Disclaimer: WB and Shoot the Moon still own the characters, no matter how much I wish they were mine.
Author's Notes: This was the very first Scarecrow and Mrs. King fanfic I ever wrote, in August of 2000. It was the first "story" I'd written wrote since high school, which was many moons prior to 2000! I am not a writer, and will never claim to be, but I am the Hula Queen. Adrea's challenge made me think that I should give it a shot. Even so, this would not have been written had it not been for the constant pushing and encouragement from abitdotty. So, you tipped your galliano and milk to me, and I tip my Bohemian Fling to you, dotty! Also, a big thanks to Mish, who noticed the two missing episodes and helped me find the right places to break this darn thing! I tip Lester the Duck's hat to ya, Mishy!
88 Ways, They Said
I sank onto the couch clutching a much needed cup of hot chocolate. I took a few sips, closed my eyes and rested my head against the back of the sofa. The hot liquid really hit the spot on this chilly November evening. It had been an exhausting day, and I was looking forward to a quiet evening at home. With Mother on a date and the boys at a Jr. Trailblazer's sleepover, it was a perfect time to relax. I had turned the radio on to aid the relaxation process and the soft background music was beginning to lull me to sleep. The words of the Roberta Flack song playing on the radio invaded my mind and a slow smile spread across my face. 'THE FIRST TIME ever I saw your face' brought vividly to mind a long-ago meeting on a train platform. I had heard the expression THE EYES HAVE IT, but never fully comprehended the meaning until I locked eyes with Lee. I chuckled softly to myself. There had been 25 men with red hats on that train, or I may never have seen Lee again after that fateful moment. During that first case, there were many times I knew that, IF THOUGHTS COULD KILL, I would have been 6' under, especially when I saw the look on Lee's face when he heard Mother say she mailed his precious package. I shook my head. That was a look I had come to know well over the years.
I had no idea that a chance meeting could turn one's life around as completely as my initial encounter with Lee had done to mine. The news was full of stories about lots of spies in the nation's capitol, but not in a thousand years did I expect to meet one. As a civilian with two children, a mother, and a mortgage, what did I know about the spy business? During my early days with the Agency, Lee frequently called me an 'emergency' or 'window dressing' or something else equally as demeaning. If I had a nickel for every time he told me to "Stay in the car" or "Wait here," I'd be a rich woman. He's one of the top agents in the country, so it grated on Lee to be 'saddled' with me. He firmly believed that rule-breakers and rule-followers don't mix. Lee wanted to work with anybody but me. Francine regarded me with great disdain, as if I was something Lee picked up in the LOST AND FOUND. She thought of me as pleasant, unassuming, easy to overlook, loyal, faithful, etc., and made her feelings clear on more than one occasion. Poking fun at me appeared to be her greatest pleasure. She still brings up the story I told of how I accidentally took THE WRONG WAY HOME from a circus trip with Mother and the boys. To Francine, it was highly amusing that, instead of watching road signs, I was looking in the rear view mirror at the boys, explaining why ONE BEAR DANCES, ONE BEAR DOESN'T in the center ring, and missed a turn. I don't think she'll ever let me forget about the time I was drugged with some kind of hallucinogenic when I ate a sandwich meant for Lee. I was very hungry, or I never would have accepted the offer to take his lunch. That was FAST FOOD FOR THOUGHT, indeed! It scrambled my brains for a few hours. I don't remember anything of what happened, though I've been told repeatedly by Francine that I hit her over the head with a vase. I wish someone would tell me why the phrase "You missed the cartwheel" sends Francine into gales of laughter. I knew it was just SOUR GRAPES on her part, but it was difficult to ignore all her pointed barbs and not retaliate in kind. I laughed out loud as I recalled giving her gourmet chocolates after we wrapped up the Marvelous Marvin case. "Once on the lips, forever on the hips!" I suppose it was cruel of me, but I still get a guilty pleasure every time I think about it. Apparently, Francine hadn't learned to ALWAYS LOOK A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH. One day, I should point out to Francine that her loose lips were what got me involved in the Agency in the first place. That should make her button it once and for all. Even Mrs. Marston made me feel as if I didn't belong. She intimidates everyone, it's her job, but she made me feel like a child every time I couldn't remember the password. She would shake her head at me and sigh as if I was purposely forgetting just to ruin her day. Straplash, stopwatch, stickpatch, backlash, rosebud, third base, jump shot, moonbeam, counterweight, riverboat . . . I had an awful time remembering which password was for which day of the week.
