Hard Cider—The Morning After
Amanda was dreaming—she was standing with Lee Stetson—her partner—and they were on a terrace overlooking a garden. They gazed into each others eyes and it was wonderful. Then he moved toward her and kissed her tenderly. She felt his lips on hers and she knew he cared for her. A lot. Maybe even loved her. She was so happy. She wanted him to love her—and slowly in the past year she had come to believe that it might actually come to pass. When they had been on the run in that swamp she knew he had been about to kiss her. For real—with no case or scenario making him do it.
And then Joe had been accused of murdering the Estoccian Prime Minister—and he had been a case. Amanda still cared for her ex-husband—as a dear friend or perhaps a big brother. But Lee had totally misread their relationship. Or maybe he had put too much stock in a few casual words from Joe. Joe may have thought he could rekindle a relationship with his ex-wife—but Amanda wasn’t having any of it. She had tried to reassure her partner—but on their last case they had gone in as brother and sister. That hadn’t happened before. Usually they went in as a married couple—and they did it very well.
But now—Lee was kissing her and she just knew everything would turn out great. She loved him—she had been in love with her partner for a while. She just hadn’t thought she would have a chance when stacked up against his usual girlfriends—fast, sophisticated, glamorous women. And he hadn’t dated anyone for a while. So she guessed they would maybe start dating soon—or something.
While she contemplated the bliss of kissing Lee, she became aware of a noise. An irritating noise. Like pounding. Or maybe an earthquake. It sure was loud, and it made her ears hurt. Her ears and head. She opened her eyes, and was immediately assaulted by an ice pick being driven into her eyeballs. It hurt! She opened her mouth to cry out—and found her mouth and throat were dry. Dry and fuzzy. Dry and fuzzy and tasting bad.
She moaned out loud, and immediately she heard a crash.
“Amanda! Are you OK?” Lee burst in the room to see his partner lying in bed moaning piteously.
“Shhh! Lee—please! Don’t shout.” She put the pillow over her head to block out the noise.
Lee took a look at Amanda and shook his head. ‘Poor thing—she’s got one massive hangover. And now it’s up to me to get her back in shape.’ He spoke quietly. “Amanda—what do you remember of last night?”
She moaned again. “Leave me alone. I just want to die in peace…”
He smiled and shook his head. “Amanda—answer me—do you remember anything about what happened last night? The busted stakeout? Francine?”
“Ohhhh. Francine. She was being really mean and nasty. More mean and nasty than usual.”
“You can say that again.”
“What happened—why do I feel so awful? All I was drinking was apple juice.” She looked blearily up at him. Her eyes were bloodshot and she was pale.
“You were drinking Apple Jack—Hard Cider. It’s got a fairly high alcoholic content—and you had three big mugs in an hour. You were pretty drunk.”
“Drunk? Me? I don’t get drunk—I try to be careful about that sort of thing. I have my boys to think of you know…”
“Yeah—well this time you weren’t so careful.” He thought for a moment then amended his statement. “I guess it wasn’t really your fault. You didn’t know how powerful that stuff can be—and Francine certainly wasn’t helping. She was trying to get you drunk.”
Amanda looked up at him blearily. “Why would she do that?”
“Oh Amanda—she’s jealous of you.”
She looked very confused. She made as if to respond a couple of times. Then she shook her head—and immediately clutched it with both hands. “I shouldn’t do that,” she muttered to herself. “Why on earth is Francine jealous of me? There’s nothing about my life that she would want. That just doesn’t make sense.”
Lee shook his head. ‘She’s either still a bit drunk or totally clueless. And my Amanda’s not that dense.’ He sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand. “Amanda she’s jealous because we’re partners.”
She looked disbelievingly at him—then he saw it click. “Oh.”
“Yeah. So—I know you’d probably rather spend the day in bed—but we have to get back to DC. Billy is expecting us to do some work today.”
“Work? Feeling like this? Are you kidding?”
