spread his arms wide. "Ya don't know what all you're missing."
"Perhaps," she said as she handed him his ID badge. "Here you are."
"Thanks." He turned and started whistling as he headed over to the stairs. He started skipping up the steps when Mrs. Marston called out to him.
"Oh, Leatherneck. Mr. Stetson and Mrs. King aren't in the office."
Leatherneck stopped his climb. "No?"
"No," she replied flatly, offering no further information.
"Any idea when they'll be back?"
"I don't know, but you might want to ask down in the Bullpen," she offered.
Leatherneck lifted his eyebrow and shrugged as he turned and headed for the closet elevator. "Okey, dokey."
He walked into the elevator and pushed the button for his desired floor. When the elevator came to a stop, he strode off and sauntered toward the Bullpen. The uniformed guards opened the doors, and he entered to the hubbub and confusion of the Field Services division of the Agency in full scramble.
Leatherneck took a few steps into the room when Francine, looking down at an armful of printouts, bumped into him.
"What the . . .?" she shouted, clearly irritated. "Oh, Leatherneck," she said as she looked up at her culprit. "Sorry, I didn't see you."
"Hey, Francine. What's up?"
"I don't have time to talk right now, Leatherneck."
He quickly scanned the room and replied, "I can see that." He smiled. "Listen, just a quick question. Do you know where Lee is?"
Francine looked up at him in confusion. "You mean you haven't heard?"
Shaking his head and shrugging, he responded with ignorance, "Heard what?"
Francine set the printouts down on her desk and looked up at her associate. Letting out a long slow breath, she explained the situation. "Lee and Amanda have been missing since early yesterday afternoon. That's the last time they checked in." She closed her eyes for a moment, gathering resolve to continue. "We've been trying to track them down all last night and all day, today. No luck. It's like they disappeared off the face of the earth."
Leatherneck turned back toward the Bullpen doors, and stood motionless, silently considering the information he had just heard.
With no time to spare to console her co-worker, Francine cleared her throat to attract his attention. Not noticing his lack of response, she felt the need to resume her work. "If you'll excuse me, I really don't have time for this. I have to get in there." She pointed toward the War Room, where agents were attempting to discern the route Lee and Amanda might have taken in their pursuit of the missing packet of credentials.
Leatherneck continued to stand, seemingly without reaction.
Francine now found herself concerned for her friend. "Leatherneck, you okay?"
He turned to face her, his usual smile replaced with a look of deep concern. "When did you say they stopped checkin' in?"
Francine drew her head back in surprise at his question. "Yesterday, about one-thirty."
Biting his lip in contemplation, Leatherneck turned his eyes toward the ceiling.
"Leatherneck?" Francine reached out and touched him on the arm.
He lowered his eyes and drew a brief smile across his face. "Sorry, Darlin'." He took a deep breath, and continued, "I don't know if it will do ya any good, but I heard from Lee this morning."
Francine's eyes opened wide as she immediately responded, "What? Why didn't you say so? Where is he? Is he okay? Amanda? What did he say to you? Why did he call you and not check in? Doesn't he know how worried we are?"
Leatherneck began waving his hands to gain her attention. When she finally stopped to take a breath, he clarified his comment. "Hang on there. I didn't say I talked to him, I said I heard from him."
Totally confused, Francine took a step toward him, shaking her head.
"Listen," Leatherneck reached out and took her by the arm, leading her through the Bullpen. "Let's find Mr. Melrose, and I'll tell ya both what I know." With that said, they headed into the War Room.
Lee tensely paced across the room, half out of nervousness, half out of frustration. He took a deep breath, and without slowing his steps, said, "Look, Amanda, in case we don't get out of here. . ."
She cut him off. "We'll get out of here."
"Amanda, I mean . . ."
"Lee," she stated emphatically, "we 'will' get out of here.
He stopped and looked at her through the rosy twilight they occupied. "Amanda, there's a chance . . ."
"Yes, Lee, there is a chance. A chance that we will get rescued. It won't be the first time." She walked over to where he stood and put her hand against his now stubbly face. "Gosh, how many times have one or both of us needed rescuing in the past five years? We've been locked up, tied up, nearly frozen more than once." She let out a soft snort. "I can even remember a Christmas Eve or two when we were in desperate need of some help."
Lee shook his head. He pulled away from her and began his pacing anew. "Those were different. We could do something on our own."
"Oh, yeah, Scarecrow. When we were in that cabin out in the woods, we could do wonders with you shot." She rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
"But we still had weapons, we could defend ourselves," he responded with irritation.
She looked at him as if he were speaking a foreign language. "Are you kidding me? We were in a cabin, in the middle of the woods with a burned out operative, two soviet agents, you near death's door . . ." She shuddered. "Well, for a while, that's where I thought you were. We were surrounded by armed squads of soldiers. Yep, we sure could have gotten ourselves out of that one," she said with an unconcealed smirk.
Lee looked at her, lifted his eyelids, and nodded his head in concession to her argument.
"And then, there was that lovely Christmas Eve a couple of years ago, when we found ourselves locked up in a toy factory conference room." She couldn't resist the urge to laugh.
