~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"For God's sake, Scarecrow, sit down." Billy Melrose fixed his top
agent with an exasperated stare. "You're making me dizzy." He laid
the decade-old issue of "Log Cabin Living" down atop a stack of
magazines on the hospital waiting room's coffee table and considered
his remaining alternatives: three battered issues of "Airport
Development and Finance," "Bowling Digest," and "Trapper and Predator
Lee Stetson stopped pacing the drab, beige room and headed toward his
boss. The younger man sank into a lumpy brown armchair whose broken
springs creaked under his weight. Scowling, he stretched out his
long legs and tapped his foot, while drumming his fingers on the
threadbare arms of the chair.
Billy shook his head in amusement. "Thank God they hadn't invented
Ritalin yet when you were a kid, Lee." He chuckled. "Any teacher
today would look at the way you fidget and recommend you be drugged
to the gills."
Lee leaned forward, his face anxious. "What's taking so long, Billy,
huh?" His brow furrowed. "Jackson was only shot in the arm. He
should have been out of surgery and moved to a regular room by now."
"Hospitals." Billy snorted and waved his hand in a dismissive
gesture. As supervisor for the Agency's field section, he'd been
through this routine dozens of times. All too often, medical
personnel took their time reporting back. He wasn't going to raise
hell about it, since the hospitalized agent hadn't suffered life-
"Relax, Scarecrow. With the National Emergency Surgical Team,
Jackson's getting the best possible care. You've been stitched
together by NEST surgeons enough times to know that." Billy studied
the other man's worried expression and wondered if he'd ever convince
him to stop blaming himself whenever something went wrong. "Lee,
you've got to stop feeling responsible every time someone's injured
on an assignment with you. Look, your team apprehended Brewster and
retrieved the microdot, and the ambulance arrived in plenty of time
to help Jackson."
Lee shook his head. "I don't know, Billy. I've got a bad feeling
Billy noticed a familiar figure heading their way and pointed toward
the corridor. "Before you go looking for trouble, why don't you ask
Jackson's doctor? Here he comes." He rose from his chair. "Dr.
Smithson, how's our man doing?"
The doctor's square shoulders slumped, and his expression was
grim. "Mr. Melrose, Mr. Stetson . . . I'm afraid Mr. Jackson didn't
make it. I'm sorry. We did everything we could, but --"
Billy's stomach gave a sickening lurch. He reminded himself that
agents knew the risks of their jobs. Recognizing this was supposed
to make losing one of them easier. As usual, the ploy didn't work.
"What!" Lee jumped to his feet, shouting. "How'd you manage to kill
a guy who just took a bullet in the arm?"
Smithson backed away. "Please, calm down, Mr. Stetson." He held up
his hands. "We didn't `kill` Mr. Jackson. I know it sounds
unbelievable, but it was out of our control. He had a fatal cardiac
arrhythmia. There was nothing we could do."
"A heart problem!" Lee shook his head. "I don't believe it."
Forcing himself to remain professional, Billy shot Lee a warning
glance and then looked at the physician. "Please tell us exactly
what happened, doctor."
The surgeon nodded and took a deep breath. "As you know, Mr.
Jackson's injuries weren't life-threatening, but they required
surgery. We removed the bullet from his arm and repaired the damage
to his brachial artery. The procedure seemed to go well, and we
compensated for his blood loss by transfusing him. In the recovery
room, Mr. Jackson's vital signs were good. After he regained
consciousness, he was moved to a regular room and received
antibiotics and fluids in a post-operative drip. Shortly afterwards,
Mr. Jackson's heart went into ventricular fibrillation, and he
flatlined. All our attempts at resuscitation failed." He
shrugged. "I would have reported back to you sooner, but I assisted
in surgery on an FBI agent with severe gunshot wounds. Earlier, I'd
have said that Mr. Jackson's prognosis was excellent."
"What caused his heart to stop?" Billy frowned, baffled. Field
agents were in excellent condition, qualifying in hand-to-hand combat
and passing full physicals every year. Unlike Lee, Tom Jackson
didn't elude the latter. If the man had a heart problem, why wasn't
it uncovered before now?
"We don't know yet." Smithson glanced down at the medical chart in
his hand. "There's nothing in Mr. Jackson's history to explain it.
Maybe some undiagnosed, underlying organic problem. Or blood loss or
a reaction to the anesthesia. Right now, we just don't know. We're
hoping an autopsy will give us answers."
"You don't understand. It's impossible." Lee moved closer and
loomed over the slightly-build physician. "Jackson was under thirty
and in great shape. I should know; I was his sparring partner. I've
run marathons with the guy. He *couldn't* have had a heart attack."
Smithson stepped back. "It wasn't a heart attack, Mr. Stetson. It
was a disturbance of the heart's rhythm. Cardiac arrhythmia can be
unrelated to overall cardiovascular health. It's been the cause of
death for more than one top athlete."
"I don't buy it. Maybe Tom got the wrong medication. Maybe you
"That's enough, Scarecrow." Billy decided this was going nowhere,
other than supplying Lee with a target for his anger. "I don't
remember seeing a medical degree in your file. Obviously we need
more information. Let the man do his job."
Billy watched the doctor's retreating back and pulled his car keys
from his pocket. "I have to notify the family." He tried to
concentrate on the weight and coolness of the metal in his palm,
instead of the task that lay ahead. "You know, at times like this, I
hate my job."
"I'm sorry, Billy." Lee stared down at the toe of his shoe as he
scuffed it on the worn mud-colored carpet. After a long pause, he
said, "Do you want me to go with you? After all, I was the agent of
record. And I was Tom's friend."
"Thanks, but I'll handle it. That's the downside of being in
administration." Seeing the family's grief would just make Lee more
guilty about the death of an agent on his team. Billy patted him on
the back. "Go home and get some sleep."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Three days later, Amanda King walked into the foyer of IFF with a
jaunty step. "Isn't it a beautiful morning, Mrs. Marsten?" she said
to the older woman. "Today's word is 'thumbscrew'." She
shuddered. "Who comes up with these words?"
