Timeline: Post Season Four - April to July 1987
Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King is the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot-the-Moon Productions. I will make no profit from the story.
Credits: Includes references to episodes - "The First Time," by Eugenie Ross-Leming & Brad Buckner, "The Times They Are a Changing," by Mark Lisson & Bill Froehlich, "Playing Possum," by Rudolph Borchert, "Over the Limit" by Tom Ropelewski, "Tail of the Dancing Weasel" by George Geiger, "Utopia Now" by Robert Bielak, "The Wrong Way Home" by George Geiger, "Wrong Number" by David Brown. "Stemwinder" by Robert W. Gilmer & George Geiger, "Mission of Gold" by Lynne Kelsey.
Summary: Two months into their secret marriage, wedded bliss still eludes Lee and Amanda. Conflict on the home front and foes at work and overseas suck the entire Stetson-King family into turmoil that threatens the sanctity of the Stetsons' marital vows and the survival of the family.
Author's Notes: Many thanks to my beta, Anne, for sharing her creative talents and valuable insights throughout the writing of this story.
I haven't written for the fandom since 2014, so I'm out of the loop and need to catch up with the group. My story has 16 chapters. I plan to post them individually over the course of the next few weeks.
Reference: The Soviet Union's massive bugging operation of the United States Embassy in Moscow was an historical event that happened during the 1980s.
Prologue: Late April 1987 – Exiled
Swirling soot belched from tall smokestacks as the lone figure leaned into the biting wind and trudged through the dreary streets of Moscow. With one last draw on his cigarette, he flicked the butt into the gutter and ground the glowing remnant beneath the steel toe of his grimy work boot. Then surveying his surroundings, he raised the collar of his navy pea coat and pulled a woolen cap over his smarting ears. Cold—it was so cold. Evidence of springtime had yet to arrive in the God-forsaken place behind the Iron Curtain.
Stuffing his chapped hands into the jacket's flannel pockets, Lee Stetson pressed on through dense smog toward the ugly Communist high rises. Tonight, like every night, he would cloister himself in a shabby apartment, toil with unreliable plumbing and electricity, and curse the toxic water that flowed from the kitchen tap.
Like it or not, this was his personal hell for now. Viktor Ivankov was his new alias, and he was now known as an unmarried, hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, skilled laborer. Lee's cover alleged he was born in Moscow and bred in Detroit, Michigan before returning to Mother Russia. With ties to two countries, he claimed dual citizenship. His official papers stated he was an electrician and an employee at the United States Embassy in Moscow.
What his credentials didn't do was identify him as an American spy, responsible for investigating the embassy's electronic bugs and the technological geniuses who masterminded the most massive, sophisticated bugging operation in history. With secrets changing hands and individuals changing sides, it was nearly impossible to discern who was completely loyal to the United States.
Despite the endless demands of his new assignment, Lee knew he fit the role perfectly. His guardian uncle had prepared him well. "Skip, I want you to learn foreign languages, especially Russian," Colonel Robert Clayton had insisted. "Master the skills of a manual laborer and cultivate the decorum of a polished officer. Broad and diverse knowledge will serve you well if you follow your ancestral path into the military."
The pull to join the armed forces was embedded deep in his DNA. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines-all had their appeal, but he was tapped for espionage by Harry V. Thornton and his elite covert agency. For nearly fifteen years, in every remote corner of the world, he'd busted his butt for the United States of America. And where had it gotten him? Surely not "Administrative One" as his boss had aspired for him. No, he was born for field service, not a desk jockey job with an exclusive club membership and a fancy home in an elite suburb.
Up until recently, Lee had been fulfilled as a field agent—but not anymore. Now, the price was just too high, especially when a nursery rhyme spouting fruitcake became the Agency director and shipped him off behind the Iron Curtain. In truth, Dr. Austin Smyth never wanted Lee to return to Washington D.C. Instead he'd entrapped his prize agent in Moscow with a mission that could prove impossible to fulfill. Scarecrow could be stuck with his present cover and assignment for years. Maybe for the rest of his life.