No matter how many times I said to myself I AM NOT NOW, NOR HAVE I EVER BEEN... A SPY, I was slowly drawn into the Agency SPIDERWEB. Danger, excitement, intrigue: it was too enticing for me to ignore. Deep down, I always knew I wanted something more than a 'normal' housewife life, and the Agency fit the bill. Mr. Melrose sensed that immediately. I'll always be grateful for his support. He was constantly reminding Lee, Francine, Dr. Smyth and the others that THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN' and the Agency couldn't pass up using me just because I didn't fit their ideal picture of an agent. Even with Mr. Melrose in my corner, it was a struggle to prove myself.
It didn't help matters that, all too often, events in my personal life turned into Agency cases. Contrary to the belief held by Lee and Francine that nothing bad ever happens in the suburbs, my little corner of suburbia seemed to be a hotbed of intrigue. It became quite a joke in the bullpen. Lee seemed to think it happened on purpose, just to irritate him. Actually, almost everything I did irritated Lee. Now, really, how could I have possibly known Alan Squires was an international thief known as THE ARTFUL DODGER? Who knew that a friendship ring could be the source of so much trouble? When the VIGILANTE MOTHERS, as Lee likes to call them, organized a 'Mothers for a Safe Environment' chapter, it was a perfectly harmless community action committee. Little did I know that Robert Castille was using one of the ladies to steal X12 crystals! The nice young man who helped create the chapter, Carmine Davis, wound up being the focus of a case just a year or two later when he found a way to beat the Omega Triad system. Once, Mother accidentally picked up the wrong book when shopping and put us smack dab in the middle of a plot to steal designs for broadband filters. How Mother remained oblivious to all the events going around her during that case, I'll never know. Probably the most unusual instance of my life intertwining with an Agency case involved a schoolmate of mine, Conrad Walter Barnill. The Agency flew me to England TO CATCH A MONGOOSE, the international killer they suspected was Connie. They had no idea how ridiculous that was. As I told Lee all along, Connie was not the Mongoose, but he was able to help Lee capture the real killer. When the Agency was desperately trying to find a way into The Perrine Invitational Automobile Exhibition, my position as refreshments director for the charity event gave Lee entrance into the Equidome as a bartender.
Another time I helped out a charity, I wound up in some pretty hot water. The man running the organization turned out to be the head of a white slavery ring, and he decided I should be part of his selection of merchandise. When his men made their first attempt to kidnap me, they only got away with my purse. Unfortunately, an Agency courier had just handed off to me a sock containing a microdot, and I had stuffed it in my purse. I blinked back tears as I recalled how Lee and I fought, right here in my living room, about that microdot. He was furious with me. It was clear he thought I was inept. Right then and there, I announced my intention to resign from the Agency. When Lee didn't try to talk me out of it, I almost broke down and cried. Lee stormed out and I figured that was that. Even though Lee returned, not liking the way things ended, and helped me foil a second kidnapping attempt, he still refused to say I should stay with the Agency. My resignation was in the mail the next day. Fortunately, Lee and I both calmed down and my resignation went into the round file. After that incident, I started to think there was a lot of truth to the old saying: CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME.