"That's classified, Mrs. King."
Pinned by Mrs. Marsten's cool gaze, Amanda checked her blouse for
unfastened buttons and wondered if she had spinach in her teeth. "Of
"Mr. Melrose wants to see you in his office."
"Thank you." As Amanda opened the wooden door to the coat closet cum
elevator, she speculated about why Mr. Melrose was asking for her.
For clerical tasks, like typing or transcription, the section chief
passed work on to her through Lee or Francine.
Was she assigned to a case with Lee? As Amanda shoved aside coats
and ducked inside, she felt a thrill of excitement. Was there a nest
of spies in suburbia, a child witness needing babysitting, or a
visiting princess requiring a tour guide? She shook her head,
reminding herself not to expect too much. After all, what was the
likelihood that national security demanded what Francine Desmond
referred to as Amanda's "suburban skills"?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Somebody put – what did you call it, Digoxin? – in Tom Jackson's
IV?" Lee leaned forward in his chair and slapped his thigh, looking
from the seated Billy to Francine, who stood beside Billy's desk. "I
knew it! I told you something was screwy about this whole thing!"
Before he could say more, someone rapped on the door of Billy's
office. At the section chief's, "Come," Amanda stepped inside and
hovered by the doorway.
She cleared her throat. "Excuse me. I'm sorry, am I interrupting
something?" Lee waited for Billy to say "Yes," but Amanda forged
ahead. "Mrs. Marsten said you wanted to see me, sir. I hope I
didn't interrupt a meeting about some secret mission. Unless I was
supposed to be on that mission, and then I guess it wouldn't be
secret. I mean, it would still be a secret, but it wouldn't be a
secret from me. At least not the part I needed to know . . ."
To Lee's surprise, Billy motioned her in and nodded toward the vacant
chair. "It's fine, Mrs. King. Have a seat." He offered no
explanation for Amanda's presence when Lee caught his eye, eyebrows
After Amanda seated herself, Billy resumed his narrative. "As I was
saying, the coroner reported high levels of Digoxin in Jackson's
system. He considered it suspicious that a drug used for treating
heart ailments was found in our young and healthy agent. Dr.
Smithson confirmed that NEST never authorized the use of Digoxin in
Jackson's treatment. That shed a new light on the deaths of two
other agents." He looked to his assistant. "Francine?"
Francine pulled a print-out from the file folder in her hand. "This
month, Jose Cavello and Marcus Reed died at Galilee General Hospital
after suffering what appeared to be non-life-threatening injuries.
Cavello had a concussion and a stab wound. He regained
consciousness, and the doctors expected a full recovery. His death
certificate lists the cause of death as," she looked down at the
paper and read aloud, "`cerebral hemorrhage secondary to previously
unsuspected Arterio-venous malformation.'" She took a deep breath
and continued. "Marcus Reed's case is even stranger. While on a
stakeout, Reed complained of stomach pains. He was taken to Galilee
General and diagnosed as having acute appendicitis. He came through
surgery fine, but he died that night. His death was blamed on a
delayed adverse reaction to the anesthesia. It's an awful lot of bad
luck – or more than just a coincidence."
Billy nodded. "Cavello and Reed had routine autopsies, and nothing
showed up on the toxicology screens. But maybe the autopsies missed
something. Like Francine, I don't trust coincidences. And in
Jackson's case, it looks like murder." His lips formed a tight line
before he spoke again. "Obviously we don't send our people to
Galilee General until this case is solved. Unfortunately, the same
thing might happen at other hospitals."
`You're not paranoid, you're a realist.' Lee thought of the mock-
slogan he once suggested to replace the official Agency motto
of "Service in the Shadows." More often than not the adage was
true. Certainly in this case. He rose and began to pace, ticking
off the possibilities on his fingers. "So someone's leaking the
information that these patients are agents. The leak could be inside
the Agency or inside NEST." He paused and glanced at Billy. "Was
anybody guarding the agents' rooms?"
"Not for Reed, since his illness wasn't work-related. As you know,
we didn't find out Jackson's room number until after his death, so he
wasn't under guard. But an agent was outside Cavello's room round
Lee resumed his pacing. "Then no one without the right credentials
was anywhere near Cavello. This has to be an inside job, by NEST's
medical staff or someone at Galilee General." He ran his hand
through his hair. "I always knew hospitals were nothing but
deathtraps. Those places are the weirdest, creepiest—"
"Well, Scarecrow, next time you're shot, stabbed, or hit in the head,
I'll call in a faith healer. But your fellow agents want to get
medical care without signing their death warrants!"
"Okay, okay, Billy." Lee held up his hands in a placatory
gesture. "What do you want me to do, go undercover as an orderly?"
"For Stage One," Billy said, "you'll do some old-fashioned digging.
Hospital administration handed over a list of the personnel at
Galilee General, together with their work schedules. Names of staff
who treated our agents prior to NEST's arrival are highlighted. NEST
also sent us their list of local doctors and support staff. Lee, run
background checks on everyone."
Lee frowned. "Come on, Billy, that'll take forever. Are you putting
Francine on this, too?"
"No, I can't spare Francine. I have to testify at a congressional
hearing, and I need her to help me pull the material together.
That's why I've called in Mrs. King." Billy turned to Amanda and
smiled at her. "Mrs. King, you've done a fine job here so far. It's
time you learned how to run background checks with our computer
Lee watched as Amanda sat up straighter, squared her shoulders, and
raised her head.
"Scarecrow can teach you how." Billy shot him a warning
glance. "You'll work side by side in conference room B1. Lee's
clearance gives you computer access. Mrs. King, if he gets
frustrated, try to keep him from smashing his fist into the
monitor." He smirked, ducking his head toward Lee, who scowled back
"I'm happy to help, sir." With an eager nod, Amanda added, "Any way
that I can."
Well, Lee thought, Amanda might as well do some of the drudgery of
running background checks. She couldn't mess things up or get hurt
typing in names and social security numbers. Still, finding someone
with a grudge against the Agency that way was a long-shot.
"What if the background checks don't turn up a lead, Billy?" Lee
leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.
