Hard Cider by Ermintrude
Summary: Francine takes advantage of Amanda on a busted stakeout and Lee finds out and fixes it--Scarecrow style. Warning--if you object to a mean and snarky Francine--don't read. March challenge response.
Categories: Scarecrow and Mrs. King Characters: Amanda King, Billy Melrose, Francine Desmond, Leatherneck, Lee Stetson
Genres: Angst
Warnings: Language
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 3 Completed: Yes Word count: 11543 Read: 5985 Published: 13/04/09 Updated: 20/12/15

1. Chapter 1 by Ermintrude

2. Chapter 2--The Morning After by Ermintrude

3. Part 3 Lee's Revenge by Ermintrude

Chapter 1 by Ermintrude
The Challenge: Write a story where one or more characters is/are put into a seemingly innocent situation, that could end up bringing some well-kept secrets out into the open. Do the secrets stay hidden or come out in the open? Your story must also incorporate the following five words: JURY, LOUD, FIFTH, DUTY, FEAR.

*DISCLAIMER** Scarecrow & Mrs. King is copyrighted to Warner Brothers and Shoot The Moon Production Company. The original portions of this story, however, are
copyrighted to the author. This story is for entertainment purposes only and cannot be redistributed without the permission of the author. If you want to put it on your site, please email me, I would like to thank you for the high compliment.

Takes place shortly after Fast Food for Thought


Hard Cider

By Ermintrude

“Francine, are you sure this drink is alcoholic? It tastes just like apple cider. I don’t really taste any alcohol at all.” Amanda sipped her mug of hard cider and regarded Francine with a skeptical look.

“Oh yes dear—it’s alcoholic. You just don’t taste it much. But since we’re in an authentic replica English pub, I thought you’d like an authentic English drink. And since you don’t like beer—this is the next best thing.” Francine smiled sweetly at Amanda and took a drink of her Guinness.

Amanda shrugged. “I guess so. It’s called Apple Jack?”

“Or hard cider.” Francine was casual and dismissive.

“I like it—it’s pretty good. Lots better than beer.” Amanda took another pull on her mug and smiled. She looked around with interest at the surroundings and patrons of the pub. “So we just keep chatting and wait for our man to show up.”

“That’s about it. Or we could play darts.”

“I don’t think so. I never was very good at darts.” Amanda settled back in her seat and watched the room. The atmosphere was pleasant—no LOUD music or clouds of smoke. Several other agents were scattered around the place—all casually ‘enjoying’ their evening waiting for their target to arrive. They had arrived in small groups over the afternoon and spent the evening in the pub. The word was that a notorious IRA gun runner was due to have a meet soon and they hoped to catch the man in the act of planning a big arms deal.

Francine took a conspiratorial tone. “So Amanda—did you see that new redhead in the steno pool?”

Amanda paused—then shrugged and replied. “You mean the one that dyes her hair redder and wears the very tight low-cut sweaters?”

“You think she dyes her hair?”

“Oh yeah—she was talking about it to Smithwick—he was fascinated by the ‘highlights’ in her hair—and he was getting very close to her.” Amanda rolled her eyes to indicate how she thought of such behavior.

Francine shook her head. “So did they make a date?”

“If it could be called that. They agreed to meet for drinks after work—though I got the impression there wouldn’t be much drinking before they left for someone’s apartment.”

“Time was—she’d have set her sights on Scarecrow—or rather he would have set his sights on her first thing.” Francine gave Amanda a knowing look.

Amanda wasn’t fazed. “I guess. That’s his business and I don’t pay too much attention anymore.” She took another pull on her drink and discovered it was nearly empty. It tasted good, and certainly quenched her thirst.

Francine wasn’t fooled by Amanda’s casual act. “If you say so, dear.” As Francine scanned the room—she saw Beaman signal that the stakeout was a bust. She nodded slightly and continued her conversation. They couldn’t leave for a while—it would look too suspicious if the whole team left at once—so they would drift out in ones and twos over an hour or so. The waiter came by and Francine signaled for another round. ‘Might as well keep up appearances.’

Amanda hadn’t noticed Beaman’s signal, but she would follow Francine’s lead. Her part in the operation had been to help watch for their man and make sure no civilians got in the way when the actual bust went down. Lee was outside in the surveillance van with Leatherneck.

The next round of drinks arrived, and Amanda took another long pull at her hard cider.

“So Amanda, surely you’ve noticed your partner hasn’t been dating much around the steno pool lately?”

Amanda shrugged and downed more cider. “I guess. Lately we’ve been pretty busy. We’ve hardly had any free time. The cases have been fairly regular and there’s been little time in between. And there have been a lot of late nights and weekends. Last weekend we spent on the Marvelous Marvin’s case.”

“Yes.” Francine sounded a bit chill and distant. “Why do you stick around anyhow?”

Amanda looked a bit puzzled. “We’re waiting for O’Leary.”

Francine sounded superior and condescending. “No dear—I meant in the wider sense. Why do you stick around the Agency? Whatever can you be getting out of it?”

“What?” Amanda was taken aback—and she struggled to focus on Francine. “I’m Lee’s partner. I have a job with the Agency—and I need to work—I have a family to support.”

“Yes—you have a family to support. But as to being Lee’s partner—well let’s just say the JURY is still out on that one. Have you ever considered that you don’t have the aptitude or training to be a true partner to Scarecrow?”

“I haven’t had the courses or anything…”

“No and you flunked out of Station One—twice.”

Amanda sighed. She went for another drink of cider and discovered her mug was empty again. Francine smirked and signaled the waiter. Soon they had another round of drinks. Except Francine was still on her second Guinness as Amanda took a generous pull on her third mug of Apple Jack.

“Amanda—I’m only concerned for your welfare—and Scarecrow’s. One day your lack of skills and training will probably get you and your partner shot—or killed. He usually has his hands full watching out for you.”

“I watch out for Lee, too. We watch each other’s backs. That’s what partners do.”

“Really?” Francine’s tone indicated she didn’t believe that for one second. “This is a dangerous business, and you aren’t equipped to deal with it. You are a liability for Lee and you should give up your little spy fantasy before something irreversible—and fatal—occurs. Your ineptitude has caused quite a few problems already.”

“Hey! I’ve managed to rescue Lee—and you—more than a few times.” Amanda pointed unsteadily at Francine. “And I’ve solved cases, too. Remember Mrs. Welch?”

Francine shook her head. “You nearly got the both of you killed in that helicopter. It seems Lee spends most of his time pulling your fat out of the fire.”

Amanda was open mouthed in indignation. “I’m Lee’s partner. He says so. Mr. Melrose certainly thinks so. I contribute as much as Lee does. Maybe I contribute in different ways—but I do make equal contributions. And we get the bad guys—so we are an effective team. Mr. Melrose says so.” She nodded unsteadily in affirmation of her statement. “Lee is used to me—used to working with me—he says we’re equal partners. He said so. So there.” She folded her arms and looked stubbornly at Francine.

