Hi folks! Listen, I won't bother with the disclaimers and all. You know it all, and it's a bunch of meaningless nothing, anyway. Suffice to say, the regular characters and settings (i.e. houses, apartments, offices, etc) do not belong to me. The bad guys (except for Sinclair) and their hideouts are of course mine, as well as Agent Simmons, and if you want to use them, please ask me first.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: This story is a continuation of the episode "Brunettes Are In". What happened? In short: while volunteering to raise money for training guide dogs for the blind, Amanda is kidnaped by Sinclair, the head of the organization who is posing as a blind man. While Sinclair is holding her on his boat to have his way with her himself before selling her, Lee, as always, comes and saves the day. (Not without being thrown off a car, knocked unconscious, handcuffed to a pipe, and pretty much beaten up first.) Also, there was this whole thing where Amanda was supposed to get a microdot for the Agency, but one of the woman-snatching goons came and got her purse (and the microdot) first, so Lee was angry and they had a fight over whether or not they were partners and Amanda said she'd quit and in the end they apologize and Lee throws away her resignation, agrees they are partners, and everybody's happy.
Except for me. Because we never found out who Amanda's buyer was. Loose strings--ick. So here's one way it could have happened.... It probably isn't my best work, but I tried to leave out most of the emotional gush a lot of stories have and really keep the feel of the show itself. (Gush is good sometimes, for stories, I mean. But I don't really do stories, I write episodes out in novel-form. Anyway, hope you enjoy it.)
BEST OF THE BRUNETTES
Lee Stetson would of course never admit to anyone, least of all himself, the depth at which he'd been frightened and angry for Amanda when he'd discovered someone would want to SELL her.
But of course, he had no problem taking the depth of that fear and anger out on her captors.
"What else?" he shouted, stalking around the formerly so-called blind man who apparently could see perfectly well.
"I don't believe I'll speak to you any further without my lawyer present," the man said very matter-of-factly.
"Damn you, Sinclair. We're already got you on kidnaping, murder one, attacking a government agent--"
Sinclair interrupted, "Though considering you never identified yourself as one, I doubt if that charge will stick."
"Attempted murder, then. Now if you help us out now and tell us what you know, then maybe we can cut a deal of some kind and ask the judge to be lenient when it comes down to sticking you in an electric chair or letting you rot in prison for the rest of your life."
"I am well aware of my rights, Mr. Stetson, and I know that you have no right to be questioning me in this manner after I have asked for my lawyer, which I have done repeatedly!"
Frustrated almost beyond control, Lee caught movement out of the corner of his eye and saw Francine waiting for him in the hall. Glaring down again at Sinclair, he stomped past him, muttering loudly, "You're one to talk about rights," and then slammed the door behind him.
Billy was there, too. "Any luck?" he asked.
"No, no," Lee shook his head, crossing his arms tightly and still glaring through the narrow window on the door. "He won't say anything. How about you? Anything?"
"Francine got some new leads out of one of the others," Billy said, nodding at the beautiful blonde agent to Stetson's left.
"Oh yeah?" he turned to face her. "Did you find out who their client was?"
"Client-s." She accented the 's'. "Plural. He said he didn't know their names."
"Yeah, or he won't tell us," quipped Lee sarcastically.
Billy jumped in again. "One of the others keeps saying that if he talks, they'll come and kill him."
"Who will? We've got them all locked up," said Francine.
"Yeah, and we didn't miss anybody."
"That's the thing," Billy said. "I think we may have stumbled onto something big here."
Stetson frowned. "You mean a ring? Like drug trafficking only with women?"
Lee's face took on a look of new anger and determination. "Let's have a talk with that guy. . . ."
They did have a talk with him. Lee thought it went considerably well, and figured the prisoner should feel about the same way considering that he survived the "chat" without injury.
"Listen, I can't tell you anything! The minute I open my mouth, someone's gonna come through that door and kill me!"
"Why would you say that?" Lee demanded--loudly. "We've got them all locked up in little rooms just like this one; they're not going anywhere. So, who do you think is going to come in here?"
The man only sat silently, staring forward.
"Are there more of you scum out there?"
Still no response.
"Okay, assuming there are more out on the streets, then the second we let you go, do you really think they're going to believe you when you tell them you didn't talk? Or how about this? We let you go, and let them hunt you down and kill you?"
The man glanced up at him, clearly frightened.
"That's what I thought. So, you've got two choices here. One, we let you go, or two, you get to stay locked in this nice little room with armed agents outside the door while you tell us all about these other people. Then we get you a nice book and some coffee while we go and bring everyone else down, too. How does that sound?"
The man stared up at him nervously. ". . . Okay," he said finally. "Okay. I'll talk. Look, just keep them all away from me."
"All of them! They're all over the place! Every major city in the country's got at least one of them. Chicago, L.A., New York, New Orleans, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City--"
Lee held up a hand. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, wait a minute. You're telling me all those cities have operations like the one you were running?"
"Yeah," the man nodded. "Them plus another half-dozen or so, world-wide. London and Tokyo, Berlin, Madrid, Florence . . . they've all got 'em."
Stetson was staring at him in horror and appall. With that he hurried out the door and into the small room behind the mirror. "You get all that?" he said to Billy and Francine.
"Yeah," said the short, overweight, dark-skinned Billy. "This thing is huge."
"What about Amanda?" asked Lee, on edge. "Do you think the buyer will still come after her?"
"It's possible, but unlikely," Billy said again. "Now that we've shut down their D.C. ring, I doubt if they'd bother sending people out to get her."
He sighed and visibly calmed down. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. Still, it might be a good idea just to keep an eye on her for a few days."
Francine smirked. "What's the matter, Lee? Worried about your girlfriend?"
Lee tensed again. "For God's sake, she was almost sold as a sex slave!" He tried to calm himself down. "I'm just looking out for a friend, Francine."
She looked away as she smiled to herself. "Oh, I think you two are a little bit closer than that."
Now Stetson fumed. "Listen, Francine--!"
Thankfully at that point Billy broke them up. "All right, stop it, both of you. Calm down, Scarecrow." He thought about it as they exchanged glares. "Okay. That's better. Now, Scarecrow's right; Amanda could still be in danger. Lee, why don't you go call her down here and we'll explain everything to her in my office."
Meanwhile at home, Amanda King was just pulling up her driveway with a station wagon full of kids, Mother, groceries, and a brand new video game. Amanda had a headache.
"So anyway, Amanda, I told the young man, 'I'm sorry, but I don't believe those seats are taken--'"
"I can't wait to try out this new game! Mom! Look! It looks so awesome!--"
"--but he still simply refused to budge! Normally it wouldn't have been such a problem, but because you were so late dropping us off and the lines for the popcorn were just horrendous--"
Amanda brought the car to a stop.
"Yeah, and you can make him go--"
"POW! POW! POW!"
She put the car in park.
"--just like the guy in the movie! And you get to fly this special airplane and everything!--"
"--oh, but don't worry, we don't blame you, Dear - well, the only seats left were all the way down in the front row, and you know how bad that is on my neck and back. So then I called an usher--"
After turning off the ignition, she reached into the backseat, nodding, "Mm-hmm," at her mother and trying to listen as she grabbed a bag of groceries near her son's feet. Mother followed suit, talking the whole time.
"--and he came down with his little flashlight and I don't think he could see too well because he had these special glasses on and anyway I explained the situation and he asked the man very nicely to move over--"
They got out of the car, Amanda opened the back door for the boys to get out. "Mom, can we go inside and get some ice cream?"
"Don't you want to play your new game?"
"Yes, but after we have ice cream. We're hungry."
"Okay, go ahead, go ahead." They grabbed the ice cream box out of one of the bags and ran up the front walk. Amanda called after them, "Make sure you use up the old kind first!"
While she bent down and grabbed the remaining two grocery bags, her mother was still talking. "--and so he finally did, but then as the nice usher was walking back up the aisle, he bumped into some lady and made her spill her popcorn and soda all over the floor and I stepped in it--I thought it was going to ruin the bottom of my new shoes! But that poor usher boy--"
They entered the house, leaving the front door open behind them. "Mother, do you suppose you could get the door?"
"--Oh, of course, Amanda. That poor usher boy--" she followed her daughter into the kitchen, "he slipped and fell right on top of that woman, and her dress was absolutely ruined, Amanda! And I don't think her boyfriend was too happy about it, either!"
"Oh my goodness, that poor woman!" Amanda exclaimed and quickly dropped her three bags on the counter next to her mother's one.
"That's exactly what I said! And I tell you, if the boys didn't want to see that movie so badly, I would have just walked out of that theater right then and there!"
"I want the chocolate!"
"No, I want the chocolate!"
"I was here first! You take the Rocky Road!"
"I hate Rocky Road!" They started grabbing for each other.
"Boys!" Amanda shouted, abandoning her mother at the counter. "Boys! Stop!" She pulled them apart. "Jamie, stop! Now, Rocky Road ice cream is the same thing as chocolate ice cream only with nuts and marshmallows. So, which one of you wants marshmallow chocolate ice cream?"
"All right, you can both have it." She took out the ice cream scoop and started scooping when the phone rang. "Oh, Mother, could you get that?"
Her mother heaved an irritated sigh and picked up the phone after its second ring. "Hello?" She held the receiver out. "Amanda, it's for you."
"Who is it?" she called over the kids' voices.
Again annoyed, her mother asked, "Who's calling?" Again she held out the phone. "Lee Stetson from IFF."
Amanda stopped scooping and looked up.
"Mom! Check this out!"
"Hey, I want to show her!"
"No! Hey, Mom!"
Amanda licked chocolate from her fingers and took the phone. "Hello?"
"Mom, come'ere and look at this! When you get to a certain level on the game, you can skip directly to the evil spy's hideout!"
"You can not!"
She turned away from the chaos and plugged her other ear. "He wants me to come down? When? Now?"
"Shh! Boys, your mother's on the phone!" scolded Mother.
"Yeah, okay," Amanda said. Then with a smile, "No, no, Mother and the boys just got back from a movie and they're all a little excited, that's all. Okay, I'll see you in about fifteen minutes." She hung up and grabbed the jacket she'd discarded on the back of the sofa. "Mother," she asked, "will you finish getting the boys their ice cream? I have to go."
"Well, when will you be back?"
"I don't know. If I'm not back before dinner, start without me." As she headed out the door, "Oh! The turkey's in the oven; make sure you take it out at six o'clock, and the stuffing still needs to be put in. Bye! Bye boys! Have fun with your new game!"
"We will, Mom!"
Amanda King shut the door and hurried back to her car.
"I'm sorry, do you have any aspirin?" she asked politely, as always. "I just have this pounding headache. You see, I had to go pick my mother and my boys up at the movie theater and then after that we had to stop at the toy store so Phillip and Jamie could buy a video game they'd been saving up for and then we also had to stop at the grocery store," she looked directly at Mr. Melrose, "and I don't know if you've ever gone grocery shopping with two little boys, sir, but it's quite a chaotic experience. And then once we were in the car, both the boys were in the backseat shouting and being noisy while they played with their new game while mother sat next to me in the passenger seat telling me about what happened before the movie started and she just kept talking the whole time, and then we had to go inside and the boys were fighting over the ice cream, and I just . . . could really use some aspirin, sir."
Francine handed her a glass of water and some pills. Amanda took them and thanked her graciously.
Lee was leaning against the window of Billy Melrose's office. "Billy, why don't you tell her why she's here?"
He nodded, looking down at his hands. "Right. Amanda," he stood and came around to sit on his desk, "while we were interrogating the men who kidnaped you, we sort of stumbled across some new information."
Amanda was looking concerned now. "What kind of information, sir?"
Stetson spoke up. "Well, apparently, they weren't the only ones doing this sort of thing."
"What do you mean?"
"Well . . ." he tried to decide how best to phrase this. "When we got one of them to talk, he told us that Mr. Sinclair wasn't the only one trying to sell women."
She looked like she might be sick. "He wasn't?"
Lee just shook his head. "No."
"He told us there's a world-wide ring of women snatchers," told Billy. "They catch them, drug them, and then sell them either to private collectors or to people who run prostitution rings."
"Prostitution?" Amanda repeated blankly. Billy nodded. "You mean, I . . . could have been sold . . . as a prostitute?" She had trouble getting the words out of her mouth, and she looked to Lee for an answer. Like Billy, he nodded coldly. "Oh dear!"
"The problem is," Lee said, moving from his place by the window to stand next to his boss, "that because now we know there are more of them out there, we're a little bit concerned--not a lot; the chances are very slim of this actually happening--but we're a little bit concerned that whoever your . . . potential buyer was will go to one his men in Baltimore or Richmond, if there's one there, and send them out here for you."
With wide eyes, Amanda licked her dry lips and asked slowly, "You mean, he might still be out to get me?"
Lee nodded at her solemnly. "Yeah." Before she could get too excited, he asked, "So, is there any place you and your family can stay for a while? A summer home of some kind?"
She had to think for a moment before answering. "My uncle has a cottage up in the woods."
"Good, great. So, you can just tell us where it is, pack your bags and your family in the car and stay up there for a week or so while we do some investigating."