‘It must be really bad for her to not want to work.’ Lee smiled gently. “Yeah—we have to work. I’ll start a hot shower and order you some breakfast. Do you want it here or are you able to eat downstairs?”
“No food…” She trailed off weakly.
“And you’re the one who insists breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” He stepped into the bathroom and started the shower. He set out a big soft towel and made sure there was soap and shampoo for her. He saw her toothbrush and toiletries were all neatly laid out.
He returned to the room—Amanda hadn’t moved. He went to her suitcase and got out clothes for her to wear. She stayed in bed with her eyes closed. He laid her clothes out in the bathroom and came back to sit on the bed again.
“Amanda—c’mon. You have to get up. Take a long hot shower—it will help—I promise. I’ll have lots of hot coffee waiting for you when you come out, OK? And after that you can decide about food.” He gently took her hands and tried to pull her up.
“Leeeeeee! Leave me alone!” She protested weakly.
“No. You have to get up and showered and dressed. I can come in there and help you out, if you’d like that.” He offered mildly—hoping her sense of decency would be a motivator.
“Would you really help me?”
He was shocked—but kept a pleasant neutral face. “If you’d like that—sure.”
“I bet you’d help. Not this time buster.” Her indignation was dampened by her condition. She moved slowly, but that finally got her up and moving into the bathroom.
Once she had shut the door behind her—he waited a few minutes to make sure she was moving. Then he went downstairs to order a large carafe of black coffee and two mugs with the condiments. He returned a few minutes later with a tray and a newspaper. He poured himself a cup of coffee—added cream and settled in to read the paper while Amanda got ready in the bathroom.
About 30 minutes later, Amanda emerged from the bathroom. She was dressed, and her hair was somewhat dry and combed. She wasn’t wearing makeup and she looked so fresh and sweet. He marveled at how beautiful she could look.
“Hey—you feeling a bit better?” He asked quietly.
“I don’t know.” She spotted the carafe. “Is that coffee?”
He poured her a cup and added sugar just as she liked. She took it and drank gratefully—holding the warm mug in her hands and breathing in the steam with her eyes closed. “Mmmmmmm. I don’t think I’ve ever had better coffee.”
“It’s OK—but I guess your hangover is making it taste better than usual.”
She sat on the bed and drank the coffee. When the mug was empty she held it out to him for a refill. He took the cup and poured her another and added sugar again. When she finished the second cup she sat contemplating the empty cup.
Lee decided to speed things up a bit. “Are you up for any breakfast yet?”
“I don’t know. Could I get some toast? I don’t think I could manage anything else just yet.”
He nodded. “Toast it is. I’ll be right back.”
He returned with two pieces of toast on a tray, with a pot of jam. “Here—try it with some jam. The sugar should help.”
She took a piece and spread a small amount of jam on it. She ate it carefully—in small bites. Once the first piece was finished—she tried another and put more jam on this one.
She took another cup of coffee and drank it with her toast. Once she was finished, Lee took the tray and placed it on the dresser.
“How are you doing—the food settling OK?”
She nodded. “Yeah—I’m feeling better. The hot shower definitely helped. Thank you. And the coffee, too.”
“I guess you’ve been in this position a few times, huh?”
He smiled sheepishly. “A few times. When I was younger—and stupid.”
She smiled weakly back.
“So—are you ready to go? Do you want me to help you pack up?”
“I need to put on some makeup. I think I can manage that now.” She got her purse and sat down in front of the mirror.
Lee grabbed her suitcase, and went into the bathroom to pack up her stuff. He took her clothes and placed them in the suitcase. He found a bag and put her toiletries into it. He looked around to make sure he hadn’t left anything behind. Back in the room, Amanda was still working on her makeup. She was moving slowly, and he decided to let her finish at her own pace. He gathered up her clothes from the night before, and her other items, and finished packing up her suitcase. He checked the bed and drawers and the closet to make sure nothing was left behind.