Thoughts of that attempted resignation brought to mind the time I did leave the Agency. It wasn't really A MATTER OF CHOICE, because I desperately needed a raise the Agency could not provide. Byron Jordan's offer to double my salary came at a perfect time. I should have known it was too good to be true. Mr. Jordan was murdered, and I was arrested for the crime. Lee jumped to my defense immediately, but I heard that Francine's only comment was, "After all, what's a little MURDER BETWEEN FRIENDS, right?" Sometimes, that woman just goes OVER THE LIMIT.
The sharp ringing of the telephone jolted me out of my reverie.
I rushed to answer the phone, hoping it was Lee, and was more than a little disappointed when it was a WRONG NUMBER. While I was up, I re-heated the hot chocolate and decided to treat myself by adding marshmallows. Looking at the Mr. Marshmallow Man on the bag reminded me of the time Mother got herself mixed up in a plot to steal secrets from defectors. Every time ONE FLEW EAST, a traitor in the Agency drugged him to get him to repeat information he had already told another agent. I chuckled as I remembered her knocking a guard over the head with a chair. Mr. Melrose referred to Mother as 'FEARLESS DOTTY' for a long time after that.
Mother. I sighed deeply as I poured the steaming hot chocolate into my mug and added the marshmallows. The hardest part about my Agency life is lying to her on an almost daily basis. Amazingly, Mother swallows all the preposterous stories I tell her. Twice, I told her the truth, and that was what she didn't believe! When Lee volunteered the use of my house to debrief Magda Petrach, a DEAD RINGER for Francine, I was honest with Mother and told her Magda was just a defecting Hungarian refugee. That statement was met in dead silence, so I knew she didn't believe me. During Operation Possum, I came right out and said, "Mother, I'm a spy." She raised her eyebrows and told me to stop telling stories. Looking back, I suppose it didn't seem much different than all those dragon tales my wild imagination invented as a child. It was extremely difficult to explain THE A.C.M. KID, especially when Alexi won Jamie's bike in a craps game and nonchalantly informed Phillip and Jamie that the feds had him in protective custody. Fortunately, Mother always seems to have some sort of A LOVELY LITTLE AFFAIR going on, or she's busy trying to catch THE MOLE that has been ruining her rose bushes, which keeps her too busy to ask a lot of questions. I guess the boys are too young to be suspicious.
Returning to the couch, I accidentally bumped the bookshelf and knocked over a little figurine Mother purchased on our family trip to Europe. I righted it on the shelf and thought about that trip. The contest I thought I had won, sending the entire family to Europe, was only an elaborate ruse by the Agency to trick me into being a messenger for them. Apparently, just asking would have been too easy. Honestly, the NEED TO KNOW policy at the Agency can be more than a little ridiculous at times. Although Mr. Melrose, Francine and Lee assured me there was no danger to me, that simple messenger gig almost got me killed when the head of a terrorist organization figured out I was working for the Agency. A few months later, I was sent to Germany on my first courier assignment, and wound up in jail for counterfeiting. Me! Can you imagine? I could say it was a good thing, because my arrest led Lee to the discovery that OUR MAN IN TEGERNSEE was part of the counterfeiting ring. The next trip wasn't much better. I didn't wind up in jail, but a seemingly compromising photo of Lord Bromfield and me wound up on the front page of every newspaper in England. I was astonished that Lord Bromfield thought the solution to the whole mess was to have Lee and me spend a quiet WEEKEND in the country at his estate, leading people to think I was having an AFFAIR AT BROMFIELD HALL with Lee. The logic escaped me, but Lee thought it made perfect sense. To my surprise, the ploy worked, and the people Lee had been sent to England to ferret out were also at the estate. Lee captured both men, and the whole photo incident blew over in no time. I don't seem to have a lot of luck overseas. It may have been a good thing I had to pass on the offer made by King Edmond and Terry Wall, THE BOY WHO COULD BE KING, to visit Cap D'Far. Who knows what kind of trouble I might have found myself in there?
