October 31, 1991
"How are we supposed to locate Patrov?" Amanda said to her husband. She and Lee stood together in the foyer of the Mclean Gardens Ballroom. "We don't even know what he looks like." She kept her voice low, although it really didn't matter. The guests milling around on the gleaming black and white marble floor certainly weren't paying them any attention.
"According to what Billy told me, he's supposed to find us," Lee said, his voice close to her ear. "He'll walk up, say the recognition phrase to us and then he'll hand you the drink with a napkin. The napkin will contain the microdot."
"Oh my- Lee, what's the recognition phrase?" Amanda hissed.
"Didn't you read the file?" Lee said.
"Skimmed it," Amanda said. "In case you haven't noticed the last couple of days have been a little crazy."
"Point taken," Lee said. He bent down, his lips brushing her ear as he whispered the phrase. "Did you get that?" he asked Amanda as he straightened back up.
"Perfectly," Amanda said, re-adjusting her headdress and feeling the rising heat in her cheeks. Four years of marriage, Amanda thought, and he still has the power to do that. "So if everything goes as planned it should be a piece of cake," she said. "Which probably won't happen."
"Probably not," Lee said, his eyes scanning the crowd. "I think we can count on Mr. Jepard to start something. Just stay sharp." He offered his wife his arm, and together they went into the ballroom, which was lavishly decorated in black and orange. A large banner proclaimed in glittery letters that this was the '34th Annual Great Pumpkin Masquerade Ball' and true to the name, instead of a chandelier on the ceiling there hung a giant paper-maché pumpkin. The music playing in the background was from the '20s, a Rodgers and Hart song that Amanda recognized as "The Blue Room."
"Lee Stetson!" A blond woman wearing a French maid's outfit came walking towards them. In her hand she held an almost empty glass of champagne. "Or should I say, Robin Hood. That's so cute! And Maid Marian?"
"Hello, Celeste," Amanda said. It had been eight years, and Celeste Van Kreswinkle didn't seem to have changed at all. The woman stared at her blankly.
"I'm sorry," Celeste said, "have we met?"
"Only once," Amanda said. "I was dressed up as a housewife at the time."
"Celeste, this is Amanda," Lee said. "My wife."
"Wow," Celeste said, her eyes widening with surprise. "That's marvelous." She looked at Lee. "How about a dance for old time's sake?" she said.
"Not right now," Lee said. A waiter came up to Lee.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "But there's a call for you in the foyer from a Francine Desmond-I was told it was concerning your daughter and that it was priority one?"
"Jenna?" Lee said.
"What about Jenna?" Amanda asked quickly.
"As I understand it there's been an accident," the waiter said.
"Oh my gosh, Lee," Amanda said. Lee put a hand on Amanda's arm. She could tell that her husband was trying to remain calm, but his eyes were full of apprehension.
"We don't know anything yet," he said. "It could be-just wait here and I'll find out what this is all about. And keep an eye out for Jepard." Amanda watched as her husband followed the waiter and disappeared into the crowd. Celeste kept up a string of inane chatter, but she wasn't listening. Amanda's nails dug into her palms. Jenna had an accident – that could mean almost anything- a fall, a car accident, choking on a piece of candy-did Francine know the Heimlich maneuver?
"Excuse me," a man's voice said. "But I think this dance is mine."
The recognition code! Amanda turned around and saw-Lee. Except that it wasn't Lee. Ren Jepard was wearing a tuxedo.
"Oh wow," Celeste said, staring wide-eyed at the man. "I've just been drinking way too much." She stumbled off into the crowd.
"Pleased to see me, Mrs. Stetson?" Ren said. "You can't be all that surprised." Casually he moved his coat aside, letting Amanda see that he was armed.
"It has a silencer," Ren said. "Don't think I have any qualms about using it." His hands ran down Amanda's arms- it was creepy –the way that he looked just like Lee but his touch felt so wrong. With a shiver she tried to move away, but Ren grabbed her upper arms in a bruising grip. "Sorry for the diversion," Ren said, "but I thought we needed some time alone."
The telephone call, Amanda thought. It had been engineered to separate them. She felt a brief moment of relief at knowing that Jenna was safe, but Lee… "What did you do to Lee?" She said.