"What's Stage Two?"
"You check into the hospital as a patient, Scarecrow," Billy
said. "You're the bait, and the killer comes after you. Since you
had a full physical at Galilee General not long ago, you fake an
illness. I asked Dr. Kelford to come up with possible scenarios."
Lee swore under his breath. "Possible scenarios, huh?"
"You'd look good in bubonic plague, Lee," Francine said. A
saccharine smile adorned her face.
Lee glared at her and then appealed to his supervisor. "Come on,
Billy! How can I investigate from a hospital bed? How do I get any
drugs they give me back to the lab guys?"
Billy looked pleased with himself. "That's where Mrs. King comes in
again." He grinned at her. "I hope you still have that Bedside
"Yes, sir, I still have it." Amanda smiled back. "I volunteer there
twice a week, unless I'm tied up here, and then I try to make it up
on the weekends, but only if it's not soccer season. Well, unless it
rains and the soccer game is cancelled."
"Excellent." Billy nodded his approval. "If we go ahead with Stage
Two, part of your job will be keeping track of everyone who comes
into contact with Lee. Bring back samples of all his food and
medication. Obviously he's not going to consume any of it." He
glanced at Lee, the corners of his mouth twitching into a grin. "I
know what a rotten patient Scarecrow is. Try to keep him from
driving the nurses crazy. Otherwise, they're likely to band together
and kill him just to shut him up."
"Ooh, I like that image." Francine tapped a red-tipped nail against
her chin. "Kind of `Murder on the Orient Express' meets `General
Lee narrowed his eyes but said nothing. So what if he disliked, no,
detested, hospitals? Pretending to be ill was a trivial price for
catching whoever killed three agents.
"Glad you find this so amusing, Desmond." Billy turned to the
blonde. "Because in Stage Two, you go undercover as a nurse.
Sending Scarecrow in with just a civilian is too dangerous."
Lee edged toward Francine and said, sotto voce, "This damn well
better work. I don't know how much I can do playing sitting duck."
Billy leaned back in his chair. "Okay, people, you have your
assignments. Lee, get Amanda started, and then talk to Dr. Kelford;
he expects you. You have two days to run background checks. If you
don't dig up a likely suspect, you check into the hospital."
Stepping out of Billy's office, Lee felt his stomach knot at the
thought of Dr. Kelford and his collection of needles and other small
sharp instruments. With sudden inspiration, he grabbed Amanda's
arm. "Umm, Amanda, I bet the conference room isn't set up yet. How
about coming with me to see Doc Kelford? Then we'll get started."
"Sure, Lee." Amanda nodded. "I'd like to meet Dr. Kelford. Like I
said, I'll help any way I can."
"Good." He sighed with relief. `Maybe she'll distract him enough so
that he won't start poking and prodding me.'
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lee opened the door to the small examining room in the Agency's
medical wing, escorted Amanda inside, and shut the door behind them.
Noting the broad grin on Dr. Kelford's face, he wondered if the
physician won a bet about whether Scarecrow would show up, since he
was neither bleeding nor unconscious.
"Hello, Scarecrow," the doctor said. "You're looking well. I'm sure
we can fix that little problem." He smiled at Amanda and nodded a
greeting. "I don't know your companion."
"What do you mean, `that little problem'?" Lee tried to ignore the
butterflies in his stomach. To expend some nervous energy, he picked
up an Agency pamphlet, "Recovering from Your Gunshot Wound," and
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Amanda tapping her foot.
When he ignored her, she shook her head, crossed the room, and held
out her hand. "Hello, Dr. Kelford. I'm Amanda King, part-time
The older man's smile broadened as he leaned forward and shook her
hand. "Delighted to meet you."
"Doc . . . " Lee tapped the pamphlet against his palm and leaned
against the examining table. He waited as Amanda walked over to him,
stepped up to the table, seated herself on it, and smoothed out her
skirt. Catching the doctor's eye, Lee nodded for him to proceed.
"Well, we can't have you checking into the hospital looking in the
pink of health, now can we?" Kelford chuckled. "We have to
fabricate your cover, Scarecrow. Melrose asked me to put together
some scenarios for you. Since it's your body, you get to choose."
He smiled, as if he were allowing Lee to select a treat from the
"I was thinking of dengue fever," Kelford said. "You got back from
Honduras less than a week ago. You could have picked it up there."
His face became serious. "With a possible Agency leak, we need to
pick a disease you might have been exposed to recently."
Lee gulped and crumpled the pamphlet in his hand.
"Excuse me, Dr. Kelford," Amanda said, "but what is dengue fever?"
"Dengue fever is an acute, infectious virus transmitted by the bite
of the Aedes mosquito." Kelford beamed, obviously pleased by her
interest. "Also called 'bonebreak fever' or 'bone-crusher disease,'
due to the extreme muscle and joint pain. Other symptoms are spiking
fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, and general prostration."
"You're not going to infect me with dengue fever." Lee twisted the
paper with both hands and shifted his weight from foot to foot. "Are
"Of course not. That would be asking too much."
Lee relaxed. "Oh, good."
"We'd just mimic the symptoms."
Lee tensed again and tore the pamphlet in half.
Kelford cocked his head and gazed upward. "Too few people appreciate
how modern medicine can do more than cure diseases. It can also do a
fascinating job of mimicking them. Positive iatrogenesis, I call
it." He looked back at Lee. "Of course, Scarecrow, we'd fake a mild
case. We submit a blood sample from someone who has dengue fever and
put your name on it."
"What are my other choices?" Lee clenched his teeth and felt a
muscle twitch in his jaw. He tore the paper again.
"Well, we can mimic lots of acute illnesses requiring
hospitalization. Gastritis, for example, or severe food poisoning."
Lee groaned and continued to take his tension out on the defenseless
pamphlet, ripping it to shreds. "Forget acute illnesses! Can I
pretend to have a sprained ankle or some other sports injury?"
"Remember, your illness has to justify hospitalization and calling in
NEST." Kelford adjusted his stethoscope. "It doesn't have to be a
lengthy illness, though. I understand the other agents were killed
soon after they checked in."
