Don't Look Behind You
By Jennifer Cannon
Friday 8:30 PM
Amanda’s head hurt-more than hurt, actually-it felt as though someone had driven sharp knives through her skull. Cautiously she tried to open her eyes; only to close them again as the light caused the pain to sharpen in intensity.
What had happened? Amanda tried to think back. She had been ready to leave Station One and then-a jumble of memories and images rushed through her mind:
–”I love you, Lee-tell mother and the boys I’ll be home soon and give Emily a kiss from me.” -
–driving down a darkened road-
–the glow of headlights behind her-so bright that Amanda almost had to close her eyes to shield herself from the glare -the squeal of brakes-
–”I’ve been looking forward to this, Amanda.” -the man’s voice had been deep in tone; she recalled-the accent vaguely familiar-
Why had she left Station One alone? Amanda wondered. She and Lee had come there separately-but they could have left together-why would they have left separately? There must have been a reason, but for the moment, it eluded her.
Who had the voice belonged to?
What had happened on the road? Some sort of accident? Was she in the hospital?
But hospitals had hospital noises-a certain antiseptic smell in the air-somehow this didn’t feel like a hospital. Amanda tensed as she heard a slight creak, followed by the soft padding of footsteps.
“Lee?” she croaked, barely recognizing her own voice. The inside of her mouth felt like a piece of sandpaper. Amanda swallowed, tasting a strange, almost sickly sweetness as she did.
No one answered her, but some sixth sense told her that someone was there, watching. The boys used to do that when they were little, Amanda recalled-they would stand by her bed some mornings, not saying anything, just waiting for her to open her eyes.
‘Open your eyes, Amanda.’
And she did. The pain was still intense but more bearable this time-the light less of a piercing dagger and more of a soft golden glow. A figure stood silently over her, the features obscured and blurry.
“Lee?” Amanda repeated.
“Take it easy.” Not Lee at all, the voice was female. A hand gently smoothed Amanda’s hair. “It’s best if you just rest now-you’ve had a rough time.”
“But I don’t-I don’t remember what happened. Where am I?”
“You had an accident, Mrs. Stetson,” the woman replied. “We brought you here.”
“Where?” Amanda tried to sit up but something seemed to be holding her down. “Am I in a hospital? My husband and family-are they-”
“Shhh…” the woman’s voice soothed. “Rest first-everything will be explained in due time.”
“But I can’t rest now, I can’t-” Amanda cried out as she felt the sharp sting of a needle in her arm. Her last clear memory was of another figure joining the first-the two of them standing over her.
“You did an excellent job, my dear,” another voice said. A man’s voice this time. The figures almost seemed to blur together as the darkness took Amanda Stetson completely.
4247 Maplewood Drive
Friday 9:00 PM
Lee sat on the sofa in the family room, his head resting on his hands. He shouldn’t be here-he thought to himself-sitting on this sofa. He should be up doing something-making himself useful instead of sitting here feeling so damn helpless-Lee clenched his right hand, pounding his leg hard.
“Did that help?”
Lee looked up at the man who stood in front of him.
“Hello, Billy,” he said tonelessly.
Billy sat beside him. “Where’s Mrs. West?”
“Dotty’s upstairs with Emily,” Lee told him. “She seems to be holding it together- for now, anyway.”
“She’s one strong woman. And the boys?”
“Well they were planning on spending the weekend at a friend’s house, but they’re on the way back now. We haven’t told them anything yet. Is there any news?”
Billy sighed. “Nothing yet-at the moment we’re coordinating with the State Police and the FBI, calling all the hospitals-”
“Lee, come on-don’t think that way. Amanda’s only been missing a few hours.”
“A few hours!” Lee snapped. Rising from the sofa, he started to pace back and forth. “And we have no idea of where she could be-who might have her-there’s nothing. Station One is only an hour-and-a-half away from here.”
“You know it’s still possible this may be something simple. An accident-maybe even a breakdown.”
“You really believe that?” Lee looked at his friend. “This is Amanda-she would’ve found a way to get in touch-and if there had been accident the State Police would’ve contacted us by now. This is my fault-I should’ve never left her there to go home alone.”
“She was the ringer this time-you arrived in separate cars, correct?”
“Of course we did.” Lee clenched his fist. “That’s standard procedure. I just thought-I wanted us to leave at the same time.”
“Why?” Billy asked.
Lee sank back down onto the sofa. I’m not exactly sure. A feeling, maybe-I don’t know how else to explain it.” As Lee spoke, his mind returned to the events of that afternoon:
“Amanda, are you sure you’ll be all right?”
Amanda rose from the desk and walked over to him. “Lee, I’ll be just fine-I just have this paperwork to finish up-there’s no reason for you to stay behind and wait.”
“I don’t mind waiting.”
Her arms wrapped around him. “It’s okay, Stetson-I’ll be home before you know it.”
Lee was silent for a moment-holding her body tightly against his own. Suddenly Amanda pulled out of the embrace, her dark eyes searching his.
“What is it?” she asked. “Something’s bothering you.”
Lee didn’t know how to tell Amanda-how to express the cold feeling that had crept over him. What was the expression-as if someone had walked over his grave? Involuntarily he shivered.
“I’m fine,” he told her. “Really. Just promise me something.”
“Promise me you’ll be careful? I love you-I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Amanda smiled-her soft lips pressed gently against his own. “I love you too, Mr. Stetson. Nothing’s going to happen to me.”
But something had happened.
Billy’s voice broke into Lee’s reverie. “You can’t blame yourself.”
Lee laughed shortly, running a hand through his hair. “Can’t I?”
“I have to ask this, Lee.” Billy hesitated for a moment. “Do you have any idea who might be responsible?”
Lee shook his head. “No.”
“Have either you or Amanda received any threatening notes, messages, gifts-strange phone calls?” Billy prodded. “Even something small might be a clue.”
“Haven’t you been listening to me?” Lee rose from the sofa, pacing the length of the room as he spoke. “There hasn’t been anything-no threats, no warnings-nothing. Maybe if there had been I would’ve been able to do something.”
“We’re also looking into your past cases,” Billy informed him. “People who might’ve had a grudge against you or Amanda, people who’ve escaped or been released from prison-the best thing you can do now is wait.”
“No-no-you can’t ask me to wait-not while Amanda is-”
“At least until we know something more,” he said. “Right now you have a young daughter and a family who needs you. Please?”
Lee sank back down onto the sofa. “All right-I’ll wait-for now, anyway. You’ll call me the moment you have any news?”
“As soon as I know something I’ll call you. We’ll find her, Scarecrow-I promise you that.”
After Billy had gone. Lee’s head dropped into his hands once more, his eyes closing tightly as he fought to keep control.
‘Where are you, Amanda?’ he thought to himself. ‘What’s happened to you?’
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The man stood silently over the woman’s bed, watching her as she slept.
Not one detail escaped his attention-the way her dark lashes stood out in sharp contrast to her pale complexion-how her chest rose and fell with her slow and even breaths. ‘So beautiful.’ He had thought of her so often throughout his confinement-her face, her smile-playing out this moment so many times in his head that it was hard to believe it was actually happening. But it was. The man bent down and leaned close, inhaling her scent. His hand brushed her cheek lightly.
“Soon, liebling,” he whispered. “Very soon.”
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4247 Maplewood Drive
Saturday 2:30 AM
“No,” Lee moaned. His head tossed restlessly on the pillow. “No please-Amanda!”
