Title: A Friend in Need
Disclaimer: Scarecrow & Mrs. King and all related characters are the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No infringement is intended. The story itself is the property of the author.
Summary: An old friend shows up on Amanda's back porch, leading her on a search for a killer.
Timeframe: November 1987 - Virtual Season 5 - Episode 6 (Season 5 can be viewed in it's entirety at www.smkfans.com/Season5) Lee and Amanda are, of course, married.
Feedback: Expected, please!
Author's notes: Extra special thanks to my editor-in-chief, Sybil, without whom this would be an ugly, confusing, jumbled mess with all the commas in the wrong places. Sybil - you're the best! Thanks, also, to the entire Season 5 crew for being so darn fantastic! You guys are the reason why this project is working out so well. Even more so, thanks to Emma for being the web goddess that she is - thank you for helping me realize this little fantasy of mine. But most of all, thanks to the viewers. With your unwavering support, this project has no choice but to be an amazing success!
A FRIEND IN NEED
The woman shoved her way through the crowd at the bus depot. She was a small woman, no bigger than a minute, but she was making her way through the throng like a quarterback weaving through a defensive line. She looked over her shoulder every few feet, her eyes darting about. In her pocket was a page she had torn from a phone book. On that page was her one chance for help.
She heard a shout from the crowd several yards behind her. She'd been found. The man was barreling through the crowd after her. She reached the front entrance and looked around, desperately searching for salvation. There, in front of her, an older couple had hailed a taxi. She pulled them backwards and dove into the back seat, slamming the door shut behind her.
"4247...Maplewood...Drive...Arlington," she said through heaving breaths, "and hurry."
Saturday, November 7
"Phillip, Jamie, you're going to miss your ride!" Amanda shouted out the kitchen window toward the tree house. She smiled when she saw Jamie's head peek around the edge of the wooden slats. He held up a hand and waved in acknowledgement while Phillip started down the ladder. She flinched when he jumped the last three rungs and landed with a thud on the ground. Despite the cast on his arm, a reminder of the events of Halloween night, Phillip was still able to keep up with his younger brother.
Amanda toweled the suds off her hands and turned back toward the living room. Backpacks, tents and other assorted camping gear were heaped all over the floor. She turned her attention to the weather report on the television. The forecast called for sunny skies and high temperatures in the 60's. 'Perfect for camping,' she thought with a nod of thanks toward the weatherman.
The back door opened with a bang and the two boys came rushing into the room. Amanda was about to reprimand them, but the honking of a car horn saved them.
"Mr. Taylor is here, guys!" Amanda hollered. "Don't make him wait!"
Jamie was first to grab his things, giving his mother a kiss on the cheek before heading out the door. Phillip was not far behind. The disappointment was evident on both their faces as they left their winter coats behind. They had been looking forward to this camping trip for two months and had been hoping for some snow. Amanda was thankful that November had been unusually mild this year. At least she wouldn't need to worry about frostbite.
"Have fun, guys, be careful and stay out of the poison oak." Amanda ruffled Phillip's hair as she spoke, causing him to grimace.
"Mom," he sighed in protest as he pulled his head away from her hand.
Amanda sighed, too, as the realization that her boys were quickly growing up hit her like a ton of bricks. Phillip smiled a crooked smile at her and followed Jamie out the door. Suddenly, Amanda was enveloped in silence. She closed her eyes and sank into the couch, breathing a sigh of relief. It was the weekend, the boys were gone, Dotty was on one of her flying outings with Captain Kurt and she was off the duty roster until Monday. The only thing that could make the weekend any better would be her husband stopping by.
The tap at the kitchen window brought a smile to Amanda's face. 'It's as if he can read my mind,' she thought. Standing, she headed for the door.
"Lee. I'm so glad you..." she opened the door to find a woman standing where her man should have been. "Oh!" Amanda gasped and froze in her tracks.
"Amanda?" the woman whispered. She was shaking and disheveled, her eyes red and puffy.
"Who are you?" Amanda took a step back, one hand on the door.
"Amanda, it's me...Debbie Ann," she reached out her hand, but slowly pulled back when she saw Amanda flinch. "Debbie Ann Macabie."
"Debbie?" Amanda looked at the woman again, then her eyes opened wide. "Debbie! Oh, my gosh! I can't believe it! Come in!" She took Debbie's arm and pulled her inside, closing and locking the door behind her. "What on earth happened to you?"
Debbie walked ahead of Amanda, looking everything over; searching the kitchen and living room. She walked to the foyer and, moving the curtains only slightly, peeked out the front window to the street beyond. Amanda had followed her and laid a hand on Debbie's shoulder. Jumping in surprise, Debbie whirled around. Amanda took a step back and stared at her old friend, her eyes wide with concern.
"Debbie, what's wrong?" Amanda took her friends hand in her own and led her to the living room where the distraught woman collapsed on the couch, sobbing. Amanda sat next to her and, wrapping her arms around her, tried to offer comfort.
Amanda spoke quietly into the telephone, mindful of her sleeping guest. Debbie still had not told her why she had appeared on her back stoop or why she looked the way she did. She had cried on Amanda's shoulder for several minutes and then had fallen asleep, her obvious exhaustion finally taking its toll.
"Lee? Are you home? Please pick up..." Amanda whispered into the receiver. Lee was also off the roster for the weekend, and had mentioned having several errands to run. She heard the message on his answering machine begin to play. 'He's probably not home,' Amanda thought as she began to leave a message. "Lee? Please...if you're there, I need your help."
"Amanda?" she smiled at the comforting sound of his voice. "I was in the shower. What's wrong?"
"Oh, Lee. I have no idea. Debbie Ann just showed up on my back porch and broke down in tears on my couch. She's sleeping now, but she looks like she's had a rough time. She hasn't told me anything, yet, but I think we might need your help." Amanda took a deep breath and paused for Lee's response.
"Who?" was all she got. She could just see him looking at the phone in confusion.
"Debbie Ann Macabie," she lowered her voice even more as Debbie stirred in her sleep. "Lee, I haven't seen her since...well, since high school. She was my best friend."
"Oh, yeah. I remember now. The one you hid in the attic?"
Amanda smiled and nodded. "Yes, Debbie Ann. Can you come over here, quick?" She closed her eyes and crossed her fingers.
"I can be there within the hour. Just give me time to get dressed and I'll head over."
Amanda had to wipe the instant image of Lee in nothing but a bath towel out of her mind. "Great! Thanks, Lee." She hung up the phone and set about starting a pot of coffee to brew. She had the unsettling feeling that it was going to be a long afternoon.
Amanda leaned on the kitchen counter, sipping her coffee. Her eyes were focused on the still sleeping form of her old friend Debbie Ann. What had brought Debbie to her back door? Why did she look so terrified? She had recognized the look in Debbie’s eyes; it was the same look she had seen when she looked at her reflection in the mirror over a year ago. It was the look of someone hunted. She knew what it was like to be hunted, worst of all, to be hunted by people you thought you could trust. Being with Lee had made it somewhat bearable, but to be alone? She shuddered to think of all Debbie had been through. Judging by her disheveled appearance, she must have been running for days.
Amanda smiled as she remembered the Debbie Ann she once knew. They had become fast friends when they were seated next to each other in the fourth grade. Soon, they were spending all their time together and getting into trouble as only ten year old girls could. Then, when she was sixteen, her father had died suddenly and everything seemed to change. Debbie had been there to comfort her when Dotty was consumed with her own grief. It wasn’t that Dotty couldn’t comfort Amanda, but Debbie was able to comfort her in a different way. They graduated high school together, but each went their separate ways. Amanda had stayed in state to attend the University of Virginia and Debbie had gone on to the University of Pittsburgh. As the years progressed, they spoke less often and seemed to correspond only on holidays and birthdays.
Now, as Amanda watched Debbie sleep, she wished she had kept in better contact with her old friend. ‘Maybe if I had called her more often this wouldn’t have happened,’ she reasoned. ‘Whatever "this" is?' With a sigh, Amanda set her cup down and headed for the laundry room.
Lee tapped on the kitchen window and peered through. He could see the still form of a person, on Amanda's couch, covered by an afghan. He craned his neck to peer into the kitchen and smiled when he saw Amanda enter from the laundry room. Several pieces of clothing were draped over her arms and she was holding one article up for inspection. He tapped again, and waved when she lowered her arms and saw him standing there. He tried the knob, but frowned when he found it locked. 'Amanda never locks the door if she knows I'm coming over,' he thought. She hurried over and, with a twist of the deadbolt, allowed Lee entry.
Amanda put a finger to Lee's lips and led him through the kitchen to the foyer. When they were out of Debbie's earshot, she sighed, "Thank goodness you're here." She embraced Lee, dropping several items of clothing in the process.
"You're welcome," Lee whispered. "You sounded frantic on the phone. What's wrong?"
Amanda sat on the steps and draped the clothes over her lap. "This doesn't seem like your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill, my friend is having a bad day kind of visit. Did you see her? She looks like she hasn't showered in days. Her eyes are all bloodshot; I'm guessing from lack of sleep. Her clothes are absolutely filthy. I pulled these..." she indicated the heap of clothes, "...out of the dryer to find her something to change into when she wakes up."
Lee turned his head toward the family room and nodded toward the couch. "Looks like your friend is waking up right now."
Amanda jumped up and tossed the clothes at Lee. He stood there, puzzled for a moment, and then followed her. Amanda was hovering over Debbie like a mother hen. Debbie looked over Amanda's shoulder and saw Lee for the first time.
"Amanda!" The frightened woman jumped off the couch and took a defensive stance next to Amanda.
"Debbie," Amanda reached out and placed a comforting hand on her friend's arm. "It's okay. This is Lee Stetson. He's..." she looked to Lee for guidance and he shrugged. "He's a good friend. I asked him to come over to help me help you."
Debbie's eyes welled with tears as Amanda spoke and she began to tremble. "Oh, Amanda! I don't think anyone can help me." She sat down again as Lee walked around the couch and settled into the armchair. He draped the pile of clothes over his lap and looked from one woman to the other. Amanda had seated herself next to Debbie and put an arm around her.
"Look, why don't we get you upstairs. You can take a shower and put on some clean clothes. After you're more comfortable, we can sit down and talk about this over a cup of coffee." Amanda spoke very slowly and clearly to her friend. Lee marveled at how she was able to carry that tone of voice without sounding condescending. He watched as Amanda stood and led Debbie upstairs.
When the women came downstairs, Debbie looked noticeably more relaxed. The clothes Amanda had picked out for her fit her small frame perfectly and her short hair was still damp and combed back in a severe style. Amanda led her to the dining table and they sat down. Lee met them in the dining room with three fresh cups of coffee. He took a sip from his cup and nodded at Amanda. She picked up on his cue and turned to face Debbie.
"Debbie. Like I said earlier, Lee and I are…close friends. We work together. You can trust him just as much as you trust me. He knows a lot of people in the government. Well...so do I. Odds are, we can help you out of whatever trouble you're in. So, will you tell us what happened?"
"Amanda, I really don't think there is anything you can do. I got scared and came to the first person I could think of for help, but I honestly don't think it will do any good." Debbie poured cream into her coffee and slowly stirred.
"You won't know until you tell us." Lee spoke softly, hoping he wasn't overstepping his bounds.
Debbie sighed and stared into her coffee cup. She took a deep breath and began telling Amanda and Lee about the events of the previous week. "I'm an instructor at the Allegheny County Community College near Pittsburgh. I teach Algebra. I am...was...close friends with one of the other instructors, Jackie Peterson. She teaches...taught...Government. It was last Wednesday and I had just finished up my night class. Jackie had stopped by and told me to meet her at her place, that we'd go into town and grab a bite to eat. Neither one of us was seeing anyone seriously, so it was a little Wednesday night ritual we had."
"I got to Jackie's place about a half hour later. I waited for her in the driveway for a few minutes, but when she didn't come out, I went to the door to get her. When I knocked, the door swung open. I walked in…thinking she had left the door open for me. I found her in the kitchen. She was...lying on the floor...dead." Debbie paused for a moment and took a deep breath. "I started screaming and ran for the phone. That's when I saw him." Debbie's eyes were welling up with tears again. Amanda patted her hand and silently urged her to continue.
