Rating: M (for Chapter 1 only, otherwise T)
Setting: Season 3 / Early Season 4
Genre: Romance/Adventure - Alternate Universe (AU)
Summary: Will Lee's reaction to Amanda's secret past separate our favorite couple forever?
Special Agent King
12:02 a.m. Saturday, February 15, 1986
The damp, cool evening air chilled her to the bone as she wondered once again, what had brought her to this point in her life. Late night secret rendezvous,’ hidden messages . . . her life was like something out of a spy movie. This wasn’t the life she had thought she’d have when she was a little girl. Even the spy fantasies she’d had during that time were much more fanciful and romantic. She was pulled from her musings when she looked up in the expectant cool grey eyes of her superior.
“Sir?” Her body tensed and her voice cracked.
“You heard me, Agent King. Should we be concerned that you’ve lost your objectivity when it comes to Agent Stetson?”
“No, Sir,” she whispered.
“That doesn’t sound very reassuring, Agent King.” His disapproval was evident on his weathered face.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before replying, “I can assure you, I have not lost my objectivity, Sir. I know what my assignment is and I am doing it to the best of my ability!” She stood ramrod straight and then added respectfully, “Sir.” She shuffled her feet to appear casual and then looked up to her superior.
“I hope you’re telling me . . . and yourself the truth. We cannot afford any mistakes, Agent King.”
“No, Sir.” She shook her head.
“I’m glad to see you’re committed to your assignment. It wasn’t all that long ago you resigned from the Agency under the guise of not making enough money.”
His stare burned a hole through her but she kept her eyes on the wall just above his right shoulder, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from responding. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing his words had hit their intended mark.
“What do you have to report, Agent? Last we spoke Agent Stetson had been including you more on his assignments but was still taking unnecessary risks, albeit less that he had been.”
“Sir . . . I feel rather uncomfortable talking about Lee like this. He’s a good man and I --.”
“If Lee is the good man you say he is, then you’ll want him to be safe. Right, Agent King?”
She nodded, as she recalled the older man’s veiled threat the last time they’d had this discussion.
“Good. Then your report?” He raised his brow expectantly.
Amanda inhaled deeply before letting it out and replying as if she were a robot, “Sir, Agent Stetson seems to be relying on me more and more and including me in his assignments without Mr. Melrose having to suggest it. He’s not taking as many chances . . . I mean, he hasn’t jumped on the hood of a car in several months.”
“Very well. Until next time, Agent King.”
Amanda silently nodded as she watched the older man leave the dark warehouse. She relaxed her brow and muttered to herself, ‘My life truly is like a bad spy movie.’
10:38 p.m. Friday, August 15, 1986
“Lee?” She giggled at the attention he was giving her left earlobe.
“Hmmm,” came his soft, warm reply against her ear.
“Are you trying to seduce me, Stetson?” Amanda smiled as he continued his assault down her neck. Her eyes struggled unsuccessfully to stay open.
“If you have to ask, Mrs. King, I’m obviously not doing a very good job, now am I?” He moved further down her neck. “I guess I’ll just have to try a little harder,” he mumbled against her delicate skin.
Chills ran down her spine and she swallowed hard. “I . . . uh, I thought you asked me back to your place for coffee and dessert?”
“This is my dessert.” He replied with a chuckle. She could feel and hear him smile against her throat and couldn’t help but let out a light laugh of her own.
“Thank you again for tonight, Lee. It was wonderful,” she whispered.
He pulled back and gazed into her eyes. “It really was a perfect evening, wasn’t it? The wine was perfect.” He kissed her lips sweetly. “The dinner was perfect.” Another tender kiss. “The way we fit together as we danced . . . was perfect.” This time
he kissed her more intensely.
The dizzying feeling that surrounded her was quickly taking over all rational thought. But a tightness at the pit of her stomach reminded her that this was not wise. This was not the time to let her guard down. If he knew the truth, he wouldn’t want to look at her, let alone touch her so intimately. The voice in her head screamed for her to tell him. But her body . . . her body was shouting to that voice . . . ‘oh shut up!’ Lee’s sinuous lips weren’t helping to fight her internal battle. The way they were lightly caressing her skin . . . she bit her bottom lip and grabbed a fistful of his dress shirt to try and gain some self-control.
“Oh, Lee. Please . . . you have to stop,” she growled in frustration.
His hands expertly caressed her breasts. His fingertips were now sensuously teasing her through the thin fabric of her blouse. She squeezed her eyes shut to try and block out everything that she was feeling and listen to her inner voice, but it was no use. Her conscience was no match for the great Lee Stetson and his ‘magic fingers.’
“You don’t sound too convinced, Amanda. Are you sure you want me to stop?” His sultry voice made her toes curl into the carpet as he sucked her earlobe into his mouth once again.
She whimpered involuntarily. ‘No more thinking, Amanda.’ Finally giving in to what she wanted so badly, she released the breath she was holding, along with the last bit of restraint held in place when it came to her formidable partner.
“No,” came a soft, but firm voice that was unmistakably her own, yet she didn’t recall forming the word in her mind, let alone verbalizing it. It flowed as naturally from her as did every part of their friendship, partnership, and now their relationship. “Don’t stop.” She whispered and without thought she continued more forcefully, “I need you, Lee. I don’t want to stop.”
Lee pulled himself back from his ministrations and gazed at her intently. No doubt, he wanted to be certain she was sure and would have no regrets in the light of day. He must have been content with what he saw, because his next action was to take her hand and guide her toward his bedroom.
She went willingly and when he stopped at the threshold, she preceded him into the room. With her back to the door, she stared out the bedroom window to the bustling city below. She heard the click of the door latching and then almost immediately felt his warm lips on the back of her neck and his searching hands as they wrapped around her waist. She closed her eyes as goosebumps formed on her skin and allowed the feelings to wash over her. No more thinking for the night.
3:08 a.m. Saturday, August 16, 1986
Lee reached out for her in his sleep only to find a cold empty space where she should have been. He sat up, looking around for her but found the room eerily quiet and empty. Eyeing the darkened bathroom, he stood quickly not even bothering to slip on a robe. His heart beat faster as he reached the bedroom door. Where had she gone? Certainly, she hadn’t gone home? Or had she?
His heart rate slowed immediately when he saw her slim form standing across the room, blanket-clad, staring out his living room window. Her long trim legs were candy to his eyes and he felt his body naturally respond. He slipped up behind her and relished the way her body fit to his.
She startled but kept her eyes on the horizon in front of her. A small smile graced her face as he moved in front of her. He gently tugged the blanket from her shoulders and watched as it slowly cascaded down her naked form. The moonlight cast a beautiful shadow across her face and allowed him to see the wondrous plains of her firm body.
Lee leisurely slid down her body, his fingers grazing over her flesh as he did until he was in front of her on his knees looking up at her sparkling eyes. “Hello,” he whispered with a cheeky grin.
She mouthed ‘hi’ to him and then giggled as he expertly ran his hands up her bare legs to her hips and slowly back down again. Goosebumps followed in his wake.
Lee pulled her toward him and tenderly slid his tongue into her.
She gulped in air and grabbed fistfuls of his hair as he sensually explored her with his tongue. “Oh, Lee!” She squeezed her eyes shut and seconds later he felt her knees buckle. He helped ease her down to the floor with him before covering her with his body. He was more than happy to make love to her again.
9:03 a.m. Saturday, August 16, 1986
Lee could feel her watching him. As he peeked one eye open, he caught her worried brow a millisecond before she knew he was awake and he gently squeezed her hip. “What are you thinking about, Mrs. King?” His voice sounded rough and gravelly to his own ears and he cleared his throat. “What’s bothering you? You don’t regret last night, do you?” He rubbed his eyes in an attempt to clear away the sleep. What would he say if she told him it was all a mistake? His stomach knotted at the thought.
“No, Lee!” She rushed. “Last night . . . and this morning,” she smirked . . . “well, it was just . . . perfect!” She ran her index finger down his upper arm and smiled shyly.
“If you’re not regretting last night, then why did I find you awake at 3 o’clock this morning staring out the window? And why did you have a furrowed brow when I woke up just now?” He lightly ran his finger down between her brows, smoothing out the crinkled skin.
“I had a furrowed . . .?” She shook her head in wonder. “Just couldn’t sleep, I guess,” came her soft reply as she played with the hair at the nape of his neck.
“You mean I didn’t wear you out? My God, Woman!” He roared. His laugh was infectious as he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her on top of him. “So, what would you like to do on this lovely Saturday? We have the entire day since the boys are with their dad, right?”
“Saturday? What’s the date?” She seemed agitated as she pulled herself from his chest.
“The 15th, I think.” He attempted to pull her back atop him, but she stood too quickly from the warm cocoon of their makeshift bed in the middle of his living room floor. “Amanda! Where are you going?” He watched her disbelievingly as she scurried into his bedroom and gathered her blouse, slacks and undergarments that had been flung haphazardly the night before and then he heard her tinkering around in his bathroom.
She nearly slammed into him as she rushed out a few minutes later. He tightened his grip on the blanket that was now covering his lower half. “What’s the rush? I thought we’d have some breakfast and then maybe spend the afternoon together.”
“That . . . uh,” she distractedly searched for something.
“Amanda?” Lee called to the back of her head.
Reaching for the heel that was wedged under the couch, she tugged it free before responding to him. “Uh, that would be great, Lee. But I need to meet, uh . . . I need to run a couple of errands this morning. Could we meet for lunch?”
“Well, why don’t I get dressed and we can get you some breakfast and then run your errands together?” He smiled and looked at her expectantly.
“Um, I need to get to a few places and they’re only open in the morning on Saturdays. It’ll just be easier to take care of them by myself and then I can join you for lunch.” At his raised brow she rushed on. “It really will be much quicker if I take care of them alone. You name the place and I’ll meet you there.” She kissed him quickly and then hopped on one leg to slip on one shoe before repeating her actions with the other.
Why did he have the feeling she wasn’t being honest with him? She hated lying, he reminded himself. Quick sound bites of the half-truths she had fed her mother and sons throughout the last three years flooded his ears. ‘She may hate doing it, but she does do it . . . and often.’ His inner voice chided. The sight of her pulling her purse off the coat tree near his front door pulled him from his thoughts and he rushed over to help her slip it on her shoulder.
“Amanda, are we ‘okay’? I mean, you’re sure you aren’t running off because . . . well, because of what happened last night?” He felt so vulnerable. He hated feeling this way. He was the ‘Great Scarecrow.’ Women swooned at his feet. He wasn’t supposed to feel this way. But when he gazed into her deep chocolate eyes, Lee felt himself being consumed all over again. That was it. When he was around her, he wasn’t the ‘Great Scarecrow.’ He was just Lee, the man. And that felt good . . . amazing in fact.
“Lee?” She called as she squeezed his forearm.
He shook the thoughts away and answered her. “I’m sorry, what?”
She reached down and held his right hand between both of hers until he looked into her eyes. “I promise, I don’t have any regrets about last night.” When he nodded his understanding, she smiled and placed a tender kiss to his lips. “I’ll meet you at Spencer’s at noon, okay?”
At his nod, she smiled then opened the door and rushed toward the elevator.
10:26 a.m. Saturday, August 16, 1986
Amanda anxiously tapped the steering wheel, as she turned northwest onto Potomac Parkway. She was quickly stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic. “No! No! No! Not today!” She whined. Grimacing at the clock again, willing it to slow down, she sighed. Why had she stopped at her house to change and freshen up? She should have just gone directly to the meeting. ‘Oh sure,’ she thought, ‘why not just wear a sign that says “walk of shame?” while I’m at it?’ She shook her head at the absurdity and focused on the road ahead. She was at least ten minutes away from her meet and if she was late, well she didn’t want to think about what would happen if she were late.
Quickly glancing into the rearview mirror, she took a deep breath and maneuvered her car onto the shoulder. With her head down low, the car flew down the gravel-laden road. She winced when she heard the other vehicles honking at their displeasure of her actions. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” She called out to no one in particular.
Finally, she arrived at her destination and pulled into the first open parking spot she could find and rushed to purchase her ticket to enter the facility. She had exactly thirty seconds to make it to the panda exhibit and meet with her handler. ‘Her handler.’ She laughed lightly to herself. After fifteen years, one would think she would know more about the man than just his last name. “Mr. Klein,” she whispered nearly out of breath as she plopped down onto the bench.
“Agent King, so good of you to make it.”
Taking advantage of the fact that they were sitting back-to-back on opposite benches, she rolled her eyes at his obvious distaste of her tardiness. She was a lousy three-minutes late. She knew from experience that promptness fell just below patriotism and loyalty for the stoic man. ‘Definitely a career Army man . . . nah, a Marine,’ she mentally corrected. Rules and structure had clearly been a major part of his life for at least forty years, perhaps since birth.
Amanda watched the young families as they strolled through the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. She couldn’t stop the small smile that formed when a little girl screamed in excitement at seeing the baby panda with its mother.
“It’s been six-months since our last meeting.” His stern voice intruded her thoughts.
“In that time did you forget what we’d discussed, Agent King?”
She stilled as she played back their conversation, settling on the most poignant. “Should we be concerned that you’ve lost your objectivity when it comes to Agent Stetson?” Was she being watched? Did he know that their relationship had progressed to a more than professional one since the beginning of summer? She squeezed her eyes tightly shut as she scrambled to form a proper response.
“I’ll take your silence to mean that you’ve in fact forgotten. Let me remind you then. You were reminded to stay focused on your assignment and to not get personally involved with Agent Stetson. Were you not?”
“Yes, Sir.” She answered hesitantly.
“And yet, you did quite the opposite of that, didn’t you?” He scolded.
She sighed deeply. He obviously knew the answer, so what good would lying help? “Yes, Sir.”
“I have to say, Agent King. I’m quite disappointed in you. You were specifically chosen for this assignment because of your unique skills and experiences. While you accomplished a lot of what we set out to do, you’ve fallen short.”
“What happens now, Sir?” Clutching the cold steel of the side of the bench, she stopped herself from turning to her superior sitting behind her.
“Now, Agent King? You’ll very likely get reassigned and I’ll be left to clean up this mess.”
“Sir, if you’ll excuse me for saying—”
“I will not excuse you, Agent King!” She heard the distinctive sound of his hands slamming against his leg. “You were warned about this very thing and you went and got involved with him anyway. Now all of the time and effort we’ve put into bringing him back from the brink of destruction has been for naught.”
In fifteen years, this was the first time she had heard him lose his temper. He was typically so devoid of emotion. That fact sent her mind reeling. “Sir—”
“Go home, Agent King.” His voice left no room for argument.
She sat for a moment, putting her thoughts together before trying again. “Sir, with all due respect, you kept me in the Agency, partnered me with Agent Stetson so that he would learn to be more careful, follow the Agency rules and regulations, start caring again for his own wellbeing. He’s done that and so much more. By keeping us together as partners, he would continue to be the great agent that he is.” She absently shook her head. “Sir, you just have to keep us together as partners!”
Amanda waited for his response. Hoping beyond hope that he would see she was right and agree to keep them together.
“Sir?” She snuck a peek behind her only to see that she was sitting alone on the bench. A quick look around confirmed that her superior had left her sitting alone and talking to herself. She smiled nervously at the couple that was eyeing her oddly from across the sidewalk. “Just . . . uh . . . thinking aloud.” She mumbled and rolled her eyes before stalking off toward her car.
Amanda pulled up to Lee’s apartment building a brief time later and parked behind his Corvette. She shut off the engine and leaned her head against the steering wheel before letting out a deep sigh. What was she going to say to him? How could she explain it so he would understand? Would he be able to forgive her?
She jumped at the sound of light tapping on her driver’s side window a few moments later. She glanced up to see a very confused Lee Stetson smiling down on her.
She hesitantly opened her door and he grasped her elbow to help her out. He moved her away from the door before slamming it shut and pulling her face toward him with both hands for a searing kiss.
“I thought we were meeting at Spencer’s at 12:00?” He scanned his watch. “It’s not even 11:30 yet.” Before she could answer he took her hand and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Amanda leaned against the car, thinking about her answer. She hated to see the worried frown he now wore, but she knew it was only going to get worse once he knew the truth. “Can we go upstairs?” She whispered.
He simply nodded, but never let go of her hand as he guided them back up to his apartment. Lee must have sensed her unease because he didn’t say a word during their entire trek upstairs; he just watched her intently. Her eyes darted around the small elevator, anywhere but in his eyes. She was certain if she looked him in the eyes, she’d lose what little self-control she had left. Without relinquishing her hand, he fished out his keys with his right hand and allowed her to go in ahead of him. Amanda dropped her purse near the end of the couch and sat down hesitantly.
Lee had seen her fight off a Russian goon with her fingers shaped in the form of a gun, gotten grown men to drop their guns by shooting an AK-47 wildly into the sky, and even brokered a cease fire between top Russian and American agents on Christmas Eve with nothing more than a broom and a towel. But he had never seen her look so scared or so lost before.
“Amanda, please tell me what’s wrong. We can get through whatever it is together.” He startled when she jumped up from the couch and began pacing in front of the fireplace.
She held up her hand when he stood to go to her. “No, please. I can’t do this if you’re touching me.”
“Please, Lee,” she interrupted. I need to t--tell you some things. Things you probably . . . “ She shook her head and bit her lip.
“Things you won’t like.” She turned away from him and he watched her head fall back toward the ceiling before she let out a slow, deep breath.
He sat back down and strained to hear her shaky voice.
“I’m not . . . who you think I am.”
“A-man-da!” Why was she being so melodramatic? Maybe he shouldn’t have rushed her into a physical relationship. Could he go back to cold showers knowing how amazing they were together? He was startled from his thoughts when she cleared her throat.
“I mean, I am . . . but I’m not. You don’t know everything.” She turned around and he noticed her biting her fingernails like she often did when she was nervous. “When I was in college, before I even met Joe, I was recruited . . . by the FBI.” She trailed off as she watched his reaction before quickly looking away.
His eyes never left hers, his jaw tensing at her last statement. This didn’t make any sense. He ran a thorough background check on her just after he’d handed her that package over three years ago. He would have known if she were an agent.
Before he could interrupt, she continued. “It was in my freshman year at Virginia Tech--.”
“Wait a minute, you went to UVA!”
“Actually, I started out at VT and then transferred to UVA, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So, I was taking a psychology class at Virginia Tech and the professor had us take this really in-depth personality/IQ test.” She shrugged. “I guess I must have done well because the next thing I knew, I was being interviewed by a man from the FBI. He was in his mid-forties, and he didn’t say much. Just peppered me with question after question. Shortly after that, I was sent to Quantico for intense training.”
Lee leaned back into the couch and shook his head at the absurdity of it all. Amanda King an FBI agent? None of this made any sense. She hated the idea of using a gun, hell any type of weapon. Did he know her at all? He was startled from his musings as she continued.
“The first year or so, they just had me helping out with pretty harmless civil disobedience groups. It was the late sixties, so they were popping up all over campus. I could slip right in and no one questioned my being there since I was a student. Mostly, I just informed the ‘real’ agents which groups were harmless and which were more than they seemed. That is until my junior year when I got involved with the wrong group.” She took in a deep breath.
9:08 a.m. Thursday, October 10, 1970
“Mandy, come on! We’re going to miss the bus to the Capitol,” The young woman rushed toward the door ahead of her.
“I’m coming, April! I’m coming, geez!”
“You know Tony will have a fit if we’re late,” the strawberry-blonde called over her shoulder.
