All the Difference

Summary: Francineís planned vacation turns to business and she asks for help from an unexpected person.
Rating: PG
Author: Toto
Author Notes: Many thanks to my beta readers (Ilana, Kris, Marni and Sally) as well as the rest of the SMK5 list for all of their assistance. Any resemblance to Macís story "Envy and Wine" is purely coincidental, but isnít it nice that someone likes Francine?

 

 


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost

Prologue:

"Johnny, will you stop pacing?" The woman looked up from papers she was working on.

"I canít," he told her. "I just have a very bad feeling about this, as if we were being set up." He continued to go back and forth in front of the desk: couch to wall, couch to wall.

The woman removed her reading glasses. "Now why would anyone set us up? I told you, we have approval from the highest levels." She watched him stop walking to look at her, but noticed the tension remaining in his stance. Slowly, she pushed her chair back and walked over to him. Putting her hands on his arms, she spoke softly. "You trust me, donít you?"

"Of course I do, Kate," he told her as he took her hands in his own.

"Youíve helped us build up quite an impressive cache for our friends. It would be a shame to pull out now, before you reap your entire reward." She leaned forward and began to softly kiss his neck.

"Um, what about your husband?" The knot in Jonathanís stomach was growing. He wasnít sure why he had started getting nervous these last few days. He should be happy, he was finally being appreciated - getting a chance to use his talents for his country.

"I told you, ex-husband. He doesnít have enough clearance to work on this. With the divorce pending, the higher ups donít want to take any chances." She continued to kiss him and slowly felt the tension ebb. "Heís a wild card... canít be trusted.... You on the other hand have done very well."

"For a civilian, you mean."

"Not for much longer, Johnny."

Ego began to win out over caution, and he took her in his arms and led her to the couch.

Scene One: Late Friday Night, An Apartment in the District

Francine Desmond tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable and fall asleep. She knew she shouldnít have gone to Bunnyís little dinner party earlier. She knew what the conversation would be like before she got there... ĎFrancine, are you still working? How on earth will you ever meet anyone? Why did you let Jonathan get away?í Francine shuddered. She had given short answers; she smiled, remembered her upbringing, and bit back the retorts that found themselves on the tip of her tongue. When the conversation had turned to children and Francine found herself excluded, almost physically, from the group, she had decided that it was time to go.

These women had been her closest friends through boarding school and college and even afterwards. She wondered when it was that their worlds had become so different that she no longer recognized them as people she wanted to spend time with. Francine shuddered as she thought of how they viewed children. It wasnít that Francine had a longing to have children, just an acknowledgment that having children should mean more than a charm on oneís bracelet and hiring an au pair so Mummy could continue with her golf, tennis and charity work. She thought of Amanda, who despite the demands of her career managed to find time to know who her sons were.

She laughed to herself. What had happened, she wondered, that made her realize that an evening with Amanda would not have given her anywhere near the headache she had left Bunnyís with. Francine sighed, and tried once more to lay down and fall asleep. She didnít have to be up early in the morning, but she knew that habit would win out anyway and she hated how she looked when she was tired.

The phone rang a fifth time, and still she could hear it from under her pillow. Sighing, Francine realized she had no choice but to answer it. ĎBilly,í she said to herself, Ďthis better not be you calling me. Iím supposed to be starting my vacation.í

"Hello," she said into the phone.

"Ms. Desmond?"

"Yes," Francine answered. "Who is this?"

"My name is Dan Black. Iím with the D.C. Morgue."

"Iím off duty, Mr. Black. Please contact my office in the morning."

"Iím sorry, Ms. Desmond, but this is a personal call."

Francine sat up in bed. "A personal call? Since when does the morgue make personal calls?"

"Iím sorry, Ms. Desmond, but I recognized your name from the last time the Agency helped us out. We have a body that came in tonight, and your name was found on a piece of paper in his pocket. Would you be able to come down to make an identification for us?"

"Just whose body do you think you have, Mr. Black?" Francine felt her blood running cold.

"According to the driverís license: Jonathan Stone."

"Give me about an hour," Francine said into the phone and hung up. She sat in bed staring blankly at the wall in front of her for what felt like an eternity, and then finally picked up the phone and began to dial.

Scene Two: Lee Stetsonís Apartment

Amanda lay quietly on her husbandís chest, listening to his even breathing. She stole a peek at the clock and noticed that it was not quite midnight. It had been a long couple of weeks, Amanda thought, and Lee was exhausted. Still, part of her reasoned, was that any reason for him to fall asleep on her? She leaned over and blew softly onto his face. Amanda felt him tighten his grip around her.

"Iím not sleeping," he told her, "not really."

"Looked like you were doing a pretty good imitation there, Stetson."

"Just relaxing my eyes," he responded.

"Right now itís not your eyes Iím particularly interested in," she told him as she began to nibble on his neck.

"Oh?" he laughed softly, "Just what are you interested in, Mrs. Stetson?"

Amandaís answer was interrupted by the telephone.

"I thought you were going to unplug that, Lee."

"I should have," he admitted as he reached for it. "Stetson here," Lee growled. "Why are you calling me? Is she....yeah, sheís here Francine." Lee sighed and handed the phone to his wife.

Amanda sat up and pulled the sheet around herself. "Hello, Francine." Lee watched as the expression on Amandaís face changed from annoyance to concern. "Oh my gosh, of course. Iíll meet you downstairs in about twenty minutes." She hung up the phone and let out a slow breath.

Lee looked at his wife. "Whatís up?"

"D.C. Morgue just called Francine. They have a body there with Jonathanís wallet. They want her to do an I.D."

"And she wants you to go too?" Lee was surprised.

Amanda nodded. "Yeah. She sounded pretty shaken up, Lee."

"Okay, letís get dressed then." Lee was already out of bed and moving toward the closet.

"Lee, she only wants me to go with her," Amanda told her husband.

"Fine," he muttered as he pulled his pants on. "But Iíll walk you down and wait with you if sheís not there yet. This neighborhood isnít that safe at night, especially...."

"When I wonít carry a gun?" Amanda finished for him.

"Amanda...."

"Itís not work, itís personal. I will not carry a gun unless I have no choice. I have a choice tonight. Besides, Francine never goes anywhere without hers."

"Okay, okay," Lee gave in. "But be careful."