"That makes me feel so much better." Lee scowled and tore the paper
into ever-smaller pieces.
"We could go with a work-related injury." Kelford scratched his
chin. "How about a stab wound? Nothing involving a vital organ, of
"Forget it!" Lee dropped the scraps of paper and brushed away a few
pieces that clung to his sweaty palms. Despite the smallness of the
room, he began to pace.
Amanda eyed the pile of brochure confetti on the floor and rolled her
eyes. She hopped off the examining table, knelt down, and began to
pick up the debris.
"Don't worry about it, Mrs. King. I'll have maintenance sweep when
we're finished in here." The physician caught Lee's eye. "The only
remaining option, Scarecrow, is minor surgery."
"You know, Lee," Amanda said, "you could have your tonsils removed.
Lots of people have them taken out as children, just as a
precaution. I did. I never miss them, honestly."
The doctor gave her an approving glance. "You know, that just might
work . . . Although we'd have to present it as an emergency to bring
Amanda looked back at the doctor and nodded. "Phillip, he's my older
son, he kept getting the worst sore throat. I kept taking him back
to the pediatrician, and she'd write another prescription. Phillip
would get better, and then a couple of weeks later he'd get another
sore throat, and I'd take him back again. Finally, the doctor
scheduled him for a tonsillectomy, after he got over what the doctor
called a peritonsillar infection. After that," she waved her hands
in the air, "Phillip had no more throat infections, and he didn't
miss any more school. Of course, it took him forever to catch up on
all the school he'd missed. That was really hard on him, too,
because he wanted to see his friends and play outdoors after he'd
spent so much time in bed."
Dr. Kelford grinned and snapped his fingers. "Really, I commend you,
Mrs. King. I think you hit on the perfect solution." He bowed in
Amanda ducked her head. "Oh, I'm sure you thought of something at
least as good. I mean, I didn't even know what dengue fever was."
Lee cleared his throat to attract their attention. "I hate to break
up your little mutual admiration society, but it won't work. I had
my tonsils out when I was eight."
"Really?" Kelford looked surprised. He flipped open a folder and
scanned the contents. "Are you sure? Your medical file says an
appendectomy, not a tonsillectomy." He tapped the paperwork with his
index finger. "We need an accurate record of all your ouchies. You
filled out your P2-11B form improperly, Scarecrow. Do it again, in
"I was supposed to get my tonsils out. The doctor had time on his
hands, so he took out my appendix, too." Lee frowned and resumed
pacing. "God, I hate hospitals." Stopping in front of a metal tray
loaded with medical supplies, he picked up a few tongue depressors.
"Well, since you didn't report the tonsillectomy, the killer won't
know about it," the physician said, with a long-suffering
sigh. "Where was it done?"
"Air Force base hospital, Saudi Arabia." Lee grimaced at the memory
and slapped the wooden sticks against the palm of his right hand.
"No one will dig that up." Kelford shrugged. "Since you're so
picky, I recommend severe tonsillitis, with a tonsillectomy after
your `infection' clears up. Before the `operation,' you either solve
the case or get killed."
Lee shuddered and continued to distract himself with the tongue
depressors. "So how would this work, Doc?"
"We identify a NEST physician who was out of town when our agents
died, brief him, and he oversees your case. Everyone else thinks you
have severe tonsillitis."
When Lee nodded, Kelford grinned. "An excellent choice. The
antibiotic drip and pain relievers give the killer lots of chances to
"Oh, that's just great!" Lee snapped a tongue depressor in half,
looked down at his hands, and dumped the wooden sticks onto the
With a tsk-tsk, Amanda gathered up the tongue depressors and dropped
them into the wastebasket.
"There's one minor complication." The doctor hitched his chair
"What?" Lee grabbed a roll of gauze from the tray and tossed it from
hand to hand like a hot potato.
"NEST isn't called for routine tonsillitis. It'd look mighty
suspicious for an emergency medical team to handle what could be
solved with an outpatient prescription. Your tonsils have to
Lee gulped and unrolled the gauze. "What are you talking about?"
"Peritonsillar abscesses, with retropharyngeal abscess, and acute
oropharyngeal infection." Kelford rolled the words and smacked his
lips, as if they left a delicious aftertaste. "In layman's terms,
your throat's full of pus, and you could die. Now *that's* right up
Lee ground his teeth and twisted the ribbon of gauze into a mangled
"Of course, Scarecrow, you don't have any tonsils to infect. It's
largely a matter of how I fill out the paperwork, and --"
"I'm know I'm gonna hate myself for asking this." Lee crumpled the
gauze in his fist. "What do you mean, `largely'?"
"This condition doesn't develop overnight," Kelford said, with an air
of exaggerated patience. "We need to establish that you've had a
throat infection for a while. Fortunately, it would be just like you
to avoid medical treatment until simple tonsillitis became life-
Kelford rubbed his hands together. "We have just the thing to make
your 'illness' credible -- lozenges that are a real miracle drug for
inducing throat irritation. You'll be pleased with how well they
Lee threw the gauze to the floor. "I'll be pleased?"
The doctor nodded. "After you suck on these drops, no one who hears
you talk will question your hospital admission in Stage Two. If you
wrap up the case in Stage One, stop using the lozenges. Your throat
will return to normal . . . eventually."
"Eventually? Is this really necessary?" Lee brought his hand to his
throat. "Can't you just say I'm sick?"
Kelford shook his head. "Now, now, we have to lay the groundwork for
your cover in Stage Two. You have to sound sick. It's hard to fake
hoarseness. If you forgot and spoke in your normal voice, we'd be
back to square one. Thank goodness modern science can help."
The physician jabbed his finger in Lee's direction. "Scarecrow, you
usually don't follow the doctor's orders. It's imperative that you
use these lozenges immediately. Abscessed tonsils, like Rome,
weren't built in a day. We may have an Agency leak and infiltrators
with medical training. Under those possible circumstances, we can't
risk an apparently healthy Lee Stetson suddenly checking into Galilee
Lee slumped against the wall, his shoulders sagging in defeat.