"I...I don't know who he was, but he was not pleased that I was there. I panicked and ran. He chased me, but I was able to get away. The only problem was that I left my car there, with my keys and purse inside. When I finally got home, he was already there waiting for me. I went back to Jackie's house, called the police with an anonymous tip and took some money from her purse. I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to DC. He must have followed me, 'cause when I got off the bus at the downtown terminal, he was there. I was able to lose him long enough to get to a phone book and look you up. I didn't have my purse with my address book with me, so..."
"So you looked me up in the phone book." Amanda smiled and patted Debbie's hand.
Lee immediately went on alert as the hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle. "The problem with this is, if this guy has your purse and your address book, he's gonna be able to figure out where you went. How many other addresses do you have written in there that are in the DC area?" Lee looked from Debbie to Amanda, who now had an alarmed look in her eyes.
"There were a few addresses in Arlington, so it probably won't take him long to narrow it down," Debbie conceded.
Lee nodded and then stood. "Amanda, can I see you over here for a minute?" he asked while walking into the foyer. Amanda offered Debbie an apologetic look and followed Lee.
When she reached him, he turned to her and whispered, "She needs to go to the police."
"I can't ask her to do that. She came here asking for my help. I can't just turn her away." Amanda looked over his shoulder at Debbie who was again staring into her cup.
"Amanda, this is not Agency business. You can't be officially involved in this." Lee could sense the danger and was desperately trying to convince Amanda to back off.
"I know that, and I'm not going to be officially involved in anything. I'm not going to ask you to do that either. All I want is for you to help me hide her until I can figure out what's going on." Amanda crossed her arms in front of her chest and gave Lee her best 'defy me if you dare' look.
"I don't think..."
"I don't care what you think right now, Lee. I want to know what you can do." Amanda stated calmly and evenly.
Lee was taken aback by her comment. Obviously, Amanda intended on protecting her friend, damn the cost. "Okay. I'll see what I can do about getting her into a safe house. What are you going to do?" He didn't like it, and would probably catch hell from Billy, but it was better than dealing with Amanda in full wrath.
"After I see that she's settled, I'll talk to Mr. Melrose about taking a few days off. I'm going to Pittsburgh." Amanda was looking around the room, doing a mental inventory of all the things she was going to have to take care of before leaving town.
"Pittsburgh? What on earth for?" With each passing moment, Lee felt his control over the situation slipping farther and farther away.
"I'm going to check out Jackie Peterson's house. The killer had to be after something."
"Amanda, the police have already searched the house, I'm sure. You're not going to find anything. Besides, you don't even know what you're looking for." He realized he was quickly reaching the point where arguing would do no good. Amanda had her mind set on helping her friend and there would be nothing to stand in her way.
"If you've said it once, you've said it a thousand times. I'll know it when I find it." With that, she turned on her heel and returned to tell Debbie her plan. He could do nothing, but watch her walk away. Part of him was screaming to grab his wife and shake some sense into her, the other part was whispering, 'Leave it alone, Stetson, she knows what she's doing.' He shrugged and shook his head, smiling ruefully.
Lee finally found his feet and followed Amanda into the dining room where she was seated again next to Debbie. They were deep in conversation. Lee cleared his throat and the two women looked in his direction.
"Ladies, I'm going to head over to the office and start making some phone calls. I'll be back as soon as I have some answers for you." Looking deep into Amanda's eyes, he continued, "Please be careful and lock the back door behind me." Amanda smiled and nodded, accepting his silent plea for her safety.
Lee sat in the 'Vette for a moment, collecting his thoughts. Amanda had dutifully locked the door behind him when he left, but he still couldn't shake the unnerving feeling that he shouldn't leave her unprotected.
'Unprotected. Hah!' Lee laughed at himself. He had always felt protective of Amanda, but now, when she was nearly as fully trained as he was, he felt more protective of her. 'That's because now you feel like you have more to lose,' he reasoned. He focused his attention to the two story house that Amanda called home and turned the key in the ignition. As the 'Vette roared to life, his forehead creased with worry. 'I sure hope you know what you're getting into Amanda, 'cause I can't be there to get you out of it this time,' he thought. Running a nervous hand through his hair, he began formulating a believable lie to convince Billy to let him have a safe house for a few days.
The man sat on the cheap hotel room bed tossing playing cards into a ball cap across the room. The phone rang and he checked his watch. "It's about damn time," he grumbled, reaching for the receiver.
"Where is she?" he demanded. "What do you mean you can't get to her?" He paused for a moment as his cohort attempted an explanation. Something he said caught the man's attention and he jumped to his feet. "Are you sure? How the hell did he get involved?" He shook his head and continued, "It's no matter. Just watch her and grab her the first chance you get, but dammit, Charlie, do not screw up this time! We do not want this one killed. We need her alive for this to work." He slammed the receiver down and sat silent for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts.
Amanda walked into the family room from the kitchen to find Debbie Ann standing at the bookshelf, her back to the room. She smiled when she saw what Debbie was looking at. Walking up behind her friend, she laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"They're beautiful, Amanda, and they're growing so fast." Debbie caressed the wooden frame surrounding Amanda's latest photo of the boys.
"They are treasures. They never cease to amaze me." Amanda turned and sat on the couch, propping her feet up on the coffee table. Debbie followed suit. She noticed that Debbie seemed more relaxed, as if the simple act of telling the story had taken a weight off of her shoulders.
"Where are the boys? Does Joe have them this weekend?" Debbie turned up her nose at the mention of Amanda's ex-husband. She never did like Joe and never hid that fact from Amanda.
Amanda noticed the look of distaste on Debbie's face, but decided now was not the time to attempt to defend Joe's virtues. "No, they're camping with a friend for the weekend. Mother's gone until tomorrow, too."
"How is your mother? Still as excitable as always?"
"Excitable? You could say that. She's taking flying lessons and is on a weekend trip with her instructor." Amanda smiled as Debbie's eyes flew open wide.
"Flying? Your mother? She wouldn't even climb the ladder to the attic without getting hives!" Debbie laughed at the thought of Dotty flying an airplane. "Wait, let me guess. The instructor is a hunk?" Amanda nodded and both women laughed. "The boys are about the same age as we were when we first met, aren't they?" Debbie absentmindedly fingered the fringe on the afghan that had been draped over the arm of the couch.
"Just about. Jamie's twelve and Phillip's fourteen." Amanda closed her eyes and drifted back in time, before her father's death, before she 'grew up.'
"We were hellions." Debbie smiled at the memories. "Do you remember when we took over the tree house?"
Amanda laughed. "You mean Scott and Chris's tree house, with the big 'No Girls Allowed' sign? Oh, yes! Mother was so mad at me for using all of her eggs as grenades."
"It worked though. We were able to hold them off for hours! Or how about when you came over to my place and we smoked a cigarette in my attic. You were so mad at your mother for accusing you of smoking that you just had to do it, to prove a point!"
"Yeah, and I was sick as a dog for hours afterward, too!" Amanda sat up a little and looked at Debbie. "Did I ever thank you for being there for me when Daddy died?"
"Officially? I don't know. But you didn't have to. I was just doing my 'best friend duties.' Besides, you would have been there for me." Debbie held out her hand, which Amanda took. The two women sat in silence for a moment, each thinking about their youth and how quickly it passed.
"Do you remember when we were eleven?" Debbie suddenly asked.
"When I hid you in the attic?" Amanda smiled. "Oh, yes, I do remember."
"I can't ask you to do that again." Debbie's smile had faded and she now wore a more wistful look.
"Debbie, I am not going to stash you in my attic! Lee is going to get you a safe place to stay while I go to Pittsburgh." Amanda stood and walked toward the kitchen. "Are you hungry? It's nearly lunch time."
"Lunch sounds good." Debbie stood and followed Amanda. "Why are you going to go to Pittsburgh?"
"I'm going to see what I can find out about your friend Jackie's murder." Amanda had her head in the refrigerator and was handing sandwich ingredients to Debbie as she spoke.
"But I thought you worked for a documentary film company. The question stands. Why are you going to go to Pittsburgh?" Debbie was placing the various condiments and ingredients on the counter and couldn't see the panicked look on Amanda's face.
"Yeah, well...I helped edit an FBI training film last month and I picked up a few things. Besides, if we wait for the proper authorities to get involved, we might be waiting for quite a while. This way, I can get in there and see what I can find while the trail is still warm." Amanda held her breath, waiting to see if her story was going to hold water.
Debbie just chuckled. "Amanda, are you still having those secret agent fantasies? You used to run around the neighborhood pretending to be Emma Peel, that is when you weren't Nancy Drew!"
Amanda laughed nervously. "Oh...I can assure you, no more secret agent fantasies." 'Not when the real thing is so much more interesting,' she thought as she began to make lunch.
Lee left Billy's office in a huff. He had considered himself lucky to have found the Section Chief in his office on a weekend and thought it was a sign of good fortune. However, after a brief conversation, and a good bit of begging on Lee's part, Billy had not backed down. He couldn't let Lee use a safe house for non-Agency related business.
As Lee walked to the elevator, his mind was whirling, trying to come up with a solution. He thought about having Debbie stay with him, but discarded the idea as soon as it occurred. It would be too awkward. Yes, he was married to Amanda, and yes, Debbie was her friend, but the situation left too much to chance. He could not deny that she was a beautiful woman. He closed his eyes and envisioned her as she was earlier that morning. She was slight, like Amanda, but a few inches shorter. Her hair was a dark chocolate brown with red highlights and cut very short, in a tailored fashion. Her eyes were so dark that they were almost black. There was no denying that she was attractive and Lee was not going to invite trouble into his apartment.
As the elevator reached the Georgetown foyer, inspiration struck. 'An apartment!' he thought. 'I can rent an apartment for her in my building. That way I can keep an eye on her for Amanda. Lee Stetson, you are one brilliant man!' Smiling to himself, he whisked out the front door and headed for home, hardly noticing the amused expression on Mrs. Marston's face.
Night was falling when Lee arrived at Amanda's front door. He knocked and waited for what seemed like an eternity. When the door finally opened, he jumped back in surprise. Amanda was there in sweat pants and a T-shirt; her hair pulled back in a towel and her face covered in a green paste. Lee started to laugh in spite of himself. Amanda scowled at him and pulled him inside.
"Oh, shut up!" Amanda playfully smacked his arm and walked into the family room. Debbie was sitting on the couch with a bowl of popcorn on her lap, her face as green as Amanda's. The obvious signs of a 'girl's night' were all around him, right down to the sappy black-and-white romance movie playing on the television.
"Hi, Lee. Want some popcorn?" Debbie handed the bowl in his direction as Amanda took her seat. Amanda curled her legs up underneath her and indicated for Lee to join them.
Lee sat in the armchair, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He shook his head 'no' to Debbie and tried to be serious. Both women were staring at him, brown eyes surrounded by green. It was almost too much to take.
"I've got a place for Debbie to stay while you're in Pittsburgh," Lee started and Amanda sat up straight.
"Great! How soon can we move her in?"
"As soon as you want. I couldn't get one of the places we had talked about earlier..." Lee quickly continued when he saw Amanda's smile begin to fade. "...But I was able to get a furnished apartment in my building. I can keep an eye on her there."
Amanda's smile returned. "That's wonderful! Thank you." Lee silently breathed a sigh of relief at her acceptance of the arrangements. "We'll get her moved in tomorrow morning and I'll leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon when Mother and the boys get back."
"Hello! I'm sorry to interrupt, but I am in the room!" Lee and Amanda both jumped as Debbie spoke up for the first time.
"Oh, gosh, Debbie. I'm sorry." Debbie shook her head in amusement as Amanda tried to make amends.
"It's okay. Look, I'm gonna go wash this stuff off while you two finish making your plans." She stood and headed upstairs.
Lee watched her go and looked over toward Amanda. When Debbie was safely out of earshot, he said, "I'm sorry about the safe house, but Billy wouldn't budge. I tried everything."
"I'm sure you did. Don't worry. She'll be fine over by you. It's a secure building and I know you'll keep a close eye on her for me." Amanda stood, walked around the coffee table and sat on Lee's lap.
"Amanda?" he whispered.
"Yes?" She was grinning as much as the masque would allow.
"What is that all over your face?" He wrinkled his nose as he looked at her up close.
"It's an avocado and honey facial. Why?" She was inching closer to him now, laughing to herself as he slowly backed away.
"No reason. It just looks...well...it looks ridiculous." Her face was inches from his now and he could back up no further.