"But what if they're able to find us?"
"Don't worry," Billy told her. "We'll be sending an agent along to look after you."
"Oh," she smiled. "Well, in that case. . . . Oh!" she cried, then asked, "But what do we tell Mother?"
"They want to WHAT?"
"I know!" Amanda agreed with her always cheerful smile. "It's crazy, isn't it?"
Mother followed her around the kitchen island as Amanda went to put a vase back in its cupboard. "Why in the world does IFF want to use OUR house for a documentary?"
When she turned around to face Mother's raised eyebrows, she drew a breath to answer, paused to come up with a good one, and then frowned at her and said, "I'm not sure." She continued returning dishes to their proper places.
"You're not sure?" Mother demanded. "Amanda, do you mean to tell me that they're going to kick us out of our house for a WHOLE WEEK and not even tell us why?"
"Well, of course they'll tell us why!" she laughed. ". . . To film a documentary!"
Mother had her arms crossed and that suspicious look on her face. "Uh-huh. On what?" But her daughter didn't hear; she was too busy with the plates. "Amanda! A documentary on what?"
Again she drew a breath to answer and then paused to think of one. "Dust," she said finally.
"Mm-hmm. Dust." Now she had to carefully avoid full eye contact or her mother would suspect her of lying.
"What kind of dust?"
"Oh, you know . . . air particles, regular dust, dust bunnies . . . carpet dust--lots of things!"
"They're doing an entire show on dust?" she asked skeptically.
"Mm-hmm. . . . Well, no, not an ENTIRE show, just one or two segments of it."
"And why did they choose our house? Are there rumors going around work that you're not a good housekeeper?"
"Well, then, why us?"
Amanda found one of the boys' G.I. Joe toys behind the toaster and noticed its helmet. "A hat. They drew from a hat."
"I see. . . . And they need our house for a whole week to make a movie about dust?"
"Well, first they have to set up all the equipment and then they have to let the dust settle for a few days, and THEN they do the filming."
Mother stared at her, unconvinced or incredulous, Amanda couldn't tell. But finally Mother just shook her head. "All right, fine. It'll give us some time to visit my sister Helen anyway. You know, your cousin Peggy's going to be down there this week with her new baby."
"Oh, Cousin Peggy!" Amanda exclaimed happily.
"Yes, and Helen's just been dying to see the boys. I'll go give her a call and tell her we'll all be coming down." She turned and headed for the living room.
"Okay," Amanda nodded with a smile. "Oh! No! Wait!"
"Oh, what is it, Amanda?"
"I just remembered! While we're out of the house, I'm supposed to go on a location shoot up in the woods near Jim's cabin."
"They're using your Uncle Jim's cottage as a set, too?! Amanda, what is WRONG with these people?"
"No, no, no!" she quickly covered. "We're not actually going to FILM the cabin, we're just going to be filming in the woods near it. It's just one of those funny coincidences that the shoot is going to be up in that area." She smiled, trying to convince Mother of her sincerity.
Mother frowned again. "I tell you, Amanda, there's something funny about that company you work for." Amanda stopped smiling. "Sending you out at all hours of the night, flying you across Europe--not that that was a bad thing--keeping you away for days at a time . . ."
"What is it, Mother?" she gulped.
"It just seems very suspicious, that's all. Like that movie I saw with the boys this afternoon. It was about an American spy leading a double life. Sometimes it feels like that's what's going on here." Amanda could practically feel the blood draining from her face, but Mother didn't notice. "But of course that's absurd. No offense, Darling, but you're just not built to be a secret spy."
Amanda relaxed. "Oh, that's okay, Mother," she smiled again.
"But I mean sometimes I wonder what you do on that job. You never really had any prior film experience, after all."
"Well, I did take that tv-journalism class in high school."
"Besides, Mother, I do mostly consultant work. Nothing really interesting."
"I would imagine not, considering they make movies about how dust collects."
Amanda smiled and went back to her dishes.
The two men went to the door and rang the bell. The house was incredible: a huge, beautiful cabin hidden among the tall trees of the small island.
A middle-aged woman with red hair and dressed in rich clothes answered the door. "Yes, can I help you?"
The men exchanged a glance and the bigger, burlier of the two, said to her, "Well, we're here to see your husband."
"What about?" she asked.
"About the bunnies," he answered in the code phrase--it was a play on words, meant to be referring to the Playboy bunnies. The woman nodded and showed them in, led them to the gathering room in the back of the house. The ceilings were tall here, and there were huge windows that looked out over the trees and the freshwater lake. A narrow brick path led from the house down to a small private beach and a long dock where a small motor boat floated, tethered, in the water.
Mr. Robeson was standing by the windows with a pair of binoculars. "The men are here to see you," said his wife.
He turned around. Mr. Robeson was a good decade younger than his wife--she had married him for his money; she knew it, he knew it, and they knew they both knew it--that was partly why none of this whole business bothered her much. He wore silver-rimmed glasses and his youthful hair was slicked back, and he, like Mrs. Robeson, wore expensive clothing.
"Ah, come in, come in," he said, waving them over with a friendly smile. Mrs. Robeson went to the kitchen. "Look out there," he said, pointing out the window. "In that birch tree. You see it?" A small hummingbird was buzzing around a red feeder that had been hung from a branch. "That's a ruby-throated hummingbird." He sighed contentedly. "Isn't she beautiful?" The two men watched the bird to appease the man, but looked at each other strangely. Mr. Robeson turned to them. "So, what have you brought me?"
He led them to the sitting area. Robeson sat on the couch and the two men sat in wicker chairs across from him. "Well, we've got some more pictures for you from D.C.. A couple of redheads, another blonde, a few brunettes . . ."
"What about Mrs. King?"
The burly one looked to his less-well-built companion. The shorter one said, "Well, you see, it didn't work out with her. Our Georgetown operation got busted down by some cop, FBI agent or something we think."
Robeson looked disappointed. "Yes, I know. I'm very upset about that. But the fact remains that I want Mrs. King." He glanced at the ceiling, dreamy-eyed. "She's wonderful in every way. And that she's being protected by the FBI only makes her more desirable."
Mrs. Robeson returned with a tray of drinks and took a seat next to her husband. "Well," said the short man, "we did get another picture of her."
"Let me see it," he demanded.
The burly man pulled a photograph out of his folder and handed it across the table. It was in black and white of Amanda King standing on the dock in front of the boat she'd been held on. She was shaking the hand of a taller handsome man in a suit. Both were smiling at each other. Robeson smiled down at the photo. "Magnificent . . ."
"Who is the man?" asked Mrs. Robeson of the picture.
"That's the guy who saved her," said the short one.
"Do you know his name?" she asked, staring.
"No," he answered, "but it shouldn't be too hard to find out."
"Mm . . ." she nodded.
"Get her," Mr. Robeson ordered. "I don't care what you have to do. Just get her. I'll raise the price by thirty percent. Do it."
"Don't you want to see any of the other pictures?"
"No," he snapped. "Just Mrs. King." With that he nodded and dismissed them. They got up and let themselves out.
Mr. Robeson took his iced tea and stood, staring out the window, while Mrs. Robeson remained where she was on the couch and picked the picture up off the coffee table, gazing at the man, smirking to herself.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Okay, goodbye, kids. Be good for your Great-Aunt Helen." Amanda was down on her knees by the front door kissing her two sons goodbye.
"We will, Mom."
"And don't be too rambunctious. And don't forget your 'please' and 'thank you', oh, and always wash your hands and wipe your feet."
"We will, Mom."
Amanda smiled at Jamie. "Oh, I know you will, Honey. Now give me a hug." They both hugged her and she kissed the tops of their heads. "Have fun," she said and let them go.
"We will, Mom!"
Then Amanda stood and gave Mother her hug goodbye. "All right, you won't forget to call?"
"All right. I'll talk to you later."
"Right. Say hello to Aunt Helen and Peggy."
"Of course, Dear. Goodbye!" The three of them went out the door to pile into the cab that waited in front of the house. Amanda leaned against the doorway and smiled happily at them, even though she was sad to see them go, and frankly a little bit worried. But she just smiled and waved them off.
Once the taxi was out of sight, she closed the door and leaned against it. No sooner had she closed her eyes then there was a knock on the patio door. Amanda jumped up and ran to the back of the house, snatched the doorknob and flung the door open.
There stood Lee Stetson--as she had expected: he was the only person who ever came to her back door--leaning cooly against her window. He straightened when she appeared. He was wearing one of his impeccable suits, this one tan. "Hi," he grinned. "Are you all ready?"
"Oh," she said, stepping out onto her back patio, "Mother and the boys aren't coming. They're going to visit my Aunt Helen and Cousin Peggy instead."
"Oh," Lee nodded. "Well, good, that makes things easier. Three less people to watch."
"Right," Amanda smiled, even though she wasn't quite sure she entirely liked the way he'd put that.
"So, come on, get your things," he said, gesturing for her to follow him. "I've got my car parked over here. I'll drive you down to Headquarters and from there you and the agent we've assigned to protect you can head up to the cabin--"
"You mean you aren't coming?" she asked.
Lee turned and faced her, saw the surprise and trace of fear in her eyes. "Well, no. They need me here to help continue the investigation."
"Oh," she smiled to cover up her disappointment, "of course. You have to . . . investigate."
He nodded, looking at her. "Yes. Listen though, I'll be keeping in touch with you and Agent Simmons every day to keep you both updated."
"Yeah, that's who the Agency has assigned to protect you. He's a good agent, don't worry."
She smiled again. "Oh, I'm sure he is. It's just that . . . I thought you would be coming. I was just caught off guard, that's all."
"Okay," Lee said and paused as they regarded each other. "Well, go get your things and let's get going."
"Right, right," Amanda hurried back inside.
They were standing by the coffee station. Alone. "I don't know where he is," Lee said with a frown. "He's supposed to meet us here . . ."
Suddenly a man was approaching them. The same height as Lee, only lankier. Same sandy-brown hair as Lee, perhaps a shade darker. "Sorry I'm late," he said. "I had to finish up some paperwork downstairs." Young, smooth voice, and a very nice smile to accompany it.
"Ah. Amanda," Lee introduced, "this is Agent Simmons. Agent Simmons, my partner Amanda King."
Lee had introduced Amanda as his partner as a compliment. Somehow he'd expected a reaction of some sort from her--maybe a blush, in the very least a glance and a smile in his direction. But all of her attention was on this younger, handsome man in front of her.
"Amanda King," Simmons repeated, smiling warmly, and held out his hand. "I've heard about you."
"You have?" She took his hand and started to shake it, but then Agent Simmons did something unexpected: he bent low and kissed the back of her palm.
And he had beautiful, brilliant green eyes.
Lee straightened and found himself frowning. Jealousy? No. He was above that. Besides, he told himself, he didn't have any feelings for Amanda. Not in that way, at least.
"Oh, yes," Simmons said and stood, "many good things."
"Oh, well," now Amanda blushed, "Agent Simmons--"
"Please," he interrupted politely, "call me Jeffrey."
Amanda smiled and stared. "Well, Jeffrey, I suppose we should probably be going?" She turned to Lee for confirmation.
"Uh, sure," he nodded, flustered. "Right. Agent Simmons has already been briefed, so whenever you're ready." She looked back at Simmons and smiled. "Don't forget," Lee said, "I'll be calling you every night to let you know what's going on down here." With that, Amanda was reminded of the position she was in and looked at Lee more solemnly.
"Okay," said Amanda. "I guess we'll talk to you tonight, then."
He nodded. "Right. Talk to you tonight." He tried to remain in a professional composure, but when she nodded to him and said "Well, goodbye, Lee" and he just nodded back at her while she turned with Simmons to go, he suddenly heard himself say, "Amanda?" He didn't know why; it just came out. She looked back at him and he swallowed. "Look," he covered up quickly, "I just want you to know that there's no reason for you to be worried. This whole thing is just a precaution." He felt his heart thumping in his chest. "We'll catch these guys."
Her smile was slight. "I know," she said. "Lee? Be careful."
The corner of his mouth tugged up in a half-grin. "I will."
Once more, Amanda nodded a farewell to him, and then she and Agent Simmons left.
Lee stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned away once he could no longer see them through the glass walls. He caught Francine watching him from her computer station and she quickly turned away, pretending she was intently typing. With a sigh, Lee went back to work.
* * *
There were two men in a car with Maryland license plates parked outside of IFF, sitting, watching, waiting.
Inside, Lee came out of the closet elevator, grabbed his jacket, and headed out the door. The men watched as he exited the building. The one behind the driver's wheel turned to his companion, a dark-skinned fellow with a thin beard, and glanced at the picture in his lap. "That him?" asked the bearded man.
The driver looked from the picture of the man and the King woman back to Lee, who was getting in his silver car. "Definitely. Buckle up. Let's follow him."
They pulled up in front of his apartment building and watched him get out of his car and go inside. "You got it down?" the driver asked his dark companion, who was busy scratching down the address.
"Yeah, I got it," he said and looked up. "So, what now? You want to go look him up on the computer first or go do her house?"
