Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King and its characters belong to WB and Shoot the Moon Productions. No infringement is intended. I only borrowed them for my own enjoyment and now share it with you for yours. Feel free to save it for your own reading enjoyment later.
Timeline : Set post series and a sequel to my previous stories Blown and A Random Run, where all is revealed to all.
I would like to thank Moxie and Neeney for their fantastic assitance. Their editing skills and availability for bouncing ideas off of was invaluable.
This story was actually inspired by a picture on deviant art. The artist depicts Lee and Amanda swinging on a rope, which after a brief disccusion it was mentioned that it never happened in the show so I added, "That's what fan fic is for." This story is the result. The page for the artist at deviant art http://dauntingfire.deviantart.com/art/Scarecrow-and-Mrs-King-200729555
Saturday, September 3rd, 1988
Even before Billy Melrose arrived on scene, he could smell the smoke. Thick clouds of black smoke could be seen billowing out of the tree line ahead as he pulled his car up behind the rear fire engine just off the Dwight D. Eisenhower Hwy. He made his way through the firefighters and paramedics towards the command center, his assistant, Francine Desmond close behind.
He spotted the Fire Chief bellowing into his radio and waited impatiently for him to finish up. He had people missing and he needed to find them. Finally the Fire Chief finished issuing his latest orders and gestured for the Section Chief and his assistant to follow.
"Billy, you picked a hell of a day to go on a hike," Fire Chief Devin Murphy commented as he grabbed a bottle of water off a nearby table and drained its contents.
"Yes we did, Devin," Billy nodded in agreement, as he exchanged the barest of pleasantries with the man he had had many associations with over the years. "You rang my office and said you had found some of our people?"
"It was the darnedest thing too," Devin started to explain, "We got called in on this fire last night. Some campers spotted smoke coming from one of the harder to reach sites further up the mountain. With the burning ban on they figured it might be a bad sign. We managed to get all the campers evacuated, or so we thought. I had one of our aerial water bombers take some photos so we could get some good intel on the hot spots, and that was when we spotted the campers. Now that was last night and we had no way to get anyone in there to them at that time."
Devin paused and cracked the top off another bottle of water and let some of it run down over his head. "Now that felt good. As I was saying, we couldn't get anyone in there last night but then at first light I headed out with a team to see if we could get to them. We had only gotten a little ways into the woods at the base of the ridge they had been on, when this tiny little thing came out of the smoke dragging this big fellow in a sleeping bag. If I hadn't seen it for myself I'da said my men were drinking on duty."
Devin set the bottle down on the table and motioned for Billy and Francine to follow. He started leading them away from the command center to the paramedics’ station not far away as he continued his story. "Anyways, the little bit started chattering up a storm, telling us that they had been hiking and got caught up in fire and had to slide down part of the hill to get away from the flames. We only got her to quiet down once we got her and her friend back here and slapped an oxygen mask on. Once she had a few minutes on the tank, she came over and handed me your card and asked me to give you a call and say that Zulu thingy. I figured that must mean she was one of yours."
They had stopped outside a tent set up for the firemen and support workers to take a break. It was fairly large with cots set up around the walls. As they stepped in, Devin gestured to the far right corner. "There they are. I guess you can take it from here and maybe I'll find out what went on out there. Though more than likely I won't. Now you take care, Billy. We really have to stop meeting like this." Devin gave the shorter man a pat on the back and quickly made his way outside again, bellowing more orders to his men.
Billy thanked the gods of luck that shone on Scarecrow and his partner. There, sitting on a cot in the back corner sat Amanda Stetson. Her husband and partner, Lee Stetson, was reclining on the same cot.
Francine had spotted them as well and was already making her way over to the pair. When she reached them, she leaned over and encompassed the pair in a hug. "Thank god you two are alright! You had us worried to death!" she exclaimed.
Billy arrived just after Francine and echoed her sentiments, "After you missed those last 3 check-ins we were really starting to worry. I take it you found the listening station?"
"Yes, sir, we did!" Amanda started to explain, "Near the top of that ridge where the fire started."
"Yeah Billy," Lee jumped in, "The Koslov brothers had a sweet set-up. One brother would hike around and every few days or so would hike back out and another would take his place. Between the three of them they were intercepting radio transmissions pretty efficiently."
Billy watched his agent give his report with a careful eye. Scarecrow was never this still.
"But the last transmission they received put them onto the fact that we were looking for them and they radioed for a chopper to haul out the equipment. Once they realized that we had found them, they tried to smoke us out literally by starting that fire and escaping on the chopper, leaving us to burn to death."
Even as Lee spoke those last few words, the agent who could not normally sit still, was sitting still. Before Billy could comment though, Amanda interrupted.
"It might have worked too sir... Billy, " Amanda corrected herself. She still hadn't quite gotten used to calling her boss by his given name. "But once I realized that they were planning to escape by chopper, I drained the fuel out of the tanks. Instead of having a wall of flames between us and them, they were surrounded by them." She gave a small shudder as even now she could hear the screams of the Russian men as the flames got closer and closer to them.
Billy watched as Lee carefully placed his hand on his wife's arm and offered her a smile. "By that point, the only way out of there was down. So we climbed down the side of the ridge and headed for the road."
"It wasn't quite that simple Lee, and you know it." Amanda admonished her husband, returning his smile. "It was more like we jumped off the side of the ridge and slid to the bottom." She reached her hand over and brushed the hair off of the side of Lee's face, tender concern evident in her features. "Lee struck his head pretty hard off a log and passed out. Since the fire was still coming, I took one of the sleeping bags out of the pack and rolled Lee into it. Then I ditched the gear except for the compass and canteens and made my way towards the road dragging him with me."
She gestured to her shoulder and arm that were in a sling. "I think I might have to put Lee on a diet though, the paramedic thinks I might have pulled my shoulder muscle dragging him. They want me to go in for x-rays to be sure. This one," she pointed her good hand at her husband, tapping him on his nose. "This one they say might have to be admitted with an inner ear injury. Once he came around he couldn't keep his balance unless he was looking straight ahead. They did something to him to 'restore' his balance but he still needs to be checked out by a specialist. Not that he wants to go."
"Billy," Lee pouted, "It is just a bit of BPPV, I've had that before, about 6 years ago. It'll go away on its own. I don't need a hospital."
"I don't think so, Scarecrow." Billy shook his head sternly, "I did some checking after the last time you gave me that line. The doctors now can get rid of that quite quickly with a few days of rest and some simple exercises. Note I said 'doctors'. It took you a few months before you stopped getting dizzy spells last time trying to fix it on your own."
Billy addressed Francine, ignoring the protesting man on the cot. "Francine, I want you to get a hold of Dr. McJohn and tell him we have two patients coming in for him. Then call off the search teams."
Francine grinned, "I'm sure Dr. McJohn will love to have his favorite patient back in his care. Maybe we can stop and get some doughnuts on the way in." She quickly dodged the bandage wrap Scarecrow threw at her as she made her way out of the tent and back to the car to radio in.
Lee had hoped Francine would have forgotten about that by now. A few months ago when their kitchen had been blown up by the now deceased Director of the Steno Pool, he had had to sit on a donut for nearly a week until the stitches in his rear had healed enough he could enjoy sitting down again. He had taken great care not to let her see, but Fielder in his retelling of the event had let it slip and now she took great delight in teasing him about it every chance she got.
"I'm fine Billy, really." Lee pleaded, "I just need to go home and rest for a few days and I'll be back to work by Monday."
"I don't think so, Buster!" Amanda stated quite firmly. "You are going to the hospital and you are going to do every little thing he tells you to do. Do I make myself clear?" She was giving him the do-it-or-else look and that never bode well for Lee getting his own way.
Lee sighed and resigned himself to getting checked over at the hospital while Billy and Amanda went to find some volunteers to help Lee get to Billy's car. They quickly found two firemen who were just getting up to go and start their shift that were willing to give him the two man carry. Lee thought he was very lucky that Francine was too busy being impressed and flirting with the men than she was in teasing him about having to be carried to the car.
After fastening their seatbelts, the group made their way back down the mountain and headed back to Washington and their appointments with Dr. McJohn.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Wednesday September 28th, 1988
"MOM, ARE YOU READY YET? I DON'T WANT TO BE LATE!"
Lee awoke with grimace in the Lazy Boy recliner in the living room to the gentle tones of his stepson Jamie calling for his mother and rushing about the kitchen. In the two weeks they had been off duty on medical leave, school had started again and Jamie's photography club already had a big project in the works. There was a big charity hockey exhibition game happening on Saturday night and several schools had been invited to participate. Jamie was currently in a rush because instead of heading to school, he and his fellow club members were meeting at the Capital Centre, then they were going to shadow several real photographers and journalists learning the best way to take pictures and report on sporting events. Lee had been worried about Amanda driving the distance and had insisted she get checked out by the Agency doctors first. Yesterday they had given her the all clear not only to drive, but to return to full active duty. Fortunately for him, Billy had accepted his request that she not be given any assignments until he was back on duty as well.
Their little 'tumble' down the ridge had resulted in a pulled shoulder muscle for Amanda and some minor inner ear damage for him. Her shoulder had healed nicely, she had only needed to use a sling for the first week and not do any lifting at all. But his inner ear had required that he visit a therapist everyday for the past two weeks. The exercises didn't take long at all but part of the therapy required that he sleep in a reclined position, so he had been stuck in the family room. Amanda had tried to join him and sleep on the couch to at least be in the same room with him, but Lee knew how uncomfortable that was and insisted she sleep in their bed so she could heal.
Giving a little stretch, Lee stood up and made his way into the kitchen. "Morning Jamie," he greeted his stepson as he headed to the coffee maker and picked up an empty mug.
"Morning Lee," Jamie returned his greeting without looking up from the camera bag he was carefully loading with cameras and lenses. "Phillip left a little while ago for school and Grandma said she was going back to bed."
"Jamie King," Amanda greeted her son as she entered the kitchen checking her purse for her keys at the same time, "I told you I would be down as soon as I finished brushing my hair, there was no need to shout." She paused when she looked up and noticed her handsome husband standing in front of the coffee maker looking slightly disheveled.
"Good Morning, Sweetheart," Amanda greeted her husband and made her way over to him, leaning up to give him a gentle good morning kiss, not wanting him to lean over in case it made him dizzy. She reached her hand behind him seeking a travel coffee mug and gave his behind a quick squeeze on the way by. She smiled at the tiny jump he gave and turned to add the milk and sugar.
“So today’s the day you get to meet up with the photo journalists, huh Jamie?” Lee asked even though he knew it was. Jamie had spoken of nothing else since that first day of school when he had come home with the information from the photography club.
“It is and I can’t wait. We’ve been going over lighting and angles everyday after school for the last week and I can’t wait to see how these new lenses work out.” Jamie replied, his gaze still on what he was doing. The new camera lenses and camera had been covered by insurance after their little ‘kitchen fire’ that previous spring.