“I know.” Amanda grabbed her jacket and poked the petite blonde in her side. “Okay, let’s go!” She giggled as they ran out the door and down the street.
Moments later Amanda was grabbed around the waist and pulled off the bus as she placed her foot on the first step of the bus.
“Whoa!” She screamed.
“Hey there, Gorgeous! I thought you changed your mind and blew me off.” He turned her around and nuzzled her neck. Tony was only a couple of inches taller than her and a good three years older. He had done his undergrad at the University of Michigan and was now in his second year of his masters at VT. His black wavy hair and piercing blue eyes were only part of his charms. He was extremely smart and funny Amanda thought; that was of course when he wasn’t planning the destruction of the United States government.
“I told you I would be here,” Amanda smiled over his shoulder as she secretly eyed the agents that had recently been assigned to keep an eye on her. Tom, the tall, thin man that she had guessed was in his early-thirties, was sitting on the bench across the street ‘reading’ a paper. Marco, the much shorter of the two men, and who appeared to be a few years younger than Tom, was ‘window-shopping’ nearby.
“Yeah, you did. But it was getting late. I’m glad you’re here.” He held her face in his hands and kissed her deeply before nudging her onto the bus. “Come on, Babe. We’re going to be late.”
Prior to this case, there had been only one agent on her, and a rookie at that; ‘just in case’, they had said. But once she was assigned to the ‘Weather Underground Organization’ seven weeks earlier, they had placed Tom and Marco on her. They were full-blown agents. If that fact hadn’t made her nervous, the plans she had overheard when Tony was on the phone with the organization’s base certainly had her on edge. At first, she thought she’d misheard him, but when he repeated himself, she knew for certain. They were planning to blow up the Capitol. She continued to pretend to be asleep until he finished his conversation.
“Wait a minute, you’re telling me you were part of the team that brought down Tony Caputo and the Weather Underground?” Lee didn’t want to interrupt her, but this was getting crazier by the minute. His Amanda was the girlfriend of Tony Caputo, one of the Weathermen founders?
She simply shrugged. “Well, we only brought down the VT branch. I’m sure you remember they originated in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan?” At his nod, she continued. “The ‘Weatherman’ wanted to create a clandestine revolutionary party to overthrow the U.S. Government. The whole Capitol bombing was planned in protest to the U.S. invasion of Laos.”
“If my memory serves me correctly, the VT branch did a lot of damage in the early 70’s and they had even bigger plans that they weren’t able to make good on. How on Earth did you do it?”
“Because I was Tony’s ‘girlfriend,’ I was privy to a lot of private conversations. And I just happened to be wearing a wire. One night, Tony almost discovered it.” At Lee’s furrowed brow she explained. “He had hands like an octopus.” She smirked, trying to lighten the mood as she sat down in the chair across from him.
Lee frowned. The knot in the pit of his stomach was tightening.
“The next day of the protest was when they had planned to plant the bomb. I had to be there so that it wouldn’t look suspicious. When they arrested Tony and most of the rest of the group, they brought me in as well, so that my cover wasn’t blown.”
“What do you mean ‘most of the rest of the group’?”
“Tony was tight-lipped about who developed the bombs they were planning to use, so whomever it was, is still out there.”
Lee nodded in understanding.
“And April was never charged.” She shrugged. “Not enough evidence to prove she knew the extent of what was going on.” Amanda sighed wistfully, “She was a good kid but she needed a lot of assurances and looked for it in all the wrong places.”
“Several of the other members pleaded out or turned State’s evidence against Tony and his lieutenants. I moved onto other less-dangerous groups. A few months later, a sorority sister and I went to a party in Georgetown and that’s where I met Joe. Joe and I started dating and things were going great. That is until I unlocked my car one morning before class. It blew to kingdom come. Lucky for me, I just happened to open the trunk first to put in some laundry, so I walked away with only minor injuries.”
He gasped at the idea of what could have happened. “The Weathermen,” he guessed.
“Uh huh,” she nodded. “It seemed they put two and two together and figured out that I was the mole. The FBI wiped out any indication that ‘Amanda West’ had worked for them, transferred me to UVA my senior year, and kept me under watch until they finally closed down the entire operation the following year.” She ran her thumb along the seam of his couch cushion as if she was remembering that moment in time and then shivered.
“How much did Joe know about your secret life?” He saw her cringe at his question and he already knew the answer before she had formed the words.
“I had to tell him generalities, Lee. We were getting married . . .”
Lee swallowed hard before nodding. The fact that Joe knew something this big about her and he didn’t was the hardest part. “But Amanda I don’t get it. Why all the secrecy? Why would you keep it a secret from the Agency . . . from me? How did you keep it a secret for that matter? I ran a very-thorough background check on you myself. None of what you just told me was anywhere in your background.”
“Lee . . . it was need –”
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Amanda King!” He jabbed his finger into the air as he sat up. “Need to know my ass! We’re partners!”
“You don’t understand, Lee--”
“Enlighten me then.” His deep voice boomed as he glared at her from across the room.
His contempt for her nearly choked her and she took in a deep breath and leaned her head against the back of the chair as if searching for answers. “Once Joe and I married and I found out I was pregnant with Phillip, I left the FBI. I wanted to be a housewife and mother first and foremost. My handler, Mr. Klein wasn’t happy and tried to talk me out of leaving. He even offered me part-time status, but I had made up my mind.”
“That still doesn’t explain why –”
She continued, never looking away from the ceiling. “Life went on, we had Jamie, Joe began traveling to Africa, and my time with the FBI seemed to be from another lifetime. That was until 1983.” Amanda glanced over to him and he could almost detect a look of pity from her.
Before he could say anything, she returned to her story. “It was early June when I received a call from Mr. Klein. He initiated one of our old drop sequences. I was shocked. I hadn’t thought of that part of my life in ten years.”
She pulled up to the abandoned warehouse and put the car into park, but left the engine running. Sure, it sounded like Mr. Klein and he knew the code sequence . . . well, what she could remember of it. It had been an awfully long time, she thought as she made her way to the empty building.
Hesitantly, she slid the large rusty door open, cringing at the loud screeching of metal on metal. ‘So much for the element of surprise.’
“Um, it’s just Mrs. King now, Sir.” How was it that the man hadn’t aged? It had been ten years and he looked exactly the same as he had on her last assignment. “I’m no longer with the FBI. I’m a mother now. I have two small boys at home. I don’t know why you’ve called me here, but –”
“Agent King, please.” He held up his hand to stop any further rambling. “I brought you here to discuss a mission that requires your particular skills—”
“Please, hear me out. I have a colleague at another organization. Have you ever heard of the Agency, Agent King?” At her nod, he continued. “This colleague of mine, he has an agent that requires . . . special handling.”
“Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute! Are you telling me that our meeting at the train station was . . . that you were some kind of . . . of plant?” The panic was evident in his strangled voice.
“No! Lee, I swear to you when we met it was . . . it was –”
“An accident?” He scoffed.
“Fate,” she offered.
Snorting in disgust, Lee swiped his hand across his forehead. “I don’t believe this.” He grumbled to himself as he jumped out of his seat and began to pace behind the couch.
Amanda stood quickly too as if to stop him from bolting. “I turned him down, Lee. I told him I wasn’t interested!” She rushed. “I swear to you, when you picked me out of the crowd at that station, it was just by chance.” The worry on her face was evident. But he couldn’t focus on how she was feeling right now. His entire world was spinning out of control. Everything he knew, everything he felt was somehow thrown into a blender and pureed to within an inch of its life.
“So, you turned this Klein down then, but obviously he got you to agree,” his jaw tensed.
“I hadn’t seen or heard from Mr. Klein since that day at the warehouse when I turned him down. Then that morning at the train station, when you grabbed me, I was so caught off guard. I didn’t have time to think, just react. Then we started working together . . . on occasion.” She smiled but he didn’t return it in kind. She sighed before continuing. “Yes, you’re right. I did agree to . . . to –”
“Lie to me? Betray me?” He pinned her with a look of disgust. “You can’t even say it!”
“No, Lee. You’ve got it all wrong. I never betrayed you! I would never . . . I could never . . .” she shook her head vehemently.
“Everything I’ve ever told you is the honest to God truth! I never lied to you!”
“No? You sure omitted a hell of a lot! You didn’t think all of this was important for me to know?”
“You know I couldn’t say anything. I swore an oath, Lee. Just like you!”
“When?” At her perplexed look, he clarified. “At what point in our relationship did you agree to throw in with this Klein character? When exactly did I become the butt of the joke, Amanda?”
“You were nev—”
He held up his hand to cut her off. “Save it. When, Amanda?”
She bit her lip before answering. “It was late spring of last year when he came to see me. I hadn’t heard from him in nearly a year and a half, so I thought he had given up.”
“Who set up the introduction, Agent King,” Klein asked curiously.
“Your initial meeting of Agent Stetson in October of last year. Last we spoke, you were quite adamant you were not interested in coming back to the intelligence game.” He ignored the shaking of her head and look of confusion and continued, “Imagine my surprise, when I returned from South America only to find you had not only returned to the business, but had become the partner of the man you refused to partner up with nearly two years ago.”
“What,” she asked after the air returned to her lungs. Memories of their conversation flooded her consciousness. “. . . an agent that requires . . . special handling,” she mumbled. “No, no, no. It can’t be . . .,” she moved to the window and looked up at the moon and stars wishing she would wake up from this nightmare. “ . . . recently lost his last partner,” she sighed resignedly. “The man was taking unnecessary risks, you said,” she stared back at her former handler. “I don’t believe this!”
“You’re telling me it was a coincidence that you met and partnered up with the one man I attempted to pull you out of retirement for?”
She shrugged. “I had no idea who you were talking about back then and I guess I never put it together.”
“Unbelievable. Only you, Agent King.”
“This could only happen to you,” he chuckled.
If she hadn’t been so offended by his comment, she might have laughed along with him.
“I immediately resigned from the Agency to work for Jordan Security. The timing of his job offer was perfect. But, when Agent Klein found out, he threatened to expose me to the Weatherman, and I knew he meant business,” she rubbed her temple and continued, “then Byron was killed and you and Mr. Melrose offered me my old job back. Maybe Klein pulled strings to make that happen . . . I don’t know anymore.”
Lee was transfixed on the woman before him. This woman, this stranger . . . the one person he thought he knew better than anyone in his life, including himself. He felt as if he had fallen down the rabbit hole. Was he going to wake up and find that this had only been a bad dream?
Amanda hated the turmoil she saw in his eyes but knew she owed him the whole truth. “I lived in the fear that any day he would decide to transfer me . . . break up our partnership for not following his orders, that you would learn my secret. I told him I couldn’t betray you like that. But then he said if I didn’t work with him that something might happen to you.” She stood straighter and lifted her chin up as if to steel her resolve. “At that moment, I knew I would do anything to keep you safe, so I finally agreed to meet with him on occasion to ensure you were safe,” she took in a deep breath and let it out, feeling exhausted but strangely relieved that Lee knew everything now.
“Get out.” He whispered almost to himself, but the way she jumped was a clear indicator that she had heard him. Yet, she didn’t move; as if she couldn’t believe what he’d said. He stared coldly at her before repeating himself. “I said, ‘get out,’ Amanda,” his calm, cool demeanor made her flinch. With a guttural groan, her shoulders sagged and she quietly let herself out of his apartment. It felt like she had taken the air of the room with her and he struggled to catch his breath.
7:56 a.m. Monday, August 18, 1986
Amanda wearily entered the front entrance of the Agency. The usual spring in her step nowhere to be found. After leaving Lee’s apartment on Saturday afternoon she went home and did a lot of thinking. Of course, the thinking came well after the two glasses of wine and a whole lot of crying. But she had finally come to the decision that she would give him the day to calm down and then try calling him on Sunday afternoon. She was hoping that he’d agree to meet so they could talk things through. Unfortunately, he was either out or screening his calls. Either way, he never returned her messages.
So, here she stood, right outside the closet elevator, her hand hovering over the doorknob. “Mrs. King, is there a problem with the elevator?” boomed the matronly woman who kept watch over the Georgetown entrance. “No, Mrs. Marston. Just thinking,” Amanda tossed over her shoulder before yanking the door open and shoving the coats to one side. “Have a good day, Mrs. King,” came the voice of the Agency’s sentinel. Amanda nodded. “You have a good da—” she was cut off when the doors clamped shut.
She fidgeted just as the elevator doors opened to let her out into the hallway just outside Field Section. Glancing at her watch, she realized she had only a matter of seconds before their staff meeting would begin. She didn’t even have time to grab a cup of coffee; that was probably best, she was jittery enough. Would he speak to her? Could she go the entire meeting without brushing up against him for some sort of connection? As she entered the crowed room, she could see that he had chosen not to sit in his usual spot but rather between Francine and Fred. ‘Well, that takes care of those worries.’ Amanda thought dejectedly.
Taking the only seat available, she was wedged between Mark and Ephraim and directly across from Lee. She smiled politely at a few of the agents before turning her attention onto her partner, who still refused to look her way. She nearly jumped out of her skin when Billy’s deep voice called the meeting to order.
Amanda zoned out shortly thereafter, her thoughts turning to Friday night, a mere three days prior. The way they fit perfectly together as they danced. The way their bodies fit together back at his apartment. The connection was so very real. Her mind focused on his eyes; the way they seemed to see right into her soul. His tender kisses --
“Hmmm? Oh, I’m sorry, Sir. What did you say, Mr. Melrose?” Her cheeks flamed hot.
His warm eyes crinkled in response, “I was just saying that I’d like you to take the lead on the Aristov defection, Lee will back you up due to your part-time status.”
Her partner snorted. “Oh, I don’t know, Billy. Special Agent King can handle something as simple as a defection.” His voice was tight and dripping with sarcasm.
Amanda glared at him disbelieving that he would say such a thing in front of a room full of their colleagues. She watched as his eyes darted all around the room, everywhere but to her.
Their section chief glanced between the two of them in confusion before replying in kind, “Thank you for your insight, Scarecrow. Just the same, you’ll back up, Mrs. King.”
She was certain that her face and neck had just turned a very bright red but kept her focus on her supervisor and counted the seconds until she could bolt from the room.
Thankfully it wasn’t much longer and Billy had called out, “Alright people, that’s all for now.”
Amanda stood quickly and nearly made it out of the room before she heard her supervisor call out to her. She bit her bottom lip as she looked back to him with a quirked brow.
“Could you stay a moment, Amanda?” He smiled kindly.
“Yes, Sir,” she nodded.
Amanda watched as Billy placed his hands on Lee’s shoulders essentially holding him in place. “You too, Scarecrow.”
“Bil-ly!” Lee grumbled and fell back into his chair.
Once Francine closed the door behind her, Billy yelled out, “What the hell was that all about, Scarecrow? If you two are having problems you deal with them in private! Now what is going on? You know damn well that Amanda is capable of running lead on --”
“Give it up, Billy. I know she’s a fully-trained agent.”
“What the hell are you talking about, Scarecrow?” Billy stood with his hands on his hips at the front of the room.
Amanda squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath. This was not going to be pleasant. She sighed and mumbled, “So much for national security.”
“Come on, Billy! Amanda told me everything. I know she was a former FBI agent before getting pulled over here to babysit me!”
“Lee, please,” Amanda pleaded quietly.
“Scarecrow, what are you rambling on about?” Billy shook his head in confusion. “Amanda, what –”
“Cut the crap, Bil—”
“Lee!” She screamed. “He doesn’t know!” She looked up at the two men shaking her head. “He doesn’t know,” she whispered.
“I don’t believe this. Is there anyone you haven’t lied to?” His last statement was spat out like poison.
Amanda’s head jerked toward the bullpen as if she were slapped, tears prickling her eyes. She ran her pendant across its chain around her neck furiously.
“Lee! Why don’t you go take a walk?” Billy nodded toward the bullpen. When Lee didn’t make a move to go, he tried again.
Amanda watched as Lee threw open the conference room door, cringing when he slammed it shut behind him. She stared at the closed door, breathing deeply to try and collect her composure.
“Why don’t we move this into my office where we can have a bit more privacy?” He indicated the agents who now stood with their mouths open staring through the window into the conference room and she nodded.
Wordlessly, they entered his office; Amanda kept her eyes on the floor in front of her the entire way there. Before she could even take a seat, he spoke, “Amanda, do you mind telling me what just happened in there? I’ve never seen him like that before and what was that he was saying about you being an agent?”
She sat pondering what had just happened and what exactly she was going to tell her boss when he called her name again. She sat up straighter, resolved to the pending conversation.
“Sir, what I’m about to tell you is classified and cannot leave this room.”
“Oh, boy!” He sighed.
“You better sit down,” she advised.
“I better sit down,” he said in unison.
As Amanda relayed how she was recruited by the FBI while a student at Virginia Tech, and her experience with Tony and the Weather Underground, he slipped open his drawer and pulled out his antacids, popping them into his mouth periodically as she continued.
“You’re lucky to be alive, Amanda! That group was cutthroat when it came to anyone standing in the way of their cause.”
“Yes, Sir. Due to the seriousness of the threats and subsequent attempt on my life, the FBI transferred me to UVA, buried my involvement with them altogether. The only evidence of me at the FBI is my codename, ‘Sunshine’.”
At his perplexing look, she explained. “One of my instructors at Quantico . . .” She shook her head and blushed at the memory. “It’s not important,” she whispered mostly to herself.
“Anyway, after that I quit the FBI and focused on my relationship with Joe, graduated from UVA with honors, had my boys and forgot all about the spy business.”
“But how did you get pulled into the Agency?”
“Oh, Sir. That was completely by accident. Lee doesn’t believe me, but it really was just a coincidence that he picked me out that day.” She had to make him believe her. It was bad enough that the man she loved hated her; she couldn’t have her friends turn on her too. “I really hadn’t thought about my old life until earlier that year when my former FBI handler had reached out to me. He wanted me to . . .” she hesitated.
“To what, Amanda?”
“He said that a former colleague of his had an agent that was going through a tough time, was taking too many risks, not following the rules . . .” She trailed off as she looked into the dark, sympathetic eyes of her supervisor. “I told him no, Sir! I had a family to think about, Joe and I had just divorced and I couldn’t risk something happening to me for the boys’ sakes.”
He nodded his understanding.
“I didn’t hear from him again until late last spring. I guess it took him that long to realize what had happened and that what he was pushing for had happened all on its own. He tried pushing me to agree to work with him by keeping tabs on Lee. Letting him know if I thought he was becoming a danger to himself or others. But I told him I wouldn’t do it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue working for the Agency at that point.” Her head jerked up when she realized how that had sounded. “I mean, you were all wonderful to work with, but it was so dangerous and . . . and I had my boys to think about.”
Billy stood and came around to sit at the edge of his desk. Patting her hand, he soothed, “I know, Amanda. So, why did you stick around?”
“I really started to feel like I was making a difference again. And I really did enjoy working with . . . all of you.”
Billy gave her a knowing smile. “He does grow on you, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he does.” She smiled self-consciously.
“While it does make more sense now . . . I have to say this is still a bit hard to believe.” He stood and walked over to look out the window into the bullpen.
“Sorry, Amanda. It’s just hard to picture you as a fully trained FBI agent –”
“I’m not –”
He held up his hand. “I know you’re not an agent anymore, but you were. I always thought you just had good instincts, but I see now that it was more than that.”
Amanda couldn’t help but smile at the compliment.
“Well, I think it’s about time we got you recertified as an agent, don’t you, Mrs. King?”