Dr. Smyth had thrust the case upon him with little notice. There had been no time for a proper farewell to his new bride and no time for mending fences with his new family, especially Jamie, his reluctant step-son. Hell, there had been no opportunity to even tell the King boys they had a stepfather.
All he'd held onto was the angry reprimand of a twelve-year-old and the desperate call of his wife's voice as he abruptly abandoned her in a mob of people. God, if only he'd realized that heated words could be final testimonies, and sudden good-byes could be the last chance to embrace loved ones. Didn't the death of his parents and his lonely childhood teach him anything about the fragility of life?
When he'd last exited Amanda's white Cape Cod home, he'd been consumed by a fit of rage and was completely oblivious to the universal truth about relatives. Whether acquired by blood, choice, or the luck of the draw, family was sacred. No matter how exasperating the attitudes of a quirky mix of individuals, he needed to cut them some slack and focus on their positive qualities. If another opportunity ever presented itself, he would treasure a holiday gathering shared by a mismatched tribe of prickly kinfolk.
He'd learned a cruel lesson the hard way. Family friction may be distressing, but it sure as hell beat his present banishment behind the Soviet Union's Iron Curtain.
Lee's chest tightened with repressed grief. His professional career, like his private life, had been sucked into a vortex, completely beyond his control. What if he never saw his family again or held his beautiful wife? "Amanda," he spoke aloud, his voice choking as he whispered her name like a love sonnet. "My Amanda."
Chapter One: Flashback to Easter Sunday – Early April 1987
Bright sunlight streamed through sheer curtains as five adults and two adolescents crowded the tight confines of the diminutive Cape Cod dining room. The atmosphere was jovial, save for one disconcerted participant—the reluctant newbie to the King household. Trapped in the midst of wagging tongues, inane niceties, and competing aromas of banquet cuisine, Lee bravely soldiered through the foreign territory of an Easter family gathering.
Mindful of a slight twinge of claustrophobia, he cautiously eased his tall frame between the feast-laden sideboard and the gaily decorated table enshroud with lace, fine china, and daffodils. In hopes of calming his ragged breathing, he struggled to loosen his necktie. As his nervous fingers tugged at the knot, he wondered what the hell he was doing in a suit and tie and having breakfast at the ungodly hour of 10:00 on a Sunday morning.
Against his better judgement, he'd succumbed to Amanda's request that he attend the Easter Sunrise Service and the West/King Easter Brunch. Despite the fact that everyone was still clueless about their secret marriage, his wife wanted him to participate in their annual celebration.
With fits and starts, Lee was slowly being accepted as a regular fixture in Amanda's family. At least some of them were embracing him as Amanda's "gentleman friend." However, there were still stubborn holdouts. His wife's youngest son, Jamie, became curt and withdrawn whenever Lee entered his domain. And certainly no surprise, Amanda's ex-husband seemed a bit perturbed when her purported "love interest" shared his space during holidays. However, to the guy's credit, Joe King was usually polite and affable, so, for his part, Lee tried hard to perfect his "easy-going" charade.
Only two months into their clandestine marriage, Lee found his status as 'frequent visitor' in the King home comparable to that of the lowly rank of 'civilian auxiliary' at his ultra-elite intelligence agency. If and when he was recognized as 'second husband and stepparent,' the official titles would probably award him more stigma than favor.
Whatever level of family hierarchy he eventually achieved, for now the pretense of being Amanda's suitor relegated him to the bottom of the pecking order heap. At least he could silently commiserate with Joe's new wife. When the former Mr. & Mrs. King absentmindedly addressed each other as "sweetheart," Carrie would shoot him a sympathetic look as she schooled her face into a mask of indifference.
For the sake of the boys, Lee hated to complain. Certainly the ideal scenario for divorced couples was an amicable split. However, from his perspective, the lasting friendship between the ex-spouses crowded the field. The newcomer rank forced him to take a back seat to their co-parenting arrangement. He also had to swallow the bitter pill of jealousy whenever Amanda shared a chaste kiss with Joe upon his arrivals and departures.