"Itís just the morgue, Lee," Amanda reminded him. "But thank you for worrying about me." She put her hands around his neck and gave him a long kiss. "Remember, weíre having breakfast with the boys in the morning."

"Iíll be there." Lee smiled as he thought of Phillip and Jamie. His relationship with them had been tumultuous, but overall it was improving. He laughed as he realized he was looking forward to the long Columbus Day weekend with his wife and stepsons.

Scene Three: Francineís Car

"Youíve been giving me a funny look since you picked me up, Francine." Amanda told the driver of the car. "Spit it out, already."

"Itís just been a night for surprises, both good and bad. First, Billy knowing where you were and then telling me, and then Lee.... I really thought Lee would have been annoyed at me for ruining your night."

"Heíll live," Amanda smiled. "Heís worried about you, too, and surprised that you wanted me to go with you."

"Yeah, well, I surprised myself with that one," Francine admitted. "I guess Iím scared that it might really be Jonathan lying there in the morgue." She wanted to say more, to admit that she needed to draw on Amandaís strength tonight, without the acerbic tongue of her partner, but the words wouldnít come. Francine hated to be needy and tonight she felt exceptionally so.

Amanda recognized the silence, so familiar to her in its similarity to the curtain Lee used to draw closed on his emotions. She knew that she had to wait, and just be there for her friend. ĎFriends,í she smiled to herself, Ďwhoíd have thought weíd actually become friends?í But the woman sitting next to her in the car was a friend, despite different backgrounds and different outlooks on almost everything. She had taken at least one bullet meant for Amanda, and put herself on the line for both herself and Lee more times than Amanda could remember. If a trip to the morgue in the middle of the night helped to balance the scales a bit, then that was what she would do.

"Hey, weíre here," Francine told Amanda. "You looked like you were falling asleep there for a minute."

"I felt like it," Amanda admitted. "I didnít realize how tired I was."

"Well, they have coffee here, but itís not exactly palatable. It will wake you up though."

"Canít be any worse than what Iíve had at home lately," Amanda laughed. "Phillip is trying to help out in the morning by getting breakfast started, but he makes some of the worst coffee Iíve ever had."

Francine laughed. "You know, I forget your boys arenít small anymore. Drinking coffee already and everything. Times have changed." The agent beside her was no longer the naive housewife of four years ago. The agent beside her was her friend. Francine opened her door. "I guess Iíd better get this over with."

Amanda exited the car and waited on the sidewalk while Francine locked up. "You know," she told the blond, "youíre not alone in this."

"I know," Francine acknowledged. "Thanks."

The pair walked into D.C. General and proceeded down to the basement to the morgue identification room.

Scene Four: Leeís Apartment

Lee returned to his apartment alone and put his keys on the table. As he walked to the bedroom and began to remove his shirt, he noticed the light on his answering machine. He pressed the Ďreplayí button and listened to Billyís voice asking him to call into the office. Lee walked to the couch, shirt hanging open, and picked up the phone to dial.

"Hey, Billy," Lee began, "Whatís up? Itís after midnight. I thought we were off duty for the weekend."

"I know," replied the voice on the other end of the phone, "but I just came across a report from the morgue that I wanted to fill you in on."

"Let me guess. Jonathan?"

"Francine already called?" Billy wasnít really surprised.

"What did you think? She said you told her Amanda was here. Amanda went with her to I.D. the body. They just left here a few minutes ago."

"Amanda went?" Billy was surprised with that. He hadnít thought Francine would take Amanda King with her. "Whose idea was that?"

"Francineís actually," Lee told him. "I think beneath all of their bickering is a burgeoning friendship."

Billy laughed. "Well itís been a long time coming and I wouldnít have predicted it a few years ago, but Iím glad for Francine. Sheís going to need a good friend from what Iíve been reading."

"What do you have?" Lee wanted to know.

"Preliminary listing of cause of death as suspicious. Markings on the victim indicating ritualistic marking or warning." Billy sighed. "Looks like Jonathan was in over his head on something. Do you know what heíd been up to lately?"

"No," Lee admitted. "They stopped seeing each other near the end of the summer. Francine hasnít said much, just the same old story of Jonathan having trouble with her commitment to her job. I think he had been doing some more courier work for the CIA, which just riled Francine up all the more. She kept saying that at least she had the training for what she did."

"Okay, Scarecrow. Iíll give the boys at Langley a call and see if I can come up with anything. For now Iím keeping it unofficial. The tie to Francine is personal and nothing more. Letís see how long thatíll hold."

"You can reach me at Amandaís tomorrow," Lee told his boss. "But Iíd really like some time with the boys this weekend."

"I know, Scarecrow." Billy laughed. "Iím sure they want to spend some time with you as well, even if youíre just ĎMomís boyfriendí right now."

"Someday," Lee said almost wistfully. "Thanks for the update." Lee sat down, leaned his head back on the couch and thought of his stepsons. He wished they knew how important they were to him, that they werenít just part of a package but special in their own right. Heíd picked up on some of Jamieís comments lately and wondered how much the younger boy knew or thought he knew. He had definitely been fishing lately, trying to figure out how serious the two of them were. Maybe it was getting time for him to have a talk with the boys, just the three of them. Let them know how much he cared for them and their mother.... Leeís eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep where he was.

Scene Five: Identification Room, District of Columbia Morgue, D.C. General Hospital

Francine let out a sigh as the morgue attendant replaced the drawer. "Itís him, Amanda. Now what?" Francineís mask of professionalism was in place. It had been put firmly on the moment she entered the building; the need to distance herself from the task at hand was overwhelming.

"Did you notice the markings on his arm?" Amanda didnít know what to make of the cuts she saw on Jonathanís left arm. They didnít appear to be random, and she couldnít figure out how he would have gotten them.

"Yeah." Francine flipped through the coronerís report. "Looks like they were made after death but prior to the body being placed in the river. Thereís something familiar about them, though." Francine struggled to remember where she had seen them before but drew a blank.

"Youíre tired," Amanda told her. "Do you want to head home?" Francine nodded her assent. "Do you want me to drive?"

Francine handed the car keys to Amanda as she continued to leaf through the coronerís report. "Thirty seven years reduced down to this," she noted. "Thereís just too much missing."