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Before he could call out, Francine rushed in. “Billy, Dr. Smyth is on the warpath! He just got back from the White House and he’s fuming about getting blindsided by the Wendall Pharmaceutical case.”
“I’m sorry, Amanda. We’ll have to continue this at another time. Why don’t you go get started on that defection? Francine will give you what you need.” He walked her to the door and smiled.
“Of course, Sir.”
“Amanda?” he called out as she was nearly out the door.
“Yes, Sir?” she asked expectantly.
“I want you to go see Leatherneck and schedule some time on the range today.” He pulled the Wendall case file from his drawer and flipped through it in an attempt to prepare himself for Smyth’s onslaught.
Amanda nodded and both women left him to digest the case file in peace.
Lee heard the staccato of her heels on the hallway’s wood floor as she made her way to their shared office and got up to pour himself a coffee when he heard the jingle of the door handle. He kept his back to her but could feel her eyes burning into him.
“Lee . . .”
“You better get started on your assignment,” he called out coldly.
“Aristov is high profile. You’ll need to make sure everything is perfect,” he continued undeterred. He heard her deep sigh and the rolling of her chair as she pulled it out to sit down. He went back to his desk and attempted to read the morning’s status report for the fourth time, still no closer to comprehending it.
Amanda stood and moved over to the vault in search of something. Lee took the opportunity to watch her, noticing her shoulders were slightly slumped and she was blinking rapidly. His stomach twisted, he hated to see her upset, but at the same time he wanted her to feel as horribly as he did. When she returned to the outer room a few minutes later, he glanced away not wanting to be caught watching her.
With a determined look, she marched over to his desk and leaned her hip against the edge. He glanced up and saw a look of determination on her face. She stared at him, not saying a word.
“Did you need something?” he asked coolly.
“Yes, for you to talk to me, Lee. I need you to understand wh—”
“We have work to do,” he interrupted, giving her a no-nonsense scowl.
“I know you’re upset, Lee but please talk to me. Don’t shut me out.”
He made the mistake of making eye contact and quickly regretted it when her eyes pleaded with his. “I feel like I don’t even know you.”
She picked up his hand off the desk and brought it to her cheek. “It’s me. The same person you’ve always known.”
“But I don’t know you, Amanda. You proved that on Saturday. For all I know . . .” his jaw tensed and let out a puff of air, shaking his head.
“For all you know . . . what?” Amanda waited expectantly.
“For all I know . . .“ he pulled his hand from her cheek. “For all I know, you seduced me like you did Caputo to insinuate yourself into my life.” He avoided eye contact. Part of him was ashamed of himself for even voicing the thought, the other part, well he wondered if there was a chance he was being played.
If he’d socked her in the stomach it wouldn’t have hurt as much as what he’d just said. Amanda grasped his hand tighter between hers and groaned at the sound of the abrupt knock at the door behind her.
Francine popped her head in, “Billy wants . . . well, well, well. Sorry to intrude,” she sneered with an arched brow.
Lee snatched his hand back and cleared his throat. For once he was relieved for the other agent’s intrusion.
At Amanda’s frustrated sigh, Francine continued, “Billy wants to see you, Lee.”
“Yeah,” he jumped up from his chair and pushed his way past the blonde, “I’m heading there now.”
“Lee!” Amanda pleaded to the back of his head and she couldn’t stop the glare that she threw at Francine, her frustration at the situation finally bubbling over.
“I don’t know, Billy.” Lee rubbed the back of his neck as he paced the small space of his supervisor’s office. “There was nothing in her background checks that would indicate her working for the FBI.” He stopped and stared out the window into the bullpen. ‘Did I enter some type of fifth dimension? In what world does Amanda King have history with the FBI?’
“Lee?” his boss called out to him. Judging by the furrowed brow on the older man, he’d called him more than once.
“Sorry, Billy. What did you say?”
“Sit down, Son,” he indicated the empty chairs to Lee’s left.
He slumped into the one closest to the window and waited for Billy to continue.
Billy stood from behind his desk and grabbed a manila folder before walking around and sitting on the edge of his government-issued desk. “I was able to call in a favor at the Bureau to get her file using the codename she told me this morning.” Lee immediately held out his hand to grasp the folder but Billy pulled it back to his chest. “First, let’s discuss the ground rules, Scarecrow.”
“Come on, Billy. Let me see it!” His impatience was obvious.
“Not until you agree to a few things first.” At his reluctant nod, his supervisor continued. “Rule number 1, you do not repeat any of what you read in this file.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lee reached again for the folder.
“Rule number 2, you do not use this against her in some ill-conceived plan to get her to break her oath. And finally, Rule number 3,” Lee let out a sigh of frustration. Billy raised his brow in indignation at the young agent’s annoyance. “Three . . . You will deny ever reading what is contained in this file. We could both get scootched for reading this. Understand?”
“Yeah, I got it. Now let me see it.” He snatched the file from Billy’s grasp.
Billy moved back behind his desk and watched his best agent devour the information before him.
Except for a few groans and gasps, Lee sat quietly absorbing the file until there was nothing left to read. “Jesus, Billy!” He threw the file down on his supervisor’s desk. “That car bomb nearly killed her!”
“I know, Lee.” He looked on somberly.
“A few minor injuries!” he scoffed. Off Billy’s look of confusion, he explained. “She told me she escaped the car bomb with just a few minor injuries. A collapsed lung, a ruptured eardrum, and several broken bones are not minor, Billy! She’s lucky she wasn’t killed!” He slammed his palm on the desk in frustration. He wasn’t sure if he was angry at the men who hurt her or Amanda herself for getting mixed up in it all. “Where’s the rest of it?” At Billy’s look of unease, he pressed on. “Come on, Billy. That was her medical file from the Bureau. Where’s her jacket”
“That’s all I was able to uncover so far. I was lucky to get that,” Billy indicated the file still held in his agent’s hand. “You have to admit, Lee. She’s pretty amazing.” He couldn’t help but smile in pride.
“Well, of course she is. I already knew that!” Lee hadn’t meant to admit that at least not to his supervisor.
“I’m glad you’re finally admitting that, Scarecrow.” Billy smiled and winked. “In light of the recent revelations . . . I’m going to push Amanda through the advanced agent training. She’ll have full-agent status in a matter of a few
“Billy, she’s not ready—”
“You just read the file, Man! She’s more than qualified. At this point it’s just a technicality.”
“She won’t even carry a gun!” He jumped up and marched over to the door and clutched the handle in his hand.
“So, help her. Get her ready,” he goaded. “She’s your partner, Scarecrow.”
Lee sighed and turned his eyes to the ceiling before looking back at the older man in all sincerity, “She lied to me, Billy.”
“You know damn well she couldn’t tell you anything – need to know, Scarecrow.”
“Screw ‘need to know’ and the FBI,” he growled as he whipped the door open and stomped off.
9:14 a.m. Tuesday, August 19, 1986
He had slipped out of the bullpen doors and turned toward the elevators to head up to his office when he heard his name being called from behind him and picked up his pace.
The voice was getting closer so he sped up.
“Lee, please!” her voice was strained.
He pressed the elevator button, willing the car to arrive to take him away before she reached him.
Her hand pressed against his forearm and he stared at the connection, unable to blink. “Lee, can we please go somewhere and talk?”
“I don’t have anything to say to you right now, Amanda,” he pulled his arm away and jabbed impatiently at the call button before giving up and rushing to the door marked ‘stairs.’ He didn’t know where he was going, but anywhere was better than being around her right now. He didn’t trust himself to be alone with her. Part of him wanted to scream and rant at her betrayal, the other part wanted to take her into his arms and make the world go away.
2:39 p.m. Tuesday, August 19, 1986
“It’s like she never existed!” After a thorough search of both his own and several of his ‘family,’ Lee had finally given up. Whomever expunged her file did an excellent job.
“Scarecrow, you of all people should know how the government works.” Billy leaned back in his chair.
“Yeah,” he snorted in disgust. “Secrets upon secrets, upon secrets. I’m used to the government lying and hiding things but not . . .” his voice trailed off as he stared at his hands unseeing.
“Amanda,” Billy finished Lee’s thought for him.
Lee simply grimaced, but never looked up.
“Look, why don’t you get out of town for a few days?” The older man held up his hand to prevent his inevitable protest. “An assignment just came across my desk . . .” He searched the pile of folders in his inbox.
“Bil-ly!” Lee groused.
“It’ll be the perfect distraction for you,” he rushed as he continued to flip through the files.
“I don’t NEED a distraction, Billy. I don’t WANT a distraction.”
“Ah, here it is.”
Lee took the proffered file. “Billy –”
“Just read the file, Scarecrow,” he stressed loudly.
10:17 a.m. Wednesday, August 20, 1986
“Focus!” the boom of his voice startled her out of her haze. “You aren’t focused, Agent-Candidate King!”
She barely had time to clear her mind before she found herself on her back and staring up at the gym ceiling. “I’m sorry, Sir,” she replied meekly to the stern looking face hovering above her.
“Don’t apologize to me, Agent-Candidate King. Apologize to your future partner when you aren’t able to protect them because you didn’t feel like putting the work in during training.” He straightened himself up and blew his whistle a little too loudly, indicating the class should reset for the next demonstration.
After righting herself, Amanda cleared her mind and focused as instructed. She successfully took down her opponent with a swift leg sweep and followed through with a simulated punch to the stomach, before helping her young partner off the floor with a faint smile.
“Better, Agent-Candidate King,” the instructor nodded toward her.
“Thank you, Sir,” she smiled feeling proud of her small accomplishment. “You can call me Amanda, Sir.”
“Let’s work on consistency, Agent-Candidate King. Shall we?” He rolled his eyes and scribbled down some notes on his clipboard before trudging off toward the next group.
She took in a deep breath and held it for a moment before expelling it, her eyes fluttering shut for an instant. “Okay, Randy are you ready to try again?” she asked her teammate. She hated throwing the small man around, he barely weighed 120 pounds soaking wet. Even she didn’t have any trouble taking him down. ‘What interest could the Agency have in Randy Tomlin? Of course, what interest could they have in a housewife from Arlington?’
She felt her teammate’s arm come around her shoulder and press against her throat. Instinctively, she spun around and jabbed his nose with the heel of her hand all while bringing her knee up to his groin. When he pulled back to avoid any further simulated beatings, she swept his legs out from under him and brought him face-down to the ground, one arm pulled behind him and her knee pressed lightly into his back.
“Very impressive, Agent-Candidate King. It appears you have been studying ahead of the rest of the class.”
She turned to see the look of pride on her instructor’s face and nodded ever so slightly in thanks. ‘Studied ahead, or already learned. What’s the difference?’ she thought to herself.
“You may have potential yet.” He nodded before blowing the whistle in a long succession indicating the end of class.
After releasing her pseudo-partner and helping him to his feet, she grabbed her things and moved to the locker room for a quick shower. She had another class to get to.
“Agent Stetson, how can I help you,” the older man queried as he walked tentatively toward Lee.
His silvery grey buzz cut reminded Lee of his uncle and he instinctively stood straighter as he rose from the large conference table and held out his hand. “Deputy Director Hughes. Thank you for seeing me.”
“I can’t say that I had much choice in the matter, Agent Stetson. It appears you have friends in very high places.” He sat across from Lee looking less than pleased at being summoned to this meeting.
Lee gave an apologetic grin before diving right in. “Sir, you were head of the training program here at Quantico when it first opened, is that right?”
“Yes, in the spring of 1969 until the end of 1974.”
“And “Operation Fledgling,” you spearheaded that as well?”
“Agent Stetson, I’m afraid this meeting is over.” He rose from his chair abruptly.
“Deputy Director, please!” Lee held up his hand to stop the other man from bolting. “My partner . . . she was recruited and graduated from the program. Your program.”
“What is it you want, Agent?”
“I’m just looking for confirmation that she was recruited by the FBI, who she worked for . . . and why.”
“It’s a closed project, Agent Stetson. Eyes only.”
“Yes, Sir.” He hesitated. “I know my supervisor would be very appreciative of your assistance, as would those other ‘friends’ you mentioned earlier.” He knew he was making assumptions, but he was desperate. He had to know the full story. Lee watched the other man stride over to the wall of windows and gaze down below.
“So, who is this partner of yours?”
Lee let out the breath he was holding. “Her name at the time was Amanda West. If you could take a look at your files—”
“I beg your pardon, Sir?”
“Her codename.” He turned away from the windows to look back at Lee. “One of the trainers started calling her that from the first day of class. She was always so fresh and bright.” He smiled fondly at the memory. “She was aptly named
‘Sunshine,’ Agent Stetson.”
Lee couldn’t help but smile. That was most definitely his Amanda. “Yes, that sounds like her, Sir.”
“It was our inaugural class. The class that would set the tone for the rest of the program.” He walked back over to the table and leaned his elbow on the back of one of the chairs. “That partner of yours, well, she set the bar extremely high. I’m glad to hear she stayed in the business after leaving the FBI. She was a natural. How is she?”
“Not the entire time. I guess you could say I . . . recruited her about three years ago.” He rubbed the back of his neck in consternation. “Just happened to be at the right place at the right time, I guess.”
“You’re a lucky man, Agent Stetson. I hope you’re worthy of her.” He stared at Lee for a bit longer than was comfortable before finally continuing, “Sunshine was at the top of her class. She had great instincts . . .” he shook his head and smiled to himself. “Well, you just can’t train that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. She certainly has a knack for this business.” Lee smiled proudly despite his mixed emotions.
“Sir, do you know anything about her time after she graduated with the Bureau? Her assignments?”
“I’m afraid I’ve told you far more than I feel comfortable with, Agent Stetson.” He moved toward the door and reached for the handle before turning back. “I suggest you ask that partner of yours the rest of the story. Good day.”
“Thank you for your time, Sir,” Lee called out to the retreating form. He sighed loudly into the empty room. “No, no, I’ll see myself out,” he mumbled to himself as he left the room.
Once out in the parking lot, he fumbled for his keys and they fell out of his hands, landing just under the edge of the car. As he reached down to grab them, he could hear someone calling to him.
“Mr. Stetson! Mr. Stetson!”
Lee grabbed his keys and straightened just in time to halt the secretary he’d spoken to when he’d arrived by the shoulders.
He let her catch her breath a bit before asking her what she needed.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Stetson. But, uh . . . you seem to have dropped this on your way out.” She slipped him a folded-up piece of paper clumsily. “Special Agent in Charge Mackey insisted that I run it out to you.” Her stare was overly serious. Obviously, it was her first parlay into the spy world. If he weren’t so damn happy to catch a break, he would have laughed at her naiveté. It reminded him of his charming partner during her first case with him. But then, that hadn’t been real, had it? He frowned at that thought.
“Thank you.” He slipped the paper seamlessly into his pocket and smiled at the matronly woman. He’d have to look into this Mackey person later once he was safely back in his hotel room. “And please, pass along my thanks to SAC Mackey for uh . . . making sure I got all I came for.” Lee flashed her his dimples in thanks.
She smiled proudly and nodded before turning toward the building to make the long trek back to her office.
Lee waited until he was outside the compound before pulling off and peeking at the note he was slipped. “Handler: Marcus Ward-Annapolis, MD,” was scribbled on the small slip of paper. “Thank you, Mr. Mackey, whoever the hell you are,” he whispered to himself before putting the car back into drive and heading to his hotel.
7:48 a.m. Thursday, August 21, 1986
Amanda opened their office door hesitantly, hoping beyond hope that her partner had finally returned from wherever he had been for the past few days. Sadly, his desk still appeared abandoned. She had driven over to his apartment every night that week and found he hadn’t been home. She hadn’t gotten him to really talk to her since his blow up on Monday. Either this was an elaborate scheme to avoid her or . . . she picked up the phone and dialed the extension to the one man that could tell her what was going on.
“Good morning, Sir. I was wondering if you knew where Lee was? He’s been gone for two days and I –” She listened as Mr. Melrose rushed to assure her that Lee was fine. “Of course, Sir. I know he can handle himself. I just –” She nodded. “You’re probably right, Sir. Time away right now may help to calm him down.” Tangling the phone cord around her fingers absently, she listened to her boss and nodded. She sat up straighter when he abruptly changed the subject. “Yes, I’m enjoying the agent-candidate classes so far, Sir. Uh, yes. That’s later this morning with Leatherneck on the range.” She listened intently as he gave her last minute tips for her final firearms test. “Well, I’m as prepared as I can be, Mr. Melrose. I appreciate the help.” She nodded again, and continued, “Yes, I’ll be sure to let you know, Sir. I better get to my codes and cyphers class now. Uh huh, goodbye, Sir.” She grunted when she realized the phone cord was still wrapped snuggly around her index finger and lifted the phone back up to unwind its cord before returning it to its cradle.
She sighed at the reminder of her final firearms test later that morning. There was no way out of it. It wasn’t a lie she really was as prepared as she could be. Leatherneck had been working with her all week on her target practice and she’d even taken home the study sheets for the other components of the exam. Glancing at her watch, she realized she had no time to fret over the impending exam; she had to get to her “dirty tricks” class.
Later that morning . . .
In the darkness, she could feel the muscles in her neck and shoulders begin to tense as she stood behind the table hovering over the unassembled weapon. Before she had a chance to overthink what she was about to do, Leatherneck’s voice intruded on her thoughts when she heard him say “Ready, set, go!” and then the tight click of the stopwatch reverberated in the small room. Her hands searched for the cold metal pieces in front of her, careful not to drop any. With the blindfold covering her eyes, she’d have a heck of a time trying to find them on the floor.
Taking a deep breath in, Amanda touched each piece in front of her to determine what she was expected to put together. She quickly determined it was a Glock handgun and searched for the end of the barrel and simultaneously picked up the frame. Carefully, she pushed the barrel in and slid it all the way back until she heard it click. She then fumbled for the recoil spring, nearly dropping it onto the floor. Once she adjusted the piece in her hand, she put the front in first and compressed it slightly until it fit into the groove on the barrel. Then she attached the slide to the frame and pulled the slide back to the lock position and then pressed the slide lock. Her hand patted the table in front of her searching for the last piece. Finally, she felt the small magazine and popped it into place before placing the gun in front of her and whipping off the blindfold. “Done!”
“Excellent job, Mrs. K. You did it in 27 seconds!” He smiled proudly and walked over to the shooting range simulation machine and flipped on the switch. “One last part and you’ll be on your way to full agent status.”
Amanda groaned and followed him over. She picked up the tethered handgun and reacquainted herself with it. Once again surprised at how real it felt, sans the cord coming from the bottom of it. She gave him a worried look and then sighed.
“You’ve got this, Mrs. King!”
She nodded and took her stance in front of the large screen. In the darkened room, she could almost see herself there in the desert. Watching carefully as the shoppers moved about the cramped market, paying close attention to their body language. The man who used his wife to block his gun was no match for Amanda’s quickness. Next came the little boy that appeared to be about the age of Phillip, carrying an Uzi. The ease in which he carried the gun made her cringe, but she remained focused on the job at hand. She may not like guns, but they were a necessary part of the job. One day she may need to use a gun to save her or her partner’s life. Her partner . . . she wondered once again where he was.
Petersburg Federal Correction Complex, Hopewell, Virginia
Lee sat on the crowded metal bench next to a woman and her three young children as he waited for the guard to return. He’d shown his Agency identification in the hopes of moving the process along with no such luck. He felt a tug at his sleeve and looked over to find a young boy who appeared to Lee to be around four-years old. The two of them stared at one another, both unsure of the other until Lee remembered a trick that Barney had used on him when he had first arrived on base to stay with his uncle, the Colonel. Lee held up his left hand and pointed out his thumb with his right index finger. The little boy continued to stare as Lee covered his thumb and made a show of ‘pulling’ it off his hand. The boy’s eyes grew wide in awe as Lee’s thumb magically disappeared from his hand.
