Disclaimer: none of the charcters belong to me; they belong to Shoot the Moon Enetrprises to whom I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to take them out for a spin and bit of light humour,
Amanda King was waiting in the bullpen for Lee to come back with her signed vouchers. Billy had seemed like he was in a bad mood when he'd summoned Lee and Francine into his office but Lee had promised to get him to sign them. She hoped it wouldn't be a problem because she just had about enough time to redeem it at the petty cash office and then she would have cash to stop at the grocery store and prepare for her first meeting as the elected spokesperson for the Mothers of the Safe Environment group that was meeting later that afternoon. She was pretty proud of herself for convincing her neighbour Leonard Fletcher to come and speak to the group, as he knew as well as she did that it was likely to be a spirited debate about his work at Bethesda Laboratories.
Deep in thought planning the rest of the afternoon and everything she needed to get done before the meeting, she almost missed hearing her name.
"Amanda, can you come here for a minute?" Lee called her from the doorway to Billy's office, gesturing her to come in and join them.
As she walked across the room, she could see from Lee's expression that he was in full agent mode and that he had some kind of plan percolating through his brain. The barely concealed excitement and the way he leaned forward on his toes told her he was very pleased about some aspect of his plan. Heart sinking, she prayed it wasn't going to involve her, not when she had so much to get done this afternoon.
Billy greeted her with a smile as she entered, "Hello Amanda"
She smiled back at the boss she had come to like so much over her months at the Agency, "Hello Sir". She could see Francine was smiling too as she leaned back against the front of Billy's desk but it was one of Francine's smirky smiles and Amanda knew something was up. As Billy leaned forward, she turned towards Lee as he said her name. She watched as a smile played across Lee's lips and as he leaned toward her, she braced herself for whatever was coming next
"Amanda, is that house at the end of your street still up for rent?"
"Oh no" she groaned inwardly. "Whatever is going on IS going to involve me and it's happening right in my neighbourhood. Why there and why today when I already have so much on? This had better be good Lee Stetson because I can just tell you are about to ruin my day". She realized she hadn't actually answered Lee's question yet.
"You mean the Cooperman house? I think so. Why?"
"Well, I know someone who wants to rent it for a while"
She watched as the smile on Lee's face broadened to a grin and his body relaxed into what she had long since learned to recognize as full-on Steno Pool Scarecrow. He had a certain way of leaning into the personal space of the girls in the steno pool and turning on the charm when he needed some typing or transcribing done. It was always amazing to watch in action and she had even learned to tell difference between Steno Pool Scarecrow and Steno Pool Stetson – the persona he adopted when he wanted a little more than just some typing from the prettiest new girl in the pool. As Lee answered her question, she realized that she was getting the full Scarecrow charm. He had leaned closer to her, was looking straight into her eyes and his voice had deepened to that tone he used when he thought he was about to pull something over on her.
"Me. I want to get … closer … to someone who lives there". He cocked one eyebrow at her while he waited for her to digest what he'd said.
Amanda caught her breath just for a moment at the mental image of Lee getting any … closer. She dragged her gaze from the full beam of Lee's beautiful hazel eyes and stared down at the floor for a moment to regain her mental balance. Glancing up at Billy and Francine just past Lee's right shoulder, she could see the half-smiles on their face and realized that they too recognized exactly what Lee was up to. She was suddenly annoyed that Lee was making her look foolish –again- in front of Francine and thought to herself "Not this time Buster!" As that tiniest trace of that look went across her face, she saw Billy grin at her sympathetically as if he could read her mind. She started to smile back at him but was interrupted by Lee. As she turned back to look at him, she could see that Lee was confused by the ever-lengthening silence and the look she had exchanged with Billy.
Amanda's mind flashed back to just a few months ago when she had fooled Lee into thinking she had thought there was any possibility she could keep the money that Russian double agent had deposited into her bank account. He had spent almost two hours chasing around the Agency's Legal department before she had finally let him know that she had given the Finance guys permission to access her account and transfer the funds into the Agency coffers the day before. Looking at Lee she realized he was still waiting for her to respond and she knew he was certain she was about to just blindly agree to something just like his little Arlington housewife always did
Stifling the chuckle that threatened to bubble up, she managed to school her face into what she knew her Daddy would have called her "L'il Miss Innocent" face and put on her breathiest tone and reached out to touch his arm.