"Tomorrow, Francine." Amanda led her friend from the room and to the elevator. "Tomorrow weíll work on whatís missing and what we do know." Francine nodded silently.

The pair exited the building and walked to Francineís car. They were both aware of the heavy security presence in the hospital parking lot and how out of place the two of them looked in Southeast D.C. in the early hours of the morning. Silently they seated themselves and drove away, each lost in thoughts that if shared would have surprised the other in their similarity.

Scene Six: Saturday Morning, Maplewood Drive

"Do you think she spent the whole night with him?" Jamie asked his brother as he removed plates from the cabinet.

"Maybe sheís just sleeping late." Phillip answered.

"I donít think so. I knocked on her door three times. Momís not that heavy a sleeper."

"Maybe it was work," Phillip told his younger brother.

"She usually calls when itís work," Jamie reminded him.

Phillip shrugged and returned his thoughts to the coffeepot. Was it one or two scoops of coffee per cup of water... he kept getting it confused. Looking into the filter and deciding that the pile looked too small, he decided to add a few more scoops for good measure. Why did they think he knew what he was doing? It would have been easier if his grandmother had written down the directions, but then again, he realized, he hadnít asked her to. The simultaneous ringing of the telephone and doorbell ended all thoughts and discussions on either the coffee or their mother.

"Get the door, Jamie," Phillip said as he picked up the phone.

Lee followed Jamie back into the kitchen as Phillip was hanging up the phone. "Hey, Lee," Phillip greeted the older man. "That was Mom. She said sheíd be home in about an hour, once her ride woke up. Said to tell you that Ms. Desmond was okay."

"Thanks, Phillip. I guess that answers my question about whether Amanda made it home or not." Lee noticed that Jamie seemed puzzled, so he explained. "A friend from work got some bad news last night and your mom went over to keep her company for a while. Sounds like she fell asleep over there."

"Oh," Jamie uttered simply as he opened the refrigerator for some milk. "Phillip made coffee. Are you feeling brave enough to try some?"

"Sure," Lee answered as Phillip placed a mug in front of him. "Jamie, is there any cream in the fridge?" Once Jamie took out the small carton and Lee added some to his coffee, he took a sip. Both boys watched intently as Lee forced down the mouthful.

"Um, Phillip?"

"Yeah?"

"Just how much coffee did you use?" Lee wanted to know as he walked over to the coffee maker and looked into the filter. "Way too much! I think itís time for a little lesson in coffee making, or youíre going to give the 7-11 at the corner some extra morning business."

An hour and a half later, Amanda entered the house to find Lee and the boys in the family room reading the morning paper. "Who made the coffee?" Amanda asked with a smile.

"Phillip did," Lee told her.

"And youíre drinking it?"

"Go on, have a cup. You just might be surprised."

"Iím going to need some to stay awake today, thatís for sure. I think I got about three hours of sleep on Francineís couch. Itís attractive, but itís not comfortable." Amanda fixed herself a cup of coffee, sugar, no cream, and returned to sit beside Lee. "Sorry I missed breakfast fellas," she told the boys.

"Thatís okay. Is your friend okay?" Jamie asked.

"She will be." Amanda debated with herself how much to tell the boys. Thinking back to her promise to be there for Francine as much as necessary, she decided to stay pretty close to the truth. "A good friend of hers was found dead last night, and sheís been pretty upset about it. She doesnít have any family in the area, and she doesnít really feel like being alone right now, so I said Iíd help out for a few days."

"Dead? How?" Phillip wanted details as only an almost-fifteen-year-old boy could.

"We donít know, right now. And thatís making it harder on her."

"Whereís your Grandmother?" Amanda asked Jamie in an attempt to change the subject.

"Sheís upstairs getting ready for her weekend trip," he told his mother. "Sheís been packing all morning."

"I donít think itíll all fit in Aunt Lillianís car," Phillip added.

"Where are they going, anyway?" Lee asked.

"Up to New York to see a couple of shows and to shop," Amanda reminded him. "Mother will be back Monday evening."

"So itís just us for the weekend?"

"Sort of," Amanda began. "I told Francine Iíd meet her after lunch and help go through some of Jonathanís stuff." "I didnít know she had any of it anymore."

"She doesnít," Amanda began, "but she still has a key to his place."

"Will we see you for dinner?" Lee was surprised that he found himself looking forward to the afternoon alone with the boys.

"Yeah, Iíll make it back by then." She turned to Phillip and Jamie who had remained quiet during the brief discussion. "Think you guys can manage okay this afternoon?"

"Weíll be fine, Mom. We wonít even pick on Lee," Jamie told her.

"Much," Phillip added under his breath but with a smile on his face.

"Well, Iím going to grab a shower. Lee, can you run out and get some lunch stuff?"

"No problem."

"Take my car. You might need it later. Iíll use yours, if thatís okay."

Phillip and Jamie looked at each other as their mother went upstairs and Lee exited the house. "You know," Phillip began, "Dean always seemed to get upset if we were supposed to do stuff and Mom cancelled at the last minute." "

Yeah," Jamie acknowledged. "Itís kind of nice that Lee seems to think itís okay if itís just us."

"Yeah... who knows... maybe...." Phillip just looked at his brother.

"It wouldnít be bad," Jamie conceded.

"No, it wouldnít be. Hey, are you done with the sports section yet?"

Scene Seven: Jonathanís Apartment

"Francine? Are you in here?" Amanda entered the apartment through the unlocked door.

"Yeah, Amanda. Iím in the bedroom." As Amanda entered, she noticed Francine on the floor by the bed. The bed was covered in piles of papers and files, and Francine was sorting through other papers on the floor and adding them to the piles on the bed. "Iíve found a whole lot of nothing and just a few pieces that could be interesting."

"Such as?"

"Well, looks like Jonathan was working with the CIA again. This stuff isnít exactly classified, but Iím surprised they let him take it home."

"Do you think they knew?" Amanda was wondering if Jonathan had stumbled onto something he shouldnít have.

"That he was keeping his own records? I donít know." Francine let out a low whistle. "Let me correct that, I doubt they did given what this is." She scanned the single page in her hand. "I thought the Congressional hearings had put an end to this."

"To what?" Amanda approached Francine and looked over her shoulder at the paper.

"Gun running for the freedom fighters," Francine answered. "Looks like there was a little contingent at Langley who decided to continue the effort." She pointed to the paragraphs that described travel plans and packaging.

