Amanda King was glad she had decided to take the training course with the FBI. She never thought she would talk herself into it. However, Joe was gone more and more to Estocia, and she needed more to do than take care of the boys. They were in elementary school full time and she wanted to keep occupied with more than just housework.
She hadn’t intended on becoming a full time agent at first. Her interest lay more in secretarial work, which was where she initially began, with clerical duties. The section chief kept commending her when she pointed out things that he was ignoring. “Little things on big cases,” he was always telling her.
Finally, it was Dotty who encouraged her. Amanda’s mother told her she’d be there when the boys got home, and that she didn’t mind keeping an eye on them, if the agent training was where Amanda’s interests were.
The course was mentally and physically grueling, but after raising two sons, Amanda took the course by the horns and excelled. She trained at Quantico, and was in the barracks during the week. On weekends she was allowed to go home. She wasn’t sure she’d like firearms training, but she kept up with her class, paying close attention to detail.
She graduated in the top ten percent of her class and was soon working cases in the field. She was fortunate to get posted to the Washington Field Office. She had discussed possibly moving, if she had to, with Joe.
He had not been opposed to the idea and was traveling a lot. One house would be the same to him as another, or so he said. The boys would have to change schools, but he was certain they’d adjust.
Amanda’s marriage was going downhill. She left for work early in the morning and put in a couple of hours overtime almost every day. She didn’t want Jamie and Phillip to see their parents arguing all of the time, so she spent as much time at work as she could, except when Joe was out of town, and that was more often now.
With Joe out of the country so frequently, Phillip and Jamie were acting out. Once, Dotty had to pull them off each other over a toy. They constantly picked on each other, from grades to their favorite girl in their class. There was an occasion when Amanda had to go home to settle an argument.
Because of the unrest at home, Amanda had taken the first two weeks of the year to stay home and be with Phillip and Jamie. She saw Joe for one weekend during that time. Their sons’ behavior calmed down, but then Amanda had to go back to work. Even with Dotty around, she worried that the boys’ conduct would degrade again without Joe around.
She didn’t feel like she had a lot of options. Arguing with Joe got her nowhere. Dotty was keeping out of their marital problems. That surprised Amanda, but she understood. She was just glad her mother was living with them, and was there when the boys got home from school.
Amanda was mulling over all of this while she stared at a job listing on the bulletin board. There had been talk of transfers lately, and she wasn’t sure she wanted one.
“Amanda, are you going to lunch with us or not?” Chris Payne asked her. He was standing in the hall with two other agents.
“I’ve got a thermos of soup, so I’ll be eating in today, Chris. Thank you for asking,” Amanda took her eyes off the bulletin board to address her friend.
“Okay, catch you later.” Chris walked toward the elevator with the others.
“Hello, Amanda,” her section chief, David Blivins said as he walked down the hall.
“Hello, David,” Amanda greeted him, bringing him to a stop next to her at the bulletin board.
“What has your eye now? The new Top Ten list is out next week,” David mulled the bulletin board with her.
“This Agency thing, what’s that about?” Amanda asked.
“Oh, them. They’re our kissing cousins. They go under cover a lot. I need you here.” He tried to discourage her.
“I was thinking, David, that maybe I’d like to try this Agency; I want to see what they can offer me.”
“They’ve got a high killed-in-action rate, Amanda. I don’t recommend it. The only reason we posted their notice is because the President ordered us to. You’ve got your sons and husband to worry about.” They were also very successful on their missions, which her supervisor did not tell her. He wouldn’t lie to her, but he didn’t want to lose one of his top agents.
“I have to be honest with you. I could get transferred out of the Washington office, and I really don’t want to have to move my family. Or move on my own and leave them behind. My children need me.” Amanda said, looking him in the eye.
“I’d ask you to reconsider, but I know that look, Amanda. So I’ll just say good luck instead,” David offered as he turned back toward his office, “Would it help if I took you to lunch?”
Amanda grinned, “Sorry, I brought.”
“I understand. Keep me apprised,” David said and continued down the hall.
Amanda’s tempestuous marriage had settled down. She and Joe were arguing much less, and he seemed to agree with her continuing to have a job, even after she told him she was transferring to the Agency. She was putting some of her earnings away in a college fund for the boys. Joe had agreed this was a good idea. His paycheck would take care of all the household bills.
Joe was still in Estocia for one week out of the month, but Amanda was glad he was home more. He was able to work from an office in Virginia and still feel as though he was helping the Estocians. When he was home, the boys practically hung off him, whether he was watching TV or nagging them to do their homework.
Billy Melrose sat in his office at the Agency, looking over the paperwork of one of his newest agents, Amanda King. Billy had decided she would be an asset to the Agency. Her recommendation from the FBI was a four star rating. Today, she would meet her partner.
She had been on staff for two weeks, studying the Agency’s rules, regulations, and certification requirements. He wasn’t going to put her through the entire training course, just the certification section. The same one he re-certified all the agents with.
Lee Stetson entered the office after he knocked twice. He eyed Amanda and then Billy.
“Lee, thanks for coming down,” Billy greeted him.
“What’s up Billy?” Lee asked him.
The section chief stood, “Lee, I’d like you to meet your new partner, Amanda King. Amanda King, Lee Stetson. Codename: Scarecrow.”
Amanda stood up to shake Lee’s hand, but he wasn’t willing. Instead, he gave her a curt nod, folding his arms across his chest, “Hello.”
Amanda withdrew her hand, but remained standing. She gave Lee a hesitant smile, even though he made her feel very out of place.
“Billy, I work better alone. I don’t need anyone to babysit me,” Lee argued immediately.
“Amanda, do me a favor and wait outside my office. This could get ugly,” Billy gave her a smile. After she left, he turned his full attention back to Lee, “You work with whomever I say. Don’t fight me on this, Lee. You’ll lose.” Billy said firmly. He had learned long ago not to be bullied by his agents.
“Give me a break, would you? I don’t need her,” Lee insisted, pointing his thumb toward the office window where Amanda stood with her back to them.
“Lee, you took over the Q Bureau two weeks ago. Have her file for you, I don’t care, but you will get to know her and make her feel welcome. And take her with you on cases so she can learn the ropes. She has a very good recommendation from her prior job. You might have heard of the outfit…the FBI? Get used to having a partner again.” Billy said, not giving in.
Lee snorted derisively, “Yeah, again. Those other two, and they were men, broke after a month and quit the business. You want her to quit, too?”
“Trust me, she’s no quitter,” Billy said sincerely. “Now, get out of my office.”
“We’ll see,” was Lee’s parting shot as he exited the office.
“Follow me. I’ll show you the office,” Lee ordered his new partner after he’d left the section chief’s office.
Amanda followed silently. Now wasn’t the time to show him how determined she could be. She didn’t know what they had discussed while she waited in the bullpen, but Billy had given her some helpful information on her new partner the day before.
Billy had told her that Lee was a top agent and had had three partners. The first one was killed in the line of duty, and the other two had quit from the stress of the job. He also mentioned that Lee’s parents had been spies, and that Lee had lost his parents when he was five years old. Her new partner was known for dating any single woman he could find, and for having impeccable manners. The fact that Amanda was married and had children was a major reason that she was chosen to be his partner.
Lee unlocked a door labeled “Film Library” and let Amanda in before him. She saw two desks in the room; one piled with a mess of papers and office supplies. The other was stark and empty. An economy sized refrigerator and a water cooler were to her left. On a small table sat a coffeemaker as well.
“That clean one’s yours,” Lee said gruffly, pointing to his right.
“What did I do?” Amanda asked as she put her purse on her new desk.
“What?” Lee asked, taking a seat at his.
“I really don’t know why, but you seem upset with me, and we’ve only just met. So I’d like to at least know how I’ve offended you.” She said, determined not to let him scare her off.
Lee sighed. Taking in a breath he told her, “Look, it’s not you, okay? It’s Billy. He thinks I need to be tamed or something. So every chance he gets, he saddles me with a new partner.”
“I don’t know what he told you, but I’m here to work cases. I wasn’t told to keep an eye on you. If we have to be partners, I would like to get to know you better,” Amanda said. She didn’t care whether Lee liked her or not, but she hoped that he’d come around. Otherwise, she’d have to request a new partner, or work solo.
Lee was silent for a few moments, shuffling through the papers on his desk. Amanda reviewed the book she’d brought up. Billy had asked her to go over the certification requirements, telling her that she’d be tested at the end of the week. While Lee continued to sort through his desk, she helped herself to coffee and took down notes from the book.
“Studying for the CE?” Lee asked amicably, in a vast change of mood.
“The what? Oh, the Certification Exam, yes,” Amanda said, glad that he seemed to be relaxing.
“It’s not really that tough.” Lee said, “I always pass with flying colors.”
“How long have you been with the Agency?”
“Ten years. I’m the best there is,” he boasted.
Amanda smiled. “So I hear,”
“And you’re…married?” Lee asked.
“Yes, I married Joe King shortly after we graduated from college. He’s a lawyer and his company is helping the hungry, in the country of Estocia. We’ve been married, eleven years, but it doesn’t seem like it. He goes overseas for a week each month. We have two boys, Jamie and Phillip, and they’re eight and ten. They think that having their mom as an agent is ‘way cool’.” She laughed a bit as she finished rambling.
“So, what’s tougher? The mom thing, or the agent thing?” he inquired.
“If I had to pick I’d say being a mother. This job is something of a known quantity, but my boys…they always come at me with something new,” she explained.
Before long, Amanda had told Lee almost her whole life story. He interrupted with a few questions. They only stopped their discussion long enough to refill their coffees. She left out the arguments she and Joe had had in the past. For now, things were okay with her marriage and Lee didn’t need to know otherwise.
Amanda had been with the Agency for over a year now. Joe was only going to Estocia twice a month, for a weekend each time. He decided he wanted Amanda to quit working, but he was powerless to make her stay home. He reasoned that he was home more and wanted to see her. She reasoned back that she was happy working, and would not quit. The boys didn’t seem to be affected by her working, and they were glad to have Joe home so much.
Lee had met her family on several occasions, when he stopped by to get Amanda’s help on a last minute case. He had also seen them on Christmas and briefly at a family cookout, which some other agents also attended.
Lee got along with Joe just fine. He never had a thought of stealing his partner from her husband. She was too much a homemaker and far less a night lifer than he was. She kept busy after work with her husband and sons and that was fine with him.
Little by little, Amanda had given Lee small hints that things might not be okay at home. She wanted to work them out, or so she told him when he asked, and right now, things were better than ever.
Lee continued his dating sprees. Whenever he was free from working a night case, he was dating either other single agents, the girls from the steno pool, or a woman from one of the clubs he liked to check out. He had many one night stands, occasionally discussed his dates with Amanda, and she always listened to him, as a friend.
“King! Desmond! Stetson!” an enraged William Melrose called into the bullpen. Instantly, all three agents were in his office.
“What is it?” Lee Stetson asked.