"Ahhhh Lee. We could just go to dinner. You don't have to move down the street from me." She watched as her words sunk in and Lee's mouth dropped open. "Gotcha!" she gloated, silently. From her position to Lee's left, she saw Francine half-rise off the desk and open her mouth, no doubt to get off one of those annoying put-downs she excelled at. "Not now Francine ", she projected the plea mentally, "let me just yank this chain a little longer". Suddenly she saw Billy's hand close gently over Francine's wrist to stop her saying anything and she permitted herself the tiniest glance at his face. She could see he was grinning broadly now. She lifted her eyebrow the tiniest amount to acknowledge his laughter before looking back at Lee. He was still gaping at her, unsure of how to respond. He flushed and opened and closed his mouth twice more before glancing back to Billy and Francine, who had rapidly schooled their expressions to one of wide-eyed innocent interest.
Lee turned back to Amanda "Ahhh, A-man-da! That's not what I meant! I meant closer to Doctor Leonard Fletcher!"
Content that she had caused Lee at least one moment of being completely off-balance she reverted to her regular tone of voice
"Oooh, this is AGENCY business!" She watched as Lee shook off his unease with the conversation he had just lost control of in the last few minutes and put his agent persona back on. She prodded him to continue.
"Doctor Fletcher? I know him"
"Mmm hmm, I'm gonna need your help. But I can't just go barging into his life so we're going to need to find a way to legitimately and unobtrusively meet him" Lee's voice drifted off as he stared into space, trying to come up with the next step in his plan.
"Well Lee, it's absolutely no problem. I know exactly where he'll be at 4 o'clock this afternoon!" For the second time in as many minutes, Amanda got to enjoy a look of complete stupefaction cross Lee's face as once again his mouth dropped open. Unable to contain it any longer, her throaty laughter burst out of her joined a second later by one of Billy's rip-snorting guffaws.
Two hours later, Lee leaned back in his desk chair in the bull pen after finishing up the paperwork for his new cover as one of Amanda's neighbours. He caught sight of his soon-to-be neighbour working busily at her desk near the steno pool. He couldn't help grinning, thinking back to his last assignment in suburbia with Amanda when they had cracked the gun-running ring hidden under the cover of Connie Beth cosmetics. She had managed to get to know every neighbour in a two-block radius all while somehow actually managing to create a cozy temporary home out of the crazy collection of house furnishings the Agency had pulled out of storage for their house in Betsy Ross Estates. He chuckled again, remembering the bison head her mother had foisted on them, thinking Amanda was helping run some kind of community garage sale. Where on earth had Dotty managed to find that thing? He really must remember to ask Amanda about that sometime, maybe over dinner.
"We could just go to dinner."
Lee caught his breath for a minute, suddenly thinking back to the scene that had played out in Billy's office that morning. He had been fully keyed up, charging ahead with his plan to get close to his surveillance target and somehow Amanda had managed to turn a simple conversation into quicksand beneath his feet. How had that happened?
"We could just go to dinner."
Suddenly he had found himself staring straight into Amanda's beautiful brown eyes, lost in the possibilities that phrase had instantly conjured up in his head.
"You don't have to move down the street from me."
Why had those two simple sentences suddenly seemed so appealing to him? It had taken him so much by surprise that he had somehow managed to miss the glint in her eyes as she had sprung that trap on him and then she had swung straight back into Agency mode to continue the conversation about Doctor Fletcher. Doctor Fletcher - of course she knew Doctor Fletcher. And of course she already had a perfect meeting opportunity set up for him. There was something uncanny about Amanda's ability to end up in these situations, to say nothing of her ability to get under his skin. That laugh that had bubbled up out of her when she saw how stunned he was had taken him completely by surprise, although based on Billy and Francine's reactions, he had been the only one who hadn't seen it coming. He shook his head and grinned again, thinking of the laughing delight that had been on Amanda's face as she'd stood there in Billy's office, filling him in on all the details of her relationship with the chemist who lived down the street.
"You don't have to move down the street from me."