"No," said the driver thoughtfully, "let's check the computer first. Then we can go check her house."
He sat and thought a moment. "Yeah, why not?"
Amanda stared out the window at the beautiful trees, watching for their turnoff. "You know," said the voice from the seat next to her, prompting her to turn in his direction, "I have to admit, I'm somewhat jealous of you."
Jeffrey Simmons was watching the winding road carefully.
"Jealous? Of me?" Amanda was surprised. "Why? What for? After all, I'm just . . . an ordinary housewife. . . . Well, actually I'm not exactly a wife anymore; I'm divorced."
"But you're the Scarecrow's partner. And you're not even an agent!" Jeff grinned lopsidedly. "I mean, when I first joined up about a year-and-a-half ago, all I heard about was 'Scarecrow this' and 'Scarecrow that'."
Amanda was smiling. "Yeah, he's pretty great," she agreed politely.
"Mm. It took me until I finally worked with him a few months ago to really realize that he's just a regular guy, like you and me." He laughed, "Actually, I heard that the office had sort of a betting pool to see who Billy would find for his partner. I think most of them thought it would be Francine. I'll tell you," he was still watching the road, "NOBODY figured on someone like you." Jeff suddenly glanced in her direction. "I mean, uh, that didn't come out like I meant it to. I meant, uh, jeez--"
"Because I'm a civilian," she filled in.
A moment of silence. "Can I ask you a question?" she asked.
"Sure, go ahead."
"Why didn't they choose Francine? To be Lee's partner?"
"Well," he thought, "it could be that because they're both good agents and it would make more sense to keep them separate so they can each handle more cases."
She nodded. "Could be."
"Mostly I think it's probably because they don't always get along too well. They both have different ideas about how to handle a case, they're both pretty stubborn sometimes. Maybe it's just because they don't always work well together."
"Well, they do seem to argue a lot," Amanda agreed.
"Yeah. . . ."
Another pause. "Oh, there's the turn!" she said. He steered the car onto a rocky road and up the small hill. Soon the log cabin was in view and he pulled up next to it and parked the car. Amanda got out first and exclaimed, "Well, here we are!"
Jeff got out and looked around. "Nice area."
"Yeah," she smiled happily. "I used to spend a few weeks each summer up here. There used to be a tennis court down the road, and my uncle would take me down there sometimes; he was the one who first taught me how to play. I don't even know how to anymore." She was nodding to herself. "Lot of memories up here."
Then she blinked and turned to Jeff sheepishly. "Sorry. I'm rambling."
Jeff just smiled and shook his head. "It's okay. Why don't you go ahead inside and I'll get our things."
"Oh. Right." Amanda turned to go inside while Jeff opened the trunk.
Inside, Amanda, looking around somewhat wistfully, went to the kitchen. She heard Simmons coming in. "I think we're going to have to make a trip to the market," she called to him as she searched the empty cabinets.
"I counted on that," he said, setting the bags down in the living room. "Oh, good, there's a VCR," he said.
Simmons reached into his bag and pulled out a video tape. "Hope you like Indiana Jones," he smiled.
"Oh! My boys LOVE those movies," she grinned.
Then he pulled out a bag of popcorn with another sly grin. "I don't suppose you have a microwave?"
Sitting in front of the computer screen, the taller, pale man typed away furiously. "There!" he finally said. "I got him."
"So who is he?" the dark one asked and stopped pacing.
"His name's Lee Stetson. Works for that international film company." The man snorted. "Can you believe that? He's a nobody."
The dark one shook his head. "You think it might be a cover?"
The other shrugged. "Could be. Or maybe he's just a good friend of hers. Maybe a distant cousin or something."
"No," the dark one said, "something doesn't fit right here. No ordinary guy working for a film company could have gotten off that boat and taken down Sinclair. No way."
The pale one sat in thought. "Yeah. . . . Call Jordan."
Jordan, the shorter man, was sitting on the bed of his motel room when the phone rang. The tv was on, and he really didn't want to turn it off. He hated interruptions. The burly one was sitting in the chair. They let it ring three times before the big one said, "Man, just answer it!"
With an agitated sigh, Jordan climbed across the bed and got the phone. "Yeah?"
"Hey, Jordan, that you?" said the dark man.
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"It's Anson, down in D.C.."
"Oh yeah. Anson." Jordan motioned for the big one to turn off the television. "Hey, how's it going down there? If we don't give Robeson anything soon, he's going to start getting antsy."
"Oh, right, what's he going to do? Offer us more money? Look, we found the name of that guy. The one who took down Sinclair."
"Oh, great, great." Jordan turned to his bigger companion. "Hey," he told him, "they got the guy's name."
"Oh yeah?" he asked. "So who is he?"
Jordan turned his attention back to Anson on the phone. "What's his name?"
"Lee Stetson. Works for some movie company called IFF."
Jordan repeated, "Lee Stetson."
"Lee Stetson?" said the burly one, standing up. "Lee STETSON?"
"Yeah, works for a film company."
The burly one snorted. "Not the Lee Stetson I know."
"Hey, come on, man," said Anson over the phone, "what's going on up there?"
"Hold on a second," Jordan said. "Hey, Callum. What are you talking about?"
Callum, the big one, paced. "When I worked for the government a few years back, there was a lot of talk about one of the secret agencies' top agents: this guy called Scarecrow. He had all the really big cases." He started pacing. "Nobody knew for sure who he really was, but there were some rumors floating around. And everybody's money was on a guy named Lee Stetson."
Jordan stared. "You mean this guy Stetson is secret agent?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"Like one of those James Bond guys who fights terrorists and the Russians and all that?"
Callum nodded slowly. "That's what I'm saying."
"Hello?" came Anson's voice from the phone. "Hello?"
Jordan said into the receiver, "Yeah, I'm still here. You've got his address? . . . Yeah, hold on." He grabbed a pencil and paper. "Okay. . . . Okay. . . . Got it. Okay, how about that woman, King? You got anything on her yet? Yeah, well, let us know as soon as you do." He hung up, staring practically in disbelief at the paper he held in his hand. "We've got his address," he said incredulously. "If you're right, do you have any idea what we could get for this information?"
Callum lifted his eyebrows and smiled. "Even better: how much do you think we'll get for HIM?"
Jordan smiled and laughed.
The triumphant fanfare of Indiana Jones trumpeted over the crackling of the fire. Even though the sun hadn't set yet in the forests of Northern Maryland, it had still started to become cool already. But besides, how else would they cook their popcorn and roast their marshmallows?
Jeff licked some melted marshmallow off his finger. "Mm. I'm really glad you thought to bring these," he said.
Amanda smiled graciously and offered him a bowl. "Popcorn?"
He smirked, considering, and then took a handful. "Yeah, why not?" Then, as he munched, he lifted his own unused microwave bag off the hearth. "I guess it's a good thing you brought the jiffy-poppers, too."
"Well," she blushed, "when you have to raise two boys, you learn to come prepared."
He just smiled at her. Then, "Another marshmallow?"
"Oh, yes, please."
"All right." Jeff pulled one out of the plastic bag and speared it with a chopstick. Amanda watched, as they sat by the fireplace, how the flickering flames danced shadows across his handsome face, how the red sunlight competed with the fire to frame him with a glow. And there was something in the way he glanced up at her that made her wonder if perhaps he was thinking about her, too.
Suddenly Amanda exclaimed, "Oh goodness!" and jumped up to go to the kitchen.
"What? What is it?" he asked, concerned.
"Oh, I forgot to call Mother," she answered, sounding upset. "I told her I'd call her this afternoon and she'll just get so worried if I don't call." Amanda started digging through her bag.
Jeff stood. "What are you looking for?"
"My address book. It has Aunt Helen's phone number in it and I need it." Where was it? Not under her jacket, not in with her pajamas . . . Suddenly she froze and slowly straightened.
Amanda closed her eyes and frowned to herself. "It's on the counter," she murmured quietly.
"My address book; it's on the kitchen counter at home." Now she looked at him with a sad expression. "I forgot to put it in my bag before I left."
"Oh. . . . Well, I'm sure your mother will understand," Jeff tried consoling her.
"Well," she tried smiling again, "I know she will. But she's going to be awfully upset and awfully worried, and I just hate to think about Mother worrying about me. . . ."
"Hmm . . ." Jeff thought. "What about Lee?"
"Sure," he said, "why don't you have Lee go over to your house and get the book. Then he can call you back and give you the number."
She perked up. "All right." Amanda picked up the phone and dialed the Agency. Ring. Ring. "Oh, hello, this is Amanda King. Do you suppose you could connect me with Lee Stetson? The password?" She looked to Jeff.
"Fish sticks," she told the receptionist. There was a moment of silence as she waited to be connected. "Oh, he isn't answering? Well, uh, then could you connect me to Mr. Melrose, please? Thank you." Another pause. "Hello, Mr. Melrose! Oh, everything's fine, sir. It's just going splendidly. No, no problems yet, sir. I was just wondering, is Lee there? Oh, he isn't. No, no, that's all right. I was just hoping he could do me a favor and run over to my house and get something for me. You see, I promised Mother I'd call, and I forgot her number . . . Oh, no, sir, that's all right. I'll just call him at his apartment. Yes, sir, I'm sure. Thank you, sir. Okay. I will. Goodbye." She turned back to Jeff. "He isn't there. He went home to take a quick shower."
"Well, call him at home, then," Jeff said.
In Lee's apartment, the phone was ringing, but Lee couldn't hear it. He was standing in the shower, letting the hot water run over him, relaxing his tight muscles, relaxing his mind. He'd realized long ago that there were some days when everything would get hectic, the days when the paperwork would start to pile up, when the case loads would start getting heavy, and when the general noise of the office would start to give him a headache, and the best remedy for days like those was a nice warm shower.
Lee didn't even notice as he closed his eyes and let the room fill with steam, that his thoughts, which he tried to keep strictly off business, were drifting back to Amanda King and her current situation. He didn't notice as his thoughts drifted away from her current situation and settled only on her.
And he didn't hear the phone ringing out next to the fish tank.
The car pulled up in front of the small house in the Arlington suburbs. "Jeez," said the pale one, "would you look at this place? It's even got a white picket fence, for crying out loud."
"Come on, Hendricks, just shut up and let's get this over with."
Hendricks sighed. "Yeah, all right." They climbed out of the car and headed up the front walk.
Once around the side of the house, Hendricks moved out of the way for Anson, who carried a crowbar. Instead of using it to pry the door open, though, he used the rounded end to smash through the glass on the door and then unlocked it from the inside. He turned the knob and they went in. "You want to take the upstairs?" asked Hendricks.
"Sure," answered Anson and he headed for the stairway at the front of the house.
Hendricks saw a book lying on the kitchen counter and started flipping through it. "Hey," he called, "Anson!"
He heard Anson's thumping footsteps on the stairs and he appeared in the living room. "Yeah?"
Hendricks held up the book. "Address book. How much do you want to bet that we find her at one the places in here?"
"Maybe," said Anson.
Hendricks stuffed it in his belt. "Keep looking upstairs." Anson nodded and went back up. Meanwhile, Hendricks started going through the kitchen cabinets and then the couch cushions and then the book shelves . . .
Lee came out in his bathrobe and noticed he had a message waiting for him. Hoping it was from Billy saying they'd made a break in the case, he pressed the playback button and heard Amanda's voice. When she said, "Hi, Lee, it's me," for a brief second the worst possible scenario leapt to his mind and his heart skipped a beat. But then she launched into her story about her mother and the address book and how she needed him to go to her house. He sat down on the arm of the couch and shook his head, irritated, but laughing. He decided he might as well go, annoyance though it was. He would have to call her tonight, anyway. What would he tell her otherwise? 'No, I just didn't feel like going'? 'Sorry, it was your own fault, Amanda'? No. With a shake of his head, he went to get dressed.
He had his skeleton key in hand, but as he approached the door, he realized with a sickening sinking in the pit of his stomach that he wouldn't need it. The door was already ajar. Glass was scattered on the carpet inside. Lee pulled out his gun and rushed in. He didn't see anyone, didn't hear anyone, but kept his gun at the ready just in case.
"Oh, God," he thought out loud. The house had been practically torn apart. The couch had been taken apart, drawers and cabinets had been opened. . . . Lee gradually made his way through the house, finding the same thing in every room, occasionally stopping to put things back in their proper place. But everywhere he looked in the house, there was no address book. Damn. If the kidnapers had it . . . Lee left the thought unfinished and hurried back to his car.
"Here, take a look at this," said Hendricks as he leafed through King's address book.
"What is it?"
"Look's like Mrs. King has an uncle who owns a cabin right here in Maryland," he said thoughtfully. "If you were trying to hide out for a while, and you had the choice between a number of houses in the suburbs and a concealed cabin in the woods, which one would you choose?"
Anson smiled and snorted. "I'd take the cabin."
Hendricks smirked. "So would I."
"Billy," he said as he blew through the doors to the main offices, interrupting his boss's conversation with Francine, "we've got a problem."
"Well, what's wrong, Scarecrow?"
"Amanda's place was broken into."
"What?!" he exclaimed.
