*DISCLAIMER** Scarecrow & Mrs. King is copyrighted to Warner Brothers and Shoot The Moon Production Company. The original portions of this story, however, are copyrighted to the author. This story is for entertainment purposes only. No infringement of copyright is intended.
Indicates *Translated from the Urdu*
Blood Ties by Ermintrude
Prologue—Sibi, on the Eastern side of the Bolan Pass in Pakistan, on the way from Afghanistan.
A line of trucks slowly made their way through the dusty streets of a village on the eastern side of the Bolan Pass. A beggar sat against a building in the shade and watched the convoy pass. He was clothed in a turban and voluminous dusty and worn robes. His feet wore old but surprisingly serviceable sandals. His face was bearded and lined from a hard life, but his eyes were bright and missed nothing. In front of him was a worn begging bowl, and beside him was a much-used and patched wooden crutch. As the trucks lumbered by, he pulled out a small notebook and a worn pencil and made some notes.
He waited several minutes after the convoy had passed, and the dust had settled, then he carefully tucked the notebook and pencil away within his robes. He gathered his alms bowl and hoisted his crutch and slowly made his way to a hotel several blocks away from the village square. He waved at the concierge as he passed and stepped behind the main desk into the room beyond. Inside a young male telephone operator manned an ancient plug-and-wire switchboard. The beggar nodded at the operator, and passed the man some money. The operator passed the beggar a sheet of paper and the beggar wrote down a telephone number, complete with country code. The young operator dialed it—made sure the connection had gone through and handed the headset to the beggar. The beggar heard the telephone ringing on the other end.
"International Federal Film. How may I help you?"
"I need to get a message to the Scarecrow in Washington, D.C. please."
"What message do you wish to leave?"
"Tell him that the Beggar has seen hot cargo coming in and he needs to come to Sibi near the Bolan Pass or else the club will gain another member."
"I'll see that he gets the message."
"Please expedite it, this is urgent."
"I'll do that."
Monday morning at the Agency was as busy as ever. Once the morning meeting was over, the agents dispersed. Lee and Francine were chatting by the coffee station, while Amanda was across the room, conversing with a couple of other agents.
"So Lee, you're going to be a father. You seem excited about it all." Francine was still somewhat taken aback at the changes her old friend had made since his partner and now wife came into his life.
"Yeah I am. But it's scary, too. I've been reading all these books about pregnancy and childbirth. I know Amanda's OK, but I am also realizing why childbirth was such a risky proposition for women in the past." He looked unusually solemn.
"Or now, if they don't have access to quality medical care," Francine added with a nod. "I've traveled in the third world, and I've seen a woman die because her child was a breech and she didn't have access to a doctor—or even a competent midwife." She paused, then continued, "It was a particularly brutal way to die." She seemed to be seeing something far away as her face turned grave. "Thank heavens Amanda has a good ob-gyn here in DC."
A young woman came into the bullpen and looked around at the group of agents hanging around the coffee station. She spotted Scarecrow and came up to him.
"Excuse me, sir?" She hesitantly approached the handsome agent.
"Huh?" He replied in a less-than-suave manner.
Francine covered a smile at Lee's expression of bewilderment. "How times have changed," she muttered under her breath.
"Um—Scarecrow, this message came through to you overnight. It's coded urgent, so here it is, sir." She handed him a folded slip of paper and smiled.
Lee smiled back at the young woman. Once he would have also asked her out for a date. Nowadays his eyes and attentions were only for his wife and partner. And he was very glad of that. "Thank you, I appreciate your diligence."
The young woman blushed and scurried back to her office. Francine shook her head. "They still can't seem to realize you're off the market."
Lee shrugged, "It doesn't matter, I know it and that's what counts." He casually opened the note and read it. He stopped dead, and all the color left his face.
Francine noticed Lee's pallor. "Lee, what's wrong?"
"Uh, we got trouble. Billy! Amanda! We've got to talk, now!" He announced to the section chief and his wife. He motioned to Francine to include her also.
Billy nodded. "My office, people. Let's go!"
Once the four agents were gathered in Billy's office, Lee closed the door and drew the blinds. Billy shot a quick look at Francine who shrugged her shoulders in answer.
"We're here, Scarecrow." Billy said. "What's so urgent?"
"I got a message from an old contact—the Beggar." Lee replied.
Billy and Francine nodded—Amanda looked lost.
"The Beggar?" she queried.