At least one overseas trip wasn't too bad. I smiled as I thought about Emily Farnsworth. She's A CLASS ACT from Santa Barbara who fell into working for British Intelligence in much the same way I found myself working for the Agency. Emily is truly amazing. When in Salzburg, she learned THE LEGEND OF DAS GEISTERSCHLOSS and correctly assumed the castle was Dr. Hanover's hideout. Knowing she had to get word to someone about it in the event of her capture, she cleverly hid the letters to spell Ghost Castle in her sketches and left word that only I, her 'niece' from America would be allowed to collect her things at the hotel. Thank goodness I remembered her sketches from her time with me on a prior trip to D.C.! I'd do almost anything for Emily, but pretending my dining room is part of the Russian Embassy falls under the 'SERVICE ABOVE AND BEYOND the call of duty' category. I don't think I'll allow that again. I glanced toward the dining room, wondering if I'd ever repaint the walls in there. As much as I hate the gray walls, that color is a reminder of THE THREE FACES OF EMILY, and leaving them gray is like having a piece of her in the house.
My only other brush with the British was when I was assigned the task of escorting an MI-6 accountant while he was in the States. I greeted him with a warm "WELCOME TO AMERICA, MR. BRAND" when I met him at dinner and listened intently when he told me Kenneth Clayton Dobbs was a Soviet agent out to destroy the American economy. Lee was skeptical, as James was only an accountant playing at being James Bond. However, James' suspicions proved true, and he even managed to teach Lee something, a technique called the 'Cobra Death Grip.' The move worked on 'Dr. Pain,' knocking him out cold during Lee's annual hand-to-hand re-qualifying exam. I suppressed a giggle as I remembered the look on Lee's face when James said he was glad it worked, because he had invented it and never used it on anyone other than himself. I don't think Lee will ever forgive James for that. James returned to England something of a hero. He even decided to stop trying to be 007 and went back to his real name of Potts.
All in all, my Agency experiences had been good, except for one. My eyes clouded as I remembered the one and only time Lee did something to hurt me. When pretending to have a case of BURNOUT, he got carried away and slapped me. Physically, it didn't hurt, but emotionally . . . well . . . the look in his eyes when he told me to stay away from him nearly broke my heart. Deep down, I knew something was not right with the situation. Lee was forced to tell me it was a cover when Jack Harris attempted to kill me. His apology was so sweet, how could I not forgive him? It was a good thing Lee clued me in to his cover, because Bracken tested Lee's loyalty by ordering him to kill me. PLAYING POSSUM was the only way to convince Bracken that Lee had turned. I still cringe every time I think of how close Lee came to grazing me with that bullet.
In a way I did 'die' once when a fellow agent used my name as a cover and wound up dead. They say YOU ONLY DIE TWICE, and I hope that time didn't count. In Chinatown, I met THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE. Kai, a DOUBLE AGENT Lee recruited when in Vietnam, went to great lengths to disentangle himself from his Vietnamese ties. When Diem kidnapped Kai's son, Kai staged his own death to get out from under Diem's thumb. Upon learning Kai was still alive, Diem orchestrated a 'Saigon Boxcar' to kill him. Kai escaped unharmed, but his contact perished. With the help of the Agency, Kai seized the opportunity and pretended he was the one who died. Kai and his family were sent to California to start a new life and escape Diem's followers' reach. I sincerely hope that DEAD MEN LEAVE NO TRAILS. Kai's situation is a little too close for comfort to my own. There is no way the Agency can guarantee 100 safety for an agent's family. It's an issue that is always in the back of my mind.