Lee had let Amanda and Dotty plan out the renovations and then left it in the capable hands of Francine Desmond to carry out while he took the family on a little vacation to the beach for two weeks over the summer. It had been fun talking Dotty into going while the work was going on but he was sure glad he had. He didn’t know anything about that kind of work but he was sure whoever was doing the work could get it done a lot easier without the ‘loving guidance’ of his mother-in-law. Fortunately Francine had had everything well in hand and she had even had a casserole in the oven when they got back, courtesy of the Blue Fox restaurant. Sometimes he still found Dotty standing occasionally just looking at the kitchen and the updated appliances with a smile on her face.
Lee was smiling to himself as the memories of that vacation washed over him and almost didn’t hear Amanda. “Sorry?” he asked with a sheepish smile.
Amanda just smiled at her husband woolgathering in the kitchen as she pushed Jamie by his shoulders toward the back door. “I said, husband of mine, that Jamie and I are off and should be back later this afternoon after you get back from your therapy appointment.”
Jamie gave a quick wave and a “Bye!” as he left with a beaming smile on his face. The reason for Amanda’s comment became clear to Lee, as she reached for the keys to the ‘vette on the hook by the back door.
“Mother said she would be up in time to take you to your appointment today so I’ll be taking your car.” Amanda suppressed the grin that threatened to explode on her face at her husband’s expression. “She only has a few errands to run, so you won’t have to sit in the car with her long. And yes, I do mean you have to sit in the car. Until the therapist clears you, you are not to move around a lot Lee and I mean it. Mother knows this too so she won’t be dragging you through the stores with her. At least you won’t have to help pick out the veggies.”
Amanda did a quick pivot and returned to her husband for one last quick kiss as she grabbed her purse off the center island and headed out the door after Jamie. “Be a good boy and listen to Mother, Lee,” she called out behind her as she made her way outside.
Lee stared after his wife as she left him alone in the house. He would have shook his head but knew that would only make his recovery longer. He had to admit that listening to the doctor was making it go a lot faster this time, not that he was going to tell that to anyone else. He hadn’t even felt dizzy for the last few days and hoped that he would be cleared for work again by Friday or at least cleared enough to go to the game Friday night with the boys. Jamie might be working with his photography club that night but nothing said he and Phillip couldn't enjoy the game. He had even called TP earlier in the week and had him pick up tickets for the rest of the family so even Dotty and Amanda could go as well if they wanted.
Resigning himself to a long day stuck in a car with Dotty he put his still empty coffee mug on the counter and made his way upstairs for a quick shower. He was sure he could get Dotty to stop and get some coffee at that new Mother’s Macaroons Bakery. Surely he could tempt her with the suggestion of a fresh danish.
Several hours later and Amanda was more than ready to head home but Jamie and the rest of his photography club were still up in one of the convention rooms talking to the photojournalists discussing lenses and angles. She stood up from her seat in the back of the room and made her way out into the hallway hoping that the concession stand would be open now so she could get a refill in her coffee mug.
As she walked across the nearly empty hall, she spotted a familiar face talking to one of the maintenance workers. Stopping when she was directly behind the woman she gave her a tap on her shoulder.
“...sure that the walkways are clear Danny, the students will be headed there next and we don’t want any accidents with overexcited kids around.” Turning the small blond woman’s face changed from her serious work face into a beaming smile. “Amanda!”, she cried as she reached to give the brunette a hug. “What a surprise!”
Amanda attempted to return the hug but was surprised as well. “Surprise is right. Colleen, what have you and Bart been up to?” Amanda replied with a smile as she pointed at the full round stomach of the photojournalist she had met a few years back while working a case with Lee. “It seems the two of you must have been busy after Lee and I saw you last. I assume the wedding the was a success.”
Colleen smiled and adjusted the camera bag on her shoulder. “Yes, we had the wedding and then headed out again on another assignment. We were hopping from continent to continent until about 5 months ago when I got sick in the Congo. Bart made me come back here for a rest. He was sure I had dengue fever or malaria or worse. Boy was he surprised when the doctor told him I would be fine in a few months. Nine to be exact.”
Colleen rubbed her stomach as she continued, “Of course that meant no more dangerous assignments for a while. But I couldn’t just sit still anymore than Bart can. He is working with an editor to get a collection of his photos published. As for me, I’m just doing some local work when I can get it. How are things with you and Lee? Agency got you hopping?”
“Not right now,” Amanda replied as she gestured towards a bench outside the room Jamie and his classmates were currently in. Indicating that they could sit and talk, remembering how much fun it had been to be on her feet when she had been that pregnant. As they got comfortable on the bench, Amanda went over briefly what they had been doing for the past few years. Amanda enjoyed the smile on Colleen’s face as she found out Lee was a family man now.
“...the last two weeks Lee has been going stir crazy stuck at home. He damaged his inner ear again and this time he is listening to the doctors and getting therapy done. I only pulled a shoulder muscle and I’m cleared for duty now. I’m sure Lee pulled some strings though, as I haven’t been assigned any cases yet. You know how protective he can be,” Amanda sighed.
Colleen laughed, “I sure do. Bart can be the same way. He even tried to convince me to pad the apartment walls last week, trying to get ready for the baby.” Colleen leaned in close and continued, “But if you aren’t on active duty, then why are you here?”
“Oh,” Amanda replied with a laugh of her own. “My youngest boy, Jamie, is here with his photography club. They’re inside just finishing up talking lenses. They have only been in there for three hours.” She shook her head as she noted the distinct sound of chairs being pulled back in the room behind her. “I had no idea that it could take that long to talk lenses. At least it’s something he’s passionate about.”
Amanda stood up and helped Colleen to her feet again as the convention room door opened and eager students and photographers started to exit. Spotting Jamie in the crowd she pointed him out. “That one over there is my Jamie.” Amanda gestured with a smile.
“And that is my cue.” Colleen said as she tugged her bag into a better position on her shoulder. “I’m the lucky one who gets to take them on the walk through around the rink while Rick over there is going to be taking them up into the rafters, if the maintenance guy has finished making sure all the ropes are secured up there. We wouldn’t want to put anything in their way that could give them ideas.” Spying the worried look on Amanda’s face she quickly reassured her. “Not that it isn’t perfectly safe up there; I’ve been up many times, it is just that this belly makes it a bit hard to see where I’m going or I’d be up there with them.”
They watched as Rick, who was obviously in charge, split the group into two, pointing half of them towards where Amanda and Colleen had been watching. Amanda noted that Jamie was staying with Rick and pushed aside the urge to add an extra warning to what Rick was telling his group now. As the students assigned to Colleen drew closer, she gave Amanda a few parting words. “Tell Lee we will have to get together soon. Bart and I will be here in DC for at least a few more months.” She smiled once more and then turned her attention to the students now surrounding her as Amanda turned to follow Jamie’s group at a discreet distance.
Once they entered the arena proper, she took a seat in the stands and watched carefully as the eager future photojournalists made their way into the rafters, quite unaware of the attention she was receiving.
From his position outside the maintenance closet, Danil Koslov watched the woman sitting in the stands as intently as she was watching the journalists and kids. He was relived that she hadn’t recognized him when she approached as he had been talking with that pregnant journalist earlier. He was convinced this was the same woman his cousins and he had run into a few weeks before up in the mountains. It was pure luck he had made it out of that mess without burning off all the skin on his body. He had still been higher up on the mountain making sure all traces of their presence were gone when he had heard the whoosh of the fuel going up.
He had reached the clearing to find his cousins and the pilot writhing in the flames, a sight he didn’t think he would ever forget, and he was sure that this was the woman he had seen leaping off the cliff with a man.
He could feel his hatred for her building inside as he relived the sounds of his cousins’ screams in his mind. ‘It would be so easy to just go over there and snap her neck,’ he growled to himself as he indulged himself with the feelings of how sweet it would be to kill one of the ones responsible for his cousins’ tortured deaths.
Instead he tightened his grip on the broom he held in his hands as part of his cover as maintenance worker for the Capital Centre. It was essential to the plan that he keep his cover as planned. His grip loosened bit by bit as he went over the plans for Friday night again in his head. With any luck the woman would be here then as well. Everything was in place, and he knew what school the students she was watching were from.
Realizing he had been staring for a bit too long, he pushed the cleaning cart ahead of him and made his way to a different part of the stadium to sweep up a bit before his shift ended. Tomorrow was his day off, with the Cap Centre at least, there were a few more details to finish up in the morning and then maybe a little light surveillance was in order. Forcing himself to whistle an annoying Doublemint Gum jingle, he swept the floors, keeping his back to the woman who had held his attention a few moments ago.
Phillip King was having a ball. He had been home from school for nearly half an hour now and he still had the house to himself. Already he had pigged out on his mom’s cookies and cleaned up the evidence. He knew his grandma and Lee would be back soon so he was making sure he could enjoy this quiet time as much as he could.
Not that he had it quiet. From his position on the couch he could see when anyone pulled into the drive if he leaned to the side and looked out the window. That would be his sign to turn down the music he was currently blaring full blast out of Lee’s stereo. He knew Lee would not appreciate the ‘dulcet’ tones of Anthrax’s State of Euphoria being played. He reached for the popcorn bowl on the table and was about to put his feet back up on the couch when he saw the glare of reflected light bounce in the window.
Dropping the bowl onto the floor he raced for the stereo as he realized that the light was being reflected off the door to his mother’s Wagoneer, meaning Lee was home. He barely got the stereo turned off and the record replaced onto the shelf when he heard his grandmother coming in the back door.
“...unbelievable! $2.49 a pound for pork chops! I remember my mother and I going to the butcher shop and getting a whole side of beef for that much when I was a girl.” Phillip grinned from his hiding place in the living room at the sorry look on Lee’s face as he held the door open for his mother-in-law. “The prices those stores charge these days are criminal. Too bad it doesn’t fall under your purview at work Lee, I’m sure you would have them charging a decent price in no time.”
Dotty set the bag of perishables down on the counter by the fridge as she pulled open the refrigerator door to put the milk inside. “...and don’t think I don’t see you over there hiding, Phillip King! Though it is amazing you heard us at all with that racket you were blaring. You had better get out to the car and unload those groceries if you want us to have supper tonight, though judging from the crumbs you missed on this counter you should be pretty full already.”
Phillip gave Lee a quick, sheepish look before dashing out the back door to the car. Lee watched enviously as Phillip made his escape. After being in the car with Dotty most of the day he would almost be willing to kill for a bit of peace and quiet. “Let me help you with that, Dotty,” Lee asked politely as he tried to reach around her to help put the eggs in the fridge.
Dotty smacked at his hands and shooed him toward the couch in the living room. “I don’t think so, Lee Stetson!” she scolded the federal agent while giving him a nudge with her palm. “You will sit down right there on that couch and you will not move unless I let you.”