"All right, then," the doctor said. "I'll fetch the lozenges from the
pharmacy and talk to Melrose about lining up the personnel for Stage
Two. If that goes into effect, I'll dummy up the paperwork to have
you admitted to Galilee General." He wagged his extended
finger. "Remember to pack your jammies."
Kelford rose from his chair and looked at Amanda with friendly
curiosity. "By the way, Mrs. King, what's your role in all this?"
"I'm Lee's Bedside Bluebell. I bring all his food and medication
back to the Agency for analysis."
"His Bedside Bluebell, huh?" Kelford shook his head and gave a low
whistle. "You deserve hazard pay."
Amanda smiled and nodded. "Thank you, Dr. Kelford." When the
physician exited, she turned to Lee. "He's a very nice man."
"Oh, yeah, he's a prince." Taking Amanda's hand, Lee pulled her
toward the door. "Come on, let's get out of here before he decides I
have to run a fever, too."
In the corridor, Lee came face to face with Dr. Kelford. "Just a
moment, Scarecrow." The physician placed his hand on Lee's shoulder
and directed the agent and Amanda back into the examining room,
shutting the door behind him. "We forgot about your pyretotherapy."
"My what?" Hearing the quaver in his own voice, Lee grimaced.
"Fever therapy." Kelford raised his eyebrows. "You don't think
you'd have that serious a throat infection without a fever? And
besides terrible food, one thing you can count on in the hospital is
having your temperature taken."
Lee bit back a hostile retort and nodded. After all, someone had
murdered Tom Jackson. Dealing with doctors, hospitals, and induced
tonsillitis was a small price for nailing his friend's killer.
"Treatment with Coley's Toxins will handle your fever nicely."
Kelford smiled. "Hope you don't mind giving yourself shots. I'll
get together the supplies for you to bring to the hospital. We'll
hold off on raising your temperature until Stage Two." He
winked. "Good luck with Stage One."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Six hours later, Lee glared across the conference room table at
Amanda, who stared at her computer monitor, engrossed in whatever she
was reading. "What've you got so far?" His voice sounded hoarse to
his own ears, but given the rawness of his throat, he was surprised
he could talk at all.
"Well, a janitor has an awful lot of unpaid parking tickets. And an
orderly was arrested last year for being drunk and disorderly."
"Oh, yeah, they sound like vicious murderers." Lee cracked his
knuckles. "I'm not finding much on the medical staff. One of the
doctors owes the IRS. With his salary, he can pay it without killing
Amanda glanced at her watch. "Time for another lozenge, Lee. Dr.
Kelford said to have one every hour."
Lee glowered at the small metal tin bearing the words, "Soothing
Honey Lemon Drops" and decorated with a picture of a Teddy bear
clutching a lemon. He wondered, not for the first time, how
something so innocent-looking could have an effect equivalent to
swallowing shards of glass. Flicking open the lid with one finger,
he lifted out a lozenge. With all the eagerness of a man swallowing
a cyanide capsule, he placed it in his mouth.
"I should be getting home," Amanda said. "I didn't realize it was so
Lee scooped up several typed pages of names and gave them an emphatic
shake. "Come on, Amanda, we've barely made a dent here. Where's
your commitment to your country?"
"Lee, if you want me to work late, ask. You don't have to question
my patriotism. I have to call Mother if I'm staying."
"All right, I'm asking. Call your mother."
"You know, I don't have to make up something about my club or pet
sitting." She smiled. "I can say, `Mother, I'm with a sick
friend.'" She paused and frowned. "Though you're not really sick,
so that wouldn't be the truth. I guess if your throat hurts, I could
say you felt sick. Your voice sounds like your throat hurts. It
does hurt, doesn't it?"
"Yes, Amanda, my throat hurts," he croaked. "A lot."
"Oh, that's great!"
Lee widened his eyes in amazement and then glared at her.
"I mean it's great that I don't have to lie to Mother." After an
awkward pause, Amanda said, "Um, don't you want to take a dinner
break? We've been doing this nonstop all day. I'm hungry, and my
eyes are crossing from staring at the computer screen."
"No, I don't want to take a break. My throat hurts too much to eat,
and I don't want to quit until I find something we can use." Looking
at her disappointed face, he relented. "Fine, you take a break.
Just come back here as soon as you're finished, okay?"
"Okay, okay. I'll bring you back some chicken soup." Amanda hurried
toward the door. As she exited, Francine breezed past her into the
"So, are you and Mrs. Bluebell getting anywhere?"
"Not really." Lee cleared his throat and winced.
"I brought you some background material."
"Great, what have you got?" Lee reached out his left hand and
beckoned with his fingers. "Come on, give it to me."
Francine handed him two large, thin volumes, turned on her heel, and
headed to the door.
"'Timmy and his Tonsils' and 'Hoppy Goes to the Hospital'?" Lee
flung the books down on the table. "Very funny, Florence Nightmare."
"Anything for you, Hoppy." Francine laughed over her shoulder.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Three days later, Amanda entered Lee's room at Galilee General
Hospital and found it empty. She put her hands on her hips and shook
her head. Why couldn't the man stay put? Heaven knows he was grumpy
about not feeling well; why didn't he stay in bed? Couldn't a highly
trained agent wait for someone to try to kill him? Was that so much
Deciding to take advantage of her solitude, Amanda picked up Lee's
medical chart. After reading the vital statistics with interest, she
scanned the comments by the staff.
"Hmm . . . 'Patient has a poor attitude.' They've got that right,"
she said aloud, nodding in agreement with the complaining nurses'
statements. Turning to the second sheet of paper clipped to the
board, she continued to read. "Allergies: SEVERE PCN. What's that?
Yak dander." She shook her head in bewilderment. "How would someone
find out they're allergic to yaks?"
"The hard way. I was working in Tibet. And that's severe allergy to
penicillin." Startled by the Lee's gravelly rasp in her ear, she
"Don't you ever knock?" Amanda turned to face him, her hand on her
chest. "Honestly, you have the worst manners."