Lee replied, "He's an old contact of mine in Pakistan. I spent a couple of years in and out of the country '77 to'79, before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The Beggar was my main contact with the locals. I was never really sure who he was working for—but he was reliable and he managed to teach me Urdu in an amazingly short time. Anyhow, he's sent us intel off and on ever since. He's able to move in and out of Afghanistan seemingly at will—and he was a good source of information on the whole Soviet invasion and the subsequent war. The last few years he's been quiet. I really hadn't thought about him since Eric died…"
Francine piped up, "I guess you had other … things on your mind." She smirked at Lee with a lift of the eyebrows as she spoke.
"What does the note say, Scarecrow?" Billy asked in an attempt to get the discussion back on track.
"Basically—it seems Pakistan is smuggling nuclear materials in and trying to build a bomb." Lee sounded incredulous.
"Say what!" Billy roared.
Francine intervened. "Billy, we know Pakistan has had nuclear ambitions ever since India got the bomb in 1974," she stated matter-of-factly.
"Thank you for stating the obvious, Francine," Billy looked to Lee. "Am I to understand the Beggar has proof?"
"It would seem so," Lee confirmed. "Billy, we have to check this out. We can't afford not to know." Lee sounded reluctant.
"I agree, Scarecrow," Billy stated. "That area is still adjusting to the Soviet pullout last January. And who knows just what the Soviets left behind?"
"Or just what's being moved around under the guise of the Afghans reclaiming their country." Francine added.
"So what do we need to do?" Amanda asked.
Lee shuffled and looked intensely uncomfortable. "Uh—it's not "we" this time, Amanda. It's me. Alone."
"Why?" she quietly asked.
Lee paced and Billy took over. "Several reasons. One is that you're not familiar with the area or the language and women operate at a disadvantage in that part of the world." Lee and Francine nodded in agreement.
"So I don't know the language, Lee does. I didn't know German and we got along fine in Germany," Amanda countered.
Billy held out his hand. "This is not Germany. In Germany you can expect a certain portion of the population to understand some English—not in Pakistan."
"And then there's the issue of facilities, " Francine added.
"Facilities?" Amanda asked.
"You know—facilities. You're pregnant and well, there aren't gas stations with convenient bathrooms on every corner." She replied knowingly.
"Or any corner," Lee added, looking apologetic.
Amanda looked shocked, then determined. She opened her mouth to speak but Billy spoke first. "And the conditions are primitive at best. We don't know where Lee will have to go and if he has to 'go native', buthe will be living rough."
Amanda turned to Billy. "I've camped so I can deal with living rough."
"But are you up to riding in an ancient vehicle with no springs on rough roads—or worse no road at all?" Billy continued, "Plus there's a good chance food and water may become scarce, and you'll have to eat whatever is available, which may make you very sick. And are you up for a ten mile hike?"
"In chador?" Francine added.
"Chador? Not all Pakistani women wear full veils," Amanda shot back.
Francine nodded. "Yes, but if you have to go native, that's the best disguise for any woman. You could hide an uzi under there and nobody would know the difference."
"I suppose you know all about it, Francine," Amanda was becoming weary of this.
"I've avoided it, but it's a practical disguise. And it would help hide your pregnancy, which could cause other complications if it became known," Francine replied matter-of-factly looking at Amanda's swelling figure.
"People," Billy tried to intervene, "Amanda, you're pregnant—almost five months along—and you're not in your 20's…" he trailed off apologetically.
"Sir, I'm doing fine. My doctor says everything is OK." Amanda replied.
Billy nodded. "Sure it is now. But do you want to take the risk if something goes wrong? Medical facilities over there aren't up to our standards—if you can even get there in time." Francine nodded emphatically in agreement.
She looked at her husband, "Lee…" she pleaded.
He replied apologetically, "Amanda—please—if I could guarantee things would be easy—all in the cities or on bases—I'd love to have you come with me. But chances are I'll have to go undercover in the countryside. They aren't going to hide this stuff where just anyone can find it."
Francine spoke up again, "Add to that, as a traditional woman you'd have to walk behind Lee and respond instantly to his commands."
"Commands?" Amanda looked puzzled.
"Remove my boots, woman!" Francine barked. "Only it would be in Urdu—which I don't speak—unfortunately. That's how women are treated over there. Add to that you'd be expected to do all the cooking and washing, for every man in the group, plus whatever else they might need from a servant. Do you really want to subject yourself to that?" She looked to Lee and tried to communicate she was helping.
"Yeah, well." Lee interrupted as he shot an irritated look back at Francine. He rubbed the back of his neck.