“Oh dear—you think he really thinks of you as an equal partner? He sticks with you out of a sense of DUTY. He’s just humoring you and trying not to hurt your feelings—though why he should bother I don’t know.” Francine made a dismissive gesture. “Your complete lack of everything is really pathetic. Lee may take pity on you and help you along—but believe me—nobody else would bother. You’re just lucky he’s as good as he is—otherwise you’d have bought it long before this. He’s saved your hide so many times…”

“Yeah, well I’ve saved his hide too, and yours! Don’t you forget that!” She finished her third cider and glared at Francine.

“Oh my dear—a few lucky coincidences…” Francine sounded condescending.

“Yeah—well Lee thinks I’m his partner—he said so himself and that’s all that counts here.”

“Yeah—like he has any choice. I don’t know why Billy kept you around. Maybe for the amusement factor—but the joke is really old after all this time.”

Amanda was sounding less confident. “Lee likes me—he said he’s used to working with me—he likes having me around.”

“Maybe—like an old shoe or a faithful dog. Face it, Amanda you’re way out of his league. He’ll never think of you as anything other than a little sister at best or maybe better a millstone around his neck. Your little romantic fantasy will never come true. Lee likes glamorous sophisticated women—who have the right idea of how to have a good time. You’re just a suburban frump with a mother and two kids—no guy would ever find that package desirable. You’re lucky to have the job you do—I will admit you’re good at the clerical work—filing—writing reports—transcribing tapes. But why Billy ever allows you in the field, I’ll never know.”

“I contribute to my partnership with Lee—we solve the cases—we get the bad guys—and Lee likes having me around…” Her voice quavered with a note of desperation.

“He’ll never think of you as a woman, Amanda. And admit it—that’s what you want more than anything. Your biggest FEAR is that you’ll never know what its like to be with him—and he’s definitely all male. Even if he never sticks around it’s definitely worth it, while you are together…” Francine gave her a knowing and satisfied smirk.

Amanda was speechless at Francine’s statement. She tried to formulate a reply—but her mouth only opened and closed a few times.

As Amanda was trying to say something, Lee came up to their table. “Where the hell have you two been? The stakeout ended 45 minutes ago.”

Francine looked innocently at Lee and Amanda tried to focus on his face.

He looked between the two, and picked up Amanda’s empty mug. He sniffed it and turned on Francine. “How many of these has she had Francine?” His tone was deceptively flat.

Francine shrugged.

“Um, I think that was my FIFTH—or maybe it was three?” Amanda was not thinking clearly.

“What the hell were you thinking, Francine? Letting Amanda get drunk on a stakeout?”

“Hey—she’s an adult. And the stakeout’s a bust. Sometimes a girl’s gotta let her hair down and get a bit loose…”

“The stakeout’s a bust? When did that happen?” Amanda was looking around blearily. All the other agents were long gone.

Lee shook his head ruefully. “C’mon, Amanda. Your overnight bag is upstairs in your room. We’ll get you settled in.”

“Yeah—we were going to stay overnight. I remember that.” She nodded positively. “Something about too far to drive back tonight. Or was it part of our cover? But I’m not drunk.” She shook her head emphatically. “I was just drinking apple cider. Nothing in there to get me drunk…”

Francine hid a smile.

Lee saw it and looked murderously at the blonde. He pointed at her. “We aren’t done here—not by a long shot.” He gently helped Amanda up. She wavered unsteadily as she stood and grabbed onto Lee for support.

“Wow! Maybe I am a bit tipsy—the room is spinning a bit.” She smiled ingenuously.

“Francine—we aren’t done here—but I have to take care of my partner first. Then you and I are going to have a little talk. And you’d better still be here when I get back down—got it?” He fixed Francine with a death glare.

Francine glared back at him. “Once again you’re stuck cleaning up after her. She can’t even take care of herself—so the great Scarecrow sweeps in and plays white knight.”

“Grow up, Francine.” Lee looked disgusted. He turned to Amanda and got a softer, rueful expression. “Let’s get you upstairs.”

Lee led his partner up the stairs—he was gently supporting her and making sure she didn’t trip and fall. They made it to her room, and he got the key and sat her on the bed, before sitting beside her.

She pushed him away. “Lee, you don’t need to take care of me. I can take care of myself. I don’t want to be a liability or a millstone around your neck. Why didn’t you tell me that I’ve been holding you back all this time? I thought we were an effective team and that you wanted me around. But if you have to always take care of me—I don’t want to be a liability—I’m an equal partner right? Mr. Melrose said so. Why can’t I get more training? I’ve asked and asked. Maybe I can try Station One again…”

“Amanda!”

“I’m an equal partner—really I am. Maybe I can’t hit or shoot a gun but I contribute in other ways. And you haven’t complained about working with me for a long time. You said you like working with me. Were you just being nice? Did you really mean it?”

“A—man—da! Hey—don’t listen to anything Francine said. She’s just taking advantage of you.”

“Taking advantage of me?” She looked belligerent—so he tried another tack.

“You’re my partner—my equal partner and I like having you around. You have a perspective and insight that’s unique. And you have amazing instincts—so you’re well worth it.”

“Worth it? You admit you have to nursemaid me?”

“I didn’t mean that…”

“I’m just a suburban frump with delusions of grandeur and spy fantasies.” She waved her hands to emphasize her point. “I’m not your type—you’d never think of me as a woman—I don’t have a rack out to here—“ she held her cupped hands in front of her chest—“and a name that ends in ‘i’.” She sniffed. “I know you’ll never think of me as more than a tagalong—a pesky little sister type. But I think I do make valuable contributions and I deserve to be your partner.”

“Oh Amanda—you’re my equal partner and you’re very drunk. Things will look better in the morning—I promise. Well—maybe not right away—you’re going to have one hell of a hangover first. Stay here.”

He stood and she flopped down on the bed. He went into the bathroom and got a glass of water and rummaged through Amanda’s purse for some aspirin. He pulled her back up to a sitting position and made her take the aspirin and drink the glass of water.

“Here—it will help with the hangover.” He reassured her gently, and placed the glass on the bed stand.

“I don’t have a hangover—I feel pretty good—but I’m a bit dizzy and sorta sleepy…”

“Let’s get you undressed and into bed.”

Amanda was instantly alert. “Undressed? Like naked?” She shook her head and tried to get out of his grasp. “No way buster—I’m not one of your bleached blonde bimbos…”

“A—man—da!” He took off her shoes and socks. “Just let me get your slacks off—you’ll thank me in the morning. You don’t want to sleep in your clothes, do you?” He removed her jacket, and started unbuckling her belt.

She slapped his hands away. “Not this time, buster! I can do it myself.”

He stepped back and got her nightgown out of her suitcase. She tried a few times to get her belt undone—and switched to her blouse—which was also too difficult to unbutton.

He gently tried to help and she was instantly defensive again.

“Amanda—don’t you trust me?” He asked softly.