Lee opened his mouth to complain that he was fine but Dotty cut him off with a wave of her hand. “Amanda will have my head if I let you do anything more than rest, Buster. So don’t even think of moving off that couch without my say-so.”
Lee stomped to the couch and was ready to sit when the front door opened and Amanda and Jamie entered.
“I know Jamie, we will be there by noon on Friday, I promise. Now go put away your camera equipment so you can help Phillip bring in the groceries.” Amanda was talking to Jamie as she turned and locked the front door behind her. Jamie gave her a quick nod of agreement before dashing up the stairs with his bag.
As she turned to head towards the kitchen, she spotted her husband standing in front of the couch looking very relieved to see her. Knowing he had just spent the entire day alone with her mother, she felt a brief twang of sympathy for him. She reached for his hand as she approached him and sat down on the couch, tugging on his hand to pull him down with her. “So what did the doctor say today, Lee? Does he think you will be off much longer?”
Lee squeezed Amanda’s hand as he allowed her to pull him down onto the couch. “He thinks I’ll be cleared as early as Friday.” Settling back on the couch he pulled her to him before he continued, “In fact, he doesn’t even want to see me tomorrow. I go back on Friday morning and he said if it’s all good, he will clear me with no restrictions. If I go see Dr. McJohn tomorrow and get his all clear, then we could be good to go by Friday at lunchtime.”
“Lee, even if you get cleared on Friday we are not going to be starting any new cases until Monday; Jamie will be crushed if we miss Friday night at the Cap Centre.” Amanda cautioned her husband, knowing he would love nothing more than to go out and fight some ‘bad guys’ after all the family togetherness of the past two weeks.
“Actually,” Lee replied in a hushed whisper as he leaned in towards Amanda’s ear, “I was hoping more for some alone time for just the two of us. I really hate sleeping in that recliner.”
Amanda blushed and swatted her husband’s arm. “You just behave or I’ll leave you in Mother’s care more often.” She pulled away from her husband and stood up. “Now I’m going to help Mother get supper started, you just sit there and relax. You aren’t cleared yet, Buster.” Amanda wagged a warning finger at her husband as she stepped around him and headed into the kitchen.
Lee just sighed and shifted his position to where he could see the happenings in the kitchen without turning his head. He knew when he was beat; there was no way the West women would let him do anything without a doctor’s note. Deciding to enjoy it rather than complain, he watched as Phillip, now joined by Jamie, brought in the last of the groceries while the women put them away and started preparing supper.
Lee was pleasantly surprised by the sound of silence that he awoke to. He was sure the boys, at least Jamie, would be even more hyper after yesterday’s recon of the Cap Centre. Today was class work. Reporters from the local papers were going to be in the classroom giving tips and hints on how to get to the truth; the work that is done to go with the pictures. At least that was what Jamie had gone on and on about last night until even Dotty was tuning him out.
He gave a stretch and stood up, glaring at the armchair he still had to sleep in. ‘One more night, hopefully,’ he thought as he smiled and considered how he could convince Dr. McJohn to let him sleep in his bed tonight. Lee made his way into the kitchen and was surprised to see only his mother-in-law there. “Where’s everyone at? Won’t they be late?” He asked, looking around to see if he could spot any sign of his wife.
Dotty smiled and set down the cup of tea she had been sipping. “I’m afraid they all left already. The boys left for school over two hours ago and Amanda had some errands to run. Something about a special dinner you two will be having Saturday night while the boys are at Joe’s and I’m off on my trip.” From the blush on Amanda’s face when she left, Dotty was sure some of the items she was going to pick up would not be unpacked in the kitchen. Dotty had seen that flyer for Rebecca’s Fantasies poking out of her purse when Amanda had shoved in her coupons and list.
Lee frowned as he poured the remains of the coffee from the pot down the drain and set about making a fresh pot. “I was hoping I could get Amanda to drive me in to work so I could get the all-clear from Dr. McJohn today. Did she say how long she would be?” He hoped that he hid all traces of desperation from his voice. As much as he loved his family, too much of it was bad for one’s sanity, especially with Dotty for a mother-in-law. She had delighted in questioning him all day yesterday for as many details as she could about their jobs. The stories that he had sanitized and told when the boys were around didn’t seem to satisfy her anymore. And as she had told him yesterday, ‘Those tall tales may satisfy the boys, Lee. But I want the juicy stuff you are leaving OUT of those tales.’ Only pleading national security had gotten him off the hook, but even then she kept pestering.
Dotty stood and reached over for her son-in-law’s hands. Grasping them both, she tugged and led him over to the couch in the family room. “You just sit here, Lee. Amanda will be back in plenty of time to take you to your appointment and she left you in my charge until she gets back.” The tone of her voice was the same Lee had heard her use on the boys to get them to behave, leaving Lee with no doubts as to who of the two of them was in charge. “I’ll finish getting your coffee and make you something light for breakfast. Oh I know you don’t like to eat in the mornings,” Dotty waved off his protests with a wave of her hand, “But you are still on the injured list until the doctor says otherwise and, really Lee, how do you expect to get better if you don’t eat?”
Lee stifled his groan and gave a quiet smile before settling down on the couch, as his mother-in-law started to prepare her idea of a light breakfast. He really hoped Amanda didn’t take long with her errands and leave him at Dotty’s mercy all day.
“And after you’ve eaten and gotten freshened up, I thought we could sit outside on the back patio and have a nice, friendly chat,” Dotty called from in front of the stove where she was cracking eggs into a frying pan.
Lee let slip a quiet groan this time, he knew he had gotten off easy yesterday with Dotty distracted by her shopping. “Hurry up, Amanda!” he muttered under his breath as he smiled at Dotty and hoped he could make himself eat what she cooked for him.
It was nearly 12:30pm when Amanda made her way into the back door of her home with her arms laden with bags and packages. She had tried to be as quick as she could with her selections so as not to leave Lee at her mother’s mercy for too long but some of the supplies Jamie had requested for his pictures had taken a while to collect. Not to mention the outfit she had selected to wear Saturday night. If Lee really did get the all clear tomorrow, she was going to be ready.
Amanda had just sorted out all of Jamie’s items and was turning to take her purchases upstairs when her mother popped out of the laundry area behind her. “Mother!” she exclaimed, “Don’t scare me like that.” Amanda shook her head at the amused grin on her mother’s face and moved to hide her bags behind her back. “Did you and Lee have a good morning?” she glanced around the room as she asked trying to spot her husband. “I don’t see him anywhere, you didn’t lose him did you?” An amused smile crossed her face as she could easily picture her husband diving out the nearest open window after having spent a day and a half alone in her mother’s company.
Dotty saw the flash of red on the bags Amanda had shoved behind her back and grinned, recognizing the distinctive coloring of a Rebecca’s Fantasies bag. “Well...” Dotty began as she peeked into the bags now on the kitchen island, “We had a wonderful breakfast together. I made sure he got something more into him other than just coffee and then we went out and sat in the gazebo and chatted for the longest time. The weather might be getting ready to cool down, but it was just so nice this morning.”
Amanda sighed, Lee had mentioned that mother was asking more questions about their job again and she could just imagine how well that little chat had gone. “So Lee was in the gazebo with you most of the morning then?”
“Yes, but he noticed it was getting close to lunchtime, so he wanted to go and get cleaned up before his appointment.” Dotty had been hoping to glean a little more information from her son-in-law but, so far, no such luck. With all of his travels around the world surely he could tell her more about the places he had visited, even if no one was supposed to know he had visited them. “If you hurry, he may still be in the shower upstairs.” Dotty gave her daughter a knowing wink and turned back to the laundry machine. “I have a bit more sorting to do before I’m done here, it will take me at least another half an hour.” With that she hustled off to the pile of laundry on the floor in front of the washing machine.
Amanda shook her head, “Mother,” she muttered under her breath. There were some topics she just was not comfortable discussing with her mother and her husband in the shower was one of them.
Sitting on the bed in the master bedroom of 4247 Maplewood Drive, Lee Stetson was muttering to himself as well. He had heard Amanda arrive downstairs but decided to wait for her to find him. The two weeks of enforced rest and constant ‘chats’ with Dotty were starting to drive him a tad batty. “I almost wish there was a bad guy to beat up,” he muttered.
“Poor choice of words, Stetson. Are you trying to jinx us?” Amanda asked from the doorway.
Lee smiled; his wife was getting so much better at sneaking up on him. Not that it really counted as sneaking as he knew she was in the house. He watched as his wife entered their bedroom and went straight to the closet, making a big show of putting away several bags with Rebecca’s Fantasies on them.
Amanda turned to face her husband, forcing her face into a serious expression to hide her amusement with him. She knew he loved a mystery. “Now I know how much you love to know everything, but if you snoop in those bags before I’m ready to show you, Lee Stetson, you will ruin the surprise.” She said these words as she made her way to stand in front of where Lee was sitting. She watched as a range of expressions swept over his face. Amusement, curiosity, and, of course, finally, the petulant frown of a small child that has to wait for a treat.
Lee contemplated waiting until she left and then diving for the closet to see what she had bought them but had to admit that if he waited she would deliver on her promise of a surprise. He reached his hands up to his wife to clasp her hands with his own. “If I promise not to snoop, what’s in it for me?” he teased.
Amanda took a step back pulling her hands from his and crossing her arms. She studied her husband’s face intently, as if trying to decide. “If you promise to behave, and be a very good boy, I just might take you in to work early so you can hang out around the office instead of here at home with mother for the next few hours until your appointment.”
Amanda laughed as her husband jumped to his feet, grasping her around the waist and twirling her around to face the bedroom door. Lee’s breath tickled her ear as he whispered huskily, “I promise to be very, VERY good,” from behind her. Then he quickly stepped out and around, grabbing her hand and tugging her toward the door. Amanda was laughing and wasn’t moving as fast as Lee would have liked, so he dropped her hand and kept moving.
He looked at his wife with a hint of a frown on his face. “How about I just meet you at the car? You get the keys and I’ll go out the front.” Not waiting for an answer he left, expecting her to follow.
Amanda couldn’t stop laughing at her husband, and slowly made her way to the bedroom door just in time to see his tall frame disappear down the stairs. She entered the kitchen still giggling and retrieved her keys from where she had set them on the counter and, after letting her mother know that they were going, headed out to her car to find her husband sitting with a boyish grin in the front seat already strapped in.
Lee did his best to keep a smile on his face as he waved goodbye to Amanda after she dropped him outside the Georgetown entrance to the Agency. It wasn’t too hard to do if he kept in mind that he would be rewarded with a surprise later if he behaved. In fact it was the only thing that kept him from walking down to Monk’s and having a drink instead of going straight inside.
Entering, he smiled at the raised eyebrow Mrs. Marston was giving him.
“Mr. Stetson, I believe you are early for your doctor’s appointment,” she commented as she handed over his badge after he signed in and gave the word of the day.