They were both startled by the gruff voice of the returning guard, “Stetson?”
“Uh, yeah? Right here,” Lee jumped up from the bench and stood expectantly in front of the glass partition.
“The prisoner is ready for you.” He shoved a clipboard at him and pointed to the bottom of the form attached to it. “Sign here.”
Lee did as he was told and then followed the much larger man toward the hallway. He stopped and quickly slipped back into the waiting area and as if his new friend had sensed him, the young boy turned immediately toward him. Lee held up his hands, his left thumb tucked behind his palm, and hit his hands together, seemingly returning his thumb to its rightful place. The little boy laughed and clapped, getting the attention of his distracted mother. Lee smiled and winked at the little boy before rushing back to the hallway, just catching the door to the visitation room before it latched.
“Sit down in front of number three,” the guard called out brusquely and nodded to the row of chairs lined up in front of the Plexiglas wall that each held a telephone on either side of the glass. “They’re bringing him down now.”
“Thanks,” Lee replied as he held out his hand to his escort, but the younger man just stared at the agent’s outstretched hand and left the room.
Before Lee had a chance to contemplate the other man’s actions, he heard chains dragging on the concrete floor. He looked toward the glassed-off wall in time to see a much older, larger man than he had expected based on the photos he’d seen in the file being brought in. He’d apparently lived a lifetime behind the walls of this prison and it was obvious he had spent his time working out. Once the guards had attached the prisoner’s chains to the table in front of him, Lee walked over and sat down in front of the glass and picked up the handset of the phone, indicating to the other man that he should do the same.
“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” He spat out before the guards had even left the room.
“My name is Stetson. I’m a federal agent and you’re going tell me all about The Weathermen.”
“So, Amanda?” Francine’s sing-song voice could be heard throughout the women’s locker room.
Amanda rolled her eyes as she turned toward her locker to stuff her heels onto the bottom shelf before turning back toward her friend and replying, “Hi, Francine. What can I do for you?” Amanda could tell by the other woman’s tone she was not going to like whatever she had to say. There had always been an underlying friction between the two of them even from their first introduction. Sure, it had lessened over the last year, but anytime an opportunity presented itself to tease Amanda, the blonde tended to jump at it.
“I remembered Billy mentioning yesterday that you had your firearms final this morning. How bad was it?” Francine’s feigned look of pity was nearly Amanda’s undoing but before she had a chance to respond Francine rushed on. “I mean, will he let you take it again once you’ve had more practice?”
Amanda groaned inwardly. Why would she assume she hadn’t passed? Was it so hard to believe that she was capable of passing a firearms test? “Sorry, Francine. I need to get in there for my defense class exam. I’ll have to catch you later.” She snatched up her gloves and jogged to the gym.
“Alright, Everyone. Line up with your sparring partner, please. It’s time for your final exam,” the instructor read from his clipboard and then called out to Amanda. “King, agent candidate Martin has been DQ’d, so you’ll need to work with a substitute for today’s final. I’ve asked another agent to help us out.”
Amanda groaned at the idea of working with someone new but smiled and nodded her understanding before stretching first one arm and then the other across her chest. She hoped that Martin was okay. Did he drop out or had he not done well on his other exams?
“Won’t this be fun, Amanda?” came the familiar voice from behind her.
Amanda squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced before schooling her features in a nonchalant manner and turned toward Francine.
“Lucky, you got me instead of Fielder, eh?” The blonde grinned broadly.
“Yes, lucky, lucky me,” she mumbled under her breath.
“Okay, people. Let’s go. Begin your warm ups.”
“Don’t worry, Amanda. I’ll take it easy on you,” Francine called out condescendingly.
Amanda rolled her eyes as she picked up her gloves, pulling the first on and then using her teeth to pull the second in place. “Francine, I’m perfectly capable . . .”
“Agent Candidate, King?” He stared expectantly as the whistle hovered above his lips. “Less talking and more stretching.”
“Yes, Sir.” She finished her stretches and then called to the other woman. “Let’s go, Francine. I don’t want to get yelled at again.”
They tapped their gloves and immediately their feet began dancing inside the small circle on the mat below them. “How’d you get Billy to agree to put you through this advanced program anyway? I mean, your scores at Station One were less than stellar.”
Amanda sighed, as she jabbed at her opponent with her right. “Mr. Melrose just felt it was time. Besides, Station One was a long time ago. Now come on, Francine. Come at me.” Her patience was wearing thin. How was she going to pass this course if her partner wasn’t even testing her abilities?
The blonde gave a few perfunctory jabs to Amanda’s hands and face, but it was obvious she was holding back. Amanda gave her a few swipes to her chin and stomach. “Afraid you’re going to hurt me? I’m a lot tougher than I look, Francine.” A jab to her ribs. Another to the side of her head. “Come on, I know you have it in you.” With every physical jab came an equally annoying verbal jab from Amanda. She could see from the look in the other woman’s eyes that she was reaching her limit. Just one more . . . “Has it been that long since you’ve been in the field that you’ve forgotten how to fight, Desmond?”
That did the trick. Her normally bright blue eyes had turned rather dark. Amanda barely had time to block her as she swiped at Amanda’s left temple. Next, she jabbed to her right and once again Amanda was able to block her. More determined now, the shorter woman used a spinning move to land a swift kick to Amanda’s abdomen. She gulped in some air to counter the blow and came out swinging. Finally! A fair fight. Now Amanda was even more determined to win this battle.
Pulling every technique she’d learned over the past three days in the advanced defense class and systematically remembering everything she had learned at Quantico over a decade ago, Amanda used a lethal combination of jabs, punches, and kicks to subdue her opponent. The final punch to Francine’s face seemed to knock the wind out of her. Amanda hadn’t meant to hit her as hard as she had and most definitely not that close to her eye. Maybe it was the adrenaline or perhaps it was the three-years’ worth of snide comments that had been lobbed her way. No matter, it was all out of her system now. “Are you okay, Francine?”
“Fine. I’m fine.” She shrugged off Amanda’s gloved-hand from her shoulder as she quickly squinted and flexed her face.
“Nice job, Agent Candidate King. You can hit the showers. Thank you again, Agent Desmond for helping us out,” the instructor called over to them.
They both nodded and ambled toward the locker room.
“Let me get you some ice for your eye. If you don’t—”
“I said I’m fine, Amanda,” she interrupted. “Certainly, as a fully-trained agent I can handle a few taps from a housewife.” She grabbed her toiletries and towel and headed for the showers.
The slamming of the locker as the other woman stomped off made Amanda jump and she let out a deep sigh as she watched her friend go. ‘Way to go, Amanda!’ she scolded herself. ‘You passed your exam, but now you’ve put a target on your back.’
“And why would I do that, Pretty Boy?” Caputo attempted to lean back in his chair but the chains clamping him to his seat prohibited him.
“I’m sure after being in this place for so long there are some . . . necessities that you miss.” Lee stretched back in his seat. A subtle power play to remind the other man of the scorecard.
“I suppose you’re just going to hook me up out of the goodness of your heart, right?” he scoffed.
“More like, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Lee hated even being in the same room as this guy, let alone making his captivity easier. He’d tried to kill Amanda and nearly succeeded 15 years ago. No, he’d rather be doing anything besides sitting across from this punk.
“What is it that you think I know that hasn’t already come to light in my trial? It’s all there in the court records.”
“I want to know how you recruited your underlings. Where you met them. How you brought them on board, anything and everything.” The muscle in Lee’s jaw strained and he inhaled noticeably as he stared at the man sitting across from him. “If any of them are still active I want to know,” he added nonchalantly.
“Why are you showing up now after all these years? What could some Fed want to know that he can’t read in the court transcripts?” Off Lee’s uncomfortable shifting, Caputo’s eyes peered across the table, trying to read what wasn’t being said.
“So, this is personal, huh?”
“Look, Pal! I was assigned this lame-ass assignment by my supervisor. You disobey orders one time and next thing you know, you’re on their shit list.” Lee grumbled. He silently cursed himself for allowing his feelings to show in front of the other man. ‘Get a grip, Scarecrow!’ he scolded.
“If I’m going to spill my guts, I’m ‘gonna want a few things.” The smug look on his face made Lee’s stomach turn.
Eyeing him suspiciously, Lee replied, “I’m listening . . .”
The blonde pulled the thin sheet around her as she sat up on the wobbly cot.
“You better get dressed, April. That guard will be in here in a minute. You don’t want to give him any ideas,” Tony called out from the corner of the cell as he finished tying the drawstring around his pants.
“Good idea. I didn’t like the way he was leering at me when I got here. How did you get him to let us do this anyhow?” She shimmied into her faded jeans and made quick work of the zipper and snap.
“Oh, Rodney had nothing to do with it. It was that Fed that came to see me yesterday.” He lit up the cigarette dangling from his mouth, took a drag and then blew it out slowly. “I don’t know what I missed more, having sex or smoking,” he mumbled to himself.
“Gee, thanks.” She came up behind him and grabbed the cigarette from his fingers and took a puff. “What did that guy want that got you a conjugal visit and two boxes of smokes?”
He nabbed the cigarette back and held it between his lips as he stuffed his shirt tails into his pants. “And don’t forget he filled up my commissary fund –”
“Which you already spent most of,” she spat out. “Now how’re you supposed to call me?”
“It was well spent, believe me. It was just enough to get Rodney to tell me that agent’s name and what agency he worked for.”
“What does it matter, those government types are all the same.” Her voice was muffled as she pulled her sweater over her head.
He rubbed his face, tugging on the thin goatee that he wore. “There’s something going on. Why would he care about me and the Weathermen after all these years? And the stuff he was asking . . .” He shook his head. “There’s something there.” He turned to see her slipping on her boots and pulled her up from the cot. “You know what to do, right?”
“Yes, Tony! You told me twice—”
“And you’re sure your cousin can get you the information without it coming back on him or us?”
“Yes! I told you already. He’ll just pop this Stetson guy into the computer at work and it’ll spit out an address.” She rubbed her hands up and down his chest. “I just don’t know why we’re wasting our time talking about this stiff when we could be—”
“Alright, Caputo. Times up! Time to say goodbye to the lady.” The overweight guard ogled the petite blonde as the two said their goodbyes.
“Remember, Baby. Call me as soon as you have something.”
“I will, Tony. I’ll miss you.” She disregarded the young guard and wrapped her arms around Tony and kissed him hard once more before being escorted out of the cell.
“Be good, April,” he called out as the cell door clanged shut.
8:43 a.m. Friday, August 22, 1986
Lee paced the small hotel room as he waited for his call to be transferred. “Come on, come on.” His patience had worn thin after getting the runaround from three different offices whom had all very rudely informed him they’d never heard of Marcus Ward. This was the longest he’d be kept on hold, perhaps that was a promising sign.
Ignoring the Muzak blaring in his ear, Lee took a moment to take an inventory of what he had learned in his investigation thus far. 1. Amanda was an agent with the FBI. 2. She was instrumental in taking down one of the largest and deadliest home-grown terrorist groups. 3. Her handler was Marcus Ward, out of Annapolis. And 4. Amanda was an agent! He shook his head in disbelief. He still couldn’t believe it. His Amanda? The woman who despised violence? It just didn’t seem real.
The click on the other end of the call caught his attention and he stopped his pacing and held his breath. “Hello? Agent Stetson,” queried the young man.
“Yes! I’m here,” he responded anxiously.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” he hesitated. “I checked as you requested, but everyone in the office all said they didn’t know anyone named Ward.”
“I’ll just bet they did,” Lee muttered under his breath. “Thanks for checking,” Lee responded dejectedly before hanging up the phone. He scratched off the last remaining telephone number from his list before crumpling the piece of paper up and throwing it in trash can. “Great! Just great!”
Was he ever going to get a straight answer?
“Mo-th-er!” Amanda complained as she scooped the last of the cookie dough onto the pan and then sucked her thumb into her mouth to clean off the dough.
“Darling, I wasn’t prying. I mean, did I ask why you didn’t come home last Friday night?”
Amanda slipped the cookie sheet into the oven; grateful her back was toward her mother. “No, Mother, you didn’t,” she replied nonchalantly, bracing herself for the onslaught.
“You’re a grown woman, and the boys were with their father . . .” she let the words linger a bit before starting up again. “If you want to sow a few wild—”
“Mom! Grandma!” Phillip threw open the back door with Jamie close behind.
Amanda squeezed her eyes shut and sent up a ‘thank you’ to the fates that had stepped in on her behalf.
“Guess what! Guess what!” the younger boy called out.
“Boys! What did I say about taking off your wet shoes before coming into the house?” she shooed them to the laundry room and gave her mother a look that left no doubt that their conversation was over.
“Sorry, Mom!” they rushed back into the room. “Now can we tell you?” Jamie whined.
Smiling, she ruffled his hair and pulled him into a hug. “Yes, what’s got you both so excited?”
“Tommy’s mom is pregnant!” Phillip rushed.
Dotty was pulling the cookies out of the oven and nearly dropped the pan onto the floor.
“Yeah, and he’s not happy about it either. Mrs. Miller –”
“It’s Mrs. Wilkinson now, Dork Breath!” Phillip corrected.
“Oh yeah, I forgot she just got married again,” Jamie’s face flushed.
Amanda caught the knowing look her mother was giving her and inwardly cringed. “Okay, guys. That’s enough drama for today. Why don’t you run upstairs and clean yourselves up before dinner?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” they replied in unison before running up the stairs.
Amanda moved over to the tray of cookies and placed them gently into the cookie tin.
“I wonder if Tommy was at his dad’s the weekend that happened?” came her mother’s voice from behind her.
Amanda sighed and snapped the lid on the tin and sighed.
9:26 a.m. Saturday, August 23, 1986
“Bye, Mrs. King! Thanks again for the delicious cookies. Sorry, Mr. Stetson wasn’t here,” Charlie the doorman called out to Amanda as she strode past his desk in the lobby of Lee’s apartment building.
‘He isn’t anywhere,’ she muttered to herself.
Amanda pushed through the revolving door, “You’re welcome, Charlie. Remember to call me if you see him,” she called out over her shoulder before making her way across the street to her parked Jeep.
“Yes, Ma’am!” He took a large bite out of the chocolate treat and mumbled, “It’ll be our little secret, Mrs. King.”
April stood outside the tall apartment building checking the slip of paper where she’d jotted down the address her cousin had given her. The raspy voice of the slender brunette as she pushed her way out of the revolving door caught April’s attention.
That voice. April was certain she knew that voice. She glanced up in time to see the woman’s face. She stood dumbfounded watching the woman stroll across the street. Had she really just seen a ghost? Perhaps the woman only looked and sounded like her former college roommate. Mandy West was killed by the Weathermen, or more specifically, at the hands of Tony’s right-hand man, Albert Nelson. At the time, he was a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech, and more importantly, a self-taught bomb-maker.
“Alby? Are you here?” April tapped on the doorframe as she made her way into the small apartment. She marveled at how he could live with such clutter as she moved through his place.
“Hey, April. I’m back here,” the bespectacled man called to her from his bathroom.
“There you are.” She let out a squeal before immediately turning her back to him when she saw where he was. “Why didn’t you tell me you were in the bathroom,” she complained.
“I’m working. Geez,” he rolled his eyes at her when she tentatively turned to face him. “What’s up, Kid?”
“Tony called me from jail earlier,” she bragged and stared at him expectantly.
“Oh yeah? What’s a matter, his little girlfriend Mandy unavailable,” he laughed knowingly.
She stuck her tongue out and continued. “He called me because his perfect little girlfriend sold him out,” she told him matter-of-factly.
“Sold him out? I don’t think Mandy has it in her to sell anyone out. Especially Tony,” he continued to focus on making his concoction in the sink.
“Phew! That stinks, Alby! What is it,” she waived her hand back and forth wildly toward the substance he was working on?
“Don’t worry about it. The less you know, the better, Kid.” He continued stirring the liquid and moved to open the window in the tiny room.
“Well, anyway ‘Little Miss Perfect’ isn’t as perfect as you all thought and now Tony knows who really has his back.”
Albert looked at her expectantly.
“Me,” she yelled as she stomped her foot in frustration.
“Oh, right,” he laughed to himself.
“Anyway, Tony finally realized that Mandy has to be the one that ratted him and the guys out.”
“How did he come to realize that, pray tell,” he pulled off his rubber gloves and carefully placed the white substance to set before guiding her out of the hallway and into the living room.
“Well, process of elimination, of course,” she replied knowingly.
“Of course,” he chuckled.
“You guys are all the same! You see a sweet, pretty girl and figure she could never be conniving and a troublemaker.
“Now that’s not true, Kid. We all saw through you from the start!”
“Alby! That’s not funny!” She yelled and threw him a scowl. “You’re lucky I’m here for Tony or I would have left already,” she crossed her arms across her chest defiantly.
“What does ol’ Tony want now?” He leaned back against the tattered couch; his arms stretched across the length of it.
“He needs one of your special projects,” she smiled knowingly.
“Exactly what does he plan to do with it,” he asked hesitantly.
“Oh, the less you know, the better,” she threw back at him smugly.
April mentally shook the memory from her head. “I should have known she was too perfect to die,” she mumbled to herself as she pushed her way through the glass door. ‘Let’s see what I can learn from that obnoxious fatty shoving cookies into his mouth from behind the desk,’ she thought as she rolled her eyes. Putting on her sweetest demeanor and unzipping her top just a hair, she sauntered over to the man and tapped her bright red nails against the granite counter-top. “Hi there . . . " she quickly glanced at his name tag and added, “Charlie.”
10:47 p.m. Saturday, August 23, 1986
Lee had turned up the room air conditioner, in hopes that the hum would drown out the thoughts in his head. But so far, it wasn’t working. He swallowed down the last of the amber liquid, and the ice clinked against the glass when he returned it to the table. How many more glasses would it take before he forgot about her betrayal? He wished he knew. If he knew the loss of memory would last longer than the morning, he’d drink until he could drink no more.
Could he get past this? He wanted that more than anything. His life had changed so much since he’d met her. He had changed. Amanda had shown him that it was okay to want more out of life than just work; that he was worthy of more. She had taught him to trust in someone other than himself. But what had that gotten him? If he couldn’t trust her, who could he trust?
The trust between them was gone. Isn’t that the first thing needed in a successful partnership, in a relationship? That thought made him think back to a few weeks ago when after dinner she had attempted to tickle him while they were snuggled up on his couch.
“Lee-eee,” she squealed as she dodged his outstretched hand once again.
“A-man-da,” he cooed. “I’m not going to do anything. Come here.”
“Uh uh, Stetson,” she refused, shaking her head as her breathing was now coming in shallow gasps. Lee’s calm demeanor was
only serving to make her heart beat faster.
“Amanda, Honey . . .” he tried again as he darted around the chair and ottoman with the flexibility of a ninja. “All’s forgiven. Come back and sit on the couch with me,” he called out sincerely.
She watched him carefully from across the room. The glint in his eye told her he was up to something. “I don’t trust you, Stetson,” came her raspy reply.
“You don’t trust me, Mrs. King? He pouted. “Without trust, what do we have? How can we continue our partnership . . . or our relationship if we don’t have trust?”
She stopped her movement abruptly at his last statement and seemed to be lost in thought when he grabbed her around the waist. “Oh,” she yelped when he began tickling her sides.