"Yeah, she called and asked me to go over and pick up her address book. I went over there and the place had been ransacked."
Billy was frowning. "And the book?"
He shook his head. "Gone."
"All right," Billy said, "Francine, go find out where Amanda's aunt lives and send a man over there to watch the house. I don't want anyone thinking she went with them and attacking her family. Lee," he turned back to Stetson as Francine went to work, "call Amanda and tell her what's happening. Tell her we're sending another man up there in the morning and that we'll most likely be moving her to another location sometime tomorrow."
"Listen, Billy, I think it should be me," he said. "And I think I should go up there tonight. I've just got a really bad feeling about all this."
"You want to go up there?" Billy asked. "Well, all right, I suppose so. But you head out tonight and call me the minute you get to the safehouse."
Lee nodded, and rushed to a phone.
Amanda and Jeffrey were laughing by the hearth as the fire was going out. "--next thing I knew," Jeffrey was saying, "I was lying on my back in the alley, and there's this horse standing over me, nibbling on my tie . . ."
"Oh my goodness!" Amanda was laughing so hard and grinning so wide that her face hurt.
"So, I got up and went into the nearest store--" Suddenly the phone rang.
"Oh, I'll get it," she said and got up. "Hello?" she answered. "Oh, Lee! Hi, how are you? Well, yes, of course he's here," she looked over at Simmons. "Lee, what's wrong? You sound upset." Then she gasped. Simmons looked befuddled. "My house was broken into!" she told him. "Lee, what happened? No, there's no speaker-phone. Here, I'll just have him come stand next to me." She motioned for Jeff to come over. "Just talk loudly so that we can both hear you. Okay."
She pulled the phone away from her face and Lee's voice asked, "Agent Simmons? Are you there?"
"I'm here, Scarecrow," he said.
"Listen, someone broke into Amanda's house this afternoon."
"I know. Do you know who it was?"
"No," Lee said, "but we've got people running the prints right now. Amanda, your address book, you said it was on the counter?"
"Well, it's gone. They took it."
Amanda looked terrified. "Oh dear," she moaned.
"Don't worry, though. Francine's sending someone out to watch your aunt's house, and I'll be up there with you later tonight to take you to a new location."
"Why don't we just head back now?" asked Jeffrey.
"It's too risky. We don't want to bring Amanda back into the city while they're looking for her."
Again Amanda moaned. "Oh . . ."
"So just stay put. There are dozens of addresses in that book. They're not going to know which one you're at, or even if you're at one at all. The best place for you to be is where you are now. Don't worry; everything's being taken care of. I'll see you tonight."
"Okay," Amanda said. "Goodbye." Jeffrey took the phone from her hands and hung it up for her. "Jeffrey, what am I gonna do?"
"Well, we're going to do what the Scarecrow says. We'll stay here, keep low, be on the lookout. You go ahead upstairs and make sure all the windows are locked, I'll take care of things down here." He put on a false smile. "After that, we can finish watching the movie."
Taking a deep breath to give herself confidence, Amanda smiled back. "Okay."
About an hour later, a car pulled up in front of the cabin, sat idle behind the one already there. Hendricks motioned for Anson to get going. Anson nodded, got out of the car, and started around the back of the house.
Inside, Jeffrey and Amanda were sitting next to each other on the couch. The movie was just ending, and the credits began to roll up the screen. "It was a wonderful movie," she commented pleasantly.
He took his arm down off the back of the couch and smiled. "Yeah, one of my favorites."
She stretched and felt the back of her fingertips brush the khaki cloth of his pants; she hadn't realized they were sitting that close. In fact, they were pretty much shoulder to shoulder. Amanda looked up at him, into his brilliant green eyes, and he stared back at her. For a moment, she felt lost in his gaze, and both of them were trying to say something, both their mouths hung open, both breathed deeply, both their hearts beating hard. "Well," Amanda said first, "I, uh, think I'll go on upstairs and get ready for bed."
But she didn't move. They both remained where they were, staring at each other. Simmons swallowed. "It's only seven o'clock."
"I know," she said, still staring. "But I'm really very tired."
"You're not going to wait up for Lee?" he asked slowly, still staring. "He should only be another hour or so, unless the traffic was bad."
Still staring. "I think I should probably rest."
He nodded. "You're probably right."
After another moment, she finally broke his gaze and stood, went upstairs, leaving Jeffrey alone on the couch. He leaned over and rubbed his eyes, unable to stop himself from smiling.
There was a knock at the front door. Looking up, Jeffrey hurried to turn off the television so he could be sure he'd heard right. There it was again. A quiet knocking. He frowned. Could that be Lee already? This early? Maybe he'd found a back road. Or maybe the Agency had sent someone from one of their Maryland branches. That could be it. He went to the front window and peered out. Whoever it was, he couldn't see who they were.
Cautiously, Simmons pulled out his gun and approached the door. He began to twist the lock . . .
The sound of shattering glass caused him to whirl. Suddenly a large African-American man was coming through one of the back windows. Then the front door crashed open, knocking him from behind. Simmons grunted and caught himself, whirled around to bring the gun on the nearer intruder. But the man grabbed his arms and a struggle ensued. While Simmons and Hendricks were fighting, Anson snuck up behind them and bashed the back of Simmons's head with the crowbar.
Simmons fell to the floor.
Movement upstairs. The two men ducked quickly out of sight as Amanda crept down the stairs very slowly, very cautiously, lamp clutched tightly in her hands. "Jeffrey?" she called out in a loud whisper. "Jeffrey?" she tried a bit louder. Now she came to the bottom of the stairs. There was Agent Simmons, lying unconscious on the floor, bleeding from a gash in the back of his head. She gasped and ran to him. "Jeffrey!"
The second she stepped away from the staircase, Anson jumped her from behind and pushed a chloroform-soaked cloth over her face. She started to scream, began to struggle, and then she was limp. The lamp shattered on the floor. "Tie her up. Blindfold her, just as a precaution," Hendricks ordered as he went to the phone.
Robeson was watching the sunset over the lake from his dock, drink in hand. This was how he relaxed at the end of the day: came out onto the end of his dock and stood, watching the sunset and drinking a glass of scotch. Occasionally he'd have a cigar as well, but not tonight.
He took a deep breath of the cool, fresh Maine air. Someone was approaching from behind. He turned to see his wife coming down off the deck. "The men from Maryland are on the phone," she called to him.
Once back upstairs, he picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"We have her," Hendricks said.
A wide grin blossomed on Robeson's face. "Excellent! Excellent!" he exclaimed. "Bring her up immediately!" he ordered, then asked, "What about the man, Stetson?"
"Near as we know he's a complete nobody who happened to be in the right place at the right time."
"Really?" Robeson sounded surprised. "Well, my wife has requested that I ask you to bring him along with you."
There was a pause; Robeson could hear the two men consulting in the background. "You'll have to double the original amount, plus a ten percent bonus for the both of us only," said Hendricks.
"Done," said Robeson. "Have them up here as soon as you can." With that, he hung up.
Hendricks put the receiver back on its hook. "Why didn't you tell him he's with the government?" Anson asked.
"It'll make our job later easier, that's why. If we tell Robeson Stetson's a spy, don't you think he'd want to sell him to the Russians, too?" Hendricks shook his head. "The less Robeson knows, the better off we are."
Anson nodded understandingly. "So what now?"
"Now we wait. If Stetson's an agent, he probably knows we were in her house, which means he'll probably show up here eventually. Either tonight or tomorrow."
"How do you know he won't send someone else?"
Hendricks smiled and pulled the picture of Stetson and Mrs. King smiling and shaking hands out of his coat. "If they're as close friends as they look in this photo, I'm pretty sure he'll be the one to come up here for her." He said next and looked down at Simmons, "All that's left is for us to lay a trap . . ."
Lee drove his silver car up the gravel drive, headlights casting deep shadows in the thick, dark woods. He slowly pulled up behind Simmons's car and parked, turned off the ignition. He got out and casually approached the door, knocked on it.
No answer. So he knocked again. "Simmons?" Knock, knock. "Amanda?" Still nothing.
He turned the knob. The door opened easily, and Lee's guard went up. The door should have been locked. Simmons would have locked it. Amanda would have even locked it. He took out his gun, wrapped his fingers carefully around the grip and trigger. Taking a breath, he entered the cabin.
It was quiet inside. No lights in the front hall. Lee slowly made his way to the end of the hallway, where he saw a light was on in the other room.
Simmons was sitting in a chair at the small table; he was lying on it, but Lee didn't buy for a minute that he was just sleeping. He flashed his gun around the room, looking for anyone who might be hiding. When he didn't see anyone, he stepped forward. "Agent Simmons?"
Unfortunately, he'd failed to look behind him, and didn't hear Hendricks approaching him from one of the front rooms. Before he reached Simmons's side, Hendricks hit him over the back of the head, and Lee fell forward. He struggled to get up on his knees, grimacing and rubbing his head. Then Hendricks dealt him a swift blow to the ribcage with the crowbar and he fell over on his side; the wind was knocked out of him. It took him a few seconds to push himself back up. And when he did, he was greeted with a face full of chloroform. Lee managed to put his hand up and grab the man's wrist. He tried with all of his strength to pull the cloth away, but then his eyelids grew droopy and he began to feel lightheaded. Within seconds, he was unconscious.
Anson came in front outside and smiled at him. Hendricks ordered, "Come on, help me get him tied up and let's go."
* * *
It was nearly midnight when they led a blindfolded, bound, and barely conscious Amanda King onto the small airplane. Once she was tied and buckled into the seat, they returned to the car and carried the unconscious Lee Stetson onto the plane, tying him into the seat next to her. Amanda turned her head to the side, listening to the rustling of cloth as she slowly came fully awake.
"Excuse me," she said quietly to her captors, "but where are you taking us?"
"Shut up," Hendricks said and moved to climb in the pilot's seat while Anson finished tightening the ropes around Stetson's wrists. After that, he closed up the plane and joined Hendricks in the cockpit.
"They're all set," said Anson. "Let's go."
Amanda heard the engines on the small plane roar to life and after a moment she felt them moving down what she assumed to be the runway.
Within minutes, they were lifting off. She was scared, so scared; she had to stifle the urge to cry. Inside she ached so badly . . . she wanted Lee to be there. She wanted him to come and rescue her, like they always did for each other.
Amanda breathed deeply. At least Jeffrey was with her. Oh, she hoped he was okay. The last thing she'd seen of him was coming down the stairs after hearing sounds of a struggle and finding him lying on the floor. . . .
She leaned over to the seat next to her and tried to whisper to him over the engines. "Jeffrey!" she murmured close to where she assumed his face was. "Jeffrey, wake up! Please, wake up!"
"Your friend's not going to be doing much talking for a while, Mrs. King."
She turned in the direction of the voice. "Is he all right? Listen," she said slowly, politely pleading, "you can tell me if he's all right, can't you? I mean, what harm would it really do?"
"Listen, lady, shut up, or you'll be in worse shape. Would you like me to explain to you exactly what flying at night entails? It's not the easiest thing in the world, I'll tell you that. And we've got a long flight ahead of us, and I don't want to listen to your voice during the whole thing. You got it?"
Amanda swallowed and nodded, sat back in her seat. "I got it."
The rest of the flight was full of torturous silence. Amanda tried sleeping, but found it was impossible. And she'd hoped that when they landed, she would have been able to tell Jeffrey approximately how long their flight had been so that perhaps they could determine the general area of where they'd been taken. But after the first forty-five minutes, her perception of the passing of time became completely distorted. The trip seemed to last days. Occasionally she could hear the pilot and co-pilot talking, but could never make any of the words out over the engines. Actually, one word did jump out at her a few times: 'Russians'; and that worried her tremendously.
Several hours into the flight, what felt to Amanda like almost a day, she heard motion beside her. Then a soft moan. She gasped, leaned over. "Jeffrey?" she whispered. "Jeffrey!" Another moan, then she tried, "Jeffrey, if you can hear me, we're in big trouble. They've taken us on a plane, and they're flying us somewhere!"
"That's it!" said the pilot angrily. "Give it to her!"
"Oh, no . . ." she pleaded. "Please, no, I don't know what you're planning to do to me--" Horrible ideas whirled through her head: being shot, being strangled, being pushed out the airplane door . . . "--but I'm sure there must be some other way--"
Another cloth was shoved over her face, and after a few moments she was asleep again.
Amanda woke as the plane was landing. As it came to a stop, she heard the co-pilot talking. She could now recognize their voices: the co-pilot's was deeper than the other's. "Where's Jordan and Callum?" he asked. "They were supposed to meet us on the runway."
A pause. "We're a few minutes early. They'll be here."
The co-pilot turned around and said to her, "Hey, King, you awake?"
"Yes," she said, "I'm awake."
Then a familiar voice from beside her. "Amanda?"
Her heart skipped. "Lee?" She tried rubbing her head against the seat to get the blindfold off, but to no avail.
"Amanda, are you all right?"
"Yes, yes. I'm fine. No, actually, I'm not. I'm scared. I'm terrified, Lee. What about you? Are you hurt?"