"Ridiculous? Really?" She lunged forward; planted a kiss on his cheek and smeared a heaping amount of avocado and honey there in the process. Amanda began laughing hysterically and jumped off of Lee's lap, slowly backing away. His eyes were closed; his breathing slow and even as Amanda waited for the impending retaliation.
"I do not believe you just did that," he whispered. Amanda stood still and laughed as he wiped his cheek. "Just remember one thing, my dear, revenge is a dish best served cold."
"Oh, really?" Amanda was still poised for flight, but began to relax when she realized she was in no immediate danger.
"You won't know what hit you." Lee's eyes began to twinkle as wonderful possibilities began to run through his mind.
Sunday, November 8
"Ladies and gentlemen, the pilot has turned on the seat belt sign. We are going to be heading into some turbulence, so please return your seats and tray tables to their full, upright and locked positions."
Amanda groaned inwardly as she white-knuckled the armrest. She tolerated flying, but bumpy flights reminded her why she would rather have driven. She tried to focus her mind, to get her thoughts away from the pitch and yaw of the 737. Closing her eyes, she brought to mind Lee's parting words to her.
"I promise, I'll keep an eye on Debbie. You just need to promise you'll take care of yourself while you're out there. Don't get yourself into any trouble." He smiled and looked deeply into her eyes. She could see the worry he was trying so desperately to hide.
'His eyes have always been the window to his soul,' Amanda thought. She smiled reassuringly as they stood together at the gate, waiting for the boarding call for her flight.
"I know you'll watch out for her. I'm not one bit worried about that. And don't worry about me, either. I can take care of myself." Amanda's eyes grew wide when Lee began to laugh.
"That's what I'm afraid of!" Lee brought her to him in an embrace. "You have the most unique ability to get yourself into all sorts of trouble, Amanda Stetson. I'm sorry if I'm worried." As he spoke, his words grew quieter until he was whispering into her ear.
"Don't be sorry, Lee. I'd worry if you weren't concerned." Amanda hugged him in return. "I'll call you when I get checked into my room tonight, okay?"
"What time are you supposed to be landing?" Lee asked as he looked toward the display over the counter.
Amanda checked the boarding pass she had pulled out of her coat pocket. "Six-fifteen. I'm going to rent a car and do some scouting before I check in, so don't expect me to call before nine."
"If you don't call me by nine-fifteen, I'm going to be on the next flight out," Lee teased, although, deep down, Amanda knew he wasn't kidding.
"I'll call. I promise. Look, I told mother that you and I were going to Pittsburgh to scout locations for a documentary on old steel mills. I doubt she'd try to contact you, but if something should happen and she calls IFF..." Lee placed a finger softly on her lips.
"I'll take care of it. I'll even drive by once or twice to check on the boys. It'll be a good way to practice my covert surveillance skills." His eyes twinkled and Amanda smiled.
"Attention passengers, we will now begin boarding flight 247 direct to Pittsburgh."
"That's you." Lee picked up Amanda's carry on and walked with her toward the gate. When they reached the attendant, Amanda handed her the boarding pass and turned to Lee.
"I'm going to miss you," she whispered.
"I'm going to miss you, too. I love you." Lee tilted Amanda's face up to meet his and placed a gentle kiss on Amanda's lips. They each looked around, circumspectly, as Lee handed over her bag.
"I love you, too."
Amanda's eyes flew open as the plane seemed to slow. Her finger was nearly numb from where she had been absentmindedly fidgeting with her wedding set. Lee had placed it on her finger before they had left for the airport and she now looked at the sparkling diamond and the simple gold band as if it were her only link to reality. Sighing, she looked out the window and was pleased to see that they were making their final approach into Pittsburgh International. She mentally went over her plan one last time. She was going to rent a car and head straight over to Jackie Peterson's house. If there was anything to be found, it would likely be there. Amanda prayed that she would find it, whatever 'it' was, and fast.
Right on schedule, the phone in the seedy hotel room rang. The man reached for the receiver, gritting his teeth, hoping for better news than he had received twenty-four hours earlier. "Talk to me," he growled. He listened intently to the man on the other end and his face broke into a broad smile. "Fantastic. It looks like things might work out after all. Good job, Charlie. Get her tonight." He hung up the phone and settled back on the bed, reveling in his good fortune.
Looking at the directions Debbie had carefully written out for her, Amanda referred to her road map. She had picked up the map of Pittsburgh and the surrounding area while she was waiting for her rental car and was now driving on the Parkway East, headed for Monroeville and Jackie Peterson's house.
She looked at the clock display on the dashboard. Night had fallen and she wanted to be sure she was back in the city and on the phone to Lee by nine o'clock. That gave her only an hour and a half to find Jackie's house, check it out as thoroughly as possible and get back to the hotel. ’I'll be pushing it,' Amanda thought, 'but I can always go back tomorrow.'
Amanda's mind wandered as she drove past the old homes and neatly manicured lawns. Why was Jackie Peterson killed? Could it be something as simple as a break-in gone horribly wrong? Or was it something much deeper? Debbie had said that Jackie had not been seeing anyone, which ruled out a 'crime of passion.' She apparently had no enemies to speak of, either. The way Debbie had described her, Jackie was a perfect saint. Seemingly, Debbie's involvement had only to do with her walking in on the murderer. Nothing was making sense.
Looking at the directions, Amanda realized that she was getting close. She devoted her attention to the road and continued on. After a few minutes, she pulled her rental into the drive of a small two-story house. It, like all the others in this neighborhood, was set back, away from the road, and had a large front patio, which seemed to stretch the entire front of the house. It was painted a very pale blue and had white shutters. It reminded Amanda of what she had envisioned a perfect house to be when she was little, right down to the white picket fence.
Amanda got out of the car and pulled a penlight and her lock pick kit out of her purse. She silently thanked the original owners of this particular house for all the shrubbery, which would provide excellent cover to hide her from curious passersby.
Making her way to the back of the house, peeking in the windows along the way, she was surprised to find that what she had thought was the first floor from the front, was actually the second. This house, like so many in the area, was built against a hill, the yard sloping downward in the back. When she neared the back entry, she looked into the kitchen. There was a stark white chalk outline on the wooden floor, a sharp contrast to the otherwise clean appearance of the kitchen itself. Amanda shuddered involuntarily and then chided herself for being such a ninny. She began work on the lock and, within seconds, was inside.
Lee and Debbie had finished their meal of Chinese takeout and had settled in the living room, the television blaring the local news. Lee looked at his watch and couldn't help but wonder if Amanda's flight had landed on schedule. He held back from calling the airline for an update. Amanda would tease him mercilessly if she knew how neurotic he was being.
Debbie was flipping through the channels, trying to find something of interest, when Lee stood. "You’re leaving?" she asked, trying hard to disguise the fear in her voice.
"Yeah. I need to get up early tomorrow for work. Don’t worry, though. I'm right down the hall. Just yell if you need anything." Lee flinched at his poor choice of words. "I mean…call me. You won't need to yell for anything."
Debbie smiled. "Thanks, Lee. I'm sure I'll be fine." She hoped she sounded convincing. Maybe if she could convince him, she thought, she could convince herself.
"Look, I'm going to check in on you every two hours while I'm at work, and I've left the office number for you. Call me if anything unusual happens. I'll stop by in the morning before I leave." Lee opened the door and turned to Debbie, who had followed him. "Lock this behind me and don’t open it for anyone, but me. Okay?"
"Yes, Lee. Now, will you go already?" Debbie pushed him out the door and made a show of loudly turning the deadbolt and fastening the chain. She sighed and walked back to the living room, resigning herself to a long stretch of late night television. Something told her she wasn't going to be able to sleep until Amanda was back in one piece.
Amanda methodically searched every room in the small house. She still hated going through other people's things, all the training in the world wouldn't change that, but she kept telling herself this was for Debbie. She had reached Jackie's bedroom and was going through her dresser drawers, when a picture caught her eye. A beautiful young woman was standing with a very distinguished looking man. They had their arms around each other and each wore a smile that could light the night sky. Amanda smiled and touched the figures in the frame. They looked so happy, oblivious to the horror that had occurred in this house only four nights before. Sighing, Amanda continued her search, although, as time wore on, it seemed more and more fruitless.
An hour later, she unlocked her hotel room door, tired and discouraged. Dragging her bags to the foot of the bed, she sat down to collect her thoughts. She checked her watch and reached for the phone. It was nearing her deadline and she knew Lee would already be worried. 'I'd be surprised if he didn't call the airport to check on my flight,' she thought with a smile as the phone began to ring. When it was answered on the first ring, she laughed out loud.
"And what is so funny?" Lee asked.
"You could have let it ring more than once, or are you through trying to convince me that you don't hover over the phone when I'm away?" Amanda covered her mouth and waited for Lee's reply.
"I was not hovering. I just happened to be walking by the phone when it began to ring. Merely a coincidence." Amanda had to admit that he did sound sincere. "How is it going over there?" he asked.
"Not too good. I checked out Jackie's house and found nothing at all." Amanda kicked off her shoes and settled on the bed as she spoke. "I went through each room, inch by inch, Lee. There was nothing out of place."
"Well, the guy who killed her could have swept the place clean before he left," Lee offered.
"I don’t think so. Remember, he was waiting for Debbie when she got home and apparently, has been following her ever since." Amanda's voice got distant as she began to think over the details of Debbie's experience. "No, I don’t think he took the time to clean up after himself."
"What's your next move?" Lee asked.
"Well, I was going to try the college tomorrow. Talk to a few of Jackie's friends there. See if anyone knows anything useful." Amanda sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I don't know, this really has me stumped."
"Don't beat yourself up over it. I'm sure something will turn up tomorrow."
"I hope so. How is everything there?" she asked as she closed her eyes and started to relax.
"Everything is just fine. I had dinner with Debbie and left her a few hours ago. I went over the check in routine with her. She'll be fine," Lee said.
"Thanks. You sound so reassuring. I know she'll be okay with you watching over her," she whispered.
"Well, I always aim to please." Amanda heard the light playful tone in his voice and could almost see the smile on his face.
"I miss you." Amanda breathed the words rather than spoke them. "I wish you were here with me."
"I know, I wish I was there, too. But we both know what kind of trouble that would cause. It's bad enough that you're doing this on your own." Lee's voice carried a serious edge to it and Amanda wondered, for a brief moment, if she had made a mistake in running off on her own.
"Well, it’s far too late to be worried about consequences now. I'm already in too deep." Amanda heard Lee take a breath and sensed the argument coming. Quickly, she added, "I'm really getting tired. I'm going to go to bed and get an early start in the morning." She heard him exhale and knew she had put off the inevitable, for at least a little while.
"Okay, sleep well and call me tomorrow afternoon to let me know how things are going."
"I will…and Lee?" Amanda paused for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts.
"Yes?" Lee asked.
"Thank you for putting up with me through all of this. I mean, you didn't have to do anything to help me…or Debbie…and yet, you did. I just want you to know that means a lot to me." There was silence from the other end of the line for a moment and Amanda wondered what Lee was thinking.
"Amanda, you know I would do anything for you. Now, go to bed. I love you."
"I love you, too," she smiled as she hung up the phone.
Amanda got ready for bed and turned out the light. She lay in the strange bed, staring at the ceiling. Suddenly, in the stillness of the night, she wasn't tired at all. Her thoughts turned to what Lee had left unsaid. She knew he thought she was being foolish, that she should have left the whole sordid mess to the police, but she couldn’t do that. She was determined to see this through, to find a solution to Debbie's situation. How could she explain to Lee how much she really owed Debbie? That she was in debt to Debbie Ann Macabie for saving her life?
The television played on in the background as Debbie slept fitfully on the couch. The sleep she had tried to evade, had consumed her, and she was now caught in the throes of the recurring nightmare she had come to expect.
Debbie pushed open Jackie's front door and slowly crept into the foyer. "Jackie? Are you ready?" Her voice echoed down the unnaturally dark hallway, bouncing down the stairwell and back again, leading her down to the lower level. She reached for the light switch and flicked it on and off several times before conceding to the fact that the lights were not working.
She carefully made her way down the stairs and rounded the corner into the dining room. "Jackie? Where are you?" she called. Receiving no response, she continued to search the house. As she walked through the kitchen, her toe bumped into something soft. She froze and looked down, a scream catching in her throat. The body of a woman lay at her feet, blood pooling around her. As Debbie began to back away, the body seemed to move. Her hands flew to her face in an attempt to hold the scream inside. On some level, she knew that to scream was to alert the intruder. He would see her and she would have to run. If she could only stay quiet this time, he wouldn't know she'd seen anything.