She melted at his tone. “Of course I trust you—I trust you with everything. I trust you with my life.” She smiled up at him trustingly.

“Then let me get your blouse and slacks off—we’ll get you into your nightgown—then you’ll get under the covers and sleep—OK?”

She thought about it for a moment—then relented. “OK—I guess.”

He carefully removed her slacks and blouse—she ended up in a camisole and panties. He helped her into her nightgown. Then he pulled down the covers and helped her get settled into bed.

“Stay with me until I go to sleep?”

“Of course. I’m here for you. I’m always here for you—you know that, right?”

“Yeah—I know you’re always there to rescue me—and you take care of me—I don’t deserve you, Lee.” She drifted off to sleep.

He replied softly. “I don’t deserve you, Amanda.”

Lee waited a few minutes to make sure his partner was soundly asleep. He smoothed her hair and turned out the light and went back downstairs.

Francine was still waiting—looking defiant.

Lee sat across from Francine and gave her a hard stare.

She stared back at him. Neither said anything for several minutes. Then Francine relented and spoke with a smirk. “Well—is the happy housewife all safely tucked into bed?”

He slammed his hand on the table. “Dammit Francine! What’s the matter with you? Usually you save it for the bad guys—since when do you use your skills to demoralize and break one of our own?”

“She seemed intact when you arrived.”

“No thanks to you. Get over it already. Amanda is my partner—my equal partner and will be for the foreseeable future. Lay off her. If she hadn’t been so drunk she’d have given you a run for your money. She does have a temper and she’s more than capable of holding her own against the likes of you. She’s managed with the bad guys enough times. That’s why you had to wait until she was good and drunk. What got into you anyway—allowing her to get so drunk on a stakeout? You trying to get her killed? Is that it?” Lee was really angry now.

Francine backpedaled. “She wanted to try the cider—and she didn’t have the second,” He gave her a look—she shrugged in reply, “or third until after I’d gotten the signal. I figured it was safe—so what if she wanted to get plastered?—It’s none of my business. We all need to blow off a bit of steam now and then.”

“You know Amanda has no idea how sneaky that stuff can be! You let her get roaring drunk then you took advantage to unload on her. Like I said—get over it! Amanda is my partner—and will stay my partner. That’s not going to change.”

“You still fight a lot…”

“Yeah, so what? We also manage to get the job done and sometimes you gotta yell a bit to clear the air. Neither of us takes it personally. Billy doesn’t mind—so just get over it and lay off my partner. Got it? Because if I ever hear of you doing this again—well I know where your bodies are buried—and there are quite a few things you don’t want to get out. Do we understand each other?” Lee was looking murderous.

Francine was impassive—but inwardly she was quaking. ‘I’ve heard some of the guys talk about Lee’s protectiveness—but this is way beyond what I thought it would be,’ she thought. She took a deep breath and decided to relent. “Yeah—I got it. But you’d better watch out—because it seems you’re losing some of your objectivity where Amanda is concerned.”

“You just let me worry about that, OK? I’m just fine with Amanda—we understand each other—we work well together and we get the job done. Anything else is,” he leaned into her face, “none of your business. Got it?”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine. I’ll lay off your precious partner. Gee you’d think you were in l—“

He cut her off. “Don’t even think of finishing that statement.” His tone was deceptively flat, but left her with no doubt that she’d gone too far.

She held up her hands in surrender, but wisely said nothing.

Lee stood. “I’m leaving. Stay out of my sight for a while.”

She nodded in defeat.

He went back upstairs—still fuming at how nasty Francine had been to Amanda. He heard a noise from Amanda’s room, and opened the door.

Amanda was thrashing around in bed, having a nightmare. “No please—leave my boys alone—take me—I’ll go with you—please leave my boys alone…”

He rushed over to her and gathered her in his arms. “Shhh Amanda—I’m here—you’re having a nightmare. It’s OK, your boys are safe—you’re safe. I’m here—I’ll protect you.”

She calmed. “Lee?” she mumbled sleepily. She blinked and looked up at him. “Lee, you are here—oh Lee it was awful—the bad guys had the boys—they were going to hurt them—you weren’t around anywhere! Francine said you were gone and she wouldn’t say anything more. They were holding a gun on my boys—they were terrified—I was terrified. Francine was standing there and laughing about all of it. Oh Lee!”

He stroked her hair as he held her. “Shhh—it’s OK, you’re safe. Just relax—it was just a nightmare. It wasn’t real.”

She sniffed. Then she took a couple of deep slow breaths. “I know it was a nightmare—I guess I should be used to it by now, it but every time I have one I wake up shaking and scared.”

“Every time? You have a lot of nightmares?” He was concerned.

She paused. “Not that many.”

“How many?” He sounded cajoling.

“Only about once a month.” He looked at her. She ducked and spoke. “Maybe once a week. Not that many—and I’m used to it—really—once I wake up and take a few deep breaths I realize it was just a dream. Then I go downstairs and make tea or start laundry and get back to bed. If it’s near morning I start breakfast. Usually I don’t have time for anything big on weekdays but if I wake up early I do the whole big breakfast—bacon and eggs and pancakes. The boys appreciate it. They sure eat a lot.”

“Oh Amanda—I had no idea…”

“Hey—you said it comes with the territory. I’ve gotta take the bad stuff along with the good. And it isn’t that bad. Like I said, once I wake up I know it’s just a dream and usually I’m OK about it.” She tried to sound reassuring.

He wasn’t fooled by her diversion. “Usually? What about when it’s not OK?”

She sighed and answered quietly. “I…I have Andy to cuddle. He takes good care of me.” She looked shy.

“Andy?” Instantly Lee was apprehensive and his guard was up. “Who is Andy? I don’t know about any guy named Andy in your life—are you holding out on me? Who is this guy? Where did he come from anyhow?”

She chuckled. “He came from you. You gave him to me. Andy.” She smiled dazedly.

Lee looked bewildered. “What? I never gave you…”

“Andy Panda.”

“Huh?” He was totally at sea.

“Remember Alexi?—you tried to bribe him with presents and you bought him that giant stuffed panda. Then you gave it to me.”

“What, when?”

“Alexi—the ACM kid—the one with the computer skills who was hacking into government files? They were holding his parents to make him cooperate. At the video game arcade.”

“Oh—him.” Lee was taken aback. “Gee, that was ages ago. You still have that thing? I thought you’d gotten rid of it.”

“Oh yeah—usually he just lives in the back of my closet—but sometimes,” she squirmed uncomfortably, like he was forcing it out of her, “when I’m scared or lonely I pull him out and he cuddles me and I feel better.”

He shook his head at her revelation. ‘She’d never admit this to me unless she was drunk. I wonder if she will remember when she sobers up?’ He went for the diversion. “Andy Panda? What kind of a name is that?”

She was surprised. “Didn’t you ever watch Andy Panda cartoons when you were little?”

“I didn’t see many cartoons on the air bases with my uncle.”