His wife’s name came out in a shout. Lee sat straight up in bed, his heart racing wildly, his undershirt soaked with sweat. For a moment, he just stared at the familiar objects in the dimly lit bedroom, his breath slowing as he tried to reorient himself. In his mind, he could still see his wife, held in the grip of some faceless monster. Amanda’s face had been stained with tears, dark eyes silently pleading with Lee to save her-rescue her. And Lee had been frozen, unable to move as the monster had grabbed her and-
‘Stop it,’ Lee told himself. ‘It was only a dream-that’s all.’ But that wasn’t all- and it wasn’t a dream. Amanda was gone, and he had no idea who took her, why they took her-nothing at all. In reality, Lee was no closer to helping his wife than he’d been in his nightmare. His gaze fell on the pillow beside him, still marred with a faint indentation of where Amanda’s head rested every night.
He couldn’t just stay here-he had to get up. As if on cue, a loud thin wail came from the baby monitor, filling the room. Emily. Slowly Lee rose from the bed, padding down the hallway towards the nursery.
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By the time Lee reached the nursery Emily was already in full swing-her face was bright red and her little hands were curled into fists, her body shaking with the force of her cries.
“Hey there, sweetheart.” Lee bent over the crib. “What’s the matter, huh? What’s wrong?” He checked his daughter’s diaper; he was very relieved to find that it wasn’t wet or messy. Lee carefully lifted Emily into his arms and walked with her around the nursery, gently rocking her as he hummed. Some nights this worked just fine, but tonight Emily refused to be satisfied. Checking the clock, he saw that it was time for her bottle. Lee carried her downstairs into the kitchen-still holding her as he warmed the bottle from the fridge under the faucet, testing a few drops on the inside of his wrist to make sure it wasn’t too warm. Emily wailed the whole time, her face damp with tears.
“Don’t worry, Emily,” Lee soothed. “Daddy’s going to feed you right now, okay?” He carried her upstairs, down the hallway to the nursery, and sat down in the rocking chair, putting a spit-up cloth over one shoulder. The moon shone through the window while Lee rocked back and forth, looking down at Emily’s face as she drank her bottle. Her eyes were so much like Amanda’s-Lee closed his own eyes briefly, fighting for control. He couldn’t lose it-not now.
“I had a feeling I’d find you in here.”
Lee opened his eyes to see Dotty, standing in the doorway. “I couldn’t sleep,” he told her. “And Emily needed feeding, so-”
“Believe me, I understand,” Dotty entered the nursery, sinking down onto the window-seat. “I couldn’t sleep either.”
“How are the boys?” Lee asked.
Dotty sighed. “Asleep for now-Lord only knows how long that will last-they’re both worried sick.”
“I know.” In his mind Lee could still see the boys’ faces-as he’d told them the news, Phillip’s face pale, his eyes wide with shock; Jamie’s eyes brimming with tears-they had lost their father a couple of months ago. If they lost their mother as well-Lee tried to push those thoughts to the back of his mind.
Emily pushed the bottle away-Lee noticed it was empty. He put the bottle on the nearby table and held Emily against his shoulder, gently bouncing her and patting her back until she finally burped.
“Where could Amanda be?” The questions came out of Dotty in a rush. “Where is my baby? I know that a lot of what you do is need-to-know, but do you have any idea what might have happened?”
“Dotty believe me-if I knew, I’d be out there looking for her myself. Right now, there’s nothing. We’re investigating, but-” Lee’s throat choked up suddenly. Dotty reached over, covering her hand with his.
“Listen to me,” she said. “I have faith in you, Lee Stetson-and if anyone can find Amanda you can. Right now that’s all that’s keeping me going. Just promise me you won’t give up.”
Lee swallowed hard. “I won’t give up. We’ll find her-I know we will.”
He only wished that he could feel as confident as he sounded.
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It was damp here-very damp and cold. Amanda shivered as it penetrated her skin, little drops of moisture clinging to her as she moved, her feet making no sound.
“Lee?” Amanda strained to make out the figure enshrouded in the mist; moving rapidly towards her. “Where are you?” Her voice sounded very small to her own ears-wrapped up in the thick fog that surrounded her.
“I’m coming Amanda-wait for me-please don’t give up.” The figure was close to her now. Amanda reached out one hand to touch her husband, but the only thing that her fingers encountered was a cold dampness. Slowly the figure began to move away.
“Wait!” Amanda called. “Please don’t go Lee-come back!” She let out her breath in a hiss of frustration as the figure vanished into the distance.
“Please don’t go, Lee,” a voice whispered mockingly. The speaker was invisible-the voice seemed to come from the air itself.
“Who are you?” Amanda called out.
The soft laughter sent a chill through her spine.
“I told you- didn’t I, Amanda? I never forget-and I never forgive. Never.”
With a gasp, Amanda managed to pull herself out of the dream. She opened her eyes. Everything seemed to be a blur at first-the colors and shapes all melding together.
“I wondered when you’d be awake.”
It was a woman’s voice-the same one she remembered from before. There was no pain this time, but the bad taste still flooded her mouth. Amanda’s vision was starting to clear-allowing her to focus on the girl who stood in the doorway. The girl looked young-sixteen, maybe-eighteen at the most. Her hair was white-blond in color, cut into a short pixie style that feathered and framed her face. A Bedside Bluebell? Then Amanda took in the girl’s tight blue jeans, oversized pink sweater, and matching fuzzy slippers.
Definitely not a Bedside Bluebell.
“I thought you might like some breakfast, Mrs. Stetson.” The slippers made a hissing sound as the girl moved across the floor to the bed, and placed a tray on the bedside table. “You weren’t really in any shape to eat much last night.”
“Thanks.” Amanda looked around the room. It certainly wasn’t a hospital-the gleaming dark wood paneling, the ornate furnishings-the large four-poster bed she slept on-cloth straps had been tied to the bedposts and lay loosely on either side of her-that must have been what had restrained her last night when they-memories of feeling a sharp sting in her arm-a needle-flooded through her.
The girl’s gaze followed her own. “Sorry about those. I had to be sure you weren’t going to hurt yourself.”
Amanda looked down at her arm-sure enough; there was the puncture mark of a needle and bruising at the site. “What-where am I? What’s happened?”
“You had an accident, Mrs. Stetson. I told you that last night.”
An accident. A car accident? Amanda shook her head, struggling to clear her mind and untangle her jumbled thoughts. “How do you know my name?”
“It was on your license when I found you,” the girl said. “And since the nearest hospital is fifty miles away I thought it was best to bring you here instead. This place really is in the middle of nowhere, you know.”
“And you are?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you already? I’m Autumn. Autumn Ernesta Mecklenburg. My teachers used to have so much trouble with that name when I went to school.”
‘I can believe it,’ Amanda thought dryly. Out loud she said, “Do you have a phone? I need to make a call-my family must be worried sick by now.”
“The phones are down. It always happens after a storm. It’s Saturday now-but the repairman should be out here first thing Monday morning.”
Autumn shrugged. “Like I said, it’s the middle of nowhere.”
Amanda struggled to sit up. She had to get out of here-the thought of Lee, her mother and the boys spending the weekend not knowing where she was fueled her determination. But even as Amanda attempted to swing her feet over onto the floor and stand up her head began to spin, the wood paneled floor swimming underneath her. She tasted bile in her mouth as nausea rose up. Suddenly Autumn was right beside her, pushing her back onto the bed.