It was too late. She let out a blood-curdling scream as the corpse rose to its feet and pointed an accusing finger at Debbie. "You let me die," it said to her and took a step toward her. This time though, it was not Jackie who spoke to her from beyond the grave. It was Amanda. Debbie turned to run, but was caught from behind as the specter's hand covered her mouth, silencing her screams.
"Amanda!" Debbie woke with a start as the sickeningly sweet smell of chloroform flooded her senses. Within moments she blacked out and the man carried her limp form to the window.
Monday, November 9
Amanda woke up as the first rays of sunlight peeked through the curtains. She yawned, stretched and set about getting ready for the day. Her plans included a visit to the Community College where Debbie taught, and a trip to the library, where she could get copies of the local newspaper for the last week. If there was any kind of news coverage about Jackie's death or Debbie's disappearance, Amanda reasoned that would be the best place to look.
After a quick breakfast in the hotel dining room, she climbed into the car and drove the short distance to the Community College. She felt sure she would find several faculty members who knew Jackie on the small campus.
She parked in the student parking lot, which was quickly filling up. Young men and women were making their way to their classes, books in hand. Amanda sat in the car for a moment, marveling at how these young people really didn’t look much older than Phillip. It wouldn't be too much longer before her own boys would be walking to their college classes, laughing and joking with their friends. She was loath to admit that this terrified her, as well as overjoyed her. It was hard to face up to the fact that they didn't need her as much as they used to. Shrugging her shoulders, resigning herself to fate, Amanda opened the car door and headed to the main office.
Lee walked down the hall toward Debbie's apartment earlier than they had arranged. After his conversation with Amanda, he had found it hard to sleep. 'There's something more to this,' he had thought 'something she doesn't want to tell me. But why? She's always so open.' He had shaken it off, telling himself she would talk to him when she was ready.
When Lee reached apartment 1D, he paused for a moment and looked at his watch, noting the early hour. He didn’t want to wake Debbie, but he needed to make sure she was okay before he left for the Agency. He quietly tapped on the door, hoping she was already awake. A few minutes passed without a response. 'Damn, she must still be asleep,' Lee thought as he knocked a little harder. Still more time passed with no response. Lee began to fidget a little as the tiniest thread of worry began to creep in. His patience gone, he pounded on the door with his fist. "Debbie? Answer the door!" he hissed through clenched teeth. When that brought about no response, he pulled out a lock pick, deftly worked the lock and busted the chain. He was inside in seconds.
Immediately he was on edge. The television was still on and a pillow and quilt were on the floor. Lee unholstered his weapon and slowly walked toward the bedroom door. It was pulled to, but not latched. As he neared the door, he could feel a cool breeze. Slowly, he opened the door and his worst fear was realized. The window was wide open and Debbie was no where to be seen. The room itself was cold, evidence that the window had been open for most of the night. Lee bounced his gun in his hand and whirled around, slamming the bedroom door in frustration. He sank to the bed and cradled his head in his hand. "What am I going to tell Amanda?" he asked the room.
Amanda walked down the hall looking for room 137. She'd had a rather enlightening conversation with the Dean who had given her 'the dirt' on just about every member of the faculty and staff. She had reaffirmed Debbie's statement that Jackie had not been seeing anyone, but was more than happy to tell Amanda all about Jackie's messy breakup with Greg Petrecelli, a fellow instructor. As luck would have it, Greg had a class this morning and Amanda was in the process of hunting down his room.
She rounded a corner just as a few of the classes were letting out. Feeling like a salmon swimming upstream, she made her way through the wave of students. Finally, and with much relief, she found room 137 and Mr. Petrecelli. His class was one that had just let out and he was busying himself with erasing the chalkboard when Amanda opened the door.
Amanda cleared her throat and knocked softly. Greg looked up from his task and smiled as he waved her in. "Hello, Mr. Petrecelli? I'm Amanda Stedman, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. May I have a moment of your time?" As she stepped into the room, the door clicked softly to a close behind her.
Greg smiled, "Of course, Mrs. Stedman. I would be delighted. Please have a seat." He motioned to one of the seats closest the podium. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Amanda took the indicated seat and opened her notebook. Greg had seated himself on a stool directly in front of her. Finding that she had to raise her eyes in order to meet his, she quietly sighed and scooched her chair back to put a few more inches between them.
"Well, Mr. Petrecelli…"
"Please, call me Greg," he interrupted.
Amanda smiled and continued, "Greg, as I was saying I'm from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and I'm working on a story about Jackie Peterson." Greg flinched slightly and shifted on his stool. Amanda made a mental note of his body language and noticed that he never broke eye contact with her. "I'm sure you know, Ms. Peterson was found murdered in her house last week. I'm working on the human-interest side of the story. I want to tell the public about Ms. Peterson's life and accomplishments."
Greg smiled sadly and nodded his head. "That sounds lovely, Mrs. Stedman. How can I help?"
Amanda crossed her legs and sat forward in her chair. "I understand you and Jackie dated for a while. Is there anything about her you would be willing to share?"
Greg crossed his arms in front of his chest as his eyes got a far-away look. "Jackie and I did date for a while. Actually, it was more like a year, but it was around two years ago when we broke it off. Irreconcilable differences. Jackie wanted a family and I didn't." Greg paused and Amanda nodded her encouragement. "Jackie was a fairly private person. She was beautiful though, inside and out. The students loved her, but she seemed sad. She was very family oriented, but didn't have any family of her own. Her parents died when she was in her twenties and she had no brothers or sisters, well…unless you count Deb Macabie. They were as close as sisters. You might want to talk to her, too."
"Deb Macabie?" Amanda made note of Debbie's name on her notebook. "Thanks, I will. I was shown a picture of Jackie with a handsome older gentleman. Was that her father?" Amanda gently prodded.
"No, I really don't know who he is. I asked her once and it upset her so much, that I never asked again." Greg shrugged and offered an apologetic smile.
"Thank you for the information, Greg," Amanda said as she stood, closing her notebook in the process. Greg stood as well and walked with Amanda to the door. "If I need anything else, can I call?"
"Absolutely. For all our problems, I really did love Jackie. I can't wait to read the piece." Greg opened the door for Amanda and offered his free hand to her.
Amanda shook his hand and thanked him again, heading out into the hall before the guilt of her little white lie engulfed her completely. She hated lying and now this man thought his dead ex-girlfriend was going to get a beautiful eulogy in the newspaper. Sometimes, Amanda couldn't stand herself. She shuddered and walked double time to get to her car.
Lee sat at his desk in the Q Bureau, dreading the call he knew was soon due. He had looked all over the apartment for a trace of what had happened to Debbie with no luck. He had finally given up and headed in. He wound up being late and had missed the morning staff meeting, causing him to get a royal chewing out from Billy. He was now wishing that he had taken a few days off with Amanda. At least he would have been able to search for Debbie without the fallout. The way he figured it, the day really couldn't get worse. Then the phone rang.
"Hello," Lee said, trying to sound as calm as possible.
"Hi, Lee, how's everything back home?" Amanda asked.
"Oh, now, you first. Did you find anything at the college?" Lee stalled, hoping to hear something from Amanda that might give him a clue as to where to begin to look for Debbie.
"Not really. The only thing of substance, if you can even consider it that, is that Jackie has a picture of a man on her dresser that she does not like to talk about. Other than that, nothing. I'm going to head over to the local library after lunch and look at the back issues of the newspaper. I just wanted to check in with you first." Amanda paused, waiting for a comment from Lee. When she got nothing but dead air, she continued, "So, how are things there?"
Lee sighed and prepared for the outburst that was sure to come. He cut right to the chase, knowing Amanda would prefer to have it straight and not sugar coated. "Umm…Debbie's missing." When she didn’t respond, he began to explain, "I left her last night, before I talked to you, and she was fine. I went to check on her this morning and she was gone. The front door was still locked, but the bedroom window was wide open."
Amanda collected herself and shifted into her professional mode, "What do we know."
Lee noticed the shift and replied in kind. "Not much, unfortunately. I searched the apartment thoroughly and found nothing."
"I'll be on the next flight back," Amanda sighed.
"Call me when you find out what time you'll be landing," he whispered. He had let her down and he knew it. He felt the need to make it up to her as much as possible.
"No, I'll take a cab. You need to stay there in case Debbie tries to call." Her words were abrupt, but she was in a hurry and didn't want to waste precious time.
"Of course, you're right. I'll just hang back here and sit on my hands," Lee snipped.
"Lee, I'm not mad at you, if that's what you're thinking. I just want Debbie to be able to get in touch with someone." Amanda spoke softly and reassuringly. She truly didn't hold Lee responsible for Debbie's disappearance, but knew he was mentally beating himself up.
"I'm sorry, I just feel like there's something more I should be doing," Lee sighed as he leaned back in his chair, running his hand through his hair.
"You said yourself that this isn't Agency business and I am on my own. Don't get yourself in trouble." Amanda was insistent. She didn't need Lee getting suspended over this.
"In more trouble you mean. I was late this morning and missed the staff meeting. Billy stuck me with some security audits on a few Senators as punishment. I have plenty of files here to keep me busy while I wait for you to get home." Lee regarded the pile of folders and shook his head. Billy sure knew how to get someone's attention.
"I'm so sorry," Amanda said, smiling slightly. She could only imagine the argument Lee had given Billy over his 'assignment' and was almost sorry she had missed it. "Look, let me get going. I have to pack my bags and get over to the airport. I'll head over to the Agency as soon as I get in, okay?"
"Okay, and Amanda? Please be careful. I don't know what we're up against."
"I will. See you soon."
Lee shook his head and sighed as he hung up the phone. Sure, she said she didn't hold him responsible, but he sure as hell did.
The man opened the hotel room door, allowing his 'partner-in-crime' entry. Charlie huffed over to the bed and unceremoniously dumped the still unconscious Debbie on the mattress.
"Is she okay?" the man asked. "You didn't hurt her, did you?"
"Geez, Harold. Give me some credit, will ya?" Charlie walked over to the small refrigerator and pulled out a beer. With a flourish, he popped open the top and took a long deep swig. He let out a loud belch and smiled at Harold. "She's fine. I knocked her out while she was sleeping. It's not like what went down with that Peterson chick. She was a fighter!"
Harold rolled his eyes at the younger man. What he lacked in intelligence, he more than made up for in mass. "You weren't supposed to kill her, though. How was I supposed to bargain with a dead hostage?" Picking up a roll of duct tape, he began to bind Debbie's wrists and ankles. "You had just better hope that old man Bainbridge has a conscience."
"Of course, he does," Charlie replied, chugging the remainder of the twelve ounces of brew. "He's a Senator for Chrissakes." Charlie flinched as Harold turned to face him, his eyes aflame with rage.
"Yes, Charlie…he is a Senator. That's why we have to be extra careful with this one, especially given the company she's been keeping lately." Harold sighed and lowered himself onto the bed next to Debbie's still form. "I just hope this is going to work or I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do." Harold looked up at Charlie, who shrugged and reached for another beer.
Lee flipped through the seemingly endless pile of files on his desk. He hated security audits almost as much as he hated 'spring-cleaning' and Billy knew it. Looking at his watch, he started straightening up his mess. Amanda had called from the airport almost an hour ago and was expected at any minute. To kill time, he walked around his desk and started a pot of coffee. No sooner had it started to drip than Amanda walked in.
She dropped her bags on the floor in a heap, and walked straight into Lee's waiting arms. "Hi," she muffled as she buried her head into his shoulder.
"Hi, yourself," he solemnly replied. "How was the flight back?"
Amanda leaned back in Lee's arms and looked up into his eyes. "Fine, as flights go. I still would have rather driven, but then, I'd still be on the road, wouldn't I?" She smiled at him, trying to lighten the mood. He smiled in return, but only half-heartedly.
"I started a pot of coffee," he offered.
"No, I don't want any coffee right now. Just you." She winked at him and kissed him lightly on the lips. Through her mask of bravado, Lee could see she was aching.
Lee returned the kiss and held her tight. When their lips finally parted, Amanda stepped out of his embrace and walked around his desk. He set about fixing himself a cup of coffee as Amanda flopped down into his chair. She sat there for a moment, her eyes distant and cloudy.