Amanda finished her makeup and put it back in her purse. She looked around the room and saw Lee had packed her up. “Thank you for helping me out. I guess you have everything, right?”
“Yep. All packed up. My bag is already in the car. You ready to go?”
“I need to use the bathroom again. All that coffee…”
“I’ll meet you downstairs, OK?” He left with her suitcase to put it in the car and settle their bill.
Once they were on the road, Amanda immediately went to sleep.
Lee looked over at her. ‘I guess sleep is good for her. Maybe we can stop for some food in an hour or so. If she wants something. We have a few hours’ drive. Maybe with rest she’ll be feeling more human by the time we get back to DC.’
‘Damn Francine! That was a low trick, and if she thinks I’m gonna let her off the hook for this one she’s sadly mistaken. She’d better be scarce around Amanda for a good long while. Amanda may forgive her—but I won’t. I won’t allow anyone to do that to my partner without some sort of payback. And I’ll wait for the right opportunity. But she’s going to pay for what she did to my Amanda. I’ll make sure of that.’ He spent the next hour contemplating different ways of making Francine pay for her treatment of Amanda.
“Lee?” Amanda was awake.
“Hey sleepyhead. What’s up?”
“Can we stop somewhere? I need a rest stop.”
“OK—there’s an exit coming up. We can get gas at the same time.”
Amanda went to the rest room while Lee gassed up the car. Once they were done, Lee took her into the station. “You want something to eat? They have snacks and sandwiches here.”
“Ah, maybe just a candy bar. And a soft drink. With lots of caffeine.” She chose a chocolate bar and a Coke.
Lee got a candy bar for himself and another Coke. He paid for their treats and they were soon back on the road.
“Um—I have some pretty strange memories of last night.”
“Well—I remember Francine talking to me—we talked about that new redhead in the steno pool.”
“Yeah—she started a few weeks ago.”
Lee shrugged. “I guess I hadn’t noticed. Then what did you talk about?”
“Then Francine said you…”
“Um—nothing. Then she asked me why I keep working at the Agency. And she said my lack of training would get us both shot or killed. Then she said you only kept me around because you felt sorry for me. Then she—“
Lee cut her off. “I get the idea, Amanda. Was there anything else she said?” He sounded quite angry.
“Um—no—not really. Well, maybe she said more of the same stuff but really nothing different than that—well just similar stuff—but nothing about what you thought of me like—well nothing important. I guess I was really drunk so my memory is a bit hazy from that point onward. Yeah—that’s it—I don’t remember a whole lot after that.” She looked a bit frazzled and desperate, but she smiled at Lee.
Briefly Lee wondered what she was trying to cover up—but decided it wasn’t worth it. “OK. Do you remember me getting you up to the room and putting you to bed?”
“Ahhh. Yeah I do.”
“OK—well that’s about all that happened. So there’s nothing more for you to remember.”
“Um—I guess I had a strange dream then.”
“What did you dream about?”
“Um—I guess I don’t really remember.”
“OK, OK. How long until we get back to the Agency?”
Lee smiled. She must be feeling better if she could ramble and obfuscate like that. “Not long.”
“Thanks for taking care of me. I really appreciate it.”
“Hey—we’re partners. Partners watch out for each other.”
“Yeah—we do. I do remember one more thing. You said I was the best partner you ever had.”
“Yes I did. And I meant it. Now will you forget all that crap Francine fed you? Like I said—she’s just jealous.”
“Yeah jealous.” She smiled at him.
Lee smiled back at his partner. ‘She’s feeling a whole lot better. She’ll be OK to work. That’s good. Because if she had to call in sick—Francine would see she never lived it down… I’ll get her yet.’ Lee vowed.
Amanda walked into Billy Melrose’s office with the reports on the stakeout from both her and Lee. “Here you are, sir. Sorry they’re late but it took a bit to get going this morning.”
Leatherneck was in Billy’s office. “Good morning, Mrs. King. Glad to see you’re doing well this morning.”