Billy spoke quietly, "Amanda, it's just not possible or practical to include you in this. Lee needs to leave immediately and I'm hoping he can take military transport—which is only basic transport at best." He was pleading for her acquiescence.
Amanda looked irked, but defeated. "OK, OK. I get the point. I think it stinks—but I get it," she grudgingly agreed.
Lee shot Billy a grateful look.
Billy continued, "I'm reluctant to send Lee—but the Beggar dealt mostly with him and we don't have time to get another agent up to speed. Everyone else who spent significant time with the Beggar over there in the late '70's has moved on. Scarecrow's the only currently active agent in the field we have who won't have to be familiarized with the area and the personnel. We don't have the time to introduce anyone else to the Beggar, and time is of the essence here. Scarecrow and the Beggar have worked together before, so we use Lee for this one."
"Obviously, we'll have to remedy that situation," Francine made a note of it.
"So, Lee has to go over there in person. Alone?" Amanda asked.
"Yeah, the sooner the better," Lee admitted with a sheepish glance at his wife.
"I'll see what arrangements I can make, "Francine said as she rose to leave.
"Be creative," Billy interjected. "Sooner is more important than comfortable or conventional." Billy shot a look at Lee who was looking apologetically at Amanda.
Amanda nodded. "I guess understand." She took a breath and spoke matter-of-factly, "What can I do here?"
Billy smiled at her acceptance of the awkward situation. "Why don't you work your contacts? See if anyone here has any information about that situation."
Amanda nodded. "I think TP will be my first call."
"Yeah—and maybe Augie, too." Lee added.
"Augie?" Amanda asked.
'Well he does deal with a lot of sleazy types—and people who traffic in illicit nuclear material are pretty sleazy…"
"OK, I can contact Augie, too," Amanda agreed.
Billy was pleased. "Good. Scarecrow—you go home and pack—be ready to leave as soon as Francine finds transport. Amanda—why don't you go with him and help. He'll probably need a ride to wherever he's leaving from. Then you can start making your contacts after he's left."
The two agents smiled in gratitude. "Thank you, sir." "Thanks, Billy."
They left the office.
In the 'Vette Lee drove while Amanda tried to remain objective.
"Will it be like this from now on?" Amanda tried not to sound sad.
"What do you mean?"
"You going off to who-knows-where while I stay behind to do the legwork, research and contact our sources?"
He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "This is a special situation. Normally I'd hand this over to someone—anyone—else. But this time, I'm the only person who can do the assignment—quickly and with a minimum of pre-planning."
"I suppose." She tried to change the mood. "Tell me about your time in Pakistan when you met the Beggar."
Lee gathered his thoughts. "I got to Pakistan in '77. They'd been an important strategic US ally and a lot of missions in the Middle East start and end in Pakistan. Karachi and Islamabad are large cosmopolitan cities for that part of the world and travel from there to the rest of the Middle East—especially Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan—is much easier through Pakistan. I was stationed there when I met the Beggar."
"What's he like?" Amanda asked with interest.
"Just like his name—he looks and acts like a beggar. He sits in out-of-the-way places with his alms bowl and begs for money. He also watches and records activities. In a way, it's a perfect cover—beggars are found most everywhere over there, so one more just blends into the background. He walks with a limp and uses a crutch—though for the life of me I never was able to determine if it's real or part of his disguise."
She nodded. "I see."
"I was operating out of a hotel, using it as a base for messages—and I saw him come in and bribe the switchboard operator to use the phone. He may look dirty and poor, but he always has money for bribes."
"Who is he working for?"
"I think the guy is a freelancer—he digs up intel and shares it with whoever will pay. It was my first assignment after I left the Oz network. He sort-of took me under his wing—taught me Urdu—showed me around. Of course, in helping me he also got a new source of income—so he benefitted too. I was in and out of there for two years—until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan—then we left it mostly to the CIA. I've been back a couple of times since—but this is the first time I've heard from the Beggar in years—actually since Eric died and I met you." He took her hand. "He sort of faded away. I thought he had been killed or quit."
"How old is he?"
"I have no idea. He's probably over 30, but he could be 35 or 55. With all the dirt and rags and beard—his face is usually covered and he looks like he's had a hard life. I think he's originally a tribesman from the Pakistan/Afghan border area."
"Why would he help you guys? Where do his loyalties lie?"
Lee was silent for a beat. "I don't know those answers, then or now. I think he's an independent operator, but sometimes he seems just too well-connected within the Pakistani hierarchy. Then again, with enough money for bribes—you can get almost anything over there. I do know the guy is like a chess master, he loves moving the pieces around the board, moving and counter-moving. He certainly is a grand master at playing the game. And maybe that's the ultimate answer—he just loves to play the game—that's how he gets his kicks, and the foreign agents he 'helps' are just pieces on his chessboard."