"Not too badly," he answered quietly. "I think maybe a bruised rib, a bump on the head."
She wanted to cry. "I'm sorry, Lee. I'm so sorry. If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be here right now."
"No, no. This is not your fault."
"Hey," said the pilot, "shut up back there."
Amanda lowered her voice. "If you're here, where's Jeffrey?"
"I don't know," Lee whispered back. "I think he's still in Maryland."
She swallowed. "Is he dead?"
"I don't know."
"Hey! I said shut up!" They quieted. "Better," Hendricks sighed.
Anson pointed outside. "Here they come." A van was approaching them across the runway.
"Okay, let's get going, then." There was the sound of a gun's safety being unlocked. "No sudden moves, either of you. Anson, get 'em untied."
The co-pilot unbuckled himself and unstrapped them, then untied their feet. Lee felt a large muscular hand grasp his upper arm and the barrel of a gun shoved into his ribs. "Move," said the deep-throated kidnaper. Having no desire to be shot, Lee slid forward in his seat and stumbled blindly down the stairs. Amanda went through the same ordeal with Hendricks.
The car rolled to a stop; Jordan and Callum got out and headed over. "Hey," Callum waved.
Anson and Hendricks nodded at them, dragging their payload with them.
"They healthy?" Jordan asked. "Robeson said very specifically that if they were injured he was gonna drop the price."
"Like cattle at an auction," Lee snorted under his breath.
"Hey, shut up," Anson ordered and slapped the back of Lee's head. "This one's a little banged up, but nothing more serious than a bruise or two." He smacked him again; Lee grunted. "Or three."
Callum nodded for them to come over near the van. Hendricks turned to their prisoners. "Hey. We're only ten feet away, and we're all armed. So don't make any wrong moves."
"I thought you said you couldn't hurt us?" she said.
"Amanda--" Lee warned.
Hendricks put his face right up next to hers; she could taste his breath. "Listen, both of you. I can guarantee that whatever amount of money your buyer deducts from the price will not make a difference in whether or not we shoot you. Gunshot wounds don't make a difference to us, and it won't make a difference to him. Got it?" Then he joined the others by the car.
Amanda whimpered. "Lee, we're in a lot of trouble."
"What are we gonna do?"
"I don't know yet."
"You don't know?!"
"I've been mostly unconscious for the past several hours. I'm working on it!"
She swallowed the swelling need to cry. "Lee . . . I'm scared."
"I know," he took a step toward her so that she was standing next to him. "So am I." Amanda laid her head on his shoulder.
Over by the vehicle, the men were discussing Lee's fate. "So it's all set?" asked Anson. "And Robeson's got no idea who he is?"
Callum shook his head. "No idea."
"Everything's arranged, then?" Hendricks said.
"Yeah. We take them over and collect the money, come back tonight and take him in the boat," explained Jordan. "Then we take him out of the country, maybe down to the Phillipines, and contact the Russians from there."
"How are we going to do that?" Anson wondered.
"I know people," Callum smiled.
Hendricks nodded. "All right then. Let's get this done."
Anson was smirking as he retrieved King and Stetson and loaded them into the van.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amanda was sitting on a soft couch--a welcome relief from the plane and van--but the fact that she didn't know what house she was in, whose couch she was on, diminished its comfort. A kind voice said to her, "I'm terribly sorry about all this, about the way they treated you." Then a gentle hand finally removed the mask covering her eyes. She blinked against the bright sunlight of early morning. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry!" The man rushed to close the Venetian blinds. "There, is that better?" He sat down across from her. "I hadn't thought about how long you must have had that on. I didn't think about your eyes. I apologize."
She looked over at the man who now thought he owned her. He looked to be in his early thirties, was thin, had dark hair that was already receding from his heavy eyebrows, and wore silver wire-frame glasses over his deep brown eyes that watched her adoringly.
"Where am I?" she asked very innocently.
"In my house, dear," he said. His voice was very calming, soothing.
"And where is that?"
"On a small island in Maine. This is my summer home," he gestured around the room proudly. "Do you like it? I hope you do. We'll all be packing up in a few days to head out to my cottage in Aspen for part of the winter."
"Yes, it's very nice," she said. "Um, excuse me, sir? But do you suppose . . . ?" She held up her wrists, still tied together.
"Oh, of course, my dearest." He sat down next to her on the couch and gently removed her bonds. "Again, I am horribly sorry about the way you've been treated. But you understand it was the only way."
This man seemed like the definition of an oxymoron to her. Here he was, talking in a very pleasantly apologetic way about how she'd been kidnaped, tied up, blindfolded, and dragged up to Maine for his convenience while his hands worked ever so gracefully and gently next to hers. Their skin brushed a few times, sending chills up Amanda's spine. She tried not to let her fear show. "Where's Lee?" she asked.
He looked up at her. "He's upstairs." The man began massaging her wrists. She couldn't stand him touching her. "With my wife," he said.
The man smiled. "Does that surprise you?" He rose and went to the eating area to offer her hot tea.
"Well, forgive me for asking, sir, but if you have a wife, what do you need me for?"
He still smiled. "First of all, I don't think we've been properly introduced," he said, setting the cups down on the coffee table and, taking the seat next to her, extended his hand. "My name is Anthony Robeson."
Cringing inwardly, she forced a slight grin and shook his hand very briefly. "Amanda King."
"Yes, I know."
"Yes, I imagine you do." She felt sick thinking about how much he must know about her.
For a long moment, he didn't speak, watching her. "My wife's name is Catherine," he said finally. "We met in a movie theater, actually. We were both leaving the show, and she slipped and spilled her soda all over herself. I helped her to wipe it off, and soon after that we became good friends." Amanda's eyes began to water; there was a lump in her throat. "Catherine told me she never wanted to marry. I wanted a wife, but knew I would never find the right woman. I was rich with no one to spend money on, she had nearly no money to spend. It was a perfect combination. So we decided to marry each other, on the condition that we would see other people. She lives her life, I live mine, and that's how it works." He studied Amanda. "What's wrong? Have I upset you?"
She shook her head and kept herself from crying. "No. . . . It's just that, that story you told about the movie theater reminded me of my mother. . . ."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Amanda. I didn't mean to make you sad."
Again she shook her head and looked away. "No. I'm all right." She tried smiling. "The day before I was brought here I was coming home from picking up Mother and the boys at the movies, and Mother was telling me about how some usher-boy slipped and ruined a woman's dress--" she could barely get the words out "--and then," she tried to laugh, "Jamie and Phillip started arguing over the ice cream flavors . . ."
Finally she started sobbing.
Anthony put his arm around her, apparently trying to comfort her, but he only made it worse. She shuddered at his touch and cried harder.
Upstairs, Lee was sitting on the bed. He could hear Amanda's muffled crying from the floor below. He wanted to go to her and get them both the hell out of there, but he didn't think that right now was such a good time. As long as Robeson was down there with her, he couldn't do anything. Plus, his wrists were tied to one of the headboard posts and his ankles were tied to the bed frame. He could barely even stand, let alone rush downstairs and rescue Amanda.
Instead he remained where he was, tugging and pulling on the ropes in vain.
Catherine came out of the bathroom. She was older than he was--he guessed late thirties, early forties--with shoulder length red hair, cut in the same style as Amanda's, he noticed. "So, Lee Stetson," she said, "how was your trip?"
Lee glared at her. "I'm still alive, so I assume it wasn't all that bad. I wouldn't know; I was unconscious during the majority of it."
She clucked her tongue and shook her head. "Shame. I'll bet the view was wonderful from up there." She smiled and stood across from him; Lee noticed a dramatic change in the look in her eyes: whereas before she had looked decidedly cunning, now she gazed at him with hopeful excitement. "Maybe later tonight we can take a boat ride. Which do you prefer, the yacht or the speedboat? The yacht is docked over on one of the other islands, but it won't be any trouble to go and get it."
"Mm. No one told you, I suppose. You see, this cottage is on my husband's small private island in the middle of a large freshwater lake in Maine."
"Your husband . . ."
"Yes, I'm married, believe it or not. Anthony. He's a wonderful man, but I don't love him."
"But you married him."
"Only for his money. We're very good friends, he and I, but we both know we'll never be anything more than that. We see other people. Like right now, he's seeing your friend Mrs. King, and I'm seeing you."
Lee sneered at her, disgusted. "You do realize this is illegal. You could be thrown away for kidnaping charges and spend the rest of your life behind bars."
"Well, it wasn't my idea!" she said defensively. "Anthony, a while ago, he got involved with a stripper, a prostitute. It didn't work out between them. Poor Anthony was heartbroken. Then he started hiring some girls from an escort service. He really racked up a bill, I'll tell you that. Then his dealer came to him and offered to let him buy a girl who would live with him permanently until Anthony decided otherwise."
She sighed. "He fell in love with your friend instantly. He barely even looked at any other the other pictures. No, it was Mrs. King that he wanted."
"If it's Amanda he wanted, what am I doing here?"
Catherine turned to him and smiled. "I didn't find out about you until after the first attempt failed. With Anthony being gone all the time with his call girls, I was lonesome. After all, shopping can only fill so many hours of the day," she laughed. Lee didn't. "Well, you were sort of his gift for me. I'm sorry, that made it sound like you were a piece of furniture. That's not how it is at all."
"Really? That's exactly what it seems like to me."
She turned cunning again. "Well, from your point of view I guess that's what it probably looks like."
Lee glared. "Do you mind untying me?"
"Considering you're such an action hero, yes, I do mind. So I tell you what, Lee Stetson, I'm going to go off island and buy you a new jacket: it gets rather cold up here. By the time I come back, I expect you to be in a slightly more cheerful disposition." Catherine opened the door, blew him a kiss, and then left him.
Downstairs, she found her husband alone, watching the birds. "Darling, where is your new friend?"
"Hmm? Oh, she was very distraught. I sent her to bed."
"Well, that was nice of you. I'm going to take the speedboat to go shopping on the mainland. I might be late coming home; I thought maybe I'd see a movie, and if it ends late enough I'll probably just eat dinner out. If I'm not home by four, will you do me a favor and untie Mr. Stetson upstairs?" She started to leave. "But don't forget to lock his room. I haven't broken him yet."
"I don't like it," said Billy. "Scarecrow should have reported back by now."
Francine, though she took the situation seriously, joked, "Maybe he and Agent Simmons are too busy fighting over her."
"Now's not the time for that sort of humor, Francine," he chided. "Have the prints come back from Amanda's house yet?"
"Yes," said the beautiful blonde as she sat down on her desk and handed him a folder. "Their names are Anson and Hendricks. We've got the police out searching for them now."
"Good. Any other leads?"
Billy Melrose nodded and started pacing. "I'm still getting worried. It should have only taken him a few hours to drive up there and then another few hours to the safe house in Bethesda. Lee could have been there and back by now." He paused. "Let's try calling the cabin."
Billy held the phone to his ear and let it ring.
Inside Amanda's cabin, Simmons was still lying on the table while the phone rang in the background.
Francine came into his office. "They never showed up in Bethesda," she said. Billy held up his hand, listening intently to the phone. "Any answer?"
"I think someone just picked up," he told her. "Hello?" he called into the receiver. "Hello, is anybody there?"
He heard a moan. Then, "Mr. Melrose?"
"Simmons. Simmons, is that you?"
A long pause, deep breathing from the other end. "Yes, sir."
"Simmons, are you all right?"
Another pause. "No, sir, I don't think so."
"Listen to me, Simmons, this is very important. Where are Amanda and Lee?"
"I don't know, sir. . . . Two men broke in. . . . They knocked me out . . . they must have taken Amanda. . . . I don't know about Scarecrow . . ."
"Okay, Simmons, stay on the line. Help is on the way." Billy put Simmons on hold. "Contact the emergency system closest to her cabin and get someone out there right away. Send one of our men up there to check things out."
Francine nodded quickly and hurried to her station. Billy picked up the phone again. "Simmons. . . ?"
* * *
"So we're ready to do this thing?" said Hendricks.
A gun was uncocked. "Absolutely," Jordan replied. Callum was busy storing the ropes. "Hey, Anson!" Jordan called and tossed him the handgun, which he stuffed in his belt. "Everyone else armed?"
They all nodded. "Let's go then," said Callum from down in the boat.
"Hang on a second." Anson finished pulling a dark turtleneck over his undershirt.
"You wussy," said Hendricks. The others laughed.
"Fine," Anson argued. "You guys freeze your asses off. I'm going to get the job done." He climbed down into the boat and untied it from the dock.
Hendricks pulled out into the deeper water and then gunned the engine.
It was later in the afternoon when Amanda was beckoned out of her room. At nearly five o'clock, the yellow sun was setting low in they sky, the perfect compliment for the candle-lit dinner that Anthony Robeson had set for her down on the deck. A plain but elegant setup: glass-top table, fine china and silver, a gourmet meal, the deck itself was surrounded by flowers and honeysuckle bushes. And it was too late in the season for there to be insects. The air was rather cool, but the sun was warm.
Robeson stood next to the table, grinning, motioned for her to join him. She swallowed and obliged. "You look wonderful, especially in this light," he said as he pulled out her chair.