"I don't suppose she called, did she?" Amanda finally asked, hoping against all odds that Debbie had.
Lee shook his head and took small sip of the piping hot liquid. He flinched and set the cup down. "Nope, not a word. I don’t know where to begin with this," he said, shrugging as he started to slowly pace in front of the vault door.
Amanda leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling. "Lee, can I tell you something without you blowing it all out of proportion?" she finally asked. Lee stopped pacing and regarded her, his forehead creased with worry.
"I'm not sure where you're going with this, but...yes, of course," he replied. He walked over to the desk and positioned himself on the edge, looking at Amanda with a serious expression.
"It's not earth shattering or anything like that, it's just something that I'm not very proud of and it explains why I've been so determined to help Debbie." Amanda sat up and started fiddling with the folders stacked in front of her.
"I had a feeling there was something you weren't telling me," he stated. She looked up at him in surprise. "Come on, Amanda, you can tell when something's bothering me, can't you? Wouldn't you think I'd be able to tell the same with you?"
"I suppose so," Amanda whispered and smiled shyly. She patted Lee on the knee and, clearing her throat, began. "I was sixteen years old when Daddy died. Debbie helped me to survive the months that followed." She paused, trying to find the right words. Lee stayed silent, waiting her out. "You see, I really owe Debbie my life. I was devastated when Daddy died. I felt betrayed and deserted. I know I still had Mother, but I was Daddy's little girl. Anyway, I sank into a pretty miserable depression. One night, about two months after the funeral, I was staying at Debbie's house. We started talking and I admitted to her that I had actually considered…" Amanda dropped her eyes to her lap as she sighed and her voice quivered slightly, she continued, but in a whisper, "…umm…well…suicide."
She looked up at Lee, trying to gauge his reaction. He stayed perfectly still, never breaking eye contact with her. When he nodded, she continued, "Debbie and I talked all night that night, and I finally let out some emotions that I had kept bottled up inside, emotions that were really dragging me down. Talking to her helped and she made sure, from that moment on, I had a friend to turn to when things got rough. She made me promise to talk to her when I got depressed, which I did, and you know I'm not one to back down on a promise."
Lee's face opened into a smile as he took her hand into his own. "I know you and your promises. I also know that you would never let a friend down, especially a friend in need."
Amanda leaned back in the chair again, rocking slightly. "I want to help her Lee, the same way she helped me. I don't know if I really would have tried anything stupid back then, but keeping it all inside like that just wasn't healthy. She helped me move on. I owe her for that."
"Why were you so worried about telling me that?" he asked gently.
"You see me as such a strong person, and I guess I usually am, but that was a very weak moment for me, one that I am not proud of at all. I didn't want you to think any less of me." She looked up into his eyes and, instead of seeing the pity she was expecting, she saw understanding and pride reflected back at her.
"I would never think any less of you, Amanda. I love you, every part of you. Past, present and future." Amanda sighed as Lee leaned forward and placed a kiss on her cheek. She felt so much better now that she had talked to Lee. Now, she could focus more of her energy on finding Debbie.
Lee stood and walked to where he had left his coffee to cool. As he retrieved the now lukewarm mug, Amanda picked up the topmost file from the stack on Lee's desk. "Is this what Billy punished you with?" she asked with a sardonic grin as she opened the file.
"Yeah," he replied. "I have to do full security audits on the entire stack. Rookie work," he concluded, his nose turned up in distaste. He half-watched as Amanda absentmindedly flipped through the file, nearly spilling his coffee when she jumped out of the chair.
"Oh, my gosh!" she shouted as she ran around the desk, waving the folder in front of her like it was on fire.
"What?" Lee grabbed the folder out of her hand and looked at the picture to which she was frantically gesturing. "It's Senator Bainbridge with his Head of Security, what's the big deal?"
"That's the man in Jackie's room!" Amanda was nearly jumping up and down, trying to get Lee to understand. "It's a lead Lee, we finally have a lead!"
"Slow down, I'm missing something here!" He placed a hand on Amanda's shoulder in an attempt to make her hold still. "What man in Jackie's room?"
Amanda took a deep breath and slowly began, "Jackie has a picture on her dresser of this man," she tapped the photograph in Lee's hands, punctuating her words. "They are standing arm in arm. I immediately thought it was her father, but her ex-boyfriend corrected me, saying that Jackie got upset at him when he asked about him. We need to talk to him, he might know what's going on and where Debbie is."
Lee looked at Amanda, confused, and slowly asked, "We need to talk to who?" Amanda looked from Lee to the picture in the folder and back. "Oh, no, you're telling me that you want to go ask Senator Bainbridge what he knows about a dead college instructor from Pennsylvania?" he asked, eyes wide and unbelieving as Amanda nodded the affirmative. "I don't know, Amanda. If he gets upset, he'll call Billy about it and we'll both be up to our eyeballs in security audits."
"This is the only lead I have, Lee, and if this Senator is somehow involved with her death, or knows anything about it, wouldn't that make it Agency business?" Amanda raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms in front of her as she challenged Lee with the question. She knew it was a long shot, but it was the best shot she had.
"Oh, all right," Lee conceded with a sigh. He threw his hands up in defeat as Amanda smiled in triumph. "But we can't do anything tonight." Amanda's face fell and Lee continued, "It's already well after six. We're just going to have to wait until tomorrow morning and, before you even think of arguing with me, I suggest you turn around and march right out that door. I'm taking you home."
Amanda opened her mouth to protest, but he stopped her with a raised hand. "Not another word! Come on, let's go." Amanda turned around as Lee led her out the door and down the hall, her bags in hand.
Amanda suspiciously eyed her husband when he pulled to a stop outside of his Georgetown apartment. "I thought you said you were taking me home, Stetson," she teased, secretly pleased with his decision.
Lee's smile, when he turned to her, told her all she needed to know. As far as he was concerned, she was home for the night. "I thought, since no one knows you're back in town, and I'm sure you're upset about Debbie...well...I thought you could stay here tonight." He paused for a moment and tried to gauge her expression for an answer.
"You just want to make sure I don't take off after Bainbridge without you," she accused in a playful tone. "Don't think you can fool me. You want to keep an eye on me." She pointed to him as he let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"Well...yes...that's part of it." He held up a hand as Amanda began to speak. "Mostly, I just want to spend the night with my wife, whatever the circumstances. We don't get this opportunity very often and I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea. That is, of course, if you don't mind. I mean...I know we just got back from a long weekend together, but who knows when we might get this chance again?"
Amanda reached across the car and rested her hand on Lee's knee. "No, I suppose we don't get chances like this very much, do we? Why did we decide to keep all of this a secret, again? Sometimes I really need you to remind me." She smiled at him, a small half smile. If Lee didn't know her better, he might have thought it was a grimace.
"To protect your family," he whispered.
"Our family," Amanda corrected as he opened his car door. "Let's get my bags and get inside before I change my mind and commandeer this vehicle for my own diabolical purposes." Her smile broadened when she heard Lee's snort. Vaguely, she thought she heard him say, 'Commandeer? Oh, please.' as he closed his door and made his way around the car to her.
Lee set Amanda's bags inside the front door and walked to the telephone. Amanda followed and sat on the couch next to him.
"And just who are you calling?" she asked as she kicked off her shoes.
"T.P. Maybe he can find something out before we walk into what could be a hornet's nest." He smiled when Amanda rolled her eyes at him. He turned his attention back to the telephone when T.P. answered.
"T. Percival Aquinas speaking," came the voice over the line.
"T.P. It's Lee…I need a little help."
"What do you need, my boy? Working late tonight? Is everything okay?"
Lee smiled at his friends concern. "Everything's fine. Amanda and I need you to try and find out if there might be a connection between Senator Bainbridge and a friend of a friend."
"I can get right on it. Who is this 'friend of a friend?'"
"Her name was Jackie Peterson and she lived near Pittsburgh. She was murdered a week ago. Amanda found a picture of her with the Senator, but we aren't sure what the connection might be. Can you track that down for us?"
"Easy as pie, my dear boy," T.P. promised.
Lee looked at Amanda and gave her a 'thumbs up' at T.P.'s response. "We're going to head over to the Senator's house tomorrow morning, so let me know what you have as soon as you have it."
"Will do…oh…and Lee?"
"Do tell your lovely wife I said, 'hello.'" Lee paled and his jaw dropped in surprise as T.P. hung up.
"What is it?" Amanda asked, reaching for Lee's hand.
"T.P. wanted me to say hello to my lovely wife." Lee replied flatly as he placed the receiver in the cradle.
"Oh, that was nice." Amanda stood up and was walking to the kitchen when she stopped in mid-step. Lee watched her as she slowly turned to face him. "T.P. said what?"
"He said to say hello to my lovely wife," he repeated.
"Oh, my gosh." Amanda covered her mouth with her hand as her eyes grew wide. After a moment of thought, she lowered her hand and took a deep breath. Lee had not moved, waiting for her full reaction to the unexpected news. "How did he find out?"
"Well…he does deal with records and information; he could have stumbled across something. We'll just have to ask him in the morning." Lee crossed the room and took Amanda in his arms. "Is it really so bad that he knows?"
"I suppose not. I'm only worried that if he knows, who else might know?" Amanda rested her head on her husband's strong shoulder and closed her eyes. With everything that was going on around her, the last thing she wanted to have to worry about was who else might know about their marriage.
"We'll talk to T.P. in the morning. There's nothing we can do about it now." Lee held her close for a few moments longer, relishing the calm feeling having her in his arms brought on. "Let's try to get some sleep, okay? We'll figure everything out tomorrow."
Lee leaned against the headboard, absentmindedly flipping through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. He could hear the muffled sounds of Amanda preparing for bed coming from behind the closed bathroom door. He smiled to himself, thinking about how nice it was to have Amanda with him for the night. No one but T.P. knew she was back in D.C., which raised the odds of their getting through the evening, uninterrupted, to nearly perfect.
The bathroom door opened and Amanda entered the bedroom. Lee sucked in a breath at the sight of her. She was wearing only a T-shirt and an old pair of Lee's sweat pants, but the vision was one of pure elegance and beauty. She smiled shyly when she noticed he was staring.
"This was all I had packed," she said, indicating the well worn shirt. "I hope you don't mind, I borrowed a pair of pants." She softly padded to the bed and sat next to him. He smiled warmly and inhaled the fragrance of her lotion.
"You look wonderful, and the pants look even better on you, than they do on me." He reached forward and softly caressed her arm. "How about some 'magic fingers?' That might help you to relax." His warm smile had changed to a rather seductive one causing Amanda to shiver.
"That sounds wonderful." She turned herself around as Lee inched himself into a more comfortable position. Gently, he pulled her backwards toward him, nestling her between his legs. He slowly moved her hair off to one side and then deftly began to knead her tired and aching shoulders.
"Mmmmmm," she purred. "That feels great."
"I know," he whispered. "I keep telling you, these fingers are known the world over."
"I can understand why," she replied as she stretched; moving her head in a circular motion.
They sat that way for a few moments, Lee working Amanda's tired shoulders and Amanda working her own tired mind.
"Do you think T.P. will be able to find something?" she asked suddenly, breaking the silence.
Lee paused in his ministrations and rested his hands on her arms. "I'm sure he will. He's never let me down before." He heard Amanda sigh and he shook his head. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled her closer. She snuggled against his chest and rested her head on his shoulder. "You know, you're supposed to be relaxing, not getting yourself all worked up again."
"I know, I'm sorry." She took one of his hands in her own and grasped it tightly, their fingers intertwined. "I just can't get Debbie out of my mind. I feel like I've let her down somehow."
"Amanda, you did everything you possibly could. If anyone let her down, I did. I should have had her stay with me instead of putting her up down the hall."
"Why didn't you?" Amanda asked, her curiosity piqued.
Lee hesitated for a moment, then decided there would be no harm in telling her how he had come up with the apartment idea. "I was going to have her stay with me, but thought it would be better to not have her stay in the same apartment while you were out of town. I didn't want you to be jealous, I guess."
Amanda laughed. "Jealous? Me?" She rolled her eyes at the thought. "Why would you think I would be jealous?"
Lee shrugged and started tracing Amanda's arm with the fingers of his free hand. "I dunno. Sometimes I have these silly ideas and they get the better of me."
"You? Silly ideas? I never would have thought." Lee laughed as Amanda released his hand and turned around to face him. "Lee, I don't hold you responsible for what happened. I'm just a little anxious sitting here, in the best place I know of on earth, while Heaven knows what might be happening to poor Debbie."