Lee just flashed her his dimpled smile and headed into the elevator. He stood and pondered which floor he should go to first, the Bullpen or the doctor’s office. Knowing that if he avoided seeing Dr. McJohn and that Amanda would hear about it, he pressed the button for the Medical Section and turned to face the exit.
When the elevator doors opened, he strode quickly to the medical wing. He made his way through and walked into McJohn’s office. Nodding to the nurse outside the door, he entered without knocking, surprising the doctor who was behind his desk with a pile of paperwork.
“Scarecrow!” McJohn greeted the agent in surprise. McJohn glanced at his watch as he stood to shake Lee’s hand, “You’re not on time, you’re early! I thought nothing short of an armed platoon would ever drag you in here for your appointments on time, it must be some sort of miracle to get you here early. Or do I sense the velvet fist of the missus?”
Scarecrow’s loathing of the medical profession was widely known, evidenced even now as the nurse outside Dr. McJohn’s office quickly scurried off to warn the rest of the staff that Scarecrow was here.
Lee just scowled at the man. “Can we skip the jokes and just get on with it doc?” Lee asked with a slight growl. “It is bad enough I need a medical check before going back to work without all the witty comments.”
Realizing that this was as cheery as Scarecrow was likely to be and that it was a first that he had even shown up early for his appointment, Dr. McJohn wasted no time in getting things started. Tossing Lee a specimen cup, McJohn pointed to the washroom down the hall as he reached for the phone on his desk.
“Not a problem, Scarecrow. You just head down to exam room 3 once you have your urine sample ready and we will get this all over with as quickly as possible. I’ll just call down to the x-ray room and make sure everything is ready.” With that, McJohn started giving directions on the phone to the technician.
Lee sighed and made his way down to the medical section washroom. A few years ago and he would have put this off forever. But Amanda would have his head if he tried to skip out on it now.
‘Looks like that one got the short straw,’ Lee thought to himself as he watched a nurse strolling towards exam room 3 with her shoulders slumped. The other three standing behind her cheering her on with comments of, “It’s not that bad” and “We’ll go out for a drink tonight and we’ll pay, it is the least we can do.”
He let out a stifled groan and pushed open the bathroom door.
Francine sat at a table in the corner of the break room and resisted the urge to look up at the snack machines. When she had heard that Lee was in the building hours early for his doctor’s appointment she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but when Tony from the bake shop delivered his load she knew it was going to be more epic than she had hoped.
Ever since Lee had been ‘injured’ this spring, she had used every opportunity she could to remind him of it. Her latest ploy involved the emptying of all the snack machines, at least the ones with only food in them, and supplying several dozen boxes of double chocolate glazed doughnuts instead. It hadn’t been as hard as she thought to pick the lock on the snack cases and then hide the contents in the supply closet down the hall. Now all she had to do was wait until Lee got out of his appointment and came down for coffee.
She kept the expression of glee from her face with considerable effort when she heard the ‘dulcet’ tones of a cheesed off Lee Stetson coming down the hallway. Mutters of ‘Damned blood suckers’ and ‘poke/prod, poke/prod, don’t they know how to do anything else?’ reached her ears and yet still she held back her giggle, doing her best to look engrossed in the reports she was ‘attempting’ to read.
Lee cursed everything medical as he made his way towards the break room for some coffee. The only good things so far today was that he was here instead of at home letting Dotty mother him and that McJohn had said everything looked good to him for him being placed on full active duty, once the report from the therapist was in his hands and confirmed. After spending the past two hours being poked and prodded by the ‘sadistic’ medical practitioner, having him think that Lee would try and pass in a faked report to get back onto active duty was really insulting. As if Amanda would let him get away with that anyhow.
He could smell the coffee as he entered the room and made his way to the coffee pot. He let out one more expletive about doctors and what they could do with their ice cold stethoscopes when he noticed Francine sitting in the corner ignoring him. She was doing a really good job of it too, but her posture was too stiff, too intense for him to believe that she was really engrossed in that report.
He scanned the room trying to figure out what she was up to. Everything seemed normal enough; the furniture was where it always had been, no cameras or recording devices that he could see without electronic detection equipment. His coffee seemed to be ok, but just in case he wasn’t going to drink it. Prepare it, yes, but he’d pick up something later with Amanda rather than risk something that Francine could have done to it. And that was when he saw them.
All of the snack machines were empty and there seemed to be piles of boxes from Tony’s bakery on the table in the corner of the room. Lee hid his groan deep down behind his Scarecrow mask as he casually flipped open the nearest box to reveal a dozen double chocolate doughnuts.
‘Will she ever let me live that down?!’ he ranted inside the privacy of his own mind. Flipping the box closed again, he smiled as he turned to make his way over to Francine, desperately hoping that Amanda would finally let him do something to get her back. Everything he had suggested she had turned down as either too mean or not good enough.
He hadn’t even had the chance to lift his foot to step her way when the scent of a cigarette drifted in through the open doorway. Re-enforcing his Scarecrow façade, he turned to face the Agency’s head man with a smile.
Dr. Smyth entered the room with his usual cruel smile in place and following right behind him was Billy Melrose, looking slightly annoyed as usual to having Dr. Smyth stirring up his agents.
“Look Melrose,” Dr. Smyth started, pointing his cigarette towards Lee, “Told you there was a Scarecrow in the building.” Smyth hadn’t taken his eyes from Lee since walking in the room and now focused his voice on him as well, “Got your all clear yet Scarecrow or is the good doctor going to let you stay home with the knitting circle for a few more weeks?”
Lee gripped the mug in his hand tighter as he listened to Dr. Smyth trying to goad him into a response. Acting like he hadn’t heard a word he said, Lee reached into his suit jacket and pulled out an envelope that he handed to Billy.
“Billy, I was just about to come looking for you. Here’s all the paperwork from Dr. McJohn. He says he will give me the all clear tomorrow after the therapist gives him his final report. But he doesn’t expect there to be any problems. At least not after he had me down there torturing me for the past two hours with needles and x-rays and probes.”
Dr. Smyth glared at the young man in front of him, frustrated that he couldn’t get his goat as easily as he could in the past. He didn’t want to admit that Mrs. King was a good influence on the younger agent. He couldn’t without admitting that he had been completely convinced that she would only make Scarecrow fall flat on his face so Smyth could be rid of him for good.
“No problem, Scarecrow,” Billy replied, tucking the envelope into his suit jacket. “I’m sure that we can have this all cleared up and get the two of you back to work for bright and early Monday morning.” Billy repressed his desire to grin at the self-control Lee was showing. He knew what it was taking to hold off on retaliating against Smyth and exactly who was responsible for it.
Before Lee could comment on the being back to work on Monday, Dr. Smyth let out an annoyed grunt.
“Melrose!” Smyth snapped as he stepped towards the vending machines now standing empty along the wall. “Just last month the committee finally agreed to stock these machines with healthy snacks, not just chips and chocolate, so that we could keep our agents in top fighting form,” Smyth punctuated his words with sharp jabs of his cigarette towards the machines and then swung them to the boxes on the counter. “So why is it, that all that hard earned tax money seems to be going to waste running empty machines only to have boxes of pastry from an expensive bakery here instead?”
The venom in Smyth’s words could not be mistaken for anything else as the tall man used the handle of his cigarette holder to open several of the boxes on the table. A smirk crossed the man’s face as he realized they were filled with nothing but doughnuts.
“Whoever you had in charge of these machines I want you to send them to me. Then I want you to put someone else in charge of keeping them full of healthy snacks. I think Desmond is quite up to that task, don’t you?”
Francine sat back in her chair and willed herself to become invisible. She had been hoping that they wouldn’t notice her and that they would leave soon. When Dr. Smyth said her name, she knew she’d been busted. She snapped her head up and locked eyes with Smyth for a moment before dropping them down to her pages again, silently cursing her luck at what had seemed such a brilliant way to annoy Lee only minutes ago.
But Smyth wasn’t finished just yet. “Scarecrow, I want you to see that these ‘doughnuts’ get a proper new home. I’m sure that you and the missus can find some group of kiddies that would love to have them.”
Smyth turned and walked out of the room, pausing only in the doorway for a moment, “Melrose, don’t forget to have Scarecrow’s medical report sent to me ASAP. I want to be sure we have all our I’s dotted and T’s crossed.” Then with a wave of his cigarette he was gone.
Lee closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he dared to say anything.
Amanda was still smiling when she pulled up in front of the school to pick up Phillip. Lee was so excited to get out of the house. She knew her husband just couldn’t sit still much longer or he would explode.
Amanda shut the car off just as the final bell, releasing students for the day went off. She got out of the car and waved to some other mothers as she leaned against the side of the ‘vette and waited for Phillip. Since Jamie was staying after school today with his photography club to go over last minute details in preparation for tomorrow, she didn’t want Phillip walking home alone. No matter how grown up he said he was, he was still her first born. Besides, since she was driving the ‘cool’ car she knew he wouldn’t object.
Spotting her son coming toward her, Amanda refrained from waving. Teenage boys do not like being acknowledged in public by their mothers, no matter the circumstances.
Phillip’s shouts of joy when he saw the ‘vette was here to pick him up could be heard over the throng of teenagers now covering the front lawn of the school. He gave her a brief “Hi Mom!” before throwing his bag in the back and showing off the car to his friends. Seconds later she found herself surrounded by a small crowd of teenagers intent on getting a closer look.
Amanda was about to caution Phillip about looking but not touching anything under the hood when a movement at the corner of the school caught her eye. Her training as an agent had made her much more cautious over the years. Looking but not looking directly at the man, she noted that he looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. It wasn’t one of Lee’s family or they would have made contact some how. Deciding to pay attention to the creepy feeling running down her spine, she thought it would be best to get moving as soon as possible.
“Phillip,” she started, using her best Mother voice, “we have to get going now. Jamie is going to be dropped off by Mr. Phelps, the photography teacher, after they finish up their meeting and I still have to pick Lee up at work before we can have supper. Your friends can see the car later.” With a firm thunk, she closed the now open hood of the car and gestured for Phillip to get in.
“Sorry guys, I gotta go.” Phillip apologized to the crowd as he got in the front seat of the car next to his mother who was already belting herself in. “Maybe next time Lee will be here and we can get a closer look.”
Amanda pulled away from the curb and joined the queue of other vehicles leaving the school lot as Phillip waved to his friends. Using her mirrors she kept an eye on the man standing by the corner of the school watching them. She was sure she had seen him somewhere recently but couldn’t put her finger on where. So focused was she on trying to figure out where she had seen him she almost didn’t hear Phillip’s question.
“So Mom, since we need to pick up Lee at work does that mean I get to come in with you?” Phillip asked with a hint of excitement in his voice.