"I feel horribly underdressed," she commented, looking down at her khaki slacks, plain blue blouse and white sweater.
"You could borrow one of Catherine's gowns," he suggested.
"Oh, no, that's all right," she politely refused. Just think of it as an acting job, she told herself. Like all those times she had to help out Lee and be part of his cover. She was able to calm herself. "It's very nice here," she said.
"I'm glad you like it," he said. "In the summer sometimes I throw parties and we all go diving off the end of the dock, or those rocks over there." He pointed to a cluster of misshapen boulders protruding above the water level in the small cove. "I would offer to take you swimming now, but the water temperature very cold. Almost freezing." He grinned. "Well, maybe not literally, but it does feel like it. Besides, why swim out in the lake when there's a hot tub inside?"
Oh, she hoped he didn't intend to use the hot tub with her. She just smiled and tried changing the subject. "The dinner looks wonderful."
"I only hope it tastes as good. My wife is a wonderful cook; I, on the other hand, lack her talent in the kitchen," he laughed. "I do recommend the wine though; it's one the better vintages I've got."
"Well, I'm sure dinner will be fine." It was fine. In fact, it was very good. The mashed potatoes were deliciously buttery, the mushroom gravy was divine, and the thin slice of steak had been cooked the perfect amount of time. But she would not complement him.
"How is it?" he asked expectantly.
But her good manners took over. "It's very good," she said. "Very good."
He sighed sadly. "I'm sorry, this must feel awkward for you." He actually sounded apologetic. "Things will get better," he told her. "It's just going to take some time to get used to, that's all. I think in time you can come to like me very much."
She chewed silently and refused to make eye contact. "Where's your wife and Lee?"
"Oh. Uh . . ." he stammered nervously. "My wife took the boat out to the mainland for some shopping and a movie. Which reminds me, would you excuse me for just a moment?" He wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin and hurried up to the house.
Anthony knocked softly on the bedroom door. "Mr. Stetson?" he called quietly. When there was no answer, he assumed the man was just being difficult and let himself in with a key. Stetson was lying on the bed--sort of. His ankles were still tied down near the floor, and his wrists were likewise tied together on the bedpost, so in reality he was more sitting up than lying down, but at any rate, his eyes were closed, and he appeared to be asleep. Robeson shook his head at himself for forgetting to untie him, which he then proceeded to do.
When finished untying his wrists, he bent down to start on the ropes at Stetson's ankles. He had just about finished when Stetson's foot slammed into Anthony's face. Robeson cried out and fell back, covering his bleeding nose. Lee leapt off the bed and lifted Robeson off the floor, hit him in the face and let him fall back down, then picked him up again and punched him the stomach. Robeson managed to kick Lee in the shin, but Lee pulled one of the pieces of rope around the man's throat, choking him. Just as Robeson started to pass out, Lee let go and Robeson fell onto the bed, unconscious but alive.
For a moment Lee just stood over him, glaring. Then he tied Robeson up and rushed downstairs.
"Amanda?!" she heard behind her. Amanda sat up and turned around to see Lee hurrying down the path. She gasped, nearly choked on her asparagus, and had to drink some wine before she stood and waved at him.
"Lee!" She met him at the edge of the deck. "Lee!"
"Amanda," he rushed down to her and grabbed her by the shoulders, "Amanda, are you all right? Did he touch you?"
"No, no. What happened to you? Are you okay?"
Lee swallowed and nodded, calmed down. "Fine, fine. They kept me tied up in the guest room all day; Robeson came up and untied me and I returned the favor. Have you seen anyone else on the island?"
"No. There isn't anyone else. Mrs. Robeson took the boat, but she'll probably be home soon."
Lee nodded and looked around, frowning. "What's going on here?"
"Oh," she smiled, "we were just having some dinner."
Lee left her side to stare at the food. "Steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, asparagus and hollandaise sauce . . ."
Amanda smiled. "The red wine is a special vintage. Or at least, that's what he told me."
It wasn't hard for her to imagine Lee drooling. He closed his eyes and smelled it. "I'm so starving; I haven't eaten since yesterday morning." But then it was back to business. "Did Robeson mention any other way off the island?"
She shook her head. "We could swim, but he said that the water's almost freezing. Besides, I don't think we're very close to the mainland. The only thing nearby is those other islands," she gestured to the nearby tiny wooded isles. "Do you think we could just hide out in the woods here until the others come and find us?"
"No, it's too small. If you go up in the house, you can see water from all the windows." He thought. "Okay, here's what we'll do: I'll go upstairs and call Billy, we'll wait for Robeson's wife to come, tie her up, take the boat, and find the ferry dock."
"Mm-hmm. There's a map on the bedroom wall; this is Sebago Lake. One of the islands has a ferry service."
"Oh," she nodded.
Lee started back up the path and then turned around. "You know, I'd hate to let all that food go to waste."
"I agree. Maybe we should bring it up with us."
Lee set the plates down at the dining room table. He stuck his finger in what would have been Robeson's mashed potatoes and then licked it off. "Mm. . . . This is delicious!"
"He made them," she said.
"Who did, Robeson?" He considered not eating it, but only for a split second. "Well, I'm certainly not going to let it go to waste."
Amanda smiled and laughed inwardly. "I'll go get some new silverware and glasses."
He nodded. "I'll call Billy."
Down on the waterfront, the boat pulled up to the dock and three of the men climbed out. Anson stayed behind for a quick getaway while Hendricks, Callum, and Jordan made their way up to the house. "I'll go in from this direction," said Callum. "Hendricks'll take the other side, you guard the path in case something goes wrong," he told Jordan. They nodded and moved in.
The red telephone on Billy's desk was ringing. He lifted it off the receiver. "Billy Melrose."
"Billy. It's me."
"Lee?!" Francine opened the door to his office and he motioned for her to hurry and come in. "Where the hell are you? We've practically got half the department out searching for you. Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, Billy, I'm fine. I'm in Maine."
"It's kind of a long story. We're on a private island in Sebago Lake."
"Is Amanda with you?"
Lee smiled as he peered around the corner into the dining room where she was busy setting the table, even relighting the candles. "Yes, she's here. We're fine."
"Well, what happened?"
Lee smelled the steak and heard his stomach growling. "There are only four men I know of working directly with Robeson."
"Wait a minute, hold on a second, who's Robeson?"
"The man who had Amanda captured."
Billy nodded, exchanging a look with Francine. "Keep going."
"Robeson hired these four people to capture me and Amanda."
"What did he want you for? Does he know who you are?"
"I don't think so. His wife, apparently, is the reason I'm here." Before Billy could respond, his stomach growled again. "Listen, Billy, I'm almost in the middle of something here, so I've got to cut it short. Bottom line is, Robeson hired four men to bring Amanda and me here; two of them attacked Simmons and Amanda at the cabin, and then me when I got there, and they took Amanda and I on a small plane up to Maine. When we got here, we met up with two other men who took us first by car and then by motorboat to this tiny private island in the middle of Lake Sebago. Now the henchmen are gone, Robeson's tied up upstairs and his wife will be joining him when she gets back from shopping. Everything will be just fine as soon as you come up here and bring us home."
"Right. We'll head up there right away."
"Good. Listen, when the wife gets back, we can take her boat out and we'll meet you all over at the Frye Island Ferry landing; otherwise I don't know how you'll ever find us: there's an awful lot of little islands up here."
Billy nodded. "We can be up there in five, six hours."
"That's fine, Billy. Unless there's anything else that can't possibly wait, I've got to go now."
"All right, Scarecrow. At the ferry landing."
"Right. In five-and-a-half hours. We'll be there." Lee hung up and started to join Amanda in the dining room. "That smells wonderful."
She smiled. "I know. I only wish I'd made it myself."
Before he could say anything else, an arm came around and began choking him from behind. Amanda gasped. A huge, burly, muscular man had Lee in his arms. Lee struggled, unable to breathe. Amanda disappeared into the kitchen. Lee and the man stumbled into the living room and were stopped by the couch. Lee reached behind him and jammed his thumb into the man's eye. The man let go briefly, and Lee had just regained his footing when suddenly his attacker snatched the phone off the table and wrapped the cord around Lee's neck, choking him once again. In the kitchen, Amanda was searching the drawers for a sharp knife. Using one hand, the man pinched the cord around Lee's throat. Lee jabbed his elbow into his opponent again and again, but with no effect. Amanda finally found a knife, but it was enormous; she'd never stabbed anyone before! Especially not with anything this big. The man behind Lee took out a chloroform cloth and stuffed it over Lee's mouth and nose, forcing him to inhale the sweet fumes. He blinked and tried to hold his breath, struggling to get away, but this man was incredibly strong. Amanda ran up behind him and smashed a thick glass serving plate over his head. He staggered backward, Lee fell forward and caught himself on a table, lightheaded. The man blinked and looked up at her, and as he started to reach for her, she screamed, grabbed the nearest lamp, and shattered it against his scull. He fell over onto the couch, upside down. Amanda swallowed, blinked, staring at him, and then went to Lee. "Lee, are you all right?"
He managed to nod. "Fine, fine, thanks to you. Did the lamp thing again, huh?"
She smiled and nodded. "Well, you know, whatever's handy."
Lee didn't get a chance to wonder aloud where the man had come from because there was a loud noise from the front hall and suddenly another man was in the house. "Come on, run!" He grabbed Amanda's wrist and they headed for the back porch. There was a man standing down on the path. Upon seeing them, the man whirled and aimed for them. "Don't move!" his voice echoed in the chilly evening air and a shot rang out. Wood siding splintered above them.
"Go!" Lee ordered her. "Go!" And they were running down the steps and down the slow hill to the shore. Amanda was terrified. She hated gunshots, especially when she or Lee was the target.
The two men gave pursuit, but Lee and Amanda had a pretty good lead.
Down by the dock, Anson was watching the action above and barely heard Mrs. Robeson's speedboat pulling up behind him. "What's going on here?" she demanded. "Was that a gunshot I heard?"
Anson jumped out of his boat onto the dock. "No, ma'am. Mr. Hendricks and Callum dropped something, that's all. Here, let me help you with that."
"Well, thank you," Catherine said. When he was done tying off the front end of the boat, she handed him her bags. "What are you doing back here, anyway?" she asked.
"Just finishing up some details, ma'am. I'll give you a hand up."
"Thanks." She let him pull her up on the dock. And then he grabbed her, pinning her arms to her sides and covering her mouth with his hand, muffling her screams. He dragged her off into the bushes.
Lee and Amanda cut across the birch and pine tree woods and started heading back to the dock. The two men continued following, but didn't fire at them again. "Lee, why are they doing this?" she cried.
"I don't know! Just keep running."
They only paused momentarily when they came out of the woods. Two boats. A tall African-American with a beard was busy tying up Mrs. Robeson nearby. "All right, go!" Again they ran, right past Anson and Catherine. Anson dropped the now-immobile Mrs. Robeson in the dirt and nearly grabbed Lee, but Lee turned on him and swung around with a crescent kick, almost knocking him into the water. Lee proceeded to jump into the boat farthest from shore and untied it while Amanda climbed in behind him. "Sit down!" he ordered and moments later they were speeding away into deeper waters while their pursuers hurried to catch up.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The air bit at Lee and Amanda's skin as they raced over the choppy water. Amanda gripped the back of his seat, squinting forward in the dusk. They went around a small nearby island and headed out into the open water. "How far ahead are we?" Lee shouted over the roar of engine and whipping wind.
Amanda looked behind them, rubbing her cold arms. "Not very far!" she yelled back.
"All right then, hold on!" He gunned the engine, pushing the boat as fast as it could go. The nose of the boat tilted up; Amanda almost fell backwards. She grabbed onto a handle on the side of the boat to catch herself, but the handle was attached to the door of a small compartment. It flew open and its contents spilled onto the floor in front of Amanda. Suntan lotion, bug spray, a bag of napkins, and a handgun. Amanda gaped, swallowed, and gingerly picked up the gun. Looking up at Lee, she could see he was intent on searching the dark waters ahead for buoys and rocks. So she studied the gun, found the safety, took it off with a click.
Pointing it away from Lee and the bottom of the boat, she turned and went to the back of the boat. Crouching behind a seat, she took aim at the speedboat that followed in their wake.
Lee instinctively ducked. He whirled around to see Amanda holding a gun. "Amanda!" he yelled. She turned. "Get up here!"
She returned carefully to his side. "I'm sorry," she shouted. "I found it in a compartment."
"Give it to me!" he ordered. Damn, she wasn't authorized to discharge a firearm. "Do you have any idea what kind of trouble you could get in for that?! Take the wheel!" Amanda took his place and he went to the back of the boat and began firing. Now the pursuing boat was swerving, dodging bullets, and the men were firing back.
Lee's gun was empty after seven shots. He tossed it on the deck and took the steering wheel back from Amanda, started searching the waters. "Amanda! You see that island up ahead on the right?"
She stared ahead. "Uh-huh."
"As soon as we pass it, jump off the boat."
"Yeah. As far out into the water as you can." They were approaching the island. "Get ready."
