Disclaimer: none of these characters belong to me; they belong to Shoot the Moon Enterprises and Warner Bros to whom I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to take them out for a spin and bit of light humour.
Author's Note: Written in response to the Facebook fan fic challenge to answer the question "What if…" I went with the question "What if Dean's train had been leaving ten minutes later than it did in "The First Time"?
Thank heavens there was no word limit on the challenge because this went from a two-minute what-if scene to an 8500 word full episode from someone who thought she could never do the AU thing. I hope you enjoy it.
Are you with me, Sundance?
Lee Stetson scrambled under the train and began to weave his way through the crowd of commuters thronging the platform. He was on the brink of exhaustion; he'd been on the run for five hours and he'd been unable to shake the two goons who had followed him from the party. He couldn't believe they were still with him; they looked like run-of-the-mill thugs but they had managed to keep up with him through all his usual evasion tricks. They had to be Russians, but he hadn't recognized them from any of the daily reports.
"Who are those guys?" he thought and then laughed to himself, remembering how Eric used to make that joke to him all the time. Even over the pain of his burning lungs and the stitch in his side, he felt the pang of his missing partner. "Jeez, Butch, if you were going to die, you could have least lined up a new Sundance for me."
It was right at that moment, glancing over his shoulder on his way to the train where safety and his contact lay, that he stumbled and fell against a woman in the crowd, knocking her to the ground and falling with her in a tangle of arms, legs, beige coat, and handbag and dropping his brown paper package.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry" he muttered, scrambling to his feet and leaning down to grab her hand to help her up.
"Oh don't be silly, I'm just fine. Could have happened to anyone in such a crowd" As she rose to her feet, and smiled at him, he found himself looking into the most mesmerizing dark brown eyes he'd ever seen and was speechless. She seemed equally struck dumb and they stared at each other silently before the quiet was broken by the angry voice of the man beside her.
"Hey, bozo! You can let her go now! First you knock her down and now you're holding hands like you're at prom!"
Lee realized he was holding the woman's lower arms and jumped back as if he'd been burned. The woman had turned to the angry guy and was saying quietly "Dean! Don't be such a -, don't be so mean! It was just an accident and I'm fine". She stooped down and picked up her purse and the brown paper parcel from the ground before turning back to Lee again with that shy smile. "Here you go. Hope you didn't hurt yourself when we fell."
"No, thank you I'm fine" he managed to blurt out, reaching out to take the package, startled at the apparent electric shock he got when his fingers accidentally touched hers.
"Amanda! Come on!" The angry guy was now tugging at her arm. "Look at him, he's just some drunk who's obviously spent the night in a gutter and now he's knocking down defenceless females"
The woman shook her elbow out of his hand with a slightly annoyed expression. "Dean! I said I was fine!"
Lee looked past her and realized the goons were catching up quickly. "I'm really sorry, but I have to run." He gave her one last glance before turning and running down the platform for the train where his contact was waiting for him. In an agony of slow motion, he realized how much time that run-in on the platform had cost him as the train doors slid shut, the whistle sounded and the train began to slowly pull out of the station. The hopelessness of his situation overtook him, as did the goons seconds later, tackling him into a luggage cart and beginning to pummel him as he tried to wrap his body around the precious parcel to protect it. Unable to fight back and knocked breathless by the landing, it took him a moment to realize that they had stopped hitting him until he heard the woman's voice.
Rolling over and opening one eye, he looked up to see the woman in the beige coat was standing behind the biggest guy, shrieking "Leave. Him. Alone!" and punctuating each word with a blow to the guy's back and head with her purse. Her boyfriend, Angry Guy, was still standing down the platform, mouth agape at her actions. As Lee watched, the smaller thug pulled out a pistol and began to approach the woman from behind.
"NO!" he screamed as he pulled his own gun from his holster. He somehow managed to force his body upright enough to grab the dangling ends of her scarf in his right hand and pull her out of the line of fire as he shot with the gun in his left. Unbalanced by the sudden yank on her scarf, the woman fell forwards and landed on top of him, sending him backwards again towards the pavement. Just as Lee saw the smaller thug collapse from his fatal shot, his head hit the concrete and he lost consciousness.
He woke to find himself staring up at the overhead beams of the train platform, hearing angry voices, first as if from a distance but then seeming to get closer as the ringing in his ears lessened.
"Amanda, I can't believe you launched in there to help this bozo! What were you thinking?"
"Dean! I can't believe you didn't! I was thinking that someone was being attacked by two men and no one was helping him! What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking, A-man-da, that getting involved in a gun fight on a train platform at 7 o'clock in the morning is not how I thought I'd be starting my day! Now come on and leave this guy for security to deal with! I've already missed one train and the next one is leaving in two minutes!"
"No, I am not going to leave him for security! He has a huge gash on the back of his head and I think he's going into shock! If your gosh-darned train is so important, you can just run along and get out of here!"
