Act Three

Indicates *Translated from the Urdu*

The next morning, Lee woke up early in the worn, lumpy bed the hotel provided. He packed his bags and paid his bill. He arranged to store his luggage until the truck arrived, and he arranged for the Jeep he arrived in to be reclaimed by the Army. He pocketed the telegram that had arrived overnight, which was the confirmation for the $5000 waiting for him at a nearby bank. He would pick up the money as he and the Beggar were on their way out of town.

The morning was cool and bright. There were several small cafes open for breakfast and Arabic coffee.

Lee sat at a likely-looking café, and the proprietor bustled up to him.

"May Allah bless your day, noble sir. I will bring you our finest breakfast!" He stated proudly.

"Just an Arabic coffee, please," Lee countered.

"Is the noble sir going to start his day without a fine first meal? Life is not as pleasurable without a good breakfast!" The proprietor looked chagrined.

Lee shook his head, was this some conspiracy of Amanda's—to have people all over the world remind him that 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day'? "No, thank you. I'm sure it's a fine breakfast, but all I want is your excellent Arabic coffee."

The proprietor nodded less enthusiastically, and walked off muttering. When he returned with the coffee, which he poured out with a flourish, he tried again, "We have a fine selection of fruits and pastries. Perhaps that would be more to the noble sir's liking this fine morning."

Lee shook his head, and sipped the strong thick brew. "No thank you. Your coffee is among the best in the world. I require nothing more to make my morning complete."

The proprietor left again. Once Lee was finished, the man came bustling back with a platter of fruit and pastries. "Do you wish anything more? More coffee? Perhaps, some fine mangoes? A delicate pastry?"

"I will recommend your fine establishment to all my friends." Lee placed an overly generous payment on the table. The proprietor seemed mollified by the money, and bowed Lee out.

Shopkeepers were opening for the day, and Lee knew where he wanted to go from his wanderings the previous afternoon. He bought two colorful shawls of fine pashmina wool: one for Dotty, and the other for Amanda. He bought several scarves for other relatives—he ruefully thought about Amanda's reaction 'Scarves, Stetson?' but these were special scarves, of hand-woven wool and were soft, warm and deceptively light. He was at a loss for Philip and Jamie. He saw some hand-made beautifully decorated knives, but then he pictured Amanda's reaction, and decided to pass them by for different gifts.

The time was coming for him to be back at the hotel, and he still didn't have anything for the boys. He wanted something 'cool' but also tied to the history of the area. At one stall, he saw a curved sword, and he chatted with the proprietor about it. It was indeed a historical piece. He knew better than to buy a sword for one of the boys, but the proprietor, seeing Lee was a student of military history, brought out several wrapped bundles from the deep recesses of his shop.

Inside were various weapons and armor—all old and carefully cleaned and oiled. He admired the weapons, and couldn't pass one up for himself: it was an elephant goad crafted from a coppery metal. It was about 30" long, beautifully inscribed with designs, and the pommel unscrewed to reveal a 6" triangular bladed knife. The knife was fine steel, and wickedly sharp. It was something that was totally impractical, but the workmanship and design was so pleasing, that he had to get it for himself. Maybe he could display it at the office. Amanda might not appreciate it being at home with the boys.

In other bundles were more of the curved swords, but also some nice armor. He especially admired a shirt of fine welded Persian 6-ring mail. It was too small for any adult to wear, but the workmanship was exquisite, and it was a genuine Persian piece. He could envision Jamie researching the history of the shirt and learning about the Persian Empire, moving across the Middle-East conquering all the countries within their reach and ruling for thousands of years. The Shah of Iran, who had fled in the Islamic revolution in 1979, was a direct descendant of those Persian Emperors of old.

Another piece that caught his eye was a Persian helmet with an attached coif of mail, designed to cover the back of the neck. The helmet was steel with a nose-guard, as was the mail, again fine, welded and 6-ring in design. It was small and undecorated, but the shape was quite pleasing: it tapered to a point at the top with a small pierced spike crowning it. Lee could envision the fancy plume that had been tied to that pierced spike. Again, it was an authentic Persian piece, and he figured Amanda wouldn't squawk too much about pieces of armor that were almost too small for the boys to wear. People were smaller in that area of the world, so the armor was so small it would not fit the average American. But they were genuinely 'cool' gifts, and hopefully the boys would do a bit of research on them and learn a few things about the history of the Middle East.