Amanda shook her head. “I don’t think so young man. For one thing you aren’t old enough to be allowed into our offices, you don’t have security clearance and as your mother I say no.” Before Phillip could complain too much about it, she went on. “I’m dropping you back at the house and you can help your grandmother get dinner ready. She mentioned something about needing you to dust, something about how you rattled all the dust down out of the rafters yesterday? I hope this means you haven’t been playing your music too loud again. I know you remember our discussion about the neighbors and noise laws and privileges to use Lee’s stereo.”
She cast a knowing look at Phillip and the way he hung his head at that last bit she knew she had guessed correctly. “We don’t mind you using it Phillip as long as you respect those around you who don’t want to listen to your music from three doors away.”
The two drove in silence for the next little while as she waited for Phillip to process what she had said. The West women may be known for their ability to confuse the heck out of someone with long-winded rambles, but Amanda had learned long ago that with the boys, short and to the point worked best. Besides, if they figured it out on their own it was less work for her.
They were turning onto Maplewood before Phillip spoke again. “I know, Mom, that Lee’s stereo is a privilege, I just like listening to the music loud. I only do it when no one is home and it is the middle of the day so everyone is either awake or out.”
Amanda pulled into the driveway of her house and parked. She turned in the seat to face Phillip so he could see her eyes while she talked. “And that is great Phillip, I’m glad to see you are thinking of others before you try to deafen everyone. But I think it would be a good idea if you were to invest in a pair of headphones so you can listen to the music at a louder volume without disturbing anyone at all.”
Phillip nodded his agreement. “I saw some last week when I was out with Kenny and thought about getting them. I guess I really should, huh?”
“That sounds like a plan. Now you head in and be good for your grandmother and let her know when Jamie will be home. I’ll go pick up Lee and we will be home in time for supper.” She gave a quick glance around and then leaned over to give him a quick peck on the cheek. “We’ll be home before you know it.”
“Ok, Mom,” was all Phillip said as he grabbed his bag from the back and headed inside to a fun-filled afternoon of dusting everything his grandmother said needed dusting whether he could see any or not.
Amanda shook her head as memories of similar punishments drifted to mind from when she was in high school. Her mother hadn’t liked any of her ‘new fangled music’ any more than she enjoyed Phillip’s. But she figured that happened with every generation.
As she steered towards IFF she couldn’t help but think about the strange man outside Phillip’s school. It was really starting to bother her that she couldn’t place him. All along the drive she went over what she had done for the past week trying to puzzle out where she might have run across him. Even after parking and greeting Mrs. Marston she was no closer to working it out.
After checking in with Dr. McJohn and getting the information about how Lee’s check-up had gone, she made her way toward the bullpen. She was just nearing the break room when she heard the annoying voice of Dr. Smyth. ‘Just what Lee needs, another Smyth encounter. I hope Lee is somewhere else and not in there.’ But knowing how fate liked to torture them with more visits with Dr. Smyth, she braced herself to find a cranky husband inside. After two hours of tests she was sure he would be in a great mood.
Amanda stood to the side and nodded a polite greeting to the cranky ‘dictator’ as Dr. Smyth came out of the break room at his usual pace, wearing a highly unpleasant smirk. As she entered the room, she noticed her husband standing still with his eyes closed, a sure sign that Smyth had got under his skin.
She watched with amusement as he stood with his eyes closed taking a deep breath like she had shown him for when Smyth ticked him off. Counting along with him in her mind ‘til he opened his eyes again and prepared to fly into the nearest target, which right now was Billy.
“Billy,” Lee started as he looked up, “I... Amanda! When did you get here?”
Billy laughed as his best agent went from barely controlled, angry beast to mush at the sight of his wife. Amanda and Lee stepped closer together, her hand resting on his arm as the two smiled into each other’s eyes. “Lee, don’t worry about it. Take some of them home with you if you want but I’ll have the rest redistributed. I’m sure there are some stakeouts tonight that would love to have these doughnuts to munch on.”
Amanda lifted her eyebrow in question at that comment and looked over the huge pile of fancy doughnut boxes on the table. Lee just shrugged and said, “I’ll fill you in later.”
Lee looked over to where Francine was trying to blend in with the table in front of her and grinned. “Hey Francine,” he called out to the blonde agent. “I prefer red delicious apples, think you can make that happen?” His smile got even larger as her audible groan could be heard.
Lee turned his attention back to Billy and asked, “Do I want to know who was in charge of the healthy snacks before?”
Billy gave them a conspiratorial look and answered in a stage whisper, “Let’s just say that Francine and Beamon will be spending a lot of time together over the next few weeks as Beamon fills her in on all the details involved.”
Amanda rolled her eyes as she ignored the enjoyment the two men were getting out of Francine’s discomfort as she selected several of the boxes to take home with them. She had just finished loading Lee’s arms up when it hit her where she had seen that face before.
“Billy,” she asked, “Who from the Agency is handling the exhibition security tomorrow?”
“Don’t worry, Amanda, Francine has it well in hand. You don’t need to worry about the boys tomorrow,” Billy placated. “Just enjoy the experience, I’m sure your ‘boys’ will,” Billy firmly included Lee in that definition of boys.
“I’m sure it is, it’s just that one of the maintenance staff was outside Phillip’s school today. I’m sure it is possible that he was just picking someone up, I mean I don’t know all the kids or their parents but there was just something off about him that bugged me. I was just hoping to take a look at the background checks and see if there was anything there that stood out.” Amanda asked as she adjusted the pile of boxes in Lee’s arms so they wouldn’t tip.
“Amanda,” Lee cautioned, “We aren’t back on full duty yet so don’t even think of going through any paperwork until Monday. I’m sure Francine would be more than happy to go over them and let us know if she finds anything we should worry about. After all, she will have all kinds of chocolate doughnuts to keep her company while she works.” Lee tossed a look at Francine that let her know that he knew it was her that set up the doughnuts today.
“Sure Lee, I’ll get right on it. I’m sure Beamon will be busy today anyhow since he has that meeting with Dr. Smyth now,” Francine promised. ‘Anything to get out of spending the afternoon with Beamon’ she thought to herself as she suppressed a shudder.
Billy nodded his approval as well. He had a feeling that this doughnut fiasco had her fingerprints all over it. “That she will. Once Beamon is out of his meeting and they get the snack situation cleared up in time for afternoon break, she will do nothing but double check all the security clearances for the staff at the Capitals Centre.” He reached out and took one of the doughnuts from one of the many remaining boxes on the table. “So you two head home and have a nice quiet evening while Francine gets things organized here and she’ll let you know if she finds anything you should worry about.”
Lee quickly nodded his agreement and headed toward the door with his cargo of doughnuts, hoping Amanda would follow him. “You don’t have to tell me twice, see you tomorrow Billy.”
“Yes, Billy. Thanks for doing this Francine.” Amanda called back over her shoulder as she followed her husband out of the room.
Billy took one last look at the doughnuts still piled up on the table and turned to Francine. “I would suggest that the snack machines are back in order and the doughnuts distributed before Beamon gets back from his meeting with Dr. Smyth. That way you can get started on those background checks and have them done for noon tomorrow.” Billy advised before he too left the room.
Francine groaned and looked at the boxes still remaining on the table in the corner of the break room. She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but she suddenly had a feeling that she had been had somehow. “At least I can get my chocolate fix while I work,” she muttered as she trudged her way down the hall to retrieve the healthy snacks from the supply closet.
Lee waited until they had the doughnuts packed in the trunk and they were on their way home before broaching a question he had been dying to ask ever since the fiasco in the break room. “How did you know?”
Amanda was startled and gave her husband a glance from the driver’s seat. “How did I know what, Lee?”
“How did you know that Francine’s plan would backfire on her like that? You couldn’t have known what she was planning with those doughnuts. So tell me, how did you do it?” Lee asked again, his curiosity getting the best of him.
Amanda smiled, “Oh that was quite simple. I knew she was having way too much fun teasing you and I knew she would keep going until she took it too far. I didn’t know exactly what her plan was but I was sure she would overdo it and get on Smyth’s bad side if we let her run far enough on her own.”
She took her hand off the steering wheel long enough to run it over her husband’s knee before continuing. “I figured if we gave her enough leash she would hang herself and you wouldn’t be in any trouble that way.”
Lee laughed and shook his head at his wife’s ingenuity. “Well, it worked perfectly. I don’t think I could have come up with a better plan myself,” he admitted honestly. “I only just wish we could be there to get pictures of her having to work with Beamon for any amount of time.”
Amanda blushed and slyly looked over at her husband. “You don’t have to worry about that either. When I was talking to Moxie about the type of camera we should get Jamie to replace the one he lost in the fire, she offered to help me out with picture taking whenever we needed it. I told her a few days ago to be on the look out for shots of Francine. I just had a feeling it was going to come to a head this week.” She noticed the incredulous look on Lee’s face and smiled. “I guess Francine got on her bad side a while back and she said that anything she gets this time is on the house and that she would still owe me one. I have a feeling this year’s Christmas party is going to involve some candid shots.”
Lee laughed again and leaned back in his seat to enjoy the rest of the ride home to their family. “Just remind me to stay on your good side, Mrs. Stetson. I don’t think I want to know what you could do to me if you were really trying.” Reaching out he grasped hold of her hand and held it against his lap, tracing her fingers with his as they got closer to home.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Amanda entered the kitchen the next morning to find two of her ‘boys’ were already up. She smiled as she stood back and observed as Lee and Jamie were going over some of the blueprints for the Capital Centre that Jamie had brought home the night before. His excitement about the exhibition game and the pictures that they would be taking was heartening to see, but even she was finding it difficult the night before to pay attention to what he had been saying about angles and lighting for the best shots.
Lee felt like he was being watched and smiled back at his wife as he realized she was there. “Jamie was just showing me some of the spots that he picked out to test some of his ideas on lighting and angles. I guess Mr. Phelps said they could test them out before the game started as long as they were accompanied by staff.” Standing up he walked over to give Amanda her good morning hug and kiss.
Amanda hugged Lee back gently, not wanting to get too ahead of herself before the doctor’s ‘all clear’. “I just love finding my guys getting along, even if it is early in the morning.” She made her way to the already perked pot of coffee and started preparing it in a travel mug. “I hope you are ready Jamie, we need to get going if we are going to be on time to meet up with your club. I hope you didn’t forget about the breakfast meeting at the arena.”
Jamie glanced at the clock on the wall and started hurriedly placing his papers and camera equipment inside. “I hadn’t forgotten, Mom, I was just showing Lee some stuff and got a bit carried away. I even have my coat and shoes waiting by the door.”
Lee stepped back out of the way as Jamie got his gear ready and made his way to the front door to get his gear on. “And don’t worry about Phillip either. I’ll get him ready for school and then your mother and I are headed out to my appointment. I’ll make sure Dotty remembers to pick Phillip up after lunch at school so we can all meet up and watch our budding photojournalist’s debut.”
“Thanks, sweetheart,” Amanda called out as she passed her husband on her way to get her purse and jacket from the closet near the front door. “Joe should be taking the boys straight from the game so remind Phillip that if he wants anything special he should bring it with him to school today.”