“Sandy Carday got past security at Dulles, that’s what. You three better find her by the weekend. She’s got contacts in Arlington, and that’s where she’s expected to show up. For today, we let her fly under the radar, or think she is. So far she’s been tracked heading toward Arlington, which will play nicely into our plans to capture her, as long as you three do your jobs.”
“We always do,” Francine said confidently.
“Hmm, recently, you have,” Melrose replied, thinking of a case three months ago that Francine had botched royally and shaking his head to jiggle the memory away.
Francine was suddenly looking at her feet as she recalled the flubbed defection. The Czech defector could have given them so much information. Francine had not met him at the airport when he arrived and he’d hightailed it to the Czech embassy instead, telling his superiors about the aborted plan, saying he’d been tricked by the Americans.
“You mean, Sandy Carday the female mob kingpin? That Sandy Carday? I thought she was in hiding in Europe.” Lee said.
“So did we, until this morning,” Billy acknowledged, “Now, Lee, you and Amanda come up with a game plan and have it in my office by the end of the day.”
“Sure thing,” Lee nodded as the two of them exited the office, followed by Francine.
“Lee?” Francine called.
“I’m busy,” he said, not turning around, “give me a few minutes and I’ll call you from the Q.”
“Don’t bother.” She shot back.
Lee motioned Amanda to go ahead without him and then turned to Francine, “What the hell do you want? I have to get a strategy together in the next two hours, and get it written up. Make it quick, huh?”
“I just…just wanted to talk about setting up dinner is all,” Francine softened.
Lee brooded a moment before answering her, “I told you, it’s over. What don’t you get?”
“Lee, c’mon, over one little fight?” Francine implored him.
“It wasn’t little, it was big. I don’t want to get engaged. I don’t want to be tied down at all right now. Leave me alone.” He warned her as he backed away. She was making him angry and he didn’t want to continue the discussion.
“I know what’s happening. Don’t think I don’t,” she told him.
He turned back to her, “And what do you think is going on, Francine? Huh?”
“I’ve seen her looking at you. Married or not I know what you’re doing, or going to do,” Francine said.
“Huh. Who’s this that I’m supposed to be involved with?”
“Come on Lee. It’s Amanda. I know,” she said.
“You don’t know anything. We’re just friends. Leave it,” Lee sniped, turning to leave again.
“Yeah, real good friends, Stetson,” Francine called after him, answered by Lee with his middle finger as he headed to the elevator.
The Q Bureau was quiet as Amanda looked over the file and notes Mr. Melrose had given to her. Her brain was working overtime already on strategy—where to place teams for the capture of Carday, who to pick for the assignment.
This was the challenge she had transferred out of the FBI to find. She liked working with most of the people, and having the Q Bureau was convenient. She didn’t have to deal with people she didn’t like.
She could tell by the way he came in that Lee had had another discussion with Francine, and that it wasn’t a friendly one. He slammed the door so hard that it didn’t catch and swung back open by ten degrees.
While he made his way to his desk, she rose from hers, and closed it without a word, locking it too, as was their habit. She sat down again, not saying anything to him. She knew he would cool down on his own. He always did, no matter who it was that had gotten him in a bad mood.
Amanda hadn’t liked Francine since beginning with the Agency. Francine did not like her because she was a homemaker, and could cook, clean, and take care of her family. Francine wasn’t impressed that Amanda had been with the FBI. Amanda also didn’t load herself down with makeup and perfume, and didn’t care about looking glamorous, unless it was on a case with Lee. Even then, she did what her job required of her.
When she found out about Lee and Francine dating the month before, Amanda rolled her eyes, but told him she was staying out of their way, and that she didn’t want to hear about their fights, unless it was truly over.
Francine was not the woman for Lee. Sure, she had money, and dressed very nicely. But Francine was greedy, emotionally. Amanda could tell that Francine thought of herself as the ultimate woman; Amanda also knew there was more to being a woman than sleeping with every rich man one could find.
Lee had obliged Amanda in not discussing his relationship with Francine. Things had been bad between him and Francine since the week before. Lee was very good about not directing his anger toward Amanda. He knew she didn’t deserve it, and he respected her opinion on their cases. He wouldn’t blow that by being mean.
Lee grabbed his coffee cup. Amanda had cleaned it earlier in the morning. It was an automatic behavior with her. She never left a dish dirty for ten minutes. He inspected it anyway and then filled it with water from the cooler. After two swallows and a run of his hand through his hair, he sat down.
“How’s the setup look?” Lee asked casually as he sat at his desk. All trace of frustration was gone.
“Looks good. Want to hear what I think?” Amanda offered.
“Yeah, what do you think?” Lee said, getting up and listening as she pointed out the crucial places where they could make their strike.
By the time five o’clock whirled around, Lee and Amanda had worked out what, to them, was a reasonable plan. They made sure to include Francine as one of the team leaders, as always. In three days, the strategy would be put to the test.
The following morning, Lee arrived at work as usual. He wasn’t prepared for the scene that awaited him. Or rather, the stark silence. Amanda’s head was on her arms, facing down toward her desk. He wasn’t sure if he should say anything, but his curiosity got the best of him.
“He’s gone, Lee,” was all she said as she kept her head down.
“What? Who’s gone?” He briefly wondered about Phillip’s hamster. She had told him the story last week of the fast little critter.
Amanda lifted her head, dried her tears and looked at him. She tried to speak but only whispered, “Joe’s gone.”
Lee didn’t know what to think, “What? I thought you guys had everything worked out.”
“So did I. But when I got home last night, he took me into the den, right after dinner, and he started in again on wanting me home, and how he wanted to go to Estocia. He said he would be catching a midnight flight out. Then he threw a big envelope on the coffee table and left,” she couldn’t hold the tears back anymore and cried again, letting the tears fall in silence.
“Divorce papers?” Lee asked.
“I’m sorry. Why didn’t you take the day off?” he wanted to know.
“I thought I could get through this. But as soon as I got here, that’s when it really hit me that he won’t be back. I didn’t expect him to actually leave, but he did.” Amanda wiped the tears from her face with a tissue from the box on the desk.
“Do you really want him back, Amanda?” Lee asked her pointedly, “After he treated you like that?”
“I, well, maybe not…But it’ll be hard. Especially for Jamie and Phillip.” she said, looking down again.
“Well, if they’re like you, they’ll be fine,” he said, trying to console her without upsetting her further.
“What do you mean?” She looked at him with the start of a grin.
“You’re strong, smart, resilient. They’ll bounce back. And they’ll figure out that he was the one who left, not you. That will have to get you some bonus points,” Lee mentioned.
“Thank you,” Amanda said, finally smiling, “I guess you’re right.”
“That’s the Amanda I know. Come on, let’s get to work, and forget about him for a while, huh?” he suggested.
She nodded, smiling again. Lee smiled back. He always smiled when she did. It made him feel better.
A few hours later, it was time for lunch. While they worked on paperwork from a closed case, Lee had asked Amanda if she wanted to have lunch with him, and she accepted.
She didn’t always have lunch with him. On days when they went their separate ways for lunch, Amanda often walked around D.C., even in the chill of winter. She felt like she could walk for hours in the old city. If it wasn’t the buildings and landscape that had her attention, it was the people she saw as she walked about.
Today, she needed company. Lee listened to her, better than Joe ever bothered to. As they made their way out, Lee remembered something he had to discuss with Billy and sent Amanda ahead, to wait for him by the Corvette.
“Usual spot?” Amanda asked.
“Yeah. I’ll be right there,” Lee said, hitting the button for the elevator.
Amanda wasn’t waiting long when she saw Francine come out of the building and make a beeline for her. Francine was moving rather quickly toward her in her high heels. Amanda put on a smile. After last night and this morning she didn’t need Francine bringing her down.
“Listen up, you little slut,” Francine started in on her from three feet away.
“What are you talking about?” Amanda shot back immediately. She had no idea what was going on between Francine and Lee.
“You know damn well. Just because Lee thinks we’re over, we’re not. So don’t go sticking your claws in him, because he’s mine.” Francine was going to make it clear that she was the only one for Lee.
“Excuse me, Francine, but he’s my partner, so don’t expect us to stop working together. As far as your relationship with Lee, I really don’t care.” Amanda said, still shocked at the attack on her by the other woman.
“What do you call going out to lunch with him? Don’t tell me business. I’m not buying it,” Francine said.
“Francine, I am not in the mood. So take your venom and go spit on someone else. I won’t say it again.” Amanda glared as she stood a little straighter, ready to defend herself physically if need be. However, her preparations were unnecessary. Francine turned on her heel and walked across the lot to her car without another word.
Lee came out of the building a minute later. He let her into the car first, closing the door for her before he got in. He started the car and drove off toward one of their favorite cafes.
“Is everything all settled with Billy?” Amanda asked politely.
“Yeah, sure. Had to reschedule a meeting with him and Dr. Smyth. They changed it from today to tomorrow, and then I realized we’d be doing final preps for the Carday case. Billy said he’d handle it.” Lee told her.
“Lee, I hate to ask, and don’t tell me if you don’t want to…but, what’s going on with you and Francine?” Amanda asked. If she was going to be verbally attacked on a frequent basis by that woman, Amanda figured she ought to know why.
“Hm. Why?” Lee asked back.
“Right before you came out to the car, she started yelling at me about, well, I don’t know what about. Something about you two not being over and that I shouldn’t try anything with you.” Amanda summed up what she could remember.
“Did she? Her timing stinks. I’m sorry she did that. I wanted to discuss her with you this morning, but, it wasn’t a good time,” Lee said as they left the car. The two waited in silence until they were seated and their lunch order had been taken.
“Where were we?” Amanda asked, sipping water.
“We were on Francine and me. Amanda, she won’t take no for an answer. We had it out the other night about getting engaged.” Lee admitted.
Amanda raised her eyebrows.
“She’s the one who wants to, not me. I told her to leave me alone yesterday, when she wanted to get together for dinner. Maybe she’s mad that I put her off in the bullpen.
“Amanda, she believes you and I are dating.” He added as an afterthought, knowing full well that dating his partner would be absolutely crazy. Still, he was surprised to find the idea tempting.
“That’s not true,” she said, looking straight into his eyes with a look of strong determination.
“I know that. Convincing Francine will be another story. Convincing most people might be a problem once your divorce hits the gossips in the steno pool. That is, if you’re going to go through with it.”
“Yes, I think I am. Depends on what Joe does next.”
“Amanda, you know that, purely as a friend, you can call me if you need to,” Lee said softly. He wanted to make sure she knew that he was there for her.
“Thank you, Lee. I appreciate having you to talk with.” She said no more, concentrating on the chicken salad in front of her.
“Hey, that’s mutual, you know. I probably owe you, after all the women I’ve talked about.” He unconsciously gave her the puppy dog look he used to get her to type his reports.
Amanda nodded to him as she sipped her iced tea.
Lee was glad to be home at the end of the day. It had been a long afternoon, and he was tired. The first thing he did on arriving home was take a shower and dress in a t-shirt and sweatpants. He made a fast and easy evening meal, heating a can of soup and accompanying it with crackers and a beer.