“Oh. OK—well Andy Panda was a cartoon character and I just thought I’d name him Andy. I had to name him something…” She shrugged.

“Yeah—fine.” He shook his head. “You want to get back under the covers? I’ll get you some more water.”

“I had a glass of water already.”

“But you’re still drunk and it will help come the morning. Trust me on this—you’ll have less of a hangover with lots of water in you.”

“Hangover—why?”

“Amanda, you drank three big mugs of Apple Jack in an hour.” She looked confused. He clarified. “Hard cider! It may taste like apple juice but it has one hell of a kick—as you’re learning.”

“It did taste just like apple juice. I give the boys apple juice—they like it.”

He went into the bathroom and got her another glass of water. “Here—drink this.” She drank the water and he returned the glass to the bathroom. “Now settle back into bed, and sleep. Morning will come all too soon, I’m afraid.”

They straightened the covers and she got settled. He covered her up and kissed her on the forehead. “Get some sleep.”

“Lee?”

“What?”

“Stay with me...please?”

He smiled. “Sure—whatever you want—partner.” He settled next to her on top of the blankets. She moved close and he drew her into his arms. “There—are you comfy?”

“Yes. Thank you Lee—for everything. For being so patient and putting up with me all this time. I know it wasn’t easy and you saw me as a big nuisance in the beginning…”

He started to protest—then realized it was useless. “You’re not a nuisance now. You’re my partner—and there’s nobody else I’d rather have as a partner.”

“Really?”

“Yeah—really. You’re the best partner I’ve ever had.”

“What?”

“Yeah—the best. You’re the best.” He kissed her on the forehead again. “Now get some sleep.”

“I’m the best—that’s really sweet, Lee. You’re the best, too but you knew that already.”

“Get some sleep, Amanda—I’ll stay right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

She settled down and fell asleep.

Lee was thinking. ‘I should murder Francine for what she did! Taking advantage of Amanda when she was drunk and vulnerable. What a bitch she can be!’ He sighed. ‘She’s just jealous—she wants what Amanda has—and she can’t have it. Well tough. It didn’t work out between us and Francine will just have to deal with it. My Amanda’s one in a million—and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else as a partner. She’s everything to me…’

He looked at her in the dim light. She looked so peaceful and innocent as she slept in his arms. He was filled with a feeling of tenderness and protection. “Amanda,” he whispered. She didn’t stir. “Amanda—are you asleep?” She was deeply asleep.

‘Francine was wrong. I do see Amanda as a woman—a beautiful and desirable woman. But she’s my partner and best friend and that’s more important than any brief fling would be. What am I saying? She’d never go for a brief fling. She’s the whole package—and that’s not for me. Still—it might be interesting to try…’

He was filled with an overwhelming urge to kiss her. He reverently pressed his lips to her forehead again, but it wasn’t enough. He knew it would be a mistake—he knew he shouldn’t take advantage of her like this—but he just had to know what her lips felt like. Slowly he moved and pressed his lips to hers—softly, gently. For a few brief seconds he was immersed in the sweet essence of Amanda. Then she stirred and responded ever so slightly. His feelings of warmth and devotion toward her were overwhelming. He allowed it to last a few more seconds—then he pulled away with a start. What the hell was he doing? What kind of an idiot was he anyway? Letting his libido overrule his common sense. Only it wasn’t his libido. He was feeling more protective and content than aroused. Just lying there holding his partner as she slept was a very comfortable sensation. And new to him. What the hell was this anyway? As he was trying to process his jumbled thoughts—she stirred.

“Mmmm. Lee…” and she snuggled closer to him.

He froze—but she didn’t wake. He was somewhat surprised. ‘Even drunk and asleep she knows it’s me. I guess she really does trust me fully. I don’t deserve her—but I’ve got her as my partner and best friend. I’m one lucky guy.’

“Sleep well, Amanda. I’ll be here in the morning—and you won’t be feeling nearly as good as you do now.”
Chapter 2--The Morning After by Ermintrude
Author's Notes:
Hard Cider was supposed to be a one-shot but I got several requests to follow up on the morning after—so I did. You guys…
Hard Cider—The Morning After

By Ermintrude

Amanda was dreaming—she was standing with Lee Stetson—her partner—and they were on a terrace overlooking a garden. They gazed into each others eyes and it was wonderful. Then he moved toward her and kissed her tenderly. She felt his lips on hers and she knew he cared for her. A lot. Maybe even loved her. She was so happy. She wanted him to love her—and slowly in the past year she had come to believe that it might actually come to pass. When they had been on the run in that swamp she knew he had been about to kiss her. For real—with no case or scenario making him do it.

And then Joe had been accused of murdering the Estoccian Prime Minister—and he had been a case. Amanda still cared for her ex-husband—as a dear friend or perhaps a big brother. But Lee had totally misread their relationship. Or maybe he had put too much stock in a few casual words from Joe. Joe may have thought he could rekindle a relationship with his ex-wife—but Amanda wasn’t having any of it. She had tried to reassure her partner—but on their last case they had gone in as brother and sister. That hadn’t happened before. Usually they went in as a married couple—and they did it very well.

But now—Lee was kissing her and she just knew everything would turn out great. She loved him—she had been in love with her partner for a while. She just hadn’t thought she would have a chance when stacked up against his usual girlfriends—fast, sophisticated, glamorous women. And he hadn’t dated anyone for a while. So she guessed they would maybe start dating soon—or something.

While she contemplated the bliss of kissing Lee, she became aware of a noise. An irritating noise. Like pounding. Or maybe an earthquake. It sure was loud, and it made her ears hurt. Her ears and head. She opened her eyes, and was immediately assaulted by an ice pick being driven into her eyeballs. It hurt! She opened her mouth to cry out—and found her mouth and throat were dry. Dry and fuzzy. Dry and fuzzy and tasting bad.

She moaned out loud, and immediately she heard a crash.

“Amanda! Are you OK?” Lee burst in the room to see his partner lying in bed moaning piteously.

“Shhh! Lee—please! Don’t shout.” She put the pillow over her head to block out the noise.

Lee took a look at Amanda and shook his head. ‘Poor thing—she’s got one massive hangover. And now it’s up to me to get her back in shape.’ He spoke quietly. “Amanda—what do you remember of last night?”

She moaned again. “Leave me alone. I just want to die in peace…”

He smiled and shook his head. “Amanda—answer me—do you remember anything about what happened last night? The busted stakeout? Francine?”

“Ohhhh. Francine. She was being really mean and nasty. More mean and nasty than usual.”

“You can say that again.”

“What happened—why do I feel so awful? All I was drinking was apple juice.” She looked blearily up at him. Her eyes were bloodshot and she was pale.

“You were drinking Apple Jack—Hard Cider. It’s got a fairly high alcoholic content—and you had three big mugs in an hour. You were pretty drunk.”