I always felt as if I was pretty much of a burden to Lee until one cold, misty night in the woods of Virginia. Lee was always my SAVIOR, rescuing me from SUDDEN DEATH more times than I can count, but he never let on that I meant more to him than "just his partner" until that night. Had it not been for Peter Sacker's incredibly BAD TIMING, we would have shared our first real kiss in that swamp. Even though it was easy for me to say we weren't exactly just two cold people seeking a little warmth, Lee wasn't ready to admit there was more to our relationship. I knew he had feelings for me, and I was definitely PLAYING FOR KEEPS, but we danced around each other for quite a while. I didn't think Lee would ever think of me in romantic terms, especially when I thought about the women he usually dated. 'Randi Baby' was his typical girlfriend. She was very tall, very pretty, very blonde, very sort of everything. I never expected to be able to compete with that. "We're friends," "We're not a couple," and "We were just playing our covers," are phrases I am glad I'll never again hear pass Lee's lips. Thank goodness it didn't take Lee too long to realize BRUNETTES ARE IN. A broad smile reached my face as my thoughts wandered to the STEMWINDER case. Ah, STEMWINDER. I wasn't even sure I heard Lee correctly when he said, "I love you" over the phone. In my room, however, the words were as plain as day, and I had the chance to say, "I love you, too." Being on the lam from the Agency only cemented our bond. When Addi Birol kidnapped me to get the Agency to hand over Lee's source, NIGHT CRAWLER, thoughts of Lee were what kept me from losing my mind. Our connection was so strong it was as if he were in the room with me, telling me to hold on. I closed my eyes and pictured Lee's face when he knelt before me and said, "Amanda King, you are the best, the bravest, the smartest, most beautiful woman I've ever known." When he asked me to marry him, I thought my heart would burst. My eyes misted and I absently rubbed the third finger of my left hand as I remembered watching Lee slip the engagement ring on my finger. No words were necessary to convey what we were feeling in that moment. A few weeks later, Lee was like a little boy eagerly anticipating show and tell the day he entered the Q Bureau after his MISSION OF GOLD. He couldn't wait to see my reaction when he flipped open the jeweler's box containing our wedding bands. Whoever said 'ALL THAT GLITTERS isn't gold' was right. Lee's and my eyes glittered more than the rings that day.
I picked up a pillow that had slipped to the floor when I rose to answer the phone. When I lifted my head, I noticed Joe's and my wedding album. I sighed and thought how nice it would be to have an album of Lee's and my wedding. I leaned back and hugged the pillow to my chest. Due to the secrecy of our marriage, Lee and I only have a single photo of the event that is SUITABLE FOR FRAMING. I smiled and pictured that day . . . February 13, 1987 . . . I never thought the day would arrive. For a while, it seemed that Nick Grant's predicament would make us late for our own wedding, but Lee and I were determined. The second the real art thief was exposed and Nick cleared, we were on our way. At long last, I became Mrs. Stetson. Later, we joked that the Justice of the Peace should have said, "DO YOU TAKE THIS SPY?" instead of the traditional vows. The few times I posed as Lee's wife on cases definitely didn't compare to the real thing! Once we were alone in our room at the Crystal Sping Inn, all I could say were "Wow!" and "Oh!" Thinking back to our honeymoon, however, I would have preferred to be on a SHIP OF SPIES than in Las Palmas, CA.
A noise at the kitchen door caught my attention. Turning my head toward the sound, I saw Mother enter.
"How was your date, Mother?" I called.
Mother sighed as she walked to the closet to put away her coat. "It was all right. We went to see that new movie everyone is talking about, you know, D.O.A.: DELIRIOUS ON ARRIVAL. Amanda, movies these days are all about the same thing: A LITTLE SEX, A LITTLE SCANDAL. What ever happened to the good old days with Cary Grant and sophisticated leading men?"
I smiled and shook my head. "I don't know, Mother. I suppose that's not what people want to see these days."
"Well, I prefer Cary Grant, with his clothes on, in anything over, well, whoever it was in what I just saw. The leading man, 'boy' really, he's kinda cute, but he's no Cary Grant." Mother walked toward the couch and looked questioningly at the mug in my hands. "Is that hot chocolate?"
"Yes, Mother. There's more on the stove if you'd like some."