"Ah, ha," Lee crowed in triumph. "But there, we did manage to get ourselves out."
"Yes, we did, but we were darn lucky, and you know it." She suddenly felt as if the walls of the room were closing in on her.
Lee looked up at the ceiling. "Amanda, I hate to say it, but this time, I think our luck 'has' run out." He stepped in front of her, placed a hand on each of her shoulders, and looked her straight in the eyes. "I turned on that tracking device Leatherneck gave me hours ago, maybe days ago. They should have been here by now. Face it, no one knows where we are. No one can hear us in here. It honestly doesn't look good."
Amanda nodded her head, then reached over and gave him a hug. "It will be okay. Somehow, I just know it will."
Lee pulled away, his frustration breaking through. With a hard edge to his voice, he asked, "How, Amanda?"
She sighed. "I honestly don't know, Lee. It's just a feeling I have."
"Ah, those instincts of yours?"
"Maybe." She let out a chuckle.
Lee looked at her with confusion, then asked, "My dear wife, with our lives on the line, what could possibly be funny enough to make you laugh?"
"Oh, it's nothing, really. I . . ." Her laughter built in intensity. "I just . . . thought about that toy factory."
"What about it?" he pressed. "Did it give you an idea on how we can get out of here?"
She shook her head as she tried to get her laughter under control. "Nope, afraid not, but thinking about it, for some reason, reminded me of a Christmas when I was little."
Again, Lee felt confused. "I don't see the connection."
"I guess I remembered all those toys." She inhaled as a smile crept across her face.
"Amanda, I still don't see the significance."
"There isn't any," she answered plainly. "It just reminded me of a Christmas present my dad got me when I was, gosh, I don't know, five or six. I desperately wanted a Howdy Doody ventriloquist's dummy." She looked at him, then, reaching out her hand, she ran it down his arm. "You know, one of those Charlie McCarthy puppet like things. They sit on your lap, you put your hand up their back, and you can make their eyes and mouth move, so it looks like they're talking? Man, I wanted one of those Howdy Doody ones more than anything. I wrote to Santa. I prayed for it. I begged Mother and Daddy. I didn't know it then, but that was the 'popular' toy that year, kind of like Captain Galaxy. They were impossible to get, but Daddy did everything he could." She finally stopped to take a breath. "He must have sold his soul, but come Christmas morning, Howdy was under the tree waiting for me."
Lee was totally exasperated by Amanda's reversion rambling. Her tale caused Lee to turn away as the realization struck that that was probably the same Christmas he prayed, begged, cajoled, did everything he could think of to get his parents back. He took a deep breath, steeled himself, and forced the panicked feeling down deep within himself. Carefully, he spoke. "And your point is?"
"The point? Simple enough," Amanda waved her hand blithely through the air. "Daddy did the impossible because I was important to him. Lee, we're important to a lot of people. They will find us."
He decided to agree with her, seeing no point in totally dashing her hopes . . . yet. "Sure, you're probably right," he smiled.
Amanda could tell by the tone of his voice that he wasn't sincere. "Lee," she said as she reached for his hand and began to walk across the room, leading him behind her. "Let's sit down." Arranging themselves on the floor, Lee leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes as Amanda leaned against him. "Lee?"
"You know what I found really special the Christmas before last?"
He turned his head to look down at her. "No, what?"
"Me?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Yeah. You. It was the first Christmas you spent as part of the family."
"I guess it was, wasn't it?" He pulled her closer and reached his hand around her head to smooth her hair to comfort her . . . and himself.
"Mmmmm-hmmmm." She pulled her head back to search his face. "It was. It meant so much to me having you with us. I knew then, that there was nothing and no one who could ever tear us apart." She lowered her head back into the hollow of his shoulder. "Lee, we are meant to be together, and together for a long time. Trust me, we will get out of here. We will!"
He nodded his head against hers. "Yes, Ma'am, we will."
After a few minutes of explanation, Leatherneck exited the Bullpen with much more speed than he had entered. He raced to his office, where he retrieved the tracking receiver and clipboard. With those in hand, he returned to the War Room. He approached the map table and read off the coordinates he had earlier noted to Francine. Pointing to indicate a general area within the circle already drawn on the map, he declared, "There. The information I received from Stetson's 'tracker' shows that they're somewhere near that point."
Francine studied the location as she plotted and marked it with a flag; then, she turned to look at Leatherneck. "This just shows that they're somewhere on the north end of the Hill." Coolly, she added, "We knew that. Can't you pin this down any closer?"
Leatherneck nodded. "Yes, I can. This baby," he held up the receiver, "surely can be more precise. I just need to get in closer proximity to the area. Once there," he patted the small black box as if it were a prize dog, "this'll take us right to 'em."
Francine looked at him incredulously. "Well, then, what are we doing standing here? Let's get Billy and a team and head out." Without another word, she stormed out of the room to seek out her boss.
Amanda had dozed off in the comfort of her husband's arms. After a while, Lee had gently eased away, carefully settling his wife against the wall. Hours had passed, and Amanda woke to the sound of tapping. She rose slowly as her stomach growled from lack of food and water. Stretching out the stiffness from sleeping on the hard floor, she yawned and began to look around for both her husband and the source of the tapping, the only external sound she'd heard since they'd been locked in the room. "Lee, is that you?"