“Drunk? Me? I don’t get drunk—I try to be careful about that sort of thing. I have my boys to think of you know…”

“Yeah—well this time you weren’t so careful.” He thought for a moment then amended his statement. “I guess it wasn’t really your fault. You didn’t know how powerful that stuff can be—and Francine certainly wasn’t helping. She was trying to get you drunk.”

Amanda looked up at him blearily. “Why would she do that?”

“Oh Amanda—she’s jealous of you.”

She looked very confused. She made as if to respond a couple of times. Then she shook her head—and immediately clutched it with both hands. “I shouldn’t do that,” she muttered to herself. “Why on earth is Francine jealous of me? There’s nothing about my life that she would want. That just doesn’t make sense.”

Lee shook his head. ‘She’s either still a bit drunk or totally clueless. And my Amanda’s not that dense.’ He sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand. “Amanda she’s jealous because we’re partners.”

She looked disbelievingly at him—then he saw it click. “Oh.”

“Yeah. So—I know you’d probably rather spend the day in bed—but we have to get back to DC. Billy is expecting us to do some work today.”

“Work? Feeling like this? Are you kidding?”

‘It must be really bad for her to not want to work.’ Lee smiled gently. “Yeah—we have to work. I’ll start a hot shower and order you some breakfast. Do you want it here or are you able to eat downstairs?”

“No food…” She trailed off weakly.

“And you’re the one who insists breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” He stepped into the bathroom and started the shower. He set out a big soft towel and made sure there was soap and shampoo for her. He saw her toothbrush and toiletries were all neatly laid out.

He returned to the room—Amanda hadn’t moved. He went to her suitcase and got out clothes for her to wear. She stayed in bed with her eyes closed. He laid her clothes out in the bathroom and came back to sit on the bed again.

“Amanda—c’mon. You have to get up. Take a long hot shower—it will help—I promise. I’ll have lots of hot coffee waiting for you when you come out, OK? And after that you can decide about food.” He gently took her hands and tried to pull her up.

“Leeeeeee! Leave me alone!” She protested weakly.

“No. You have to get up and showered and dressed. I can come in there and help you out, if you’d like that.” He offered mildly—hoping her sense of decency would be a motivator.

“Would you really help me?”

He was shocked—but kept a pleasant neutral face. “If you’d like that—sure.”

“I bet you’d help. Not this time buster.” Her indignation was dampened by her condition. She moved slowly, but that finally got her up and moving into the bathroom.

Once she had shut the door behind her—he waited a few minutes to make sure she was moving. Then he went downstairs to order a large carafe of black coffee and two mugs with the condiments. He returned a few minutes later with a tray and a newspaper. He poured himself a cup of coffee—added cream and settled in to read the paper while Amanda got ready in the bathroom.

About 30 minutes later, Amanda emerged from the bathroom. She was dressed, and her hair was somewhat dry and combed. She wasn’t wearing makeup and she looked so fresh and sweet. He marveled at how beautiful she could look.

“Hey—you feeling a bit better?” He asked quietly.

“I don’t know.” She spotted the carafe. “Is that coffee?”

He poured her a cup and added sugar just as she liked. She took it and drank gratefully—holding the warm mug in her hands and breathing in the steam with her eyes closed. “Mmmmmmm. I don’t think I’ve ever had better coffee.”

“It’s OK—but I guess your hangover is making it taste better than usual.”

She sat on the bed and drank the coffee. When the mug was empty she held it out to him for a refill. He took the cup and poured her another and added sugar again. When she finished the second cup she sat contemplating the empty cup.

Lee decided to speed things up a bit. “Are you up for any breakfast yet?”

“I don’t know. Could I get some toast? I don’t think I could manage anything else just yet.”

He nodded. “Toast it is. I’ll be right back.”

He returned with two pieces of toast on a tray, with a pot of jam. “Here—try it with some jam. The sugar should help.”

She took a piece and spread a small amount of jam on it. She ate it carefully—in small bites. Once the first piece was finished—she tried another and put more jam on this one.
She took another cup of coffee and drank it with her toast. Once she was finished, Lee took the tray and placed it on the dresser.

“How are you doing—the food settling OK?”

She nodded. “Yeah—I’m feeling better. The hot shower definitely helped. Thank you. And the coffee, too.”

“I’m glad.”

“I guess you’ve been in this position a few times, huh?”

He smiled sheepishly. “A few times. When I was younger—and stupid.”

She smiled weakly back.

“So—are you ready to go? Do you want me to help you pack up?”

“I need to put on some makeup. I think I can manage that now.” She got her purse and sat down in front of the mirror.

Lee grabbed her suitcase, and went into the bathroom to pack up her stuff. He took her clothes and placed them in the suitcase. He found a bag and put her toiletries into it. He looked around to make sure he hadn’t left anything behind. Back in the room, Amanda was still working on her makeup. She was moving slowly, and he decided to let her finish at her own pace. He gathered up her clothes from the night before, and her other items, and finished packing up her suitcase. He checked the bed and drawers and the closet to make sure nothing was left behind.

Amanda finished her makeup and put it back in her purse. She looked around the room and saw Lee had packed her up. “Thank you for helping me out. I guess you have everything, right?”

“Yep. All packed up. My bag is already in the car. You ready to go?”

“I need to use the bathroom again. All that coffee…”

“I’ll meet you downstairs, OK?” He left with her suitcase to put it in the car and settle their bill.

QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ

Once they were on the road, Amanda immediately went to sleep.

Lee looked over at her. ‘I guess sleep is good for her. Maybe we can stop for some food in an hour or so. If she wants something. We have a few hours’ drive. Maybe with rest she’ll be feeling more human by the time we get back to DC.’

‘Damn Francine! That was a low trick, and if she thinks I’m gonna let her off the hook for this one she’s sadly mistaken. She’d better be scarce around Amanda for a good long while. Amanda may forgive her—but I won’t. I won’t allow anyone to do that to my partner without some sort of payback. And I’ll wait for the right opportunity. But she’s going to pay for what she did to my Amanda. I’ll make sure of that.’ He spent the next hour contemplating different ways of making Francine pay for her treatment of Amanda.

“Lee?” Amanda was awake.

“Hey sleepyhead. What’s up?”

“Can we stop somewhere? I need a rest stop.”

“OK—there’s an exit coming up. We can get gas at the same time.”

Amanda went to the rest room while Lee gassed up the car. Once they were done, Lee took her into the station. “You want something to eat? They have snacks and sandwiches here.”

“Ah, maybe just a candy bar. And a soft drink. With lots of caffeine.” She chose a chocolate bar and a Coke.

Lee got a candy bar for himself and another Coke. He paid for their treats and they were soon back on the road.

“Lee?”

“Yes?”

“Um—I have some pretty strange memories of last night.”

“Like what?”

“Well—I remember Francine talking to me—we talked about that new redhead in the steno pool.”

“New redhead?”

“Yeah—she started a few weeks ago.”

Lee shrugged. “I guess I hadn’t noticed. Then what did you talk about?”