Thinking back on that moment, he realized now why she had looked so tormented when he’d made the comment about trust. It had obviously been weighing on her mind.
He had to either forgive and forget or walk away. He didn’t want to walk away, but if he couldn’t forget, where did that leave them? Could he go back to life before Amanda? Somehow, he had to resolve the two sides of the woman that both starred in and most recently plagued his dreams.
Amanda was happiness, love, and warmth mixed with passion, intelligence, and bravery all wrapped into a very beautiful, sexy package. But now, now she was also this strong, capable, loyal, self-assured . . .” he shook his head and refilled his glass, swirling his finger around the ice before taking a gulp of the burning alcohol. He stood and began another round of pacing. “She was always those things,” he said aloud.
“Damnit,” he yelled and raised his glass to throw it across the room. The need to hear and see it smash into tiny pieces against the wall was nearly overwhelming. As if he had summoned her, her image appeared, the calming force he needed. He slammed the glass on the counter and went to the kitchen sink to wash his hands to clean off the scotch that had spilled out.
11:09 a.m. Sunday, August 24, 1986
“Come on, Marty. Don’t give me a hard time. Just give me the information, would ‘ya?” April rested her arm against the payphone as she squirmed under the scrutiny of her older cousin.
“Hey, I’m just relaying the message your mom gave me. She said she hasn’t seen you in nearly two years.” He clucked his tongue. “Just give her a call and let her know you’re alive, April.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” she responded dejectedly.
“Thanks, otherwise I’m going to hear about it from my mom that Aunt Patty is upset,” he chuckled. “And it’ll be all my fault,” he exaggerated.
“Okay! I got it. I’ll call her next,” she promised.
“Good. Now, as to the information you asked about,” she could hear him shuffling papers and waited impatiently for him to return to the phone. “Alright, your ‘Mr. Stetson’ is definitely a government employee. I don’t know which agency he works
for but he’s definitely a spook.”
“Just great! What about that other bit of information I gave you? Did you find anything?” She glanced around nervously. If an agent was involved, there was no telling how much trouble she’d get in snooping around.
“Well, she’s definitely alive and well,” Marty stated before humming quietly to himself.
She could hear the distinct sound of computer keys being tapped and then he continued, “Your ghost is living with her two children and mother in Arlington, Virginia under the name of Amanda King.”
“I don’t believe it! That little bitch,” she exclaimed.
“April, what are you mixed up in? Government agents, thought to be long dead college roommates . . . it sounds like a recipe
for something really bad.” He let out a deep sigh. “I don’t want to be part of this,” he rushed.
April rolled her eyes and tried to shut him up. “Marty,” she yelled.
“If anyone asks you where you got this information, you tell them you don’t know.”
“You got that, Cuz? I’m not going to jail like your little boyfriend.”
“I got it, Marty. We never talked,” she griped. “Now, what’s Amanda King’s address?”
“I don’t believe this!” Tony slammed his cup on the concrete floor and his cellmate startled. “Fifteen years! She’s been alive for fucking fifteen years? How the hell did she survive” he screamed.
“Keep it down in there, Caputo!” yelled the guard on duty.
Tony rolled his eyes toward the voice and continued undeterred. “April was right. Alby was always sweet on Mandy. Maybe he went easy on her” he reasoned. “Or maybe he warned her --”
“What are you yammerin’ about?”
“Don’t worry about it, Old Man” Tony growled toward his cellmate but continued his pacing and mumbling. “Maybe –"
“Maybe ‘the man’ put her into their witness protection and she became somebody else,” came the surprisingly coherent rasp of his typically-spaced out cellmate. “Poof! She’s gone!”
Tony stopped his pacing and stared at the older man before calling out, “Guard! I need to make a call!”
“Hey, Buddy,” he sang disingenuously into the phone. “I need one of your special packages delivered to an old friend.”
“Tony, I don’t do that gig anymore.”
“Well, maybe if you’d have done your job fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t be calling you now, Alby.”
“What are you talking about?”
“My old lady. Remember her?”
“Woah! You know they record your calls!”
“Cut the crap, Alby! The package never arrived!”
“What are you talking about? You need to shut your mouth now, Tony!”
“It never arrived!”
“I hand-delivered it myself and saw her open it!”
“I put a lot on the line for you, Alby. You know life would have turned out a lot differently if I was different type of person. You owe m—”
“I swear to you, Tony! I delivered the package myself.”
There was silence and then he responded, “Then why is April telling me that my old lady never received my gift?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen or heard from April in years. I didn’t even know you were still together. But I swear to you, I saw the fireworks with my own eyes. She got your gift.”
“Well, somehow it didn’t have the effect I wanted or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Now would we?” he snarled.
Alby sighed into the phone. “No,” he whispered.
“Well, I suggest you redeliver the package and this time, make sure she receives the full intent of my gift. April will give you the address.” He was about to hang up, but added, “And Alby, unless you want me to reconsider what I told them, I suggest you give it your full attention. Got it?”
“Yeah, I got it, Tony.”
“Thanks, Buddy,” he replied a bit too happily.
5:17 p.m. Monday, August 25, 1986
“Amanda,” Dotty West called out from upstairs.
“Yes, Mother,” she replied as she lifted the groceries she carried onto the counter.
“Are you home, Dear?”
“Yes, Mother,” she chuckled to herself. Amanda could hear her mother coming down the stairs and continued to pull groceries from the paper bags.
“Darling, don’t forget the boys are at practice until –”
“Fellas! No running in the house,” Amanda yelled to the pre-teens chasing one another. “Now bring those bags over here, please. Carefully,” she reminded them.
“Oh good! You remembered,” Dotty mumbled to herself. “Did you pick up my face cream, Dear?”
“Yes, Mother,” she pulled the small jar out of the last bag and placed it on the counter for her.
“Why do you need face cream, Grandma?” Jamie asked innocently.
“To moisturize my skin, Jamie. So, I can hold off Mother Nature,” she clucked the small boy under the chin.
“Being a girl sure takes a lot of work. I’m so glad I’m a boy,” he shook his head excitedly.
“Me too,” Phillip added.
Amanda and Dotty rolled their eyes at the two boys.
“They still have a few years before they realize that being a girl is pretty great,” Dotty whispered conspiratorially.
“That’s fine with me,” Amanda replied laughing. “The longer the better!” She swatted her sons out of the kitchen. “Okay, Fellas. Go wash up and be sure to put away your cleats. I’ll start dinner.”
“So . . .”
Amanda groaned inwardly. She knew what was coming, but continued with her task. Sometimes, it was best to stay focused and eventually the older woman would tucker out.
“Are you going to tell me where you were last Friday and why you’ve been depressed ever since,” she eyed her daughter suspiciously.
And sometimes . . . she was like a dog with a bone. “Mo-th-er! I haven’t been depressed,” she kept herself busy preparing dinner, hoping her mother would lose interest.
“Darling, I know you. You left here for your ‘work dinner’ on Friday evening in a simply wonderful mood, you stayed out all night, and then came home Saturday afternoon with your tail between your legs.”
Amanda scoffed but kept her focus on their dinner preparations.
“Well, if you aren’t going to tell me why you’ve been so sad, are you going to tell me where you spent the nig—”
Before her mother could finish, Amanda let out a yelp and sucked her finger into her mouth. She rushed to the sink and stuck her finger under the cold running water.
“Oh, no! How bad did you cut it?” Dotty asked as she reached for the paper towel.
“I just nicked it, I think,” she shook her head at her klutziness. Her mother pulled her hand from the water to get a better look
and carefully wrapped it in the paper towel.
“Yes, just enough to get out of answering my question,” Dotty mumbled.
Amanda glanced up and found the other woman watching her with a raised brow. “Mother, I just wasn’t focused on what I was doing, that’s all. I’ll go grab a Band-Aid and get back to cutting the vegetables.”
“You do that, Dear. I’ll wash the knife and counter while you’re gone.” Dotty watched her daughter slip up the stairs. Was that relief she saw on her face?
After escaping her mother’s interrogation with only a small cut, Amanda was able to finish preparing dinner and now sat
around the table with her family. “So, how’d you Fellas do at baseball practice today?”
“It was okay. I hit a single, and double,” Phillip shrugged.
“Yeah, I caught this awesome fly ball. It was almost to the fence, but I got it,” Jamie added excitedly.
“That’s great, Guys!” Amanda smiled proudly at her boys.
“That new mitt I got you for your birthday must be pretty great,” his grandmother joked.
“Yeah, it is, Grandma!” Jamie’s eyes widened and then he dropped his fork onto the plate making a loud crash.
“Sweetheart? What’s wrong?”
“I forgot my glove at practice,” he rushed.
“Oh, smooth move, Dork Breath,” Phillip rolled his eyes.
“Shut up, Phillip,” the younger boy whined.
“Phillip, do not call your brother names,” Amanda admonished. “Are you sure you didn’t grab it, Jamie?”
“Yeah, I left it in the dugout. I’m sorry. I’ll ride my bike up to the ballfield and get it.” He jumped up from the table.
“It’s too late for you to be riding your bike, Jamie. Besides, you still have to study your spelling words and take your bath
before bed.” Amanda swallowed the last of her milk and stood from the table. “You Fellas clear the table, and then finish up your homework. I’ll run up to the ballfield and grab Jamie’s glove.” She tossed her napkin on the table. “I’ll do the dishes when I get home, Mother.”
8:23 p.m. Monday, August 25, 1986
“I tell ‘ya, Billy, it’s the best kept secret right now. You’d think it was the God damn Manhattan Project or something,” Lee ran his hand through his hair in frustration and stretched his legs out in front of his boss’ desk.
“So why the secrecy? It’s been over fifteen years already,” Billy replied with a shrug. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
“The ‘Fledgling’ program appeared to have been shut down in the mid-seventies –”
“Appeared to be shut down,” the older man asked as he came to sit on the edge of his desk across from Lee.
“Yeah, at first it looked as though the program was shut down due to a case that went bad, several student agents were killed. But when I did a little more digging, I found the program just went deeper underground,” Lee flipped through his small notebook, scanning for any details he may have left out.
“What does this have to do with Amanda?”
“Only that she was in the inaugural class, as far as I can tell,” he shrugged. “Hughes only confirmed what we already knew. I’m telling you, no one’s talking, Billy,” Lee’s nervous energy propelled him to his feet and he proceeded to pace the room.
“Lee, there’s got to be someone who can tell us . . .” Billy trailed off and stood from his perch on his desk before returning to his chair.
Lee stopped pacing when Billy hesitated and returned to stand in front of the desk. “What is it?”
Billy hen-pecked at the keyboard on his desk and waited for the terminal to wake up before typing again. “I seem to recall Markiwicz worked at the FBI around that time.”
“Who?” Lee was unsure who this Markiwicz even was but had a spark of hope that the man could fill in the holes for them.
“Ah ha! Yes, he was,” Billy exclaimed triumphantly.
“Great, but who the hell is he?”
Looking up from the screen in front of him, Billy gave Lee a perplexing look. “Tate Markiwicz,” he encouraged the younger man. “You remember, the analyst on level 4?”
“I’m sure I’d remember someone named ‘Tate,’ Billy.”
Rolling his eyes, Billy replied, “Of course you wouldn’t remember him, he’s not of significance in your world.”
Billy chuckled when Lee scowled back at him at the obvious dig.
A knock at the door interrupted the two men.
“Sir,” a young agent tentatively asked.
“Yes, Agent Miller?”
“Galilee Hospital is on the phone for you, Sir. Line 1.”
Billy nodded and Agent Miller closed the door behind him before returning to the bullpen.
“That’s never good news,” he mumbled as he picked up the handset. “William Melrose here.”
Lee watched his supervisor’s demeanor change instantly. Something in the older man’s body language made Lee’s chest clench. He listened intently. “Are you sure? Uh huh. What’s her condition now?” Billy glanced up at Lee and added, “We’re on our way,” before replacing the handset on its cradle.
“Billy?” Lee followed his supervisor toward the door. “What’s wrong?”
Billy stopped, his hand and eyes on the doorknob. “There was an explosion. One of our agent’s . . . car bomb.” He looked over his shoulder miserably, clearly not wanting to say who the victim was.
“Oh God!” he swallowed. “Is she alive?”
The older man nodded. “They couldn’t tell me much. They had just brought her in. One of the nurses recognized her as one
of ours from the last time you two were there.”
“Let’s go. I’ll drive. We’ll get there a hell of lot faster in my car,” he called over his shoulder as the pair made their way out of the bullpen.
“Mr. Stetson! I’ve already told you; the doctors are working on Mrs. King and will brief you when they can,” the petite nurse behind the counter responded hotly.
Lee felt Billy tug on his right elbow and pull him back toward the waiting area. The woman’s no-nonsense attitude only served to agitate him more. “Sit down, Lee. The doctors will be out as soon as they can. Let them help her.”
Lee did as he was ordered. Staring blankly at the laminate floor, he tried to determine what she could have been working on that would have put her in the way of a bomb. “She was only working on a defection,” he whispered.
He was startled when the man to his left replied, “She was, and her training classes. This makes no sense, Man.” Billy stood, “I’m going to call the Agency and see if they’ve gotten a preliminary report from the police yet,” then moved toward the bank of payphones along the wall.
Lee sat numbly in the plastic chair. “What have you stumbled into now, Amanda King?” He couldn’t help but smirk at her uncanny way of getting into trouble. She was like a magnet to it.
It felt like hours had passed to Lee, but it was more like 45-minutes before they were greeted by Dr. Liebowitz, a short, stocky older gentleman with grey hair and glasses. “Mr. Melrose, I’m Dr. Liebowitz. Your agent came in with a severe concussion, some internal bleeding, multiple lacerations, and we’re still examining her to ascertain the full extent of the blast.”
The older man’s cursory rundown of his partner’s injuries made Lee physically ill. Swallowing down the bile that rose in his throat, he turned from the other men and paced nearby, but within hearing distance, not wanting to miss some vital
information about Amanda’s condition. He raked his hand through his hair and stopped cold when he heard the doctor explain that they were taking Amanda up to surgery. They would be doing exploratory surgery to determine the source of her internal bleeding. He returned to them in time to see Billy shake the doctor’s hand.
Lee called out to the man just before he went through the secured emergency room doors, “Hey, Doc? Take good care of her . . . please?” His voice quivered and the other man simply nodded before pushing through the doors.
A while later, Billy returned to Lee’s side. “I called Amanda’s mother. The police had just gotten there. She’s on her way now.”
Lee nodded. “Thanks, Billy.”
“I spoke to the Arlington Chief of Police, they don’t have much, but what they have they’ve sent over. I told him we’d be taking over from here. Francine’s already on her way to the scene. I assumed you’d want to be here.”
He nodded again.
“She’s going to be okay, Lee.”
Lee turned and looked into the eyes of his supervisor woefully, “She has to, Billy.”
The older man squeezed his agent’s shoulder in reassurance.
“I don’t understand, Officer. Why would anyone want to hurt my daughter?”
The man glanced nonchalantly over to Lee, who was hidden behind a planter across the room and pretending to be reading a newspaper. “That’s what we’re investigating now, Mrs. West.” He moved them over toward the row of chairs in the middle of the room so that she wouldn’t see the senior agent but he could overhear the conversation, as he’d been instructed by a very upset Scarecrow before the older woman had arrived. “Now, did Mrs. King mention seeing anyone suspicious?” His pencil was hovering over the small pad of paper held in his other hand.
“No, as I’ve already told you. We had just finished dinner when her youngest son, Jamie remembered he’d forgotten his baseball glove at the ball diamond. You know, he’s normally not so forgetful, his memory is sharp as a tack,” she leaned in conspiratorially, “He gets it from me.”
“Uh, Mrs. West –”
“Right, anyway . . . Amanda had run up to the ballfield to grab Jamie’s glove and then was coming right back home. We were all going to watch the movie of the week together since the boys don’t have school.”
“And have you seen anyone suspicious hanging around the neighborhood, Mrs. West? Anyone that didn’t seem to belong?”
“No, of course not. I would have reported them to the police, well to you, right away.”
“Of course, Ma’am,” the young man nodded and scribbled something on his pad.
“What exactly happened to my daughter, Officer . . .” she read the young man’s badge, “Higgins?”
“All we know is that Mrs. King’s car blew up,” the young rookie nearly jumped out of his seat at the loud cough and commotion coming from the other side of the planter and rushed to correct himself. “I mean, we don’t know much of anything, Ma’am. Just that Mrs. King was hurt in some type of . . .” the man glanced around the room and hesitantly finished “explosion.” He winced when he heard the distinct sound of a newspaper being crumpled in frustration over the sound of the older woman’s gasp. “Those are all the questions we have for now. Thank you for your time, Mrs. West,” he rushed before quickly leaving the room.
Lee waited several minutes after Dotty had left Amanda’s room before nodding to the agent on guard, and slipping in to watch her sleep. For a moment, he was able to push what had transpired to bring them to this point out of his mind.
He glanced toward the door to ensure the coast was still clear, and then moved forward and quietly lifted the clipboard attached to the end of her bed. With it secured under his arm, he moved toward the head of the bed, and placed it in the chair next to the bed, careful not to disturb her slumber. He reached out to her, brushing the hair off her forehead and then leaned down pressing his lips gently to her temple. He picked up the chart and sat down. In the dim light he could see dark circles under her eyes and was reminded how serious her injuries were. He reached out and took her limp hand, holding it in his much larger one before slipping his hand into his jacket pocket for his small flashlight. Sadly, he read her chart, grimacing as he read the long list of injuries. While he was no doctor, he had been injured enough to know that none of injuries listed were life threatening and let out a small sigh of relief at that realization before focusing on the woman lying in the bed beside him.
Her delicate features and friendly demeanor would lead one to believe she was helpless. She was anything but. He’d seen her take on men twice her size with nothing but a can of hairspray and her wits. She could out-argue him without even trying. She was smart, beautiful, brave, and tough. She was the complete opposite of what he thought he had wanted and yet she was everything he needed.
Why hadn’t she told him about her past? Was it so easy for her to lie to him? He ran his thumb over the back of her hand, watching the rise and fall of her chest. How hadn’t he known about the Fledgling project? Surely, he would have run across it in all his years as an agent. ‘It’s the best kept secret right now. You’d think it was the God damn Manhattan Project or something,’ he’d told Billy.
The Manhattan Project. He and Amanda had watched it over at his place a few weeks back. Had it only been that long? It felt like years now.
“Wow, fresh-popped popcorn too? What can’t you do, Stetson?” she joked as she plopped down onto the couch and snatched the bowl away from him with a giggle.
“Oh, my dear Mrs. King, you’ll just have to find that out on your own. But I warn you, it could take a long time.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer to him before reaching into the bowl for a handful of popcorn. Just then the opening credits began to scroll across the screen and she snuggled closer to him. “So, you’ve really never seen this movie?”
“Nope, but I’m looking forward to it,” she replied as she took in a mouthful of the salty treat. One popped kernel fell onto her chest between her modest cleavage.
Lee leaned down and with his hand on her back, pressed her chest toward his mouth. His tongue snaked out and took the wayward kernel into his mouth and released her, but not before licking the small patch of her exposed chest.
She continued to watch the screen in front of them intently, seemingly unaffected by his actions so he returned to watching the film. Then reaching in for another handful of popcorn he glanced over to her and couldn’t contain his laughter at seeing the pile of popcorn now in the spot he’d just cleaned off of her chest.