“Not to worry,” Lee assured his wife as he opened the door and held it for Jamie. “Everything is well in hand here. You just go and have fun with Jamie and all the other up-and-coming photographers.” He touched the small of her back as she passed by him. “And remember, once the doctors clear me today, there is something you are going to have to do for me.”
Lee smiled as Amanda’s eyes widened as she thought of all the things her husband could want. Keeping his face as serious as he could get, he lowered his voice so only she could hear him. “Let me drive my car again.”
Amanda swatted at her husband’s chest and laughed at the expression on his face. “I promise, if they clear you 100%, you can drive your car again.” She gave Lee a gentle push toward the stairs as she started to pull the front door closed. “You just hurry up and get that all clear and maybe I’ll even throw in a treat or two as a special bonus.”
Lee grinned to himself as he made his way upstairs, knocking on Phillip’s door to be sure he was up before hitting the shower. ‘I can’t wait for my reward!’ he thought as he got ready to start his day.
Amanda smiled and nodded as another volunteer for the exhibition game dropped off another box of flyer inserts for the evening’s program. As happy as she was to be keeping an eye on Jamie and his classmates as they had their breakfast meeting and then started planning out all the locations they were going to be taking pictures from, she hadn’t felt very useful. When she saw how swamped the others were, she offered to help out as long as they didn’t mind if she did it inside the arena itself. That way she could still make out the shape of her son as he crawled around the staging overhead.
Placing the latest completed pile in the nearly full box beside her, she paused and did another head count on the boys and Rick from the local TV news crew. Happy to note there were still the same number up there that had been there since they went up she kept working on the inserts.
An hour later she stood up and stretched as lunch break was called. Not seeing Jamie right away in the crowd coming towards her, she gave another glance upwards and saw there was still at least one person on top of the Telscreen. Worried that it wasn’t a safe place to take pictures from, she made a mental note to mention it to someone. She certainly didn’t want Jamie up there. Hearing her son call out to her, she turned and watched as he walked over with a few of his fellow students.
“Mom, we’re headed out to get lunch now. Are you going to come with us?” Jamie asked.
Amanda recognized the subtle plea for her not to go with him as similar to all the ones she gave her own mother years ago. “Actually Jamie, why don’t you go ahead with your friends. There are a few more things I have to finish up here.” She noticed Colleen seemed to be herding up students and pointed her out to Jamie. “I think Miss Donnelly is waiting for you to join her. You go ahead and I’ll catch up later. I just need to check in with her first.”
“Thanks, Mom!” Jamie grinned as he took off with his friends. Amanda waited until he was out of sight with the rest of his group before approaching Colleen.
“Hi Colleen,” Amanda greeted the reporter cheerfully, “I was wondering if you could tell me if you’ve seen Rick? I want to talk to him about where he lets the kids go when they are up in the catwalk system. I’m sure I saw someone on top of the Telscreen and I don’t think that’s a very safe place to be.”
“No, it isn’t,” Colleen agreed. “I haven’t seen him, so maybe he is still up top. Maybe you should remind him about the safety rules we agreed to and that we are supposed to be teaching the safe way to do this. I swear he forgets sometimes and tries to out do everyone, even if they are kids. I’d come up and help, but...” She let her voice trail off and gestured to her protruding belly. “I wouldn’t be much help to you up there.”
Amanda laughed, “No, I don’t think you would. I’ll just go up and see if I can have a private word with him without the kids around. Jamie has already left and I’d appreciate it if you could keep an eye on him ‘til I get back.”
“Not a problem, I’ll have to get used to corralling kids anyway, what’s one more to watch for?”
Amanda nodded her head in agreement and laughed along with Colleen as headed for the catwalk access while Colleen gathered the last of the students and left. With all the sounds of people moving about gone, the arena seemed almost eerie.
As Amanda stepped out onto the catwalk, she gave a brief glance down at the ice far below her. It was warmer than she expected it to be, but also darker. Mentally she reviewed the plans Jamie had been showing off since last night and made her way over to the Telscreen. Pulling a tiny flashlight out of her purse, she climbed down the ladder to the top of the Telscreen.
“Rick,” she called out. “If you’re up here we need to talk about where the junior photographers are and are not allowed to be. I really don’t think it is that safe up here.” Amanda was just brushing the dust from the railings off her hands when she heard a voice behind her.
“You don’t say? I would never have guessed it was dangerous,” it said. And then everything went dark.
Lee Stetson couldn’t help the beaming smile that he wore as he made his way through the Georgetown foyer after getting his ID from Mrs. Marston. After getting Phillip to school, they had gone to his therapist for final testing and gotten his expected all clear. Dotty had laughed when she saw the joy on his face and had promised during their celebratory lunch at Emilio’s to have his temporary ‘bed’ in the living room gone before he got home. Even the simple fact that he could sleep with his wife again made his smile even larger than usual.
After a quick stop in the medical section, it was no time at all before he found himself outside Billy's door. He gave a per-functionary knock before he stepping inside.
Billy only needed to look at Lee’s face to know he had gotten his all clear. He tried to keep his voice gruff but failed as he asked, “Scarecrow, I’m busy, you have something you need to bother me with?”
Lee smiled and handed Billy the final paperwork from the therapist as he sat down in his customary seat in front of the desk. “Just my final all clear paperwork. And if you are wondering, those are copies of the ones I already dropped off with Dr. McJohn before coming to see you.”
Billy grinned and put his initials on the pages before tucking them into the folder he had had waiting on the corner of his desk. “I thought you might, if that grin on your face is any indication.” Once the folder was tucked away, he turned his attention back to his agent. “So, want me to hook you up with an assignment? I’m sure I could find something pressing that you could do this weekend.”
“Don’t you even joke about that,” Lee warned his boss, “I have some very important plans this weekend and they don’t involve any sort of high speed chases, stakeouts or gun battles.” He leaned forward as if conferring a great secret and whispered loudly, “But they do include my partner.”
Billy laughed at the changed agent in front of him and agreed. “Yes, that sounds serious enough. Maybe I should make those plans an order, just in case you forget what you should be doing.”
The two men laughed at the thought of Scarecrow needing orders to relax and enjoy his time off; both knowing that a few short years ago such an order would be necessary.
“So Billy,” Lee asked, “How did it go with Francine yesterday? Are she and Beamon about to become the best team in healthy snacks?”
Billy shook his head remembering how quickly the break room got back into shape the day before and how Beamon had tried to prolong his work ‘assignment’ with Francine. He was just opening his mouth to fill Lee in on the juicy details when Francine herself barged in.
Francine was muttering as she waved a folder around. “I don’t know how she does it or why! We really need to get her into medical research so they can bottle whatever it is she uses. We could cut down on half our staff that way.” She was pacing around in front of the office window and only stopped when Billy bellowed her name. Stopping she looked down at the two men and realized that she hadn’t been making sense.
“Sorry,” Francine mumbled as she handed Billy the folder. “I just find it hard to believe how often she does it.” She leaned over the desk and opened the folder in Billy's hands as Lee stared at her wondering if she had gone insane.
“I started on those extra background checks that Amanda mentioned yesterday. We didn’t have much here so I put in for some extra intel from research last night and they just delivered this a few minutes ago.” Francine flipped to second page in the folder and ran her finger down the list of names. “This gentlemen shouldn’t be working there at all as he has a criminal record for crimes against children and the judge ordered that he not be allowed near them in any capacity, but the one that really stands out is this name. Daniel Kenny. Turns out that isn’t his real name. He is really one Danil Koslov, first cousin by way of their fathers to Dmitri, Egor and Leonid Koslov of the Soviet Union.”
Shouts of “WHAT?!” punctuated the air as Lee leaped to his feet and Billy gripped the folder tighter. “Does it say how they missed this on the first background check? Surely the Secret Service could do a better job than this? The President is supposed to be there to watch the game tonight!” Billy grumbled.
“That’s another thing. These background checks were done by us.” The men stared at Francine in horror as she made that statement. “Seems they were classed as low priority and given to Beamon for his classes. The students did the background checks and not very well. Beamon is already looking up which ones in particular worked on that file so we can find out if it was a mistake by a bad student or on purpose by a plant.”
“That isn’t what I’m worried about, Francine!” Lee griped as he shook his fist in the air. “Amanda and Jamie are at the Capital Centre right now! And Dotty is going to be there soon with Phillip. If this Danil was working with his cousins in any way and knows what happened to them he could be blaming her, not to mention the fact that the President of the United States will be in the same building in just a few hours for a nationally televised fundraiser.” He looked at his boss, “Billy...”
Billy had already taken Scarecrow’s badge from his desk drawer and was holding it out to him. “I know, Scarecrow, I want you to get over there and tell Amanda about what’s going on and then keep your family safe. I’ll have Francine go with you. She can brief the teams in person and hand out pictures of Danil Koslov to them.” He reached for the phone on his desk. “I’ll put a call into the Secret Service and give them a heads up. They should have some people there already and they make the final call on whether or not they will let the President attend.”
Lee was already out the door before he could finish speaking. Billy turned to Francine and pointed to the door. “You’d better catch up with him, I don’t know if he has a car with him or not and he may need a ride. In the state he’s in, he’s likely to commandeer one from the first person he sees outside.” With that, he turned his attention to the phone and started barking orders into the receiver.
Francine didn’t need to be told twice. She swooped by her desk and grabbed her bag, managing to catch up with Lee just before the elevators closed. Entering, she grabbed her weapon out of her bag and gave it a quick once over before looking at Lee. He had his eyes shut and his head was tilted back as if looking at the ceiling. “It’ll be alright Lee, there probably isn’t anything to worry about.”
Lee gave a wry smile as he pulled his gun out from its holster and checked it quickly as well. “As much as I’d like that to be true Francine, you know Amanda’s track record as well as I do.” As the elevator doors opened, the two agents rushed out, tossing their badges onto Mrs. Marston’s desk as they ran for Francine’s car. “She had better be alright or Danil Koslov will be joining his cousins sooner than he thinks.” Lee promised as Francine pulled her car away from the curb and they set off for the Capital Centre.
Amanda shivered against the cold metal behind her back as her thoughts slowly started to coalesce into a coherent form. The last thing she could remember was looking for Rick to talk to him about the boys and then, then something had hit her pretty hard. She started to try and stand up but her hands were secured behind her, most likely with a pair of handcuffs. Opening her eyes quickly as she realized it hadn’t been an accident that knocked her out. She looked around trying to get her bearings.
“Awake are we? Good. I wouldn’t want you to miss any of the fun,” she heard a man’s voice say as the cobwebs in her mind cleared even more. She kept silent hoping the voice would say more, something, anything that would explain what was going on.
The shadow of a figure stepped closer to her until she could make out the face of the man she had seen the day before outside of Phillip’s school. “It seems you don’t recognize me. That’s ok. I wouldn’t expect you to. After all, we have never met before, at least not face to face.” The man gave a bow and smiled, “My name is Danil Koslov, and I am the last face you will ever see.”