“Take it easy-you’ve been through a lot.” The girl propped pillows behind Amanda, placing the tray on her lap. “Eat some breakfast, okay? It’ll help you get your strength back.”
Breakfast. Even with the recent attack of nausea, her stomach was starting to rumble. She picked up the slice of buttered toast, breaking off a piece and popping it into her mouth. “Autumn, can I talk to your father?”
Autumn frowned. “My father?”
“Well it’s really important that I get in touch with my family- and maybe he’d be able to help.”
“I wish he could help too, but he’s not here. I don’t have a father.” As she spoke, Autumn twisted her fingers. “I mean, everyone has one or else we wouldn’t be here-that’s a fact, isn’t it? But I’ve never met mine.”
“Who was the man with you last night?” Amanda asked, taking a sip of orange juice.
“But there was no man with me last night,” Autumn told her. “Just you and me.”
“There wasn’t?” Amanda could’ve sworn that she’d remembered someone- a voice-a familiar accent-
“I’ve been looking forward to this, Amanda-”
“You had an accident-we brought you here-”
Amanda shook her head reflexively. She could be wrong, but she was almost certain that she’d heard a man’s voice-and Autumn had said ‘we’ last night. We brought you here. Hadn’t she? Was it possible that Amanda had only imagined it? Maybe it was-her head still throbbed with pain and nothing seemed very clear right now. She took another sip of the orange juice.
“So you live here all alone?” Amanda asked Autumn.
“Oh, I see what you mean. No, usually my uncle lives here with me, but he’s out of town for the weekend. And he’s not even really my uncle- he adopted me after my mother died-brought me to the States all the way from Berlin.”
“Berlin?” Amanda repeated. She wasn’t sure why that one fact in Autumn’s convoluted story should matter to her, but for some reason it struck a chord.
“Well I don’t really remember Berlin at all-I was only a baby. But he doesn’t mind me calling him uncle, though-he and my mother were very close.”
“And there’s no one else with you?”
“Maids and cooks come and go. But nobody stays very long. It’s the middle-”
“-of nowhere, I know.” The pain in Amanda’s head became worse-it was a battle just to keep her eyes open. She laid her head back onto the pillows.
“-get some more rest, Mrs. Stetson.” Autumn’s voice sounded echoey-like it was coming from a long way away. Amanda tried to hold on to her orange juice even as it started to tilt-but the girl pried it from her fingers. “-have lots of stuff to do-be back when I’m ready.”
Ready for what? Amanda wanted to ask but she didn’t have the energy to form the words. Her eyes closed, carrying her back into the world of darkness.
Saturday 1:30 PM
“You said you had some news, Billy?” Lee asked as he entered the office.
Billy nodded. “That’s why you were called in, Lee-this wasn’t information that I felt comfortable sharing over the phone or at the house-at least not until we know a little more.”
Something ran down his spine-Lee couldn’t suppress a slight shiver. “What kind of news is this, Billy? Amanda’s not-” he couldn’t bring himself to even think the word, let alone say it.
“No-at least not as far as we know.”
“Any luck on finding out who might’ve taken her?”
“Not yet. But we are going over all of your case files-past and present. If there’s something there we’ll find it. We did find the Wagoneer.”
Feeling suddenly lightheaded, Lee sank down onto the sofa “Where was it?” he asked hoarsely.
“It was parked in a residential driveway in Germantown. The man reported it to the police because it was blocking his car. And before you ask the man checked out clean-at the moment we have no reason to suspect him of anything.”
“And what was in the car?” Lee was almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Very little. No prints apart from yours, Amanda’s and the rest of the family-and right now as far as we can tell there isn’t any blood.”
Lee closed his eyes briefly. “Thank God for that. Any sign of Amanda?”
“No-she and her purse were both gone. The only other thing we found was this.” Billy handed him an object in a plastic bag.
Lee stared at the card-a photograph of a strange golden creature on a background of blue.
“Ring any bells?” Billy asked.
“Nothing.” Lee shook his head. “Nothing at all. Did forensics come up with anything on this?”
“No prints or DNA on the card, but there were some faint indentations on the back of the card-from that we were able to get an address-an apartment in Leesburg.”
Lee stood. “Well what are we waiting for? Let’s check this out.”
Billy shook his head. “Scarecrow, I-”
“Billy with or without your help, I’m going to check this out.”
Billy sighed. “I don’t suppose there’d be any point in telling you to go home and wait for news. All right, Scarecrow-for now we do this your way. Let’s go.”
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Dappled sunlight peeked through the trees and branches, making patterns along the garden path as they strolled along. Birdsong filled the lavender-scented air and mingled with the music playing in the distance. As Amanda walked, her bare feet sank into the soft soil. Why was she barefoot? She couldn’t quite recall.
“It’s so peaceful here, is it not?” the man asked her.
“Yes,” Amanda agreed. She cast a sidelong glance at her companion, but the sun was in her eyes-she couldn’t quite make out his face.
“What are those doing here?” Amanda pointed at the pickup truck and the Wagoneer, standing in the clearing.
“You never know what people will leave behind,” the man said.
“I understand,” Amanda replied, even though she really didn’t. She could see skid marks on the ground-as if the Wagoneer had swerved, trying to avoid hitting the pickup truck. Something nudged at the edges of Amanda’s memory, but just as quickly it was gone.
“If only we could stay here forever-just us, Amanda-away from the rest of the world.” His hand stroked her cheek. “Wouldn’t you like that?”
“No-” Amanda shook her head. “No, I’m sure that there are people who need me out there-I couldn’t possibly stay here forever.” As she spoke the images filled her head-two boys-an older woman-mother?-a tall man, holding a baby in his arms-the images made Amanda’s heart ache with need.
“I’m sorry,” she told her companion. “But I need to go back home.”
The same hand that had been stroking her cheek now held her chin in a bruising grip. She tried to pull away but the grip was too strong.
“Look at me!” the man demanded.
Amanda looked up and this time she saw-it wasn’t that his face was hidden in shadow-
-it was that he had no face at all.
“Time to pay, Amanda,” the figure said. Strong arms grabbed her from behind, holding her as a sweet-smelling cloth was pressed against her mouth and nose-
“Mrs. Stetson?” The girl repeated. It was Autumn’s voice. Her hand patted Amanda’s cheek. She opened her eyes to see the girl’s face hovering over her.
“Are you all right?” Autumn asked. “You were talking in your sleep.”
“Fine.” Slowly Amanda pulled herself up to a sitting position, trying to ignore her still-pounding head.
“That’s the sign of a guilty conscience-talking in your sleep,” Autumn said. “At least that’s what the books say.”
“I don’t have a guilty conscience.”
“Everyone’s guilty of something.”
Something in the corner of Amanda’s eye caught her attention-a figure? When she turned to look, however, nothing was there.
“Something wrong?” Autumn asked.
Amanda looked back to Autumn. “No-for a minute I thought I saw something or someone, but I guess I didn’t.”
“That’s understandable.” Autumn plumped up the pillows behind Amanda, supporting her back.
“Seeing things. With what you’ve been through. I wouldn’t be surprised if you did start hallucinating. I mean, the mind can play funny tricks sometimes.”
Funny tricks-the air held a faint scent of lavender, Amanda realized-the same scent that had been in her dream-Amanda’s eyes focused on a bouquet in a crystal vase, sitting on her bedside table. Had it been there before? She was almost certain that it hadn’t. “Where did those come from?”