"Yeah," he replied and the tapping stopped.
"What's going on?"
"I'm trying to get us out of here, that's what's going on."
"How?" she asked, uncertain of his plans.
"Listen, Amanda, we have to try something. The only hope we have is to try and work the mortar out from between the bricks that surround the door. If we can make a big enough hole, we have a couple of options. Either we can actually get ourselves out of here, and if not, maybe we can make enough noise that someone will hear us and call for help."
"Yes," she said, slowly nodding her head, "I understand. Um, Lee?"
"Wouldn't we be better trying to make an opening through the outside wall? she asked. "I mean, if we could make an opening to the outside, we wouldn't have to worry about getting help from anyone else."
He stood and leaned against the door. "Unh-unh. Not in this building. I'm guessing that this place was built, I don't know, sixty, seventy years ago. They built things tough back then, not to mention that we're below ground level. Even if we were above ground level, the walls have to be three or four feet thick." He tilted his head and continued, his voice matter of fact, "And this room?" He moved his arm in an arc, indicating the confines of their one room prison. "My guess is this room was used as some sort of a vault. The walls all seem to have extra reinforcement, the door appears to be solid steel, no, it's going to take a lot of work to just break out enough of these bricks to do us any good at all. We'll have to work in shifts."
"Well," she answered as she moved closer to him, "okay. What do we have to work with?"
"My handy-dandy pocket knife." He waved the small tool, the dim light briefly reflected in the highly polished stainless steel blade. "I didn't come prepared with anything more sophisticated."
Amanda bounced on her heels and tossed her head. "No, I guess not." She turned away from him and sighed.
"What? Is something wrong?" he asked, straightening.
"Oh, I was just thinking that Mother must be frantic. We didn't call and we were supposed to be home last night . . . it was last night, wasn't it? Whatever, we were supposed to be home in time to take the boys out for pizza." She waved her hand in front of her face as if she were trying to dismiss her thoughts.
"She'll understand," he offered.
"No," she shook her head. "No, I think she worries more about me . . . us, now, than she did when she didn't know what I . . . we did. Now, all she thinks about are the horrible things that could happen to me . . . to us."
"Us?" he asked. "Do you really think she worries about me?"
Amanda turned back to look at his shadowy figure. "Oh, yeah. Lee," she said, her voice softening, "she thinks of you as a son. She'd be devastated if anything were to happen to you."
"Really?" he sounded stunned at this revelation.
"Really!" For a moment, all the conversations she'd had with her mother over men swept through her mind. It seemed that all her mother ever wanted for her was a man to marry her and take care of her and the boys. She began to laugh. Things had certainly turned out somewhat differently than her mother's dreams, but she knew that Dotty really did love Lee. "You are the son she never had and you married her daughter. She's not just happy with you, she's thrilled."
A long silence followed. Finally, quietly, Lee said, "Amanda, do you think . . ." his voice trailed off.
"If she feels that way, and if we get out of here . . ."
She cut him off. "When."
Lee nodded as he rolled his eyes. "*When* we get out of here, do you think she'd mind if I . . ." he stopped abruptly.
"If you what?" she prompted, wondering what he was thinking about. "Come on, Lee."
He waved off his thought. "Nah, stupid idea."
Amanda wasn't going to accept his reply and with a firm tone ordered, "Okay, Scarecrow, spit it out, now."
Lee shrugged and lowered his head self-consciously. He took a deep breath and forced himself to finish his question, "I just thought . . . maybe . . ." He turned to face the door and mumbled softly over his shoulder, ". . . maybe she wouldn't mind if I . . . if I called her Mom?"
Amanda bit her lip and closed her eyes. For a moment, she was unable to speak, then, moving to his side, she cleared her throat and answered, "Lee." She reached up and stroked her hand through his hair, over his rough, unshaven cheek, and then, under his chin to lift his head. "She would love it." Then, a bit more boldly, she added, "Even Joe never called her Mom."
Lee's attitude brightened, and a broad smile crossed his face. "No?"
"No. It would be something special between the two of you, if . . ."
"Yeah, if . . ."
They stood in silence for a moment, then Amanda lifted her eyes to his, and in the dimness, asked, "If we don't make it out of here . . . and I'm sure we will, but just suppose . . . how do you think the Colonel will take it?"
"Amanda." Lee drew her name out, so that it sounded like a reprimand.
"No, Lee . . ." she let her thought drift unsaid.
Lee ran his hand through his hair. He and the Colonel would never see eye to eye, but he'd come to realize, especially in the last year, that his uncle wasn't a bad person. Lee had a grudging respect for the Colonel and the job he'd done for the country through the years. In his own way, Lee even loved him. Lee also knew that his uncle was a realist, fully cognizant of his profession and lifestyle. "Look, Amanda, I'm sure he'll grieve for me out of some perceived sense of duty, but his life will go on as normal."
She reached up and stroked her hand comfortingly over his bristly cheek. "Lee, he loves you. I know he doesn't show it. He's not a gushy kind of person, but he really does love you and he's proud of you. He told me so."
