A few days after Lee and Amanda returned from Arizona, Billy Melrose—section chief of the field unit at the Agency—read a report sent to him through secure channels. It was from Captain George W. Sikes—the CO of the Green Beret squad that had the security detail with the Vigilant. Billy had requested an unofficial report on his observations of the unlikely partners during their road trip with the Vigilant to Arizona. Billy wished he could have been an invisible observer—but failing that this was the next best thing. He settled in to enjoy this.

To: William Melrose, Agency

From: Captain George Washington Sikes, US Army Green Berets

Subject: Vigilant detail

My team was assigned the security detail escorting the Vigilant from Washington D.C. to the Army Proving Grounds near Yuma, Arizona. I chose half of my squad to accompany the vehicle, in three civilian cars.

Valentiner, specialist in communications

Taylor, specialist in hand-to-hand combat and psychological warfare

Unwin, specialist in survival skills

Wyatt, specialist in explosives and demolitions

Young, specialist in transportation

The rest of my squad remained in barracks for the duration of the assignment.

We took charge of the vehicle after it had been cleaned and readied for the trip at 0300 Monday morning. We deployed, and proceeded to pick up one of the personnel, agent codename Scarecrow, AKA Lee Stetson from his Georgetown apartment at 0500. Agent Scarecrow was not ready, and we waited for 15 minutes while he gathered his gear. At 0600 we arrived at 4247 Maplewood Drive, where we picked up the other agent, Mrs. Amanda King. Mrs. King met me at the door before I could ring the bell. She had prepared cookies for all the personnel, and proceeded to distribute them to my men in the cars. This was a kind gesture greatly appreciated by myself and my men.

Agent Scarecrow was agitated and impatient to leave. I made sure Mrs. King was thoroughly familiarized with the Vigilant, and comfortable before I returned to my car.

At the first rest stop, Mrs. King made a point of introducing herself and her partner to the men. She did not seem intimidated or put off which my men found intriguing. She was actually trying to be friendly. That and the cookies made points.

At lunch, at The Buck—a café owned by Unwin's aunt who raised him after his mother died—Mrs. King made sure Valentiner—who had been ordered to guard the Vigilant while the rest of us ate—had a good meal, giving him the picnic lunch she had packed for herself and her partner. Apparently, her partner hadn't briefed her on the protocol for a trip like this, and she hadn't known rest and meal stops were planned. During the lunch, Mrs. King ate little, but I learned she never ate a lot. Agent Scarecrow was mostly silent during the meal, which I was to learn was uncharacteristic. Mrs. King tried to learn a bit about each of the men, and was touched by the gesture of stopping by Unwin's aunt. Scarecrow did not seem touched by it, in the least. However, he did not mention the breach of protocol. I found that strange.

That evening, Valentiner tried to get them to participate in the poker game—the unit has a more-or-less constant poker game during free time—but both your personnel declined.

Stetson escorted Mrs. King to her room, then went to his for lights out.

Morning of Day two, we assembled at 0630 for breakfast. Stetson just drank coffee, and Mrs. King tried to get him to eat more—which he declined in an abrupt manner. She took it in stride—but I was surprised she put up with that sort of behavior.

We had car troubles during the morning, and Wyatt ended up riding with the Vigilant for the rest of the day. Wyatt reported he and Mrs. King had a good time talking about themselves and general topics. He also reported Scarecrow didn't know much about family life or car trips. He didn't know about the license plate game or license plate poker. Wyatt thought that was strange, as do I. Where was this guy raised? Again, Mrs. King put up with his guff far more than he deserved. Stetson is very protective of his partner, always making sure he's with her if she's around my men. She seems to not notice. My men noticed right away.

That evening, Stetson decided to play poker. Mrs. King declined, first saying she had to call home, and then later, she said she just wanted to watch. Stetson seemed peeved at her. Mrs. King suggested snacks, and helped Young buy them, then organized things and made sure everyone got snacks and drinks while we all played. She seemed happy to be doing that. She also seemed to be observing the men as we all played. Taylor noticed she was paying close attention to each man in turn, seeming to try to figure each one out. He thinks she'd make a good psychological warfare operative. Stetson is one hell of a poker player—he doesn't give anything away, and he managed to bluff (I think), Taylor our psych expert.

After the game broke up, Stetson escorted Mrs. King to her room, and spent a few minutes inside with her. Then he went to his own room.

Day Three we got off to a late start, as the vehicle to return the soldiers who had brought the replacement vehicle was delayed. Stetson was cranky and irritable, as Mrs. King characterized it. Mrs. King just took in stride and chatted with the men, when Stetson allowed her. He kept her close, and tried to scare the men off, which made the men try to talk to her just to get him. He wasn't popular at all with my men. Mrs. King was universally loved. At lunch we all finally ate Taylor's fry bread—he's from the rez, and always goes on about it—and Mrs. King was again delightful and gracious. She managed to get Taylor talking about himself and his family—something we hadn't heard before. She certainly has a way with people and even Taylor—our inscrutable Indian—opened up around her. She has a gift with making people feel comfortable and getting them to open up. That's a skill that you could exploit.