Then he spotted another piece. It was a short curved knife. The blade was Damascus steel—the finest steel made—and the metal hilt and scabbard were engraved and inlaid with pure silver. It was not a practical thing, but the design and contrast between the dark metal and bright silver was especially striking. He thought it was something the Colonel might like. And it was small enough to be easily transported, so it could accompany the man in his endless moves from base to base. Why Lee was thinking of his Uncle at a time like this, he didn't know, but he decided to get it anyhow. The man needed something for Christmas, and that was something he would appreciate and enjoy.

"You have some interesting merchandise," Lee started the negotiations.

"My poor shop is graced with your noble presence. These small offerings are but a trifle to such an important traveler as yourself." The shopkeeper caressed the knife lovingly.

"I might be pleased to bring some of these items home to my family, as a memento of my travels." Lee pressed on.

"My unworthy merchandise would be made magnificent in the home of such a discerning collector." The shopkeeper got down to the heavy bargaining.

"I am just a traveler, and travel can be so expensive these days," Lee countered

"A man's family surely deserves the very finest gifts when he returns home."

"My family will be happy to see me return safely, they require no gifts, though I choose to bring back a few souvenirs as it pleases me to do so." Lee tried to sound casual.

He haggled further with the shopkeeper, but time was pressing, so in the end he paid more than he could have if he had bartered in earnest. But the prices were good by any standard, and he was glad to have found items that were unique and tied to the region and its vast history. It was amazing that these things, many hundreds of years old, were just 'lying around' waiting for an interested souvenir hunter. In the US, they might even be considered museum quality, but over here they were nothing special. The shopkeeper re-wrapped each item carefully in oiled cloth, and instructed Lee in the niceties of their care. Lee figured Leatherneck might be able to advise him on more practical methods of cleaning and protecting the items from rust.

Finally, he claimed his bundle and hurried back to the hotel. As he arrived, he spotted an ancient panel truck, parked in the alley beside the hotel. It looked to be surplus WWII, and probably hadn't been painted since then. It was battered, worn and shabby-looking. But if Lee knew the Beggar, it would run well, and be a reliable form of transport, if not fancy or particularly comfortable. The Beggar and a younger man were lounging against the hood, quietly watching the world pass by. The Beggar spotted Lee, and he poked his companion, who jumped to take the bundle from Lee.

"You're late, my friend," the Beggar chided.

"I was shopping for gifts for my family. The shopkeeper was not in a hurry."

The Beggar chuckled, "They never are, with tourists. They figure they can always sell one more item if they talk and keep showing their wares."

"I did get some good stuff, so it was worth it." Lee reclaimed his luggage, and the younger man hustled to store it in the back of the truck.

"This is my cousin, Ahmad," The Beggar introduced the younger man to Lee. Ahmad smiled and shook Lee's hand. "He will drive and help out in our travels. He is also a good cook, so we will eat well on this trip."

"How do you do, Ahmad?" Lee greeted the man.

"I am honored to be working with an important American person, honored sir. My cousin has told me of our journey, and I will endeavor to serve you excellently."

"Thank you, Ahmad." Lee turned to the Beggar. "We've got to get going. We have to stop at the bank on our way out."

"Then we shall start." The Beggar opened the passenger door of the truck, and wiggled into the space behind the seat. Lee sat in the passenger seat, and Ahmad took the wheel. Lee told the man the bank they needed to stop at, and they were off.

At the bank, Lee showed his telegram and verified his ID. He was eventually handed an envelope with $5000 US dollars inside. Lee tucked the envelope inside his jacket and went back to the truck. Once he was settled, they set off on the road to Quetta. When they were clear of Sibi, Lee handed the envelope to the Beggar. The Beggar opened it, peered inside, riffled the bills and then closed it up and made it disappear into his voluminous worn robes.