Amanda did her best not to flinch at the name Koslov, but knew she had failed when Danil smiled. “I see you recognize the name at least. I was there you know. I was on the mountain when you murdered my cousins. I had a different assignment than them, but they have been teaching me everything they know since I first joined.” He gestured toward the cables that held the Telscreen in place above the ice. “This is to be my first assignment. I don’t think my bosses really felt I could pull it off, but my cousins were determined that I succeed. I think they would be pleased to know that you will soon be joining them.”
Amanda squinted to get a better look and gasped when she realized that the cables now had little packages of what looked like C4 wrapped around them.
Danil laughed as he heard her gasp when she realized what she was seeing. “I think I’ve done a good job, if I do say so myself.” He grinned and pointed out all the bundles of explosives and wires and then gestured toward the timer and an even larger chunk of semtex for the planned explosion that was bolted to the top of the Telscreen where the wiring entered it from the top. “You have a few hours to sit here and enjoy the view and even a little of the game before the Semtex goes off. But just in case, I also have a detonator I can use to set it off early.” He reached into his pocket and waggled the remote in the air before putting it away again.
He knelt down in front of Amanda and pulled a strip of duck tape off a nearby roll. “I know you agents are known for your ability not to talk, and when I told my superiors that I may have a line on who killed my cousins they said to worry about that after my assignment was over, but I really can’t save you for later. It was just to perfect to see you here the other day.” He fastened the tape securely over her mouth before standing up to admire his handiwork. “With you gone I have only to track down your partner. Then the score we have shall be settled.”
He made his way to the access ladder and started to climb down. Before his head disappeared from view he blew her a kiss. “I would stay and get to know you better, but my superiors set out a strict timeline and I’d rather not be here when this all goes up. Or rather, down.”
Amanda watched wide-eyed as Danil vanished from sight and wished that Lee had been with her this morning. She glanced back up at the explosives and closed her eyes tightly. Forcing them open again she started to squirm around trying to reach the lock pick she usualy kept in her sleeves, hoping that once again, Lee would sense she needed him and arrive in the nick of time. Deliberately keeping her thoughts from drifting to the fact that her sons and her mother and hundreds of other families, as well as the President, would soon be filling the stands below to watch a hockey game.
Francine barely had time to put the car in park in front of the Capital Centre before Lee had the door open and was racing inside. Grabbing her bag she followed him in, waving her badge at the angry ticket agent at the door. She finally caught up with Lee in the middle of the main concourse.
“Lee,” she asked as she grabbed him by the arm to be sure she had his attention, “Do you know where Amanda is supposed to be in here, it might make it easier than just running around calling out to her.”
“Damn it Francine, she could be anywhere. And with another Koslov in the picture...” Lee shook his head to clear it of the nasty thoughts that sprang to mind. “I don’t know why he’s here, but since we killed his cousins just two weeks ago, I doubt he’s up to anything good.”
Lee shrugged Francine’s hand off his arm and reached inside his jacket for his gun. “Look, why don’t you try and find whichever agent is in charge here and get things moving. By now Billy should have gotten a hold of them and they should be able to help you set up a perimeter. I’ll...”
Lee was cut off by the sound of his stepson calling out to him. “Hi Lee!” Jamie shouted as he ran up to the pair of agents. “You’re early! I was thinking Grandma and Phillip would get here first.” The smile he had been sporting faded when he realized that Lee was holding a gun. “What’s wrong?!” he demanded.
Lee closed his eyes and very quickly counted to ten before answering Jamie, hoping his agent mask was in place. “Nothing you need to worry about for now, Jamie. I swear. There COULD be a problem and that is what we are here to check out. If there was definitely a problem we would be emptying the building.” He looked around and saw Colleen Donnelly surrounded by the rest of the group Jamie had been with earlier. “Colleen!” He hollered out the photojournalist as he waved her over.
Lee turned his attention back to Jamie and smiled at him. “Look, I have to go find your Mom and update her on some stuff.” Colleen had joined them by this time and was looking at the agent in front of her. “I want you to stick close to Miss Donnelly here and don’t leave her side until I come and get you, ok?”
Lee waited half a second for his stepson’s anxious nod before addressing Colleen. “Hi, something has come up and I need to brief Amanda. Have you seen her anywhere?”
Colleen hadn’t been a photojournalist for all those years without learning a thing or two about dangerous situations. She saw the fear in Lee’s eyes that he was doing a very good job of keeping hidden. She kept her voice light, but knew Lee could tell by the look in her eyes that she knew something was up. “I saw her just before lunch break. She was worried about some of the children getting on top of the Telscreen and went to talk with Rick about making sure the kids didn’t have access. That was about an hour and a half ago.”
Some of the kids that had been with Colleen earlier were starting to gravitate over to where she was now. “Look, I’ll take the kids into the main arena to go over the rules one last time. People are going to start arriving soon and they will need to be in place before that happens. Let me know if that changes.” She added while placing her hand on her swollen belly.
“Go on Lee, I’ll make sure they’re situated after I get in touch with security. If you’ll just point the way, Miss Donnelly?” Francine interrupted while waving Lee away.
With one more glance at Jamie, Lee took off for the access stairs to the upper levels.
Amanda winced in pain as she twisted her wrists even more tightly against the cuffs as the worked the lock with her pick. Finally the beautiful sound of a click and the instant ease of pressure let her know that she had been successful. Pulling her wrists out in front of her she gently rubbed them, helping the feeling return to her fingers more quickly as she listened intently for Koslov.
Hearing nothing, she slowly stood and examined the bomb closest to her. ‘If I remember what Leatherneck and Lee were talking about with C-4 and semtex correctly, they both require a detonator or they are just like lumps of playdoh,’ she thought to herself as she traced the wiring’s route in the air with her finger. ‘Pulling all the detonators SHOULD stop the explosion. I’m pretty sure it won’t cause the explosion.’
Taking a deep breath and working quickly, Amanda went to every chunk of explosive and pulled on the blue wire to release the little metal blasting cap from the explosive. Once she had them all pulled from the cables, she made her way to the largest chunk in the center of the Telscreen. Kneeling carefully beside it, she pulled the final blasting cap from its position and added it to the collection in her hand. She also collected the box with the flashing countdown, after assuring herself there were no explosives attached anymore. Not wanting to carry them loose in her hands or pockets, she gently twisted them together so they wouldn’t roll around as much and tucked them firmly into place at the bottom of a nearby lunchbox that she assumed had been left behind by a forgetful worker; at least until she opened it and found several pages of notes. She tucked the pages into the pocket of her skirt and picked the lunchbox up, carefully carrying it over to the ladder and gently making her way back to the catwalk.
Lee could hear his heart pounding in his chest as he quietly rushed to the top of the catwalk access stairs. Opening the door silently, he peered out into the gloomy darkness of the upper atmosphere of the Cap Centre looking for signs of movement. Seeing none, he made his way out onto the catwalk, sticking with the shadows as he frantically searched with his eyes for any sign of his wife amidst the sprawling paths. Even his ears were finely tuned to any sound that could be made, hoping to hear the distinct click of his wife’s shoes. What he heard instead was the firm ‘snap’ of a padlock being clicked in place.
Whirling around on the spot and aiming his gun towards the sound, he could see the shiny new lock that now barred the way to the floors below.
“Well, this makes it much easier. I don’t have to go looking for you, you come looking for me.” The voice permeated the air and echoed off the rafters above, making it difficult to determine where it came from.
Lee slowly edged forward, headed back the way he had arrived to press further into the darkness on the other side of the door.
“I’m so glad you are here, you can join your partner when she goes to meet my cousins. I’d love to stay and enjoy the show, but I have a date with the rest of my life to keep. And you don’t!” The voice called out again, this time sounding further away.
Lee shook his head, his eyes darting about in the darkness trying desperately to see where the voice had been coming from. As he crept forward he came to a branch in the catwalk with three possible directions to choose from. He kept his panic for his wife pressed down as he ordered his brain to think. ‘Damn it! Which way?!’ he thought desperately.
Inspiration struck and he removed his right hand from his weapon and held it to the floor of each of the possible directions until he could sense a slight vibration coming from one. A grim smile graced his face as he slowly made his way down the darkened path before him until he came across an empty, lit up section. Ropes and cables were tied here and there to the catwalk. Openings for supplies to be lifted up instead of toted up the stairs were evident by the caution tape draped across them. As well as a few long handled hooks for reaching dangling ropes. A few buckets and cleaning supplies were hanging down from hooks on the railing. He stepped cautiously toward the edge of the lighted area.
“Why don’t you step all the way into the light my friend?” Called the voice again, this time coming from directly behind him.
Lee cursed under his breath. He must have walked right past the man on the darkened catwalk. Lee raised his hands in the air and moved into the light as a small, dark-haired man wearing a Cap Centre maintenance outfit stepped out behind him.
“Turn around, please...slowly. I do have a weapon.” Danil stated smoothly, with satisfaction. “Here I was thinking that I would have to search for you, expecting a long, tedious wait out front for you to come and claim your partner’s body and here you come and deliver yourself to me,” he remarked smugly.
Lee stepped forward, pressing his advantage when he saw no sign of a gun. “I said I have a weapon.” Koslov reiterated as he held up the remote detonator for the bomb for the agent to see. Unless you want me to blow up that pretty little agent right now, I suggest you drop your weapon over the side now, please.” He waited while Lee tossed his gun into the darkness below. “Thank you so much for making this job more pleasant than I had ever expected.” Danil gestured towards the railing with the detonator. “Now if you would just move over there, I have a nice pair of handcuffs for you to wear while you await your fate.”
Amanda had been on her way to the access door for the catwalks when she heard Danil Koslov talking to someone in the darkness. Hoping it was Lee; she slowed her progress, doing her best to be silent so as not to disturb his ‘hunt’. She passed the access door and noted that it now sported a padlock. She followed the sounds of Danil talking in the darkness, not hesitating when she came to where the catwalks diverged. Her heart fell when she heard him talking about having to search for someone and realized that he had caught Lee.
Creeping towards the light, she bit back a groan as she saw Danil gesturing for Lee to move toward the railing. Trying to catch his eye, she raised a hand and waved to him.
Lee’s eyes darted frantically around the small lighted area searching for something he could use as a distraction. One thing about working with Amanda, he had come to appreciate the use everyday items could be as weapons and distractions. A small movement from behind Koslov caught his attention and he started when he realized it was Amanda. He tried to convey with a look that he needed a distraction and quickly.
Amanda took in the situation in front of her, noting that Danil had the detonator in his hand; she quietly opened the lunchbox and held up the detonators and timer for Lee to see before re-securing them in the box. Then taking a deep breath, she stepped forward into the light and cheerily said, “Hello!”