"Wonderful. I was just thinking I could go for a nice cup of tea, but hot chocolate sounds even better." Mother continued telling me about her evening as she turned on the heat under the hot chocolate and took a mug out of the cupboard. "While I was WAITING FOR GODORSKY, you know I'll never get used to meeting a date at the theater instead of him picking me up at home, I had some time to look around the mall. That's another thing I'll never get used to—movie theaters in malls. There was some person or group performing in front of almost every shop tonight, creating quite a racket. ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE, isn't it? Anyway, right there in the window of that cute little toy store was one of those old-fashioned Santa dolls you have and, you won't believe it, but . . ." She perched on the edge of the couch, leaning toward me excitedly, "SANTA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG! I was beginning to think they would never make one in a different color. I think we should get that to add to our Christmas decorations this year."
"Mother, we have plenty of decorations. We don't need any more."
"Amanda, one can always use more decorations. After all, with a man around the house this year . . . " Mother paused and gave me a pointed look, " . . . we could put up lights all around the outside of the house."
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Sometimes, Mother assumed a lot. "Mother, just because Lee and I are dating, it doesn't mean he'll want to climb a ladder and string lights all over our house."
"Of course not, dear, but I don't see why not. He's not afraid of heights. After all, he had no trouble climbing the trellis in and out of your bedroom, and a ladder is much safer." Mother quickly dodged the pillow I swung at her and stepped into the kitchen to get her hot chocolate. "Did you hear about Buck's latest idea? He wants to begin a party 12:01am on the 24th and keep right on going until 11:59pm. He's calling it 'THE LONG CHRISTMAS EVE Bash.' He's created some odd little game ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY at the same time. I mean, does he really think people around here will party for 24 hours straight? Amanda, what did we do to deserve a neighbor like that?"
"Well, we both thought 'THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD!' when he threw that block party, but everyone had a wonderful time. Edna Gilstrap turned out to be the LIFE OF THE PARTY, remember?"
"Mmm hmm. Edna kept repeating, 'There's something funny in the water. IT'S IN THE WATER.'" Mother looked at me and narrowed her eyes. "I also seem to remember you and W. C. Fields looking mighty chummy during that party. I would lay ODDS ON A DEAD PIGEON that something was cooking between the two of you . . . "
I quickly interrupted and asked, "Mother, do you think I should offer to bake some cookies for the party?"
Giving me a look that clearly said, 'You can't avoid my questions forever,' Mother responded, "Cookies? That's a good idea. You sure know how to put together a Christmas cookie. Next to your poppyseed cake, cookies are the best things you bake. Lillian will be here, so we had better plan for a lot of eggnog, too."
"Do you think you and Aunt Lillian could make it through one Christmas visit without a major battle? You know, peace on Earth, good will to men and women and Aunt—"
At the same time, Mother and I both said, "Lillian."
"Really, Mother, it's . . . "
Mother held up her hand to stop me. "It's A RELATIVE SITUATION, that's all. We get along famously . . . as long as we're hundreds of miles apart. Being an only child, you don't understand these things. At least she's driving here this year and we won't have another CAR WARS fiasco. I still don't understand why she refused to ride with me. How did she expect to get to church if I didn't drive? Did she think some MAGIC BUS would transport her there?"
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. If Aunt Lillian had seen any of Mother's driving lessons, she definitely would have had good reason not to ride with her! Aunt Lillian had confided to me that her trepidation came from the comment Dr. Zirnofff made about Mother's driving. Mother was proud to tell Lillian that he said, "Dorothea, in my country, you have a great future in driving a Russian tank," and she expected her sister to understand it was a great compliment. Unfortunately, Aunt Lillian took it to mean Mother was likely to run over anything in her path, and was terrified to get in the car with her. Covering my amusement, I said, as seriously as possible, "I'm sure Aunt Lillian was just worried about you driving in heavy holiday traffic."
Mother raised an eyebrow at me. "More likely, she wanted another glass of eggnog and knew the only way to have one was to wait for you and Lee to arrive. Can you imagine THE TRIUMVIRATE Buck, Edna and Lillian will make?" She moved from where she had been leaning on the kitchen counter and sat down beside me on the couch. To prevent me from responding to that, she abruptly changed the subject and asked, "So, what did you do this evening?"