They had arrived at the house. As it was a weekday, the boys were at school and Dotty was out with friends.
In their bedroom, as Lee packed, Amanda helped him. When he was finished he had a duffle and a rucksack—traveling light with only essentials. He had changed into tough khaki bush gear.
Once he was packed, he sat on the edge of their bed and pulled Amanda to sit next to him. "Amanda, I really don't want to leave you. It's just…" he ran down.
"I know, I know," she replied. "It's the job. It's necessary. But Lee—we have to talk—I don't want to spend the rest of my career at the Agency 'back at home' doing research."
"I hear you," he nodded. "I'm thrilled about the baby—really—I guess I just didn't realize how many changes we'd need to make—both at home and on the job."
"Yeah—just not practical," she said wryly. "Lee, I worked hard to get to where I am—but I'm committed to our child, too. And, well, there are lots of jobs out there. But we're having a baby—our baby. And I guess I'm feeling a little selfish—but for me, right now, I feel the baby's coming first."
"And it should, Amanda. You taught me that family is more important than any job. And I love you," he kissed her gently, "and the boys," he kissed her again, "and your mother," he kissed her again, "and our child," he kissed her deeply. "This isn't something we have to decide now—or next week—but we have four months to think about what to do—what you will do—what we will do—with our jobs—our careers—and our new addition to the family."
"Yeah—this house, for one thing. Adding another person is gonna make it really crowded."
He nodded. "But I don't want your mother to move out. She's so excited about the baby, too. She wants to be a part of it all…"
She kissed him again. "We have a lot to talk about when you get back, Lee."
"Yes we do. And I promise I'll think about it while I'm gone."
"When will you have time to think about it, Scarecrow?"
"During the long lonely nights. I've discovered I don't sleep well if you're not with me. I'll miss you, Mrs. Stetson."
"And I'll miss you, Mr. Stetson…" They kissed and one thing led to another and soon they were lying on the bed—and the phone rang.
"Oh shoot!" Amanda said.
"Story of our marriage—always interrupted."
She smiled and patted her rounded tummy. "Not always, Lee."
He picked up the phone. "Hello? Oh yeah, Francine—Really? OK, I'll have Amanda drive me there. Thanks." He turned back to Amanda. "That was Francine," he said unnecessarily.
"So I gathered."
"She has me going out on a military transport as soon as I can get to Andrews AFB. It'll get me there quicker than a commercial flight would."
"Well, the quicker you get there—the quicker you can be back home."
"Yeah." He took her in his arms and kissed her, slowly and deeply. Her hands twined in his hair and he pulled them down to lie across the bed. His hands ran down her back, to rest under her top at the small of her back. Then they broke off, and gazed deeply into each others' eyes
"Hold that thought until I get back."
"You got it, big fella."
End Act One
Indicates *Translated from the Urdu*
Once Amanda had dropped Lee off at Andrews, she used the car phone to call TP Aquinas.
"Good Morning, T. Percival Aquinas at your service."
"Hi TP, its Amanda."
"Hello, Mrs. Stetson. To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?"
"Could I drop by early this afternoon? I need to talk to you about something."
"Of course, Mrs. Stetson. Would you like to meet in the park? It's such a nice day for the season."
"Sure TP, in the park, say about 1?"
"1 In the park sounds fine—see you then. Goodbye."
"Goodbye TP, see you in a while."
Amanda returned to the Agency, and once in the Q Bureau called Augie.
"Augie's Antiques and Collectibles."
"Hello Augie, it's Amanda."
"Oh Hi, Mrs. S. What's up?"
"I haven't seen your new store—Antiques and Collectibles?"
"Yeah. Antiques, curios and … other stuff."
"Maybe I could drop by on my way home—will you be there around 5?"
"Oh sure Mrs. S. I'll be here."
"OK, see you then, Augie. Goodbye."
Amanda spent the remainder of the morning in the Q Bureau checking what she could from the computer on her desk. She didn't get much beyond what everyone knew—Pakistan had nuclear ambitions—but there were no specific details or confirmed information about how far they had gotten.
In the afternoon she grabbed a sandwich on her way to meet with TP in the park by the cannon. She walked toward the bench where he was seated and gestured to the empty seat beside him. "Is this seat taken?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Stetson. Actually it's reserved—for you."