"How in the world did Jonathan get involved in this? He never struck me as a Ďtrue believerí," Amanda noted.

"I donít know." Francine continued to read the report she held in her hands while Amanda began to look through the few desk drawers that still contained items.

"Oh my gosh," Amanda said softly. She flipped through the pages several times to make sure of what she was reading. "Francine, youíd better take a look at these." Amanda handed the pages to Francine.

"Bank statements?" Francine scanned down the page. "Automatic deductions for car, mortgage, condo fees.... Good grief, I had no idea this place was so pricey!"

"Keep looking," Amanda said quietly.

Francine turned to the second page of the first statement and saw what Amanda made reference to. "These are huge cash deposits, Amanda."

"Theyíre the only type of deposits heís been making for the last four months, Francine." Amanda knew theyíd have to get the Agency involved. She looked over at Francine and saw the other woman knew it too. "Do you want me to call Billy or do you want to?"

"Why donít you call it in, Amanda? Iíll keep sorting through these papers so that when Billy sends a team out here they donít trash this place any more than weíve already done."

Amanda picked up the phone and watched Francine for a few seconds before beginning to dial. "Are you okay?" Francineís professional mask had been in place all day - a distinct change from the woman who cried herself to sleep the night before.

"I will be. Right now this is business. Go on, call Billy," Francine sighed. She watched while Amanda picked up the phone. Francine had to admit that Amanda had been more help than she had expected. She had lent strength, a sympathetic ear, and even a good eye on the bank statements. Their work hadnít been subject to the teasing that Scarecrow would have given for Francine still keeping a key to Jonathanís place nor the patronizing looks that she remembered him giving her last spring when Jonathan had returned.

Lee had been right about her relationship with Jonathan, Francine conceded to herself. Jonathan had been unable to be comfortable in a long-term relationship with an independent woman. It was interesting for Francine to note that the Scarecrow apparently had no such difficulty. She smiled to herself, realizing that even a year ago she would have been hesitant to use those adjectives to describe Amanda King. But the words did fit, for both of them and in slightly different ways.

Amanda hung up the phone and cleared her throat. "Billy said heíd have a team over here within the hour. Once they arrive he wants to see both of us in his office."

"How did he sound?"

"Worried," Amanda admitted. "He knows something, but he wouldnít say anything over the phone, so it will just have to wait until we get down there."

Scene Eight: IFF, Late Afternoon Saturday

Billy Melrose looked up from his desk and noticed the two women entering the bullpen. He hated having them both working on this holiday weekend, the start of Francineís vacation, but he knew it was unavoidable. He rose from his chair and walked to the door of his office.

"Francine, Amanda," he called to them. "Grab some coffee and come on in."

"Do you want a cup, sir?" Amanda asked.

"No, thank you, Amanda. I think five is my limit for now." Billy returned to his desk and opened the two top folders while he waited for the women to enter and be seated.

"We just left the team at Jonathanís apartment," Francine told him. "Robins has my key, and he said heíd make sure he locked up once they finished."

"Iím sorry, Francine," Billy told her. "I was surprised when you mentioned that you were going to the morgue to ID the body."

"I was surprised they called me," she admitted. "I didnít know Jonathan still had anything with my name on it on him at all."

Billy took a paper from one of the files and passed it to her. "This is a copy of what he had in his pocket. It was a laminated card of some sort, which is why it held up in the river."

"This isnít his writing, Billy." Francine noted. "Is it yours?" Billy thought the printing looked masculine. "No, and I donít recognize it at all." "Sir? Maybe someone involved in what happened to Jonathan wanted to get Francine involved," Amanda mentioned.

"Why?" Francine wondered. "Were they trying to warn me off something? They obviously didnít know we werenít seeing each other, or even speaking to each other any longer."

"Maybe it was someone trying to get you involved professionally," Amanda mused. Billy and Francine looked at her, urging her to continue her thoughts aloud. "Well, weíve found out thereís a connection with the CIA but it doesnít seem to be officially sanctioned. Maybe someone was involved and uncomfortable and didnít know of any internal way to get someone to look into what was going on."

"Did you come up with any names?" Francine asked Billy.

"Actually," Billy smiled, "I called in a few favors and came up with three names. Theyíre not ringing any bells with me, but maybe the two of you recognize them." He passed each of the women a copy of the names he had been given earlier.

"Bill Thompson, Henry Thorne, Joe Williamson," Amanda read. "They donít sound familiar to me. Should I do some searching to see if they turn up anywhere in any Agency files?"

Billy nodded and was about to speak when Francine interrupted. "Henry Thorne," she mused aloud. "Why is that name sounding familiar?" She stood up and paced the small office while Billy and Amanda watched her. Suddenly she stopped and turned to her Section Chief. "Billy, can you pull up the case files from the Brody incident last spring?"

Billy entered a few keystrokes into his computer and read through the paragraph that appeared on his screen. "Good memory, Desmond," he complimented. "He was only peripherally involved with the active part of the case, but he did most of the CIA follow-up after Brody had been arrested."

"So he had a connection to Jonathan from then, and he knew of our relationship and my job."

"Whatís he up to now, sir?" Amanda asked.

"The information I have has him listed as on administrative leave for personal reasons. Amanda, do you have a few hours?" Billy felt bad asking her to stay for the evening but knew she was the best person to find out this kind of information.

"Let me just call home and tell them I wonít be there for dinner." She smiled at Billy. "Leeís with the boys. Iím glad they all like takeout."

Billy laughed as Amanda rose and left the office. Once she was gone he turned to face the remaining agent. "Whatís that look for, Desmond?"

Francine shook her head. "Every now and then I get this fleeting thought that he might be in it for the long haul. But then I have to remind myself that itís Lee Stetson weíre talking about and I hope to hell he doesnít hurt her too much when itís all over."

Billy put his hands together, fingertips touching, and smiled at her. "He just might surprise you, Francine. But itís nice to see you having genuine concern for his partner."

"Sheís a good agent, Billy," Francine admitted. "And sheís been a good friend."

"Do you want anyone else working with you on this?" Billy asked her.

"No, not right now. Between the team youíve activated thatís at Jonathanís and Amanda and myself I think we can cover most everything. Whatís my next step?"