“Then Francine said you…”

“What?”

“Um—nothing. Then she asked me why I keep working at the Agency. And she said my lack of training would get us both shot or killed. Then she said you only kept me around because you felt sorry for me. Then she—“

Lee cut her off. “I get the idea, Amanda. Was there anything else she said?” He sounded quite angry.

“Um—no—not really. Well, maybe she said more of the same stuff but really nothing different than that—well just similar stuff—but nothing about what you thought of me like—well nothing important. I guess I was really drunk so my memory is a bit hazy from that point onward. Yeah—that’s it—I don’t remember a whole lot after that.” She looked a bit frazzled and desperate, but she smiled at Lee.

Briefly Lee wondered what she was trying to cover up—but decided it wasn’t worth it. “OK. Do you remember me getting you up to the room and putting you to bed?”

“Ahhh. Yeah I do.”

“OK—well that’s about all that happened. So there’s nothing more for you to remember.”

“Um—I guess I had a strange dream then.”

“What did you dream about?”

“Um—I guess I don’t really remember.”

“A—man—da!”

“OK, OK. How long until we get back to the Agency?”

Lee smiled. She must be feeling better if she could ramble and obfuscate like that. “Not long.”

“Lee?”

“What?”

“Thanks for taking care of me. I really appreciate it.”

“Hey—we’re partners. Partners watch out for each other.”

“Yeah—we do. I do remember one more thing. You said I was the best partner you ever had.”

“Yes I did. And I meant it. Now will you forget all that crap Francine fed you? Like I said—she’s just jealous.”

“Yeah jealous.” She smiled at him.

Lee smiled back at his partner. ‘She’s feeling a whole lot better. She’ll be OK to work. That’s good. Because if she had to call in sick—Francine would see she never lived it down… I’ll get her yet.’ Lee vowed.

QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ

Amanda walked into Billy Melrose’s office with the reports on the stakeout from both her and Lee. “Here you are, sir. Sorry they’re late but it took a bit to get going this morning.”

Leatherneck was in Billy’s office. “Good morning, Mrs. King. Glad to see you’re doing well this morning.”

“Thank you Leatherneck. Lee helped. I never knew Apple Cider could be so…” She searched for the appropriate word.

“Potent?” Leatherneck helpfully supplied.

She smiled back in gratitude. “Yes. Potent.”

“Thank you for these, Amanda. And I’m also glad you’re doing OK this morning. Is there anything you’d like to talk to me about?” Billy smiled at her encouragingly.

Amanda was a bit taken aback. “Um—not really. We got our reports done, and here they are—unless you have something more for us to do…”

Billy was silent for a few moments. “All right.” He handed Amanda some tapes. “I’d appreciate it of you could transcribe these. There’s a desk over there you can use.”

“Couldn’t I go up to the Q Bureau? Lee is out following up on a few leads.” She took the tapes.

“Not this time—I need this quickly. I’d appreciate it if you let me know immediately if there is anything you think we need to follow up on as soon as you hear it. We might not have time to wait for the finished transcripts.”

She shrugged, “OK, I’ll get right on it.” She smiled at the men and left to start the transcriptions.

Leatherneck closed Billy’s door after her. “She’s doing great—especially as she was roaring drunk last night. Scarecrow must have given her the whole treatment to get her back into shape so quickly.”

Billy nodded and watched Amanda start her task. “He does know all the tricks for getting back into shape quickly. And he does watch out for her. You say he had words with Francine after he got her into bed and settled?”

“Oh yeah. He ripped her good. But that woman needs to know she can’t get away with something like that. She must’ve forgotten we had a mic on the tables. When I tuned in to her dumping on Mrs. King—well—I figured you’d need a copy. For your ‘secret’ files.” He handed Billy a tape.

“Thank you for this. I think I’ll wait a while before I listen to this. The regs strictly prohibit murder of subordinates.”

“What about if they deserve it? I’ve gotta go. Good luck. Scarecrow threatened Francine to stay away from Amanda—and him. But she’ll show up sooner or later—if nothing else to check on Mrs. King and see just how hung-over she is. And gloat. The woman can’t resist when it comes to Ace’s partner. She should just let it go already.” Leatherneck left Billy’s office.

Billy sat and mused. ‘Yes she needs to get over it. And I think starting with a public heartfelt apology is just the thing to get the ball rolling.’

QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ

A while later, Amanda was totally absorbed in her transcription. Apparently she hadn’t discovered anything urgent, because she hadn’t come to Billy since he had handed her the assignment. He was on the lookout for his assistant. Finally—she breezed in. He watched as she gaily greeted people, and settled at her desk after noticing Amanda at work. She gave nothing away, but Billy knew she had to be sweating to see Amanda working away in the bullpen. Which is exactly why he had asked her to work there.

He allowed Francine a few moments to get absorbed in a task—then he opened his door and bellowed. “Desmond—my office, now!”

Francine looked up and smiled at her boss. She went into his office. He shut the door after her, and closed the blinds. Instantly interest peaked in the rest of the bullpen. By now everyone had heard ’unofficially of course’ about Francine’s stunt. Everyone was highly interested to see how this would play out. Amanda sat at her desk absorbed in her task and missed all the byplay.

Inside Billy’s office things were heating up. Francine noticed Billy closing the blinds and mentally prepared herself for the ordeal to come.

Billy sat at his desk and smiled benignly. “So how was the stakeout? I haven’t gotten your report yet.”

“It was a total bust, Billy. Our guy never showed. So we wasted an evening sitting and drinking.”

“Sitting and drinking… Tell me—what do you think of a superior who demoralizes a subordinate for no good reason? Do you think that sort of behavior is helpful to the smooth running of this unit?”

Francine knew she was in trouble—but she gamely played her part. “Depends on the circumstances, I guess.”

“Well tell me—what circumstances make it acceptable for you to get a subordinate drunk and then totally demoralize her?”

“If she’s totally inadequate for the job—and could get herself and her partner killed…” Francine trailed off as Billy’s face clouded with anger.

“Just exactly who is the head of this unit, Desmond?”

“You are.”

“Really? Then I assume you are looking for a transfer out of this unit.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Then I’ll remind you that it’s MY decision to have Mrs. King work with Scarecrow. They’ve been partners—yes, partners—for almost three years now. So if you object to that—you are objecting to the way I run this unit. And I can’t have a subordinate second-guessing my decisions.”

Francine was silent.

He let her stew for a few minutes. Then he spoke. “All right—this is how it will go down. You will go out there and apologize to Mrs. King—publicly and loud enough for everyone out there to hear. Then you will go to your desk and write out a full report of your evening—including everything you said to Mrs. King, and her replies. And be sure to leave nothing out—” he waved the tape Leatherneck had given him, “because I have a tape here, and I expect your report to mirror it. Got that?”

Francine paled at the tape, but replied in a steady voice. “Yes sir.”

“Then you will STAY AWAY from Amanda King for at least a week. And by the way—I’m gonna turn a blind eye to whatever Scarecrow cooks up for his revenge. Because you know he’s going to make you pay for your stunt. And you are going to be grateful I don’t put a reprimand in your file over this incident. But if I hear of anything like this happening again—you’d better have a lot of cold-weather gear because there’s that post in Greenland I’m always looking to fill. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Get out of here. I expect that report by the end of the day. And you still have a pile of stuff on your desk waiting for you—so you’d better stay until everything is finished. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go on!” He waved her out of his office.

Francine put her hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath. The she emerged, and made straight for Amanda’s desk.

Billy opened his blinds and watched the exchange.

Francine put her hand on Amanda’s shoulder to get her attention. Amanda looked up, and noticed Francine. She removed her headphones and faced the blonde.

“Hello Francine.” Anyone who knew Amanda knew instantly Francine was not her favorite person at the moment from the cool tone Amanda used to greet her.

“Amanda, I’m here to apologize.”

By now the rest of the people had fallen silent and every eye was turned toward the two women.

Amanda looked surprised, but was silent.

“I’m sorry for what happened on the stakeout yesterday. My conduct was unprofessional and … mean.”

Amanda nodded. “Yes, it was.”

“As I said, I’m sorry and rest assured, it won’t happen again. I had no right to treat you like that, and I will be more considerate in the future.”

“I appreciate that.” Amanda’s soft reply was heard throughout the bullpen.

“Well, that’s it.” Francine caught Billy watching the exchange. “Unless you have something to say to me?”

Amanda thought for a moment. “You are a good agent—and heaven knows I’m nowhere in your league—but I do have skills and abilities that some people here value. I guess you just need to realize not everyone is the same, and give people credit for what they do well—and not dwell so much on their shortcomings.”

Francine nodded. Amanda’s quiet reply stung more than Billy’s chewing out had. “Thank you for pointing that out. I promise I will be more considerate in the future.”

Amanda nodded. Francine nodded, and offered her hand. Amanda took it and shook her hand. Then they turned back to their respective tasks.

Billy watched the exchange, and waited a minute for the shock to fully settle in. Then he decided it was enough. He bellowed to the bullpen. “Don’t you all have work to do? Because if you aren’t busy I have a pile of assignments here I can dole out to whoever needs something to do.”

Everyone immediately bent to whatever task they had and avoided Billy’s eyes.

Billy returned to his office. He smiled to himself. ‘It will be all over the agency within 15 minutes. Good. Amanda is gracious to let Francine off so easily. But she’s a lady and that is one of the reasons she is so valuable to my unit. And Francine will take a lot of ribbing and snide looks for that. Which she justly deserves. Once I read Francine’s report I’ll decide whether Amanda needs to see Dr. Pfaff. But with Scarecrow watching her back—I think she’ll be OK. Why can’t my people just get along?’
Part 3 Lee's Revenge by Ermintrude
Author's Notes:
Several Year later--and I finally got around to writing this one. I had the germ of the idea from the first--it just took a while and a return of my muse to get it written down. Enjoy!
Hard Cider—Part Three Lee's Revenge

By Ermintrude

See Part 1 for disclaimer.

It was an unusually warm day for late Spring in the DC area. Warm and muggy—but then DC was renowned for sticky miserable summers.

Lee Stetson was in charge of a small group of agents, in the main stakeout van. They were parked in a gully near a farm in a rural area several hours outside DC. Leatherneck was beside him, running the electronics. They had been sitting there for the better part of the morning, waiting for their quarry.

“Look out, Ace, here they come!” Leatherneck pointed to the car approaching on the country road.

The car was a black limo—it drove up and turned into the farm gate—if the mansion beyond could really be called a farmhouse. Still, the acreage also sported several barns, paddocks and thoroughbred horses. It was a working farm—of a rich and connected man who had been selling secret technology to the Russians.

“She'd better be doing her job.” Lee growled. He still hadn't forgiven or forgotten how Francine had gotten Amanda drunk on hard cider and done a job on her, thoroughly demoralizing his partner. And he had promised Francine he'd get his revenge.

“She's a pro. She'll do what needs to be done. Shame Amanda couldn't be in on the sting.”

“Yeah but she has a cub scout campout—so she needed an extra day off. And really she's done her part in this. All that's left is the final takedown.”

“And Francine is really great at takedowns.” Leatherneck grinned.

The Limo drove past the house and parked near the barns. A chauffeur got out and opened the door for a man and a woman—both well-dressed and getting very friendly. The man took Francine by the arm and waved toward the barns.

“Can we hear what they are saying?” Lee asked.

“Sure, I'll put it on the speakers.” Leatherneck twiddled a few knobs and the conversation became audible.

“All this is mine, baby. I have three horses racing on the prime circuits right now, and four mares in foal as well as two champion studs. There are several promising colts ready for training. Do you like to ride, honey?”

“Oh Geoffrey, I love anything you love! You are so very masculine!” Francine ran her hand over his arm and looked into his eyes. “What do you say, we go inside and get comfortable, hmmmm?” Her tone and expression indicated that she meant a lot more than just sitting on chairs and relaxing.

“Sure, sugar. I've just got to get a couple things out here. Why don't you make your way up to the house and I'll meet you there in a bit?” He patted Francine on the ass and pushed her gently toward the house.

She smiled and giggled and started slowly making her way up the slight hill.

Geoffrey and his chauffeur went into the barn. Immediately, Francine turned, pulled a small weapon out of her clutch purse and snuck back to the barn.

Francine paused and looked carefully into the barn—the sun was bright so it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the relatively dark space.

Geoffrey and his man were nowhere to be seen. She spied an office in the back of the barn, and she quietly made her way over to it, keeping in the shadows, ducking in and out of the empty stalls. Though the barn was shaded, the heat and humidity were still pretty oppressive inside. Dust motes danced in the air, and the warm ripe smell of horses and their deposits were made stronger by the heat.

“Here it is.” Geoffrey made no effort to be quiet.

Francine managed to peer through a crack in the wall and saw Geoffrey kneeling as he pulled something out of a safe which was embedded in the hard dirt floor of the office. He rose and turned to his man. “Take this back to our contact—this is the end of it. And make sure you get the full payment. Stay to count it—I want to be sure they aren't shortchanging me. Then come back here.” He smirked, “I should be finished by the time you return with the dough.” Geoffrey handed his man a small package—about the size of a cigarette pack. “Be careful—it's heavy but those components are delicate.”

“Yes sir. I'll get right on it.”

Geoffrey turned and knelt to close the safe, and Francine ducked out of sight as the chauffeur passed her, then she snuck out after him. She was almost on the man, when she heard a shout.

“Hey—you're supposed to be up at the house, bitch!”

Francine tackled the chauffeur, and they grappled briefly. Francine's weapon went flying, but she got a good hold on the package, pushed the man down, and started to run. She was in heels, but she was an expert at all sorts of athletic activities in heels. She ran around the side of the barn, with Geoffrey in hot pursuit.