"He'll wake up with a headache," Ren said. He kept a tight grip on her as he pushed her upstairs toward the balcony overlooking the ballroom. "If I were you, Mrs. Stetson, I'd worry about myself. You see, once I kill Patrov, you become a loose end."
"You'll shoot both of us here?" Amanda asked.
"If I have to," Ren said. "But you see this," he dug into his pocket and produced a hypodermic full of clear fluid- "This kills within minutes and leaves no trace. All it takes is a little for each of you and the world will believe you both had heart attacks. Enough talking now –I believe this is our contact."
Ren let go of her arms and draped one of his arms over her shoulder. Amanda resisted the urge to grab his arm and fling it away from her. A small man with dark hair approached them, a drink in his hand. The words of the recognition code came in halting and awkward English.
"Excuse…me-I think this dance is mine?" Dimitri Patrov said.
"Yes," Amanda said, reaching out her hand to take the napkin and the drink. Part of her desperately wanted to warn Patrov, but she couldn't. She could feel Ren's eyes watching her every move. He plucked the napkin from her grasp and stuffed it inside the pocket of his tuxedo.
"Thank you," Ren Jepard said, taking out his gun while still keeping it concealed under his jacket pocket. "If you'll both follow me."
Dimitri Patrov's eyes widened. "I don't understand," he said. "I was told the Scarecrow would help."
"He's not Scarecrow," Amanda said. "He just looks like him."
"Enough talking, Amanda." Ren snapped. He herded them over to a dark corner beside the balcony and removed the needle from his jacket. Ren grabbed Amanda's wrist, pulling her arm towards him. Amanda's agency training kicked in and she pulled her arm out in a sudden twisting motion, inadvertently knocking the needle from his arm. Ren knocked her to the ground and pulled out his gun.
"I told you I wouldn't hesitate to shoot, didn't I?" he said. Suddenly there was a loud bang, and a flower of red blossomed across Ren's chest. Ren Jepard looked down at his shirt as if he were surprised- then his eyes closed. Amanda watched as he seemed to topple backwards in slow motion, generating screams below as he hit the ballroom floor with a sickening splat.
She turned around to see Lee, gun in hand and a resolute expression on his face. He was missing his hat and sporting a fresh bruise on his forehead. Other than that Lee seemed to be unhurt. Amanda ran to him and he wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close to his chest. Amanda closed her eyes briefly, reveling in his scent, his closeness. Now this felt just right, she thought.
"You okay?" Lee asked her.
"I'm fine," Amanda said. "I'm just awfully glad that you're here and you're you."
"So am I, Mrs. Stetson," Lee said. "And the microdot?"
"He took it," Patrov said, speaking for the first time.
"No he didn't," Amanda broke her embrace with Lee. She unfolded her hand and showed them the dot lying in her palm. "All Ren Jepard got was a napkin," she said.
"Well then," Lee said, wrapping his arms around her, his hazel eyes peering into hers. "What do you say we drop this off at the agency and then-"
"And then?" Amanda said.
"I was thinking something along the lines of home and bed," Lee said.
"Stetson, you've read my mind," Amanda said with a small chuckle.
October 31, 1991
"When I asked Francine to take Jenna trick-or-treating I didn't think it would be around the Agency," Amanda said as she climbed into bed beside Lee, switching off the lamp on her bedside table.
"No," Lee said. "Still, it was a good idea-every office had some sort of candy in it-Jenna's got a bagful. Even Dr. Smyth gave her something."
"Not a cigar I hope," Amanda said dryly.
"No, a Reese's cup," Lee said with a laugh. "Nice to know he can get into the spirit of things-at least a little."
"So, everything is back to normal," Amanda said, her hands intertwining with Lee. "Or what passes for normal in this family. And Ren Jepard is really gone?"
"Really gone," Lee said, rolling over on his side to face Amanda and take her into his arms. "This time it's permanent."
"Good," Amanda said quietly. She didn't like to be happy about anyone's death, but that man had come so close to destroying her family-permanently.
"Can we stop talking now?" Lee said, running his hands down her back. "There are other things we could be doing."
"Oh yeah, like what?" Amanda said. "You have to show me, Mr. Stetson."
And Lee was only too happy to show her.