After he cleaned up some from dinner, he turned on the television, put his feet on the coffee table and tried to read the Post. He couldn’t concentrate. Closing his eyes, he opened them to stare at the ceiling of his townhouse.
He moved into the house four years before and reduced his neighbors down to two. The little driveway was perfect for the Corvette. There was even enough room to have company. Usually it was just a girlfriend.
He had just fallen asleep, still on the couch with his feet propped up, when he thought he heard someone park outside. Lee suspected it was just a neighbor, but he also knew it could be one of Carday’s people, if she was having her “watchers” watched.
As quickly as possible, he crossed the room to pull his gun from the shoulder harness on the chair where he’d set it earlier, and snuck over to his drapes. Slowly, he peeked out the window, only to see Francine peeking right back at him. Startled, he jumped backward and swore. Then he raced to open his front door.
“Goddamnit! What the Hell are you doing, Francine!”
She barged in past him, and he saw several black and white pictures in her hand, “These are why I’m here!”
“Carday? You have photos of her?” Lee asked, closing the door, his hands on his hips.
“No. Proof that you and Amanda are involved,” Francine shoved the photos at him.
Lee flipped through the pictures of him helping Amanda into the car, the two of them at lunch, and the two of them leaving the restaurant, his hand on the small of Amanda’s back. He was suddenly furious.
“What right do you think you have to spy on us? Get out, Francine! Don’t dare get within fifty feet of me at the Agency, either!” Lee stated forcefully, leading her by the elbow to the exit. With a rough shove he pushed her out and slammed the door, locking both locks. He was glad he never gave his girlfriends keys to the place.
Throwing her out of his house was enough to convince Francine to leave him alone for a few days. Amanda’s divorce was becoming a fact, but Lee and Amanda only shared that information with Billy. The section chief was keeping Francine busy, partially as a favor to Lee, and also because she was a necessary factor in capturing Sandy Carday.
Friday morning at three o’clock, nine agents took their places outside the Arlington home where Sandy Carday’s presence had been confirmed. There were also roadblocks on the four major roads out of the neighborhood, as well as one near the on ramp for the highway.
Lee and his team had taken cover in the yard, behind a tree and an old car with no wheels on it, hunched down as far as they could manage while still keeping an eye out. Lee was armed with a machine gun and his PPK. Amanda had a Beretta and the Derringer she always kept with her. Tom Snell was with them also, armed with a machine gun and his Agency issued weapon.
On a signal from Billy, Lee worked his way to the power line he had exposed earlier and cut the power to the house. All the lights that had been on blinked off like clockwork and Lee slunk back to his teammates. The other two teams rushed into the house from the front. The door was kicked open and the agents were loud going in, identifying themselves and trying to clear rooms. The plan was going perfectly.
Lee saw Amanda getting ready to go in.
“No,” he stopped her, “Not until Billy gives me an all clear. The six of them can round up whoever is in the house. Hopefully, we can just wait.”
The trio in the backyard was not destined to wait. Sandy Carday and two bodyguards came out the back door as soon as Lee finished talking. The mobsters were fully armed. The bodyguards had shotguns, and Carday had what appeared to be a .44 Magnum revolver.
In the dark, Lee knew his team had an advantage. If he called out, Billy and the other two teams would be out to help him. He wouldn’t have another opportunity.
“Federal agents! Don’t move, Carday!” Lee yelled, aiming his gun at the three from his cover. He ducked as they fired. Amanda and Tom had ducked down also. For the moment they were safe.
“We have you surrounded!” Tom called in warning.
“Go to Hell!” Carday shouted, firing three more times in the midst of her bodyguards’ fire.
Lee popped up and fired at one bodyguard, hitting him dead in the heart. As the man fell backward, Lee let off another few rounds toward the second bodyguard, but both shots missed, and he took cover again. Several rounds dinged into the car. Then it was quiet.
“Where’s Billy?” Lee whispered aloud. Amanda and Tom answered with a pair of blank looks.
Amanda peeked up and saw Carday and the bodyguard running, “Lee, they’re getting away.”
Lee thought for only a second, before nodding to them to follow, “Watch it. They’ve already rounded the corner of the house.”
Lee nodded to Amanda and Tom. All three walked around the corner of the house in a half crouch, as streetlamps lit their way. They didn’t find anyone on the side of the house and continued to the front, even more cautiously
Lee heard the shot, and then he recognized the sound of someone falling. He turned to his right to checking for his teammates and saw that Amanda was down. His first reaction was to return fire with a hail of shots at Carday and her bodyguard. Tom joined him on this. No return fired greeted them.
“We’ve got two Scarecrow!” Billy’s call came a moment later.
“Third one’s dead!” Lee shouted the update while his mind reeled at the thought of Amanda being hurt. All the teams were wearing bulletproof vests and protective jackets. He knew that didn’t mean anything, there were plenty of places for someone to take a hit.
“Amanda! I need a medic!” Lee was at her side first.
“I’ll be okay, Lee,” she said quietly.
Lee pulled out a flashlight from his vest pocket, trying to find where she was shot, “You’re hit. Where?”
“I think my left shoulder,” Amanda gave him a frown as a bolt of pain shot through her, “I’m kind of cold.”
Lee found her bleeding profusely from her shoulder when he shined his flashlight there, “Hold on. We’ll get you patched up okay, Amanda?”
“Okay,” she agreed.
“Just hold on till the ambulance gets here,” Lee said, staunching the wound with a roll of gauze that Tom handed him. Where the man had found it he didn’t know, or care. He wondered if there was an exit wound, but didn’t probe for fear of causing more pain.
“Hmmm.” Amanda moaned.
“Amanda, stay awake.” Lee demanded. He tried to look her over with his flashlight, but their outfits were all black.
“Lee, the EMTs are here. Let them look her over,” Billy ordered a few minutes later. So far, Lee had managed to keep her alert. Francine was standing over Billy’s shoulder, keeping an eye on Lee.
“Wait, I want to go with her,” Lee stared up at Billy, his eyes pleading.
“You’ll have to follow. As her section chief, I am required to ride with her,” Billy denied his request, “We’re taking her to Georgetown Emergency Medical Center. It’s closest. You can meet me there.”
Lee nodded dismally and went to follow in Amanda’s station wagon. He understood that he had to follow, but still didn’t like it.
The team had used Amanda’s station wagon to hold the mission gear because it was the largest vehicle available. It was the type of vehicle that belonged in this neighborhood. Amanda had given him the keys when they met at the IFF building, so that he and Tom could get their guns, ammo, and vests inside.
Lee looked back at Tom, knowing his teammate would need a ride back to the Agency.
“I’ll go with Francine…she came in with Billy, so she can take me back,” Tom volunteered. Francine hesitated to agree, but then Billy said it was a good idea as he passed her to get into the ambulance. She had no choice but to nod to Tom.
Lee settled into the driver’s seat and started Amanda’s car. He felt tired, and didn’t know why. He’d made sure to sleep before the mission. Well, he’d get to the hospital; get an update on Amanda, and then rest. Everything would be just fine, he told himself.
When Lee arrived at Georgetown Emergency, he had to search a long time to find a parking space. He grumbled as he saw cars parked over the line. All the good spots relatively close were taken, or encroached upon. Finally fed up, he resigned himself to the back of the lot.
Once he found Billy, any questions he had remained unanswered. Lee waited in fidgety silence for half an hour. Then he went for coffee and a doughnut, returning with a spare coffee for Billy.
“I still don’t understand why this happened to her. Where the Hell were you, anyway?” Lee said in a jumble, unable to contain his frustration.
“Hey! We had ten of Sandy Carday’s best men to round up in there. I’m surprised that we caught some of them as easily as we did. Sure, we didn’t fire a shot, but that doesn’t mean we had it easy. They resisted. And we didn’t know they were unarmed until all of them were cuffed and searched.”
“Damn it. I should have just let you guys deal with them when they got to the front of the house. It was Amanda’s idea to follow, more or less. It was a good idea!” Lee said regretfully.
“There was nothing else you could’ve done. If you’d stuck close to the house, Amanda probably would have died. We heard you, and it was shortly after we discovered you weren’t in back that we came out to the front. Francine and I, that is. The others were babysitting our prisoners.” Billy tried to console him, “Things just happen.”
“Things shouldn’t happen to her, Billy. She’s got enough going on,” Lee said, then in a change of subject asked, “So the men inside the house were unarmed?”
“It appears that the weaponry was stockpiled in the basement. Carday and her bodyguards would naturally be armed at all times. I suppose the others felt secure in that knowledge.”
“You’re sure the doctors haven’t said anything?” Lee questioned. He couldn’t stop worrying.
“They haven’t told me anything yet, Lee. Not even while you were getting coffee,” Billy said. As if their ears were burning from being mentioned, two of the NEST doctors emerged from the ER doors.
“Sir, I’m Dr. Lewis Andross, and this is Dr. Anthony Rivas. We’ve appropriated a private office so that we can discuss Mrs. King’s case with you. Who’s this?” the taller of the two men directed his statements to Billy. Dr. Rivas was carrying an inch thick folder bearing Amanda’s name on the tab.
Lee winced internally when he heard them refer to her as Mrs. King. Sure, Amanda was still married, but not for much longer, and he liked to think she’d go back to her maiden name. Anything would be better than keeping Joe’s surname. Lee had lost a lot of respect for the man since he walked out of Amanda’s life four days before, without a word since.
“Her partner, Lee Stetson. He’s cleared to hear this.” Billy turned to his agent, “Come on, Lee.” Billy invited him along, knowing that in the end Lee would interrogate him for the information, if Billy went alone.
“What’s her status?” Billy asked. He was surprised he had the chance, once the door was closed. He guessed Lee was going to be on his best behavior since he’d been allowed along, and that meant being quiet. Lee knew how to listen when he was getting vital information.
“Right now, she’s in good condition, resting. The gunshot to her left shoulder region exited out her lower back, but only after playing her ribs like a xylophone,” Dr. Andross said, “Two of them are broken, another four bruised. The bullet exited before it hit any vital organs such as her lungs, or pancreas.”
“So that’s good news,” Lee interjected.
“She’s lucky,” Dr. Rivas contributed, “But she’ll be confined to the hospital for four days.”
“Four?” Lee complained on her behalf.
“We want those ribs to get a chance to heal and only rest will do that. After she’s released from the hospital, she’ll require a week of bed rest,” Dr. Andross insisted.
“May we visit her? Also, someone will have to call her family. Let them know where she is.” Billy said.
“Mrs. King is currently waking up from sedation—we had to stitch up the entry and exit wounds. We have her in recovery now. She is aware of her surroundings and knows who we are, so I would say that visitors are fine.” Dr. Rivas stated.
“Don’t call her family. It’s too early in the morning. I can take care of that a little later.” Lee volunteered, vexed again by Joe’s last name. “It shouldn’t be a phone call. I’ll visit in person. Then I can drive them here to see her.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Billy said.
Lee gave him a look of surprise. The section chief never gave him the go ahead without an objection. Briefly, he wished he had recorded the conversation.