“Do you like them? I picked them in the garden earlier.”
“They’re- they’re lovely.”
Autumn smiled. “Yes, I thought so too. I love lavender. If you don’t mind, Mrs. Stetson, there are other things I should be doing-I really should-”
“No-wait, please-I just want to-”Amanda rubbed her forehead as the pounding became more insistent. Something-there was something else she wanted to ask, but at the moment she couldn’t think of what it was. “Telephone?”
“Not until Monday, I told you.”
“Yes. Yes you did, I just couldn’t quite-” if she could only clear this mental fog she might be able to- “What about my car?”
“You said I was in an accident-was my car-was it damaged?”
“No-” Autumn twisted her fingers, not meeting Amanda’s gaze directly. “I-I had it towed here-yes, that’s what I did. It’s right outside.”
“Are you sure?” Amanda tried to lift herself off the bed. “Maybe I should go check-”
Autumn gently pushed her back down. “You really need to rest-you’re all confused-you’re still not well. Here, drink some of this.”
Amanda gulped greedily at the cold water that Autumn put to her lips. There was a slightly bitter taste to it but she was so thirsty that it really didn’t seem that unpleasant. “Thank you.”
“I’ll leave you to rest, then.”
Rest. As Autumn left the room, Amanda leaned back against the pillow. That was it-right now rest was all she really needed. Her lids began to feel heavy- her body relaxed and peaceful-the only sound was the tic-toc of the nearby clock, lulling her back into sleep. As her eyes started to close, Amanda thought she saw a figure, emerging from the shadows. The figure came closer-she tried to speak or move but found herself unable too as the fatigue dragged her back into oblivion.
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“Ernest was always a really good tenant.” As she spoke, the landlady led Lee and Billy up a narrow staircase. “Real quiet-paid his rent a month in advance and never gave any of the other tenants a hard time.”
“Ernest?” Billy said.
She nodded. “Ernest Mecklenburg-that was the name he gave me.”
Ernest Mecklenburg? Nothing about that name sounded familiar. “What did he look like?” Lee asked.
The landlady looked Lee up and down. “Well he’s tall like you, but a little older. I’m guessing he was maybe in his fifties. Has a mustache and he’s going a little grey at the temples-you know. Lovely wavy hair-very distinguished looking.”
Wavy hair-Lee wasn’t sure why, but that phrase seemed to stick in his head. “Anything else you can tell us?”
“Yes-I almost forgot. He has a faint accent-can’t quite place what it is but I think he must be from somewhere in Europe.”
‘Somewhere in Europe,’ Lee thought to himself. ‘That narrows it down to several million people.’ Nothing about the description was ringing any bells for him-Lee clenched his fists in frustration.
“So what I really want to know.” The landlady leaned closer to Lee and Billy whispering, “is what he’s been accused of. Have I been putting my other tenants in danger?”
Lee and Billy exchanged glances. “Your other tenants were never in danger,” Billy said. “But at this point we can’t go into any specifics-I’m sorry.”
“You mean you can’t tell me anything? Come on-I can keep a secret.”
“Afraid not,” Lee informed her.
The woman’s lips thinned as she stopped at a door bearing a sign which read Apt. 4-B.
“Fine, have it your own way.” She opened the door and the deadbolt. “Let me know if you need anything else.”
Lee pushed open the door.
The first thing to hit him was a wave of heat-the air was warm and stale-no one had been in here for days. Nothing particularly remarkable about the room itself stood out. The ceiling was relatively low and slanting-most likely a converted attic. Lee scanned the room, which consisted of very little apart from a sofa, a coffee table, and a small wooden dining table with matching chairs. No visible clues as far as he could see-and no Amanda.
“Doesn’t look like much,” Billy said, voicing Lee’s thoughts. He pulled two pairs of latex gloves from his pocket, handing one pair to Lee. “You check in here-I’ll check out the bedroom and the bathroom.”
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Whoever this man was, he was definitely a meticulous housekeeper. Lee had gone over every inch of the living room, dining area and kitchen, coming up with nothing more promising than a moldy tomato in the fridge and a dirty plate which had been left to soak in the sink. The cabinets and drawers were completely empty. If there had been anything to find it was gone now.
“Lee?” Billy called. “Come here, I found something-in the bedroom.”
Lee walked down the hallway to the door at the end. Billy stood next to the window, holding a small brown envelope. The expression on his face was grim.
“I found this under the mattress. I think you’d better have a look.”
Lee took the envelope and opened it.
“Oh my God.” It was all he was able to say at first as he flipped through the photographs. Amanda was in each one-eating dinner with friends, gardening-in their bedroom with a towel wrapped around her-Lee closed his eyes, fighting back a wave of nausea. Someone had been watching his wife all this time, stalking her and planning this-
“There are also photos in there from Station One,” Billy told him. “He must have tracked her from there and made his move as soon as she was alone.”
“How?” Lee asked. “The location of Station One is supposed to be a secret-how could this have happened? Some sort of breach in security?”
“I don’t know yet, Lee-but whatever it is we’ll find out.”
Lee ran both hands through his hair. “I should’ve never left her to go home alone-damn it, Billy. I knew something was wrong-all the strange things that kept happening, the accidents-if I’d just stayed there with her I could’ve prevented it.”
“No, all you would’ve done is delay it,” Billy said. “Whoever did this was determined to take Amanda-sooner or later they would’ve found a way.”
“Maybe.” Lee shrugged. “But at the moment we’re no closer to finding who took her or where they’re holding her.”
“We’re doing everything we can right now-something is bound to break soon.”
Soon, Lee thought to himself, unable to shake the growing conviction that they-along with Amanda-were rapidly running out of time.
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The room was dark-the only light came from the candles, which flickered as they burned, casting strange shadows about the room. An old phonograph played in the corner, filling the room with the haunting strains of Glenn Miller’s ‘Moonlight Serenade’ as they slowly danced.
“Not in a dancing mood, tonight, eh, Amanda?” he murmured, pulling her closer. “Maybe I can help you with that.”
Amanda didn’t respond to him-not that he’d really expected her to. In the candlelight he could see her wide dark eyes, open but unseeing-her feet stumbling slightly across the floor as he whirled her around to the music.
“Do you remember that night as well as I do?” he asked her. “Before you betrayed me-before everything went so horribly wrong? We danced that night as well.” Amanda’s knees were threatening to buckle so he lifted her slightly, supporting most of her weight in his arms.
The music came to an end. Slowly he led Amanda back to the bed and laid her limp form across it. Amanda’s eyes were still slightly open but glazed, lips parted, soft and inviting. He covered her with a blanket and Amanda moaned, stirring slightly.
“Lee-” she murmured. “Lee please-”
“Oh, but Lee can’t help you this time.” The man bent closer. His hand brushed across the side of her neck and traced along her jaw line towards her lips. “This time, no one can.”
Sunday, 11:30 AM
Lee’s arms always felt so safe. And as they danced Amanda leaned against him, savoring his warmth and his closeness. A slow tune played in the background. Candlelight flickered as they moved.
“That tune sounds familiar,” she told him.
“It should,” Lee said.
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked. “I feel like I’m in a puzzle box, but none of the pieces are coming together- nothing fits. I should know what these things mean, it’s right on the edge of my mind and I don’t-”
“Shhh…” Lee rubbed her back, his voice soothing. “Don’t rush it-everything will come to you in time.”