"What?" He scrunched up his face and snorted at her words.
"Lee Stetson, you listen to me. Your uncle is a sweet man. Oh, yeah, he acts as gruff as a billy goat, and hard-nosed? Whoo, yeah. He acts like nothing can get through that tough skin of his, but I'm telling you, he's as soft as butter when it comes to you." She pulled back a little to try and get a better look at him in the ruby-hued light. Seriously, she continued, "He may never say it to your face, but he loves you and he is proud of you."
"Amanda, okay, so he loves me." A sneer crossed his lips as he forced himself to say the words. "You can love someone just because they're around and you get used to them, feel responsible for them, but proud? You've heard him, he disdainfully calls me one of 'the suits.'"
Amanda laughed and playfully patted his chest. "That's just camouflage, Lee. He's afraid to let his real feelings show. He doesn't understand how to deal with you as an adult any better than he knew how to deal with you as a child. No one ever showed him how. I mean, he never had a wife."
Lee bit his lip and nodded. He inhaled deeply, then replied, his voice a mere whisper, "No, he never had someone to gentle him into it, someone like you to take him by the hand and teach him by example. I guess, in his own way, the Colonel did love me . . . does love me." Lee roughly scrubbed his hand over his face. "He always did make sure I had whatever I needed as far as clothes and school go. He made sure that Barney was there for me." He worked his neck, trying to ease the tension that the conversation, not to mention the situation, was causing. "He didn't know that I knew that he was behind Barney's interest in me at first, but I'd overheard him set that all up. I was determined to hate Barney because of it, but how can you hate some one as great as Barney?" He shook his head and grinned as he thought of his friend.
"Well, Barney is pretty special." Amanda smiled at him. "I'm glad you had him to help fill in the gaps your uncle left open."
"Well, you know, I am kind of grateful to the Colonel."
Amanda deliberated on his words for a moment, trying to decide if he was serious or just teasing her. Concluding that his words were earnest, she responded in kind, "You should be. He raised you to be a fine man with a good heart."
"I don't mean that." He reached out and pulled her to him. "I mean for you."
Amanda leaned against him, bewildered. "I don't understand."
Stroking his hand through her hair, he explained, "I'm grateful to him for helping me see just how special you really are." He paused and looked up toward the ceiling. "Remember when the Colonel was here for his court-martial? When they said he was responsible for his squadron crashing?" He felt her nod against his chest and continued, "It was when I started to see you through his eyes that I came to realize that you were more than a partner or friend. I began to understand that you'd become my best friend. That I could trust you with my life, I already knew, but it was then that I came to the realization that I could trust you with the real me . . . with my heart."
"Your heart? Back then?" she asked, astonished at his confession.
"I don't mean that I was in love with you or anything. Not at that point, but that I could tell you anything and you'd still like me, still accept me as a good person, even if I'd done something that might not have been so good." He again pulled back to look at her with an apologetic smile and a shrug. "I'm not making any sense, am I?"
Amanda silently studied him, then, running her hand up and down his arm with a feather light caress. and with a slight catch in her voice, she said, "No, Lee, you make perfect sense. I'm touched. I had no idea."
He inclined his head to one side and tried to make light of his disclosure, "It's no big deal, I just thought, well, you know."
Amanda nodded and beamed up at him, "Oh, yeah. I do.
Billy drove like a madman, weaving in and out of traffic. Francine sat in the seat next to him, and Leatherneck rode silently in the back. Beeman and Shrouder followed in the car behind, and an agent filled truck followed them, in turn. Francine held onto the door handle for dear life. She'd been in some incredible chase situations during her years with the Agency, but none of them had come close to Billy's manic maneuvering.
Making a hard left turn, Billy barely stopped for a car crossing before him. He jammed his right foot down on the gas pedal, and the automobile jerked forward with a loud squeal. Rapidly turning the steering wheel to the right, the car lurched around another corner. Francine sucked in her breath and checked her seat belt buckle, verifying that it was securely fastened. She closed her eyes and silently made an offering of thanks to Amanda. She was glad that she had finally listened to all the lectures Amanda had been issuing lately, trying to get her to wear her seat restraint.
Billy swerved the car around another corner, again, pushing the accelerator to the floor. Then, seeing something ahead, something blocking the way, he forcefully stomped the break pedal down as far as it would go.
Beeman, behind him, barely screeched to a halt, stopping just inches from Billy's vehicle. The truck following Beeman managed to avoid smashing into Effrom's car by driving up onto the parkway, crashing into a tree.
Billy threw open his car door and jumped out, running forward to inspect the obstruction. Francine sprinted behind him, cursing her choice of high-heeled shoes. Billy approached what appeared to be a wooden barricade. He looked around and spotted a uniformed policeman. Scrambling in the direction of the officer, his hand reaching into his pocket to retrieve his ID, Billy called out, "What's going on here? Why is this road closed?"
The officer looked at him with disdain. "What's it to you, buddy?"