"This is *my* room. I don't have to knock." Lee took the clipboard
from her and hung it back at the end of the bed. "Who said you could
read my medical chart?"
"Oh, right! I forgot your medical chart is a matter of national
security. Where've you been?"
"Checking in with Francine."
"Lee, if you have a question for Francine, I'm the messenger. That's
one of the reasons I'm here. You know that." She crossed her arms
and cocked her head. "You shouldn't walk around. You're supposed to
be fighting a very serious throat infection. If you don't stay in
bed, somebody's gonna figure out that you're not really sick.
Anyway, since Dr. Kelford gave you a fever and a sore throat, you
ought to be in bed."
"You sure get bossy when you put on a uniform." Lee looked her up
and down. "If this is what you're like as a Bedside Bluebell, thank
God you didn't join the military."
"Well, one of us needs to worry about maintaining your cover.
Apparently that's me." Amanda grabbed a pillow and pounded it. "You
shouldn't talk. Somebody could walk in here any time and hear you.
You're not supposed to strain your throat. That's why they gave you
a pen and a notepad." She pulled up the bedclothes and patted the
sheet. "Now get in bed."
Lee shrugged off his brown terrycloth bathrobe, revealing a pair of
blue cotton pajamas. Pouting, he climbed into bed and leaned back
against the pillows.
"So, did Francine have anything to say?" Amanda smiled, savoring the
memory of Francine's dismay at being dressed in "hospital frump"
rather than her usual designer wardrobe.
"Uh-uh." Amanda handed him the legal pad and ballpoint pen that lay
on the bedside table. "No talking!"
He scowled at her, scribbled something, and handed back the pad.
Amanda squinted as she struggled to decipher his nearly illegible
handwriting. Puzzling out one word at a time, she read aloud, "She
says she's allergic to the polyester nurse's uniform, and she
complained about the shoes?"
"You have terrible handwriting." Amanda tapped the page with her
finger. "Phillip had better penmanship than this by second grade.
You don't need any special codes to send a secret message. You could
just write a little sloppier than usual."
Lee reached out and snatched the pad. With exaggerated care, he
printed out, in large block capital letters, "WHERE DID YOU GO?"
"I got you something to drink."
He printed a single word: "SCOTCH?"
Amanda rolled her eyes and sighed. Was he going to demand cheesecake
and a woman, too, like the last time they were here? "Noo," she
said, drawing out the word, "you're not supposed to eat or drink
anything they bring you, and you complain about drinking tap water.
I didn't want you to get dehydrated, so I got bottled mineral water
from the vending machine."
She reached into her purse and pulled out the bottle. The vending
machine wasn't working properly; the plastic was warm rather than
cool to her touch. "I'm afraid it's not very cold."
Amanda bit her lip as she struggled to unscrew the cap. Noting Lee's
amused glance, she said, "Just a minute, I'll get it." Giving the
intransigent cap a further wrench, she gasped as it gave way, and she
lost her balance. Waving her arms to keep from falling, she tipped
the bottle, and the contents gushed out, soaking her blue
uniform. "Oh my gosh!" She grabbed a handful of tissues and dabbed
at her wet jumper.
Lee chuckled and printed something on his notepad. When Amanda threw
the sodden tissues into the wastebasket and looked back at him, he
held up the message: "ONLY 007 LIKES HIS DRINKS SHAKEN."
"Not funny, Scarecrow. Thank goodness they keep extra uniforms in
the volunteers' break room. I better go change." When Amanda
reached the door, she turned around and shook her finger. "Don't go
anywhere, stay in bed, and don't talk."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The volunteers' break room was furnished with cast-off furniture that
the Salvation Army would reject. Magazines too old for the public
waiting rooms, but not yet collectors' items, adorned a glass ring-
stained and scuffed coffee table. In the corner, a small black and
white television blared "The Mike Douglas Entertainment Hour" from
atop a hospital tray table that was probably declared a safety hazard
Oblivious to the décor in the deserted room, Amanda searched the rack
of Bedside Bluebell uniforms, looking for one in her size. After
flipping past several large and medium size uniforms, she found one
size small uniform at the very end. `Hmm, someone left her
identification badge on her uniform. 'Bedside Bluebell Julie
Hanson.' Sorry, Julie, but this is a matter of national security.'
Feeling guilty, Amanda took the uniform from the hanger and unpinned
the badge. Deciding to hand in the badge at the nurse's station,
along with a thank you note, she made her way to the adjacent ladies
room. `I'll bring the uniform back tomorrow, freshly washed and
pressed,' she told herself.
Amanda entered a stall and pulled off her damp jumper. As she lifted
the clean garment over her head, something dropped from the pocket
of "Julie's" jumper. Kneeling down, she picked up a small clear
glass vial with a rubber top, which held what appeared to be liquid
"Penicillin?" she said, reading the printed label. "Hmm, Bluebells
don't dispense medications . . . " Assuming that the vial belonged
to Julie Hanson, Amanda decided to turn it in at the nurse's station,
along with the nametag. Resolved to be thorough, she slipped her
hand into the pocket of the uniform and pulled out a second small
bottle, bearing the words "Chloral Hydrate." Further search yielded
a scrap of paper. She gasped when she read it: "Stetson, Rm. 608,
`Oh my gosh!' Amanda gulped. `I've got to tell Lee about this right
away! I wonder if that funny word is the technical term for yak
dander. Maybe they're giving him that, too.' She shoved the bottles
and the paper into her pocket and scurried from the bathroom. When
she reached the hallway, she shook her head in dismay. `A Bedside
Bluebell. Honestly, you can't trust anybody these days.'
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"This is great, Amanda!" Lee turned his attention back to the vials
and the scrap of paper. "`Mopoxehoe' is Russian for ice cream, so
they'll slip me the penicillin in food. Giving me chloral hydrate at
the same time would knock me out. That way I couldn't call for help
when I reacted to the penicillin." He handed the evidence to
her. "Put these back where you found them. Change into your own
uniform and return Julie's. The important thing is not spooking the
killer. If Julie Hanson realizes her uniform's missing, she'll
run." He threw off the covers and swung his legs over the edge of
the hospital bed. "I've gotta talk to Francine."