"I want you to trace down those other two agents: Thompson and Williamson. And check in with Robins and his boys once they finish at the apartment." Billy cleared his throat and pulled another page from one of the folders on his desk. "Thereís one other thing," he began.

"What?" Francine didnít like the look on Billyís face, and she liked even less the picture he handed her. "Where is this from?"

"Markings on the arms of some of the drug runners captured in Miami last month in an FBI sting."

"They match the cuts on Jonathanís arm."

"Almost," Billy told her. "These were on the workers right arms. Jonathanís left arm was cut, which is consistent with what was found on one of the snitches in the ring."

"Billy," Francine began, "that snitch?"

"Found in Miami harbor," Billy told her. "Dead."

"Just like Jonathan?"

Billy nodded and passed the rest of the second folder to her. "This is the Miami Coronerís Report. Can you compare it to the one you got last night?" Billy waited. "I can have Amanda do it."

"No, I can do it. Lord knows Iíve done enough of these before." Francine rose from the chair and went to the door. "Just remember when this is all over I want my vacation. Iím going to need it."

"You can have as much time as you need, Francine, once this is over."

"Thanks, Billy."

Scene Nine: Maplewood Drive, Saturday Evening

Lee hung up the phone and turned to the boys. "Looks like itís just us for dinner. Your momís not going to be back until late."

"Can we go out to eat?" Jamie asked.

"I can cook," Phillip told his brother.

"I think going out would be a good treat." Lee remembered Amandaís description of Phillipís dinner from two weeks prior. While she mentioned his improvement over the dinners of last spring, Lee wasnít feeling particularly brave. "Where do you want to go?"

"Well, thereís this driving range out on Route 7 that some of the kids from school have mentioned," Jamie began.

"Golf?" Lee was surprised. He didnít know either of the boys was interested in golf.

"Dadís taken me out to Jefferson in Falls Church a couple of times," Jamie admitted, "but Iím not very good."

"Besides," Phillip teased, "Jamie thinks if he can do this maybe he can impress some of the girls at school."

"Iím not really into soccer, and baseball doesnít start until spring," Jamie conceded. "It seemed like something I might like to do."

"And thereís no way heíll make the basketball team when he gets to high school," Phillip noted. "Iím going to try out this year, but I donít think Iíll even make it."

"Well, itís been a while since Iíve swung a club," Lee told Jamie. "Phillip, are you up for it?"

"Sure, I guess. We can grab some burgers on the way there."

"Letís head out then. Maybe your mom will be back by the time we finish up." Lee grabbed Amandaís extra set of keys for the Wagoneer and left with the boys.

Scene Ten: Maplewood Drive, Late Saturday Night

Amanda quietly let herself into the house and walked into the family room. She smiled as she saw Leeís sleeping figure sprawled on the couch. Very carefully, so as not to disturb him, she walked around the couch and leaned over. Slowly and softly she trailed small kisses across his face and down his neck.

"Mmm... hi," he told her drowsily as he put his arms around her and pulled her onto the couch with him.

"Hi yourself," she laughed softly. "Looks like you fell asleep."

"I was waiting for my wife, but she never got home."

"Never, huh?"

"Thatís what it seemed like."

"Sheís home now."

"And the boys are asleep," Lee added with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"And we should be too," Amanda told him. "You in your own bed and me in mine."

"Amanda," Lee sighed in frustration.

"I know, I know," she told him. "But Iím not getting caught on the couch by my sons, and Iím not sneaking you upstairs to get caught in an even worse situation."

"Weíre married!"

"But they donít even think weíre engaged," she reminded him.

Lee sat up and took hold of her hands. "Theyíre getting curious though," he told her. "I donít think they knew what to make of today: you being gone and me being here the whole time."

"Speaking of today, what did you all do anyway?"

"Hung out, did guy stuff," Lee teased her. "Jamie wanted to go to a driving range this evening so we did that. Apparently Joe is trying to teach him to golf."

"Joe always did like to play when he had time. It would be good for the two of them to have something in common to do," Amanda told him. "But what about Phillip? He doesnít strike me as being patient enough to stand around hitting golf balls. Not enough action for him," she mused.

"Oh, I think he found plenty of action at the snack bar tonight," Lee laughed. "The driving range is quite a high school hang out, and your son was working on his social skills."

"I donít think I want to hear this!"

"Actually, I was pretty impressed. He was a genuinely nice guy, and the girls seemed to appreciate it."

"Were you spying on him?"

"Nope," Lee told her as he stroked her upper arm gently. "Just went in to get some drinks for Jamie and myself and happened to notice. I donít even think he saw me."

"Well, you are good."

"So are you." Lee leaned over and gave his wife a long, slow kiss. "Are you sure you want to kick me out? What happened today anyway?"

"Long story. Do you mind if I tell you over breakfast? I donít have to meet Billy and Francine until nine."

Lee groaned. "Another day working?"

"Yeah, and youíre the one with the free weekend, Scarecrow. Whoíd have thought?" Amanda smiled. "By the way, Billy said to give you this." She handed him a sealed envelope and watched while he opened it.

"He must be feeling guilty," Lee noted. "Redskinsí tickets for tomorrow afternoon. Fifty yard line. Think the boys will be interested?"

"Gee, I donít know," Amanda teased him. "They might have homework that needs to be done." She laughed softly at the expression on his face. "Theyíll be in the car within seconds of you mentioning it, Iím sure. Have fun." Amanda stood and pulled Lee up with her. "But it really is late."

"Iím going, Iím going." Lee walked to the door, his arm around Amandaís waist. "I guess youíll be wanting my car again tomorrow?"

"Itíll be in good hands, I promise. Besides, there is no way you can get both boys into it. Youíll just have to content yourself with driving a family car again." "I think Iíll survive." Lee turned to face her. He softly stroked the side of her face. "I actually had a good day today," he noted shaking his head. "I wish I didnít have to leave."

"I love you," Amanda whispered as she reached up to kiss him good night.

"I love you too, Mrs. Stetson," he whispered back. "Someday you will tell me that and we will both walk up those stairs together."

"Someday," Amanda agreed. "But not today," she amended sadly.

She stood in the doorway and watched while Lee walked to his car. Turning away once he had gone, she closed the door and sighed. ĎSomeday,í she told herself.

Scene Eleven: IFF, Sunday Morning

"Iím going to go talk to Kathleen Thorne in person later this morning," Amanda told Billy and Francine. "Lee said he remembers that she used to work at the CIA before she got married. She might have picked up on something from her husbandís behavior."

"When did she see him last?" Francine wanted to know.

"About two months ago," Amanda replied. "He told her he had to go out of the country on business, which is odd given his business excuse is that heís not working due to personal reasons." Her brief conversation with Mrs. Thorne had left Amanda quite curious.

"Not that odd for the CIA," Billy reminded her. "But the more we dig up, the more Iím certain that whatever was going on was NOT officially sanctioned. We have permission from Langley to see what comes up. They seem to be a little distrustful of an internal investigation at this point."

"Wonder why," Francine muttered under her breath.

Billy ignored her and continued. "Amanda, we matched the marks on Jonathanís arm with those found on a snitch who had infiltrated that Miami drug ring. The coronersí reports on causes of death read like exact copies. So be careful. It looks like this could get messy very fast. I want you armed the entire time you are working on this case."

"Yes, sir," Amanda answered. She didnít like carrying a gun, but after all she had heard the past day and a half, she knew she would feel more comfortable with one.

"The other thing to note," Francine interjected, "is I donít think we should trust Thompson or Williamson. Both have had large deposits to their accounts over the last six months, and both have been overheard making disparaging remarks about the congressional hearings over Iran Contra." Amanda cleared her throat. "I got the guys in graphology to make up this note for me." She handed a page to Billy and Francine. "They used the card that we got off of Jonathan but turned it into a grocery list. Iím going to run it by Mrs. Thorne to see if she recognizes the handwriting."

"I agree," Billy told her. "Right now it looks like he was trying to get us information. Good luck Amanda."

"Thank you, sir," Amanda looked at Francine. "Is there anything else you need me to do this morning?"

"No. Iíve got a bit more digging I want to do on Williamson specifically. Why donít we check back in about lunch time?"

"Sounds good," Amanda answered and Billy nodded as well.

Scene Twelve: Northern Virginia Neighborhood

"What do we have on Kathleen Thorne from when she was working?" Amanda asked into the car phone. "Something doesnít feel right."

Amanda thought over her conversation with the former operative. The other woman had claimed to not recognize the handwriting sample Amanda had shown her and had denied that there was anything strange with respect to her husbandís disappearance. Amanda knew she had no hard reason to distrust Kathleen Thorne, but something about the look in the other womanís eyes when she spoke about her husband didnít sit right. ĎThereís no way I would have been that calm or disinterested if we were discussing Lee,í Amanda told herself. ĎAnd when I tried to suggest that maybe her husband was involved in something not on the up and up, she was way too matter of fact in her denial of the possibility.í

The voice on the other end of the phone brought Amanda back to the present. "Thanks, Mr. Melrose. Iíll check back in a few hours to pick up the file. By the way, do you know where Francine was headed this morning? Iím done early so I thought I might give her a hand." Amanda wrote down the list of addresses Francine was to be checking out, thanked the Section Chief, and hung up the car phone. Slowly she pulled the car onto the road and headed into the city.

Scene Thirteen: Warehouses One and Two, Southeast D.C.

Francine Desmond shook her head in disgust as she walked back to her car. ĎSwept clean,í she said to herself. ĎI know Iím on the right trail, but I donít know what Iím looking for.í Upon entering her car, she locked the door before putting on her seatbelt. Southeast on a Sunday afternoon was definitely safer than after dark, but she knew that she looked out of place, and despite the gun she carried on her waist she still felt nervous. She picked up the car phone to call Billy but noted with disgust that she could not get a signal. ĎGuess Iíll just drive over to the next warehouse,í she thought. ĎMaybe thereíll be less interference once Iím moving.í

The second warehouse on Francineís list was located only blocks from R.F.K. Stadium. Francine grimaced as found an alley to park in and noted to herself that getting out was going to be difficult the closer it got to kickoff. She exited her car, checked her gun, and looked around with a trained eye. Finally, Francine admitted to herself that yes, she would be more comfortable if she had waited for Amanda. But Amanda was probably still having coffee with Kathleen Thorne, and Francine was impatient to find out how Jonathan had gotten himself so deeply involved in whatever it was that got him killed.

Slowly she walked to the main door of the warehouse and found it locked. Noting the absence of pedestrian traffic, she circled the building until she came to a back entrance. Carefully and quietly she released the locking mechanism and entered the building. Francine looked around and noted that the large room she entered was almost entirely empty; a few chairs and a table were on the far side. Nonetheless, it did not appear to be cleaned recently. As a breeze blew through the small windows near the roof, a distinctly unpleasant odor assailed her nostrils. Francine picked her way through the trash on the floor and made her way to the stairs at the far end of the room. The stench appeared to be stronger as she approached.

A single door at the top of the stairs led to what must have been the main office. Francine held her breath at the stronger stench as she looked around the room quickly. Bare phone and electrical wires protruded from the wall where faceplates once were. Two large file cabinets blocked the single window, and an old overstuffed chair sat in front of a metal closet. Francine moved the chair out of the way and opened the closet. She immediately regretted her decision as the odor assailed her. "Henry Thorne," she whispered as she saw the face of the dead man as he rolled out of the now opened closet. "And by the smell of you, itís been a few days."

Francine turned to the file cabinets, curious to see if they held anything of use, when she heard footsteps in the larger room downstairs. Standing at the top of the stairs, she saw Amanda enter through the now opened rear door.

"Amanda? What are you doing here?"

"Billy gave me the list of buildings you were checking on," Amanda told her as Francine walked down the narrow stairway. "I got done early with Kathleen Thorne, and I thought Iíd see if you wanted a hand."

"I think I may need several," Francine answered as she motioned upstairs with a tilt of her head. "I found Henry Thorneís body in a closet up there."

"Oh my gosh," Amanda sighed. "I knew she was hiding something."

"Who? His wife?" Amanda nodded. "Something wasnít sitting right about her reactions to my questions. I called Billy and asked him to pull whatever he could find on her from when she was active."

"Why donít we give him a call now, and see if he found anything?" Francine and Amanda walked toward the door. "Besides, Iíd rather not go back upstairs until we get that body out of there."