Billy flashed his badge and identification. The officer studied it carefully, and swallowed hard. "The Agency?" He swallowed again. Then, his tone much more conciliatory, the officer provided an explanation. "Sorry, Sir. We're expecting a presidential motorcade through here any minute. Fact is," he pointed down the street, "it was supposed to be here half an hour ago."
"Yes, I see," Billy mumbled as he scanned the direction the officer had indicated. Billy smiled uneasily as he turned toward the man and read the name badge pinned to his uniform. "Look, Officer MacMillon, can you just let us through? It's an emergency. A couple of my best agents are in trouble. I've got to get through to them as quickly as possible."
"I'm sorry, Sir. It's not possible, not this way. They won't open this road up for at least thirty minutes after the motorcade passes."
"But Officer," Francine piped up, "you don't understand."
Billy stamped his foot against the asphalt roadway and cursed under his breath. There had to be a way.
At that moment, a Secret Service advance car pulled up. The agent stepped out of the car, scanning the area as he approached the officer. He took in Billy and Francine. Assuming a no-nonsense stance, he brusquely asked the officer, "What's going on here?"
Billy took a step closer to the barricade. The Secret Service agent turned toward Billy and held up a hand to stop his forward motion. Billy again reached into his pocket to procure his ID. The agent, seeing a flash from Billy's holstered weapon, reached under his jacket and pulled his own.
Billy moved back a step and held up his hand, flipping open the wallet that contained his identification. Francine followed her boss's actions. The Secret Service agent motioned to the officer to retrieve the credentials; his gun still aimed in the direction of the Agency representatives.
The policeman moved swiftly, taking the small cases from
Billy and Francine and handing them to the security officer. Not lowering his
weapon, the Secret Service agent scanned the information offered on the
credentials, his eyes looking up at the Section Chief and his assistant. He
reholstered his gun as he returned the leather encased identity cards, stepped
closer to the protective barrier, and barked, "I'm Agent Bennett. What is it
that you want? Why are you here? Why wasn't I notified?" Before Billy could
answer, Agent Bennett's hand reached up to his ear, holding the small plug
securely in place, his head tilting slightly to the side as he listened to a
The man leaned down and spoke into a small button on his lapel. Billy raised his eyes skyward as the operative responded that he might have a problem and to halt the President's progress a block away.
Billy was losing his patience. "Listen, man, some of my operatives are in trouble. We have to get through."
Agent Bennett shook his head. "Can't do it," he responded tersely. He again leaned down, drawing his mouth close to his lapel, and cleared the motorcade to resume its trip. Looking back up to Billy, he said, "You can go through when we clear the area and remove the road block."
Narrowing his eyes, lifting himself to his full height, and sticking out his jaw, Billy, in his most official voice, growled, "What if it was a couple of your men? What would you do then?"
Agent Bennett met Agent Melrose eye to eye. Billy wouldn't back down. Lee and Amanda were in trouble and he wasn't about to put off getting to them any longer than necessary. He cleared his throat. "Let me talk to the President," he commanded.
Bennett looked at him, a small speck of shock apparent in his otherwise
stoic face. "Not possible," he answered bluntly.
Billy had had enough. He knew the President, not well, but he had been in meetings with him and had spoken to him on the telephone. "Don't give me that. Tell him Melrose, of the Agency, has urgent business."
The man in black looked carefully at Billy, noting the determination in his posture. He hesitated a moment, then repeated his earlier movement, sending a message through the button attached to his suit coat. Seconds passed, he nodded his head, then spoke once more. "Yes, Sir. We'll wait here for you, Sir." He looked up at Billy and gave a curt nod. "He said he'd give you a minute."
Billy let out the breath he'd been holding. Maybe there was some hope, after all. Shortly, a long black limousine pulled up along side the small gathering. Another Secret Service agent, Agent Dawson, approached Bennett. They exchanged huddled whispers and gestures, then Bennett lifted his head and told Billy he needed his identification. Billy placed it in Agent Bennett's hand. The security agent then relinquished it to Agent Dawson who turned and approached the limo. The window of the car rolled down and Agent Dawson slipped the credentials into the awaiting hand. He leaned down, nodded his head, and motioned Agent Bennett to allow Billy through. Billy jogged to the car and stuck his head in through the open window.
Francine took in the scene before her. How on earth did Lee and Amanda's simple case, again, turn into a full-fledged emergency, requiring presidential input, no less? She closed her eyes and gave her head a slight shake. It could only happen to Stetson and King.
A minute later, Billy turned to head back toward the car; a smile working its way across his face as he watched the barrier being moved by the three other officers.
Lee took Amanda by the hand and led her to the far wall. "Why don't we sit for a while?"
"But I thought you were trying to break through the wall over there," she pointed back toward the door.
"Yeah, I was, but I'm starting to get one heck of a headache. Must be from the cement dust and noise, and have you noticed how stuffy it's getting in here?" he answered as he eased himself down to the damp floor.
As Amanda sat next to him, she reached over and placed her hand gently against his forehead. "Oh, Lee, you're pretty warm. You must…"
"Yes," he cut her off. "I'm starting to get dehydrated. Headache, feeling cold, fever." He pulled her hand from his brow and her body closer against his side, cradling her head against his chest. "If we don't get something to drink soon . . ." He let the thought go unfinished. "We need to conserve energy and hope someone finds us
before . . ."