Angry Guy seemed to waver for a moment, looking down at Lee and then down the platform to the waiting train. "Fine! I'm going. You know I can't be late for this conference! I'll call you later!" He grabbed his briefcase and headed away from them.
Lee tried to get his bearings. He knew he was on his back and his head hurt like hell, but it took several more seconds to realize that his head was laying in someone's lap. He shifted and had a second realization that he was draped in the beige coat that the woman had been wearing. He tried to sit up and felt a firm hand on his chest pushing him back down. Turning his head, he found himself looking up again at those beautiful brown eyes and shy smile. "Well, hey if it isn't Butch Cassidy. Welcome back but don't move. You've had a pretty good bang to your head."
He thought for a moment, trying to get a clear thought out before finally saying "Not drunk."
"I know, but you have hurt yourself pretty badly and I need you to stay still until the ambulance gets here."
"Don't need ambulance". He struggled to get up but once again found himself being pushed back down. Suddenly overcome with nausea, he gave into that firm hand and lay back on her lap, his head pillowed by the scarf which had been folded and placed against his throbbing head wound. He stared up at this angel of mercy who was still looking down at him, slight smile on her lips as she brushed the hair out of his eyes. "Thanks for saving me, Sundance." he finally managed to get out.
"Same here". She looked over to her right, and following her gaze, he could see the prone body of the thug he'd shot, now covered with a blanket by the security officer he could see standing beside them. "Dean says that guy would have shot me if you hadn't gotten me out of the way." She seemed to get paler as he watched.
"What happened to the other guy?"
"He ran off once the guns came out. The other security guard was chasing him last I saw."
Lee was still having trouble getting whole sentences out; his head was pounding and she kept going in and out of focus. He realized again that she was no longer wearing a coat because it was wrapped around him like a blanket. "You must be cold. Why do I have your coat? What are you wearing?" This last question popped out as he took in the fact that all she had on was a thin cotton nightgown.
The dark-eyed woman gave a low chuckle. "Yeah, that'll teach me to think I can run morning errands without getting properly dressed. I didn't think I'd be taking my coat off and sitting in the middle of the train station in my nightgown." He struggled to sit up again and once again she easily held him down. "Don't worry. I'm fine, but I think you might be going into shock and we need to keep you warm. Just stay still, I can hear the ambulance coming now. What's your name? Is there anyone we should call?"
Bewildered by the pain, Lee could no longer remember if he was under cover or not and blurted out the first name that came to him "Lee Steadman. Call IFF and tell them where I am." His head was starting to throb harder.
"What's IFF?" he heard her ask. "Mr. Steadman? Stay with me"
Lee knew here was something else important he had to ask her but when he shifted again to say more, the pain in his head made him lose consciousness again.
Amanda watched as the man in her lap passed out again. She had felt such relief when she'd looked down a few minutes before and seen those beautiful hazel eyes looking back up at her. He'd been out for several minutes by that time and she'd been worried he wasn't going to come to at all. And now she panicked slightly, watching those eyes cloud over and roll up in his head again as they talked. She had never in her life been so thankful to hear the siren of an ambulance and to watch as the paramedics ran down the platform towards her.
They quickly loaded him onto a stretcher and wrapped him in blankets so she was able to slip her coat back on over the nightgown. She hadn't realized how cold she was until she had it back on, warmed slightly by the body heat of the man who had just been taken away. The security officer who had been busy dealing with the police officers who had arrived on scene, walked over to talk to her. "I don't suppose you want this back, do you?" he said, holding out the bloodied scarf that she had so recently placed against the bleeding head wound. Taking it without thinking, she glanced down the front of her nightgown and realized there was bloodstains on that as well. Sighing deeply, she thought to herself what a story she'd have to tell her mother when she got home. "Oh my gosh" she thought to herself, "Mother must be frantic wondering where I've gotten to. I'm sure this is on the news by now."
The guard had squatted in front of her and now stood up holding out her purse and something else for her to take. She reached out and took it automatically before recognizing it as the paper-wrapped package that man had been carrying when they'd bumped into each other. She had a vague recollection of falling on top of it when he'd pulled her out of the way of that gun. She stared at it and then turned down the platform to where she could see the ambulance pulling away, sirens back on. "Now what am I going to do with this?" she thought to herself.
The security guard was talking to her again. "The cops said the other witnesses said that guy was like some kind of secret agent, fighting off those guys and pulling a gun. Can you believe it?"
She shook her head, but in her mind, she admitted she could absolutely believe it, reliving that moment when he had pulled her out of the way and pulled his gun out in one fluid motion of protection.
"He said we should call IFF, but I don't know what that is." she told the guard.
"Huh. Well I'll go tell the police, but I think they already know something about that guy but they're not talking much. Did they talk to you yet? About what happened?"