“Well, let’s go see her.” Billy said, wondering why his agent was merely staring through him.
The doctors led Billy and Lee to where Amanda was situated in the recovery room. A drape was wrapped around her bed like a shower curtain. She would get a private room later in the day.
Amanda was groggy, to say the least. She was able to focus her eyes on command, but was resting when her partner and their section chief arrived. On hearing the drape open, she looked toward the sound on her left and smiled at them.
“Hi, Amanda,” Lee said quietly.
“Amanda, how are you?” Billy asked cordially.
“Hello, sir. Did we get them? Because if we didn’t, I’m going to be sort of upset.” Amanda said, trying to smile. She spoke slowly.
“We got them, Amanda.” Lee broke in.
“Good. When do I break out of here?” Amanda asked next.
“Not for four days,” Billy said. At the look she gave him he added, “Don’t worry, we’ll get your mother and sons in to visit you. And we’ll have to notify Joe. As far as the Agency is concerned, that’s policy until your divorce is final.
“I see. But it’s just that…I like hospitals as much as Lee does,” Amanda said, hoping she could at least sway her partner. Not long after she started working for the Agency, Lee had been injured and nagged her incessantly about getting out of the hospital. And he was only admitted long enough to stitch up a cut he’d gotten.
Lee smiled guiltily at the reminder, “Look Amanda, if it was up to me, I’d just take you home, but we have to listen to the doctors. And don’t worry about the bill. The Agency’s insurance has you covered.”
“They better.” Amanda attempted to be serious, but found she had to laugh.
“Lee’s right. Happened on the job, after all, so don’t worry,” Billy said.
“Just don’t let my mother worry,” Amanda requested.
“I won’t. As soon as they get you a private room, I’ll have everyone here to visit you.” Lee promised.
“Don’t pull the boys out of school. Let them see me afterward. Hopefully, I’ll feel a little better,” Amanda said, putting the emphasis on the first sentence.
“Okay, your mother first, the boys later. Till then, get some rest. That’s an order.” Billy said, nudging Lee to get going.
“Yes, sir,” Amanda whispered, laying her head down and returning to sleep.
Lee had thought he could go home and sleep, after he and Billy returned to the Agency. Until his boss reminded him that he needed to be debriefed, and to file an incident report on Amanda. He was the team leader, so the debriefing would not be put on hold. He also had to get all of the gear they’d used out of the station wagon. For help with that task he enlisted Tom Snell and one of the rookie agents.
“How’s Amanda?” Francine asked when she saw Lee in the hallway. She had finished up her debriefing minutes before.
“She’ll recover…as if you care, Francine. For all I know, it was you who shot her,” Lee said, not fooled by her ingratiating tone. He was tired from the action earlier that morning, and getting the station wagon unloaded.
“Lee, she and I won’t ever be friends, but she was on our side in this,” Francine came back, “Can’t I ask a cordial question about your partner?”
“No. I have to go,” Lee said shortly, continuing down the hall. Francine did not follow.
Lee’s debriefing had begun at six-twenty that morning and he didn’t leave the Agency until eight. Still in the station wagon, he drove home. He made a cup of coffee, showered, and changed out of his tactical gear and bulletproof vest. Promptly, he fell asleep on the couch, barely having managed to put on a t-shirt and sweats.
Lee was jerked from a dream by the ten o’clock alarm he’d set for himself as a backup if he overslept on a normal day. Belatedly he realized he’d forgotten to turn it off. It was just as well. He needed to get to Amanda’s house and talk with her mother. The boys should be off to school already.
It was on the second ring of the doorbell that Dotty opened the door. Lee had changed out of his sweats and into the suit he’d planned to wear that day. He wasn’t sure what to say, but he knew he should be there, and not on the other end of a phone line.
“Lee, come in. Amanda’s not here,” Dotty said on recognizing her daughter’s partner.
“I know, Mrs. West, that’s why I’m here,” Lee nodded as they seated themselves in the living room.
“My God, what’s happened?” Dotty gasped, too shocked to say more. She knew Amanda’s job was dangerous, but the thought of her being hurt or worse was almost too much to consider.
“She’s okay,” Lee started, “But she’ll be in the hospital for a few days.”
“Well, what exactly happened?” Dotty asked curiously.
“We were on an assignment, and she was shot. She’s got two broken ribs and four bruised, but nothing serious was hit. The bullet went into her shoulder and came out her lower back,” Lee said, remembering as much as he could.
“Well, when can I go see her?” Dotty asked.
“She’s at Georgetown Emergency and should have a private room. We could go over now. She said to bring the boys after school.”
“Yes, let’s go!” Dotty jumped up.
“There’s one more thing,” Lee cautioned, “Our section chief has informed Joe by now, so he might be coming back to the States. I don’t know how that conversation went yet. I just thought I should tell you.”
Dotty nodded, looked him in the eye and said, “Thank you for notifying me, Lee. I will keep an eye out.”
Lee said nothing more. He thought her choice of words interesting. They didn’t speak again for the entire drive to the hospital.
Dotty’s attention was only for her daughter when she saw her. Lee watched in polite silence until Amanda gave him a pleading look for privacy. She used that same look when she thought she could get a witness to talk about something.
Dotty hugged her daughter around the neck gently, trying not to disturb the wound on Amanda’s shoulder.
“Are you okay?” Dotty asked.
“I think so, Mother. Just don’t let the boys worry when you tell them.”
“You know,” Dotty began, “When Joe hears about this he’s going to start arguing again that you should quit the Agency. He’ll wheel and deal with you, in true lawyer fashion, and say that if you stay home, he won’t divorce you.”
“Actually, Billy called and told me Joe will be home on Monday. But this is what I want to do, Mother. There are risks.” Amanda shrugged and then winced when her shoulder wound burned with the movement.
“So you’re going to tell him exactly that? Or do you want him back?” Dotty inquired.
“I’m not quitting my job.” Amanda stated, deadly serious.
“Good. I’m proud of you for sticking with it. I’m not saying I want you getting shot again, but he’ll be nagging while he’s here. If he bothers you, let me know. I won’t have him making my daughter any unhappier than he already has.”
“Who knows, Mother, maybe he’ll break down, apologize, and agree to patch things up.” Amanda threw the possibility out, grinning wickedly. She had continued the divorce proceedings on her end, but she had not counted Joe out of her life completely yet.
Dotty looked at her with one eyebrow raised, “We can only hope so.”
“I doubt it, but the boys will be glad to see him and to have me home for a little while, even if it is on the injured reserve list.” Amanda said, “Speaking of the boys, will you be able to bring them to visit, or should I ask someone from the Agency to drive them over?”
“This isn’t too far from the house. Unlike a certain baseball game tomorrow. Then again, you’re hurt, so the boys probably won’t want to go,” Dotty reasoned.
“They have to go! It’s their second game, and last week they won. I don’t want them to miss out,” Amanda insisted.
“Amanda, I can’t drive that far, I just can’t.” Dotty said firmly, “And they’ll be concerned for you.”
“If I find someone to drive, will you go along?” Amanda asked. She didn’t want to interrupt Phillip and Jamie’s lives if she didn’t have to.
“You can’t ask the other mothers. They don’t know you’re a spy.”
“No, I can’t. But I do know someone else I can ask.” Amanda had long ago given up insisting on the title of agent over spy.
“You’re not going to ask Lee, are you?” Dotty frowned.
“He’s the only other person I think could do it. Why don’t you like him all of a sudden?”
“What makes you think I don’t like him?”
“Your tone of voice and the scowl you’re wearing make me think that, Mother. Listen, he doesn’t have feelings for me, and I don’t for him. Not beyond friendship. We’re just coworkers. You’ve known that for a long time. And you’ve accepted him into our home plenty of times.”
“If you say the two of you are only friends, I believe you, dear, but I’ve seen his type before, and from what you’ve told me about his dating habits, well, he’s certainly good looking, but he needs to settle down. A man his age shouldn’t live such a wild life,” Dotty judged.
“Mother, that’s beside the point. He can do the driving. You don’t have to be his friend, or talk to him.”
“Amanda, I can see you’re anxious about this. If he were to say yes, though I doubt it, to driving two young boys, with their grandmother, I suppose I won’t have a choice,” Dotty said, giving in.
“Thank you, Mother.” Amanda said, feeling more relaxed. She knew she would still have to convince Lee and that might be difficult, “Would you ask him to come in?”
Lee was glad to sit in the waiting area. He didn’t know what Dotty thought of him. His only reassurance to himself was that he had done the right thing in visiting Dotty personally.
While the women visited, Lee made a few phone calls. One was to arrange for his Corvette to be dropped off at the house, so that the station wagon would be available for Dotty’s use later in the day.
Another call was to Billy, to find out where things stood with Joe. Lee’s emotions were mixed when he heard that Joe would be home for a week, starting on Monday, to look after his sons. Lee was relieved that the man would be responsible toward the boys. In another way, he was frustrated because he was certain Joe’s presence would only slow Amanda’s healing. They would probably argue, and she didn’t need that sort of stress while she recovered.
His mood rose again when he reminded himself that Joe would be gone by the end of that week…it was all the time Joe could afford to be home, or so the man had told Billy.
“Lee…she wants to speak to you,” Dotty said, popping her head out of the room.
Lee stood and went into Amanda’s room.
“Mother, could we have a minute?” Amanda asked.
“Of course,” Dotty said and went out into the hall.
“Feeling any better?” Lee asked.
“Sort of. It hurts, but I can think straight now.” Amanda said.
“What can I do to help?” Lee offered.
“Get me released by tomorrow morning,” Amanda requested.
“I can’t. You have to rest. Besides, Billy said that Joe would be here Monday. That’s only a few days from now. He can keep an eye on Phillip and Jamie,” he reasoned.
“I really hate this, Lee. I can’t do anything here without five people pushing me back into bed,” she complained.
“Isn’t this conversation a bit backward?” Lee asked with a grin, “Spill it, Amanda, what’s tomorrow?”
“Phillip and Jamie have a baseball game. It’s about an hour drive each way. Mother can’t do that. I can’t ask any of the other mothers to fill in, without explaining my job. Most of them think I am only a clerk with a government agency. They’re not even aware of the divorce, Lee.” She felt better, coming clean to her partner, “It’s the second game; they can’t miss it.”
“I’ll take them, okay?” he offered spontaneously.
“What did you just say? These are my sons, you realize…hyper, loud little boys.” Amanda asked of his readiness to help her.
“I mean it Amanda. You’re going to have enough trouble dealing with Joe when you do go home. If you’ll agree to not try and break out of here early anymore, then I swear, I’ll get them to their game,” Lee promised.
“You’ll have to take Mother, too, so she can watch.” she threw in, trying to see if her partner would back out of the deal.
“If we take your car, it won’t be a problem. Does she know about this idea of yours?” he asked, suddenly feeling as if this was what Amanda had planned all along for this conversation.
“Sort of. She seemed okay with it if you agreed, but she’s a little weary of you.” She answered.
“Maybe it’s because I should have been the one to get shot.” He suggested.