"Oh my gosh," she moaned and positioned herself by the side of the boat.
"Get ready . . ." They passed the island. "Jump!" Amanda didn't move; she just stared down into the water, frozen. "Amanda, jump!"
"Okay!" She pulled herself onto the side of the boat and dove away into the water.
Lee looked over his shoulder and saw her head come up above the waves. More shots rang out and he swerved the boat to the left. Then he dove off himself.
The water hit him like a thousand splinters of ice. It's chill nearly took his breath away. He came up and gasped a mouthful of air. There was the roar of the approaching speedboat and Lee called to Amanda, whom he saw treading water back closer to the island, "Down! Go under! Go down!" He took a deep breath and swam to her under the water's surface. When he came up again, the boat had swerved to chase down their own abandoned vehicle.
Amanda saw Lee swimming toward her. Her teeth were chattering. Anthony hadn't been kidding; the water felt freezing. "Lee?" she called.
"It's okay," he said. "Swim to the island. Go."
So she turned and did as she was told.
The three men finally caught up with the Robesons' boat that Stetson had stolen. Hendricks went to the side and aimed his gun down into it. He whirled around. "They're gone!"
"What?!" Jordan shouted and went to look.
"Turn it around. Turn it around!"
The waves were gentler here, but still choppy. Lee hurried to catch up to Amanda. "It's freezing, Lee," she said.
He inhaled several long, shuddering breaths before answering. "Just keep moving."
"We have to get out of this water or we're going to catch hypothermia."
He swallowed, but didn't respond. Then he heard the sound of an engine approaching from behind. Whirling around, he saw that the boat had turned around and was heading back in their direction.
"There!" Hendricks pointed. "They're right over there! Head that way." He cocked his gun.
"What are you doing? The Russians aren't going to pay if he's dead!"
"So let's just scare him a little."
Gunshots rang out across the water. Amanda heard the sound of the bullets splashing into the water almost before she heard the guns firing.
"Shoot! Amanda!" Lee yelled. He searched frantically for a place for him to divert the assailants. He spotted a large rock formation a short distance from the island, its tip sticking out just above the waves.
"Lee, they're shooting again!" she cried.
"Amanda! Amanda, keep going for the--"
Amanda turned around just in time to see him plunge under the water. "Lee?!"
Lee gasped and nearly inhaled a lung-full of water as the bullet slammed into the back of his left shoulder. The cold water numbed the pain a bit, but hardly enough. He came up for air, coughing painfully, and rolled onto his back and yelled in agony.
"You stupid idiot!" Jordan yelled. "You shot him! Goddamn it, you idiot!"
"Lee?!" Amanda practically screamed and started to swim over to him.
"No!" he yelled at her. "Keep going for the island!"
"Get to the island! Go! Go!"
Reluctantly she turned and swam away. With one arm, Lee kicked and splashed his way to the rocks as hard as he could. The bullets continued penetrating the water, but they didn't come as close now and there were fewer of them. And the boat was approaching fast. He would have to hurry if this was going to work.
"Hang on, where'd he go? I lost him," said Anson and slowed their speed.
"Right over there. You see him?"
"Yeah, I got him." They altered their course to follow.
Lee continued swimming past the rocks, trying to get as far away from them as fast as possible. From the muddy shore of the island, Amanda was watching, shivering, worrying, wondering what exactly he was doing, trying to get killed?
Anson slowed the boat down dramatically as they came closer to Stetson.
He didn't see the rocks before it was already too late. Panicking, he swerved the boat to the left. Hendricks misfired into the trees on the island and nearly toppled over. Before either he or Jordan could ask what the hell Anson was doing, the boat broadsided the rocks and the men were thrown. Jordan was tossed overboard.
Lee was a good distance away as it was, and the waves created by the crash sent him further away from the danger. Taking one last glance at the boat, as it continued spinning against the rocks, he took a deep breath and dove deep underwater.
Only a second later, the boat exploded in a fireball pouring black smoke into the air and leaving behind licking orange flames to consume what little was left. Amanda ducked away from the searing blast of heat, but reveled in its warmth at the same time. "Lee?!" she cried, searching the water.
There was a body. Floating. Face down.
She was panting from panic. "LEE?!" she screamed and jumped back into the freezing water, swam out toward the wreckage and the man's body. Her eyes were too dry from the cold air for her to be able to cry, but she felt like she was going to. Finally she reached the floating body and wrenched it onto its back.
It wasn't him. It was one of the men who'd taken them to Robeson's. He was dead. She sighed loudly with relief and hung onto him to rest her treading legs.
It was so quiet here, she became aware of. There were no crickets, no birds, no sounds of any civilization. Just the crackling of the flames, the lapping waves, and her own breath, which she could just barely see on the air now.
And then the sound of someone's head coming up out of the water. Her head snapped to her right and there he was, gagging and coughing and already trying to swim for the island shore. Amanda gasped and headed for him. "Lee!"
He groaned and stopped swimming, rolled onto his back to float for a moment, inhaling deeply to catch his breath. She grabbed onto his shoulder. "Lee, are you okay?"
Lee grimaced at her touch. "Ow, ouch! Let go. Let go." He swallowed and turned to face her. "I'll be okay," he answered.
"I was so worried," she said. "I was so scared." Amanda grabbed onto his brown jacket and helped him swim to the island. "I mean, when you made me get off that boat and you kept going, I was afraid for a moment that you were just going to leave me there in the water. But then you jumped off with me. When I saw that boat turning around, though, and then they started shooting at us. . . . And when the boat exploded and I couldn't find you. . . ."
They were able to stand here; the water was only up to mid-torso. Amanda tried to take his left arm and sling it over her shoulder, but he protested and wrenched it away with a groan. "Ow, ow, ow, no, no, no. Other arm, other arm."
"Why? What's wrong?" She started to move around behind him and saw the wound, gasped. "Lee, you're bleeding! You've been shot!"
He grimaced. "I noticed that."
She helped him slowly drag himself out of the water. "You're shivering." Fear filled her voice.
Well, damn right he was shivering. He was freezing cold. And truth be told, he hurt like anything. His entire body ached horribly, enough so that his bullet wound hardly stood out above it. He remembered a time he'd been on assignment with Amanda and he'd been stuck in a freezer--this felt very much like that, only this time he was drenched in ice water and the pain was bone-deep. "So are you," he said, teeth chattering.
"Yeah, but not like you are." Lee stumbled in the mud. "Oh. Lee. Come on . . ." she forced him to get up. "Come on, we have to get out of the water . . ." They moved onto the dry ground of the pathetically tiny island: it was only about twenty feet wide and thirty-five long, and the only thing growing in its mud was a handful of evergreens. She helped Lee lie down and then fell down next to him, curled up in a ball and moaned.
A few moments later she sat up and ripped off her soaked sweater, then started to take off her shoes. "Amanda," Lee said quietly.
She rubbed her hands together to keep her fingers from freezing and stiffening up. "Yes, Lee?"
"What are you doing?"
"Taking my clothes off."
Dazed as he was, this barely shocked him. "Your clothes?"
"Mm-hmm. Yours, too." She shivered and peeled off her socks, began rubbing her bare feet. Then she started on removing his shoes and socks.
He swallowed, stared at her. "What for?"
"Well," she explained in her very patient tone as she tried to rub feeling back into Lee's toes, "you know I took a class on how to prevent hypothermia. The instructor said that if you're ever cold and wet, then you should get somewhere dry and take your clothes off, because the moisture will soak up your body heat faster than just the air will. So come on," she said and moved to sit next to him, "off with the shirt."
He only gave her a slightly uneasy glance and then sat up to let her help him remove his jacket. "Ow, ow, careful, careful," he warned as they took his jacket off.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Amanda moved more slowly and cautiously with the tan jacket. Once they had it off, he tried to lie back down. "No, no, wait. We still have to take off your shirt."
"I know. Just give me minute to get my tie off." He laid back and rested in the mud. Meanwhile Amanda started to unbutton her own shirt. He glanced over at her. "Whoa, whoa, what are you doing now?"
"Lee, I'm freezing," she said bluntly. "I am not going to freeze to death up here. I'm taking my shirt off so that I don't catch hypothermia and die. If you have a problem with that, then just don't look."
He just blinked dazedly and nodded, turned away. Something about the blank stare he'd given her and the confused look behind his eyes worried her. She wondered if he was going into shock. Oh, she sincerely hoped not, because she didn't know enough about it to be able to do him any good, and besides the fact that she didn't know when they'd be rescued, or even if they would be rescued. Maybe help wouldn't come in time and all that would be left were their cold, dead, undressed bodies. . . . After all, if she was going to be found dead, she'd like to be clothed at the time. . . .
She pushed the thoughts aside and finished with her shirt. Then she went back to Lee, whose numb fingers were gingerly working at the knot of his necktie. Using her nails, she was able to painfully loosen it enough to pull it over his head. "Okay," she said, pushing him upright, "come on, sit up." Lee started to unbutton his shirt, but Amanda didn't bother with it: she just ripped it open. Amanda positioned herself around his back to pull away the wet clothing. He grunted as he pulled his arms out of it, being very careful not to move his left shoulder too much.
"Amanda?" he asked. "Is something wrong?"
What little color that had been left in her face was gone. She was staring at the back of his shoulder. At the bullet wound. She'd never really seen one up close before, and seeing one now, on Lee, nonetheless, was frightening. But she swallowed and shook her head to concentrate. "Yes, I'm fine." She finished removing his shirt and let him lie back down.
Amanda nervously considered the rest of their outfits. "Um . . . Lee?"
"Yes?" he said, eyes closed.
"Um . . . Lee, you're . . . going to have to take your pants off."
Lee stared at her. "I have to WHAT?"
"And I have to take mine off, too."
"Look, Lee, you want to live, don't you?"
"Yes, but with my pants ON!"
"Well, I'm sorry, but we just don't have that luxury right now!" she cried. "So, do you want to take off your belt, or should I?"
Lee pursed his lips, shivering from cold and frustration, and rolled onto his side. "I can do it, thank you."
Amanda nodded and turned away, began removing her own slacks. "How're you doing back there?"
"Just fine, thanks," he grunted. But when she glanced over her shoulder, she could see he wasn't accomplishing anything. Rolling her eyes and moaning to herself, she turned back around and moved to his feet. "Amanda, what--"
"Oh, calm down, Lee, my eyes are closed." And indeed, they were. She groped around on the ground for his ankles. "Have you got your belt undone?"
He sighed. "Hang on. . . . Yeah." Amanda grabbed the cuffs of his brown slacks and pulled. Then she blindly felt her way back to her own pile of clothes.
"Are you rolled over?" she asked.
"Good." She finished undressing.
Lee felt her lie down against his back and jumped. "Amanda," he said plainly, "you're touching me."
"For warmth," she said, wrapping her arms around herself. "Does this make you uncomfortable?"
He snorted. "A little."
"Sorry." She shuddered as they laid back to back in the cold night air.
"Lee?" she asked in the silence.
"I'm awful sorry I got you into all this."
Lee sighed sadly. "Amanda, we've already been through this; it's not your fault."
"I know, but they dragged you up here because they saw you with me, and then those men shot you . . ."
"Well," he tried consoling, "it wouldn't be the first time I've been shot."
"Oh dear, it isn't?"
"No. No, in my line of work, that's one of the many risks you take. And this," he rolled his shoulder, "this isn't so bad." He was thankful they had their backs to each other so she wouldn't see him wincing.
"It isn't?" She could still see the wound clearly in her mind. "It looks pretty bad."
"They always do. . . . But besides, what are partners for?"
She smiled, "Aw, Lee . . ." and pressed her back closer to his.
She moved away. "Sorry."
The small parade of cars drove down the pebbly dirt road to the landing where the large ferry was docked. "I don't see them, do you?" asked Billy.
"Maybe they're in that trailer over there," answered Francine. Under the harsh street lamp near the water was a trailer. A blue and white sign hung from its side that read, 'Frye Island Ferry'. Billy and Francine got out of their car and hurried over to the door.
Inside was a woman with blonde hair pulled back in a pony tail through a green baseball cap bearing the Frye Island logo. She lounged in a chair, watching a small black and white tv. She saw them and sat up straighter as she said pleasantly, "Can I help you?"
"Uh, yes," Billy smiled. "I wondered if you'd seen two of our associates. They would have come on a small boat; we were supposed to meet them here."
She shook her head. "What did they look like?"
"It was a man and woman," Francine jumped in. "The man is somewhat tall, with light brown hair, and the woman would have been about average height, brunette, basically your everyday housewife-type."
Again the woman shook her head. "No, sorry, haven't seen them."
Frowning, Billy and Francine stepped outside to briefly confer. "Do you suppose he could have meant the dock on the island?" Francine suggested.
He nodded. "I suppose so. Um, excuse me," he asked the woman inside, "but when is your next run scheduled for?"
"About twenty more minutes. Would you like to buy tickets?"
"Yes," he smiled, "for two cars. But," he pulled out his badge, "we're going to need you to take us across now."