The drive to Quetta took longer than it might have as the ancient truck didn't go much over 40mph. But Lee was used to the different pace of life in this part of the world, and so he settled back and dozed—alternately napping and contemplating his life back in DC.

Once the baby was born, life would change for everyone in the Stetson-King-West household. He had already read several books on pregnancy and childbirth, and a couple more on early child rearing. Intellectually he understood about the midnight feedings and chronic lack of sleep most parents suffered through—but the books seemed to gloss over how a new parent would feel about their child.

Amanda had told him how it had been with Philip and Jamie—how she had loved them so completely—the feeling of awe and responsibility that this tiny person was yours—a part of you—and you were responsible for them until they could make it on their own.

Lee was excited about the baby. He hadn't really set his heart on a boy or girl. He was just in awe of the thought of a small person that was a combination of himself and Amanda—hopefully the best of each of them. Perversely he was reminded of the famous exchange between George Bernard Shaw and his actress-mistress. The actress was with her secret lover at a party, and the exchange was witnessed and immortalized. She was trying to make clever conversation and said, "Oh Mr. Shaw, I think we should have a child together. With my looks and your brains, our child would be the envy of all!" Shaw immediately replied, "Ye Gods, woman! What if it had my looks and your brains?"

Lee smiled ruefully to himself as the question made him think of a child with his impulsive temper and brusque manner, and Amanda's rambling and penchant for trouble. He shook his head to clear the frightening thought. With Amanda as the child's mother—boy or girl—there was no better mother around. But he had no idea how to be a father. He remembered so little about his own father—mostly the smell of his pipe—and Lee was definitely not going to take up smoking.

He knew that times had changed a great deal since he was a child. Amanda would not automatically stay at home full-time after the baby came—once her maternity leave was over she would probably go back to work. It was lucky they had Dotty—she had said she would be very happy to take care of her newest grandchild while Lee and Amanda were at work. Or they could check into childcare—the Agency had a couple that other personnel used for their children—and they were thoroughly checked out for security and safety.

But would Amanda want to go back into the field? Would he want her to? That would have to be Amanda's choice. What if she didn't go back into the field? Would he want to work solo again? Not really. Would he want to work with a new partner? No way! It had taken years to get used to Amanda. So it seemed their careers in the field hinged on Amanda's decision about working in the field after the baby came. Lee knew there were other jobs with the Agency they could do—but would they work together? He really liked working with Amanda, they complimented each other so well. And they had a great success rate, which had helped to keep them together after their marriage.

There were other job offers for both of them—individually and as a team—from other places, both in government and in the private sector.

They had until mid-March—that was the baby's due date—except that was only four months away. Uh oh! So they had to have their big talk sooner rather than later. Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks away—maybe before then he could arrange for some quiet time alone with his wife—maybe plan a nice evening out—a quiet restaurant with just the two of them—and then they could talk it over. One thing was sure—family life in the Stetson-King-West household was anything but quiet.

They stopped for lunch and from the back of the truck Ahmad pulled out a small brazier and a cooler with supplies, and they had roast lamb strips with grilled vegetables and rice. "All part of the services, honored sir!" Ahmad had grinned as he quickly prepared and cleaned up their repast. They arrived at Quetta late-afternoon. Their ultimate destination was the Pakistani airbase outside of town.

They stopped at a small local hotel and the Beggar dropped Lee of with his duffle. He explained, "Scarecrow, I must make arrangements for our visit and check with a few people here and there. So rest and clean up—do some more shopping—and have some dinner. I will return this evening after sunset. We will then take a drive and see where the trucks are parked while their drivers rest. But I must do these things alone. Those I deal with are suspicious of infidels."

Lee checked into the hotel, paying for his stay in advance. He showered, changed clothes and then left to wander the outskirts of Quetta. He had no plans to buy any more souvenirs, so he just window-shopped at the many and varied stalls. He spent some time at a tea shop, just watching and absorbing the local color. He listened and noted the language and accent differences between Quetta and Sibi. He knew his Urdu was far from perfect, but he also knew he could pass for a person 'not from there' in most any Pakistani city. Which was a distinct advantage for him. Usually he played 'dumb American' and didn't reveal his understanding of Urdu. Other times, it came in very handy.