Lee grinned and leaned forward. "Best place on earth, huh?"
"With you, of course," Amanda grinned back and leaned in for a kiss. Lee's lips captured hers and their kiss deepened. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her still closer to him.
Amanda marveled at the softness of his lips. There was something about the way he kissed her, so full of warmth and tenderness, yet drenched in desire as well. There was no doubt in her mind that she had married the most passionate man she'd ever known. All thoughts of Debbie and Jackie swirled out of her head while Lee possessed her lips. Her hands found their way to his chest, then up to his neck, until her fingers were in his hair. She pulled his head closer, intensifying their kiss even more.
Lee could feel the heat between them and pulled back. "Amanda, we don't have to do this, if you don't want to," the huskiness of his voice betraying his true thoughts. She looked at him, her eyes clouded with confusion and desire. "I mean, you're tired, it's been a long couple of days and you obviously have a lot on your mind."
Amanda smiled and kissed him softly. "I have only one thing on my mind right now, and it involves you, me and no interruptions." A laugh escaped her lips seconds before Lee captured them again, ceasing any coherent thought either might have had.
Harold turned his back to the bed and the woman sitting there. "Yeah, we've got the friend. We can bring her tomorrow around noon. Will you have the cash by then?" He paused for a moment as the person on the other end of the line responded. "No. There's no way in hell he's going to be able to connect this to you. You have my assurances on that."
He turned again and faced Debbie. She was looking at him, her eyes wide with fear. Smiling, he continued, "No, sir. There's no way in hell. We'll be there tomorrow."
Harold chuckled as he hung up the phone. He sauntered over to the bed and sat next to Debbie. "You see, my dear, your friend Jackie put up too much of a fight. Charlie didn't mean to kill her. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on whose side you're on, you happened upon the grisly scene. Thomson wanted her to bargain with, but knowing how close you are to Bainbridge, you'll do just as nicely."
Debbie's eyebrows shot up at the mention of Senator Bainbridge and Harold smiled. "That's right. We know all about Jackie and the Senator. Thomson found out on one of his little fishing expeditions. Bainbridge has a vote coming up that Thomson wants to win, so he's pulling out his ammunition."
Debbie closed her eyes as the tears welled up. Jackie had been killed by accident and only because of her association with the Senator. She knew that the news would devastate him. A single tear escaped and rolled down her cheek.
This did not go unnoticed and Harold reached to wipe it away. Debbie opened her eyes at the sudden shift on the bed and jerked away from his outstretched hand.
"My, my. Aren't we spunky? Well, you'll lose that shortly." He stood and started to pace the small room. "The best part of all of this," he continued, "is that we were able to snatch you right from under the nose of the infamous Scarecrow." He turned to Debbie who was looking at him, completely confused. "You know, Scarecrow? Lee Stetson?" When she shrugged, he laughed out loud. "You don’t know who he is? Why the hell did you go running to him for help?"
Debbie mumbled through her gag, shaking her head. Harold sighed and removed the cotton rag from her mouth. She licked her lips and swallowed a few times before she spoke. "I don't know what you're talking about. I went to a friend's house. Who is 'Scarecrow?'"
"Your 'friend', Amanda King, is his partner. He's a spy for Chrissake. So is she for that matter. You mean…you didn't know?" He was beside himself now, amazed that this woman had walked into the best protection she could have asked for, and yet, she hadn't a clue.
"No," Debbie whispered, "I had no idea." Harold roughly shoved the gag back into place and left the room, still laughing out loud. Debbie's mind was whirling with this new information. Amanda King, a spy? Of course, things were starting to make sense, now. If what this man said was true, she stood a good chance of being found after all. She settled back against the headboard, confident in her position for the first time in days. Amanda wouldn't let her down, not without a fight.
Tuesday, November 10
Lee awoke to the sounds of activity in his kitchen, the enticing aroma of freshly ground coffee and fried...something...assaulting his senses. Stretching, he sat up and looked around for something to wear. Hastily discarded clothes were scattered about the room and the sight of them brought back fond memories of the previous evenings events. Grinning, he reached for his boxers and slipped them on.
Amanda was standing in the kitchen with her back to him, engrossed with a skillet on the stove. He stood still for a moment, watching her at her task. She was wearing his robe; her hair pulled up in a loose ponytail. As he watched, he thought about how much he had gained over the past four years. At first he had earned a friend, then a partner, then a lover. Now he couldn’t imagine a life without her. He was starting to come to terms with what had happened in California, finally able to let her go a little, where before he had to control himself to keep from tucking her under his protective wing. She was one hell of an agent, he had to admit. But more than that, she was one hell of a woman.
He moved toward her, breathing lightly and stepping quietly. He was almost within reach when she spoke.
"Sneaking up on a person like that, you could get yourself hurt, Scarecrow." Smiling broadly, she turned to face him, pointing a metal spatula at him in reprimand.
He took a step back and held up his hands in mock surrender. "Whoa! Put that thing away before you really do hurt someone."
Amanda lowered her weapon as Lee moved toward her. "Good morning," she sighed when he took her into his arms. "Aren't you a little under dressed for breakfast?"
Lee smiled his most devilish smile and kissed her lightly. "I wasn't aware that breakfast was a formal affair."
"Not breakfast with you, that's for sure," she whispered, returning the kiss. With a smile, she pushed him back. "Cut that out or I'll burn the eggs," she said, turning her attention back to the stove.
Lee moved closer behind her and put his arms around her, pulling her against him and resting his head on her shoulder. His eyes closed as he breathed in the wonderful aroma of the omelet cooking to perfection in front of him. "That smells great, thanks for breakfast." He buried his face in the nape of her neck and began to nibble.
"Your breakfast is already on the table, Stetson." Amanda stifled a giggle when he hit a particularly sensitive spot. "One old bagel, coffee and the newspaper. I've officially given up trying to get you to eat in the morning."
Lee straightened and turned her to face him, eyeing her suspiciously, trying to gauge if she was teasing him or not. "You have got to be kidding. I'm just starting to develop a deep appreciation for your early morning culinary talents, made even deeper by the fact that my appetite was most certainly worked up last night, and you decide now is the time to listen to me about breakfast?"
"Of course, I'm kidding. Making breakfast is the least I can do after you spent an entire night keeping me sane." She kissed him quickly and turned him toward the table. "Your breakfast is on the table though. Eat it before it gets cold."
"Is that what we're calling it now? Keeping sane? I think I like that!" Lee jumped away when Amanda whipped around, pointing the spatula at him. Laughing, he walked past the table to the telephone. "First, let me check in with Billy. I'll let him know you're back."
"Okay," Amanda called from the kitchen, her attention turned back to the skillet.
Lee shook his head as he dialed the Agency operator. A few quick requests and Billy's phone was ringing. The Section Chief answered almost immediately.
"Billy, it's Scarecrow. Just checking in." Lee leaned against the arm of the couch and smiled at Amanda as she carried her plate to the table and returned to the kitchen for her coffee.
"Good morning, Lee. Have you heard from Amanda?"
"Yeah. She's back and having breakfast right now. We're going to head over to Senator Bainbridge's house after a bit. I just wanted to let you know that she's back and with me."
"Did she have a good time in Pittsburgh?"
Lee hesitated for a moment, unsure of how to respond. He didn't know what Amanda had told Billy about her unscheduled time off, so he opted for the safe route. "I'll let her tell you about it, later. We'll probably be in after lunch. If not, I'll give you a call."
"Sounds fine, tell her 'Hi,' for me."
"Will do, Billy. See ya." Lee had just hung up and was headed toward the table to join Amanda, when the phone rang. Amanda looked up from her omelet and Lee shrugged, turned on one heel and returned to the phone.
"Hello, my boy, and a lovely good morning to you."
"Good morning, T.P. I hope this early call means you've found something?"
"Of course. I started digging a little last night and what I found was so interesting that I just couldn't stop. You know me, like a dog with a bone."
"Yes, T.P., I know you," Lee replied, a smile covering his face. "What did you find out?" Hearing this, Amanda put her fork down and looked, wide eyed, at Lee.
"Well, it's very detailed and rather a long story. Why don't I meet you by the cannon in...say...an hour?"
"You got it, we'll be there." Lee paused a moment before continuing. "Oh, and T.P., you'd better be ready to explain that little comment you made last night. You have one Mrs. Stetson rather worked up." Lee grinned at Amanda as she hid her face in her hands.
"Mmmm...yes...I thought that would get your collective attention. I've been wanting to talk to you two about that for a little while now. I'll see you in an hour."
With that, T.P. hung up. Lee sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He walked back to the table and looked at Amanda.
"He's found something?" she asked, eyes hopeful, yet anxious.
"He's found something, something he wants to discuss face to face. Let's get ready."
Senator Jefferson Bainbridge sat at his dining table enjoying a late breakfast of chilled melon and coffee. He wrinkled his nose as he poked the slice of cantaloupe with his fork, thinking how much more satisfying some crisp bacon or a sausage link would be. A stern look from the cook reminded him that there would be no bacon today, or any other day, not as long as she was on duty. His constituents would surely frown upon him having a heart attack before his term was out and, at his last physical, he was told his diet left something to be desired. Overall, he was in good health for a sixty year old politician, but he wasn't going to tempt fate. He placed the orange melon in his mouth and smiled smartly at the cook as she 'harrumphed' at him over her shoulder.
He was absorbed in the newspaper when the shrill ring of the telephone jarred his concentration. He continued reading a particularly interesting article about a Greenpeace rally in Alaska, knowing one of his aides would take care of the intrusion. It was Monday morning and he wasn't expected on the floor for a vote until late afternoon. The session was nearly over for the year and; although, several key issues were finally coming up for a vote, he wasn't about to let that interfere with his breakfast. Or so he thought.
One of his aides peeked her head through the partially closed doors leading to the main hallway. He looked up from the article, regarding her with a look of grandfatherly patience.
"What is it, Sybil? Is it that cranky Senator from Wisconsin on the phone again? I told him I wasn't going to trade him a 'yes' vote on Bill 493 for ten pounds of cheese." He smiled at his joke, his smile fading when he noticed it wasn't being mirrored back at him.
"Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt your breakfast, but this man will not take no for an answer," Sybil replied, shaking her head apologetically. "He said to tell you that it's about Jackie and that you'd understand."
The Senator looked at Sybil, his expression one of pure calm, and asked her to please transfer the call into the dining room. She nodded and left the room. Within seconds, the telephone on the sideboard was ringing. Slowly, he rose from his chair and made his way to the telephone.
"This is Jefferson Bainbridge," he stated when he picked up the receiver.
"You don't know who I am, but I know a hell of a lot about you," the gravely voice said. Before the Senator could reply, it continued. "I happen to know all about your relationship with Jackie Peterson. I have in my possession her friend, Debbie Macabie. I also happen to know that the two of you are close as well. I'm here to tell you that you will vote against the Justice Department Anti-Drug Funding Bill. You will do this because, if you don't, Debbie here won't be around to celebrate Thanksgiving with her friends and loved ones. Do you understand?"
The Senator took a breath and calmly replied. "How do I know that you really have Debbie, that you're not just pulling my leg?"
"This is no joke, Senator. Doubt my word, and Debbie will be dead, too."
The Senator's eyes clouded at the man's words as the loud click on the line indicated the call was over. What did he mean, 'too?' He was clearly not amused.
"Sybil!" he shouted. "Get my personal phone book. I have some calls to make."
Lee and Amanda walked, hand-in-hand, through the small park. The morning was crisp and cool; a slight breeze played with the remaining leaves on the almost barren trees. Amanda had been silent during the entire trip from Lee's apartment. He knew what was troubling her and felt it was best not to mention it. He was aware of what it was like to feel helpless when someone you cared about was in trouble. He had felt that way enough times with her, and could relate to her restlessness. She had fidgeted with her pendant in the car while she stared out the window. Now, the only thing that kept her from doing the same, was his hand holding hers firmly as they walked.
They rounded a small bend in the path and entered a clearing. T.P. was seated on a bench next to an old war cannon, feeding a small flock of pigeons that were clearly enjoying their impromptu breakfast. When he noticed the couple walking toward him, he waved and called out a 'Hello.'