Koslov spun around and his jaw dropped as he realized the woman he had left cuffed to the top of the Telscreen was now standing before him with the lunchbox he had been using to ferry the explosives to the Capital Centre. He realized that if he set off the explosion now, it would not be destroyed like he had planned. All his notes were still tucked inside where he had placed them. If they managed to survive the blast, his contacts would be exposed. Lurching towards her, he yanked the lunchbox out of her hands.
At that same moment, Lee grabbed a wooden dowel that was sticking in one of the many spots on the railing for securing ropes in place and whacked Koslov on the back of the head with a resounding crunch.
Koslov teetered for a moment and then crumpled to the floor of the catwalk.
Lee reached for Amanda at the same time she reached for him. “Are you alright?!” he frantically asked as he looked her over for any obvious sign of injuries.
“I’m fine. I’m fine,” she reassured him as she glanced over to where Danil lay on the catwalk. “How long do you think he’ll be out?” she asked, even as she noticed he was beginning to stir.
“Not long enough,” Lee muttered as he realized the downed man was coming to. He took note of the scene: The downed enemy agent, the box of detonators, the remote that had fallen to the floor when he fell just in reach of the man’s outstretched hand and weighed their options. Figuring that Koslov would try to detonate the explosion his wife had already disabled, Lee knew that those detonators could do plenty of damage on their own. Running around trying to find an access door that wasn’t blocked wouldn’t get them clear of the explosion quickly enough.
Moving with his hand firmly in his wife’s he quickly released one of the ropes from the railing. He gave the rope a quick tug to make sure it was firmly in place and then grasped his wife firmly around her waist. Turning to an open gap in the railing, he gave his wife a terse, “Hang on!” before snapping the caution tape as they stepped off the side into the darkness.
Amanda squealed her husband’s name as the solid floor of the catwalk was left behind high over their heads. Her stomach clenched tightly as the feeling of soaring through the air left her feeling light headed. Above her, she could faintly hear the crack of a small explosion. Lifting her head from where she had initially tucked it into her husband’s shoulder, she could see the small area they had left behind covered in smoke and bits she’d rather not think about. Turning her head forward to see where they were headed, she realized they were about to land center ice!
Lee kept his grip firmly on his wife’s waist the entire trip down and focused on holding onto the rope until he felt the firmness of the ice below his feet. He slid along the ice a few feet before finally letting go when he felt Amanda place her feet on the ice as well and get her balance, then turned to face her. “Are you ok?” he asked as he checked her again for any injuries.
Amanda took a few deep breaths to calm her nerves after the harrowing flight from the catwalk before opening her eyes to look at her husband. “I’m fine, Lee,” she assured him quietly.
The two of them stood for a moment at center ice in the nearly empty arena until they heard shouts coming from the stands. As they turned to see who was calling for them, Lee lost his balance on the slippery ice and fell, pulling Amanda down on top of him. The two lay there catching their breath while Francine and several fellow agents, along with some from the Secret Service, made their way to where they landed.
When they arrived, Lee looked up from under Amanda and smiled. “What took you guys so long?” he asked as his wife laughed at the expressions on everyone’s faces.
Twenty minutes later Lee and Amanda were outside the Cap Centre next to an ambulance. Billy could hear Lee’s complaints even before he could tell where they were standing.
“I keep telling you my balance is fine! The only thing sore on me right now is my hand, so if you would kindly just wrap it up I have a game to go watch.” Lee was shouting at the paramedic checking them over. He spotted Billy heading towards them and pleaded with him for his help. “Billy will you tell this putz that I just need a wrap on my hand for the rope burn and I’ll be fine?”
Amanda stood to the side and laughed as her husband tried his best to argue his way out of going to the hospital. Billy took that as a sign that all really was well with Scarecrow and took pity on the man. “Just wrap his hand and you’re done here,” he told the frustrated paramedic.
Turning his attention to his best team he demanded some answers. “So, who’s going to tell me what went on in there?” he asked.
Amanda held up her hand to stop her husband from speaking and answered him in the only way she knew how. “Well sir, Billy, Danil Koslov,” she looked to her husband for him to confirm the name and at his nod continued, “Danil was planning on blowing up the Telscreen with semtex. There was an awful lot of it on top of the Telscreen so maybe he planned on dropping it to center ice and then exploding it or having it go off in mid air, I’m not sure which. But when I went looking for Rick to talk about the boys and not letting them on top of the Telscreen Koslov knocked me out and when I woke up I was handcuffed to it and he was showing me the bombs and he left. Then I got out of the cuffs, I’ll have to thank Leatherneck again for showing me how to do that, but I didn’t want to leave all those explosives there so I grabbed up the detonators and the timer and shoved them into a lunchbox and went to leave when I heard him talking to someone, who turned out to be Lee, so I waved to Lee and Lee knocked him out and then we went for a trip on a rope.”
Amanda took a deep breath and hoped that she wasn’t blushing too badly. She hated it when she just rambled out her answers. A good skill to use on the bad guys, but not so good when it made her boss’ face get that glazed over look he was giving her now.
“There is one guy up on the catwalk. From what he was saying he was working alone. With our luck we will probably never know who ordered it,” Lee added, smiling at his wife.
“Damn! I know Dr. Smyth was hoping we could have some sort of scapegoat to pass this off on after the horrendous job Beamon’s students did on the background checks. Even if everyone else did miss it, they should have still picked up on the fact that a member of a known KGB family was working here under an alias,” Billy complained as he rubbed his temples. He could see a lot of late nights and Tums in his future.
“Maybe not, Billy,” Amanda added excitedly, “When I was shoving the detonators into that lunchbox I found a bunch of papers. I put them in my pocket to look at later so they wouldn’t get destroyed.” She reached into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out several folded pieces of paper. “Maybe there is something here that can help.”
Billy's smile grew as he glanced through the pages Amanda had handed him. “These are great! He must have kept notes on every meet he had with his handler. Even if he doesn’t mention him by name we should still be able to figure out who it was and keep tabs on him.” He relaxed and looked at Lee’s bandage on his hand. “How long do you think that will keep you off for?” he asked as he gestured to the hand in question.
“The weekend at least.” Lee smiled. “It’s only bruised, nothing broken. I had the rope twisted around my hand when we went through the air so there are no burns. A little ice and it will be as good as new.”
“I’ll make sure he takes good care of that hand this weekend, Billy,” Amanda informed her boss while giving her husband a stern look. “I guess that means I can’t get you to help out with any of that list of chores I had waiting until you were cleared.”
Lee opened his mouth to make a smart remark but was interrupted when someone collided with him. “Mom! Lee! Are you guys alright?!” Jamie asked worriedly as he gripped his stepfather tightly around the waist and reached for his mom.
“We’re fine, Jamie,” Amanda cooed into the top of her son’s head. “We just had a little dust up. Everything is fine. Lee bruised his hand a bit but we just finished having it looked at and we were going to come in and see you before taking our seats. We wouldn't want to miss the game now would we?”
Lee nodded a goodbye to Billy as he was discretely trying to leave, not wanting to interrupt their family moment, and gave a wave to Colleen who was standing back after ascertaining her charge had reached his destination. “That’s right, Cheif,” Lee added pulling back a bit so he could look Jamie in the eye. “Everything is cleared up and we were just going to head in. I can’t wait to get me a jumbo dog. I’m starving!”
Jamie’s relief was evident in his eyes as he nodded his agreement. The trio was just starting to make their way over to Colleen to let her know everything was alright when they were suddenly surrounded by men in black suits. Before anyone could protest, the reasons for the men became quite clear as Lee straightened up to his full height and Amanda straightened out her skirt as best she could.
“Mr. Stetson, Mrs. Stetson, Mr. King,” the President of the United States greeted each of them while offering them his hand to shake. “It appears we owe you another thanks for your efforts today.”
Jamie’s eyes widened as he realized this was the President offering to shake his hand and thanking his parents. Thanking them with an again, he noted, realizing this meant he had thanked them before.
“You performed such an excellent job that my agents tell me I only have to wait another five minutes with my security team out here before they will let me in to watch the game. I’ve been looking forward to this event for quite some time. And so, I hear, have you, Mr. King. I hope you can get some great shots in before the game starts.”
Jamie just nodded as he realized the President was talking to him and actually knew about how he loved photography.
“The party I was going to be watching the game with cancelled at the last minute and now I have at least five seats empty in my box. I was wondering if, after taking your shots, you would like to watch the game with me. Your whole family is welcome to join us, if that is ok with your parents?” the President asked.
Lee caught Amanda’s eye and gave a quiet nod, they both knew that the ambassador from the Soviet Union was supposed to have been viewing the game with the President.
Jamie quickly turned his head to look at his parents and a wide smile appeared as they both nodded a yes to his silent plea. Clearing his throat and hoping his voice didn’t crack, he accepted. “That would be awesome, sir!” Jamie replied as he wondered if he would be allowed to take some pictures of the President as well for his portfolio. “We have our shots all planned out so we should be done pretty quickly, and all the players for both teams said we could take their pictures from center ice and then we’ll be done,” he added in a mini ramble.
“Thank you for the offer, Mr. President,” Lee added, thanking him when he realized his stepson was still in a bit of shock and forgetting his manners. “We would be pleased to join you just as soon as my mother-in-law and our oldest boy arrive.”
Amanda added her thanks as well, “Yes, thank you, sir. I’m sure my boys,” she glanced at Lee as well when she said ‘boys’ “will appreciate the view of the game from your box.” She could hear the sound of her mother’s voice over the din of the parking lot that was slowly starting to fill up. She gave Lee a knowing look, realizing that this was going to be a fun twist in events to explain to her mother.
The President smiled, having a good idea what the two agents were talking about with those silent glances, having shared enough of them with his own wife. “Fine, fine. I’ll make sure the agents know to let you pass when you are ready to join me.” The Secret Service agent to his left leaned in and whispered something to the President. “If you will excuse me, that’s my cue. It seems they are ready for me inside.” With that he walked off surrounded by his ever-present security. Leaving a clear view of the parking lot and Dotty West chasing after Phillip King.
“Phillip King! Will you wait for me?! The game doesn’t start for ages and we have plenty of time to get you a hot dog, jumbo size or not. Oh! Hello dears,” Dotty stopped her rant as Phillip came to stop in front of Lee, Amanda and Jamie. “I thought we were meeting inside by the concession stand?” she asked.
Amanda watched as Jamie pulled Phillip aside to fill him in on what had happened and laughed at the incredulous look on her older son’s face. “Jamie,” she called to her son, “You had better hurry back and finish up with Ms. Donnelly if you want to be on time to watch the game.” She waved her thanks to Colleen and watched as Jamie raced off to rejoin his group.
Lee was confirming to Phillip what Jamie had told him and the two ‘men’ were now headed towards the Cap Centre main entrance going over all the menu items they planned on scarfing down while watching the game.
“Well mother,” Amanda started to explain as they started to follow the boys. “A funny thing happened this morning....”