"Thanks, TP." She sat. They chatted about the weather and other small things while she ate her sandwich. They fed the crumbs to the ever-present birds. Eventually Amanda got down to business. "So TP, have you heard anything unusual or new about Pakistan lately?"
"I presume that's where your husband is off to, then? After all, if he were in town he'd most likely be here with you."
"Lee's on assignment."
When she didn't elaborate, TP nodded. "Well, I suppose you know the basics—since India gained nuclear capability in 1974, Pakistan has also tried to get the bomb as a strategic deterrent. They feel very vulnerable as the underdog in that region. Those two countries have been bitter enemies since the partition in 1947."
"Yes, I got all that—but do you know anything more specific? Like any notable people or circumstances?"
TP sighed, "I haven't heard anything specific. It's common knowledge Pakistan is headhunting for nuclear physicists and engineers—ideally Muslims—but they'll pay top dollar for most anyone who will help them gain nuclear capability. They're also looking out for any uranium—preferably enriched—that "happens" to be available. Or plutonium. But again, nothing specific."
"Could you check around and see if you can find out anything more?"
"I'll be happy to, Mrs. Stetson. I'll call if I find anything."
"Sooner is better, TP. We're in a bit of a time crunch with this."
"If I get anything outside office hours, I presume I can call you at home?"
"Sure, TP. If I'm not at home then just leave a message you've called. Thanks for your help in this."
"It's my pleasure."
Back at the Q Bureau that afternoon, Amanda filed a contact report on her meeting with TP and spent the rest of the day filing and tying up loose ends on old cases until it was time to leave to meet Augie. She was frustrated at her lack of productive activity. Usually when that happened, she and Lee would talk over the case and work together on less-than-urgent tasks. It was lonely working by herself in the Q Bureau. Probably more lonely, because she knew Lee was en route to Pakistan on various military transports. Alone. Even after all these years, she was apprehensive whenever he was off alone on an assignment. She knew he had worked solo for more of his career than partnered—but since she had taken that package at the train station she felt somewhat responsible for him. Mostly she just felt things went better when she was there to watch his back. And he would watch hers.
Shortly after 4, she grabbed up her purse and her keys and left for the day, handing her ID to Mrs. Marsden on the way out. Rush hour traffic could be bad and Augie's new store was across town.
Around 5, Amanda pulled up in one of the parking spots in front of an old run-down storefront. It sported a newly-painted sign—Augie's Antiques and Collectibles. The windows were grimy and inside the store looked equally dingy.
Amanda walked into the shop—it consisted of a large room with tables and displays of assorted stuff. There was little order and fine cut glass sat next to faded plastic promotional cups you could get at a fast food place 10 years ago. She browsed and picked up a few items to examine them. There was a worn desk with an ancient brass cash register near the back, but no sign of life otherwise.
Amanda picked up a light blue china plate—it had a matte finish with a white raised design in the middle and decoration around the rim. The tag on the back read "Royal Doulton". Amanda snorted at the obvious misidentification.
She heard a crash in the back, and put the plate down and rushed to investigate. In a back room, Augie was sprawled on the floor—a box lying next to him with pieces of a broken vase lying nearby.
"Augie, are you OK?" Amanda asked while helping the snitch regain his feet.
"Oh hi, Mrs. S. Yeah—I'm OK. I think I need to change businesses. This antique stuff is hard work. Plus, you gotta know about some weird stuff."
She smiled at his inexperience. "Yeah—like the difference between Wedgwood and Royal Doulton."
"Oh great! Did I mix them up again? What's the difference? They're both British after all."
Amanda shook her head. "They're as different as chalk and cheese as an English friend of mine would say."
"I suppose. But I don't think you came by to talk about English china."
"No Augie, I didn't." They moved back into the main store and Amanda retrieved the mis-marked plate and handed it to Augie. "Here—this is Wedgwood—oh—and what do you know about Pakistan and nuclear material?"
"Wow! You sure don't mess around anymore. Where's Mr. S?" He looked around for Lee.
"He's working elsewhere today. And I'm in a bit of a time bind, Augie. So please—if you know anything—please tell me now."
"Gee Mrs. S—Don't you want to buy anything?" Augie gave Amanda a hurt puppy-dog look as he offered her the Wedgwood plate.
Amanda smiled ruefully and reached into her purse. She pulled out a few bills and handed them to the snitch. He looked at them, and put one in the cash register and the rest into his pocket. He busied himself wrapping the plate in newspaper and securing it with tape as he talked.
"I don't deal in nukes—way too dangerous—radiation can kill a guy, y'know?"