The dirty laugh that erupted from her was sexy as hell. “Very funny,” he laughed along with her. He wanted to turn off the movie and drag her into his bedroom and make love to her for the rest of the night. But it was too soon into their relationship for that. Instead, he settled for a few kisses and light petting before they returned their focus to the movie. When it was over, they had silently picked up their dishes and carried them into the kitchen.
Amanda broke the silence as he loaded the dishes into the dishwasher. “Lee, do you think the doctor in the movie was wrong keeping what he was doing a secret from his girlfriend?”
He looked up from his task and quipped, “It was his girlfriend’s son that did him in.”
“Come on. I’m serious.”
“Well, the government doesn’t care if your relationship is at risk because of the lies you may have to tell your significant other, Amanda.”
Her eyes widened in apparent surprise of his answer and he continued, “As agents or in this case, the doctor, took an oath to keep the secrets of the U.S. government. It’s all about the nation’s security.” He closed the dishwasher door and threw the towel over his shoulder. “Unfortunately, it comes with working for the government. I share as much as I can with you, but if it’s ‘need to know,’ I’m afraid you’ll just have to trust me that I’m doing my job.”
He watched her shoulders fall. Was that disappointment because she couldn’t know everything he was working on? He included her every chance he could. ‘She knows the score,” he reminded himself.
Lee sat up straighter in the dark room. She hadn’t been disappointed that she couldn’t know what HE was working on. She had been relieved that he’d understood that taking an oath meant that a secret truly was a secret. He glanced over to her, and let out a sigh of relief to see she was still asleep but it was short lived when he realized how keeping this from him had been eating her up inside. She was keeping her promise to the government and he’d been punishing her for it. He rubbed his face with his hand before running it roughly through his hair. “But she lied to me,” he whispered harshly.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and jumped. It was that rookie Higgins that had botched the Class C interrogation with Amanda’s mother earlier. “Scarecrow, I have that preliminary report you wanted,” he said none too quietly.
Lee scowled and jabbed his finger toward the door before following the younger man out of the room.
They moved over to the waiting room away from the nurses’ station and Higgins sat down only to stand back up when he realized Lee wasn’t joining him. Exasperated, Lee held out his hand, “Well?” At the other man’s arched brow, he added, “The report, Higgins! Where is it?” he growled.
“Oh right!” He reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out the papers and handed them over to Lee. “It was definitely a bomb. The lab said it had the same signature of a bomb from the early 70’s. The . . . um . . . the storm—”
“The Weathermen,” Lee cringed as he read the report. He walked over to the windows and looked unseeingly into the inky darkness. “I lead them right to her.”
“Sir?” the young agent was staring at him in confusion.
“That’s all for tonight, Higgins,” he walked him toward the exit.
“I’m really sorry about earlier with Mrs. West. That was my first real Class C interrogation and I guess I got a little nervous,” he fumbled. “I’ll work—”
“Don’t worry about it, Kid. Get out of here before one of the nurses kicks us out.”
Lee waited until the nurse had completed rounds before slipping back into Amanda’s room and sitting vigil. He made a mental note to remind the rookie guard sitting outside her room how important his job was and that if he let anything happen to her, he’d have Scarecrow to answer to.
Silence. That’s what she noticed first. But it wasn’t just quiet, it was dead quiet. She attempted to lift her head but the pounding pulled her back to her pillow like a magnet. She opened her eyes and let them adjust to the darkness before noticing the small amount of light at the edge of the room. She reached up to rub her temple to stave off the pain and flinched when something pulled at the back of her hand. Reaching across with her opposite hand, she felt the telltale signs of an IV and soothed the taunt skin. Her eyes settled on two figures huddled in the corner near the door. Straining to hear anything, she watched the smaller figure’s mouth move but heard nothing. The taller figure, whose back was to her, seemed to listen intently before gesturing toward her before leaving the room. She tugged at her ears and flexed her jaw to make them pop. Anything would be better than the silence. She stretched again, felt a pop and then a sharp pain just below her left ear before everything went dark.
Lee quietly closed the door behind him and then rubbed his eyes before moving past the nurses’ station. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep in Amanda’s room but sure enough, that grouchy nurse had caught him slouched in the chair next to her bed and kicked him out but not before he got an update on her status. ‘No change but she’s stable,’ she had whispered in the dark recesses of the room. That hadn’t surprised him, Amanda hadn’t moved all night, he was certain he would have awoken if she had. He caught the raised brow of one of the nurses from behind the long desk and he shrugged as she shook her head before going back to the chart in front of her.
‘I guess they’re used to me breaking the rules around here,’ he thought as he pressed the elevator call button.
“Mr. Stetson,” called a portly nurse and he turned to see she was holding out a manila envelope. “I was told to give this to you when I saw you. I had thought you left earlier in the evening. Imagine my surprise when one of my nurses informed me you just left Mrs. King’s room.” The no-nonsense look she threw his way told him she was not pleased.
“Uh, I fell asleep,” he offered lamely.
She held up her hand, “Save it, Mr. Stetson.” The elevator bell dinged and she pushed the envelope into the middle of his chest and he backed up into the open car. “Take your file, and come back during regular visiting hours,” she called out sternly.
He took the envelope from her and pulled out the file folder that read ‘The Weatherman: Albert “Alby” Friedman,’ before he scrambled to keep the doors from closing and poked his head out. “Wait! Who gave this to you,” he called down the hallway?
The older woman turned around and called back, “An older, distinguished looking gentleman,” Raising her hand about three inches above the top of her head to indicate his height, and then she added, “He was fit and had a buzz cut. He seemed most serious.”
Lee’s brow furrowed and he nodded his thanks before letting go of the doors to allow them to close before the alarm sounded. “Now who the Hell is this,” he mumbled to the empty elevator car before greedily devouring the contents of the file.
“Billy, I’m telling you this is our guy!” He slammed the file down on the desk in front of his boss. “Did you read the file,” he
asked excitedly. “Ninety-five percent conclusive that the same person that made the bomb that nearly killed Amanda in ‘72, is the same person that nearly did her in last night.”
“Yes, Scarecrow. I read the file.”
“And?” he asked impatiently.
“And, what?” He stared at Lee expectantly.
“I want to talk to this guy. Can you get me a warrant?”
“No need,” he replied calmly and handed the younger agent back the file.
“Bil-ly! Don’t you want to get this guy? Make him pay for hurting one of your own?” Why was he being so cagey?
“Of course, I want this guy, Scarecrow,” he boomed. “Why do you think I ordered Francine and Fielder to bring this Friedman person in at the crack of dawn?”
“They’re in Interrogation Room 2,” he answered with a knowing smile.
‘This is our bomb maker,’ Lee questioned skeptically before rapping his knuckles abruptly on the two-way mirror and waited impatiently for the two other agents to excuse themselves from the interrogation room in front of him.
“What have you found out so far,” he asked just as the door shut behind Fielder.
“Nothing yet. We just got in there,” the other man retorted.
“Good! Then you won’t mind if I take over for you, Fred,” he stated matter-of-factly and guided Francine back toward the room from which she had just come.
Francine pressed her hand against his chest and scolded, “Lee –”
“Now, wait just a minute, Scarecrow! You can’t just come in here and take over. Mr. Melrose asked Francine and I --”
“He asked you to pick up this guy and get him to interrogation. And so, you did. Now, Francine and I will take over.” He patted him on the shoulder and growled in Francine’s ear, “Let’s get in there, Desmond.”
Francine glanced back at Fred and shrugged.
Lee’s hand hovered over the door handle and stared into her eyes. “Remember that scientist in Milan back in ’81?” At her nod he continued, “Okay, you take the lead and I’ll jump in.”
“Okay, Mr. Friedman. Let’s start from the top . . .”
Lee stared at the middle-aged man across the room from him. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was listening to an accountant or professor. Hell, even a mild-mannered librarian. But he did know better. This man was a terrorist. Francine had only just begun to peel the many layers of the man, and they’d already learned that he had been the one to design and build the bomb that was meant to take down the Capital building years ago and would have except for a young, undercover agent who helped take them down instead.
“How is it that you were never implicated,” the blonde asked.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged.
“I mean, all of the top leaders of the Weathermen group are serving life sentences,” she shook her head. “Certainly, at least one of them would have found it easy to throw you under the bus in order to shave some time off their sentence,” she watched him expectantly.
He rubbed the back of his neck before leaning back in his chair and sighing. “I guess, I have some loyal friends.”
“Speaking of loyalty,” she pulled the file sitting on the table in front of her closer and flipped it open. “Is there anyone that you would be loyal to, Mr. Friedman,” she raised a brow. “Perhaps, loyal enough to come out of retirement for one more job?”
“Ms. Desmond, I haven’t come out of retirement for anyone. I told you before, I left that world behind after the Capital incident.”
“That’s interesting that you would say that,” she continued to flip through the documents in the folder.
He stared at her fingernails as they tapped against the metal table; the staccato seemingly adding to his nervousness, “Why is that interesting?” His attempt to read the file upside down did not go unnoticed by either Francine or Lee.
“Hmmm? Oh, I just find it interesting that a man of your caliber. Your work is so superior to others that we’ve come up against. I find it surprising that you would want anyone else to claim your obvious craftmanship.” She gazed at him seemingly mesmerized. “But then, maybe it’s just a copycat. There is someone else out there that is your equal when it comes to bomb making. I wouldn’t have thought it possible after reading about your magnificent work but –”
“You find my work magnificent,” he asked surprised.
“Oh, how could I not? I mean, the precision you take and the meticulous wiring to the main box . . . Of course, we’re on opposite sides, but I have to give credit where credit is due.” She watched as a small smile began to peek its way onto his face before he caught himself.
He coughed, as if pulling himself together, “As I said, I’ve been retired for 15 years.”
“Well, no matter. We already swabbed your hands for residue. It’s only a matter of time before the labs come back. But then, you did say you’re retired, so it shouldn’t be an issue. Isn’t that right, Mr. Friedman,” she smiled sweetly at him.
“Ms. Desmond, could um . . . I have some . . . water?” he asked.
Francine gave Lee a quick sidelong glance and he nodded subtly. “Sure, I’ll just go grab that.”
Lee waited a beat after she left the room, then stood and very loudly dragged his chair toward the table so that he was a mere two inches from the other man.
“Um, I don’t think I got your name,” Alby squeaked out nervously.
Lee just glared and said nothing.
“Ms. Desmond introduced herself and that other gentleman, uh, Mr. Fields, but you never . . .” he gulped looking away from Lee’s death stare. “Uh, that is you nev . . .,” he stopped talking and looked anywhere but at the stern man nearly an inch away.
Lee was well aware that Francine was watching on the other side of the wall and would wait for his signal before returning to
the room, so he waited patiently, silently.
“What is it you want from me?” he whined.
“Tell me who ordered the hit?”
Lee’s two hands were wrapped around the other man’s shirt color and began twisting before he could blink. “Don’t play games with me, Friedman,” he gritted out through clenched teeth. “Which one of your Weathermen buddies pulled you from supposed retirement?”
Gasping for air and tugging on Lee’s hands unsuccessfully, he finally answered, “Okay, it was Tony!” Lee relented only enough for Alby to call out more clearly, “Tony Caputo called me.”
Lee threw the other man back into his chair and pulled himself and his chair even closer. “And what did your old friend Tony have to say?”
“He wanted – he made me plant the bomb in Mandy’s car,” he sobbed. “But I couldn’t . . . I mean, I didn’t want to really kill her. She was always so nice to me. I never believed April and Tony’s conspiracy that she set him up.”
“Mandy?” Lee questioned.
“Yeah, Mandy West. She was Tony’s girlfriend back in grad school. Well, she and her roommate, April Martin were working on their undergrads at Virginia Tech and Tony and I were finishing our masters.”
“Why would Tony wait this long to kill this Mandy person?” Lee asked, dreading the answer.
“We all thought she had died in the first bo . . .” he stopped when he obviously realized he’d just given himself up on another crime.
“Yeah, we have you tied to several bombs; at this point you’ll be serving several life sentences, so you may as well come clean. Clean conscience and all that,” he indicated the other man should continue.
“We thought she had been killed not long after Tony went away.”
“April, Tony’s girlfriend got some intel from a family member or something on a Fed who had come to visit Tony recently. So, get this, she goes to this guy’s place and sees none other than the ghost of Mandy West – alive and well.”
The muscle in Lee’s jaw tightened and focused on his breathing, as to not give anything else away. ‘Too late now, Stetson. The damage is done, she was nearly killed because of you,’ his inner voice chided.
The door popped open and Francine entered with a cup of water and placed it in front of their suspect. “Sorry, it took me so long. The drinking fountain was out of order, I had to go down to the next floor.”
“Thanks,” he replied and gulped the beverage down.
“If you’ll excuse us for a moment,” she nodded for Lee to follow her out of the room and he did as if on autopilot. Once the door closed, she exclaimed, ““Mandy West? Amanda is somehow mixed up in all of this? Explain, Scarecrow!”
He studied the other man through the two-way glass and mumbled, “I screwed up.”
“A-man-da King is a former FBI agent!” the blonde screamed between the two men before throwing her hands on her hips.
Billy Melrose gave Lee a menacing look as he moved around to sit down at his desk. “Yes, Francine. And that’s top secret. So, lower your voice. No one,” he turned to glare at Lee, “Is supposed to know.”
“Can we get on with this? I’d like to go home and shower sometime today,” Lee groused as he flopped into a chair opposite his boss.
“I noticed you looked a little worse for wear. Late night,” Billy asked.
“Late night of backgammon, no doubt,” Francine replied snidely.
“I spent the night at the hospital, if you must know. That’s where I was given the file on Friedman, but I don’t know by whom,” Lee stated.
“Well, whomever it was, either has friends in high places or IS the friend in a high place,” Billy replied. “We all read the file,” they nodded. “The level of information goes deep. They had details that were redacted in the files we were able to pull together. Hell, the forensics on the bomb that nearly killed Amanda back in ’72 will be the smoking gun that ties Friedman and his friends to the recent car bomb, which means life sentences.”
“Better than they deserve, if you ask me,” Lee griped.
“What were you able to get from him?” the older man asked.
“He fingered Caputo and Caputo’s girlfriend,” Francine flipped through her notepad to find the name she was looking for.
“Uh, Martin. April Martin.”
“But why now? What or who set this train in motion?”
“Friedman said they all thought that Amanda was killed by his first bomb back in ‘72,” Francine gave a sidelong glance toward Lee.
“Do we have a leak? Did our digging rattle the wrong cage?” Billy asked dumbfoundedly.
Lee jumped up out of his chair and moved toward the window looking out over the bullpen. “I screwed up, Billy. I must have tipped my hand.”
“You’ve only met with government agency personnel. Are you telling me one of them have been infiltrated by the Weathermen?” the older man was stunned at what was being insinuated.
Lee rubbed the back of his neck before turning around and facing his boss. “No, I’m saying . . . I visited Caputo,” he finished reluctantly.
Francine’s eyes widened and she adjusted in her seat. Her discomfort was tangible.
Billy’s eyes never moved off Lee’s as he called to the blonde, “Francine, why don’t you go see what they found at Friedman’s place.” When she didn’t move, he growled, “Now, Francine!”
“Right, I’ll just . . . “She pointed toward the door and slipped out of the room with a worried glance to her friend and fellow agent.
Billy’s voice boomed as soon as the door clicked behind Francine, “You drove down to Petersburg?”
“Yes,” Lee replied quietly.
“What was that?”
“I said, yes. Yes, I drove two hours to Petersburg Correctional. Yes, I had a chat with Caputo,” Lee replied forlornly.
“What in God’s name did you say to the man, Scarecrow?” He slammed his hand on his desk in frustration. “I thought you
were a professional?”
“I’ve racked my brain over this, Billy. I don’t know what I said or did that tipped him off. Amanda’s name never came up, I swear to you.”
“Well, you obviously piqued his interest.”
“Yeah, enough to get his little girlfriend to investigate me. I want her picked up and whoever the hell gave her my address.” He jabbed his finger on the desk for emphasis. “Whoever it is, their obviously tied into the government system.” Lee raised a brow at the implications and Billy nodded his understanding. If there were someone dolling out government employees’ addresses to anyone who asked, they definitely had to shut that down.
“Why don’t you head home and get cleaned up,” his boss advised.
“Yeah, maybe I will,” he stood to leave. ‘And then maybe stop by the hospital to check on my partner,’ he added mentally before moving toward the door.
“Have Francine get a warrant pulled for April Martin. Then we’ll figure out who else is involved.”
“How’s she doing?”
Lee closed the door but kept his hand on the handle, “She was still out when I left this morning but they took care of the internal bleeding and her vitals were strong.”
“Good. Nothing but a few weeks of rest won’t cure. She’s very lucky, Lee,” Billy smiled. “She’s like a cat with nine lives.”
“Yeah,” he nodded and sighed before adding sadly, “I’m just worried how many lives she’s already used up.”
Lee had stopped by his apartment and quickly showered before rushing over to the hospital to check on Amanda. He hoped he’d be able to speak with her this time. They had a lot to discuss, to work out. That last thought gave him hope; something he hadn’t felt in a couple of weeks. As he exited the elevator and walked the familiar sterile hallway toward her room, he noticed the head nurse that had scolded him earlier that day had just left Amanda’s room and was coming his way. He smiled shyly at being caught twice in one day. She seemed focused on the man in front of her and when she made eye contact with Lee, he saw her head gesture toward the other man. Once they had both passed him, Lee realized the man had perfectly fit the description that the nurse had given of the man who had left the envelope for Lee that morning. Without thought for his previous mission, he quickly ran after the older gentlemen and nearly lost him as the elevator doors were closing. Lee jabbed at the button to keep the doors from closing and then just when he thought he lost his target, the doors opened allowing him entrance. Without a word, Lee flashed his badge and escorted the man out of the small space before gesturing toward a small meeting room to the left of the bank of elevators.
The two men stared at each other, as they sized up the other. Lee was first to speak, “You were the one that gave me the file on Friedman.” His voice left no room for denial.
The other man gave a single nod.
“Why,” Lee questioned.
“You needed to know the facts. Your clearance could only get you so far,” he quipped.
“Who are you? Why do you even care?” Lee demanded.
“It doesn’t matter who I am, Scarecrow. You have the answers to put those involved away for a very long time,” the grey-haired man stated without feeling.
Between the older man’s bluntness and controlled demeanor, images of his uncle, the Colonel, flashed in his mind. This man was definitely career military. That thought triggered Amanda’s description of her handler to spring to mind. “Your Klein,” Lee blurted out. “Or Ward, depending on who you ask,” he scoffed.
“My name doesn’t matter. What matters is that you arrest the people that have eluded the intelligence community for the past fifteen years, and that nearly killed your partner . . . twice.” You –”
“What’s your interest in me and my partner?”
“I know all about you and Mrs. King. You work well together. You trust her and you don’t trust many. Why you’d follow her blind . . .” the stoic man trailed off.
“Why all the subterfuge, Ward? Why not just give the evidence to the authorities?”
The other man’s laugh seemed to have erupted of its own free will despite his controlled behavior and he cleared his throat. “Those idiots? They wouldn’t know evidence if it jumped up and bit them in the ass. No, it needed to be handled by someone who knew what they had and would take care to see those involved punished to the fullest extent of the law,” his hand slapped the table for emphasis.
“You care about her,” Lee was astonished at his realization.
“She’s one of my agents, I was obligated—”
“She was your agent but not for the past fifteen years. She only reported to you once you threatened my safety. You played on her feelings and her relationship with me. You knew she wouldn’t have done it otherwise, even when you threatened her safety,” Lee groaned inwardly. Why did he just realize that now, now that he’d been so awful to her, only adding to her guilt.