"Nothing, really. I just sat here and thought about the past few years of my life."
"REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST, hmm? That's nice, dear, but you shouldn't dwell on the past too much."
"I wasn't dwelling, just remembering."
"Mmm hmm. If you don't have your memories, you don't have anything. By the look on your face, I can see that you should have said NO THANKS FOR THE MEMORY about some things. What were you remembering?"
"This and that." I deliberately lifted my mug to my mouth and started drinking, avoiding talking.
After a minute or so of silence, Mother realized I wasn't going to give her any details about my musings. She decided it was probably best to move on to other things. "I found the model of King Tut's tomb Phillip wanted for his class project on Egypt. You should see the directions on the box! We may need THE PHARAOH'S ENGINEER himself to put it together. Did you happen to pick up that PHOTO FINISH book Jamie wants for Christmas?"
"Ooh!" I snapped my fingers. "That was what I was supposed to do this afternoon! I completely forgot."
"That's all right, Amanda. I'm sure you were busy with Lee on some," she cleared her throat, "pressing matter, like that new documentary you're making. 'FLIGHT TO FREEDOM,' isn't that the name?" Mother shot me a suspicious look. "You know, darling, I have never seen a single I.F.F. documentary on television. Why is that?"
"Um, well, that's because . . . " I stalled as I tried to think of a plausible explanation. "Most of our documentaries are for the government, big companies and private organizations, not the public."
"Oh, I see." Mother smiled and asked, "I suppose 'Night Sucker, Dracula of the Dark' was requested by the Red Cross?"
"Mother . . . " I began, but stopped when the phone started ringing.
"SAVED BY THE BELLS," Mother muttered as I flew past her to answer it. "I think I'll just head on up to bed. Good night, dear." She kissed me on the cheek as she made her way past me to the stairs.
"Good night, Mother," I said to her retreating back as I answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello, yourself." The sound of Lee's voice sent shivers up my spine.
"Hi. I expected to hear from you earlier. Everything's all right, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I didn't think dinner with a few former business associates would run so long. It's the same old thing every year, rehashing the RUMORS OF MY DEATH and BILLY'S LOST WEEKEND and listening to Harry tell his TAIL OF THE DANCING WEASEL story. Dr. Smyth was his usual charming self. He cornered me to ask why Billy's THREE LITTLE SPIES weren't all at the shindig. According to him, our lack of solidarity is deplorable. I told him you had UNFINISHED BUSINESS to attend to and Francine was still on assignment FILMING RAUL. That seemed to soothe his ruffled feathers. Even though I got a kick out of Harry's rather colorful description of how he found THE KHRUSHCHEV LIST, I was itching to leave. I finally got out of there by explaining I had PROMISES TO KEEP."
"Promises? What promises?"
"Oh, something about calling the most beautiful woman in the world to tell her how much I love her."
"You had better mean me, mister, or you'll be meeting J. EDGAR'S GHOST in person as soon as I get my hands on you," I teased.
Lee chuckled. "Who else would I mean? Is it too late for me to drop by and kiss my wife good night?"
"It's never too late for that."
"Then I'll see you in a few minutes."
I placed the phone back in its cradle and thought it was a good thing Mother decided to go to bed. I didn't need her asking Lee the same questions she had asked me earlier. I busied myself cleaning up after Mother and myself. I filled the sink with warm soapy water and began washing dishes. It startled me a little when I heard WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD playing on the radio, advertising a local production of "The Wizard of Oz." I had completely forgotten I had turned on the radio. The song evoked memories of Paul Barnes. The 'Wizard' hand-picked Lee for his Oz Network and had given him his codename, Scarecrow. I let the water out of the sink and started drying the dishes as I recalled the faraway look in Lee's eyes when he told me how Dorothy died in a shower of roses, which was why he hated the smell of those flowers. Lee thought Paul walked on water, yet he almost convinced himself Paul was guilty of killing a number of female agents associated with the Network and Lee. The clincher was when someone in a red hockey mask attempted to kill me. Lee even went so far as to shoot Paul. The real killer, Serdeych, the same one who had killed Dorothy, was unmasked soon after Lee shot Paul. Fortunately, Lee hadn't entirely believed Paul was the murderer, and had only stunned him with rubber bullets. I was very touched when Lee gave me roses after we closed the book on Serdeych.