"Do you know anything?" Amanda asked definitively.
"Well, I heard a few things—here and there—nothing real definite…"
Amanda was getting tired of the game. "What have you heard, Augie?"
"OK. A couple of guys—who say they're independent contractors but are really working for the government of Pakistan—are looking for enriched uranium or plutonium—and price is no object."
"Do you know who they are?" Amanda asked.
"Their names change like I change my socks."
"Or your businesses?" Amanda interjected.
"Hey! I have to make a living, here. Anyhow, they're just called the Pakistani nuclear brothers in the trade—though I don't think they're really brothers. They drifted around the US a couple of years ago—and got nowhere. The Russians supposedly said no—they've been in and out of China and North Korea a bunch of times. I heard China is sending aid to Iraq since the Iran-Iraq war ended."
"So you think the material is coming from China or North Korea through Iraq into Pakistan?"
"Of course China is also sending aid to Iran. As is North Korea."
"Good heavens, everybody is dealing with everybody else around there." Amanda was somewhat boggled by the Machiavellian alliances.
"I don't control how the world works, Mrs. S. I only pass on some of the rumors. For a profit, of course." He smiled with pride for his "contributions" to world affairs.
Amanda shook her head with a wry grin. "Have you heard any more rumors, Augie?"
Augie reached down and held up a small decorative bowl. "Look at this exquisite cut glass candy dish, Mrs. S."
Amanda look chagrined. "Augie, I'd hate to have to tell the IRS that you're skimming profits from your business. I distinctly saw only one bill go into the cash register. The others are in your pocket. And you don't have a receipt tape on that cash register. Are you going to hand-write me a receipt later? With a carbon duplicate for your records?" She looked questioningly at him.
"Hey!" Augie was aggrieved. "Give a guy a break. Nobody would believe you paid that much for a crummy plate."
Amanda adopted her 'mom' face and put her hands on her hips. "You clearly don't know your business, Augie. There are plates out there that are worth thousands."
"Yeah? What—where are they—you know where I can get some cheap?" Ever the opportunist, Augie always wanted to make a buck.
Amanda wasn't distracted. "Augie, what's it gonna be? Do I have to call the IRS here?"
"OK, OK. Geez—you used to be nice. You've been hanging around your husband too long. All the nice wore off. Whadda you say I throw this candy dish in for free?" He held it up so it caught the light.
"Augie, the information…" Amanda wasn't going to be deterred.
"Oh yeah, sure." He wrapped the dish as he talked. "A lot of hi-tech industrial equipment has moved from West Germany into Pakistan. Some of it can even be used to refine uranium or build a nuke."
Amanda was puzzled. "West Germany? But they're our allies."
"And supposedly some hand-me-down US aircraft given to Pakistan have been modified to carry nukes."
"That's worrisome." Amanda took the packages from Augie. "Please call me if you hear any more rumors."
Augie nodded. "Will do, Mrs. S. Have a nice evening."
When Amanda got home she placed her purchases along with her purse on the island in the kitchen. Dotty had dinner almost ready.
"Amanda, Lee, are you home?" Amanda came downstairs into the kitchen.
"It's just me, mother. Lee was called out of town this morning."
"Oh, and I made fried chicken—I know how much he likes it. Maybe I can save some for him."
"I don't know how long he'll be gone, mother. So unless you plan to freeze it, don't bother. The boys will just eat it anyhow."
"Those two are going to eat us out of house and home. No matter how much I cook, they always ask for more."
"They're healthy growing boys."
Dotty had opened the wrapped packages Amanda had brought home from Augie's store while Amanda set the table for dinner.
"Oh Amanda, how beautiful!" She held up the cut glass candy dish. "And this is nice." She looked at the tag on the Wedgwood plate, "Although the shopkeeper doesn't know the difference between Royal Doulton and Wedgwood," Dotty remarked dryly.
"He's new to the business—still learning." Amanda replied automatically.
"Well—you sure got a couple of bargains. What did you get them for?"
"Oh," Amanda thought quickly. "I thought we could give them to Aunt Minnie and Aunt Lillian for Christmas."
"That's a good idea. You can't start too early with the Christmas shopping," Dotty confirmed. "Remember when you were little and I sent Lillian that crystal figurine? Somehow, it got smashed in the mail, and it arrived in a zillion pieces. But she never said a word, and then when we visited, I never saw it, so I thought she didn't like it, but she was so worried I would think she had broken it, and then we had that big fight about it, and afterward we cried and made up? It just goes to show, you can't start too early finding the perfect Christmas gift." Amanda nodded and followed her mother's ramble with half an ear.