As Lee spoke, the small Agency convoy pulled into the turnaround outside of the main entrance to the station.
"Are you sure this is the place, Leatherneck?" Billy questioned, slipping the car into park and turning off the ignition.
"'At's what the receiver says."
Dusk had begun to fall as the three agents from the lead car stepped out and met with the others. They stood huddled together, setting out a plan.
Beeman returned to his vehicle to use the car phone to notify the Capitol Police and fill them in on what was about to occur. Billy, Francine, Leatherneck, and two technicians from the truck progressed toward the station doors. Stepping under the arcade, Francine clutched a flashlight in her hand as she felt around in her purse for a lock pick. Curling her fingers around the desired object, she approached a door, handed the flashlight to Leatherneck and began to work the lock set into the door. Moments later, a satisfied smile spreading across her face, she pulled on the handle and crossed the threshold, Billy and the others close on her heels.
Once inside the enormous main room, Billy and the other agents, weapons drawn, carefully trailed Leatherneck's steps as the small instrument in his hand let out piercing beeps. As they moved along in one direction, the sounds would slow while taking a different path caused the signals to come more quickly.
Following the increasing alarms, they inched their way through the huge hall. Approaching the stairs, the chirping emitted by the device came faster and faster.
"I think we oughta head down there," Leatherneck indicated the stairs as he looked up at the Section Chief.
Billy nodded his agreement, and the agents worked their way down the stairs, alternating one after the other to insure that the coast was clear. Reaching the basement, they took in the ongoing construction, then turned their attention to the Quartermaster.
He stood, shaking his head and clicking buttons on the instrument in his hand. "Dang," he once again looked up at Billy. "There's some sort of interference down here. I’m having trouble picking up a clear signal." He continued pressing the buttons until he once more heard the now comforting beep. It sounded rapidly, more so than earlier. Leatherneck took a step forward, and the rate of the sound increased further. He repeated the action, receiving the same results. Step after step, the incessant wails repeated, faster and faster.
By the time they stood in front of the gray steel door, the whine had become constant. Leatherneck studied the receiver and a huge grin spread across his face. "I do believe that this is the place," he drawled.
Not wasting another moment, Billy turned and began pounding on the door. "Lee? Amanda? Are you in there? Can you hear me?" Receiving no answer, he motioned to the technicians to move into place and open the door.
Billy, Leatherneck, and Francine moved to the side to allow the specialized agents room to work unhampered. The two men set up a portable, high-intensity lamp and began stringing a long thin wire around the door, holding it in place with a soft plastic material. Then, they twisted four small button-shaped detonators into place. They stepped back and turned away from the intense white flare they knew would soon follow.
A few seconds later, after a loud concussion, they pivoted back to face the door which still stood. Francine pointed to herself and the others nodded their agreement. Moving to the door, she shouted," Lee? Amanda? It's Francine. If you're near the door, stand back."
Again, no response was heard. Francine gestured to the technicians. They approached the door and pushed against it. It fell into the room with a thunderous crash.
Waiting a moment for the dust to settle, Francine strode through the doorway and began to direct the beam of her flashlight through the room. She stopped short when the light landed on the missing couple, wrapped in each other's arms, smiling up at her.
"I don't believe it," she muttered, rolling her eyes.
"What took you so long?" Lee laughed, shielding his eyes from the sudden glare.
Billy pushed Francine out of the way and moved over to his agents, kneeling down at their side. "Are you okay?" he asked with great concern. "Can you stand?"
"We're fine, Mr. Melrose," Amanda replied. "A little thirsty and in need of a nice hot bath, but we're fine, Sir."
Billy offered her his hand and helped her to her feet, then repeated the action with Lee.
Francine entered the room fully and started to reel off questions. "How did you get stuck in here? Why didn't you let me know you were coming to the station? Where did you get those outfits?"
Her boss held up his hand to silence her. "There will be time for questions later. Right now, let's get these two out of here."
Lee saw Leatherneck standing in the doorway and called to him. "I guess that little gadget worked?"
Leatherneck smiled and held up the receiver. "I guess so. Remind me to thank you for testing it out in such a . . . um . . . timely manner.
"Anytime, Leatherneck, anytime," Lee chortled. He turned to Billy.
"Let's get out of here. I think we've had our fill of train stations for a while, right, Amanda?"
Her eyes flashed over the scene before her and she chuckled. "Yeah, Lee, you and I have had one too many close calls in train stations. I think, from now on, I'm gonna fly."
Laughter filled the room as everyone moved to leave.
Amanda turned back to get one last glimpse. All that remained was the glow from the ruby-lit exit sign.
Dotty jumped when she opened the door. "Oh, Mr. Melrose, you startled me. But then, you people do that, don't you? I mean, it's your job."
Billy smiled warmly at her. "I'm sorry about that, Mrs. West. I was just about to ring the bell."
"I'm sure you were," Dotty replied, returning his smile. "I'm sorry I can't stay and talk. My date's waiting for me in the car."
She hopped up on her toes, waving over Billy's shoulder. "I'm coming, Curt," she shouted.