After lunch, the weather got bad, and the Vigilant was almost caught up in a tornado. They managed to pull over under an overpass. Taylor and Young were following, and it was a close thing. They saw Stetson come bombing out of the vehicle dragging Mrs. King after him, and they sheltered where the bridge met the ground. Stetson wrapped himself around his partner, to protect her from the storm. Once the storm had passed, they went back to the vehicles. The Vigilant was unharmed, but we lost another chase vehicle, so Taylor and Young moved to the Vigilant and rode with them for the rest of the day. They tried chatting, but Stetson wasn't cooperating. Taylor suspects he had injured himself dragging her to shelter. Mrs. King tried kidding Stetson, but he wasn't having any of it. Does that guy even have a sense of humor? Then Stetson started giving her a hard time, but Mrs. King didn't let it get to her—she gave it back to him as good or better than he dished it out. She does know how to handle the guy, which is a good thing as my guys were ready to deck him for her. Taylor, Young and Stetson got into it verbally, and she shut them all down fast. She's one tough lady. She has the respect of me and all my men. Stetson is a jerk.

That night, everyone was tired and rolled in late. Stetson went to his room, she went to her room, and we all sacked out.

Day Four, Stetson drove, and he was quiet for most of the day. I think it was more than he had been expecting. He was limping at lunch, and limped for the rest of the day. He tried to hide it, but Taylor saw him taking his pain pills again at dinner. After dinner Stetson went to his room, and later she joined him. She went for snacks at the vending machines, and then the guys said they watched a movie and talked. They just wanted to make sure Stetson was treating her right. Then she went back to her room and slept. The men decided to get Mrs. King a gift to remember them by. It was a nice gesture, and a mark of how much she impressed my men that they went to the time and trouble to do that for her. Also of how much they thought Stetson was a jerk.

Day five, Mrs. King was driving again—which lost Wyatt, Young and Unwin a few bucks. They thought Stetson would drive again for sure. She sure has Stetson under control. Taylor says she's a natural at psych ops. She manages him without his knowing it. At the rest stop, he was being protective of her again. I pulled her aside to ask her about the vehicle's handling and let her know about the gift the men had procured for her. Stetson sounded like he'd come over and rip my head off. She thinks he was pretty mellow, considering. How she puts up with that guy is beyond me. He wouldn't get away with half of the crap he does if he was under my command. He must be one hell of an agent, because otherwise I'd have booted him long ago.

At lunch, the guys gave her the gift, and she was overwhelmed. She has no idea how she affected my guys. Valentiner kissed her, and I thought Stetson would kill him for it. She calmed him down instantly. Taylor is right about her. She's a natural. She's great with people, and Stetson is lucky to have her around. Hopefully he'll realize it before she tells him to go to hell. The guys think they're sweet on each other, but I didn't see anything that would indicate that. She seems to like Stetson—a lot—but there's no romance between the two. And Stetson tolerates her—though he's also extremely possessive and protective of her. Taylor thinks they're in it for the long haul. I think Taylor's taken a few too many psych ops classes.

So there's the report—unofficially of course. Maybe Stetson's different when he's in the field and at top condition, but somehow I don't think so. Mrs. King seems to be able to adapt to whatever situation she finds herself in, and is a people person. She's a natural morale booster, and her enthusiasm and cheerful disposition are a joy to be around. Stetson is a jerk. What she sees in that guy, I can't figure out. Keep her happy, and she'll stick with the Agency for as long as you'll have her. If Stetson can't drive her away, nothing will.

Billy sat back and thought about the report. 'I knew Amanda was cheerful and helpful—but her ability to manage Scarecrow goes farther than I had realized. And Taylor's ideas about her being a natural for psychological operations. That I can exploit. If she is able to get people to open up—just by being herself—that's something that would indeed be very useful within this unit.'

'And her natural abilities as a morale officer. Again, we need all the good morale we can get. So I'll use her a lot in the bullpen—she has strong secretarial skills which will keep her around and working—but hopefully her natural personality will also bring some warmth and good feelings to the unit. There are so many bad things we deal with during the course of our jobs—having our own unofficial morale officer will also help.'

'Hopefully Mrs. King will want to stay around. Even if it doesn't work out with Scarecrow—though I fervently pray it does—she can still work as a civilian auxiliary doing the secretarial tasks. And if she doesn't make it as Scarecrow's partner—if she does tell him to go to hell—I'll see to it that she still has a place here—because I need someone like her—for many reasons. Welcome to the Agency, Mrs. King. I hope you'll be here for a long time to come.'