The grin disappeared from his face and was replaced with a scowl as he thought about Doctor Fletcher living down the street from Amanda. A nice single doctor – Dotty West would be in heaven with a nice single doctor down the street, even if he was only a doctor because of his PhD in chemistry. Now, why would that bother him? He should be happy if Amanda found a nice single doctor, shouldn't he?
As he stared into space, he suddenly realized that the object of his thoughts was walking across the bullpen directly towards his desk. He struggled out of his chair as Amanda walked up to his desk. She had her coat on and her purse on her shoulder and a manila envelope in one hand that she held out to him as she approached.
"Okay, here's all the paperwork you need to start the lease on the Cooperman house. It's being rented fully furnished so you should be able to just move in. I'll tell Mother I met you the other day when you were doing a house viewing and that the moving van will come with your belongings. Between her and Edna Gilstrap, it'll be all over the neighbourhood by the end of the evening and no one will question why you've only come with one suitcase."
She grinned at Lee and he couldn't help but smile back at the image of her mother and Edna conniving over cups of coffee to get every speck of neighbourhood information off the jungle telegraph. And then Amanda was off again, into full Amanda ramble while Lee struggled to keep up.
"Ok, now I'm off to the Community Centre to set up for our MSE Meeting this afternoon. Doctor Fletcher is coming around 3:30 and I'm due to introduce him just after 4 o'clock. Hopefully Mrs. Courtney doesn't cause too much trouble. I mean, I know we're all trying to do our best to save the environment but Mrs. Courtney is just so abrasive I think she actually sets us back sometimes, y'know? Have I told you about Mrs. Courtney?" Lee shook his head, as the flow of words washed over him. "Well, you'll probably see her at the meeting today – she'll be the first one up to pick a bone with poor Leonard over his work and then she'll just get everyone else all riled up and well, I just hope the whole thing doesn't get out of hand because I know they picked me as their spokesperson but I just don't know if I can get an entire room of angry women back under control, y'know? I'll need some of that Stetson magic for dealing with angry women, won't I?" She paused for breath and smiled again at Lee. "Alright, I'll see you there at 4:00 right? There's coffee and snacks after the meeting so come and find me there and I'll find a way to introduce to you to Leonard."
Before he even realized she was done talking, Amanda turned to leave and walked away but then she paused at the door of the bullpen to turn back to where Lee was still standing looking dazed.
"Maybe when the meeting's done, we could go for dinner". Lee stared at her as her laughter bubbled up again – that deep throaty laugh he had grown to know so well in the past months. As he flopped back down in his chair, he realized she was still talking over her shoulder as she walked down the hallway to the elevator. "You could come to our house for a nice steak. Mother would be THRILLED to meet you".
Her laughter burst out again and as her words sunk in, Lee couldn't help but start to laugh as well. Leaning back in his chair watching her depart, Lee was still laughing at her parting shot.
"We could just go to dinner."
Yeah, well, maybe they could. A nice steak, bottle of red wine, baked potato on the side, no shop talk for once… We don't do enough of that, do we Amanda?
From his office, Billy Melrose sipped his coffee and surveyed the bullpen just outside his office window. He could see Lee Stetson hunched over paperwork at his desk in the far corner while the partner he still didn't quite know he had yet was head down at her desk working on something similar. As he watched, he saw Lee put down his pen, lean back in his chair and gaze over at Amanda's desk and start to smile. Did Lee even realize how often Billy caught him in exactly that same position? Staring across the heads of the girls in the steno pool, gaze fixed on a certain brunette across the room. Billy started to smile too and then remembering the scene in his office in his office this morning, he started to chuckle out loud.
His day had not started well with that file on the stolen crystals but it had brightened a bit when Lee had called Amanda over to help with his plan and she had flashed him that warm smile as she came in. He did enjoy having such a sunny personality cheering up his bull pen and the home baking was certainly appreciated as well, although Jeanie was not too pleased with what it had been doing to his waistline lately. When Lee had called her into his office today, the greeting had been warm but something had told him, Amanda's mind had been on something else just seconds before she entered. As Lee started to talk to her about the house down the street, it was less his years of Agency training and more his 20 years of marriage that helped him spot the brief flash of annoyance that had crossed her face.
"Uh oh", he'd thought. "Scarecrow is trampling on some other plan she had for today". Fascinated to see how she was going to handle this, Billy had leaned forward on his desk to watch how this was going to play out.