Turning her attention back toward Billy, she continued, "We're taking his new plane, a Cessna something-or-another, up for a moonlight flight." Turning and pointing, she added, "Lee and Amanda are in the family room. You don't mind letting yourself in, do you? I think you know the way." Then, she called out, "Amanda, Lee, boys, I'm leaving
Billy watched as she lifted her hand and worked her way down from her head, 'checking for her glasses,' he assumed; to her shoulder, 'must be her purse;' to her waist. He had no idea what that was about.
"Yes," she grinned, "I do believe I have everything." A bit breathlessly, she added, "Well, Mr. Melrose, it's been lovely seeing you again. I'm sure Lee and Amanda will be glad for your company."
The stout man shook his head at the resemblance he saw between Dotty and her daughter when they became excited. "Thank you, Mrs. West, and please, call me Billy."
"Billy? Yes, of course. Now, if you'll excuse me." Dotty stepped past him and raced down the driveway toward Curt's car.
Billy stood there, laughing, then he turned and closed the front door behind him and headed up the stairs toward the family room. As he hit the landing at the top of the steps, and began to come down into the room, he caught sight of his agents. They sat close, side by side, stockinged feet up on the coffee table, Lee's arm wrapped around Amanda's shoulder, both involved in reading their respective books. Billy cleared his throat. "Good evening, you two. Looks like you're doing better."
Amanda looked up as she lowered her book to her lap. "Yes, Sir."
Lee grinned. "How ya doin', Billy?"
"Fine, I was just on my way home and thought I'd drop in and see how your recovery was going."
As Amanda began to answer, Phillip charged down the stairs. "Mom, Lee," he yelled excitedly. "You'll never guess what."
Hot on his heels, Jamie shouted, his still oddly deep voice reverberating through the room. "Yeah, Mom."
As the boys each jumped down the last steps, the three adults turned toward them and the energy they generated. Lee shook his head. "If you don't think we'll guess, why don't you just tell us?"
Billy laughed heartily as he watched Jamie glance at Phillip, and saw the two boys simultaneously roll their eyes.
Hearing the laughter, the boys turned toward Billy and immediately calmed down. Phillip spoke first, "Uh, sorry, Mr. Melrose, didn't see you there."
Jamie joined in with his apology. "Yeah, sorry, but we just came up with the most amazing plan."
Amanda peered at her son, her eyebrows shooting up with apprehension. "Well," she said, trying to sound as enthusiastic as her sons did. "Don't just stand there grinning like a couple of hyenas, tell us."
Jamie adjusted his glasses, preparing to begin the explanation, when an impatient Phillip took over. "Mom, Lee, those girls that have been calling Jamie? We're going out on a double date with 'em tonight. I mean, if it's okay with you? Michelle's older brother's gonna drive us to the movie, and Karen's dad's gonna pick us up."
Amanda turned to look at Lee, her features speaking her question. He, in turn, faced the boys, then shifted his eyes back toward his wife and shrugged, a smile spreading across his face. Amanda then lifted her head and nodded her approval to her sons.
"Cool!" Phillip shouted. "Awesome, Mom. Uh, Lee, could we have some money?"
A deep rumbling laugh burst forth from the seated man. "Sure. It's the least I can do for having missed pizza night."
Amanda slowly shook her head at how readily her husband gave into the boys, but realized that it was a good thing and that the four of them had truly turned into a family. Still, she knew that someone had to remain in charge. "Listen, fellas. I don't want you coming home too late, and if there's any problem with your ride back, just call. Now, do you have some change for the phone?"
"Yeah, Mom," Jamie responded, jingling the coins in the pocket of his jeans.
The doorbell rang and the boys bolted for the door. "See ya, everyone. Bye, Mr. Melrose," Phillip shouted over his shoulder.
Jamie reached the top of the stairs and added, "Yeah, see ya. Bye."
As the door slammed, Billy chuckled and shook his head. "Never any lack of activity around here, is there?"
"No, Sir," Amanda answered, giggling. "There never is."
Lee stood and walked over to his boss's side, cupping his hand over the man's shoulder. "How about something to drink, Billy?"
"Something cool would be nice," he replied. "It sure has been hot around here."
As Amanda rose to join them, Lee patted Billy on the back and motioned toward the kitchen.
"We have some iced tea, Sir," Amanda offered.
"That'd be great, Amanda."
Once in the kitchen, Lee and Billy headed over toward the table while Amanda opened the refrigerator and pulled out the pitcher of tea. Pouring it into a tall tumbler, she turned toward the men. "Would you like a cookie to go with this, Mr. Melrose?"
He looked at the plate Amanda held in her hand, and after some consideration, he answered, "No, thank you" She walked from the island to the table and handed him the condensation covered glass. "Jeannie's waiting dinner for me." He took a deep sip of the cool liquid. "Ah, just the way I like it." Changing the subject, he moved the conversation onto the topic he'd come to discuss. "Look, you two. I did want to check in and make sure you were both okay, but I have a little business to discuss, too."
"Of course, Sir," Amanda offered, "go right ahead."
Lee nodded his agreement.