He ate dinner in a small café, and was wandering back toward his hotel, when he spied something he knew he had to get for Amanda. It was a bathrobe, deep blue with colorful flowery embroidery. It reminded him of a spring garden at twilight. The fabric was fine wool, which would be warm, but not bulky. He could see Amanda in that bathrobe, nursing their newborn child. The strong emotions accompanying that picture took him by surprise, and he paid the asking price without bartering. Then he saw the small matching blanket. It was perfect—something for their child—the child he and Amanda had created. Again strong emotions swept over him at the thought of their child. People always talked about the deep love a mother felt for her unborn child, but Lee realized that a father could also feel a similar love for a person not yet born. If it was this strong now, how much more would it be when the baby was finally here? He was beginning to understand what other men who had become fathers talked about. Father-love may not be something celebrated in song and story—but it was just as real and strong as mother-love. He bought the blanket also, and headed back to the hotel. It was nearing sunset, and he didn't want to be late again.

The worn truck was not in sight, and he went up to his room. The Beggar was inside, waiting for him.

"Are you paid up for the night?" The Beggar asked.

"Yes," Lee replied.

"Good—we will leave now—bring your belongings—we will not be returning here."

Lee grabbed his duffle, and they made their way down the back stairs and out into a grubby alley. The truck was parked there, and the Beggar directed Lee into the back of the truck. He handed Lee a bundle that was stored just inside the door.

"Put these on over your clothes. I can do nothing for the eyes. Look downward—do not meet anyone's gaze." He handed Lee a jar of something. "Use this on your face and hands—there is a small mirror in the kit—you can see from the light of the cab in the back of the truck."

He shut Lee into the back of the truck and locked the door. There were bundles and boxes inside, but there was room up near the cab for Lee to sit in relative comfort, hidden from prying eyes in case the door was opened for inspection. The bundle consisted of a worn dirty turban, a burkah to wrap around his head and the ubiquitous long shirt-like garment worn by most men. Lee opened the jar and discovered a brown cream designed to darken his pale skin so he could blend in with the local population. He pulled off his shirt and applied the cream to his face, neck and upper chest, as well as the back of his neck and ears. After he had inspected his work, he applied the rest of the cream to his hands and arms up to the elbow. He waited for the cream to soak in and dry somewhat. 'Hopefully this stuff will come off with cold cream or something similar—otherwise it could take weeks for it to wear away,' he shook his head. 'The things I do for my country…' he thought ruefully.

Then he replaced his own shirt and donned the native shirt-garment over that. Surprisingly it fit—he was substantially larger than the average Pakistani man. The Beggar has some good contacts if he could get this in Lee's size at short notice. He donned the dirty turban, taking care to tuck his sandy hair underneath. He then wound the burkah around his head and face, he hoped it all hid anything that wasn't properly dyed or covered. He'd have to slump if he went out in the streets—his height was another giveaway that he wasn't a Pakistani.

Lee rummaged around and found a Geiger counter. He checked it out, turned it on and made sure the batteries were good, and tried to take a reading. It registered minimal radiation, which was normal. Hopefully it wouldn't register too strong a radiation level—he didn't want to have to go through decontamination or—God forbid—radiation sickness. He had two small cameras. One was housed in a lead alloy with a lead-glass lens. It took less detailed pictures, but it was mostly radiation-proof. The film wouldn't be ruined by moderate radiation levels that could ruin film in a non-leaded camera. The other camera was standard Agency issue. He'd use both and hope all the shots turned out. Since he could do nothing more to prepare, he settled down to doze until they arrived at their destination.

Eventually the truck stopped and the engine shut down. Lee was instantly alert and ready. He heard muffled voices outside—someone talking with the Beggar in Urdu and later the Beggar speaking English to someone. The voices receded and Lee waited patiently—hidden out of sight in his little area next to the cab.