Amanda shook her head. "Not yet. Did they say which hospital they were taking him to? I'd like to call later and see if he's ok."
The guard looked doubtful. "I'm not sure. Maybe Sibley? That's closest." There was a sudden squawking of police radios at the end of the platform and the two officers who had been standing there making notes suddenly ran off. The security guard looked at Amanda and said "I should go find out what that's about" and ran off as well.
Amanda found herself alone on an empty train platform, in a blood stained nightgown holding a blood-soaked scarf and a package for a man with the most beautiful eyes she'd ever seen. She waited for a moment to see if the police or the guard were going to come back, but the minutes passed and she was getting colder and colder standing there. Eventually she just shrugged her shoulders and headed for her car, knowing she had to get home before her mother reported her missing.
Over at Georgetown University Hospital, Billy Melrose burst into the emergency room, racing up to the reception desk to flash his Agency badge. "I'm looking for one of my agents. I was told he was brought in here with a head wound?"
The receptionist look at his badge carefully. "I don't have the updated list of anyone who came in by ambulance, but let me check with the nurse in charge." She picked up the phone and dialled the extension. After a few moments, she put her hand over the receiver and said "She says she has a guy named Stetson back there with a waiter's uniform and a gun – is that your guy?"
Billy nodded with relief. "Yeah, that's my guy. Can I go back there?"
The nurse motioned with her head to the swinging doors. "Head on back – I'll let them know you're coming."
He stopped outside the door to a private room guarded by a DC police officer. He flashed him the badge as he stood outside the door. "Is there a problem, Officer?"
"Your guy here was involved in a fatal shooting down at the train station. I've been told to stay here until we can get a witness statement, unless…" the police officer nodded towards Billy's badge "I'm not going to get one, am I?"
"Nope, you're not. Here, give my card to your captain. He can call me later and get a briefing. But not until I've talked to my agent first."
The cop glanced at the card in his hand and shrugged. "Ok, he's all yours. I'll radio in on my way back to work that we're off this one."
Billy stopped him as he turned to leave. "Do you know any of the details of what went down at the train station?"
"Just the basic outline. Security says he was being attacked, that some guy pulled a gun on the woman who was helping him, and he shot them. Couldn't tell you any more detail than that."
"Ok, thanks." Billy pushed the door open and went into the room. He found Lee, looking battered and bruised curled up on his side, the large white bandage around his head and the fluorescent lighting making him look even more pale and drawn. He could see the uniform Lee had been wearing in the trash in the corner, covered in blood. He made a note to himself to grab that before it got thrown away. "Hey Scarecrow, you awake?"
Lee's eyes fluttered open at his voice. "Billy? Did I make it? Did you get the package?"
Billy was so relieved to see Lee open his eyes that it took him a moment to process the question. "The package? What package?"
Lee's eyes closed again and it appeared to cost him great effort to speak again. "The package from Henderson. I had it with me at the station but I missed the train. I didn't get it to Mike but I don't think that goon got it. She would have told me."
Lee opened his eyes and looked at Billy with confusion. "The woman from the station. The one who saved me at the station. The guy was going to shoot her and I shot him and then she was there when I woke up. Didn't anybody talk to her?"
Billy pulled up a chair so that he could be at eye-level with Lee. "No, we only just got word you were here. We haven't had a chance to talk to any witnesses yet. Who was this woman?"
Lee laughed softly, wincing at the pain as he did so. "She was amazing, Billy. I was going down for the third time when she came out of nowhere and started attacking those guys with her purse."
Billy couldn't help laughing. "With her purse? You were saved by a woman and her purse?"
"Yeah, real handbags at dawn stuff." His brows drew together as he thought back to that morning. "Her boyfriend was not impressed. I think he just left her there. Jerk."
"Well, who was she? What was her name?"
Lee thought for a moment before finally saying with triumph, "Amanda"
He concentrated again before finally admitting "I don't know".
"Well what did she look like?"
"Katharine Ross" Lee said firmly.
"Katharine Ross. The actress? From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Brown hair. Gorgeous eyes."
Billy couldn't keep himself from chuckling at Lee's dreamy description of the woman from the station.
"She was wearing a nightgown."
Billy couldn't believe he'd heard that right. "She was wearing what?"
"A nightgown. I don't think she was meant to be at the station at all."
"Well lucky for you she was, Scarecrow"
"Yeah, lucky for me." He paused and looked up at Billy. "Billy. I don't feel so good. It's really cold in here and my throat's itchy and…" As Billy watched, his eyes rolled back in his head and he was out again. Leaping up to press the call button, Billy leaned in and put his finger on the pulse point in Lee's neck. He could feel it getting weaker under his fingers and ran to the door to bellow for help.