Feeling a splitting headache taking hold, Lee desperately sought to hasten an end to the festivities. Breezing by the array of culinary delights, he tried to ignore the royal banquet. In a useless attempt to hide his impatience, he made a silent vow to flee the premises at the first opportunity. In his mind, a morning brunch still constituted breakfast, a meal he detested like the plague.
"Here, Sweetheart," Amanda said, as she speared a slice of ham and dropped it on his plate. Before he could protest, she added an omelet, followed by a mysterious creamy concoction. "You don't want to miss out on Mother's baked ham, spicy omelet, and scalloped potatoes." Her pointed look reminded him to honor the hostess by partaking of her labor of love. No doubt, Dotty West had toiled for days to prepare the spread, so he was obliged to reward her efforts with a hearty appetite.
Lee's stomach lurched at the mere sight of the cheesy blend already spreading over the plate and mingling with the ham and eggs. "A-man-da," he quietly gritted between clenched teeth. "It's too early in the day for me to have anything but a stale roll and a cup of coffee."
"Please, Lee," Dotty interrupted as she suddenly materialized at his side. "At least try a 'no thank you, helping'. You may actually cultivate a taste for eating more than twice a day."
"Good luck reforming my dietary habits," Lee said as he flashed a wide dimpled grin that never failed to disarm his mother-in-law. Even though she was in the dark about his real place in the family, Dotty already treated him like a chosen son.
Despite her good intentions, he felt like a hostage. Resigning himself to the ordeal, Lee took his place around the dining room table. Seated between Phillip and Amanda, he felt the friendly nudge of the oldest King boy. "Here, Dude," the fourteen-year-old said with a mouthful. "Have a hot-cross bun. The icing is terrific."
"Thanks, Chief." Lee accepted the pastry and affectionately elbowed Phillip in the ribs. "You're my kind of guy."
From across the table, the sullen Jamie pushed his enormous eye glasses against the bridge of his nose and glared at his brother. "You two deserve each other," he mumbled in a stage whisper.
Lee winced at the comment. Clearly the youngest boy resented the ease with which his socially adept sibling engaged their guest. Lee sighed, wondering how he could connect with Jamie. If only the kid knew that years ago little Lee Stetson was just as shy and irritable when faced with new situations and strange people in his life.
With wrinkled brow, Joe watched the exchange from the head of the table. Quickly hiding any discomfiture, he recovered his smile and stretched out his hands to his sons seated on his left and right. "I know you guys are passed the age of Easter baskets and baby bunnies, but your mom and I wanted to give you something special for the holidays."
"Great," they cheered in tandem.
Joe reached into his suitcoat pocket and pulled out some pamphlets. "Take a gander at these, boys," he said as he deposited a fistful of glossy brochures on the table.
Phillip grabbed a leaflet and quickly scanned the offering. "Wow, a West Virginia wilderness adventure. Thanks, Mom and Dad."
Lee shot Amanda a questioning look as he reached for a tri-fold pamphlet. Sharing the picturesque brochure with her, he wondered how he'd missed the memo. "You're going whitewater rafting?" he asked with a touch of skepticism peppering his words.
Amanda shook her head. "Rafting? This is news to me," she whispered against his ear. Then catching the eye of her ex-spouse, she confronted his unilateral choice. "Joe, I don't remember any discussions about a wilderness trip."
Her former husband blew out a breath as Carrie cringed. Shooting his new bride a placating smile, he tried to make amends. "Ah, sorry, guys, I'm afraid I misled you. The trip is from your step-mom and me. Carrie and I want to take you two on a journey through the West Virginia wilderness."
"Now, Joe, that's not our full intent," Carrie replied with a hint of rebuke. "We planned to include the entire family."
"Well, of course, they're welcome to join us, too," Joe said in an effort to dig himself out of the gaping hole he'd dug. "Actually, Amanda, I'm a little concerned about your health. After all, you're still recovering from a life-threatening injury. Maybe you should skip this trip."