"Hold it!" Amanda put her hands on her hips. "Didn't we just go
over this? I'm supposed to deliver messages between you and
Francine!" Exasperated, she gestured toward Lee's abandoned message
pad. "It's bad enough that you talk when you're in your room with
the door closed. You can't keep going by the nurses' stand and
chatting with Francine. Now, what should I tell her?"
Lee frowned, leaning back onto the bed. "I hate this. Okay, tell
Francine to put on one of those Bluebell get-ups. It doesn't have to
fit perfectly. She just has to blend in and wait for Julie Hanson
in the break room, then shadow and photograph her. We have to catch
her in the act."
Amanda slipped the vials and the scrap of paper back into the pocket
of the unstained uniform. "Okay, I'll tell Francine. I don't see
why she should take over, though. I'm the one who found the drugs
and the note. I can blend in as a Bedside Bluebell in the break
room. I don't even have to play a cover; I'll just be me."
"Amanda!" Lee grabbed her hand. "I don't want you getting close to
Julie Hanson. The woman's a professional. She's killed at least one
agent, and maybe three."
"If she's a professional, she's noticed Francine wearing a nurse's
uniform," Amanda said. "She'll be suspicious if Francine turns into
a Bedside Bluebell. And the nurses never go in the volunteers' break
room; they have their own lounge. No, I need to identify Julie
Hanson." She waited for his response, nervous but determined to see
Lee raked a hand through his hair. "Damn, you're right. We can't
use Francine. I'll call Billy and have him send in some other female
agents to pose as Bedside Bluebells."
He looked into Amanda's eyes. "As soon as they get here, Amanda
King, you go home. And if Julie Hanson shows up before the agents,
just point her out to Francine. Don't do anything else. You got
it?" She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. "No
arguments. This is getting dangerous. I don't want you in the line
When Amanda gave a noncommittal shrug, Lee reached for his
bathrobe. "Where's this break room? I want to check things out."
Placing a hand on his chest, Amanda pushed him back against his
pillows. "Lee, think about it! Your hanging around outside the
break room could make Julie suspicious, too. You have to wait in bed
for her to bring you a penicillin sundae."
Lee scowled and flung his bathrobe across the bed. "I hate
hospitals. I hate having a sore throat. I hate not doing anything
except waiting for somebody to try to murder me. I should be going
after Tom's killer, not lying here." His voice rose in volume with
each sentence, but his throat could achieve no more than a gravelly
"You're really going to hate it if Julie misses her uniform and gets
away. I better go. I'll change clothes and talk to Francine. You
call Mr. Melrose and stay here."
"Hey, since when do you give the orders?"
Amanda smiled. "If you've got any complaints, write them on your
notepad. Remember, you have severe tonsillitis."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amanda sat on the battered couch of the volunteers' break room,
taking deep breaths. In her sweaty palm, she clutched the tiny
camera she convinced Francine to relinquish. She didn't lie to
Francine; she reported what Lee said -- just not all of it. Now she
half hoped that the other female agents arrived before Julie Hanson.
With exaggerated nonchalance, Amanda flipped through the pages of the
February 1969 issue of "Pointing Dog Journal." Her eyes kept
straying from the pictures of Pudelpointers and Drahthaars
brandishing dead ducks to the miniature camera in her hand.
At the sound of the door opening, she glanced up to see a slender
blonde woman enter the room. The young woman caught her eye and
smiled. "Hi." She pointed at Amanda's damp uniform. "What happened
Amanda felt her cheeks burn. "Oh, a bottle of mineral water got the
better of me."
The woman shrugged. "Well, at least nobody threw up on you." She
wrinkled her nose. "I hate it when that happens." Walking over to
the rack of uniforms, she removed the last hanger.
As the woman pulled the uniform from the hanger, Amanda caught a
glimpse of the "Julie Hanson" badge she'd pinned back in place.
Hoping to capture the badge and the woman on film, she inched her
hand away from the magazine and pushed down the button on the little
As Julie Hanson exited the room, uniform in hand, Amanda stared at an
article entitled, "Teaching the `Whoa' Command." She held her
breath, counted to ten, and then sneaked out the door. With
exaggerated stealth, she crept down the hallway, hugging the wall and
keeping her eyes on Julie's blonde head.
As Amanda had done before, Julie stepped into the ladies room to
change into her uniform. Panicking, Amanda halted a few yards from
the door and wondered what to do. Should she follow Julie inside or
wait in the corridor? What would a trained agent do? She shook her
head, resolving to ask Lee later.
This train of thought became moot when the bathroom door opened.
Amanda backed against the wall and watched the Bluebell-clad Julie
emerge, her jeans and sweater draped over her arm. As Julie
proceeded down the hall, Amanda resumed her elaborately stealthy
pursuit, following a few yards behind.
At the end of the corridor, Julie turned right and opened a door
labeled "Holding Area for Patient Meals." When the blonde
disappeared inside, Amanda hurried to the door, counted to ten, and
turned the knob with extreme care. Holding her breath, she tiptoed
inside. She skirted the large collection of tiered metal carts laden
with trays and the two nurses' aides who were wheeling carts out of
the room, and sidled into a corner.
As the nurses' aides pushed their way out the door, Amanda held her
camera at arm's length in her shaking hands and pointed it at the
sinister Bedside Bluebell. Julie seemed absorbed in pouring some of
the contents of the two bottles into a small plastic ice-cream
container and writing something on the container's cardboard lid.
Unfortunately, when she finished her task, she looked straight at
Amanda and her camera.
"What do you think you're doing?" Julie clenched her fists and edged
toward Amanda. "Are you following me or something?"
Amanda gulped. Using the only weapon at hand, she shoved a cart
stacked with meal trays toward the blonde. Julie heaved it aside and
continued toward her. Desperate, Amanda grabbed a bowl of tomato
soup from a tray. She threw the hot liquid at Julie, splattering
the broth in her face.