In the van Lee reacted. “All agents, converge on the suspects—apprehend and detain.” Lee shouted into the microphone.

Men appeared out of nowhere, having hidden in the area around the property. The chauffeur was immediately detained and cuffed, without resistance. Geoffrey was still chasing Francine who was making good time. He grabbed at her, they grappled briefly, and the package sailed out of her hand, right into a large, steaming pile of fresh horse manure. It sank quietly into the muck. Francine turned and grabbed her quarry, and managed to have him in an arm twist when the other agents arrived.

Lee arrived on the scene and took charge. “Get this guy into your car—don't let him talk to Geoffrey.” He motioned two agents to remove the chauffeur. Then Lee walked up to Francine, Geoffrey and the other agents.

“Bitch—let me go—you're breaking my arm!” He was squirming and twisting at Francine's hold.

“You're a long way from getting a broken arm—though I could oblige you if you insist?” She smiled cockily at Lee. “Well we got our man, Scarecrow. Always glad to oblige!” She was high with the thrill of victory.

“Yeah you got him, Francine.” Lee motioned and Geoffrey was taken away by two other agents. “So where is the package?” He looked at Francine expectantly.

“Oh—I guess it flew off ...” Francine looked in the direction the package flew, and saw the pile of manure.

“It went into the pile, Scarecrow. I distinctly saw it.” One of the other agents offered helpfully.

“Really,” Lee said dryly. “Without that evidence, we don't have a case. Someone needs to recover that package.”

The other agent held up his hands and backed off. Lee looked at Francine.

“You are the one who had it, and you let it go. I guess you need to recover the evidence.”

Francine gestured to her designer dress and shoes and said, “Well, I'm not dressed for it—let one of the guys do it.”

Lee looked at the other agent, and then back to Francine. “No, I don't think so. You lost it—you have to go get it.” He walked over and grabbed a pitchfork. “Here you are—make sure it's intact and not damaged. We'll watch.”

Francine looked at Lee and immediately became indignant. “What the hell? Why do I have to do your dirty work? I was the one who made this guy and did most of the work on this case.”

“And I'm the senior agent in charge of this operation. I'm telling you to go recover the evidence. Are you refusing a direct order from a superior?” Lee's mild tone belied his stern expression.

“Why are you picking on me?”

“Maybe because you picked on Amanda a few weeks back. Maybe it will do you good to know what it's like from the other side. And maybe I think you deserve it.” Lee was nose to nose with Francine and his temper was up. Revenge was a dish best served cold, and he had waited patiently for the ideal chance to exact his revenge for Francine's stunt with the hard cider. Providence had delivered her into his hands, and he was determined to make the most of the golden opportunity.

Francine mirrored his expression, and then realized she had no choice. She had thought since several weeks had passed that Scarecrow had been satisfied with her public apology in the bullpen and the weeks of snide agency gossip at her expense. Now she realized he had just been biding his time.

Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she grabbed the pitchfork. She removed her shoes, and pulled off her hose. Then she waded in. The muck was warm and squishy and slippery. She had to step carefully to keep her balance. And her feet felt—things—in the muck also. It was very unpleasant. The smell was strong, and she wished for Vicks vap-O-rub under her nose to cut the stench. She tried breathing through her mouth, but the pungency of the waves of stench were so strong she thought she could taste it … and that was way worse. Her eyes were watering from the strong fumes. Eventually she found a stable stance and started pitching away at the manure, looking carefully for the package. Lee and the other agents, soon joined by Leatherneck, stood around and watched Francine's every move.

“She's got some good moves with that pitchfork, Ace. You'd think she was a natural at it.” Leatherneck commented in a genial tone.

“Yeah, she's doing better than I expected.” Lee replied, thoroughly enjoying his revenge.

After 20 sweaty, smelly, miserable minutes, Francine reached down, and came up with the package, dripping with muck. She held it high in her hand, and the assembled agents applauded her efforts.

“OK people,” Lee said, “let's get all this back to DC and start the interrogations.”

“I'll just take a detour past my apartment for a quick cleanup.” Francine said.

“I don't think so, Francine,” Lee replied. “You're the agent who dealt with the suspect, so you have to be there for the interrogation.”

“So let them cool their heels for a couple of hours.”

“Not this time, Francine. We need to get the information ASAP so we can corral the guys at the other end.”

“C'mon Francine, let's get a move on.” Leatherneck said. “You can drive the limo. The others will go with the suspects and Ace and I will take the van. Let's get moving!”

Francine gave the group a murderous look, and then washed off as best as she could with a hose from the barn. She was wet, but mostly clean, though her hair was damp and stringy and the designer dress was thoroughly ruined. She retrieved her shoes and hose, and got into the limo.

Lee, Leatherneck and the other agents chuckled among themselves watching Francine's improvised cleanup, and then made their way back to their vehicles for the drive to DC.

QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ

“What is that smell?!?!” Billy roared.

Lee, Leatherneck, Francine and the other agents made their way into the bullpen. The suspects had been put into separate holding cells, and the group had come up to report to Billy, and show Francine and her 'condition' off to the rest of the unit.

Billy surveyed a disheveled Francine. She had washed most all of the muck off, but she was still damp and a certain 'air' of barnyard still clung to her person. Her hair and clothes had dried somewhat on the drive back. But she still looked like a drowned rat.

“Well, well, look what the cat has dragged in.” Billy was enjoying this—he had said he would turn a blind eye to Lee's revenge, but this was too good not to savor. “Did you get the stolen components?”

“Yes,” Francine handed over the package. “Here it is.”

Billy recoiled and didn't take it. “Get that to the lab, they can make sure it's all there.”

Francine squared her shoulders, and said, “Yes sir.” Then she turned and went off, head high and back stiff, to give the package to the poor techs who would have to deal with it.

All eyes in the bullpen were on Francine. Everyone watched her leave, and as soon as the doors closed behind her, the talk began. Billy motioned Lee and Leatherneck into his office.

Once seated with the door closed Billy indulged himself in a good deep laugh.

“You certainly got your revenge, Lee,” the section chief sounded admiring.

“Yeah I did. And she deserved it.”

“You bet,” added Leatherneck. “What she did to Amanda was way over the top. And so was this. Our man here just took advantage of the circumstances.”

“I've been waiting for a good opportunity.” Lee grinned.

“I think this will end the whole episode. Too bad Amanda wasn't here to see it.” Billy added.

“That's OK,” added Leatherneck, “she will hear all about it from most everyone who was here today. Believe me, she's popular and everyone will be happy to tell her all about it.”

“Yeah, and it will certainly prolong the memories for everyone involved.” Lee sounded smug.

“Well I think Francine will think twice and then some before she decides to pick on Amanda again.” Leatherneck added.

“She's my partner, and partners watch each others' backs.” Lee sounded protective.

“Amen to that!” Billy said. How far Scarecrow had come, and he was glad to see it.

The End
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