Scarecrow had been in full charm mode – some sense of self-preservation must have told him that Amanda was not in as tractable as mood as usual but he had charged ahead with his plan.
"I want to get … closer … to someone who lives there". Scarecrow had dropped his voice to that velvety tone Billy knew he used on the steno pool to get his typing done.
Amanda was now staring at the floor, the blush rising on her cheeks. Billy was just starting to feel sorry for her when she had raised her head and glanced directly at him over Lee's shoulder. He'd realized that what he had taken for a flush of embarrassment at Lee's comment was actually annoyance. He'd grinned at her sympathetically and then suddenly he had seen her face change and the mischievous look that had come into her very expressive eyes. Almost before he could believe what he was seeing, she had dropped her gaze to the floor and when she looked up again to face Lee, her expression had been positively angelic.
"Ahhhh, Lee. We could just go to dinner. You don't have to move down the street from me." The trembling hand on his arm had been a nice touch and Billy could barely contain his laughter as he watched his best agent transform in front of him from polished flirter to stunned schoolboy. As Lee had stood there, mouth opening and losing like a fish out of water, he had felt Francine straighten up in front of him, and quickly grabbed her wrist to stop her from saying anything that would interrupt the scene playing out in front of them. She turned towards him and he shook his head imperceptibly and then nodded towards Lee. Francine had seen the expression on Lee's face and had suddenly understood. As Lee turned towards them, still stunned by Amanda's comment, they had both stared back at him with their best agent blank expressions, although he could see the whitening of Francine's knuckles as she gripped the edge of the desk trying not to laugh.
Lee had turned back to Amanda "Ahhh, A-man-da! That's not what I meant! I meant closer to Doctor Leonard Fletcher!"
Amanda's angelic look had transformed into her best business-like face as she'd replied, "Oooh, this is AGENCY business!"
They all watched as Lee almost physically shook off his unease with the conversation he had just lost control of in the last few minutes and put his agent persona back on before she had prodded him to continue.
"Doctor Fletcher? I know him"
"Mmm hmm, I'm gonna need your help. But I can't just go barging into his life so we're going to need to find a way to legitimately and unobtrusively meet him." Lee's voice had drifted off as he'd stared into space, trying to come up with the next step in his plan.
"Well Lee, it's absolutely no problem. I know exactly where he'll be at 4 o'clock this afternoon!" For the second time in as many minutes, Billy got to enjoy a look of complete stupefaction cross Lee's face as once again his mouth dropped open. When Amanda's laugh had burst out, he couldn't contain his own any longer. He'd though Francine was going to cough up a lung she had been laughing so hard and he'd watched as she had given Amanda a smirking thumbs-up on her way out of his office.
Still chuckling, Billy realized that Amanda had stood up to leave and was walking across to Scarecrow's desk. Lee had scrambled to unfold his lanky frame out of his desk chair as she approached. Billy grinned. Did he even realize he did that? Lee had been brought up to exacting military standards by his uncle but he had long since given up standing up for a lady when the bullpen was full of female agents and secretaries coming to his desk all day, usually to flirt or distract him in some other fashion. No, that was something he now reserved only for Amanda King.
As Billy watched Lee greet Amanda's beaming smile with one of his own and take the paperwork from her, she said something that had made him throw back his head and laugh. Amanda had stood there for a few more minutes; Billy could see that she was talking a mile a minute about something and Lee was still standing, nodding his head as he tried to follow what Billy privately called an Amanda avalanche. He was obviously actually following what she was saying because the nodding had stopped and he had shaken his head in response to something she had asked and then she was off again. As she went to leave, Lee dropped back into his chair, but then she leaned back through door being held open by the Marine Guard and called something back to Lee as she went. A shadow of that morning's stunned expression had flitted across his face just as Amanda had said something else, burst out laughing and turned to walk away to the elevator. The stunned expression lifted and Lee had burst out laughing as his gaze followed Amanda down the corridor. Billy's grin grew even wider as he watched Lee lean back further and further in his chair, extending the amount of time he could watch the woman he still didn't quite know was his partner walk down the hall away from him.
Yup, best thing he'd ever done forcing those two to work together. Billy could hardly wait to get home and tell Jeanie about the day's developments in this most unlikely of partnerships.