"Francine Desmond? Afraid of a little dead body?" Amanda teased.

"Not afraid of it, but heís been up there long enough that he stinks!" She shook her head, barely able to realize how far the woman next to her had come to be able to tease in a situation such as this.

Francine watched as Amanda proceeded her out the door and hurried slightly as she heard a slight groan. "Amanda?" she asked, and then her world, too, went black.

Scene Fourteen: Near Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Southeast D.C.

Lee maneuvered the large vehicle through the stadium-bound traffic and sighed. ĎPhillip was right,í he told himself, Ďwe should have taken Metro.í As they traveled slowly on the crowded and beat up streets that made up one of the Districtís less pleasant neighborhoods, Lee kept his eyes on the cars around him and reminded himself to breathe deeply. So engrossed was he in keeping his temper in check, he didnít notice the silver sports car parked in the nearby alleyway.

"Hey, Lee," Phillip yelled, "Isnít that your car back there?"

"What?" Lee braked hard and received a loud honk from the car behind him. Slowly he resumed the pressure on the accelerator. "Where?"

"That alleyway back there," Phillip pointed. "Between those old warehouses."

"What would Mom be doing down in this neighborhood?" Jamie wondered.

ĎNothing good,í Lee answered to himself. "Iím sure it was just a look-a-like car," he said aloud and vowed to make a phone call as soon as they reached the stadium.

Twenty minutes later the car was parked and the party of three walked toward R.F.K. Stadium. "Hey guys, why donít you go up and get seated?" He handed each boy a twenty. "Go get some food and stuff, and Iíll meet you in a little bit." Greed won out over confusion, and the two teens ran ahead while Lee made his way to the security office to check in with the Agency.

Scene Fifteen: Alleyway, Warehouse Two

Lee paced back and forth as he waited for the Agency cars to arrive. Amandaís keys were in his car, and Francineís car was locked. Neither woman was in the area, and the warehouse itself was now empty.

"I hate home games," Billy growled as he slammed the car door. "It never should have taken us this long to get here. What do we have, Scarecrow?"

"Here? Not much," Lee admitted. "If Phillip hadnít seen my car in the alley weíd have even less."

"Any sign of Amanda or Francine?"

"Nothing. Amandaís keys are still in the ĎVette, and Francineís car is locked. The warehouse is empty, although it looks as if something or someone was recently dragged out of the upstairs office. When did you talk to her last?"

"Amanda called in about two hours ago," Billy answered as he tried to stay calm for his agents. "She wanted me to dig up anything I could on Kathleen Thorne, and she said she was going to meet up with Francine."

"I hope she did," Lee sighed. "At least if theyíre together...."

"Theyíre both good agents, Lee. One of them is a VERY good agent." Billy smiled.

"What did you find out?"

"It appears that Mrs. Thorne never cut her CIA ties. In fact, the deposits in their joint account have been traced to her name, not his."

Lee let out a long, soft whistle. "And?" He knew Billy had more.

"And sheís been doing a fair amount of traveling to our southern neighbors with Jonathan in tow," Billy confirmed. "I think she was our missing link, and when her husband found out, he tried to warn Jonathan. When that didnít work, I suspect he tried to get the word out some other way."

"The paper in his wallet?"

Billy nodded. "We just got confirmation that despite his wifeís denial, the handwriting is a match."

"So where are Francine and Amanda?" Lee raked his hand through his hair and resumed his pacing. "I wish I had been more awake this morning when Amanda was filling me in on what she had been up to."

Billy raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

Lee noticed his look and clarified. "I was out with the boys pretty late last night, and we met for an early breakfast. Someone," he glared at Billy, "told her she had to be in by nine this morning."

At that moment, one of the agents who had been going through the building walked up. "Mr. Melrose? We think we have something."

"What is it?" Billy and Lee asked simultaneously.

The agent held out a dirty stiletto in a plastic bag. "This was in the upstairs office, wrapped in a rag in the closet. From the smell of the closet, Iíd say someone was holding a body there and from the look of this knife, Iíd guess it had been used on the body."

Billy examined the knife. "This could have made the cuts..."

"On Jonathanís arm," Lee finished up. "Billy, where did the D.C. police pull the car out of the river?"

"About a half mile east of where the dinner cruise boats dock."

"Letís get over there, NOW!" Lee got into the Jeep and Billy followed suit.

Scene Sixteen: Waterfront, Southeast D.C.

ĎCold,í was the thought that entered her mind first. Her feet were cold. No, wait... her feet were wet. Amanda opened her eyes and took in her surroundings quickly. Car, river, wet... bad... very, very bad.

"Francine! Francine, wake up!" Amanda rubbed Francineís arm and then her face. Finally the other woman groaned and then opened her eyes.

"Weíre in the river!" Francine exclaimed. She was still woozy as she tried to straighten up.

"Good guess," was Amandaís reply. "Any ideas how we get out of this?"

"Iím thinking, Iím thinking." Francine didnít add that she couldnít do much more given the way she had been handcuffed, but Amandaís look told her she knew it to be true.

Lee parked Amandaís car in the small gravel lot by the beaten-up pier. Billy pulled up next to him and motioned the agent over.

"Weíve got a team heading to Andrews. Looks like Thorneís wife is trying to get a ride on a military plane headed south."

"Will they get there in time?" Lee wanted to know.

Billy looked at his watch. "They should. Theyíll call in shortly to confirm, but the orders are to deliver her to Langley. Looks like CIA wants to take care of this one."

"Probably for the best," admitted Lee. "I donít think I want to get my hands on her. What about the other two? Thompson and who?" Lee was walking to the end of the dock, scanning the water as they spoke.

"Williamson," Billy answered him as he jogged to keep up. "Scarecrow," Billy touched the agentís arm. "Over there!" He pointed to the roof of a car, midway out in the river.

Lee ran the remaining distance to the end of the dock, picked up a diving mask and tank that was laying there, and dove into the water without saying another word. Billy began to speak into his portable radio unit, ordering the agents to the nearby rubber boats and wet suits to assist with the rescue.

Inside the car, Amanda was searching frantically for something to use to open the car doors before they were completely under water. Francine was mostly useless, having been cuffed behind her back. Amandaís hands were in front of her, but the car itself had been stripped bare before being pushed in the water.

"I should have kept that knife of Phillipís in my pocket instead of my purse!" Amanda growled. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered to herself.