The phone rang, interrupting their conversation. Dotty answered, "Hello? Yes, she's here—Amanda it's for you."
"Hello?" Amanda took the phone, with relief.
It was TP, "Hello Mrs. Stetson. I trust I'm not interrupting anything important."
"Oh no, TP. It's OK—hold on a minute." She turned to her mother as she covered the phone, "Mother, could you hang it up when I tell you? I need to take this upstairs where it's quiet."
"OK Amanda. Boys! Dinner is almost ready—wash up and come on down."
Amanda went up to her bedroom and picked up the extension there. She told her mother she had it and closed the door to talk to TP in the relative quiet. "OK TP, what do you have?"
"Interestingly, I found out there are a number of premier West German technical firms that have been sending sophisticated machinery to Pakistan for a while now. Why it hasn't been embargoed I don't know … but a significant portion of this industrial machinery is manufactured for nuclear production or for creating nuclear bombs. In addition is seems Pakistan has acquired a source of tritium in West Germany which is a necessary component for making nuclear bombs."
"Oh dear, that isn't good."
"Otherwise I've not been able to get any solid information. Rumors abound, but nothing concrete."
"Well thanks, TP. I appreciate this information. If you could keep digging, I'd appreciate it." Amanda hung up the phone.
Amanda shook her head and muttered to herself, "West German machinery, uranium and/or plutonium from China or North Korea shipped through Iraq and Iran—Lee please be careful. I love you."
Lee arrived at the massive Jacobabad Air Force base in southern Pakistan, tired, dirty and hungry. He got a meal in the nearest mess, and was reminded just why he was very happy to move away from the Colonel and Air Force Bases. 'Over 20 years later and the food is still the same. Lousy but plentiful.'
He commandeered an Army jeep and headed off to the city of Sibi on the near side of the Bolan Pass. It was one of two major passes—ancient and celebrated—that cut through the mountains between ancient Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now Pakistan controlled both sides of the pass. The other more famous pass was the Khyber Pass, but it was too far north for Lee's purposes, and the Bolan Pass gave good access to Iran and Iraq through southern Afghanistan.
Lee figured the nuclear material was coming in from Iran or Iraq—probably obtained from China or North Korea. Or maybe even the Soviets. It was flown into Iran or Iraq and trucked from there across Afghanistan into Pakistan. There was a small chance that the material had been left behind in Afghanistan by the Soviets—but it wasn't like them to abandon nuclear material. Of course, their pullout hadn't been exactly orderly or careful, so he figured it was possible.
Lee had been surprised to learn there were quite a few US military advisory teams touring Afghanistan advising the government on the abandoned Soviet sites as well as materiel and ordinance. His cover was a civilian advisor to the Army consulting on the rebuilding of Afghanistan's infrastructure as well as retaining as much of the Soviet materiel and construction as they could. It would serve him well in both Pakistan—where rebuilding materials would originate—and Afghanistan as well if he had occasion to cross into that country. He didn't plan on going as far as Iraq or Iran—though he could if necessary.
He drove into the small city of Sibi. It was from there that the Beggar had sent his message nearly two days before. He checked into the hotel where the message originated, and settled in, taking a long much-appreciated shower. Once he had changed it was late afternoon, and Lee decided to take a stroll and see if he could find his contact, as well as get some dinner.
He strolled the narrow side-streets—walked through a market—and over to a central square. He was strolling like a tourist, though keeping his eyes open for the Beggar. He also spotted a few items in the market he would definitely try to bring home to his family.
He had no luck spotting the Beggar, so he sat at a restaurant bordering the square and ordered dinner for himself. As Pakistan was a Muslim country—secular but Muslim nonetheless—he didn't order any alcoholic beverages but instead got the thick sweet tea to accompany his meal of lamb and vegetables, cooked into a hearty stew, and served over spiced rice.
As Lee was finishing up his stew, a grimy beggar using a worn crutch thrust an ancient chipped alms bowl into his face.
"Alms for the love of Allah, Praise Allah!" the grubby man intoned the usual sing-song litany in Urdu.
Lee was taken aback—he was automatically translating the conversation as the waiter immediately hurried over, talking and trying to "protect" his patron from the local indigent. "Be gone you son of a camel! This gentleman doesn't want his dinner ruined by your filth!"
"Please, oh great sir," the Beggar quickly appealed to Lee. "You are rich and I am the poorest of the poor. Please take pity on one who is less fortunate and spare something for a poor beggar. Allah will bless your charity."