I jumped when I felt something in my back and a growling voice said, "REACH FOR THE SKY!"
I whirled around and swatted Lee with the dish towel. "Oh, you know I hate it when you do that!"
"Which is precisely why I do it," Lee said, grinning playfully as he put his arms around me, pulled me up against his chest and planted a kiss on my lips. "You were a million miles away. Penny for your thoughts."
"It'll cost you a nickel. Inflation."
"Very funny, throwing my words back at me. Seriously, what were you thinking?"
"I was thinking that you should take me out for a very expensive, romantic dinner as an early Christmas present. We could talk about anything other than the Agency. We don't do enough of that, do we?"
Lee winked. "Not by a half. You just name the place and I'll take you there." He shook a finger at me. "As long as it isn't Buckingham Palace."
I laughed and pulled away from Lee to dry the last of the dishes. "I think we can find somewhere closer to home."
"Mmm-hmm." Lee put his arms around my waist and rested his chin on my shoulder. "Do you remember Jay Negata? He finished his assignment in Sri Lanka and was in D.C. for a few days last week. He's on his way to Prague right now. I bumped into him the other night and he told me of a very intimate Japanese restaurant that recently opened in Georgetown. How does that sound?"
"Perfect." I placed the last dish into the drying rack, wiped off my hands and dropped the dish towel on the counter.
Lee pulled me toward him and kissed me softly on the nape of the neck. "Japanese it is."
I closed my eyes and tilted my head to one side against Lee's shoulder as he trailed kisses toward my ear. "Lee . . ."
"Would you like some dessert?"
Lee abruptly stopped kissing my neck. "Dessert?" He raised an eyebrow and looked at me questioningly. "Exactly what did you have in mind?"
"Ice cream, there's . . . " I stopped when I caught the twinkle in his eye. "Oh, you!" Lee's laughter filled the room. "Quiet, big fella. Do you want to wake Mother?"
That thought was enough to cut Lee's laughter short. "Oh, no, no, no. The last time she caught us down here, I couldn't look her in the eye for weeks."
I chuckled, recalling the embarrassed look on Lee's face the night Mother flipped on the living room light and found us wrapped in each other's arms on the couch, 'watching' a movie. "I think we should stick to eating ice cream tonight, don't you?" I turned to the cupboard to get bowls. "Would you get it, please?"
Lee reached into the freezer as I pulled spoons from the drawer. He handed me the ice cream and watched me scoop it into the bowls. I flipped the lid closed and handed the box back to Lee. I picked the bowls up from the counter and motioned for him to follow me. "Let's have this in the living room." I set the bowls on the coffee table and settled onto the couch.
Lee put the ice cream away and started toward the living room, then stopped and returned to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He retrieved a can of whipped cream and joined me on the couch, looking thoughtfully at the can. "I think you are the only person I know who can use this as a weapon. I will never forget how you burst into Billy's office saying, 'They were going to kill me, but I got 'em with the whipped cream!' " He started laughing again.
I glared at him and said, "At least it was more effective than a lawn flamingo."
"Watch it. I have a loaded can of whipped cream in my hand." Lee shook the can and gave me an evil grin.
"No?" Lee popped the cap off the can. Laughing, I tried to move out of his way, but he swiftly pinned me to the couch and aimed the can at me.
"Yes." He pushed the button on the can and covered my mouth with the cream.
"What do you think I am, an ice cream sundae?" I sputtered.
"No," Lee said, giving me a look that made my knees go weak. He leaned toward me and licked some whipped cream off my lips. "But I'm in UTOPIA NOW."