“Thank you Leatherneck. Lee helped. I never knew Apple Cider could be so…” She searched for the appropriate word.
“Potent?” Leatherneck helpfully supplied.
She smiled back in gratitude. “Yes. Potent.”
“Thank you for these, Amanda. And I’m also glad you’re doing OK this morning. Is there anything you’d like to talk to me about?” Billy smiled at her encouragingly.
Amanda was a bit taken aback. “Um—not really. We got our reports done, and here they are—unless you have something more for us to do…”
Billy was silent for a few moments. “All right.” He handed Amanda some tapes. “I’d appreciate it of you could transcribe these. There’s a desk over there you can use.”
“Couldn’t I go up to the Q Bureau? Lee is out following up on a few leads.” She took the tapes.
“Not this time—I need this quickly. I’d appreciate it if you let me know immediately if there is anything you think we need to follow up on as soon as you hear it. We might not have time to wait for the finished transcripts.”
She shrugged, “OK, I’ll get right on it.” She smiled at the men and left to start the transcriptions.
Leatherneck closed Billy’s door after her. “She’s doing great—especially as she was roaring drunk last night. Scarecrow must have given her the whole treatment to get her back into shape so quickly.”
Billy nodded and watched Amanda start her task. “He does know all the tricks for getting back into shape quickly. And he does watch out for her. You say he had words with Francine after he got her into bed and settled?”
“Oh yeah. He ripped her good. But that woman needs to know she can’t get away with something like that. She must’ve forgotten we had a mic on the tables. When I tuned in to her dumping on Mrs. King—well—I figured you’d need a copy. For your ‘secret’ files.” He handed Billy a tape.
“Thank you for this. I think I’ll wait a while before I listen to this. The regs strictly prohibit murder of subordinates.”
“What about if they deserve it? I’ve gotta go. Good luck. Scarecrow threatened Francine to stay away from Amanda—and him. But she’ll show up sooner or later—if nothing else to check on Mrs. King and see just how hung-over she is. And gloat. The woman can’t resist when it comes to Ace’s partner. She should just let it go already.” Leatherneck left Billy’s office.
Billy sat and mused. ‘Yes she needs to get over it. And I think starting with a public heartfelt apology is just the thing to get the ball rolling.’
A while later, Amanda was totally absorbed in her transcription. Apparently she hadn’t discovered anything urgent, because she hadn’t come to Billy since he had handed her the assignment. He was on the lookout for his assistant. Finally—she breezed in. He watched as she gaily greeted people, and settled at her desk after noticing Amanda at work. She gave nothing away, but Billy knew she had to be sweating to see Amanda working away in the bullpen. Which is exactly why he had asked her to work there.
He allowed Francine a few moments to get absorbed in a task—then he opened his door and bellowed. “Desmond—my office, now!”
Francine looked up and smiled at her boss. She went into his office. He shut the door after her, and closed the blinds. Instantly interest peaked in the rest of the bullpen. By now everyone had heard ’unofficially of course’ about Francine’s stunt. Everyone was highly interested to see how this would play out. Amanda sat at her desk absorbed in her task and missed all the byplay.
Inside Billy’s office things were heating up. Francine noticed Billy closing the blinds and mentally prepared herself for the ordeal to come.
Billy sat at his desk and smiled benignly. “So how was the stakeout? I haven’t gotten your report yet.”
“It was a total bust, Billy. Our guy never showed. So we wasted an evening sitting and drinking.”
“Sitting and drinking… Tell me—what do you think of a superior who demoralizes a subordinate for no good reason? Do you think that sort of behavior is helpful to the smooth running of this unit?”
Francine knew she was in trouble—but she gamely played her part. “Depends on the circumstances, I guess.”
“Well tell me—what circumstances make it acceptable for you to get a subordinate drunk and then totally demoralize her?”
“If she’s totally inadequate for the job—and could get herself and her partner killed…” Francine trailed off as Billy’s face clouded with anger.