"Right. Neither of you were in any condition to discuss business the other day, and I wanted you to know that we found the papers you were looking for."
Lee's head shot up and he met his boss's eyes as he anxiously inquired, "Where?"
Billy smiled. "One of the teams Fielder had out looking found them partially hidden under a large rock near a fountain. Right where you said they might. Grebenev had slipped them into a plastic portfolio, so I guess he figured that they were safe, and he wasn't too worried about picking them up in any hurry."
Lee sat there, slowly shaking his head. "When we talked to Fielder, before we went to the station, he said there wasn't any sign of the papers."
"Well," Billy clarified the situation, "at that time, there wasn’t. They found them the next morning. They also found a KGB team doing their own search, so we just lucked out on this one."
"Sir," Amanda interrupted, "what about Grebenev? What happens to him?"
Billy took another swallow of his tea and shook his head. "You'll never believe this one." He snorted before continuing. "Grebenev apparently felt so secure about the situation that he left the embassy early yesterday morning. Unfortunately for him, the State Department just happened to have a car parked out front, and Comrade Grebenev is now on his way home to Mother Russia."
"Well, I guess that's good news," Amanda stated, rubbing her hands rapidly together.
"Yes, it is," Billy agreed, rising to his feet.
"Billy, before you go, how's Francine handling all this?" Lee asked
"She seems to be fine. It really shook her up this time when you two didn't show right away, but I have it on good authority that she'll feel much better by Monday."
"Sir?" Amanda queried, her brow furrowed.
"Francine has a new . . . uh . . . beau. They seem to get along great. It's about time the girl got a break. Anyhow, I understand that they plan to spend the entire weekend painting the town red, so she should be in a good mood next time you see her."
"Oh, that's wonderful," Amanda cooed, pleased for her friend. "She really does deserve some happiness." She stopped, surprised at her own words. "Did I really say that?"
The two men let out a robust laugh. Then, Billy turned serious. "Listen, you two, I'm glad everything turned out okay for all of us. Now, you rest up and I'll see you at work on Monday, and that's an order." A broad smile covered his face from ear to ear, his eyes crinkling with amusement.
"Yep," Lee responded, a deadpan expression upon his face. "We always follow orders. Right, Amanda?"
"Oh, absolutely," she answered in all seriousness.
A few moments passed before the three friends broke out into guffaws. Catching his breath, Lee reached out and captured Billy's hand in his own and shook it vigorously. "Thanks again, Billy."
"For what?" the older man asked.
Awkwardly, scuffing the floor with the toe of his shoe, Lee answered. "Just for being there, for being a friend. It means a lot."
"For you, Lee, always." Billy patted his best agent on the back, then checked his watch. "Hey, I've gotta get home or Jeannie's gonna have my neck . . . again."
"Oh, Sir, please tell her we say, 'hello.'"
"I'll do that, Amanda," he replied as they headed for the front door. "You two rest up and I'll see you bright and early on Monday."
"Right, Billy," Lee answered as he reached out and pulled open the door. "You have a good weekend yourself."
"We could all use some rest and relaxation," Billy added.
"That we could," Amanda agreed. "Goodbye, Sir."
Lee and Amanda stepped out onto the stoop and watched Billy get into his car and drive away. Lee turned to her and asked, "Well, Mrs. Stetson. We're on our own, house to ourselves, how do you suggest we spend this most unusual evening?"
"Well, I don't know." She stood in thought for a moment, then continued. "I suppose we could clean out some closets or the garage. Now, the garage could really use some straightening," she said lifting a finger and wagging it in Lee's face. "And there's suddenly a whole pile of car supplies and I don't have the slightest idea where they came from. I guess we could build a new shelf to keep them on. I think I saw some lumber way in the back. The freezer needs defrosting, and there's a stack of laundry just sitting and waiting for someone to throw it into the washer." Spreading her hands open before her, she innocently asked, "Where would you like to start?"
Lee leered at her, not amused at the track her answer had taken. "If
you don't behave yourself, I'm gonna . . ."
"You're gonna what?" she interrupted, lifting her chin in defiance, her arms akimbo.
"I'm gonna this," he answered as he leaned down, slipped his arms through hers, wrapped them around her waist, and squarely placed his lips upon hers.
Without protest, she returned the pressure he applied and gave herself up to the sensations his attention stirred within her. After a few moments so involved, she broke away and breathlessly asked, "Hey, Stetson, think we should move this inside?"
He pretended to think it over for a second or two, then replied, "If you insist." With that, he turned, scooped her up into his arms, stepped into the house, slammed the door behind him with his foot, and headed up the stairs.
Episodes drawn upon for use in writing this story include:
"Saved by the Bells," written by Joe Steiger and Stu Krisman.
"Sudden Death," written by Tom Sawyer.
"The Long Christmas Eve," written by Peter Lefcourt.
"A Class Act," written by Shel Willens.
"A Relative Situation," written by John Brooker and Nancy Eddo.
"Santa's Got a Brand New Bag," written by Lloyd Pye.
My appreciation to all of the talented and imaginative writers of the
series. Thank you for making our heroes so believable and lovable that
we want to keep them "alive.”