“Lee, she knows this isn’t your fault.”
“Why else wouldn’t she like me?” He wanted to know. “I am very likable.”
“I don’t know, Lee. She’s just going to have to trust you. I trust you,” she said, averting her eyes from his.
“So you’ll stay put?” Lee asked.
“Promise. You better take Mother home. If she starts talking to me again I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep mid sentence.”
Lee laughed and made his way into the hall. He was glad he finally had her worries calmed. He hoped that maybe she would be able to recuperate now.
Lee visited Amanda once more, before visiting hours were over on Friday night. He couldn’t resist checking in on her. He’d found her working on a puzzle book her mother and sons had dropped off that afternoon.
Amanda reminded Lee to remind Dotty about the directions on the refrigerator and the cooler with snacks and Gatorade in it. She added that he should pick them up by nine-thirty that morning, because the game started at eleven.
Lee nodded graciously through all of her instructions. He wanted to help her, and to do his best to make sure they had no trouble getting to and from the game.
The following day, as Lee made his way to the baseball game with Dotty, Phillip and Jamie, he listened to the cacophony of noise and tried to be patient. Dotty gave him an occasional glance and was otherwise quiet.
Phillip and Jamie discussed a range of topics from wishing they had new mitts to how they were going to “trample” the Bears. They had won against the Falcons the week before, so it stood to their reasoning that they would be unbeaten today.
Early on in the ride, Lee had instructed the boys to call him by his first name. This was just to shorten conversation. It took them far too many syllables to say “Mister Stetson.” He had also decided that they had met him enough to drop all formality.
Dotty didn’t seem to mind this decision. She seemed satisfied that Lee was friendly toward the boys. As if she expected him to speak harshly to them for the slightest thing.
When Lee struck up a conversation with the boys about the famous players of his childhood—Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth among them—Dotty was out and out impressed, although she didn’t let on.
Dotty didn’t know what exactly to make of Lee Stetson. He had always been pleasant to be around. When he was at their family functions, he would leave after a few hours of mingling. He always gave her the utmost respect.
Somehow, Dotty felt that this had all been a ruse. That Lee knew Amanda’s marriage would come apart, and he was just going to play nice until he could make his move. Dotty felt it was too soon for Amanda to take on another beau, since the divorce procedures were just beginning.
She was powerless to keep Amanda and Lee separated. It was Amanda’s choice as an adult now. As with Joe, Dotty would try to nose out. Except for today. Today she would try very hard to nose IN.
Phillip and Jamie pulled their gear out of the station wagon in record time and went to meet their friends. Dotty pulled the small cooler out of the car and put it with the others in the team dugout, before going to sit in the bleachers. She had no worry of the cooler going missing, not with “King” in bold black written on it.
Lee grabbed his newspaper and tried to make himself comfortable in the stands, relatively close to Dotty. He didn’t want to crowd her, but he didn’t want her to think he didn’t care at all. He’d watch the boys, when they batted, so he could tell Amanda about them, if she asked. But the outfield time would last a long time, and that’s when he planned to read.
“Lee, let’s talk,” Dotty said when the boys went outfield for the second time. They were ahead, 1-0.
“Sure,” Lee followed several paces behind her, away from the noise of screaming parents.
“What are you doing with Amanda, Lee Stetson?” Dotty asked him once they reached the edge of the field.
Lee looked away a second, gathering his thoughts, then faced her, “I’m helping her, by taking her sons and mother to a baseball game.”
“And beyond that?” Dotty pushed.
“Beyond that, nothing,” Lee said. This explained why Dotty had shied away from him the day before. Amanda must have told Dotty he was a bit of a player. However, Lee knew Amanda was not in the same category as those dates.
“I have to tell you, she is on the rebound. She won’t need pressure from you,” Dotty said protectively, “You let her work out her differences with Joe.”
“I always planned to,” Lee said, answering the only way he felt would be reasonable.
“Good. Now let’s get back to the game. The boys are infield.” Dotty said, walking away as if the conversation hadn’t taken place.
“Fast inning,” Lee said as he followed behind.
No one in the stands realized that Lee was with Dotty and the boys. The other mothers asked Dotty about her daughter. After a glance at Lee, Dotty nonchalantly stated that Amanda was under the weather, but would be in tiptop shape for the next game.
Lee didn’t care that Dotty took the credit for driving the boys over. It helped cover what Amanda did for a living. It also meant that his presence wouldn’t have to be explained. The mothers all thought he was one of the dads from the opposing team. He kept his mouth shut and let them believe that.
And then, Phillip hit a two run homerun. Lee didn’t know why, but he couldn’t help standing up and cheering. As soon as he realized what he was doing, he sat back down and studied his paper furiously. After the noise died down a bit, he looked around. Dotty hadn’t seemed to notice his behavior. She was still cheering on her grandson. No one else was looking his way.
Close call, Stetson, Lee thought to himself. For the rest of the game, he read his newspaper. He wanted to watch the game, but that seemed imprudent now, so he faked reading and listened instead. It was easier for him to stay seated that way.
The Bombers won the game, 9-7.
It was just before eight when Lee visited Amanda again. He hadn’t seen her all day, and after sweating in the sun during the game, he had gone home to shower, run errands, and check in with the Agency before getting dinner out at a restaurant.
“Hi,” Lee said on entering the hospital room.
“Hello, Lee,” Amanda said cheerily.
“Have you seen Phillip and Jamie?” Lee asked.
“Yes, Mother brought them by after they had changed. Big win for them. The Bears aren’t an easy team to beat,” she said.
“You should have seen Phillip’s homer.”
“I wish I could have. Sounds like you had some fun,” Amanda said, shifting her position in the bed.
“It wasn’t terrible. Your mother and I even had a little talk,” he mentioned.
“She thinks I’m going to make a move on you.”
“You wouldn’t do that.” Amanda denied.
“No, I wouldn’t,” he said, but thought to himself, not unless you wanted me to.
“I have always known that, really. She’s just concerned for me, that’s all,” she said apologetically.
“It’s okay. I understand. Listen, I have some work to do tomorrow, a meet with a contact, so I won’t be by, most likely. Do you have a way home on Monday?”
“Joe’s going to pick me up,” Amanda said slowly, “And I need to ask you to do something.”
“Anything,” the response was instantaneous.
“Don’t drop by the house until after he’s gone. I know him, he won’t be pleasant with you,” Amanda said.
“I can do that. Does he think something is going on with us?” Lee questioned.
“Yes. Now that we’ve decided to divorce, he’s acting jealous…and controlling. He wants to pick when I get to start dating.”
“I see the problem. I’ll stay out of the line of fire.”
“Phillip and Jamie said to tell you that they enjoyed your discussion this morning. Something about Ty Cobb?” she changed the subject to a more pleasant one.
“Oh, yeah . . . that, well, it’s nothing.”
“It was something to them. Phillip has a biography report to do and you just gave him a topic,” Amanda grinned.
“Didn’t feel like homework when I was talking to them,” Lee grinned back, “I guess I should get going, it’s getting to be after hours.”
After he’d said goodbye, Lee walked hesitantly down to his car. He wanted to stay upstairs and visit with Amanda all night, but knew that was ridiculous. He had to get home. If he was going to go on a date tomorrow night, he’d better find someone to call while he still could.
The Next Week
On Monday afternoon, Lee took it upon himself to restock the refrigerator in the Q Bureau. He made an effort to get a few oranges amongst the soda, chip dip, and other junk food he preferred.
He had met his contact on Sunday, and the transaction went smoothly. Then he spent the night at home. He couldn’t bring himself to open his black book for a name on Saturday night. He guessed he was still getting over Francine, although how he could have any feeling for her still he didn’t know.
After he finished loading up the refrigerator, he saw a phone message from Mrs. Marston. It read simply: Call Amanda King at hospital ASAP. So, Lee dialed her up.
“Hello?” Amanda answered immediately.
“Amanda, it’s Lee,” he said, running his hand through his hair as he wondered what she needed.
“Oh, hi, Lee. I guess you got my message.”
“Yeah, what’s up? Aren’t you supposed to be out of there by now? It’s after two.”
“Joe was supposed to be here at twelve-thirty. He got in this morning and was going to go to work, and then pick me up, so that I could be home for lunch. He didn’t show, and Mother’s out of the house. I’ve tried calling her a few times. No luck.” She explained.
“Amanda, I can’t spring you. I’m not family,” he tried to explain.
“You’ve visited me enough that the staff wouldn’t know the difference. Please, Lee. I need your help.”
“All right, I’m on the way. If they don’t buy me as Joe King, I’ll have Billy pull some strings, okay?” Lee couldn’t say no after the way she’d asked him. The way she said “please” was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place it. He figured it was another time and place.
“Thank you Lee, I’ll be ready.” Amanda hung up the phone on her end. Lee headed downstairs for his Corvette without delay.
The hospital staff did buy into Lee as “Mr. King.” Amanda had been out of NEST care since Saturday, so none of the doctors recognized him from Friday morning. If the nurses did, they made no mention of it.
“I really appreciate this,” Amanda said as Lee pulled into the driveway of her house.
“Hey, it’s no problem. There’s not much going on in the Q today anyway,” Lee shrugged, grabbing her suitcase from the trunk.
“Well, who knows when Joe would have shown up? Maybe never,” Amanda said, clearly agitated that Joe had left her hanging. She started walking, gingerly, into the house. The door came open a few feet before she got to it.
“There you are. I thought you would have been home sooner,” Dotty greeted her daughter.
“Hello Mother. I had to call Lee and have him pick me up. I don’t know where Joe is,” Amanda explained quickly. Dotty nodded as she opened the door further to admit Lee, also. The handsome agent gave her a hello, asked where to put the suitcase, and was directed upstairs.
He saw Amanda’s bed, ready and waiting for occupancy. The window was open, admitting the air of the warm spring day. Lee set the suitcase down and was leaving the room when he heard a car park outside. Out of curiosity, he looked out the window, and saw Joe emerge from his car.
“This can only be bad,” Lee said to no one. He made his way back downstairs as fast as possible.
“Well, isn’t this cute?” Joe said as he entered the house. Amanda and Dotty were in the living room.
“I’ve been wondering where you were,” Amanda began, and stood when she saw him enter the house.
“Oh, really? Well let me tell you,” Joe said. He walked closer to Lee and almost spit in his face as he explained where he had been, “I was stuck in a meeting. And when I finally got out to pick up my wife from the hospital, I find that she’s already been released to ‘Mr. King.’ You like playing husband?”
“Hands off the suit,” Lee said when Joe grabbed him by the lapels.
“Leave him alone, Joe!” Amanda said at the same time. Joe let go, but he kept his gaze on Lee, awaiting an answer.
“If you’d been there, or at least called, I wouldn’t have had to be,” Lee said, contempt obvious in his voice.
“Joe, I called him and asked him to pick me up. He’s right, you should have called, or had someone call me.” Amanda said, backing up Lee’s statement.
“Get out,” Joe ordered to Lee.
Lee looked to Amanda, “Are you okay with that?”