“How do you know that?”
Lee smiled. “Because I know you-that’s how.” Leaning forward he kissed her softly.
“I’m scared, Lee-I’m trying so hard not to be but I can’t help it-I just wish you were here.”
His smile faded. “I will be,” he said. “Don’t give up, Amanda…Never stop fighting.” But even as Lee spoke he was fading, his body growing less substantial. Amanda tried to grasp for him but the only thing she touched was cold and empty air.
“Come back,” Amanda cried. “Please?” But no one answered.
No one was there.
“I don’t understand.”
That voice didn’t belong to her dream. Amanda opened her eyes, looking around the now-familiar bedroom. No one here-had she imagined the voice?
“You told me you wanted revenge. What does any of this have to do with revenge?” The voice came from just outside the room, Amanda realized. It was Autumn’s voice. But who was she speaking to?
“You are a mere child-it is not for you to question my motives.” A man’s voice-there was a slight accent-what kind of accent? Amanda couldn’t be sure, but she guessed it was probably German. Was this Autumn’s uncle?
‘I’ve been waiting for this, Amanda.’
The words kept coming back to her-had it been the same voice-something-there was something hovering on the edge of her memory but just out of reach- Amanda sat up slightly but a wave of dizziness overwhelmed her and she sank back. The pillow was so soft-Amanda could feel her eyes closing, her body wanting to sink back into the softness and not worry about anything at all-
‘No,’ Amanda thought. ‘I have to concentrate.’ Autumn was speaking, clearly agitated now, her voice growing louder.
“The drugs I’ve been giving her, the dancing last night-none of it makes any sense. You have her where you want her and this is all you do.”
Drugs? Amanda felt realization begin to dawn as she listened. The dreams, the fatigue, the mental fuzziness….but who? And more importantly, why?
“I don’t know why you just don’t get rid of her,” Autumn questioned him.
Amanda’s heart was pounding now, so loudly that she was certain they’d be able to hear it in a moment. Her nails dug into her palms.
“All in due time,” the man told her.
“When? She ruined your life; you’ve always told me that. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think that you were-”
“You would almost think that I was what?”
“Nothing. I know you’re not-you couldn’t possibly be.” Autumn’s voice trembled slightly as she spoke. “Are you?”
“Nein! No more questions,” the man’s voice was low but the menace was unmistakable. “And no more arguments. From now on we proceed according to plan-my plan. Is that understood?”
“Yes.” Autumn’s voice was so faint that Amanda had to strain to hear it.
“Very good. I want you to give Mrs. Stetson another dose now-we want her to be prepared for the festivities tonight.”
Another dose? She couldn’t let that happen-somehow she had to escape. Amanda pulled herself up slowly, fighting against the dizziness until she was sitting on the edge of the bed. The floor tilted back and forth beneath her and her gut swarmed with nausea.
She heard footsteps, coming towards the door. There was no way she’d make it in time. Slowly Amanda lowered herself down on the bed, back onto the pillow. She closed her eyes, fighting to keep her breathing slow and even. Maybe if Autumn thought she was still out she wouldn’t give her another dose.
The door creaked as it opened. Autumn’s footsteps came closer. Amanda could feel the girl’s breath on her face as she leaned over her. The girl’s fingers brushed against her cheek. Amanda kept her eyes closed and focused on her breathing.
“Still out. You don’t need any more-for the moment.” Another long silence-in reality only a few moments, but to Amanda it seemed to last forever. Finally, she heard the sound of footsteps and the door opening and closing. Amanda waited a few more minutes, making sure the girl was really gone before opening her eyes.
‘We want her to be prepared for the festivities tonight,’ that was what the man had told Autumn. Amanda wasn’t sure what the festivities entailed-she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out. The only thing she did know was that she had to find a way to escape and soon-before it was too late.
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4247 Maplewood Drive
“I’m glad you called Lee,” Billy said. “I was just getting ready to call you. We ran a background on Ernest Mecklenburg.”
“And?” Lee sat on the family room sofa, the phone balanced on his shoulder and Emily in his arms-finally asleep after an hour of crying. Lee wasn’t sure how much Emily was aware of, but he had the feeling that his daughter was missing her mother as much as everyone else. The smell of chocolate-chip cookies wafted in from the kitchen-Dotty seemed to be dealing with her stress by baking up a storm. “What did you turn up?”
“Very little, unfortunately. The background check turned up almost nothing on Ernest Mecklenburg-no tax records, criminal records, school records, credit history-”
“So it’s an alias. You said almost nothing, Billy. Does that mean you found something?”
“One thing. A man matching our man’s name and description rented a pickup truck from a small company in Reston.”
“Germantown, Leesburg, and now Reston-this guy certainly gets around, doesn’t he? Is there anything else?”
“Not right now. The owner said that the man gave him a PO Box that turned out to be fake and a credit card was reported as stolen-the truck was rented late last Sunday and none of this was discovered until Monday morning-by that time the truck and Ernest were long gone.”
“He must have reported it as stolen to the state police.”
“We’re still looking into that,” Billy said. “We’re also using the description of Ernest to look into your past records-see if it fits anyone that you’ve dealt with in the past. Hang in there, Lee-we’ll find something.”
“I know you will. Talk to you later, Billy-goodbye.” Lee hung up the phone.
“You knew what you were doing, dorkbreath!” Phillip’s voice floated downstairs. “Now the stupid thing doesn’t work because of you.”
“You were the one who tipped over the soda,” Jamie shouted.
“Who put the soda there to begin with?” Phillip’s voice rose even more. “I wouldn’t have knocked it over if you hadn’t pushed my elbow, wormbrain.”
“You know what, you’re full of it!” Jamie yelled louder.
“Boys, stop.” Dotty called out from the kitchen.
“Full of it? I’ll show you who’s full of it,” Phillip said.
Emily stirred in Lee’s arms. Her tiny fists clenched as she started to cry-her high thin wail filling the room.
“Boys!” Lee called out over Emily’s cries. “Come down here-right now!”
Both boys came down the stairs.
“Now what is this about, exactly?” Lee asked.
“Jamie’s soda spilled on my Nintendo controller and now it won’t work,” Phillip muttered. “He knows he’s not supposed to put the soda on the floor but he did it anyway.”
Jamie’s face reddened. “Yeah, but I still wasn’t the one who spilled it.”
Lee rocked Emily gently, trying to calm her. “Well if I remember correctly, Phillip-you were doing the same thing with your soda only a week ago-weren’t you?”
Phillip looked down at his feet as she spoke. “Yeah,” he muttered.
“And your mom has told both of you about putting your sodas on the carpet, hasn’t she?”
Jamie nodded, biting down on his lower lip.
Lee took a deep breath, wishing fervently that Amanda were here-she was so much better at dealing with these things. Emily’s cries had quieted, though-which meant he didn’t have to shout to be heard.
“Look, fellas. We’re all under a lot of stress right now-but taking it out on each other doesn’t make things any better, all right?”
“Sorry, Phillip,” Jamie mumbled.
“Yeah I’m sorry too. I’ll go look at the controller again-maybe if it dries out it’ll still work.” Phillip went back upstairs.
Jamie looked down at the coffee table. “Hey, look at that.” He picked up the card that had been found in Amanda’s car-still in its plastic bag. “That’s a cool picture of a Sirrush.”
Lee fought to keep his voice casual as he looked at his stepson. “A Sirrush?”
“Yeah, it’s sort of like a dragon,” Jamie said. “Most people think it’s mythological but some people think it could’ve actually been real. This one is from that Ishtar Gate-remember when I did my report? You can tell by the blue bricks.”
Ishtar Gate. For a moment all Lee could do was stare. Everything else seemed to fade into the background as the thoughts rushed through his head:
“Have you ever seen the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamomsmuseum?”
Lovely wavy hair…faint accent…Herr Wavy Hair…
“He said he’d remember and come after me-he said he’d hunt me down no matter how long it took…
“If he gets the chance he’ll try to come after me…”
“Oh my God,” Lee whispered as the pieces fell into place.
“Lee?” Jamie asked. “What is it-what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Can you hand me the phone, sport? I need to make a call.”
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“Ernst Kleinfelter,” Billy said. “There’s a name I never wanted to hear again.”
“You and me both, Billy.”
“So Kleinfelter and Ernest Mecklenburg are one and the same?”
“I think so, yeah.” Lee hit the arm of his chair with a sudden vehemence. “Damn it, Billy, how the hell did he escape? He’s supposed to be in maximum security.”
“The fall of the Berlin Wall,” Billy explained. “Kleinfelter took advantage of the chaos to make his escape. By the time the prison authorities noticed him missing, he was long gone.”
“Why didn’t they tell us? At least warn us that he was heading this way.”
“Lee, until I contacted them just now, they weren’t aware that we needed to be informed-recapturing Kleinfelter’s not exactly high on their list of priorities right now.” Billy paused, taking an envelope from his desk and handing it to Lee. “This was found at Kleinfelter’s apartment by our forensics people-it was hidden under the floorboards.”
“More fun-filled photos?” Lee opened the envelope. The only thing in there was a folded piece of newspaper-the London Gazette-Lee looked at the photo-Amanda with Lord Bromfield. The paper shook as he held it-he realized that his hands were shaking.
“So that’s how he found her. That’s how he found out that her name was King and not Westermann. It’s funny, Billy-when this photo was taken all we were worried about was her reputation. I guess we-I never thought-”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“Amanda told me, though. She had a bad feeling about Kleinfelter-he really spooked her, and when he said that he’d get her for what she’d done-I just wish I’d listened now.” Lee looked up at Billy. “Are we any closer to finding him?”
“Possibly,” Billy told him. “A tip came in today-a pickup truck matching the description of the rental was cited in a minor traffic incident-the plates were different, but by now he’d have changed them. It could be nothing, but it’s worth following up on.”
“Where did this happen?”
“A town on the Virginia-Kentucky border-Rose Hill.”
Lee stood. “Let’s go.”
The music played-the same music from her dream-the sound filled the room. The tune-something to do with moonlight, wasn’t it?
“Mrs. Stetson.” Autumn’s soft hand patted her cheek. ‘You need to wake up.”
‘Must have fallen asleep,’ Amanda thought-her head throbbed-mouth dry-so very thirsty. Autumn’s hands grabbed Amanda’s own, pulling her into a sitting position. Remembering the role she had to play Amanda relaxed her limbs and let her head fall forward like a puppet whose strings were cut.
“Come on, Mrs. Stetson; don’t disappoint me-it’s almost time for your big night.” Autumn grabbed Amanda’s chin and pulled her head up.
Through half-lidded eyes, Amanda looked around the darkened room, lit only by a candle. The flickering light cast strange shadows on the wall and illuminated the face in front of her. Autumn was smiling-a frightening expression that caused Amanda to shiver involuntarily.
“That’s much better, isn’t it, Amanda-may I call you that? No answer, hmm-so I suppose that makes it a yes, right? Drink some of this-it should help you feel better.”
More drugs-Amanda’s mind was racing-she couldn’t let it happen-as Autumn tilted the glass into her mouth Amanda let the bitter-tasting liquid dribble through her lips, tiny droplets falling down her neck and chest.
“Oh my-look at what a mess you made.” Autumn’s tone was scolding. “Wait here-I’ll be right back.”
Now was her chance. Amanda watched as Autumn left the room. Slowly she rose from the bed, clutching the bedpost for balance. The room tilted slightly but the dizziness had lessened somewhat.
One foot in front of the other-that’s it-move faster-the thoughts repeated themselves in her mind like a mantra as Amanda left the room and went down the corridor-there was a staircase, dark red carpeting contrasting with the wood paneling-looking down she could see the front door. A sudden wave of nausea washed over her and she grabbed the banister, taking deep gulping breaths until the feeling passed. Inch by inch she made her way down the stairs, towards the door.
‘Almost there, Amanda, almost there-’ to her surprise the doorknob turned easily in her hand and Amanda stumbled out into the warm darkness. The mud felt cool against her bare feet-she hadn’t even realized her shoes were gone until just now but it didn’t matter-the thing was to get away from the house as quickly as possible, to find someone who could help her get home, back to Lee and her family-Amanda forced herself to run, her feet pounding into the ground.
The middle of nowhere-that’s what Autumn had called it. What if it really was? What if she ended up walking for miles, never reaching her destination-no, she couldn’t think like that. Help had to be somewhere.
Amanda’s chest burned as she moved, her breath coming in labored gasps-her legs felt like she was running in molasses, moving in slow motion-Amanda’s foot caught on something-pain shooting through her ankle as she fell, bracing herself with her arms-palms stinging as they hit the ground.
“Very foolish, Amanda,” the man’s voice-the same voice she’d heard before say.
“No!” Amanda gasped. Strong arms wrapped around her, lifting her effortlessly to her feet despite her struggles. Amanda cried out as a needle stung her upper arm.
“You won’t get away from me now,” the man told her. “Never again.”
The last thing Amanda saw was a face-his face-hovering over her own-he was wearing goggles, the dark blank eyes looking down into her own. The man bent down-his lips brushing her own before consciousness left Amanda completely.
Rose Hill, Virginia
Monday 6:30 AM
“Amanda.” Lee’s hand brushed her cheek very gently as he spoke. “Come on, sweetheart, you need to open your eyes.”
“Don’t want to,” Amanda whispered. “Please-just want to rest.”
“Nevertheless, you will look at me, Frau King.” The voice had changed, Amanda realized-it wasn’t Lee’s voice at all.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Don’t you know?” He stroked her hair. Amanda tried to pull away from his touch but she didn’t quite have the strength. “I’m disappointed, Frau King-only it’s Frau Stetson now, isn’t it? Perhaps Frau Steadman? Or is it Frau Westermann?” the man sighed. “So many names, Amanda-I wonder how you keep track of them all.”
The name sent a cold chill through Amanda’s body.
“Will hunt you down…never forget or forgive a betrayal…” his gaze as he looked her up and down, possessing her, marking her as his own…
She remembered now.
Driving along a darkened country road…the radio playing to keep her company…
The truck seemed to appear out of nowhere…Amanda had slammed on her brakes-there had been a squealing sound as the Wagoneer skidded before coming to a halt. Every instinct Amanda possessed told her to keep driving, but she couldn’t. She had to check it out, see if everything was all right…
As Amanda approached the truck, flashlight in hand she could make out a figure sitting in the truck’s cab, slumped over the wheel-
“Hello?” she’d called out. “Sir, ma’am-are you all right?”
No reply-and as Amanda came closer she realized that the figure wasn’t human after all-it was stuffed.