Nurses burst into the room from every direction. As one rolled Lee onto his back, another ran back onto the hallway to grab a crash cart. The senior nurse grabbed his chart from the door and quickly glanced at it. "Why is he crashing from a simple head wound? He hasn't even had anything other than local anesthetic and some penicillin."
"Oh my God " yelled Billy "He's allergic to penicillin! That's why he's crashing."
"Then why the hell wasn't he wearing a medic alert bracelet? Damnit, damnit, damnit!" The nurse scrambled around the crash cart until she found the vial she was looking for, then quickly filled a hypodermic needle. "I need you to clear the room please."
Billy went back out into the hallway, and collapsed into a chair outside the door. He watched as the door burst open again and the staff wheeled Lee down the hall and into an elevator at high speed. He was still sitting there, hoping for news, when Francine found him twenty minutes later.
"Billy? How is he?" Despite her snarky exterior, Billy could see the genuine worry in Francine's eyes. "I don't know yet. There was a screw up and they gave him penicillin when he came in." Francine gasped. "Yeah, as if the beating wasn't bad enough, now it's the health care system that's trying to kill him." He paused and dropped his head in his hands "It's been bad enough losing all the agents we have in the last few months. I can't lose Scarecrow too and for such a stupid reason."
Francine dropped her arm across her boss' shoulders. "He'll be fine, Billy. He's in the right place with the right people and he'll be fine." They sat slumped together like that for several minutes before Billy finally pulled himself to his feet and said "I can't stand waiting around here anymore. Lee said something about having a package with him. Do you want to stay here and wait for word on him while I go get hold of the station cops for more info on what happened?"
"Yeah, let me just call and move my lesson with Mrs. Welch and then I'm free for rest of the day and the whole evening."
Billy chuckled. "You're still doing those cooking lessons? Are they helping? The last time you made the coffee in the bull pen, you even managed to burn that!"
"Hey, I'm not that bad! But yeah, they're helping. I managed to make an omelette last night that was actually pretty much not terrible." She paused and laughed a bit with her boss. "I don't know how though, I always feel like I've forgotten most of the lessons by the time I get home."
"You know what? Don't move your lesson. I can make the calls from here and at least one of us should be trying to have a normal life right now. I'll call you tonight and let you know how Lee's doing and we can start fresh tomorrow trying to figure out what Lee was onto. Oh, and his clothes are still in there. Can you get them bagged and dropped off at the lab before you head back?"
"Sure can." Francine gave him once last squeeze on the shoulder before standing up and heading into the examining room to collect the clothes while Billy headed down the hall to look for a payphone.
Amanda has managed to wait until her mother was out of the house before beginning the calls to hospitals trying to find out what had happened to the guy from the station. She had started with Sibley but no one there had heard of Lee Steadman. She worked her way through the rest of the yellow pages but no hospital in the DC area knew who he was. "Maybe he wasn't as badly hurt as I thought" she said trying to comfort herself. "Maybe that's why he's not listed anywhere." The horrible thought crossed her mind that maybe he'd died and that's why no one could find him. "Stop it!" she told herself. "He only had a bump on the head. No one dies from a bump on the head. He just got patched up and released and he's fine."
She looked over at the dining room table where she'd left his parcel. "But what on earth am I going to do with that if I can't find him?"
Francine arrived at Lee's hospital room the next morning with a chocolate cake wrapped in plastic wrap. "Hey, good looking. Heard you were feeling way better so I brought you breakfast!"
Lee groaned as he opened his eyes. "Francine, you know I don't eat breakfast." He stared at the plate in her hands. "What the hell is that?"
"I know you don't eat breakfast. That's why I brought you a cake. Made it myself!"
Lee looked even more doubtful. "You made it? And you want me to eat it? I thought you wanted me to get better."
"Ha ha ha" smirked Francine. "I made it myself under the supervision of Mrs. Welch so I'm sure it's good. You know, I'm sure these private lessons are helping but I must just get in some sort of groove when I'm doing this stuff because I never feel like I can remember everything I did to make stuff. I should try doing one of her recipes at home and see if the same things happens there. Maybe I'm some sort of kitchen goddess and I just don't know it."
"Well actually, this is really good" said Lee as he looked up from where he had taken a fingerful of icing right off the cake on his bedside table. "And it's a lot better than the swill they tried to get me eat this morning."
Billy walked in, carrying several files. "Glad to see you looking better Scarecrow. You gave us quite the scare last night."
"Sorry Billy. But why am I even still here? I feel fine and I hate hospitals. I need to get back to work. Did the parcel show up? Did you find Amanda?"
"Amanda?" asked Francine
"No and no" said Billy. "No one at the station has seen any sign of any parcel around your crime scene, and your Amanda has vanished like so much smoke. If it wasn't for the security guard confirming there was a woman there, I'd have thought you'd imagined her"
"She can't have vanished Billy – she was involved in a major crime in the middle of a busy train platform. The cops had to have talked to her."