She nodded. Lee stepped around Joe and backed out the door, not taking his eyes off the other man until the door was slammed shut.
On Thursday afternoon, Lee sat in the observation room, watching the interrogation team. They were questioning a man Lee had brought in. Billy joined him after a few minutes.
“Hi, Billy,” Lee said in an upbeat mood.
“Lee, what is going on with you these days?” Billy asked him directly.
“What are you talking about?” Lee asked back, “I’ve been here either early or on time every day. I’m closing cases, and I’m bringing in suspects we’ve wanted for a year or two now.”
“Exactly,” Billy said, “You’re never at work on time, and you haven’t closed this many cases in the Q Bureau since you got it last year. What’s got you so motivated?”
“Just keeping busy. Don’t the pencil pushers who fund us like that?” Lee inquired, his voice dripping sarcasm.
“I just hope you’re doing all of this as carefully as you would if Amanda were here,” Billy said, getting up.
“Amanda? What does she have to do with this?” Lee asked.
“You tell me,” Billy said, winking as he left the observation room.
Lee wondered to himself if all this work was because he was missing Amanda. He shook his head in the negative. Yet, the thought kept returning to him.
He hadn’t seen Amanda in the last three days, since he’d dropped her off from the hospital. Since then he had been keeping busy. He asked himself why and couldn’t deny it…he was distracting himself from thinking about Amanda. Trying to figure out how she was doing, and how Joe was treating her.
He told himself it was just the fact that she was his partner. Nothing else. And the work he’d been doing, well, he had to do something; it was his job. If Billy found it humorous, that was his problem.
Lee had an hour before he would leave. He had decided to type up the report for his capture earlier that day. It wasn’t often he caught a double agent. They’d been after this one for two years. As he hunt-and-pecked, he wished Amanda were there to type up the thing for him. Billy would take the report whenever it was ready, anyway. There wasn’t a rush.
The phone rang. Lee grinned at the opportunity to give his eyes and fingers a break from the keys on the typewriter.
“Stetson here,” he answered.
“Hi, it’s Amanda.”
“Hi,” Lee said, smiling, “How are you?”
“Oh, bored of housework, what little I can get away with. I feel almost normal,” she said.
“How are things with Joe?”
“They aren’t good. We’ve had arguments over everything, the entire time that he’s been here.”
“What kind of arguments?” He couldn’t resist asking. He still didn’t know what happened after he left her on Monday.
“Oh, why isn’t Phillip doing better in school, and why can’t Jamie be more athletic. He likes to bring you up in conversation, like a secret weapon. I explained to him, and mother even confirmed, that you and I are just partners. Not that it matters now.”
“At least your mother believes you,” Lee commiserated.
“Joe thinks that it’s my fault the boys are so different. He doesn’t accept that it’s just their personalities. I can’t wait till he leaves tomorrow night. I’ll finally have some peace.”
“What do Phillip and Jamie think of having him home?”
“Jamie loves it. Phillip is catching on that Joe and I are really going to divorce, so he’s been moody lately. He spends a lot more time in his room, and he yells at Jamie all the time. Especially if it’s about a toy, or if he’s losing at a game.” Amanda’s voice sounded upset.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That’s okay. He’ll get over it. They have another baseball game Saturday. Mother said she can take the boys and that I should stay home and rest. I think I’ll try and get some fresh air. Do you think we could have lunch?”
“We can walk around D.C. if you like. I know a good place for lunch.” Lee was not going to pass up the chance to check in on her recovery.
“That would be great. Can you pick me up at eleven?” Her voice sounded happier than it had been moments before.
“So how are things there?”
“Oh, I’ve closed a case or two. Billy seems satisfied,” Lee said, not letting on how much he’d done during the week.
“That’s good. I can’t wait to get back to it.” It was obvious that she missed work.
“So, I’ll see you Saturday?” he asked. Amanda agreed and they said goodbye to each other.
Lee didn’t have to knock on Amanda’s door, or even get out of the car, when he arrived. She was waiting for him on the front step. After he pulled in, she walked over to the car and got in, almost desperate to be away from the house.
“I guess you’re ready to go,” Lee greeted her.
“You have no idea,” Amanda said as she fastened her seatbelt.
“So you’re really feeling back to normal?” Lee asked, giving her a sideways glance. Amanda had dressed casually in white sneakers, a pair of blue jeans and a short sleeved polo shirt. She was grinning from ear to ear, and Lee had to surmise that it was her first chance to really go out in the last five days.
“Mostly. My ribs still ache if I laugh too much. Not that I have been lately,” Amanda informed him. She was glad he had also worn casual clothing. His short-sleeved shirt was a red pinstripe; his slacks were black, as were his sneakers.
“Once Doc Kelford clears you on Tuesday morning, you might wish you had more time off. There’s a bit of a pile up at the office,” Lee said. He had been a zombie at work the day before, not getting much done, so he was not lying to her. He hadn’t been able to do any work because he was looking forward to seeing her so much the next day.
“That’s okay. If it will keep me occupied, I’m ready,” Amanda assured him.
Lee parallel parked the car and helped Amanda out, even though she objected. His uncle had taught him to always help a lady out of the car, and he always had before with her, so this was not special treatment. When Amanda looked at it that way, she quit complaining.
As they walked around the city, they discussed Colonel Clayton in more detail. Lee hadn’t really gone into his childhood with her before, but since the conversation had started, he didn’t mind.
Lee and his uncle had different personalities, but somehow, they had managed to get along. Lee mentioned that they hardly kept in touch, and Amanda hurt for him. She thought it must be difficult to be estranged from the only relative he had now.
After lunch, they walked to the mall, watching people as they played Frisbee or ate picnic lunches.
“Sure is nice out,” Amanda mentioned while they rested on a bench.
“Yes, you picked a good day,” Lee was more than willing to agree with her.
“Lee, I had a reason for asking to see you today,” she said hesitantly.
“Yeah, to get out of the house, you said,” he was curious as to what other reason there may be.
“No, aside from that. Lee, I, well…” she broke off, staring at the ground.
“Hey, what is it? Did Joe hit you?” he asked protectively, “You’re home from work on an injury and he goes and—“
“No,” she cut in, “It’s nothing like that.”
“Well, what, hmm?” Lee gave up.
“What I’m trying to say is that, since I’ve been home, I’ve missed you,” Amanda said, relieved to finally have her say.
“I’ve missed you at work, too, but hey, I got through,” he said. He could only hope she meant more, but he wasn’t willing to jump the gun.
“No, Lee, I’ve missed you. I didn’t think that what Mother and Joe said was true, that I had feelings for you, but I do. It just took not seeing you to know that. And if you don’t feel the same, well, I understand,” she admitted.
“I do feel the same, Amanda. I’ve been in denial. Probably since I broke up with Francine,” he told her, moving closer to her on the park bench.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
“This,” he leaned his head down and kissed her lips. She returned the kiss for a second and then pulled away.
“Good answer,” she nodded her head, “I think you should take me home now, before I do something I shouldn’t.”
“Was that the wrong thing to do?” he asked as they stood.
“It was the right thing, all right. But we have to take this slow,” Amanda said. Lee nodded agreement…if that was what she wanted.
They returned to the car quietly, but Amanda allowed Lee to hold her to him gently as they walked. She wasn’t sure what she had gotten herself into. She wasn’t even divorced yet. On the other hand, Joe hadn’t kissed her in a long time, and they hadn’t shared a bed in an even longer time. The den was now Joe’s bedroom. She knew without a doubt that starting a new relationship was a good idea.
Lee didn’t know what to do other than drive Amanda home, grinning all the way. Why he hadn’t admitted his feelings toward her to himself he didn’t understand. It did explain why he couldn’t bring himself to go on a date the week before. The gossip at work would be interesting, but the most important thing right now was that Amanda wanted to be with him.
He parked the Corvette in the drive. Once again, he helped her out of the car. Amanda was more willing to accept his help this time.
“Well, this is it until Tuesday,” Amanda said when she stopped at the door, “I had a really great time today.”
“Me too,” Lee agreed. Their thoughts were mirror images as they both leaned in for a goodbye kiss. Amanda broke this kiss again and told him that she would call him at work on Monday.
Lee hated to leave her, but knew he had to. As he drove home, the memory of the two kisses played back in his mind.
When Lee came off of surveillance late on Monday afternoon, Mrs. Marston handed him three identical messages from Amanda. The only differences on the messages were the times: eleven, two-thirty and four. He checked his watch and saw that it was now almost five.
Lee took the messages with him to the Q Bureau and then read each message, written in Mrs. Marston’s clear cursive: Will call back later, no rush.
“Maybe no rush to you,” He told the pieces of paper.
“What was that?” Francine asked.
Looking up, Lee saw Francine in the doorway, “What do you want?”
“You’ve been out on surveillance all day. I just wanted to see how it went.” Francine said innocently.
“The new defector is safer than Fort Knox. Goodbye.” Lee looked away from her. He knew she was trying to worm her way back into his good graces, and he wasn’t interested.
“But what? I’m tired, Francine; it’s been a long day. If you won’t leave, I will,” he said, standing and grabbing his suit coat.
“It’s just…why won’t you give us another chance, Lee?” she demanded to know. She saw it when Lee eyed Amanda’s vacant desk before giving her a reason, “Oh. So it IS her?”
“Believe what you want,” Lee said, walking past her and out of the Q Bureau. He heard Francine follow him. Once he’d reached the bottom of the stairs he tossed his badge onto Mrs. Marston’s desk and left for the day.
He was in the middle of eating dinner when the phone rang. With hope in his heart, he answered, “Hello?”
“Hi, it’s me,” Amanda’s voice practically giggled, “How was work.”
“Hi,” Lee tried not to sound too excited to hear her voice, “Work was, you know, work. Sorry I was out when you called, but I was stuck on this stupid surveillance assignment. Nobody’s going to be wooing this defector back, but you know Billy, ‘Cover all weaknesses, including the ones you don’t see.’ So that was me today. How are you?” he inquired.
“The boys won their game on Saturday. Since then, I have been bored out of my skull. The boys had school, so I sneaked out and did some garden work while Mother visited with some friends. I love her, but she thinks I’m crippled for life,” she complained.
“Great, they won! Tomorrow night you can show your mother the all clear from Doc Kelford and then maybe she’ll ease up on you. I’ve missed you,” Lee said longingly.
“I missed you too.” Amanda agreed, “Can you do me a favor? I need a ride into work tomorrow.”
“Not a problem, but—“ he began but was cut off.
“If it’s about Mother, don’t worry, she knows.”
“She does, huh?” Lee asked. She surprised him completely on that one.
“Uh huh. Well, I’ve always told her everything and she had her suspicions and I don’t think it would be good not to tell her. I did ask her not say anything to the boys yet. They need to get over the fact that Joe and I are getting divorced.” Amanda filled him in.
“That’s okay with me, but that wasn’t what I was worried about,” he said.
“Francine cornered me on the way out of work today. I didn’t tell her we were seeing each other, but she’s snooping. Us driving in to work together could be the last nail in that particular coffin.” He warned her.