After about an hour, the door opened and Ahmad called softly to Lee, "Please sir, come with me. Stay close and do not meet anyone's gaze. We will go to where you need to be and you will do what you need to do and we will then carry a crate back to the truck. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I understand Ahmad," Lee replied as he climbed out of the truck.

They were parked in a lot with many assorted vehicles—some sort of civilian supply area. Beyond was the gate and razor-wire fence surrounding the Pakistani Air Base. Lee and Ahmad walked up to the gate. Ahmad produced a note and an envelope and handed it to the more senior of the guards. The envelope disappeared and the guard read the note. Lee figured some of his $5000 was in that envelope—whatever it took to get the job done.

They were passed into the base, and Ahmad led Lee to a metal building. Inside were half-a-dozen trucks. It smelled of dust, oil and exhaust. Lee touched the hood of one truck—it was warm.

Ahmad spoke quietly, "The drivers have stopped for their evening meal. They leave again in two hours. We must be out in no more than ninety minutes."

Lee nodded and then went to work. The first truck held many crates and had no radioactivity. The crates were labeled in German and were from a manufacturer of sophisticated electronic and technical equipment—components that could be used to refine uranium or make a nuclear bomb. Lee photographed the crates and pried one open. He found a bill of lading and photographed that and the tops of the components nestled in the packing material. All the trucks held similar cargo, German crates with electronic components, bills of lading, and little or no radioactivity.

He finished his inspection of the trucks in a little over an hour, and then ran the Geiger counter around the building. There was a chance uranium had been shipped through there, and there might be some residual radioactivity. In one corner, the radiation level was significantly higher and he noted it, took a picture of the reading on the Geiger counter and recorded the readings in a small notebook.

Then the ninety minutes were up and Lee and Ahmad left the building with the trucks, went to another area and picked up a crate and carried it out to the gate. The same guards as before passed them out and they carried the crate to the truck and stowed it in the back.

Ahmad indicated Lee was to get back in the cargo area. "Now we wait for the Beggar. It shouldn't be long."

Lee settled in for a wait and the drive to the US Air Base. He was dozing when he heard gunshots and an alarm. The door flew open and the Beggar pushed a man in Pakistani garb similar to Lee's into the back of the truck. The Beggar spoke quietly, "Get in and hide. Allah willing, we will leave before they think to search the civilian vehicles."

Lee grabbed the man's hand and pulled him into the back to his hiding place. It was a snug fit with two people facing each other, but Lee had endured much worse.

The truck started up and rumbled away down the road. Lee and the man had their burkahs drawn over their faces. Only their eyes showed in the dimness. After half an hour Lee relaxed, figuring they were away and safe. He addressed the other man in Urdu, "I am called Lee—it seems we are to be traveling companions. May I have the honor of your name, sir?"

The other man mumbled something Lee didn't catch. Then a familiar voice said in English, "I don't speak the local language, so you're out of luck, buddy."

Lee pulled off his burkah and turban and looked at his uncle, the colonel. The colonel's eyes widened in recognition and they spoke simultaneously:

"What are you doing here!"

End Act Three

Act Four

In the back of the truck Lee passed the Colonel a canteen and the older man drank sparingly.

"Sir, what the hell are you doing here? You're not in uniform." It was a ludicrous statement, but Lee couldn't think of anything else to say.

The colonel looked around, "Skip, are you alone or did your imbecile bosses send your pregnant wife to this god-forsaken place, too?"

"Amanda's back home. Hey! How did you know she's pregnant?"

"Well, it certainly wasn't from you, boy!"

Lee ran his hand through his hair in exasperation, "We've been busy…" He trailed off guiltily.

"Your mother-in-law Dotty is a delightful woman. She has been corresponding with me regularly—ever since your marriage—she keeps me up on the family news. And Amanda writes me now and then, too."

"I see." Lee squirmed. How was it that this man could always make Lee feel like he was 8 years old again and had just wet the bed? He thought of something Amanda had said to him, 'He's your only living blood relative—you should be glad he's around. And he can only make you feel bad if you let him. You're a grown man with a successful career and a loving family. Act like a responsible adult and he'll respond in kind.'