"Don't go there, Joe," Amanda said as a flicker of annoyance flashed in her eyes. "I'm perfectly fine, so please don't treat me like an invalid."
"Amanda, dear," Dotty injected with a noble attempt at peacemaking. "Joe is only thinking about your best interests."
"I know he is. I guess I'm just a little defensive right now. Forgive me, Sweetheart," she said with a tight smile for Joe that didn't quite reach her eyes.
Tension radiated around the table, so everyone hastily retreated to their food.
Lee silently concurred with Joe, but he managed to keep his mouth firmly shut. No way did he want Amanda tackling a wilderness adventure. Even though she'd returned to active duty at the Agency, there was still lingering fatigue and pain leftover from the grievous gunshot wound she suffered in California. And, too, Carrie wasn't the only new bride in the family. Why would Amanda want to leave her bridegroom behind so she could vacation with her ex-husband? My God, the newly eloped Mr. and Mrs. Stetson could use some real privacy, especially since they'd sacrificed a honeymoon when they innocently drove into the midst of a shooting.
"Hey," Phillip said as his boisterous voice shattered the silence. "What about inviting Lee? He's practically family, too."
"No he's not," Jamie said in a voice thick with venom. His glaring social faux pas left everyone slack-jawed.
"Jamie!" Dotty and Amanda admonished in one accord. "Apologize."
"Sorry," the kid said with the barest minimum of regret.
Lee shook off the wounding words that stabbed him to the core. Masterfully he hid his bruised feelings and answered his stepson in an even tone. "No problem, Jamie," he said gently. "I'm too busy at work to take anymore vacation time."
Joe put his arm around his son and came to the kid's defense. "I'm sure Jamie didn't intend any hurt feelings, Lee. If you had a family, you'd understand how kids protect their own turf."
"Yeah, maybe so," Lee said, forcing the words to roll off his tongue in a conciliatory manner.
Amanda's right hand found a resting place on his thigh. Conveying her empathy to Lee, she addressed Joe with measured words. "When do you plan to take the trip?"
Carrie picked up the thread of conversation. "April seems a little cold for camping and whitewater rafting, so we thought it best to wait until June when school ends for the summer."
"Good idea," Amanda agreed, letting the matter of her invitation drop for now.
As the group retreated into uneasy silence, Lee saw an opening to lighten the mood. Maybe he should take the high road and rekindle the boys' initial enthusiasm.
"Phillip and Jamie are at the perfect age for wilderness camping and whitewater rafting," he said, testing the waters. "When I was thirteen, my uncle's Air Force friend took me rafting in the Grand Canyon. Barney taught me outdoor skills when I needed an exciting challenge in my life."
Amanda squeezed his hand encouraging his train of thought. "I'm sure you desired a change from the Colonel's regimented military life."
"You're not kidding," Lee said as he stroked Amanda's fingers hidden from view under the long tablecloth.
Apparently grateful for a show of support, Joe perked up. "I'm sure your rafting trip was an educational experience."
"You bet. I not only saw some incredible scenery, I learned all about the explorer John Wesley Powell.
"Who's he?" Phillip asked.
"Powell was a soldier, scientist, and explorer who led an expedition on the Colorado River."
Phillip shrugged. "Did he fight in a war?"
"He fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. Powell was seriously wounded at the battle of Shiloh and had his right arm amputated."
Jamie leaned closer, following the conversation with rapt attention. "You said he was a scientist, too," he added shyly.
"That's right. Powell spent much of his youth rafting on the Mississippi River and its tributaries in the upper Midwest. From an early age he had a deep interest in all natural phenomenon, so he took every opportunity to go rafting. The trips enabled him to study botany, zoology, and geology without the aid of a teacher. In adulthood, he became a professor of geology and the curator of the Illinois Natural Museum of History. "
"Cool," Jamie said.
Lee smiled to himself. At least he'd managed to engage the kid on a subject that mattered to him.
Even Joe warmed up to the topic. "So, what took John Wesley Powell to the Grand Canyon?"
"During scientific field trips out west, Powell began to formulate his idea for exploring the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River."
"Jeez, with only one arm," Phillip said was amazement. "How did an amputee manage a rafting expedition?"
"He didn't go alone, Chief. Powell recruited nine men. In 1869, they headed down the Green River in Wyoming to the Colorado River. Onlookers thought they were crazy and assumed they'd never see the men again."
Intrigued, Jamie's curiosity overcame his usual bashfulness. "Did they make it?"
"Not all of them. The wild rapids scared four of the men enough to make them leave the expedition. They tried to walk out of the wilderness, but only one made it. Three of them were probably killed by Native Americans when they inadvertently trespassed on sacred grounds."
"What about the others?"
"Three months and nearly a thousand miles later, five of the original company, plus their one-armed leader emerged from the depths of the Grand Canyon at the mouth of the Virgin River. The Powell expedition named many of the landmarks and geological features along the Green and Colorado Rivers".
"Wow," the boys said in tandem.
"Wow, indeed," Dotty added with her typical sarcasm. "Let's hope your rafting trip is a lot less exciting than the one John Wesley Powell took on the Colorado River."
"You're going aren't you, Dotty?" Joe asked hopefully. "It won't feel like a family trip without you."
"Well, I would have considered going if you'd invited my flyboy beau, Curt," Dotty said with an innocent smile that fooled no one. "However, since Curt isn't actually family, I won't even entertain the possibility." Her pointed look at Joe and Jamie perfectly conveyed her underlying annoyance with the twosome.
Lee feigned indifference. My God, Dotty couldn't be any clearer if she emptied a pitcher of cold water over her ex-son-in-law's head.
Joe coughed to cover his discomfiture. "Well, ah, Dotty, I'm sure we can work things out for you. After all, you're the boys' grandmother."
"Don't bother, dear," she said with a firm shake of her blonde head. "I wouldn't want you to change your definition of family in order to make an exception for me. And, unlike my young adult years, I'm no longer a fan of thrill sports."
"Neither am I," Joe said with a sheepish look. "Believe me, we won't be tackling anything higher than Class 2 rapids."
"Well, that's a relief," Dotty replied. "At least you're using some good sense."
"Jeez," Phillip complained. "Class 1 and 2 rapids are for babies."
Lee placed an arm around the boy's shoulders. "Class 3 rapids are apt to have high waves, narrow passages, and difficult drops. If you're using a paddle raft, the maneuvering requires all of you to be skilled at paddling."
"Well, I'm not a beginner," Phillip huffed. Shooting a mocking glare at Jamie, he lorded his superiority over his younger, less experienced brother.
Jamie returned a scathing look and kicked his foot under the table, connecting with Lee's shin instead of Phillip's leg.
"Ouch," Lee mumbled as he leaned down to rub his smarting appendage.
Joe was oblivious to his sons' escalating sibling rivalry. "Let's wait and see how the rafting goes. Maybe Class 3 will be appropriate if we get the hang of the river after the first day or two."
The oldest boy groaned. "If we don't run Class 3 rapids, the whole trip will be one big yawn."
"Believe me, Phillip, you'll be too busy to get bored," Lee said, once again inserting words of caution. "Everyone will have to be ready for the unexpected."
Joe leveled his gaze directly at Lee. "I can assure you, Carrie and I have studied all aspects of the subject. We'll engage an experienced guide and take every precaution. In fact, we have the option of using an oar assisted paddle raft. The guide can do the majority of the steering from the back while the rest of us do some of the paddling."
"Sounds like a good plan." Amanda breathed a sigh of relief as she pressed her fingers into Lee's forearm. "We appreciate your research and organizational skills, Joe."
"Yeah," Lee concurred, with scarcely enough enthusiasm to sound sincere.
Turning again toward the West matriarch, Joe offered another plea. "Please, go with us."
Waving her hand in dismissal, Dotty stood by her decision. "It doesn't matter if the rapids are mild or ferocious. I have no desire to sit in a bouncing inflatable boat and subject myself to a very wet roller coaster ride."