“I did no such thing,” Ward growled. “I did what I had to do to expedite the results. Keeping you two together was essential to keep you alive, Scarecrow and the byproduct of that partnership is one of the highest case close rates in the intelligence community,” he rapped his knuckles against the table and stood to leave. He reached for the door handle and then turned back to look Lee in the eye, “You have a very special partner in Amanda. Don’t screw it up, Scarecrow.”
Lee could only nod his understanding before the man left the room. The way Amanda had described her handler, Lee had gotten the distinct impression that Ward only held contempt for his talented partner. The realization only helped Lee put the pieces together. That man cared for Amanda like a father would a daughter and whomever asked Ward to team Amanda up with him, cared for Lee in the same way. And thanks to Ward, he knew exactly who that person was.
After showing his Agency identification to the new guard on duty, Lee knocked quietly on the hospital room door before peeking in on Amanda. “Up for a visitor?” he asked shyly.
“Oh, hi,” Amanda felt so awkward around him now. “Sure, come on in.” She attempted to fluff her hair and straighten her hospital gown as he made his way into the room.
“I . . . uh wanted to check on you . . . you know, see how you’re doing,” he stood awkwardly at the end of the bed.
“I’m okay,” she shrugged and then grimaced. “Sore,” she groaned.
He nodded his understanding. “Are your ears ringing? That was always the worst part for me,” he tapped his left earlobe.
“Yeah, but at least I can hear again. It came back earlier this afternoon, just in time for one of my mother’s lectures,” she rolled her eyes and absently followed her I.V. to where it was tapped to the back of her hand.
“Good. I was hoping we could . . . uh talk.”
She bit her lower lip and nodded.
“We got the guys who did this to you.” He glanced around the room.
Amanda caught a glimpse of, was that guilt on her partner’s face? Of course, it was. He’d always held a misguided sense of responsibility for her even from the beginning.
When she didn’t respond, he continued, “It was the Weathermen.”
Flashes of memories floated in front of her. She focused her attention to snatch them up before they floated away.
She had just pulled up to the ballfield and was grateful that the dusk to dawn lights had just come on around the park. Now she just needed to find which dugout Jamie had left his glove in. The way her week had gone, she should have known it wouldn’t be the first one she searched. She moved quickly toward the other dugout and stopped when she heard rustling in the bushes nearby. Her heart stopped for a moment and she sucked in a breath, only to release it when she saw the small bunny nibbling the grass to her right. “You scared me, Mr. Bunny.” ‘Seriously, Amanda,’ she shook her head. ‘You have been hanging around spies too long.’
Once she’d finally located her youngest’s baseball gear, she moved quickly to her car. Bunny or not, something was giving her the willies and she’d learned to trust her instincts. ‘Time to get home, Amanda.’
She tossed the glove into the backseat and started the car. Just before the engine engaged, she heard a distinct click and for a brief second, she was brought back to her college apartment, loading her laundry into her old car. ‘That was the same click,’ she thought just before her world went dark.
“Amanda? Amanda, are you okay? Should I call the nurse?” Lee’s worry was evident in his voice.
“Sorry, Lee. I just . . . there was a click just before everything went dark . . . like before.”
He grimaced. “It was the same bomb maker. Albert Friedman, he’s back at the Agency and he’s singing like a bird.”
“Alby?” ‘I thought he liked me?’
“Did you know him well?” Lee came around to the side of her bed and slid into the plastic chair next to her.
“I guess not,” she closed her eyes to hold back the tears. Would she ever escape her past?
“Amanda . . .” Lee’s voice was hesitant and apologetic.
Her stomach tightened in nervousness. ‘Is this where he tells me that can’t work with me?’ It was hard enough to come to terms that they would never again be ‘physical’ but could she survive not having him in her life at all?
They sat looking at each other for a moment and then Amanda couldn’t take the silence any longer and rushed, “Look, Lee I know you aren’t interested in a personal relationship with me but I think you need to rethink throwing away our partnership. We’re good together and I think if you can somehow learn to trust me again –”
He stood up and pressed his lips to hers in a rush sucking the air right out of her chest. Before she could respond, the nurse interrupted them.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I need to check your vitals,” she tapped her clipboard.
Amanda silently nodded and could feel Lee’s eyes on her while the nurse fiddled with her I.V. and swapped out the empty bag hanging from the hook with a fresh one. She looked into the nurse’s eyes when the older woman raised a brow while listening to her heart. Could the other woman tell Amanda’s heart was racing due to her visitor? The nurse jotted down a few numbers onto her clipboard before moving toward the door. She called out over her shoulder toward Lee, ““No more sleeping over, Mr. Stetson. You need to follow normal visiting hours,” she checked her watch and added, “That gives you ten minutes.”
Amanda stared at her partner and he cringed at being called out.
Once the door shut and they were alone again, she uttered, “That was you this morning talking with the nurse. I could only see make out fuzzy images.”
As if caught by a room full of Russians, he closed his eyes and dipped his head to his chest. “Yeah.”
“Lee, don’t worry. I know it was because you felt you had to –”
“No, Amanda. It was not out of guilt or responsibility for you. I care about you.”
“You do? Still?” ‘This couldn’t be actually happening. Was she hopped up on pain meds?’
Lee moved from the chair and gingerly sat on her bed next to her and took her hand. “Amanda, I only have a few minutes before Nurse Ratchid returns and kicks me out, but I want you know that I’m sorry for how I reacted when you told me . . . what you told me.”
She sat wide-eyed and silent as he continued.
“You were only doing your job and I lost sight of that because I was too busy falling head over heels in love with you. But when it comes to you, I lose all sense of logic, Amanda King.”
A quick knock at the door came just before the nurse stuck her head in and they both kept their eyes on each other, “Visiting hours are over, Mr. Stetson. Don’t make me call security. Mrs. King needs her rest.”
Sighing, Lee leaned over and gently pressed his lips to her forehead, “Sweet dreams, Amanda. Get some rest. I’ll be back in the morning.” He gave her hand a squeeze and then left.
“Did he just say he was in love with me,” she asked the empty room.
His head popped back in, “Yes, he did.” He gave her a wink and left.
Amanda’s stomach fluttered as if there were a kaleidoscope of butterflies inside. She couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face as she nuzzled into her pillow and closed her eyes.
Lee leaned up against the wall next to Amanda’s hospital room and sighed. ‘Why didn’t I tell her that it was me that brought all this back on her? She nearly died because of me. He was just about to sneak back into her room when he heard the distinct clearing of a throat behind him and turned around.
“Don’t even think about it, Mr. Stetson.”
He turned around and found his new nemesis, “I thought you had gone home, Nurse,” he glanced to her name tag, “Kelly,” he added charmingly.
“Oh, I am but I wanted to make sure all of my patients were taken care of before I left.” She moved to put herself between Amanda’s door and himself. “Mrs. King needs her rest if she’s going to get better, I’m sure you don’t want her to regress and have to stay longer,” she coaxed him down the hall with a hand behind his elbow. “You can come back during regular visiting hours in the morning.” When they made it to the elevator, she reached out with her other hand and pressed the call button.
When he finally realized what was happening, the doors opened behind him and she pushed him in. “But I just needed to speak with Mrs. King for –”
“Tomorrow, Mr. Stetson,” she called back with raised brows. Just as the doors closed, he could hear her call out, “Goodnight!”
“Damnit,” he groused before kicking the door.
“Yeah, Billy. I stopped by the hospital last night,” he took a sip of his coffee and listened to his boss on the other end of the phone. “She’s sore, but her color’s returned,” he nodded. “Yeah, her eyes have the tell-tale signs,” he nodded again and exhaled as an image of her lying, small and wounded in the hospital bed before him floated past. The area around her eyes was black and blue, a direct result of the over pressurization waves of the explosion. He hated like hell that she’d had to go through that, not once, but twice. “Hmm? Oh, sorry. Yeah, I’m here,” he waited for Billy to repeat himself and then responded, “No, we didn’t get a lot of time to talk but we cleared the air a bit,” he shook his head in frustration. “No, it was that damn nurse. She kicked me out,” he said appalled at the memory. Rolling his eyes, he listened to his supervisor’s lecture. “Rules are meant to be broken, Billy,” he picked up his coffee mug to take another swig but stopped when he heard a knock at his front door. “Uh, listen I need to go. Someone’s at the door.” He nodded, “thanks for the update on the case. I’ll fill Amanda in later this morning.” He walked over to the phone base and signed off, “Will do. Bye, Billy.”
After taking a peek through the peep hole, Lee mumbled, “Not unexpected,” and opened his front door to his guest.
“Lee, My Boy. I just heard. How’s our girl doing?”
“Morning, Harry. She’s going to be okay,” Lee eyed the older man suspiciously. “Want some tea?” he asked moving toward the kitchen to start the kettle.
“Sure.” Harry followed him in, “Since when do you have tea in your place?”
“Amanda brought some over so she could have it when she’s visiting,” he added water to the kettle and turned on the burner before catching Harry’s raised brow. “When we’re working late on a case, geez.”
Harry nodded with a knowing grin. “So, what happened exactly? I heard there was an explosion?”
“You heard?” Lee eyed his former mentor skeptically and grabbed a cup and saucer off the shelf. “How exactly did you hear?”
“What do you mean? I’m the founder of that inferno place; I still have my sources. Now, what the hell happened? Were you injured as well?”
“No, I wasn’t with her,” he grimaced at that realization. “It was after hours and she was running an errand.” He pulled the box of tea from the drawer and placed a bag in the empty cup. “Her car exploded with the help of a bomb.” Just then the kettle whistled and Lee turned off the burner and poured the water into the cup.
“Did you get whomever did it?” He asked reaching for the proffered cup and saucer.
Lee inhaled deeply and gave his old friend and mentor a pinched expression as he exhaled. “Cut the crap, Harry. You and I both know exactly who did this and why.” Off grey-haired man’s shocked expression, Lee continued, “Your buddy Ward filled you, like he always has. Right, Harry?”
“Scarecrow, I don’t know what you think you know but I –”
“Save it,” he snapped as he raised his hand in exasperation. “I’ve had enough of the bullshit to last me a lifetime.” Lee refilled his mug of coffee, splashed some cream in, and sauntered past Harry, who seemed to be momentarily dumbfounded.
Lee could hear Harry doctoring his tea in the kitchen as he got comfortable on the couch in the living room.
From behind him, he heard the rich baritone of his friend, “So, what is it that you think you know exactly?”
Lee watched Harry as he gingerly maneuvered his way over to the couch with his tea. He waited until the other man sat down across from him before he started his diatribe. “Well, for starters I know you asked this Ward character to find me a babysitter, like I was some troublesome child –”
“I simply asked a friend if he had any agents that would be a compliment to your more . . . spontaneous style,” he gave Lee a wink as he finished. When Lee didn’t respond, Harry continued, “Oh come on, Scarecrow! You know you were wild and reckless before Amanda came along.” He held up his hand when Lee tried to argue. “She was the best thing to ever happen to you and you can’t deny it,” he looked on expectantly.
“I’m not denying that fact. But you two old coots playing us behind the scenes is what’s stuck in my craw.”
“According to Amanda, Ward attempted to bring her out of retirement in order to pair up with me in ‘83. Of course, she didn’t know it was me until well after we met. Which she says was completely coincidental,” Lee held his breath waiting for Harry to either confirm or deny his last statement. He let it out slowly when he saw Harry nod his head in agreement.
“Yes, that’s very true. We were both quite surprised when the one person we thought would be a good match for you, ended up being the same person you pulled out of crowd to help you,” he shook his head in amazement. “Talk about fate stepping in.”
“That’s what Amanda called it,” he couldn’t help the smile that started to form.
“She’s quite a special lady, Lee. I hope you know what you’ve found in her?” his fatherly tone didn’t go unnoticed by Lee and he didn’t argue.
“That she is, Harry,” Lee’s stomach knotted when his thoughts naturally drifted to her recent near miss. ‘They didn’t miss,’ his mind argued. ‘She almost died because of you!’
“Hey, what’s wrong,” Harry questioned as he placed his cup and saucer on the coffee table in front of him. “You had a haunted look just now. What is it, Son?”
Lee exhaled loudly. “Ah, Harry. It’s my fault she’s in the hospital!”
“Did you place that bomb in her car?”
“Of course not! But I might as well have. I drove those bastards right to her!”
“Son, I read the reports,” off Lee’s surprised look, he added, “Founder privilege. You investigated your partner, like anyone would after having this dropped on them. You did what I taught you to do.”
“Yeah, but if I’d just talked to her, let her explain –”
“Come on, you’re telling me, the great Scarecrow would have settled with hearing one side of the story? Hardly,” he harrumphed.
Lee ran his hands through his hair and leaned back against the couch. “How do I tell her she was nearly killed because of me?”
“I think Amanda would be the first to tell you that you’re not to blame. That it’s the terrorists that did this and I think she’d also be glad that those involved have been caught and will do time,” he squeezed Lee’s knee to get his attention. “Now, fill me in on what’s happened this morning. I heard you talking to Billy Melrose. What’s the latest?”
As if he could turn off Lee-mode and turn on Scarecrow-mode, Lee switched gears and began to relay the status to his superior. “To start, Caputo’s girlfriend was brought in and will likely serve time in prison,” he stretched his leg absently and straightened his pantleg. “She of course rolled over on her cousin, who worked as a subcontractor to the NSA. He’s the one that hacked into the system and gave her my address. According to Billy, this isn’t the first time he’s abused his system access, so he too, will be spending time behind bars. As for Friedman, our little bomb maker, he’s being charged with attempted murder.”
“What’s going to happen to Caputo? He’s already doing a life sentence,” Harry sipped at his tea waiting for Lee to continue.
“Likely, they’ll add time to his sentence,” when the older man opened his mouth to protest, Lee continued, “I’ve already called in a favor. Let’s just say, Mr. Caputo is about to find out what doing ‘hard time’ really means,” he smirked.
Lee moved quickly through the hospital, anxious to see Amanda. He stopped in the gift shop to purchase a flower arrangement to help brighten up her room. He waited impatiently as the elevator delivered what seemed like, every single person in the hospital to each of the floors leading up to the one he needed. The muscle in his jaw twitched in frustration and he rolled his eyes when an older woman entered the small confines of the elevator and pressed the button for the next floor. She glanced up at him and he swallowed down his sarcastic comment about the exercise one gets by walking up a flight of stairs, smiling politely instead. Finally, he’d had enough and decided to take the stairs for the remaining three floors, grumbling about being stuck in Grand Central Station and slow-moving people all the way up.
Lee caught the nurse standing near the stairwell door by surprise and apologized but didn’t stay focused too long on her, and moved toward Amanda’s room.
“Ah, Mr. Stetson. Why am I not surprised to find you here trying to get in before visiting hours begin,” the bubbly nurse teased.
“I’m only,” he looked at his watch before continuing, “fifteen minutes early. Can’t you give me a break,” he gave the younger woman his most dazzling smile.
“You have a few minutes but then I need about 30 minutes to check her vitals, change her I.V., sheets, get her breakfast,” at his look of disappointment, she continued, “But you can stay as long as you like after all that.” She smiled broadly at him.
“Thanks, Nurse . . . Mindi.” ‘Of course, it’s with an ‘I’,’ he thought.
Lee knocked and then peeked his head in, “Are you up for a visitor?” He smiled when he saw her sit up and straighten her hospital gown. While the dark black and blue around her eyes was deeper than the night before, her overall color was returning and the bright light, that he had grown to not want to live without, was back.
“Hi,” she called to him, her voice gravely from sleep.
“Hi, yourself.” He leaned down and gently kissed her on the cheek. “You look like you’re feeling better today,” he gestured to the vase of wildflowers in his hand, “These are for you. I’ll just,” he turned around and found a spot on the window sill, “I’ll put these over here.”
“They’re beautiful. Thank you, Lee.”
He reached for her hand and continued holding it as he sat down. “How’d you sleep?”
“Oh, you know okay, I guess,” she fiddled with the blanket, pulling it up under her rib cage.
“They don’t let you sleep around here, do they?” He watched her shy behavior and wondered if this was going to be their new norm.
She merely shook her head no.
He studied her hand he still held in his, “Amanda, I’m sorry for how I reacted when you told me . . . about your past,” he continued but kept his focus on her hand, finding it easier than staring into her pained eyes. “You were doing exactly what we’ve been trained to do and I made you feel guilty for protecting the very thing we pledged to uphold.” He glanced up and was caught in her sights.
“Oh, Lee. I understand. You don’t need to apologize. I’m the one who’s sorry. I hated lying to you,” she squeezed his hand and he reached over to place a chaste kiss to her dry lips before leaning his forehead against hers and inhaled deeply.
There was a loud thud near the door and they both sighed at the poorly-timed interruption. “Sorry to interrupt, but I need to check Mrs. King’s vitals and change her I.V. before breakfast,” Nurse Mindi called out to them. “I warned you before you came in here, so don’t give me that look, Mr. Stetson.”
Lee returned his gaze to his partner, “Time flies,” he waggled his eyebrows to lighten the mood and stood to leave.
“Thanks for stopping by, Lee –”
“I’m not leaving, Amanda,” he interrupted.
“You’re not?” she seemed genuinely surprised.
“No, we’ve hardly had a chance to talk. I’ll go grab a coffee and a newspaper out in the waiting room and come back when you’re settled. That is, if that’s okay with you?” He waited for her to respond.
She smiled and nodded.
“Okay, then. I’ll see you shortly,” he gave her a quick peck before stepping out of the room.
“Boys, we’re in a hospital. Behave,” Dotty West called to her young grandsons.
“Sorry, Grandma,” they called in unison as they slowed their pace coming toward their mother’s room.
“Are you here to see Mrs. King?” a petite nurse asked the group.
“Hello. Yes, we are. Is there a problem? I’m her mother and these are her sons,” Dotty explained.
“Oh, no. She’s just having her I.V. and dressings changed,” the woman continued sorting supplies in the cabinet near Amanda’s room and looked back up at the expectant faces. “She should be ready for a visit in twenty minutes or so. You can go grab a snack down in the cafeteria and by the time you come back, your mom should be ready for a visit, Guys,” she smiled at the boys as she closed a drawer.
“Can we, Grandma?” Jamie begged. “I’m starved,” he added as he rubbed his stomach.
Dotty guided them down the hall toward the waiting room, smiling to the workers the passed along the way.
“You wouldn’t be if you would have gotten up earlier, Dufus,” his older brother jabbed.
“Shut up, Phillip,” the younger boy cried. “I couldn’t sleep last night; I was worried about Mom.” He looked up to his
grandmother for sympathy. “Can we get a snack, Grandma?”
They stopped in front of the waiting room and Dotty looked into the sweet faces of her grandchildren and acquiesced, “Yes, but just for a quick snack and then we’ll come up and visit with your mother.” She glanced around the room that was nearly empty except for a younger man reading a paper. He looked awfully familiar to Dotty and she tried to remember where she knew him from.
“Grandma, can we go?” Jamie pulled her hand toward the elevator.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Phillip added excitedly. “Maybe they’ll have cookies!”
She watched as the man seemed to be hiding himself behind the paper as they got closer to him. Her brows furrowed and she concentrated her focus. Just then, she heard him cough and as he rumpled the newspaper. Just like the night Amanda was brought in here. Did this man know her daughter? He clearly recognized the three of them, enough to hide behind the paper.