“We’ll just tell her the truth,” she reasoned.
“And what are the odds that Francine’s going to believe either one of us?” he asked.
“Are you chickening out on me, Lee Stetson? Because of that woman? Now, there are no rules about agent fraternization. We’ll just keep the Q locked and go about our business. And if Francine doesn’t like it, I’ll break her leg,” Amanda laughed as she finished speaking.
“That would be interesting to see,” Lee said, smiling.
“So you’ll pick me up?”
“What time?” he asked, knowing she had to get Phillip and Jamie on the bus.
“I’ll be there.” He promised. They hung up, and Lee finished his dinner. Afterward, he went to bed early so he wouldn’t be late picking her up.
The next morning, Lee waited at his desk for Amanda to come up to the Q Bureau from Kelford’s office. Once again, she’d practically jumped into the car when she saw him drive up. It had been an easy ride to work, and he wished her appointment with Dr. Kelford were over already.
Finally, he heard footsteps approaching, and was certain they were Amanda’s. He felt a sudden need to refill his coffee from the pot next to the water cooler. He was just turning around again when Amanda entered.
“Hi,” Lee said softly.
“Hello.” Amanda set her purse on her desk.
“What did the doctor say?”
“He said…that if you don’t get over here and hold me, I’m going to fall apart,” Amanda teased him.
“Oh?” Lee put his coffee down and rushed across the room to her. He threw the lock on the door and hugged her to him, “Is that better?”
“Mmm, much.” She said in his ear.
“Now, what did old Karl really say?”
“Doctor Kelford has assigned me to desk duty for another week.”
“Well, I guess I’ll be serving time with you.” He said, not letting her go.
“It’s quiet right now. I even checked with my ‘family,’ and they have nothing to report. The only thing I can do is work through it.”
“I saw Francine on my way up,” Amanda told him.
“Did she say or do anything? No. She didn’t get a chance. Billy called her away. She would have said something if she’d had the chance, I’m sure.”
Lee took a step backward. Looking into Amanda’s eyes he said, “I’m sorry I ever got involved with her.”
“Why should you be?”
“Well, if I hadn’t, things would be easier for us. I should have taken your advice on that one.”
“Lee, you can’t change it. Why regret it? The door’s locked, isn’t it?” she moved closer to nodded and leaned down, kissing her. The kiss would have continued except that they both heard footsteps in the hall.
Amanda broke away from Lee, pulling the top file out of her Inbox and opening it. As she began to peruse the case, Lee unlocked the door to the Q Bureau and sat at his desk, his eyes focusing on the case he had been trying to look at all morning.
Moments later, Francine knocked once and then entered the room. Lee stood up, as if to defend Amanda, even though he knew she didn’t need his help.
“Need something, Francine?” Lee asked.
“Hello, Lee, Amanda. I just wanted to say ‘welcome back’ to Amanda.” Francine said snidely.
“Hello, Francine. Thank you.” Amanda ignored the other woman’s tone.
“Goodbye, Francine.” Lee crossed the room, and Francine backed out into the hallway. Lee closed the door, waiting to see if Francine would enter again. When she didn’t, he returned to his desk and sat.
“That was brief.” Amanda said.
“I guess she didn’t want to have words with both of us. Maybe she thought she could, and changed her mind,” he reasoned.
“Maybe she did.”
“How were things last night?”
“They were good. I actually had a call last night from a friend of mine who is a lawyer. She says she can help with the divorce, so it’ll be over faster
“That’s assuming that Joe doesn’t try for custody of the boys,” Lee pointed out.
“She said the same thing. I wouldn’t deny Joe access to our boys and he hasn’t shown a desire to whisk them to Africa with him, so I think things will go smoothly.”
“Even with me involved?”
“You’re not a factor. Joe was the one who slapped divorce papers on my coffee table two weeks ago. They state ‘irreconcilable differences’, not ‘infidelity’ as the reason for the divorce.”
“You have a point,” Lee nodded.
“I just hope the boys are going to be okay. I hate to drag them through this, but you know, when I was married, I thought it would be forever. And I…” Amanda stopped mid-thought. Lee saw the tears welling in her eyes.
“Hey, it’s okay. Why don’t we ditch today? We can go to my place, drink some coffee and discuss this,” Lee tried to put her at ease.
“You think that would be okay?”
“As I said, it’s slower than slow this week,” Lee assured her, “Since you don’t have your car…I’ll drive us.”
Lee didn’t have to convince her further. She closed the file, returning it to the top of her pile and grabbed her purse. Lee followed her out, locking the Q Bureau behind them both.
Lee made coffee while Amanda waited in the living room. She was studying a picture of his parents when he rejoined her. The frame was gold, the picture a small 5X7.
“It’s the only thing of theirs I’ve ever really had, and the only photo,” Lee said.
“Surely, some of their things were put into storage for you?” Amanda asked.
“No, not really. My uncle couldn’t handle his grief, so he sold or got rid of everything. He wanted to erase them from time. Kind of hard to do, with me around,” he said, sipping his coffee.
“You look so much like your father.”
“My uncle liked to tell me the same thing, only not in that tone,” he admitted, setting his mug down and picking up the photo. “I guess he hated my father for both of my parents’ deaths.”
“Phillip looks a lot more like Joe than he does me; sometimes he acts just like him, too.” Amanda took a seat on the sofa
“I’ll bet you don’t blame him for it though,” Lee said, his back still to her as he studied the photo.
“No. But I worry about Phillip’s temper sometimes. Especially with this divorce.”
Lee joined her on the sofa, “Is Joe going along with this peacefully?”
“For the most part. But I sat the boys down Sunday, and they were upset. They’re still pretty young, but old enough to have friends with divorced parents. They feel like they are literally losing Joe for good, and they might be, because he’s home so infrequently.” She filled him in.
“They’ll bounce back in time.” He assured her.
“I suppose so; I guess I’m already over us. I mean...I’ve been so lonely lately. No one to lean on. Mother’s there, but it’s not the same…”
“The same as having a man around?” Lee asked, giving her a smile.
“Exactly,” Amanda said, “And also there’s running the boys around to their Trailblazers meetings, fundraisers, ball games.”
“I’ll do anything I can to help you,” Lee said as he watched her set her mug on the coffee table. Her shoulders slumped when she sat back.
“I know you will. It’s just been tough the last couple of months. Even with Joe around, it was like he wasn’t there. I have had to do so much. And forget about any intimacy. Joe cut that off a long time ago.”
Lee put his mug down and took her hands in his. He turned her chin so that he was looking directly in her eyes, “Amanda, I love you. I’ve come to know that more acutely since your injury; I should have told you the day you were shot, but I was afraid. Not anymore.”
“Oh, Lee, I love you too,” Amanda said, leaning toward him to kiss him. Lee surrendered to the kiss. He waited to see when Amanda would break away, but she didn’t. He fumbled with the buttons on her blouse, starting at the top. The first two were already undone. She moved to accommodate him, sliding down on the couch so that he was mostly lying on top.
When they broke their kiss for a breath of air, she tried unsuccessfully to loosen Lee’s belt. Her hands were shaking too much and she couldn’t complete the action.
“Wait, Lee, wait.” Amanda requested, and he complied.
She wondered if she was behaving too rashly. This behavior wasn’t like her. They had not been on an official date, unless she counted the previous outing to D.C. during the boys’ baseball game. She couldn’t immediately explain the pressing need to make love with Lee.
“Is anything wrong?” He asked. Was she ready?
“No, it feels right,” she said after a moment, reminding herself that Joe hadn’t touched her for months, and they were divorcing. It wasn’t cheating. She had had no emotional or physical support from her husband for so long that she almost forgot how good it was to have the feelings she did for Lee. She wasn’t merely lusting after her partner. She needed to feel wanted again.
“Maybe we should go upstairs,” he suggested. Amanda nodded. He led her upstairs, and as he went he unbuckled the belt that had given her trouble.
Later that day:
“How about dinner out tonight?” Lee called from the bathroom. He had put on a pair of blue jeans and a white t-shirt. Amanda was sitting on the comforter on his bed, finishing getting dressed. At the moment she only had her blouse and knee-highs to go. Her hair was still damp, but Lee’s hair dryer had given her a good head start.
“Actually, I had another idea.” Amanda said, buttoning the first two buttons of her blouse and then bending to put her knee-highs on.
“What’s that?” he asked as he combed out his hair.
“You should have dinner with my family tonight,” Amanda suggested. She stopped dressing and stared at him, waiting to see what his reaction would be.
“Did you hear that?” Lee asked her. The hairs on the back of his neck stood.
“You’re not getting out of this so easily.” Amanda admonished him. She had heard nothing.
Lee shook off the momentary suspicion nagging at him and asked, “It’s not too soon?”
“No, it’s not too soon. You’re my partner. The boys know that. And since Mother knows what’s going on, well, she’d approve of you getting to know them.”
“Hang on a second,” Lee said as the feeling that someone else was in the house came back to him.
He crossed the room to the closed bedroom door. Amanda trusted his instinct completely. She tried to think ahead, what she would do after he’d opened the door. She could see him tensing, ready for a fight. Opening the bedroom door, he found Francine in the hallway, crouching as if to unlock the door. Lee surmised that she had picked the lock on the front door to get in.
“Francine, just what the Hell are you doing here!” Lee said as he let down his guard.
“Who’ve you got in there, Lee? Let me guess, your partner. Am I right?” Francine ignored him and pushed her way into the room, “It is you, you little whore. I told you to keep away from him, he’s mine.”
“Do you think so, Francine?” Amanda stood, to face down Francine, “It wasn’t your name I heard him calling. It was mine.”
“What do you mean? He…?” Francine looked both Lee and Amanda over and the realization that both were not quite fully dressed dawned on her. She raised her hand to slap Amanda, but was intercepted by Lee. He grabbed her upraised arm with his right hand and put his left around her torso.
“Yes, he did,” Amanda gloated, using the opportunity Lee had given her to get in Francine’s face, “And don’t think you’ll be making some sort of sordid gossip at work about me being married. Joe and I are divorcing.”
“Bitch!” Francine yelled at her.
“Deal with it!” Amanda yelled back, “He’s not yours anymore. He won’t be ever again, if I have a say in it.”
Lee was trying not to laugh, but failed, laughing maniacally as he started to pull Francine out of his room, still restrained in his firm grasp.
“Lee, let me go! I am telling Billy about this!” Francine threatened. Lee now had her in the hall.
“Go ahead Francine,” Lee dared her, “but I don’t think he cares. In fact, he probably knows.”
He escorted Francine out of the house and locked both locks and the chain lock as well. When he reached the bedroom again, Amanda had finished dressing.
“You okay?” Lee asked.
“Yes, fine. I can’t believe her nerve.” Amanda leaned into Lee as he embraced her to him.
“She must have picked the lock. I didn’t think she’d come over here.” He said, remembering that he had locked the bottom lock when they came in earlier.
“Well, at least we don’t have to worry about another confrontation. I’ve got you, and she knows it. So in a way, this was good,” Amanda consoled him.