Amanda raced to the door, pushing past an astonished nurse's aide who
was entering at the same time. Bursting into the corridor, she
nearly collided with nurse Francine and three women dressed as
Bedside Bluebells. With a gasp, she thrust the camera toward
Francine. "She's in there! I got her with the soup!"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Four days later, Amanda poured hot water into her mug and set the
teakettle back on the stove. After plunging the teabag into the
steaming brew several times, she lifted it out and set it onto a
saucer. She leaned back against the counter and sighed. `I guess I
never will find out about Julie Hanson. The Agency must think I
don't need to know.'
As if summoned by her thoughts, Lee's face popped up in the kitchen
window. Amanda smiled and hurried to the back door. "You can come
in, Lee. Mother took the boys to the movies."
After a moment Lee entered and followed her into the brightly-lit
kitchen. His face was flushed, and his hands were shoved into the
pockets of his leather jacket. "Hi," he said in a hoarse
whisper. "I thought you might want to hear about the end of the
"I wondered if you'd ever tell me about it. Thanks for not letting
me down." Amanda raised her eyebrows and cocked her head. "So, did
you find out who Julie is and how she knew about the other agents?"
Lee leaned against the kitchen counter. "You're never gonna believe
this. A whole ring of KGB agents operated out of Galilee General --
as Bedside Bluebells."
Amanda's mouth dropped open. Feeling her knees buckle, she sat down
on a kitchen stool. "Oh my gosh, the KGB took over the Bluebells?"
"I wouldn't say that. Four junior KGB agents volunteered as
Bluebells and worked at the hospital on rotating shifts. The KGB
didn't approach the regular volunteers."
"I can't believe the KGB infiltrated the Bedside Bluebells!" Amanda
bit her lip. "It makes us look so bad. If this story gets picked up
by the press, it's gonna be hard to recruit new members."
"The Potomac Pansies at Parker General Hospital have the same
problem. Some of the Pansies were KGB agents, too." Lee eyed the
steaming cup on the counter. "Can I have some tea, Amanda? My
throat is killing me."
Amanda reached for the mug and handed it to him. "Here, take this.
I just made it." She waited for him to take a swallow and then
continued. "I don't understand how this worked, Lee. Hospital
volunteers don't know who's an agent, and they don't dispense
medications. We just distribute mail and fold linens."
"Well, the KGB also infiltrated NEST, the National Emergency Surgical
Team," Lee said. "NEST treats injured federal agents." He swallowed
more tea, winced, and went on, still in a raspy whisper. "The
ringleader was a senior KGB operative, Svetlana Malinkov. She
managed to seduce the man in charge of NEST's computer data bank.
Svetlana gave him knockout drops every night, and used his key and
computer access card to find out who was hospitalized for treatment
by NEST. As soon as a bird's in the nest –- I mean, as soon as NEST
gets a call about a wounded agent -- they enter that information in
the computer. When a NEST doctor makes a report, they enter more
details. From the NEST data bank, Svetlana knew the identity and
location of hospitalized agents, along with facts from their medical
files. She had medical and pharmaceutical training in Russia, and
she tailored each hit to the particular case. Sometimes she ordered
an air bubble to be fed into an IV line, or a bolus of potassium to
stop the heart, or an overdose of a prescription drug the patient was
taking. That way the deaths looked natural or, in my case,
accidental. The KGB Bluebells and Pansies killed the agents as
Amanda nodded. "Like giving you penicillin, because your allergy is
part of your medical record."
"Exactly." Lee swallowed more tea, winced, and rubbed his
throat. "Penicillin is usually prescribed for abscessed tonsils.
Svetlana knew what she was doing when she slipped the drugs and
instructions into Julie's uniform. She just didn't predict your run-
in with a bottle of mineral water."
He sighed and stared at the floor. "Too bad we didn't bust them
sooner. The KGB hospital volunteers also murdered operatives from
the NSA and the CIA. The other agencies thought those were natural
or accidental deaths."
"I'm sorry." Amanda waited until Lee looked back at her. "How did
you figure this out?"
"Julie Hanson, or rather, Sonya Vronsky, talked. When she realized
your pictures and the drugs in the ice cream had her dead to rights,
she confessed everything. She's new to the game and hadn't killed
anybody yet, so she cut a deal with the Federal Prosecutor's office
in exchange for her testimony against all the others." Lee took a
final gulp of tea and put the mug on the counter.
Amanda slipped off her stool and placed the empty cup in the
sink. "I probably folded sheets with some of those KGB agents." She
shook her head. "I never suspected a thing. I guess the Russians
fold their sheets just like the rest of us."
Lee smiled. "I never got counter-intelligence training in linens,
but that's probably true." He looked down again and shuffled his
feet. "Umm, Amanda . . . "
"Yes, Lee?" Puzzled at his obvious discomfort, she studied his face.
"I didn't have clearance to tell you about the case until now.
Nobody suspected you, but we had to interrogate all the Russian
agents to make sure that they didn't involve the regular volunteers.
I'm sorry to keep you in suspense."
Amanda smiled at him. "It's okay. I know spies are paranoid, so I
won't take it personally." She narrowed her eyes and looked him
over, noting his flushed face and bright eyes. If Phillip or Jamie
looked like that, she'd pack them off to bed. "Lee, if you still
have a sore throat and laryngitis, maybe you should see Dr. Kelford.
I know he said it would take a while for the effect of the lozenges
to wear off, but it's been four days. And you don't look so good."
Lee grimaced. "I already saw him. This morning I read him the riot
act about how his miracle drugs still made me feel lousy. It's not
Doc Kelford's cough drops. I picked up strep throat at that damn
hospital." He looked uncomfortable. "I hope I don't give it to
you. You couldn't hear me whisper over the phone, and we already
made you wait so long . . . and you were pretty important in solving
the case. Even though you disobeyed my orders and followed Julie."
"Oh, poor Lee." Amanda clucked her tongue. "Don't worry. I'll wash
my hands and put your cup through the dishwasher." She patted his
arm. "It could have been worse. At least you didn't catch dengue
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. I'm not making any money from them.
Timeline: First season, just after "Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth"
Timeline: First season, just after "Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth"