July 4, 1982
The Fourth of July began dreary and wet. Amanda was hoping that the day would brighten as it went along. Joe was back in town from Estoccia, and she was hoping that the holiday would bring them closer together. It had been several months since they'd begun talking about divorce, and she wanted to give their marriage one last shot. Joe had agreed to it as well and, together, they had decided to have an old-fashioned family BBQ. It was supposed to be overcast all day, and Amanda was hoping the rain would hold off.
Dotty had made plans of her own that day. Her bridge club had decided to brave the crowds on the Mall to watch their favorite 60s group, The Grass Roots, perform. Dotty had ulterior motives- she was hoping that by leaving the four of them alone, maybe Joe would come to his senses and realize what a good thing he was leaving behind. ‘That man!' she thought to herself. ‘I don't understand how Africa can hold his attention better than his own boys- they need a man around the house!' But, Amanda wouldn't hear any badmouthing of Joe. "Joe feels like he's making a difference in the world," she would say to her mother. "Who am I to stand in his way? I'm not going to beg him to stay behind. That wouldn't be any better than not having him around." Dotty had her own opinions, but knew that they would fall on deaf ears.
Lee Stetson was not having a good day. Blue Leader had assigned him, along with his partner, Eric, to watch a potential informant, to see if he was double-crossing the Agency. "This is rookie work," he grumbled to Eric, angry that his Fourth plans with Elisa had been destroyed. He had been looking forward to a delectable picnic on her father's estate. Now, he was stuck with grunt work, and who knew how long it would last.
Eric, on the other hand, was in a great mood. Lee couldn't figure the guy out. It wasn't that long ago that Lee and Eric spent most of their time together, out looking for a good time. For the last six months, though, Lee was on his own, out trolling the bars and looking for beautiful women to fill his black books. Eric had met someone, a girl named Elizabeth, and from that point on, Lee was strictly solo.
"So, Eric, why are you so happy to be spending the Fourth on a stakeout?" Lee grumbled. Thoughts of the picnic continued to plague Lee.
"Well, Lee, I have some pretty big news...Elizabeth said yes!" Eric proudly exclaimed.
"She said yes to what?"
"Elizabeth and I are going to get married! Can you believe it? So...wanna be best man?" Eric asked, oblivious to Lee's mood.
"What?" Lee was floored. Why on earth would Eric want to get married? That was for chumps who didn't have anything better to do. Eric was better than that, wasn't he?
"I said I'm marrying Elizabeth and would like for you to be my best man. What do you say? I mean, you are my best friend," Eric said. Lee looked at his partner and could tell he was on cloud nine. He thought about the past few years, and how much Eric's friendship meant to him. He was practically family, since Lee didn't want to claim his uncle as anything other than an obligation.
"Sure, Eric, I'll do it for you. Besides, weddings are great places to meet women," Lee smirked. Maybe a wedding would be a good thing after all.
It was 4:00 p.m. and Joe was late...very late. Amanda had tried to come up with a story to tell the boys, but it had proved impossible. She had fed them a lunch that was not barbeque, tried unsuccessfully to get them to take a nap, and was now at her wits' end. How could he do this...again? He was hardly ever in town and, instead of spending time at home, he was at his office doing "important" paperwork. Something had to give...
"Mom!" Phillip cried out. "Telephone....I think it's Mrs. Lightner."
Amanda picked up the extension in the kitchen and greeted her friend. "Hi, Peggy! Happy Fourth of July!" Amanda listened to her friend invite the boys over to watch fireworks. Amanda sighed and responded, "Peggy...I really appreciate it...I'm not sure...Joe is supposed to, well, he was supposed to be home earlier, but apparently something came up at work..." Amanda came to a sudden decision. She was done making excuses for Joe. "Peggy, you know what? I think it would be great for the boys. Thank you so much for the invitation. When would you like for me to drop them off?"
Phillip and Jamie wandered into the kitchen as Amanda hung up the phone. "Boys, we've had a change in plans!" She said as brightly as possible. "How would you like to go spend the night with Max and David? Mrs. Lightner has invited you to come watch fireworks!" The boys' loud screams of delight were her answer. She smiled at her boys. They really were two great kids, and so easy to please. Why didn't Joe want to spend time with them? Didn't he know what he was missing?
It was 7:00 p.m. and Lee was sitting in a hospital waiting room in a daze, unable to comprehend what had happened that afternoon. Lee and Eric had driven separately to the industrial district, in an attempt to find their informant. The plan was for Eric to meet the man at a gas station, exchange some recognition phrases, and then the informant would pass on his information. Lee would shadow the informant and see where they went from there. Blue Leader was concerned that this Russian was not really an informant at all, but a KGB plant. Apparently, some of the information that had been passed to other agents had ended up leading to those agents getting hurt or killed.
At 5:30, Lee watched Eric meet the man at the designated spot. Then, as Eric turned to leave, Lee watched as a black car pulled up next to his partner. Lee tried to figure out what was going on. He saw Eric lean over to speak to someone in the car. Lee couldn't figure out what Eric was doing. Suddenly, a shot rang out and Eric slumped to the ground. The informant jumped in the black car and it sped off. Lee got a partial plate number and raced to Eric. There wasn't much blood, but Lee could tell this was bad...really bad. He ran into the gas station and called an ambulance, and then the Agency. Then, he sat next to Eric and tried desperately to talk to him.
Now, he was keeping a silent vigil, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. Eric was the best friend he had in the world. They had met at Station One and struck up a friendship. They had stayed friends even when Lee joined the OZ network. Eric had been there for Lee after Dorothy died... Lee couldn't think about it anymore.
"Lee," Billy said. Lee looked up and realized he was no longer alone. "Lee," Billy repeated.
"Yeah, Billy," Lee sighed. Billy could see that Lee was not handling this at all well.
"I need to know what happened," Billy said. Lee looked at him and began to relate the incident in a methodical, emotionless voice. By the time Lee was finished, Billy was sitting and rubbing his face in concern.
"Lee, has his family been reached?" Billy quietly asked. Lee stared at Billy. How could he have forgotten? Somebody needed to let Elizabeth know.
Lee shook his head. "No, Billy," he intoned. "Man, I don't know how to tell her! He told me today he and Elizabeth got engaged. How do I tell her he's...he's...he's..."
"Lee, do you have her number? I can call her if you want. What about his parents?" Billy could see that Lee was hanging by a thread. The last thing Billy needed was two agents out of commission. Lee nodded and headed for the nurses' station to use the phone. This was a call he didn't want to make, but knew that nobody else could do it.
It was midnight. Amanda sat in her living room alone. With Dotty and the boys gone for the night, the house was eerily quiet. Amanda looked in her lap and saw that she had twisted a Kleenex into tiny little pieces all over her legs. She had never felt this way before...so alone.
Joe had finally come home around 8 p.m. to an empty house and a resigned wife. He tried to make amends, saying, "Amanda, I had no idea it would take this long. I thought it would be quick, but time just got away from me."
"I understand, Joe. Your work is important to you," she answered. She was sitting on the sofa, and he could see several tissues on the cushion next to her.
"Sweetheart, what can I do to make this up to you? Let's call the boys down and go to the park...maybe we can see the fireworks from there."
"No, Joe," she answered quietly.
"What do you mean ‘no'?" he asked. He had never seen Amanda act this way. She was always so...perky. Nothing ever seemed to get her down. She always welcomed him back home with a smile, never commenting on how long he had been gone. The boys were always excited to see him. Now, the house was silent and Amanda was so...still.
"Joe," Amanda took a deep breath and continued, "I can't keep this up anymore. I can't cover with the boys anymore. You have to choose. I hate to ask it of you...no, I actually don't hate to ask it. I shouldn't have to ask it. You have to choose."
Joe was stunned. Was she saying what he thought she was saying? She knew that his job was important to him. He was actually making a difference in the world! Estoccia was getting the help it needed...through him. He loved his family, but he had to do his work. He thought she understood. Looking at her, though, he could see that she was in pain...and, apparently, he was the cause.
"What do you want me to say, Amanda? I love you. I love the boys. I don't know what to say," he whispered.
She looked at him. She remembered the day she had met him, the day she realized she loved him, the day they were married, the days the boys were born. She had loved this man with everything she had...but it wasn't enough. She needed more. The boys needed more...they all deserved more.
"Joe, I want you to say that we are more important than your work...that you love us more than Estoccia...that you love me so much that you would do anything to be with me. But, Joe, I know that none of it is really true. I know you love us, but you need your job more. Joe," she sobbed, aware of what she was about to say. "Joe, I think it's time we let this go. I think we need to get a divorce."
He stared at her, remembering the same days that she had. Had it all really come to this? But, in his heart, he knew that it really was over. He loved her, but not enough to give it all away for her.
"I know. I wish I could try to argue this with you, but...you're right. I do love you," Joe said, grabbing her hand.
"Joe, I love you, too. But, I don't think we're in love anymore," she answered, squeezing his hand and then pulling hers away from him.
That had been four hours ago. Joe had gone upstairs, packed his few belongings and left. They agreed to meet with a lawyer in a couple of days and work out the details. He would come back to the house when the boys came home, and they would sit down with them together and explain.
Amanda sat and realized that she had done the right thing. But, in her heart, she knew that this had been the worst day in her life.
It was midnight. Lee sat in his living room alone. The apartment was eerily quiet. Lee looked at his hands and realized that he had shattered the glass of whisky and was now bleeding. He had felt this way before and hated it...so alone.
Elizabeth had arrived at the hospital with Eric's parents. Lee stood back as Billy talked with them, telling them what he could about the "accident". Elizabeth had looked at Lee, then blanched visibly. Not long after, the surgeon walked into the waiting room.
"I'm sorry," he began, and Lee knew then that it wasn't good. "We've done everything we can, but it doesn't appear to be working. Eric has a critical head injury, and we can't get the bleeding to stop. He's awake right now, but I don't think he's going to make it through the night."
Elizabeth burst into sobs and grabbed Eric's parents. They huddled together, while Lee slumped back into a chair. Billy talked with the doctor and turned around to Lee. He knew this was going to be tough for Lee, and wasn't sure how his favorite agent was going to handle things.
Lee went over to Eric's family and asked, "Do you mind if I go see him for a minute? I know you want time, and I don't want to intrude, but I really need to speak to him before..." He couldn't continue. He looked at Mrs. Lassiter, who nodded.
"It's all right, Lee, go ahead. We'll be there in a minute." She turned back to Elizabeth, who looked as if she would collapse. Lee turned and went to the room the nurse indicated.
It was dark and noisy with the sounds of machines. Lee looked at Eric in the bed and realized that he looked small...Eric was always such a giant of a guy, but now looked like a shell.
"Uh, hey, Eric..." Lee began, and choked on his words. He couldn't believe he was losing someone else in his life.
"Lee..." Eric rasped. "Buddy, it's OK. It's gonna be OK. I couldn't let them...get...you...tell...Billy...it's Madison...the setup...was for...you...tell him Madison..."
Lee stood in shock. "Eric, are you saying they thought you were...me?"
Eric stared at Lee. "Take care...of...my family...Lee...don't...be...alone..." Eric coughed and Lee realized that Eric had answered him. Eric had taken the bullet for him.
The door opened and Lee turned around to see Elizabeth. Lee looked at Eric and said, "I'll be back. You can beat this." Then, Lee retreated and rushed away from the hospital. Billy watched him go, knowing that the coming weeks were going to be hard.
That had been six hours ago. Billy had just called to say that Eric had passed away about 30 minutes ago. Elizabeth and his parents had been with him until the end. Billy had also had an opportunity to hear from Eric what had happened.
Lee knew that this was his fault. He knew that, once again, he was left alone with no one to really care if he lived or died. He knew this had been one of the worst days of his life.