"Good morning, you two," T.P. greeted, as they neared the bench. He slid over and patted the space to his right, indicating for Amanda to take a seat. She nodded a 'thank you' and complied. "You kept me up rather late last night with your homework assignment. 'Oh what a tangled web we weave...' Is that how the saying goes?"
"Yes, T.P. I believe that's it." Lee smiled in spite of himself, wondering if T.P. was referring to Jackie Peterson or to Amanda and him. He looked to Amanda, who was playing with her pendant again. Noting her demeanor, he quickly pressed forward. "What did you find out, T.P.?"
T.P. was feeding the pigeons again, watching the birds as he spoke. "Let me tell you a little story. I'll try to keep it short and sweet, Mrs...ummm...King, since I can tell you're in a bit of a hurry with this one." He turned to her and smiled. Amanda relaxed a little, allowing the grandfatherly nature of their old friend to win her over. "Jackie Peterson was born in Pennsylvania thirty-five years ago. Her mother and father were not married. Her mother, Anna Freemont, decided to put Jackie up for adoption, rather than marry the father. They were both young and unable to support a child at the time. Jackie was adopted by the Petersons, and moved to Pittsburgh, where she lived her life knowing them as her parents. When Jackie was twenty-two, her adoptive parents were killed in a car accident. It was then that her biological father came forward." T.P. paused for a moment to let the facts seep in. Both Lee and Amanda were watching him with rapt attention. After a beat, he continued. "Jackie was happy to let her biological father into her life. Unfortunately, her father could not let it be known that he had a child out of wedlock, so they kept their relationship a secret."
Amanda sighed quietly as she listened to T.P. Something was nagging at her, something that she should be able to see. It was so blindingly obvious, she knew if she let her mind ramble it would come to her. No matter where her train of thought went, it always seemed to come back to one thing; the picture of Jackie with the Senator. She gasped as realization dawned. "Senator Bainbridge is Jackie's father!" she whispered.
"Epiphany, my dear." T.P. smiled and patted her knee. "The illustrious Senator is Jackie Peterson's father. No one is aware of this though; it's not public knowledge."
"How is it that you came across this information?" Lee asked.
"Lee, my boy, births, deaths, adoptions...and marriages," he hinted, stealing a glance at Amanda, "Are all a matter of public record. You just have to know where to look."
"Speaking of marriages, T.P., exactly how did you stumble across ours?" Lee asked, reaching for Amanda's hand.
"Ah, yes, your 'secret marriage.' I must say that I was a bit put out that I wasn't invited." T.P. raised his eyebrows while regarding the couple next to him.
"We had...have...our reasons." Amanda spoke quietly, almost penitently, to her old friend. "I hope you aren't angry with us."
"Angry? Never. Saddened? A little. Nothing this old man can't get over. I am terribly happy for you both, though. Glad to see that Lee finally woke up." Lee shifted at the comment and ran a hand through his wind blown hair. "As to how I found the information, it was quite innocent, I assure you. I happen to know the Clerk of Courts in Marion County. They are getting ready to put all their records on computer. It's a small county and they are just now joining the computer revolution. Anyway, he asked me to help him out by checking through some documents he had already transferred. It just so happened to be the marriage records for this year and I happened to come across yours." Lee shook his head and let out a small laugh at the irony of it all. "Like I said," T.P. continued, "it was quite innocent. I did, however, take it upon myself to bury the document a bit deeper. I figured that you wouldn't want prying eyes to know, since it is being kept 'hush-hush' from your closest friends."
Amanda leaned over and hugged T.P. "Thank you," she said as she placed a kiss on his cheek.
T.P. blushed at her show of affection. "No thanks are necessary, my dear. Just doing my duty for God and country. Now, don't you two have a meeting with a Senator this morning?"
"We sure do," Lee agreed. "Are you ready, Amanda?"
Amanda stood to join him. "As ready as I'll ever be. Let's get going." She turned to T.P. and smiled. "Thank you...for everything."
Lee smiled and waved at his friend, then led his wife back through the clearing to the car.
Senator Bainbridge was pacing in his study when the doorbell chimed. He paused for a moment, then resumed his repetitious stride. It was only when he heard a hesitant knock on the study door that he halted.
"Come," he boomed. He was in no mood for interruptions and his staff knew this. Apparently, this was important. Sybil peeked her head around the edge of the door; she was one of the few members of the staff who knew the true nature of his foul mood.
"Sir, I'm terribly sorry to intrude. There are a couple of federal agents here to see you. I figured you wouldn't mind if I invited them in." She bowed her head slightly, reverently. She knew the Senator was dying inside, not knowing what had happened to Jackie or Debbie. He had tried, without success, to contact both the women and was beyond the panicked stage, now well into distress.
The Senator smiled softly at his favorite aide and nodded his assent. She backed out and quietly closed the door behind her. He settled in a high-backed chair near one of the picture windows and waited.
Lee and Amanda followed the young woman down the long hallway to the study. She was quiet and guarded, as if afraid speaking would reveal too much. Amanda could tell right away that this woman had a heart of gold and would do anything to protect her employer. As they neared the double doors, she turned to the agents and put a finger to her lips.
"Please, don't upset him. He's had a rough morning. I'm truly surprised he agreed to see you, although, I'm very glad that he did." Lee and Amanda nodded their understanding and the woman turned to open the door. "Sir?" she called into the room.
"Over here, Sybil," the Senator responded. Amanda couldn't see him, yet, but could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
Sybil opened the door wider and led Lee and Amanda across the polished wooden floor. When they neared, the aged Senator stood to welcome them. "Sir," Sybil motioned, "these are Agents Lee Stetson and Amanda King, from the Agency." The Senator graciously took Amanda's hand and led her to a seat across from his own. Lee followed his lead and took a seat to her right. Once they were settled, and Sybil had left the room, Amanda spoke up.
"Sir, I believe we have a common friend and, right now, that friend is in a lot of trouble." She forged ahead as the Senator's eyes narrowed. He was hanging on to every word, but waiting to hear her out before responding. "Debbie Ann Macabie is a dear old friend of mine. She showed up on my back porch Saturday morning looking as if the Devil himself had been chasing her. She had witnessed a murder and was afraid for her life." Amanda paused, trying to gauge how much the Senator knew by his reaction. He said nothing, only lowered his gaze to his lap and sighed deeply.
Amanda looked to Lee who nodded for her to continue. She knew he'd rather she deliver the bad news, since she had the softer touch. "Sir, I'm afraid Jackie was the victim." She watched as his eyes closed and a single tear slid down his cheek. Amanda stood and knelt next to the Senator, taking his hand in hers. "I'm very sorry, Sir," she whispered. He sat quietly for a moment, and it seemed to her that he was trying to pull himself together.
"I can't believe she's gone," he whispered, shaking his head. "After all those years, and all that wasted time..." He paused and looked down at Amanda. "I guess you know she was my daughter?" Amanda nodded and he continued. "I wanted to have her move here with me, after the Peterson's died. She wouldn't hear of it. She was more concerned about my career than I was. I wanted to have my daughter with me as much as possible. After all, I missed out on her childhood. Do you have children, Mrs. King?"
"Yes, Sir. I have two boys." She looked over to Lee, who smiled in reassurance.
"Treasure every moment you
have with them, you never know when they'll be gone. And don't waste time with
petty insecurities. I should have insisted that she move here with me; shouted
from the rooftops that she was my daughter. Instead, all I have are memories and
Senator Bainbridge patted Amanda's hand and, taking in a deep breath, straightened his posture and cleared his throat. "Thank you, Mrs. King. Not for being the bearer of bad news, but for delivering it so very delicately and for allowing an old man some time to clear his head. Now, what can I do to help you?"
"Sir," Lee began, "as Amanda was saying, Debbie had come to Amanda for help. Unfortunately, Debbie was taken from protective custody sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. We have no idea who might have taken her or why. We have no leads whatsoever. We were hoping you might be able to shed some light."
"I did get a phone call earlier this morning," the Senator mused. "The 'gentleman' said he had Debbie and would harm her if I didn't vote 'nay' on the JDAF Bill." He looked down at Amanda and saw the quizzical expression on her face. "I'm sorry. It's the Justice Department Anti-Drug Funding Bill. Sometimes I forget I'm not talking to one of my aides." He smiled, and Amanda smiled back, amazed at how resilient he seemed.
"Who do you know that has a stake in that Bill not being passed?" Lee prodded. "Is there anyone who could have found out that Jackie was your daughter?"
"The only person I know that would be gutsy enough to do something like this would be Senator Thomson. He's always pushing dirt around, and very well could have found out about Jackie and me. He's been trying to shelve this Bill since it's inception, and I wouldn't put it past him to be involved in this. I've heard stories up on the Hill about him. He's a very unscrupulous fellow." As the Senator spoke, his face began to redden and his fist clenched.
"That's as good a start as any," Amanda stated, as she rose to her feet. "Sir, I promise you that whoever did this to Jackie will be found and justice will be served." Amanda touched him reassuringly on the shoulder and then started for the door.
"You know?" the Senator said under his breath to Lee, "I believe her."
"You'd be a smart man to put your money on her. She's a sure win." Lee proudly replied and followed her out, leaving the Senator alone to grieve.
Debbie sat still in the back of the van, steadying herself as best she could with her feet splayed apart on the floorboard. Her wrists were bound behind her back, her mouth gagged and her eyes blindfolded. She had no idea how long she had been in the van, but knew they were no longer in the city and were likely headed west. Her sense of equilibrium easily picked up on the rise and fall of the hilly roads.
Her captor had spoken very little to her after their conversation the previous evening and, to be honest, she was still reeling from the thought of Amanda being a spy. When she had awakened this morning, the man had been on the phone again. He was arguing about plane tickets; although, he never said to where. With each passing minute, Debbie was beginning to wonder if she would ever see Amanda again.
Without warning, the van made a sharp turn to the left, nearly causing Debbie to lose her balance. She braced herself and mentally cursed the imbecile driver for not being more careful. As she continued to berate the driver's skills, she felt the van slow and finally come to a stop. Wherever they were going, it seemed they had arrived.
She heard the driver open and close his door, then heard the gravel under his feet as he walked around to the passenger side. With a lurch, he opened the sliding door and grabbed her by her arm. With one painfully swift jerk, she
was standing upright, on the ground, next to him.
"I'm going to take off the blindfold and the gag now, but if you say one little word, I'll kill you where you stand. Do you understand me?" The man whispered this threat in her ear and the rotten smell of his breath nearly turned her stomach. Fighting back the bile and fear, she shook her head yes. Almost instantly, the blindfold was off and she was blinded by the bright sunlight.
Once her eyes became accustomed to the daylight, he removed her gag. She looked around at the lavish, green manicured lawn. Roughly twisting her arm, he turned her around and she sucked in a breath at the sight before her.
They were at the service entrance of a large brick mansion, the walls covered in climbing ivy. If she hadn't been so terrified, she would have marveled at the opulence of it all. With another twist of her arm, the man led her to the service door.
They entered through the kitchen and walked up a back stairwell to one of the upstairs bedrooms. Closing the door behind them, her captor led her to a chair near one of the windows and roughly pushed her down. She obediently
sat and waited for the next act in this man's twisted play. She didn't have to wait long.
The door opened to reveal an older gentleman, dressed in a three piece suit. When he entered the room, her captor immediately stood straighter, recognizing the authority this man obviously exuded.
"Well done, Harold. I'm glad to see this one survived," the older man chuckled as he lit a cigar. The smoke curled around his silver hair and floated to the ceiling. Debbie found herself mesmerized by it and couldn't help but stare.
"Charlie was dealt with for his mistake, Thomson. I'm sure he won't be any more trouble to you or me. Now, there's this little issue of the plane tickets?" Harold calmly stood his ground, yet kept his distance; out of respect or fear, Debbie couldn't tell.
"Your transportation has been arranged. I trust you contacted Bainbridge this morning as I requested?" Thomson was animated as he spoke, his hand gesturing with the cigar in tow.
"I called him like you asked. He should be sweating in his shorts right now." Harold smiled smugly and stepped closer to Debbie. "What am I going to do with her?" he asked, twitching his head in her direction.
"You're going to take her with you. As soon as Bainbridge swings his vote in my favor, you can dispose of her. We can't have her mucking up our little operation, now, can we?" With this, Thomson turned his eyes to Debbie and smiled sweetly. "That's right, honey. You picked the wrong place and the wrong time to pay your friend a visit. Now, you're going to pay the price."