A scarecrow. With a gasp, Amanda had stepped backwards, and that’s when he’d grabbed her, forcing a cloth over her nose and mouth…
“…been waiting for this…”
There had been no accident. This had all been planned, Amanda realized. Planned for her.
She opened her eyes. The figure sitting on the bed was blurry, but unmistakable.
“Kleinfelter,” Amanda whispered. “Ernst Kleinfelter.”
“You see?” Kleinfelter said. “You knew all along.”
Amanda’s vision cleared and she could see him now-he was a little older and graying at the temples, but unmistakably the same man. She tried to sit up, pulling against the restraints that secured her wrists to the bed. Amanda’s head began to throb now, worse than before. She fell back against the pillows.
“I can get you some water, Amanda. Would you like some?”
Amanda shook her head. “No, I’m fine.”
“You’re probably in a certain amount of pain-I let the drugs wear off so that I could speak to you.” Ernst took her hand in his. “I’m sorry this has to be so unpleasant, mein liebling. But after last night we can’t have you escaping again. I’m sure you understand.”
“What is this about?” Amanda fought to keep her voice steady. “Revenge? Is that it?”
Ernst stared at her for a few moments, saying nothing. “It may have started out that way,” he said finally. “All those years in prison, Amanda-it gave me time to think, to plan what I would do to you once I had the chance.” Letting go of her hand, he rose from the bed. “The first thing to was to find you. I still had contacts on the outside, you know. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Amanda Westermann didn’t even exist. I was about ready to give up when the answer dropped into my lap- it was like an omen from above. A copy of an English tabloid came into my possession-perhaps you’ve heard of it. The London Gazette?”
“Lord Bromfield.” Amanda had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. That was how he had found her. Ernst nodded.
“I discovered the truth about you, Amanda King Stetson- and the depth of your betrayal. You destroyed me.”
He walked over to the phonograph, and placed the needle on the record. Music began to play-the same tune Amanda had been hearing in her dreams-had they been only dreams? She was beginning to suspect that they hadn’t.
“And what about the people you hurt and destroyed?” Amanda asked. “The people you used as mules to smuggle your components. All those people who were arrested because of you. Don’t you think they felt betrayed?”
He waved his hand dismissively. “They were unimportant-insignificant”
“No one is insignificant,” Amanda told him, but Ernst wasn’t listening. He whirled across the room in time to the music, humming softly, holding his arms as though dancing with an invisible partner. Amanda felt bile rising as she watched him-only this time it had nothing to do with drugs and more to do with the fact that Ernst Kleinfelter was completely and utterly insane.
“Do you remember the tune, Amanda? Moonlight Serenade-it was playing that night in Berlin, the night we danced.”
“I had forgotten.”
Kleinfelter’s smile faded. “Really? I hadn’t. That was my curse-to never forget. And after I escaped I took every opportunity to discover all that I could about you, your family and your relationship with the man they call Scarecrow. Don’t look so surprised, Amanda-my sources were all very thorough.”
“You’ve been watching us,” Amanda whispered as the pieces began to fall into place. The strange feelings she’d had at Station One-the weird accidents-it all began to make sense. “And Autumn?”
“She’s nobody, really, just an American runaway I picked up in Berlin-someone who agreed to help me,” Ernst told her. “Autumn really can be quite charming but I’m afraid that she’s completely unbalanced.”
‘Look who’s talking,’ Amanda thought to herself. Aloud she said. “What do you want? To kill me? Hurt my family?”
“Nothing so crass. What I want is for you to stay here, with me.”
Amanda stared at him in shock. “For how long?”
“Forever, of course.” Ernst sat on the bed, again taking her hand in his. “Stay with me, Amanda-and I’d be willing to forgive-and in time you might even come to care for me as I care for you.”
“Care for you?” Horrified, Amanda yanked her hand from his. “I’m not going to care for you-and I’m not staying here.”
Ernst’s face darkened as he leaned towards her. Amanda tried to back away but the restraints holding her wrists only let her move so far. “It’s very amusing, the way you talk-as though you have a choice in the matter.”
“Ernst-please,” Amanda pleaded. “I have a husband and children-my mother-just let me go home to them. Please?”
Ernst lifted his hand and for a moment Amanda cowered, expecting a blow. Then he lowered his hand, smoothing her cheek briefly.
“I can wait for you, liebling,” Ernst told her. “But until then I have drugs that can make you very docile and cooperative until you are willing to come to me on your own-understand? Sooner or later you will give in. And don’t think about the Scarecrow and that Agency of yours coming to the rescue-they’ll never find you here. ”
Rising from the bed, he left the room. Amanda heard the key turning in the lock. She closed her eyes, feeling tears gathering at her lashes and taking deep breaths to regain some composure.
‘Don’t fall apart now, Amanda,’ she told herself sternly. ‘Not now. There has to be some way out.’
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County Sheriff’s Office
“Yeah, I remember the accident,” Sheriff Hardy acknowledged. “Nothing major, just a little fender-bender. But you say the vehicle is stolen?”
“That’s right.” Lee glanced out the window of the sheriff’s office. “We also have reason to believe that the person who stole the truck may have been involved in the kidnapping of a federal agent.”
The Sheriff whistled softly. “Pretty serious charges.”
“Yes they are,” Billy affirmed. “Do you have any idea where the owner of this truck might be? We need to speak to him.”
“Well, first of all it’s not a he, it’s a her.” The sheriff leaned back in his chair. “She’s only been here a little while now-young woman bought the old Weber place on the outskirts of town. Autumn Mecklenburg.”
“Mecklenburg?” Lee and Billy exchanged glances.
“She’s a quiet one,” the sheriff told them. “Pretty thing, keeps to herself, mostly-only comes in to town for veterinary supplies and food.”
“Well Mecklenburg is the name of the man that we’re looking for,” Lee said.
“Man? I’ve heard rumors that a man lives there, but no one’s actually seen him.” The sheriff stood. “Think you’ll be needing any backup?”
“No.” Lee rose and extended his hand. “If he sees us coming he might be spooked.
“Thanks for your help, Sheriff Hardy.” Billy also shook his hand.
The sheriff returned their handshakes. “Anytime.”
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Amanda’s wrists were rubbed raw by the restraints and her attempts to loosen them over the past few hours. The material looked thin but was surprisingly strong-attempts to rip or fray it had proved useless and try as she might, Amanda couldn’t seem to loosen the knots enough to slide her wrists out of them.
It didn’t help that her wrists were beginning to swell.
There was a clicking sound as the lock turned. The door slowly creaked open. Amanda tensed, expecting to see Kleinfelter-but Autumn stood there instead.
“What do you want?”
“He loves you,” Autumn’s voice trembled. Tears filled her blue eyes as she spoke. “He promised he wouldn’t fall in love with you-he lied. How could he lie to me?”
“I’m sorry.” Amanda couldn’t think of anything else to say to the young girl.
Autumn said nothing in reply, just walked over to the bed and began undoing Amanda’s restraints.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m getting you out of here. Once you’re gone it’ll just be us-me and Ernst-the way it was meant to be. Come on.” She helped Amanda to stand. Amanda felt a slight twinge in her ankle as she put weight on it-she must have twisted it in the fall last night.
“Lean on me, Mrs. Stetson,” Autumn told her. “We’ve got to hurry.” Together they managed to get downstairs and out the front door. They were standing in a circular gravel driveway, Amanda realized-everywhere she turned she could see only trees.