"You'd think so, but somehow they managed to get statements from everyone except her before they got called away to a purse snatching a block away. By the time they got back, she was nowhere to be found."
Lee fell back against the pillows and stared at the ceiling. "Seriously? How do you manage to lose a beautiful woman in a nightgown in the middle of a train station full of people? Someone must know who she is. That guy she was fighting with looked familiar but I don't know why."
"Who is Amanda and why was she wearing a nightgown in a train station?" asked Francine.
"She was the woman who helped get those goons off me and sat with me until the ambulance got there. I have no idea why she was in a nightgown."
"Well, how housewifey it all sounds. Did she have curlers in her hair too?"
Lee glared at her. "She saved my life, Francine. You can just can the snarky remarks."
Billy pulled out a stack of photos from the files. "We got these from the security cameras. I'm hoping we can figure out who she is from these."
Lee took the stack and started going through them. He found one of himself, laying with his head in her lap, but she was looking down at him and her hair had fallen across her face, obscuring her features. He could see her coat laying across him and wondered how she had not been freezing to death sitting on the cold concrete with her nightgown hiked up around her knees. "Well we know something else about my Amanda" he said to Billy as he passed him the photograph. "She has great legs."
Billy snorted with laughter. "True but that's not helping much. Except, wait a minute – is that the parcel you were talking about sitting beside her?" he passed the photo back to Lee.
"Yeah! Yeah it is! Maybe she still has it!" Lee began flipping through the photos rapidly trying to find one where he could see her face. Finally he found one, obviously taken just before he'd crashed into her. "That's her, and that's her jerk boyfriend!"
Francine looked over Billy's shoulder. "That jerk boyfriend is Dean Maguire, the weather guy from Channel 4!"
Lee looked at her in astonishment. "Yeah, that's right, she called him Dean! And I recognize him from those stupid bus ads!"
Billy turned to Francine "Get down to the station and talk to him right now – we have to find out who Lee's Amanda is and whether she still has that parcel!"
Francine leapt to her feet and headed out the door. "Are we going to keep calling her Lee's Amanda until we find her? How…cozy."
"Can it, Francine!" chorused Lee and Billy as she left the room.
It wasn't difficult to find Dean Maguire, but Francine had to agree with Lee's description of him as the jerk boyfriend. Suspicious of Francine's story of national security considerations and matters of life and death, he had first tried to claim journalistic privilege, saying he wouldn't reveal Amanda's full name as if she was a source to be protected. Then when she threatened him with a subpoena to a grand jury, he backed down but still refused to give her the name until he had a chance to call this Amanda-woman and make sure she had legal representation before he would let her talk to Francine.
"Let her talk to me? How big a jerk is this guy?" she thought to herself. "This woman fought off two armed hooligans and this guy is making decisions about who she can talk to?" She controlled her temper however and smiled sweetly at Dean. "Fine. You go call her and ask if we can come by and interview her as a material witness to a serious crime. And if you're quick about it, we'll even do our best to make sure your name stays out of the paper and not at all associated with a shooting death in the middle of Union Station!"
Dean blanched and almost ran from the room, such was his sudden eagerness to get hold of Amanda and get this woman off his back. He returned five minutes later, looking dejected. "She wasn't home. Her mother said she's gone off to do her volunteer work this morning. She's a Bedside Bluebell, you know."
Francine looked blank. "She's a what?"
"A Bedside Bluebell. It's a kind of hospital volunteer – she's like a regular Florence Nightingale, wandering around cheering up patients."
Francine felt a glimmer of hope "What hospital does she volunteer at?"
Dean looked panicked. "I, uh, I don't really know" He looked frightened as Francine glared at him. "I mean, she's probably told me, but she talks a lot, I mean, like a lot, and sometimes I just zone out and I don't hear everything she says…" his voice drifted off as Francine continued to glare. She leaned forward and growled menacingly into his face.
"What. Is. Her. Name?"
"King. Amanda King."
Francine whirled and ran towards the lobby payphone. "Could we get this lucky? Could she possibly be at Georgetown?"
Amanda arrived for her shift as a Bedside Bluebell at Georgetown at ten o'clock. She stopped to talk to Betty at reception and asked if she could check her patient list to see if Lee Steadman was listed anywhere. She knew he hadn't been yesterday but she still held out hope of finding him. There hadn't even been anything about the train station incident in that morning's paper. She had begun to think the police may not have been wrong about him being a secret agent – how else could such a violent crime not get a mention in the paper, even in Washington?
"Nope, no such guy, Amanda. Guess you'll have to stick with Dean!" Betty laughed heartily at her own joke.
Amanda smiled weakly and walked away, thinking about the fight she'd had with Dean the night before when he'd called after getting back from his conference. He was still mad that she had interfered in the fight and she still hadn't been able to believe that he'd been willing to just leave that man being beaten up. She was beginning to think Dean was not the great guy her mother thought he was.