"Well, you werenít exactly planning on needing it today, were you?" Francine asked. "I mean, you were supposed to go have coffee with Kathleen Thorne and then meet us back at the Agency. I canít believe I didnít put something into a collar or a cuff or something!"

"If we only had a corkscrew, even," Amanda said to the complete and utter confusion of the other agent. "It worked once," she only partially explained.

"So, do you think heíll get here on time?" Francine asked. Did she actually tease Amanda about situations like this once upon a time?

Amanda sighed. "I hope Billy moved quickly after we missed our check-in with him," she replied, leaving Francineís question unanswered. Upon seeing the look of the other woman, she clarified. "Leeís got the boys at the football game. I doubt he even remembers what I said Iíd be doing today."

"Oh, I donít know about that." Francine shook her head slightly. "Sometimes I think the two of you are almost telepathic."

"Sure could use some of that telepathy about now," Amanda said as she gestured to the water creeping into the car. "This is already above the seat level and itís cold!"

Francine nodded. "Itís coming in faster," she acknowledged, "and weíre almost all the way under."

Lee reached the car just before it completely submerged. Diving down, he tried to open the doors but found them locked. He rose to the surface and signaled his position to the approaching rafts and then went back down.

Knocking on the windows, he finally got the attention of the occupants. Amanda was startled when she realized who it was under the diving mask, but she signaled an Ďokayí sign at his instructions to hold their breaths until the divers reached the car. Lee then went under the car and tried to loosen the floor panels.

As the rescue team arrived, two divers held extra masks and tanks while the remaining two joined Lee beneath the car. After about a minute, they had pried open part of the flooring and were able to enter the compartment pushing the masks and tanks ahead of them. Once the women were breathing regularly into the masks, the group exited through the bottom of the car and swam up to the waiting rescue rafts. In the raft, Lee hugged Amanda to himself as they headed back to shore.

Scene Seventeen: Waterfront Parking Lot, Southeast D.C.

Once they were on land, Lee continued to hold Amanda tightly, as if trying to reassure himself that she was in fact okay. He noticed that his breathing was more rapid than hers, and it made him smile and shake his head. After a minute, Amanda pulled away slightly and looked up into her husbandís eyes.

"Thanks," she whispered. "We were starting to get a little worried down there."

"I was a lot worried out here," he admitted. "If Phillip hadnít seen my car down that alleyway...." He left the thought unfinished as he felt her shudder.

"Phillip? Lee, where are the boys?" Amanda began to become more aware of her surroundings and the sun dipping in the western sky.

"Theyíre...Oh No! Theyíre still at the stadium!"

"Is the game still going on?" Amanda didnít know whether to laugh or yell at him.

Lee looked at his watch and made a face. "Be right back," he told her as he ran over to where Billy was standing.

Amanda watched him talk to the Section Chief and then go to the Agency car and pull out the car phone. As he spoke, she watched his body relax, and when he finished he had a grin on his face.

"I donít think theyíll notice Iím not around," he told her as he walked to her and held her hands.

"What did you do?"

"Well, I called over to the stadium and asked a favor of an old friend," Lee admitted.

"Whoís the old friend?" Amanda was curious.

"Letís just say that the boys will get some locker room autographs. And by the way, the ĎSkins just beat Saint Louis 28 to 21." Lee smiled. "Come on, letís get you squared away with Billy, and Iíll go get the boys and meet you at home later."

"Home?" Amanda queried. She admitted she liked it when Lee referred to her house in that manner. She smiled. "Sounds like a plan." Looking around, she noticed most of the agents were involved in conversations and paperwork. Amanda leaned up and gave Lee a kiss. "I can probably thank you even better later," she whispered.

"Iím going to hold you to that," he told her as he turned and began walking to the Wagoneer. As he got into the car, Lee caught Amandaís eye, winked, and drove off. Amanda laughed, wondering what heíd tell the boys about his less than dry appearance.

Scene Eighteen (Tag): Late Sunday Night, An Apartment in the District

Francine sat on her couch sipping a glass of wine and thumbing through old photographs. Most of the pictures contained only scenery, but a few held pictures of her coworkers and friends. She noted with a sigh that relatively few from this past year contained Jonathan. It was probably for the best, she realized. He could not accept her choices, and looking back at all she had learned over the past forty-eight hours she realized that she wasnít too fond of some of the choices he himself had made.

Kathleen Thorne. The name made Francine shudder. One dead husband, one dead lover, millions of dollars in drug money used to purchase arms illegally. ĎOh Jonathan,í Francine wondered, Ďwhat did she promise you?í Even now, she couldnít picture Jonathan agreeing with Kathleenís philosophies, but she had never pictured him as that gullible a man to take such risks for mere sex either.

Francine picked up a photograph taken in the early part of the summer. It showed her and Jonathan dancing at a reception at the British Embassy. Francine had coordinated security and had managed time for only one dance. The photographer captured their mood well, she thought. One harried agent, one frustrated date. Staring at the picture Francine noticed, for the first time, the couple in the background. The womanís back was to the camera, but her head was lifted slightly as if to catch something her dance partner had whispered. The man was looking down at the woman with an expression Francine realized she had never before noticed on that particular person. It was an expression that reminded her of the looks her father used to give her mother: one of total love and contentment. She remembered seeing that look on her fatherís face even as her parents danced at their fortieth wedding anniversary party.

The road less traveled. Francine remembered the poem by Robert Frost and thought how it applied to more than just herself. Sure, she had taken a less than traditional path in her life. Yes, her father had urged it, seeing something in his daughter that made him think it was the correct one for her. But Francine had to admit that she enjoyed it, even if on occasion she felt a bit alone. Lee had also taken a similar path. While it wasnít quite the same for a man as it had been for her as a woman, he, too, had spent more than his fair share of time alone. Amanda had started out on the well-traveled road, but was diverted later on. Francine wondered if she missed being able to share her life with her family.

Maybe, Francine mused, it was time to take a good hard look around and see who else and what else were on the path with her. She sighed and shook her head. It was getting late, she was exhausted, and her thoughts were rambling. She began to put away the pictures strewn on the couch, until only one was left.

Francine Desmond raised her glass in a silent toast to the couple in the background of the photograph and vowed that she would settle for nothing less.