“Boys,” she called and reached into her purse and pulled out a few bills. “Here, take this down to the cafeteria and buy yourselves a snack.” When they went to take the money, she pulled it back and stared them both in the eyes to get their attention. “One snack each,” she warned them before adding, “and come right back here.”
“Thanks, Grandma,” they called as they both reached for the cash. Phillip got ahold of it first and smiled triumphantly at his little brother.
“Do you want anything, Grandma?” Jamie asked.
“No, thank you, Darling,” she smiled at his thoughtfulness.
“Suck up,” Phillip whispered under his breath.
The two young men took off toward the elevator, both wanting to be the one to press the call button. “No running,” she yelled.
Turning her focus back on the mystery man, she moved toward the empty chairs surrounding him before calling over her shoulder to the rambunctious boys, “No cookies, Phillip! It’s not even 9 a.m. yet.” He skulked his way into the elevator and she saw Jamie laughing and pointing at the older boy as the doors shut. Rolling her eyes, she continued on her mission.
Dotty sat a few chairs away from the familiar man and picked up an old copy of Better Homes and Gardens. After a few moments, she signed and complained, “Oh, I just hate hospital waiting rooms, don’t you?”
Startled, the younger man pulled the corner of the newspaper down and smiled politely.
Undeterred, she continued probing, “Are you visiting family or friend?”
She wasn’t prepared for the rich baritone voice that answered back, “Uh, a friend.”
While it was definitely a familiar voice, hearing it in person versus over the phone was more impactful. This man had most definitely called her daughter at home. ‘Now, what was his name?’ she thought.
“We’re here visiting my daughter,” she blurted out. “Well, my grandsons and I,” she clarified in an attempt to break the ice.
“We were so scared when Amanda, that’s my daughter,” she added to keep up pretenses, “was brought in the other night.”
When he only nodded, she groaned inwardly, determined to find out something about her daughter’s mystery man. If this man was only her boss or co-worker, what was he doing here visiting her first thing on a Saturday? No, there was undeniably something going on between these two and it wasn’t work related.
After a few moments of silence, Dotty tried again. “Is your . . . um friend going to be okay?”
As if on cue, the man dropped the corner of the newspaper again and eyed her suspiciously before answering, “Yes, thank you.” He returned back to his stoic reading, much to her chagrin.
Dotty heard her grandsons arguing as they stepped off the elevator, and glared at the back of the man’s newspaper.
“Grandma, we each got a pastry,” Phillip explained and handed her the change.
“Can we go see Mom now?” Jamie asked excitedly.
“Yes, of course. Let’s go, but remember, no running!” She stood and glanced one last time to the would-be stranger as the boys took off down the hall. She moved toward the hallway but then stopped and smiled to herself when it finally came to her. “I do hope your friend is feeling better soon, Mr. Steadman,” she called over her shoulder and chuckled to herself when she saw the dumbfounded look on his face as he dropped the newspaper.
The nurse was removing the blood pressure cuff from her arm when Amanda heard a knock at the door. She looked up into the nurse’s knowing look.
“He’s right on time,” the woman in white spoke warmly. “Probably a good thing I already took your blood pressure, I have a feeling I’d get a different reading now,” she teased.
“Mom,” the boys exclaimed as they rushed into the small room.
The two women exchanged surprised looks before nurse Mindi excused herself.
“Fellas,” Amanda cried. “I missed you. Come give me hugs,” she sat up gingerly and held out her arms, ignoring the pain.
“Boys, be careful! Your mother’s going to be sore,” her mother scolded.
Amanda hugged them, thankful that she was still alive to experience this moment with her young sons. “I’m okay,” she whispered to them and squeezed tighter.
“M-o-m,” came the muffled voice of her oldest. “We can’t . . . breathe!”
She let them up. “Sorry, I . . .”
Her mother handed her a tissue and guided the boys to take a seat. “Your mother is just a little emotional, Darlings.”
“Thank you, Mother,” she whispered as her mother hugged her gently. Amanda patted the bed beside her to indicate the other woman should sit and she did.
“You’re in better spirits this morning. Any particular reason, Darling?”
Amanda knew that tone. It was the tell-tale signs of an interrogation headed up by none other than Dotty West herself. “Just happy to be feeling better,” she shrugged. “The ringing in my ears is lessening,” she smiled gratefully. “The doctor said if I keep improving like I have, that I’ll be sent home in a few days,” she rushed in hopes of derailing her mother.
“Oh, that’s wonderful. Isn’t that wonderful, Boys?” the older woman asked her grandsons sitting quietly along the window.
“That’s great, Mom,” Phillip answered.
Amanda caught Jamie’s reserved demeanor. “Jamie, is something wrong? You’re awfully quiet.”
Dotty got up off the bed and encouraged her youngest grandson to go sit next to his mother. “Go ahead, Jamie.”
“Jamie, come here,” she patted the bed. “Tell me what’s got you so upset.”
“It’s just . . .,” he stammered.
“He’s just being a baby,” Phillip grumbled and stuck his tongue out at his little brother.
“Phillip, don’t tease your brother,” Amanda warned. “Go ahead, Sweetheart,” she soothed.
“I’m really sorry I forgot my glove at baseball practice, Mom. I didn’t mean for you to get hurt,” he cried as he buried his face into her side.
“Oh, no, Sweetheart! None of this was your fault –”
“But, if hadn’t forgotten my glove, you wouldn’t have gone out to the ballpark and you wouldn’t have gotten hurt,” he
“If I hadn’t had gone out then, it would have happened in the morning, when I took you and your brother to school,” her stomach clenched at that realization and she gulped for air. “I’m so grateful that you forgot your glove and that I went out there that night to get it. If I hadn’t,” she swallowed down the bile that rose in her throat, “If anything would have happened to you guys, well, I’d just be devastated,” she hugged him tighter. “So, no more guilt or worry, huh? The doctor says I’m going to be just fine.” Phillip moved to her other side and sat down next to her allowing her to pull him into the hug. For a few moments, all was right with her world.
“What pretty flowers,” her mother called out. “Who are they from, Darling,” she asked with a knowing look.
“I’m serious, Lee. She interrogated me in front of my own children,” she groused as he laughed. Her mother had always been curious about her romantic life; believing that she was having an affair with a co-worker. She was even more emphatic now.
“Over flowers? How did she even know they were from me?” Lee continued stroking the back of her hand lying on the bed.
“I think the card tipped her off,” Amanda picked up the small card off the high-top table next to her bed, careful not to snag her I.V. on anything, and handed him the card.
“Get better soon! Love, Lee,” he shrugged as he read the card aloud. “What’s so incriminating about that?”
“Oh, well . . . she focused on the ‘love’ part,” she replied sardonically.
Lee threaded their fingers together and smiled at her shyly, “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to focus on that part a bit myself.”
“You would,” she squeaked in surprise. When he simply nodded, she could feel the heat rising up her neck and face and thought a change of subject was in order. “She saw you, ya’ know?”
He tore his eyes away from their joined hands and grinned up at her. “Oh, I know. She caught me red handed in the waiting room,” he shook his head as if embarrassed.
“Some spy you are, Scarecrow. You can’t even keep your cover with a grandmother from Arlington,” she teased. “What will all the other spies think?” she shook her head in mock disappointment.
“Amanda, that woman could give the KGB a run for their money, I’m certain of it,” he exclaimed defensively.
“Now you know how I’ve felt the past few years!”
“What did you tell her?”
“The truth. We work together and we’re seeing where this new side of our relationship takes us,” she shook her head matter-of-factly.
“Well, good,” he nodded. “I’m glad I won’t have to sneak around to see you anymore . . . at least where your personal life is concerned.”
“Yeah, what are we going to do about the Agency?”
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s none of their business. You’ll be done with your re-certification soon, and we’ll be partners as usual.” He let go of her hand abruptly. “You do still want to be partners, don’t you?”
“Of course, I do, Lee! Why would you think otherwise?”
He stood up and paced the small area in front of her hospital bed. “Amanda, you’re in here because of me! Because I didn’t trust you to tell me the truth, so I started an investigation that inadvertently nearly got you killed.”
“Lee, you didn’t know that visiting Tony was going to set in motion everything that happened. You were doing your job, what you were trained to do.” Looking into his eyes and seeing his regret and guilt, she wanted to wash it all away. “I would have done the same thing in your shoes. Most people would.”
He stopped mid-pace and stared at her, as if he was processing what she was saying. “But, I –”
“No,” she interrupted. “We aren’t going to speak about this anymore. Tony Caputo, and his friends did this and they are going to be in jail a long time and that’s all that matters.” She held out her hand for him to return to her side. “I want to focus on the future. Our future.”
He came and sat down on the bed next to her and gave her a promising kiss. “Our future. That sounds nice,” he whispered and then kissed her again, this time a bit more deeply.
Lee groaned as he pulled away from their kiss and stood to see who was interrupting them this time. She could see him relax when the man came into the room. Amanda strained to see around Lee.
“Mind if I come in to see the patient?” Harry Thornton asked.
“Hello, Sir. Please come in.”
“Hello, Harry. Impeccable timing, as always.”
The older man laughed at Lee’s discomfort and strode over to Amanda’s other side, maneuvering around the table. “This is for you,” he said as he gave her a peck on the cheek and placed an exquisite orchid on the table. “How are you feeling, Darlin’?”
“Better, thanks. They’re beautiful, Sir. Thank you,” she fingered the ornate pot and marveled at the two lovely orchids growing within.
“Yes, they are. They are a special hybrid, I call ‘forte e bello,” off her raised brow, he added, “Strong and beautiful, like the two of you.”
“Oh, that’s very sweet, Sir,” Amanda smiled at the kind man.
“You ol’ softy, Harry.” Lee laughed.
“Now, Amanda. You know what to do with that orchid if this guy ever gives you a hard time, and you need some help, right?”
“Right, Sir,” she smiled and then laughed at the look of confusion on her partner’s face. “Don’t give me a hard time, and you won’t have worry about it.”
“What do you mean, give you a hard time,” he grumbled and then Harry held up his hand to stop the impending argument. Lee mouthed to Amanda, “I don’t give you a hard time,” and she rolled her eyes and focused on their friend.
“I wanted to talk to you about Marcus Ward, Amanda,” Harry coaxed seriously. At her look of confusion, he corrected himself, “Sorry, you know him as Klein.”
From her squirming, Lee could see she was clearly uncomfortable with the change in subject. “It’s okay, Amanda. They’re friends,” Lee explained.
She looked to Lee and then back at Harry and then exclaimed, “You’re the one that asked him to partner Lee with someone that would make him slow down and be more careful!”
“I did,” he nodded. “And while I had the best of intentions in doing so, I think things got a little off kilter.”
“Amanda, I had no idea that Ward had threatened to expose you or hurt Lee if you didn’t follow along with his plan. He went rogue, to say the least. I would never had allowed that, I promise you,” he apologized sincerely. “I didn’t know until Lee told me this morning and I’ve already met with him --”
“That was fast, you were just at my place a few hours ago, Harry,” Lee interrupted.
“You are the best thing that could have ever happened to Lee and I’ve made sure that the two of you will be partners for as long as you both want to.”
“What did you do, Harry?” Lee seemed almost afraid to ask.
“Don’t you worry. I still have some clout when it comes to the Agency. And as for Ward, he’s taking an early retirement. So, you won’t have to worry about him anymore either.”
“I hate to interrupt, but I need to check your vitals in a few minutes, Mrs. King,” Mindi called from the doorway. “Dr. Liebowitz will be by shortly too, making his rounds.”
Amanda nodded her understanding.
“Lee, why don’t we leave Amanda alone so she can get checked out,” when the younger man started to protest, Harry added,
“I’ll buy you lunch and then you can come back and visit.”
Lee gave Amanda a questioning look. “Go ahead, Lee. I’m going to be busy anyway. Go enjoy lunch,” she urged.
Harry reached down and gave her a fatherly-kiss on the top of her head. “Get some rest, Darlin.’ We need you back to deal with this one,” he teased.
“Thanks,” she laughed. “I think. Thanks again for the beautiful orchids.”
“You’re welcome,” he smiled warmly and moved toward the door.
Lee stood up from the chair beside Amanda and leaned over her bed to give her a quick kiss on the lips. “I’ll be back shortly. Do you want me to bring you back anything?” he asked.
“Um,” she looked up into his eyes, “A chocolate shake?”
“Whatever the lady wants, the lady gets,” he spoke in a sexy tone and then kissed her. “I’ll be back.”
“Bye, you two behave yourselves,” she called as she watched them leave her room.
Three Weeks Later:
“Congratulations, Amanda,” Billy raised his glass toward the woman of the hour. “I thank the stars above every day that you’ve been able to put up with this guy,” he rolled his eyes toward Lee, interrupting the agent’s protests, “Now that you’re a full-fledged agent, he’s officially yours! No givebacks,” he added in a rush.
“Hey!” Lee complained.
“No one ever told me there was a return policy,” Amanda teased and patted her partner’s leg when his mouth formed into a pout.
The two of them had wordlessly found the corner booth in the small private room that had been reserved to celebrate Amanda’s graduation to field agent at the Agency. The others had filled in shortly after. Once word had gotten out at the office, the room had filled to capacity. It was a rare occasion when they all got together socially, except for more somber events, like commiserating on a case gone bad or funerals of colleagues, joyous occasions rarely happened.
“In all seriousness, Amanda,” Billy continued, “You’ve worked hard and performed at the highest level, under some very tough circumstances, I might add. I’m very proud to call you one of my agents.”
The small group clinked their glasses together and cheered their friend and colleague.
Amanda smiled enigmatically at her boss and friend before kissing his cheek, “Thank you, Sir.”
“You know, Amanda, if I had known you were an agent when we were sparring, I wouldn’t have taken it easy on you during your final exam,” Francine chided.
Lee bumped shoulders with the blonde and goaded her, “That was some shiner you had, Desmond. It was awfully nice of you to sacrifice yourself for Amanda.”
“L-e-e!” Amanda growled on the other side of him. Francine was finally talking to her again, she didn’t need him rattling her
cage. His only response was to wink at her.
“I was trying to help her pass the class, Stetson. I can certainly handle a housewife,” she chastised.
“Then you’re better than I, Francine . . . You’re better than I,” he laughed heartily and took a sip of his beer.
“Oh, come on. I’m not that bad, am I?”
Lee smiled and patted the back of her hand reassuringly. “Not at all, Partner.”
“Were you feeling nostalgic when you picked this place, Scarecrow? We haven’t been here in ages,” Francine commented as she looked around the familiar room.
“Actually, Amanda insisted that we come here for drinks tonight,” Lee nodded toward his partner who was now chatting with another agent. “She said that now that she was a ‘real’ agent, she wanted to come back to Monk’s and see if she felt any different,” he shrugged at Francine’s surprised expression.
Once Amanda had finished her conversation, she took the opportunity to get an update on the case. “Sir, what’s the latest on the cases against the Weathermen group?” She took a sip of her wine and waited.
Billy glanced to Lee and he nodded imperceptibly, letting their supervisor know that she was in a good place. “Ms. Martin cut a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office in exchange for her testimony against Caputo and Friedman. She’ll still see a few years in prison.”
Amanda grimaced. “I was afraid of that.”
“She nearly got you killed, Amanda!” Lee snarled. “She got off easy if you ask me.”
“Lee, she was a troubled young woman back in college and with Tony controlling her life from prison, things only got worse for her, I’m sure.”
Lee shook his head in disbelief. ‘Only his partner would feel sorry for the bad guy--er girl.’ He thought with a chuckle.
“What happens to the other two? Will I have to testify?” Amanda inquired.
“Well, Friedman is taking a plea deal, so there won’t be a trial, but he’ll still do many years in prison.”
“And Tony?” Lee could hear the slight tremor in her voice and squeezed her shoulder in reassurance.
“He wants to go to trial,” their supervisor responded solemnly. “The case is open and shut, Amanda. Your testimony and that of his co-conspirators will be enough to convict him. He won’t see the outside of prison ever again.”
Amanda nodded in understanding before taking a sip of her wine.
“More than that bastard deserves!” Lee snapped.
“Your glass is almost empty, Amanda! Can’t have that,” Francine began to poor the remaining contents of the bottle into the glass.
“Oh, no. I’m good, Francine. I’ve got to get going soon. I’ve got an early morning.”
Lee frowned and raised a brow. “I thought we were going to –” he began to whisper when she interrupted him.
“We are. Why do you think I need to be up early?” she gave him one of her dirtiest laughs and he couldn’t help the deep groan that rose from his throat.
“Attention! Can I have everyone’s attention?” Lee called out to the room after he recovered. He cleared his throat, “I would like to propose a toast,” he turned to his left and stared into the eyes of the woman that had seemingly overnight, become his world. “To Amanda, the woman that helped the Scarecrow find his brain and Lee, the man, to find his heart.”
The room stilled at Scarecrow’s rare show of emotions. Billy was the first to respond, “Here! Here!” and then the sound of glasses clinking filled the room.
Amanda dabbed at the tears welling up in her eyes before gulping the last of her wine down.
“What do you say, Partner? Should I take you home?” He smirked at his choice of words, seemingly innocent, but oh so devious.
He saw the hint of a smile appear at the corners of her mouth, but she simply nodded in agreement before sliding out of the booth and taking his hand.
Later that evening . . .
Amanda stood staring out the window of Lee’s apartment, memories of their first time, just over six weeks ago flooding her senses. It felt more like six months to her now. While it had been painful to go through, through is what they did. They were through all of the lies, through with hiding their feelings, and through playing games.
Lee’s arm wrapped around her waist from behind and his other arm came around to place a chilled glass of champagne in front of her and she accepted it with a sigh. “I’d like to make a toast,” he declared.
“You already made a beautiful toast earlier in front of all our friends and colleagues.” she reminded him.
“This one Is. Just. For. You,” he whispered near her ear before sucking in the lobe and she groaned in response. He pulled back and inhaled deeply, “To a very special agent, whom I love very much.” He tapped her glass with his own and took a quick sip.
She watched him with wonder. How did they ever get so lucky as to find each other? “I love you, Lee,” she kissed him passionately, forgetting the champagne she once held.
“Caputo! Let’s go. Front and center!” came the booming voice of the guard.
“What time is it?
“It’s zero four hundred” the guard replied. “Get your ass out of bed, Caputo!”
“I’m not supposed to be in court for another two weeks,” he complained groggily.
“Good thing you ain’t going to court then, ain’t it?” The guard raked his billy club across the bars. “Now let’s go!”
Once he’d woken up and gotten dressed, Tony had been told to gather his belongings. “Where am I going?” He followed the guards down the short corridor where they signed him out.
“You got a first-class ticket to Sing Sing, My Friend.” Off his surprised look, the guard continued, “I don’t know who you pissed off, but you’ll be awaiting trial in New York’s Sing Sing prison.”
Caputo gulped in some air. “Why . . . why can’t I stay here?” Panic started to settle in.
“Like I said, you must have pissed in someone’s Cheerios. Sing Sing, Man.” He whistled. “They don’t mess around there.” The guard shook his head.
“You better have eyes in the back of your head,” the other guard warned as they approached the van he would be traveling in. He pushed Caputo’s head down, “Watch your head.”
Tony fell into the seat, “I want to talk to my lawyer! He won’t let this happen,” he yelled. The guards continued to lock his chains in place along the floor of the vehicle. “According to this, your lawyer signed off on the transfer last night.” He shoved the clipboard in front of Caputo’s face.
Just then, the van door slid shut and the lone inmate startled. He could only watch as they pulled away from his comfortable surroundings. “Stetson,” he whispered sharply.