“Where do we go from here?”
“Go? We don’t go anywhere.” Autumn pushed Amanda on the ground, pulling a gun from her pocket.
The girl’s blue eyes were unfocused as she aimed the gun, walking forwards. “You have to be gone for good, Amanda-don’t you see that? As long as you live he’ll always want you.” She cocked the pistol. “I just can’t allow that to happen.”
Ignoring the pain in her ankle, Amanda pulled herself to a crouching position, keeping her eyes focused on the weapon the girl held. If she could somehow manage to knock it from her hand-
“Come on,” she told Autumn, trying to buy some time. “You don’t want to do this-you have your whole life in front of you.”
Autumn shook her head. “No-without him I have no life.” She put her finger on the trigger.
“Autumn no!” Ernst ran out the front door. “Don’t do this-please.”
“You don’t understand I’m doing this for us. Goodbye, Mrs. Stetson.”
“Amanda!” The familiar voice came from behind her.
“Lee!” Amanda called back to him.
Temporarily distracted, Autumn turned towards the source of the voice. Amanda took advantage of the distraction to knock the gun from the girl’s hand. At that moment, a shot rang out and Autumn fell to the ground, blue eyes staring sightlessly.
Amanda looked at Ernst, who was walking towards her. “There was no need to do that.”
“One down. If I can’t have you, Amanda-no one will.” Ernst raised his weapon, pulling the trigger-a shot rang out-but not from his gun. Amanda watched as he was flung backwards, a patch of red spreading across his chest. She turned to see Billy and Lee. Billy placed his gun back in its holster.
“Amanda.” Lee’s arms were around her, helping her to stand. She leaned into him as his arms enfolded her. She felt her body trembling in his embrace and realized that he was shaking too.
“Take it easy.” Lee rubbed her back. “It’s over now, you’re safe-it’s all over.”
Amanda’s voice was muffled against her husband’s chest. “He drugged me, Lee-he said that he was never going to let me go-if you hadn’t found me I-”
“But I did find you.” Lee’s arms tightened around her as he spoke, “I promise you, Amanda-I will always find you.”
4247 Maplewood Drive
“Come on sweetheart,” Amanda urged, putting the bottle to Emily’s mouth. Her daughter fussed a little bit-turning her head to the side-she was not quite used to her mother feeding her this way. Finally, though-she opened her mouth and began to suck.
‘So peaceful,’ Amanda thought, looking down at her daughter’s face. Tears stung her eyes suddenly and she swallowed hard, trying to hold back the sudden rush of emotion.
“Morning, Mrs. Stetson.” Amanda looked up to see her husband standing in the doorway.
“Morning,” she managed to choke out. At the sight of her tears, Lee’s face filled with concern-he crossed the nursery in two strides and knelt down next to her in the rocking chair, brushing the tears from her cheeks.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Amanda shook her head. “That’s the problem-I really don’t know.”
Lee looked down at Emily. “Dr. Kelford said you’d be able to breastfeed again once the drugs are completely out of your system.”
“Oh Lee, that’s not it. Well it might be part of it-they also said that I might have mood swings too, but I think it’s mostly-it just hit me how close I came to never coming home at all.”
“But you are home.” Lee took one of her hands in his, running his thumb gently over the top of her hands. “You did come home, Amanda. That’s what matters.”
Amanda didn’t meet his gaze. “I also was thinking about what I-what we should do now that we have Emily.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do we continue the way we always have? Should one of us stay home with the baby? Maybe we should consider leaving the field altogether-maybe go to the State Department or to Station One. What do you think?”
Lee was silent for a moment. “I think that you’ve worked very hard to get where you are. I mean-you started as civilian auxiliary and now you’re a full-fledged agent-that’s quite an accomplishment and you managed to do it while raising two small boys.”
“Lee, Phillip and Jamie were quite a bit older-Emily is still an infant.”
“Your mother said that she’d be more than willing to help us out if needed.”
Despite everything Amanda found herself smiling. “You’re pretty determined about this.”
“Yeah.” Lee looked down at Emily. He touched her tiny hand with one finger. Her tiny fingers wrapped around his own and held on tightly. “Amanda-do you remember that discussion we had at the Cumberland when you were hiding from Jeppard? About why we were doing this?” he paused for a moment. “You said that you wanted to make the world a safer place for your boys.”
Amanda nodded. “You said you were doing it because it was a job that someone had to do and you did it well.”
Lee took a deep breath. “That’s what I said-only now-I think I feel the way you do. I’d like to help make the world a safer place for Emily here. But I can’t do that without my partner-we work best as a team. I wouldn’t want anyone else to watch my back. ”
Amanda blinked back tears-happy tears this time. “We watch each other’s backs.”
“Now I know it’s not going to be easy. I won’t pretend that having Emily doesn’t change things, but I think we can do this as long as we’re together. Okay, partner?”
“Okay,” Amanda repeated, lifting her head to look at him. “I love you, Mr. Stetson.”
“I love you too, Mrs. Stetson.” Lee bent down towards his wife, their lips meeting in a kiss. Emily reached out a small hand, touching their faces with her fingertips.
For those of you who watched Spy TV in the ’60’s many of you might recognize several characters, some dialogue and situations from an episode of The Avengers–specifically The Joker. Even the title of the last episode, Don’t Look Behind You–was taken from The Avengers–the original Cathy Gale script by Brian Clemens that was (slightly) rewritten for Emma Peel.
When season 7 was announced, Jennifer was determined to do a reworking of the Joker. Ermintrude loved the idea, and encouraged her to do it. As things evolved, it was decided to make it a three-parter–with Anne helping out. Jennifer and Ermintrude are dyed-in-the wool Avengers fans, and Ermintrude made sure Anne saw The Joker, and other Avengers episodes so she would know the original. Jennifer and Ermintrude plotted to do the ‘prequel’ in a separate episode as a flashback–and Ermintrude wrote it, and then later the ‘envelope’ surrounding it. Anne wanted to do a Station One episode, and she wrote hers so it became the `middle’ of the trilogy. Jennifer wrote the last episode, with Ermintrude betaing, and helping fill in the gaps–all three stories were closely coordinated to make a seamless whole, with details added to each to make them mesh.
Serendipity allowed Ermintrude’s episode to ‘air’ earlier than planned, which was just fine as it separated the first part from the last two. Hopefully this prolonged the suspense–though several sharp readers spotted the Macguffin that allowed Ernst to find Amanda all those years later.
Anyhow, this is Jennifer and Ermintrude’s homage to The Avengers–and their favorite episode–The Joker, accomplished with Anne’s able help. Without The Avengers, there probably wouldn’t have been a Scarecrow and Mrs. King–so we feel the reworking for Amanda is justified–and hopefully effective.
Thank you for sticking with us for Season 7–and we all are very grateful for the support and readers of our collective effort. We all did our best–and even though it was way bigger than some of us had anticipated–we all managed to do it, and still stay (mostly) sane. Some of us ended up doing (way) more than we had anticipated in the beginning–but we had great fun doing it, too. Thanks to Miranda, our able website administrator, and especially to Anne-our Producer who oversaw the whole thing. She was the main guiding hand behind this epic project. Thank you for reading, reviewing and following us through our virtual season. Our show has been off for 22 years–but the memories live on and we can still enjoy them in fanfic. See you all around, and keep reading!