“Just exactly who is the head of this unit, Desmond?”
“Really? Then I assume you are looking for a transfer out of this unit.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Then I’ll remind you that it’s MY decision to have Mrs. King work with Scarecrow. They’ve been partners—yes, partners—for almost three years now. So if you object to that—you are objecting to the way I run this unit. And I can’t have a subordinate second-guessing my decisions.”
Francine was silent.
He let her stew for a few minutes. Then he spoke. “All right—this is how it will go down. You will go out there and apologize to Mrs. King—publicly and loud enough for everyone out there to hear. Then you will go to your desk and write out a full report of your evening—including everything you said to Mrs. King, and her replies. And be sure to leave nothing out—” he waved the tape Leatherneck had given him, “because I have a tape here, and I expect your report to mirror it. Got that?”
Francine paled at the tape, but replied in a steady voice. “Yes sir.”
“Then you will STAY AWAY from Amanda King for at least a week. And by the way—I’m gonna turn a blind eye to whatever Scarecrow cooks up for his revenge. Because you know he’s going to make you pay for your stunt. And you are going to be grateful I don’t put a reprimand in your file over this incident. But if I hear of anything like this happening again—you’d better have a lot of cold-weather gear because there’s that post in Greenland I’m always looking to fill. Got it?”
“Get out of here. I expect that report by the end of the day. And you still have a pile of stuff on your desk waiting for you—so you’d better stay until everything is finished. Do I make myself clear?”
“Go on!” He waved her out of his office.
Francine put her hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath. The she emerged, and made straight for Amanda’s desk.
Billy opened his blinds and watched the exchange.
Francine put her hand on Amanda’s shoulder to get her attention. Amanda looked up, and noticed Francine. She removed her headphones and faced the blonde.
“Hello Francine.” Anyone who knew Amanda knew instantly Francine was not her favorite person at the moment from the cool tone Amanda used to greet her.
“Amanda, I’m here to apologize.”
By now the rest of the people had fallen silent and every eye was turned toward the two women.
Amanda looked surprised, but was silent.
“I’m sorry for what happened on the stakeout yesterday. My conduct was unprofessional and … mean.”
Amanda nodded. “Yes, it was.”
“As I said, I’m sorry and rest assured, it won’t happen again. I had no right to treat you like that, and I will be more considerate in the future.”
“I appreciate that.” Amanda’s soft reply was heard throughout the bullpen.
“Well, that’s it.” Francine caught Billy watching the exchange. “Unless you have something to say to me?”
Amanda thought for a moment. “You are a good agent—and heaven knows I’m nowhere in your league—but I do have skills and abilities that some people here value. I guess you just need to realize not everyone is the same, and give people credit for what they do well—and not dwell so much on their shortcomings.”
Francine nodded. Amanda’s quiet reply stung more than Billy’s chewing out had. “Thank you for pointing that out. I promise I will be more considerate in the future.”
Amanda nodded. Francine nodded, and offered her hand. Amanda took it and shook her hand. Then they turned back to their respective tasks.
Billy watched the exchange, and waited a minute for the shock to fully settle in. Then he decided it was enough. He bellowed to the bullpen. “Don’t you all have work to do? Because if you aren’t busy I have a pile of assignments here I can dole out to whoever needs something to do.”
Everyone immediately bent to whatever task they had and avoided Billy’s eyes.
Billy returned to his office. He smiled to himself. ‘It will be all over the agency within 15 minutes. Good. Amanda is gracious to let Francine off so easily. But she’s a lady and that is one of the reasons she is so valuable to my unit. And Francine will take a lot of ribbing and snide looks for that. Which she justly deserves. Once I read Francine’s report I’ll decide whether Amanda needs to see Dr. Pfaff. But with Scarecrow watching her back—I think she’ll be OK. Why can’t my people just get along?’
Author's Chapter Notes:
Hard Cider was supposed to be a one-shot but I got several requests to follow up on the morning after—so I did. You guys…