Debbie closed her eyes, resigning herself to her fate. Once Harold had the tickets in hand, they would be on the road again, and the odds of anyone finding her would be completely shot. Thomson laughed and sauntered out of the room, trailing smoke in his wake. Harold followed, closing the door behind him.
Lee expertly maneuvered the silver Corvette up and down the hilly roads. His eyes were on the road, but his attention was focused on Amanda. She was on his car phone, trying to explain to Billy why they needed backup and trying to convince him to send it. Although he was well aware of the seriousness of the situation, he couldn't help but smile as Amanda tried to worm her way out of the trouble she was quickly getting herself into.
"Yes, Sir, I understand that I have no concrete evidence that the Senator is holding anyone, but I have every reason to believe that he is." She spoke with her eyes closed, one hand grasping the door handle in frustration. "No, Sir, I haven't spoken with the Senator." She paused again, nodding to herself while listening to her Section Chief. "Sir, with all due respect, if you would please let me explain."
Lee looked at her in surprise. She had used the tone of voice which she usually reserved for the boys; her 'I'm getting very close to losing my temper so don't push my buttons' voice. She had used it on Lee a few times, and it always made his hair stand on end. He could only imagine how Billy was reacting.
"Sir, my trip to Pittsburgh was personal business. I had a friend in trouble and I was trying to help her out. It turns out that she witnessed a murder and the victim was Senator Bainbridge's daughter. Now, my friend has been kidnapped..." she paused and nodded, "Yes, Sir. That would be the same person Lee was trying to get into the safe house." She looked at Lee and shrugged, shaking her head as if to say she was sorry for ratting him out. "I know, Sir, Agency business and all that, but it is Agency business now. A Senator's daughter has been murdered and her friend kidnapped. All the evidence points to Senator Thomson."
Lee slowed the car as they neared the turn off to Senator Thomson's home. He looked at Amanda, noticed she was nearly in tears, and wondered if it was out of sadness or anger. His question was answered with her next statement.
She bit her lip and closed her eyes. In as calm a voice as possible, she spoke, each word a little louder than the last. "Sir, I understand your hands are tied. All I am asking for is a small backup team, just in case anything happens at Senator Thomson's. If there is nothing going on, you can put me on report, suspend me without pay, whatever you feel is necessary." A smile crept across her face and she reached for Lee's arm. "Thank you, Sir!"
With a flourish, she pushed 'end' and hung up the phone.
"Well?" Lee asked. He knew the news was good, the expression on Amanda's face told him that much.
"He says you're rubbing off on me and he's not sure if that's good or bad."
Amanda smiled and looked
around. "Where are we?"
"We're there." While she had been persuading Billy to send backup, they had reached the side road and Lee had pulled off onto the shoulder, waiting for the conversation to end before making his next move. "What else did he say?"
"He said that if it was that important to me, that he was going to give me the benefit of the doubt, and would be dispatching a team right away. We're supposed to wait until they're here before we go in." She turned to look at Lee, her eyes betraying her thoughts.
Lee smiled. Yes, he was rubbing off on her. "You don't intend on waiting, do you?"
A mask of concern clouded Amanda's features. "Lee, if this man knows where Debbie is, we might not have the luxury of time. I don't think we should wait."
"As the senior agent, I feel it's my duty to remind you that Agency regulations state..." his words were cut off when Amanda's delicate hand covered his mouth.
"Stuff regulations, this is my friend we're talking about." She paused for a moment, then laughed. "Oh, my gosh! I guess I am starting to sound like you, aren't I?"
"There are worse things, you know." Lee put the car in gear and turned down the long driveway. "You ready?" he asked, placing his hand on Amanda's knee.
She smiled and patted his hand. "As ready as I'll ever be. Let's go."
They pulled into the circular drive and came to a stop in front of the two story brick mansion. Lee let out a low whistle and pulled up on the emergency brake. He got out and was halfway around the car, when Amanda reached over and took the keys out of the ignition, the one habit she had failed to break him of. He opened her door and she stepped out, looking at the well kept grounds.
"So the plan still stands?" she asked in a whisper.
"Yeah, you take the front door, I'll go around back." He took off around the side of the house and Amanda started for the front door. She rang the doorbell and waited. After several moments, the door opened.
"Hello," Amanda greeted the uniformed butler. She offered her hand to the butler, who looked at it, then looked back at her, unmoving. Amanda lowered her hand. "Yes...well...I'm Amanda King, from the Agency. I'm here about the annual security audit. I need to speak with Senator Thomson, if he's in, please," she said as she held her I.D. out for the butler's inspection.
He nodded and stood to one side, allowing her entry to the foyer. "Follow me, please," he stated and led her down a hallway. He opened a door at the end of the hall and motioned for Amanda to enter. She nodded a 'thank you' and stepped into what appeared to be the study.
"The Master will be with you shortly. Please wait here."
Before Amanda could argue, the butler stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him. Sighing, she walked around the room, admiring the decor. 'I hope Lee is having better luck,' she thought.
Lee rounded the corner, to what looked like the service entrance to the kitchen. He slowly walked on the gravel, toward a van that had been parked near the door. His eyes darted around, looking for anything out of the ordinary, any indication that would warrant searching the house. Discouraged at coming up empty, and his worry about Debbie and Amanda escalating, he threw caution to the wind and made his way to the kitchen door.
The study door opened, startling Amanda, who had been admiring a collection of old books. She turned to see Senator Thomson enter the room.
"Good morning, Mrs. King. What can I do for you this morning?" He walked across the room to the desk at its center. He took a seat and, opening a box on the corner of the desk, pulled out a cigar. "Do you mind if I smoke? It calms my nerves before a day on Capitol Hill." Amanda nodded and he motioned for her to take a seat.
"Thank you, Sir." Amanda sat across from him, noting that his guest chairs were lower than his own seat, causing her to have to look up at him. Amanda smiled to herself, recognizing the power play the Senator had created with his arrangement. Clearing her throat and sitting up a little straighter, she began. "As you know, Sir, the Agency does random security audits, from time to time. Your name came up this year. I will need a little of your time, then you can direct me to your Head of Security to finish the audit."
"Well, now, I can certainly accommodate you there. Shall we begin?" As he spoke, circles of smoke rose into the air. Amanda found herself holding her breath. Even the odious Dr. Smyth wasn't bad compared to this fellow. He oozed insincerity from every pore.
"Yes, let's," she said, and opened her notebook.
Lee had made it through the deserted kitchen and was walking up the service stairs to the second floor. When he reached the head of the stairs, he cautiously peeked his head around the corner and looked down the long hallway, gripping his gun in his left hand. What he saw surprised him.
Halfway down the hall, walking toward Lee, was Harold Simms, a two-bit 'do anything for the money' kind of guy. Lee ducked back behind the corner, confident that he hadn't been seen. Harold had been concentrating on an envelope in his hands, seemingly full of money. Listening intently, Lee heard Harold's footsteps nearing. Then, he paused and a door opened.
"Well, now, sweetie, we're ready to fly the friendly skies," Harold said, and closed the door behind him.
Lee stood still for a moment, taking mental stock of the situation. Harold Simms was involved, which was bad news. Someone was in the room he had just walked into. A female someone, no less.
Counting to three, Lee slowly walked around the corner and into the hallway, all of his senses on alert. He stopped at each doorway, listening for signs of habitation. The first room met him with silence, as did the second. When
he reached the third door, he heard a woman's voice.
"You said it yourself, Amanda's a spy. Do you really think she's going to rest until you're found? And, if what you say is true, her partner is one of the best in the business. Your odds aren't looking too good, fella."
"Shut up!" Harold shouted. "They haven't found you yet, and they aren't going to. Now, get up and let's get going."
Lee took a deep breath and slowly turned the knob on the door. When the latch was free he burst into the room, his gun leveled squarely at Harold's forehead. "Sorry, Harold, like the nice lady said, your odds aren't looking too good."
Senator Thomson led Amanda out of the study and down the hall to the foyer.
"Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I'm sure your systems are all in order. It's just a formality, really." Amanda looked around as she spoke, hoping for some sign that Lee was okay. They had reached the front door, and the Senator was blathering on about his Head of Security calling her when he had time for a full audit, when Amanda caught sight of two people descending the master staircase.
Senator Thomson followed Amanda's gaze and dropped his cigar when he saw who she was looking at. Lee and Debbie were walking toward them, having reached the foot of the stairs. Lee's handgun was pointed at the Senator.
"No sudden moves, Sir." Lee smiled and released Debbie's hand. In seconds, Amanda and Debbie were in each other's arms. "Amanda, are you okay?" Lee called to her as he patted down the Senator.
"I'm fine," she replied, still hugging her old friend. They were all startled by knock at the door. "I'll get that," Amanda offered and Lee nodded. She opened the door and laughed to find Billy and Francine standing there. "Sir? What are you doing here?"
"I had no one to spare, so you got us." Billy smiled and held his hands out to her. "Looks like we got here just in time. Francine, why don't you help out Lee, over there?" Francine nodded and walked past Amanda and Debbie. "So is this going to be a long story?" Billy asked, looking from one woman to the other.
Debbie put her arm around Amanda's shoulder. "I knew you'd find me, Emma," she said. "I never had a doubt...well, maybe once, but it was very short-lived."
Amanda and Debbie laughed and walked out the door toward the Corvette. Billy looked at Lee. "Who's Emma?" he asked. Lee only shrugged.
Amanda and Lee looked through the one-way mirror as Billy debriefed Debbie. The intercom was on and Amanda was listening to her friend recount the events since she had been taken from Lee's apartment building.
"I was worried sick, that is, until that man..."
Billy interrupted, "Harold Simms?"
Debbie nodded and continued, "Yeah...Harold...until he told me that Amanda was a spy. I mean, I know how she is, but knowing that she now had the means to track me down, I knew she'd find me."
Billy smiled and shook his head. "You know, she took a big chance helping you?"
"She's not going to get in any trouble, is she?" Debbie took Billy's hand, her eyes full of concern. "She was only doing what she felt was right."
Billy sighed and looked toward the mirror, seeming to make eye contact with the agent on the other side. "I think, given the circumstances, that we should be able to work around that."
Amanda smiled and took Lee's hand. "See, I knew everything would work out in the end."
Lee cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. "You knew, eh? Well...if you say so. By the way, who is Emma?" Lee's curiosity was piqued when the color rose in Amanda's cheeks.
Amanda mysteriously smiled. "Later, Stetson. Much later," she whispered, laughing at his disappointment.
"Hello, Mother." Amanda sat on Lee's couch, swirling the remains of her wine in its glass. "Yes, Mother. We're back from Pittsburgh. I'm eating dinner at Lee's and I'll be home later this evening."
Lee walked out of the kitchen, clad in an apron, carrying a bottle of wine.
Amanda raised her glass,
which he filled, before joining her on the couch.
"How are the boys doing?" Amanda asked, snuggling into Lee's embrace. "Oh! That's wonderful!" Amanda covered the mouthpiece and leaned toward Lee. "Mother took Phillip to his check up today. His arm is looking good. They're going to put a new cast on next week."
"That's great!" Lee whispered.
"Okay, Mother, we'll talk more tonight. I shouldn't be too late. Bye." She turned and hung up the phone before snuggling back into Lee's warm embrace. "So I guess it's back to normal around here."
"If by 'normal' you mean sleeping alone, I guess you're right." Lee took a sip of his wine and sighed. "Some day, Amanda. Some day..."
Amanda patted Lee's knee and sat up straighter, turning to face her husband. "I talked to Debbie before we left. She's going to head back to Pittsburgh for a week, then she's going to take a month's leave of absence and take a trip to Arizona."
"Arizona? Sounds interesting, but why Arizona?" Lee sunk back into the couch and closed his eyes.
"She's always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. I think this whole ordeal with her friend Jackie has prompted her to live life to the fullest." Amanda paused for a moment, reflecting on the week's events. "We've promised to keep in touch a bit better than before," she concluded.
"Oh, speaking of keeping in touch, I talked to Senator Bainbridge. He wanted to thank us for finding Debbie." Lee reached forward and placed his glass on the coffee table. "He's heading over to Pittsburgh, too, to take care of Jackie's final arrangements."
Amanda sighed as Lee reached for her and pulled her onto his lap. "I feel so bad for him. Imagine, having something so good, but having to keep it a secret like that."
Lee held her close, breathing in the scent of her perfume. "Yeah, just imagine..."