They didn't bother driving the cars off the ferry. Billy and Francine, with two other men, got out and walked off the boat to look for Lee and Amanda. Francine huffed with frustration, "They're not here!"
"Yes, we can see that, Francine," said Billy. "How about up here?" He pointed to a shop and restaurant to their left. All the lights were out inside, but they marched up the wood steps anyway, past the ice cream booth and bargain rack. Billy knocked on the glass door to the store. "Lee? Amanda?"
"Face it, Billy, they're not here."
He turned around. "Where would they be? Scarecrow called us hours ago. There's no reason for him not to be here."
"Do you think something went wrong?"
He nodded grimly. "I'm starting to think that."
"Well what are we gonna do? Search the whole lake?"
"If that's what it takes."
"We'll call out the local authorities, bring up a helicopter if we have to." Billy paused to consider. "You know, over on the mainland, I saw a seaplane parked in the water outside one of the cottages. Do you think we could use that to start now?"
Francine sighed and shrugged. "It's worth a shot."
The man opened the door in his bathrobe. "Yes? Can I help you?"
Billy smiled at him politely. "Sir, I'm very sorry for the inconvenience, but we need to know, is that your seaplane out there?"
Frowning, the man nodded. "Yeah, she's mine. Is there a problem?"
"Well, there may be, and that's what we need to talk to you about." Billy and Francine took out their identifications. "My name is Billy Melrose, this is my associate, Francine Desmond. One of our agents and his partner may be in danger; we need to ask you for a huge favor. . . . May we come in?"
Amanda and Lee had long since run out of things to say. They'd only talked for the sake of keeping each other awake and keeping their minds occupied. Lee had told her of his past assignments and she'd told him about being a parent.
It was much darker now, but they'd lost track of the time. Amanda groaned and blinked, looked up. The sky was lovely, a blanket of darkness sprinkled with diamonds. "Lee," she said quietly, "Lee, look at the stars. There's so many of them. Down in Washington you can't even see half this many. They're wonderful, aren't they?" He didn't say anything; she suspected that the stars were probably not something he cared too much about. She frowned. "Lee? Lee, you stopped shivering. . . . Lee, are you awake?"
She started to roll over when suddenly she heard the sound of a motor. She pushed herself up and looked for the source of the sound. There, off to the right on the other side of the island, was a light shining down on the water. She gasped. "Lee!" she said excitedly. "Lee, there's a plane! Lee!"
She rolled over to look at him. His eyes were closed. "Lee?" She rolled him onto his back. His breathing was shallow, his lips were blue and his face was as white as a ghost. Amanda gasped. "Lee?!" She shook him. "Lee, wake up." Panic took her. "Lee!" She tried rubbing his arms, tried rubbing the side of his face with her numb fingers, but it was useless.
"Look over there," Billy pointed for the pilot. "What's that in the water over there? Near that little island. Here, bring us over that way. Francine, point the spotlight over there." The light hit the water and the ragged piece of wood that floated in it. "What's that?"
"Looks like piece of a boat," Francine noted.
"Yeah. Yeah, take us over that way," Billy told the pilot.
The motor was approaching. Amanda jumped up and grabbed Lee's jacket, ran to the other side of the island. She held the jacket in front of her and started waving wildly, screaming, "Over here! We're over here!"
The light started to move over in her direction. "Please! Help us! We're over here! Help!"
"There!" Billy said. "It's Amanda!"
Francine swung the light in that direction, saw she was holding Lee's jacket up in front of her. She couldn't help the smirk. "Oh my . . . Is she naked?!"
"Where's Lee?" Billy wondered.
The plane passed the island, but she saw it swinging around for another pass. Amanda continued waving. When the light didn't shine down on her again and the plane just headed back in the direction it had come, she ran back to Lee. "Lee! Lee, they found us!" Still he didn't respond. "Oh, Lee. . . ." She started to put her still damp clothes back on.
Only about fifteen minutes later a motor boat approached. Amanda waved at them from the shore. "Over this way!" she shouted. "On the other side! The other side!" She ran through the trees to the opposite shore and waited standing over Lee, who had his pants back on. Even though she suspected once he was at the hospital they would just undress him again anyway, she figured that, like her, he would want to be rescued with his clothes on.
The boat slowly moved around and the driver cut off the engine, letting it drift along the shore.
"Hurry!" Amanda called to them.
Billy jumped over the side and waded over. "Amanda! Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine, sir," she said anxiously. "I'm very cold and very sore, but uninjured. But we have to hurry and get Lee to a hospital."
"Why?" he asked worriedly, coming up on shore. "What's wrong with him?"
"Well, he's been shot, sir."
"He's been SHOT?! How?! When?!"
"A few hours ago, sir."
Billy hurried out of the water and ran, dripping, to Lee's side and dropped to one knee. "Lee?" he tried to wake him. "Lee."
"I've already tried," she informed him. "It's no use, he's out cold."
"Amanda, why don't you get the rest of your things together and give them to Francine. She'll help you get onto the boat." She nodded and gathered up their shoes and other articles of clothing. "Jensen, Parks, come on down here!" Billy called. "I'm gonna need a hand."
Amanda went back into the freezing water and swam quickly out to the boat. "Here, Francine," she held the wet clothes up. Francine took them over the side of the boat. "Where's the ladder?" she asked, shivering uncontrollably.
"It's over here," she said and went around to the back of the boat. Jensen and Parks went over to help her out while Francine stood staring at Lee's white shirt, or rather, she was staring at the burned bullet hole and the blood stain surrounding it.
Francine shook herself and grabbed a couple of towels, draped one around Amanda's shoulders. Jensen and Parks jumped into the shallow water and headed to the shore. "Boy, that water's cold," Amanda shuddered and tried to rub herself dry.
Meanwhile on the island Billy and the others were busy carefully lifting Lee off the mud and carrying him into the water. Francine and Amanda watched from the boat. Parks climbed out of the water first, then Billy, and Jensen handed Lee up to them. They carefully laid him down on the deck while Jensen hurried up the ladder and gathered blankets. "Dry him off," Billy ordered and headed back to take the wheel. "Francine, make sure you hold something against that bullet wound. Amanda, you may want to sit down."
The boat sped away from the island.
* * *
It was a soft white light that beckoned Lee, that was pulling him from the cool depths of the darkness which he wanted to fall back into. But Lee could feel the warmth of what lied within the light, and therefore forced himself to leave the comfort of unconsciousness.
He opened his eyes and found himself lying on a bed in a small room. Things were blurry at first, but he blinked a few times and his vision cleared. There were two windows: one through which filtered sunlight streamed, one next to the door which gave a view of the hallway past the blinds. There was someone sitting in a chair near the latter window. He closed his eyes again before he could identify them.
As he let his eyes rest, he took a moment to review his situation. First, he wasn't lying flat on his back: his bed was in its reclined position. His left arm was in a sling, he could feel that, and his shoulder was sore. That's right, he'd been shot. But the last thing he remembered was the boat chase. No, then he'd been stuck on the island with Amanda, freezing to death. Something about their clothes . . . ? Then he seemed to remember something about being on a boat again, and Francine and two men he couldn't remember had been there. But the very last thing he remembered was waking to the sound of the blaring sirens on the ambulance and seeing Amanda lying down beside him . . .
A quiet voice. "Lee . . . ?" He opened his eyes again. "Lee?"
"Amanda?" She smiled warmly at him. Relief filled him. He sat forward and they hugged each other; Amanda was very careful not to hug him too hard, but she was surprised by the strength he used to hold her. For a long moment they remained like that. Then he sat back against his pillow. "You're all right?"
She nodded, smiling, suddenly feeling awkward. "Yes, I'm fine. I had to stay in the hospital for a day or so, but only for observation."
He frowned. "How long have I been here?"
"Oh," she said, "it's been at least three days since we were brought here. Billy and Francine were here. Do you remember?"
He nodded. "I remember Francine. Billy was here, too?"
"Mm-hmm. They were the ones who came and rescued us. They had to go back down to D.C., but they made me and the doctors promise to call when there was a change in your condition."
Lee looked at her. "You've been here this whole time . . . ? But what did you tell your mother?"
She smiled and shrugged. "Oh, I just told her that I ran into some old college friends and decided to take a short vacation."
He smiled at her. "You know, you didn't have to do this."
"Stay here. You could have gone home."
"Well . . . I'm not sure I'm quite ready to face the mess waiting back home." She nodded. "Billy told me about the break-in. Besides, I wanted to stay and make sure everything was all right." Amanda looked down. "You gave everyone a real scare, Lee." The images from their ordeal flashed through her mind . . . the explosion, his bullet wound, him lying on the deck of the boat--limp, pale, unmoving . . . "We were afraid we would lose you. . . ." She added, "I was afraid I'd lose you."
Lee didn't know what to do, what to say; he just watched her. Amanda wouldn't look up at him. He tried to lift her spirits and reached over and held her hands. "Hey," he smiled, "I'm not that easy to get rid of."
She finally looked up at him with a forced smile. "I know."
But he could tell she was still not at ease. He tried again, "I'm not going anywhere for a long time."
She still smiled forcibly, but to his pleasure, he sensed her relax as she stared across at him and said the only thing she could think of. "I know." There was a pause as they regarded each other. Perhaps they were both wondering what the other was thinking, perhaps they were both thinking about what they meant to each other. . . .
Amanda looked down at his hand still holding hers, and as they both realized how long they'd been touching each other, a curtain of awkwardness suddenly fell between them. He cleared his throat and sat back, withdrew his hand. She suddenly stood. "Well," she said, "I should probably go give Billy a call. Besides, it looks like the doctor's going to come in here and check up on you." She went to the door. "I'm going to go down to the cafeteria, so I'm probably going to be a while. I can pick you up one of those car magazines in the gift shop, if you want." Lee only nodded. "I'll see you later."
She started to leave. Instinctively he blurted, "Amanda?" and stopped her. She turned around. "Thanks," he said.
"Well, all that you did for me on the island, for being here when I woke up, for being a friend."
She just smiled and blushed. "I didn't really do anything; at least not anything I know you wouldn't have done for me." Amanda left then, let the doctor enter behind her. She paused in the hallway and looked back through the window to his room. Lee looked back at her. For a moment, their eyes locked. They smiled.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"It's about time those people gave you a vacation," Mother said. "And I'm not complaining or anything--" Amanda loved that line especially: whenever Mother stated she wasn't complaining, she always was. "--but it would have been nice if they could have given you a little bit more time."
"Well, you know," Amanda tried to explain as she finished rinsing the coffee pot, "one of my co-workers--my partner," she corrected herself, "broke his arm and he's coming back today, so he needs me to help him with his papers and things."
"Granted," Mother nodded, "but I still don't see why they couldn't have someone else do that for a bit. I mean, you just got home, Honey."
"But I want to, Mother."
"All right, Amanda, it's your life," Mother said, throwing her hands up in the air.
"Thank you, Mother. Make sure the boys clean their rooms when they get home from school today."
"Of course, Dear."
"Thank you. Goodbye, Mother!"
"Have a good day, Dear!"
"I will!" The door shut.
Amanda pulled up in front of Lee's building, got out of the car and honked the horn. Lee poked his head out the window and she waved at him. Then she went inside and up to his apartment, knocked. Lee opened the door, his shirt only halfway on. "Morning, partner," she grinned cheerfully.
"Hi," he held the door for her. "There's still coffee on the stove if you want any."
"Oh, no, I already had some," she graciously refused. "Here, let me help you with that," she said as he struggled with his shirt.
"Thanks." He winced when he had to wrench his arm to get it through the sleeve. "Thanks. I got it." He started buttoning the shirt. "Have a seat."
Amanda sat on his couch. There was a baseball on the cushions, which she tossed in the air a few times while Lee stuck his arm in the sling. "Are you sure it's all right for you to come back to work this soon?" she questioned. "After all, you just got out of the hospital yesterday, and you had that long flight last night . . ."
"I'm fine, Amanda. Really." He put on his jacket. "Besides, it's not as if Billy's going to be giving me any big assignments. I'm going to be doing a lot of paperwork over the next few days just concerning this one."
"Oh, no, no, no. I can do that."
"Well, no, actually, you can't," he smiled. "It has to be filled out by the agent involved. And that would be me. You ready to go?"
"Sure," she said and put the baseball on the coffee table.
"You know, Amanda," he said as they started out the door, "I really appreciate this."
"What, helping you put your shirt on?"
He laughed. "And offering to drive me into work every morning until I get this thing off," he indicated the sling by rolling his shoulder.
"Oh, I really don't mind." What was that he said to her on the island . . . ? " 'Besides,' " she said, " 'what are partners for?' "
Yeah, I know it's not the greatest ending in the world, but that's the sort of thing they'd put on the show, isn't it?
Oh, and coincidentally, just FYI, I thought you all might find this interesting.... Frye Island and Sebago Lake are actual places in Maine, and there really are a bunch of little islands like the ones described in my story.
Please let my know what you thought! Even if you read the story and hated it, just tell me you read it. This is the first story I've ever posted, so it'd be nice to know people know it exists. Anyway, thanks for reading!
Oh, and you haven't seen the last of Jeffrey Simmons. I promise that!