“I really don’t have any feelings for her. I want you to know that,” Lee said.
“I know. We wouldn’t be here if you did, I’m sure. I just wish we’d been a little more dressed for the occasion.” Amanda lamented.
“How about that snuggle I promised?” he offered.
“Actually, she got my blood going. I think I could use lunch.”
“Okay. I’ll finish getting dressed and we’ll go. Do you have a place in mind?”
“Anywhere that isn’t in D.C.,” Amanda laughed, wanting to be as far away from Francine and the Agency as she could get. Lee understood, joining her in her laughter.
After lunch, Lee dropped Amanda off at home. They both needed to get errands run that were easier to do independently. Dotty had returned from her errands with the Wagoneer, much to Amanda’s delight.
Amanda informed Lee that dinner was at six, and that he should dress casually. He promised not to be late. With a kiss, they parted ways.
“You’re home early,” Dotty said when her daughter walked in.
“Things are going slow, so I took the rest of the day off. I need to get some shopping done anyway,” Amanda said.
“I already picked up the cereal, milk and eggs this morning. Did we need something else?” Dotty asked.
“I invited Lee for dinner.” Amanda told her.
“I just wanted to pick up some flowers for the table. Maybe a few other things I need,” Amanda said.
“Should we fix anything in particular?” Dotty asked.
“He’ll eat anything but asparagus as far as I know.” Amanda told her, “Have we heard anything from Joe lately?”
“Not since he phoned last night.”
“Good. Well, I’ll be back soon.” Amanda said, picking up her purse and heading out the door again.
Lee arrived on time, as promised. The boys were glad to see him again. They asked if he knew that they had won three straight baseball games. Lee gladly responded that he did know, and that maybe he could go to their next game. Phillip and Jamie liked the idea. Dotty looked on, smiling throughout most of the meal.
When Lee offered to help with the supper dishes, Dotty refused. She told him that he was their guest, and it wouldn’t be right. Instead, he drank coffee in the living room until Amanda and her family finished cleaning up. The boys eventually retired upstairs to finish homework, and Dotty had followed them up.
“That was a delicious meal.” Lee told Amanda
She snuggled deeper into his embrace as they cuddled on the couch in the den. “Thank you, again. You must have said that five times tonight.”
“Only because it’s true.”
“Why don’t we sit out in the gazebo? It’s a little cool, but if we share this blanket, I think it’ll be all right.” Amanda suggested, patting the one at the end of the couch.
“Sure.” He agreed.
The gazebo was ten feet from the back door, and six paces to the left. It was circular in shape, eight feet tall and at its diameter also eight feet wide. There were two entrances to the gazebo, marked by a break of the padded seating. The roof of the building was arched to a point. None of the second story windows looked out to that section of the backyard.
“I think that went very well,” Amanda said as she snuggled into Lee’s chest.
“How long do you think we’ll be able to stay out here before someone comes calling?” he asked, covering both of them with the blanket.
“Well, the boys have about an hour before baths and bedtime, so maybe that long. If they decide to behave,” she predicted, hoping they could get more time than that together.
“They did seem to like me,” Lee said.
“Well, they don’t know we’re dating. They might suspect it, but you’re starting out on the right foot. You didn’t ignore them and they felt included in the dinner conversation. That’s good.” She advised, then lay her head on his chest again, listening to his breathing.
“It’s nice, sitting out here in the quiet,” Lee mentioned.
“One thing I’ve always loved about this house. When you want solitude, you can usually find it in the gazebo.”
Lee sat, lost in his own thoughts, for a long time. He hadn’t felt so serene since before Dorothy died. Had it really been ten years since he had been part of the Wizard, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Dorothy? What a team they’d been. He finally found closure to Dorothy’s death when Tin Man was revealed to be her murderer. He still regretted having been played enough to think Paul Barnes would ever burn out. But Dorothy had meant so much to him.
He was much younger then. Dorothy was beautiful, intelligent, perfect, the answer for him, as far as whom he would spend the rest of his life with. Her sudden death had impacted him in ways he never realized. He had been in long-term relationships since then, but they all dead-ended in break ups within the first year. When he first kissed Amanda, he was doubtful as to how far he would go with it. Now, tonight, he didn’t want to let her go. He knew, deep down, that he would always feel this way.
Amanda, too, was lost in reverie. She recalled her college days, meeting Joe, her wedding day, and the births of her children. All of these things had brought endless joy to her life. Now, an era was ending. Joe had called the night before and told her he was going to move his things into storage on his next trip home. She once thought Joe would be the only man for her. Now she felt like Lee was the missing link to her life; different from Joe in so many ways, offering more than Joe ever did. She knew, somehow, that Lee wouldn’t leave her alone, the way Joe had.
The boys calling for Amanda brought the couple out of their silent reflections. Amanda hated to leave the warm spot she occupied, but she had to tell her sons “good night” and get them to bed.
“I guess I should be going too,” Lee said, noticing how late it was, and the fact that he had begun to doze.
“No, wait, I’ll be right back. I don’t want you to go yet.” Amanda requested.
“I’ll be right here then.” He smiled at her. Amanda kissed him and went inside.
“Phillip and Jamie say ‘good night’ to you,” Amanda told him when she came back outside.
“I missed you while you were gone,” Lee said, holding her close under the blanket.
“What were you thinking about?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Nothing. Everything. The way you figure things out that I overlook at work.”
“The way you always get us out of trouble is even more amazing.”
“You do your share there, too.”
“Really, my love,” Lee kissed the top of her nose, and then kissed her lips. She pulled his head down further, deepening the kiss.
Lee allowed his hands to roam her body, curled up against him on the bench of the gazebo. They stopped for a breath of air and then continued the kiss where it left off. Amanda was unbuttoning his shirt and then pulled up his t-shirt so that she could gain access to his smooth chest.
“Is this a good idea?” Lee asked as he realized how far they were taking things for the second time that day.
“No, you’re right . . . we should wait. I just . . . I was so pleased that you did wonderfully with the boys.
Lee motioned to the gazebo around them, “You were planning this tonight?”
“Well, if you didn’t bomb with the boys, I thought it would be a nice way to end our day. Just the two of us seeing where things would lead.” She grinned guiltily.
“I’m glad I didn’t crash and burn with them. Really.”
“They think it’s ‘awesome’ that you’re going to come with us to their next game. It’s Saturday. Don’t forget.”
“Hmm, I won’t.” He chuckled. Wiped out from a long, emotional day, they both thought they would close their eyes for just a second.
When Amanda awoke, she knew it had been much more than a second. She was relieved to find it was night out, still. When she sat up in surprise, her movements roused Lee.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing, except that it’s late, or early morning, and we fell asleep out here, and I left the house open and we both have to work…soon.” Amanda explained her worries.
“Well, there’ll be coffee at work. I’ve had to work on less sleep than I’ve gotten.” Lee said, “What time is it, anyway?”
“The light’s on in the kitchen, we’ll check there.” She suggested.
They quietly slinked to the kitchen door, where the light shone like the sun. Amanda laughed and Lee joined her when he read his watch: 4:30 a.m.
He took her in his arms. “This is goodbye, for now. I’ll see you tomorrow. I mean, later,” Lee revised his statement.
“Okay.” Amanda nodded, allowing Lee one quick peck on the lips as she stepped into the house and closed and locked the kitchen door.
One week later…
Three weeks after arresting Sandy Carday and several of her mob hitmen, Billy called a meeting in the conference room to tie up the loose ends of the case. All the team members were present for the final case review.
“Two final items,” Billy said, “First, we got back the ballistics on the bullet the NEST team pulled out of Amanda, and it was confirmed to be from Sandy Carday’s weapon. Second, Dr. Smyth sends out a ‘good job’ and a thumbs up to all of you. Questions?”
“When does the Carday trial start?” Francine asked.
“There’s a hearing to set the date tomorrow. Probably soon. The Federal prosecutors want to get her to trial as quickly as possible,” Billy answered.
“When can we go to lunch?” Lee asked. Everyone except Billy and Francine laughed, although Billy did crack a reluctant smile.
“Meeting adjourned, Scarecrow. But I need to speak with you and Amanda, my office,” Billy said as chairs were pushed back from the table.
“What’s up, Billy?” Lee asked when he and Amanda had been seated in the section chief’s office.
“You two seem to be getting along rather well in the last weeks. What exactly is going on?” Billy asked directly.
“We’re just dating, Billy. Come on, you know that.” Lee said. He wondered where this was coming from. He had dated other agents before, and Billy never questioned him. Now he was worried.
“I know. It just better not affect your performance as partners. I’ll split you up if it does,” Billy said seriously.
“It won’t, sir,” Amanda promised. In the last week, they seemed to compensate for each other more than ever. It was as if their instincts were heightened.
“In that case, I’m glad things are working out for the two of you,” Billy smiled at them, “That’s all. Go have lunch.”
“Thanks, Billy,” Lee said, all trace of worry gone.
After lunch, Lee and Amanda walked to the park nearby and found a secluded bench where they could sit, relaxed in each other’s embrace. It was a warm June afternoon, so Lee had left his suit coat at the office. Amanda was wearing a short-sleeved blouse and matching skirt.
“When can we tell Phillip and Jamie that we’re a couple?” Lee asked. After ten days of keeping the secret, he didn’t want it secret anymore.
“If you can be patient until Saturday, I think it would be safe to tell them. I think they’re figuring us out, anyway.”
“That sounds wonderful.”
“Amanda, I would really like to make us permanent,” Lee said, giving her shoulders a squeeze.
“I know you would, but it’s going to be a while before my divorce is final. It just takes time.” She stated.
“So, you’ll marry me once the divorce is final?” he asked next.
“No,” she said, surprised at his proposal, “I don’t want to just jump right into it.”
“Maybe I can propose to you when it’s over and we’ll just stay engaged a while,” he tried again.
“Lee, why are you in a hurry to have me all to yourself, legally, when you already do, emotionally and in every other way?” Amanda asked, wondering.
“My parents were our age when I was born. They didn’t even reach the age of forty. They didn’t get to live their lives, really. I don’t want to wait to live life, either. I know I love you, and I couldn’t love anyone else. And I guess I was figuring, why wait?” Lee tried to explain.
“Just for a little while, Lee. We’re not your parents. We have time. I love you too and I’m not going anywhere. At least, I don’t plan to,” Amanda said.
“Promise?” Lee asked, teasing.
“Promise.” Amanda said, sealing the bargain with a passionate kiss.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are WB’s and Shoot the Moon’s, but certainly not mine. This is for entertainment only.
Summary: A/U story. Some elements of Lee’s past have changed. Amanda’s also. Some are still starkly real. Amanda and Lee in a “what if Amanda ended up at the Agency differently?” story. Rated R for violence, language and inferred intimacy.
Summary: A/U story. Some elements of Lee’s past have changed. Amanda’s also. Some are still starkly real. Amanda and Lee in a “what if Amanda ended up at the Agency differently?” story. Rated R for violence, language and inferred intimacy.