Betty called her back "Oh Amanda, I forgot to tell you the news! You know Mrs. Welch from Colonial Cookery?"
Amanda nodded - it was her mother's favourite programme.
"Well, she's in the hospital today, touring around and meeting patients as part of a special episode of recipes for invalids! Isn't that exciting? I really hope she comes through here – I'd love to get her autograph!"
"Yeah, that would be great, Betty! I hope you get one! I guess I better get going or I'm going to be late with the book cart!" She backed away and headed to the elevator, still distracted wondering what could have happened to Lee Steadman and how he could have fallen off the face of the earth.
After collecting the Bluebell cart, Amanda began her rounds of the fifth floor. Her innate cheerfulness and the gratitude she was greeted with as she worked her way around the floor helped get her mind off the previous day's events, right up until the moment she rounded the corner and found herself face to face with the thug from the train platform.
She gasped and jumped back against the wall, but to her astonishment, as their eyes met, his gaze simply flicked her up and down and then he stepped around the cart and carried on down the hall. Somehow he hadn't recognized her. She looked down and realized that her Bluebell uniform had given her a kind of cloak of invisibility. She turned to see where he'd gone and saw he was working his way down the hall, looking into each room as he went. She looked around desperately for a phone and then wondered who she should even call. She stood there for a moment, watching him continue to creep down the hall, before coming to a decision. Pushing her cart past him to the end of the hall, she paused at the corner and pretended to be reorganizing her supplies while watching him out of the corner of her eye. He was coming closer and closer and she breathed a sigh of relief as he continued to ignore her. He reached the corner and as he turned it, she was startled to see him stop to talk to someone. And not just any someone, could that actually be Mrs. Welch from the tv show? She edged closer trying to hear what they were saying.
"Haven't you found him yet? That Desmond woman said he was here!"
"Well, there's no one registered under Stetson anywhere. They've got to be hiding him under another name. I've checked all the rooms on this floor and I'm headed downstairs to keep looking."
A sour expression went across Mrs. Welch's face. "I've got to get back to my goodwill tour. I'll try and wrap it up and ditch my guide and meet up with you as soon as I can. We have to find Stetson – killing him would keep us in the Politburo's good graces for the rest of our lives!"
Amanda could barely contain her gasp of surprise. Mrs. Welch of Colonial Cookery was a Russian? As the two of them split up, Amanda made the split second decision to follow the man, reasoning that Mrs. Welch couldn't get into too much trouble if she was in a throng of admirers. She barely made it into the same elevator as the Russian thug she'd been beating over the head just 24 hours earlier. Deciding that offense was always the best defence, she turned to him with a bright smile. "Beautiful day isn't it? Are you here visiting anyone special?"
The thug tuned to her and grunted. "Something like that." She was relieved to see there was still no light of recognition in his eyes.
They reached the next floor and Amanda pushed the cart off and paused, waiting to see which way he'd go. He peeled off to the left and again began checking every room. She inched her way down the hall, chatting absentmindedly with people as she passed, but always with one eye on her quarry. When he looked into one room, and then pulled back to look around the hall before disappearing quickly inside, she sped up until she was outside the door he'd vanished into. Looking in the window, she could see him approaching the bed, pulling something out of his pocket, and as he moved around the side of the bed, she recognized Lee Steadman's sleeping form and went into action.
Lee woke to the telltale sound of a silencer being clicked into place somewhere near the side of his bed. As he opened his eyes and turned towards the sound, he found himself looking down the barrel of a KGB-issue revolver and the face of the train station platform goon leering down at him. Billy was nowhere to be seen. His last thought as he watched the finger begin to squeeze the trigger was "Damnit, I really hoped I wasn't going to end up dying in a damn hospital". Before he could even complete the thought, the door to his room burst open and a woman in uniform backed in, pulling a hospital cart of some type and talking a mile a minute. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Boris-the-Goon, drop the gun to his side, out of sight.
"Well, good morning. Isn't it a lovely morning? I'm your Bedside Bluebell and I'm here to make your stay more comfortable. Now what would you like from the cart? I have books, magazines, chocolate bars…"
To Lee's astonishment, just as she got close to the two of them, the woman suddenly swung around and clocked Boris with a bedpan to the head. He staggered back, dropping the revolver and she swung the bedpan again across his face before finally knocking him out by bringing it down on his head. She stood there panting for a moment and staring at the prone Russian on the floor before finally turning to him and saying with a half-laugh "Who are these guys?" Lee couldn't speak. He stared into the sparkling brown eyes of the woman from the station and then back at the unconscious form on the floor before starting to laugh uncontrollably at what she'd asked. She started to laugh as well, taking his hand and gripping it tightly while she sagged against the side of the bed in relief.
"Nice to see you again Butch" he finally managed to gasp out.
"I thought you were Butch and I was Sundance?" She was still holding his hand and leaning on the bed, but she had managed to get the tinge of hysteria out of her voice. 'Wow' she thought to herself. 'I thought he was handsome before but those dimples could drive a woman out of her mind.' She realized he was speaking again.
"How did you get here? How did you find me?"
"I didn't find you, I found him. I saw him in the hallway and I recognized him from yesterday but he didn't recognize me, so I followed him to see what he was up to and he led me here." She suddenly shot upright. "Oh my gosh! He wasn't alone! I heard him talking to someone in the hallway about killing someone named Stetson and it just doesn't make any sense because it was.."
"Me" said a voice from the doorway. Amanda whirled around as Lee looked towards the voice and watched as an older woman holding a revolver walked slowly towards them. "Now isn't this cozy? It would have been so much simpler if you had just let my friend down there on the floor kill Mr. Stetson and slip away. How unfortunate that I'll have to kill you both now."
Amanda's grip on Lee's hand tightened for a moment and then she let go and stepped slightly away from the bed. Lee felt a pang of disappointment that he wasn't going to die holding hands with this gorgeous woman.
"You're Mrs. Welch from that tv cooking show aren't you? You can't be a killer" Amanda was rambling now, apparently panic-stricken. "I mean I just watched your show yesterday where you made the peach puff recipe. How can you be standing here waving a gun at us?"
Mrs. Welch sneered at her. "You Americans and your obsession with celebrities. In Russia we celebrate artists and heroes, in America you elect movie stars! Bah!" She had been walking steadily towards them as she spoke, and as she approached the still form of her colleague, she stooped down to pick up his dropped revolver. "This will make it easier. His silencer is already in place."
As she straightened up, Amanda whirled to grab the adjustable table that was across Lee's bed and swung it into Mrs. Welch's body. As the older woman leapt to try and avoid it, Amanda grabbed the plate with Francine's cake on it and drove into her face, pushing her back across the room towards the window. The two of them crashed into the wall, still struggling and bringing the blinds down with a crash on top of them. Amanda managed to extricate herself first, struggling to get up but slipping in the cake that was now strewn across the floor. Lee had rolled out of the bed and grabbed one of the guns off the floor where it had fallen from Mrs. Welch's hand and was now desperately trying to stay steady enough to keep it aimed at the Russian agent. Amanda had reached the cart and was now tossing things at the woman, trying to knock the other gun out of her hand. Finally in one last desperate act, she grabbed a hardback book with two hands and swung out, catching the Russian on the side of the head, dropping her to the floor instantly.
They stood there for a moment, both panting with exertion, staring at the two Russians on the floor. Lee looked up and stared around at the wreckage of what had been a pristine hospital room just minutes before. "Think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?"
Amanda stared at him for a second before her face lit up with laughter. "I thought we'd agreed you were Butch and I was Sundance?"
"Either way, Bolivia is starting to look a lot safer than this hospital." He held out a hand towards her and she slid across the room through the cake mess on the floor to take it in hers. She was still holding the book in her other hand and as she brought it up to drop on the bed, she began to laugh again. Lee raised an eyebrow at her and then started to laugh as well as she brought it up to eye level and he saw she had taken out Mrs. Welch with a copy of War and Peace. "Nice touch, Sundance."
He leaned back against the bed and pulled Amanda into a quick hug before pushing her back and looking her up and down. "Are you ok? Did she hurt you? What on earth are you wearing?"
Amanda began to laugh harder. "I have never met a man who is so obsessed with what I'm wearing. Why do you care?"
Lee caught his breath, entranced by this woman standing in front of him covered in cake and laughing having just saved him from certain death three times in less than 24 hours. "I guess I'm just amazed by your sense of fashion for every occasion."
It was only seconds later that Billy and Francine burst into the room, guns drawn, and slid to a stop. Lee and Amanda had only just barely gotten their laughter under control, but almost lost it again at the looks on their faces as they took in the almost total destruction of the room and the two bodies on the floor.
Billy recovered first, putting his gun back in its holster before stepping forward holding out a hand to Amanda. "Mrs. King I presume? I'm William Melrose. We've been searching this whole hospital trying to find you."
Amanda looked startled even as she put out a hand to shake his. "How did you know that?" she asked even as Lee said "Billy, this is my Amanda". She turned to look at Lee with a confused expression. "Your Amanda?"
Lee was just opening his mouth to explain when Francine gave a cry of annoyance from where she was still standing near the door "Lee! Is that my cake all over the floor?"
"Yeah, but on the upside, it helped save my life. Turns out even your good cooking can be a weapon in the right hands." He couldn't help but grin at Francine's exasperated expression. "Oh, and I think you can forget about continuing your cooking lessons" He gestured towards the woman's body on the floor as Billy rolled her over and watched Francine's mouth drop open in amazement as she recognized her.
"Mrs. Welch? That's impossible!"
Amanda broke in on the conversation. "I heard them talking in the hallway about finding Mr. Steadman" she paused, confused and looked at Lee.
"Stetson" he corrected her.
"Right, Stetson. Ok. So anyway, they said someone named Desmond had told them you were here." She looked around at the other three people as Billy and Lee both turned to stare at Francine who was now standing stock still, mouth opening and closing rapidly.
"I didn't! I couldn't! I wouldn't! I mean, I saw her last night at my cooking lesson, but she thinks I work for a film company! I would never have told anyone about Lee being here!" she was looking increasingly panicky as the two men continued to stare at her.
Billy suddenly snapped his fingers and pointed at her. "Wait a minute. Didn't you say you always felt like you couldn't remember much of the lessons you had with her? Could she have been drugging you?"
Francine was now looking like she wanted to cry. "No! It's just not possible! I'm trained to avoid these things. No!" She stopped, obviously thinking back to her lessons and her shoulders slumped. "Oh hell, I don't know. Maybe?"
Billy sighed. "Well, you're going to have to get tested when we get back to the Agency, but in the meantime..." he stopped and looked around the room again "we better deal with these two. Francine, go find Fred and get him to help get these two out of here."
Francine fled, happy to be out from under the gaze of the friend whose death she had almost helped cause.
"Well, she really owes me dinner now" remarked Lee.
"Yeah, just don't let her cook it for you" chuckled Billy.
"Hell no" answered Lee with a laugh. The laugh gave way to a groan as the adrenaline rush of their fight with the Russians lessened and he could suddenly feel every ache and pain again.
"Oh my gosh, you're dead on your feet. Here, get back in your bed!" Amanda had suddenly turned motherly, taking the gun from his hand and holding it between two fingers with a look of distaste, before passing it to Billy and then turning back to push him back onto the hospital bed.
"A-man-da! I do not need to get back in the bed" Even as he protested, Lee felt the relief of laying back against the mattress, even more as she fluttered around him adjusting the pillow and brushing the hair out of his eyes.
"You can't kid me Butch, I'm a Bedside Bluebell and a mother and you look like a wreck. I'm in charge here anyway. What is it Caine says on Kung Fu? I saved your life so now I'm responsible for you? Now stay put and stay quiet."
Billy was now openly grinning at the squabbling couple in front of him. A thought suddenly struck him. "Mrs King? Do you have the parcel Lee was carrying yesterday?"
"Yes, it's sitting in my dining room. I couldn't figure out how to find Mr. Steadman, I mean Stetson, or IFF, whatever that is. so I just took it home for safekeeping."
"That's excellent news. Even though, from the looks of this, we might not be needing it anymore. It appears you may have helped us capture of ring of Russian assassins."
Amanda's eyes went wide and she turned to look at Lee questioningly. "Seriously?" He nodded at her in confirmation, lips twitching at the dumbfounded expression on her face. She dropped into the chair beside the bed, absentmindedly reaching up to take Lee's hand in hers as if it would ground her.
Billy smiled at the unconscious gesture and continued "So needless to say you can't say anything about any of this to anyone. In the interests of national security, you understand?"
She nodded and then closed her eyes, groaning. "Ugh. What am I going to tell my mother?"
"Food fight in the psychiatric ward?" laughed Lee squeezing her fingers.
She gave a long deep chuckle. "That would probably work. Does Georgetown even have a psychiatric ward? Because I'm starting to feel like I need one after the last few hours."
They all turned as Francine arrived back with another man, pushing gurneys and pulling out handcuffs. Lee and Amanda watched in silence as they loaded the Russians onto the gurneys and rolled them back out of the room. Billy went to follow them, before stopping in the doorway to look back. "I'll let the nurses' station you need to change rooms, Scarecrow. Maybe Mrs. King could stay with you until then?" Amanda nodded at him and he smiled broadly. "And since she's responsible for you now, maybe you could tell her how you need a new partner."
"Cut it out, Billy" Lee growled from the pillow. Billy was still chuckling as he left.
Amanda turned to Lee, smiling. "You need a partner, Butch? Because I am looking for work and I feel like I may have passed the interview with flying colours."
"Don't even think about it, Sundance. I am not letting you be a spy for a living." Amanda's brows came together and a martial light came into her eye. He instantly held up one hand in a self-protective motion. "But if you like, I will take you to dinner when I get out of here and we can discuss getting you other work in the Agency. Unless your tv guy Dan would complain?"
"Dean" Amanda corrected him absently. "No, I don't think I'll be seeing Dean again. Turns out he was kind of a jerk."
Lee gave a small grin of relief. "Okay then, Sundance. Dinner as soon as I get out of here?" He was dazzled by her answering smile.
"Love to, Butch."
**** THE END ****