The waiter tried to come between the two. "Begone! I will call the police if you do not leave immediately!" The waiter was ineffectually shooing the beggar with his towel.
"That's OK," Lee said placatingly. He reached into his pocket and put a few coins into the alms bowl with his right hand, while underneath the bowl he passed a small message with his left.
"A thousand thanks! May Allah smile on you and all your family. May your wives be fertile and may you beget many strong sons!" The Beggar gave Lee a gap-toothed smile through his scraggly beard.
"Uh, yeah." Lee was taken aback by the flowery blessing. Once that blessing would have been dismissed with a laugh—now he found himself strangely touched by it.
The waiter pushed the Beggar away. "You got your alms, now leave and do not disturb any more of our patrons."
The Beggar bowed and bobbed and shuffled off to a dark corner between two buildings.
Lee nodded as the man left, and ordered dessert and a small pot of strong Arabic coffee. Once his meal was finished and the bill paid to the tune of profuse apologizes from the hapless waiter, who got a better tip for it, Lee wandered back toward his hotel. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Beggar rise and follow him.
Nearer his hotel, Lee sat down at an outdoor tea shop and ordered a pot of hot sweet tea and two cups. As the tea arrived, the Beggar sat down across the table and helped himself to a cup of tea.
"I see the years have been kind to you, Scarecrow," the Beggar began.
"I'm doing OK, Beggar, how about you? It's been a while since you contacted me."
"With the Soviets in Afghanistan my … talents … were needed in other areas."
"I see. What do you have for me?" Lee wanted to get down to business.
The Beggar sipped his tea and spoke thoughtfully, "This is a delicate situation."
Lee nodded. "I appreciate that."
"Many people have been involved in this … matter."
"How many?" Lee asked cautiously.
"Several." The Beggar refilled his cup and sipped more tea as he sat back and enjoyed the evening air.
Lee was prepared to play the man's game. He refilled his cup and sat back and sipped his tea, too. "It sure is a beautiful evening."
"Indeed, Allah has been merciful and given us pleasant weather, all praises to the Prophet."
"I may have to move on in a day or two."
"Quetta is a beautiful city," the Beggar offered.
Lee smiled, so that's where the action was. "It's been years since I've been there. Has it changed much?"
"In some ways it will never change. In others there are so many new buildings and roads…"
"Sounds like I'd have a bit of trouble finding my way around."
The Beggar was struck by an idea. "I could arrange for a driver—a local guide—he is my cousin—very reliable and a good cook—his rates are very reasonable, noble sir."
Lee rubbed his chin and looked reluctant. "I don't know…" and so the negotiations began in earnest. In the end Lee had 'contracted' for a truck, a driver, a servant (the Beggar himself), a load of foodstuffs for supplies and 'local' accommodations in Quetta.
Lee passed the Beggar a few banknotes to seal their bargain and the Beggar passed Lee a folded paper. Lee pocketed the paper and the two agreed to meet the following day after mid-morning prayers outside the hotel. The Beggar would arrive with the truck and his cousin.
They finished their pot of tea, and Lee ordered another. They spent a couple of companionable hours chatting about mutual acquaintances, rehashing old times and generally discussing the state of affairs in that part of the world over the past decade. At dark, Lee bade his friend goodbye and made his way back to his hotel. Once in his room, Lee read the note. 'Bring $5000 and I will provide a Geiger counter as well. I will arrange to get you access to the trucks carrying the materials you are interested in. They are at a Pakistani air base outside Quetta. Afterward I will get you back to Jacobabad air base so you can return home.'
Lee was concerned. Billy would consider another $5000 somewhat excessive, but if the intel was good and he could get proof, it was well worth it. He thought for a while and decided to call Billy. DC was 10 hours behind Pakistan, so it was just before noon in DC.
"Billy, it's Lee. I'm at the hotel here."
"Are you having a good time on your trip?"
"Oh yeah, I'll be going to Quetta for some sightseeing."
"How are your finances holding out?"
Lee ran his hand through his hair. "I need a bit more—say five thousand."
"Five thousand!" Billy roared.
"Yeah—it's turned out to be a more expensive trip than we planned and I'm hoping to bring back some good souvenirs."
"They better be damned good souvenirs." Billy sighed. "OK, I'll have it wired to the bank and send a confirming telegram to your hotel. Anything else?"
"Yeah, let Amanda know I'm OK. Hopefully I can get this wrapped up in a few days and be home by the weekend."
"I'll let her know, take care."
"Thanks Billy, see you."
End Act Two