Lee took a deep breath and prepared to take his wife's advise. "So what are you doing here, anyway?" He figured changing the subject was the safest course.

"I might ask you the same question," Colonel Clayton shot back.

Lee replied pleasantly, "I'm doing my job. Nothing out of the ordinary for me. And you?" He put a mildly inquisitive look on his face.

"The same," was the gruff reply.

"Really," Lee said dryly. "I wasn't aware the US Air Force issued burkahs and turbans to its officers these days. I guess I'd better brush up on current military dress."

The colonel smiled. "OK Skip, you've got me. I trust you can keep a secret?"

Lee just answered with an incredulous look.

"Yeah." The colonel continued, "Intel has it that Pakistan has been retrofitting F-16's with hardware to drop a nuke or two…"

Lee's eyes widened at this additional tidbit.

"And," the colonel went on, "since I commanded a squadron of F-16 pilots for a few years… I know the aircraft inside and out so the brass figured I'd have a good chance to spot that hardware if I got close enough to one of the planes in question."

"And did you?" Lee asked.

"Yes. And yes, they are retro-fitted to carry nukes. Which distinctly violates the agreement with the US for their use in Pakistan."

Lee nodded. "That correlates with why I'm here. I'm looking for nuclear material or bomb components."

The colonel shuddered. "Find any?"

"No—thank God—to the first and yes to the second."

"Whew. Better components than fissionable materials."

Lee nodded in agreement. "You said it. So, where are you bound for?"

"Home. You?"

Lee nodded again. "The same."

"Want to hitch a ride? I've got a spare seat in the jet I flew over in."

Lee was surprised—and grateful. Hitching a ride back with the colonel in a fighter jet would get him home much more quickly. "Sure. Thanks. I'll get home faster than I would taking regular military transport."

"Figured. You should be home right now—what with your wife expecting in March."

"Yeah. Well, this time I was the only man for the job. I didn't plan this, y'know."

"You never do, son," the colonel reprimanded. "What are you going to do once the baby comes? Amanda's boys are old enough to understand—but a baby needs two parents—not just a mother and some guy who shows up now and again between international assignments."

"Hey! Like I said—I didn't want to do this one," Lee was trying not to sound too defensive.

"And I'm asking again," the colonel continued in a more sincere tone. "What will it be like once the baby comes?"

Lee bristled. "Mom and dad seemed to manage OK."

The colonel shook his head sadly. "You don't know the half of it, boy. Some weeks you spent more time at the sitter's than with your parents. They were planning on getting out of the business. That little case that got them killed was supposed to be their last. They were going to quit because of you. And because they wanted to give you a baby sister or brother. They didn't want you to lose one or both parents. Sadly, they didn't quit soon enough."

"And so you were stuck with me after grandma died," Lee shot back.

"Is that how you see it?"

Lee was angry now. "That's how you said it—you called me diaper duty until I was 16. What was I supposed to think?"

The colonel sighed. "I'll admit I never expected to be a parent. But I did the best I could. You might have tried to meet me halfway," he finished accusingly.

"What the hell?" Lee was surprised the man was that thick. "I was a kid—a scared lonely kid. When I ended up with you it was the second time in my life that my whole world was turned upside down. At least grandma talked about mom and dad. You never did. I don't think you liked dad very much."

The colonel was silent for several minutes. "I'm sorry, Lee. Your father was a good man—a loving husband and a great father. I knew I could never replace him—so I just did my best. I saw how you and Barney hit it off. So I pulled all the strings I could to keep Barney with me whenever we were transferred. I didn't manage every time—but I did get him more often than not. And Barney was happy to help. I'm grateful to him. Hopefully he gave you something of what I couldn't."

"Yeah, Barney's a real good friend. I didn't realize you arranged for him to be stationed with you." Lee was quiet for a bit. "Thanks. It helped. A lot."

Both men withdrew into their memories for a while.

Finally the colonel spoke again, "So—what are you going to do about your jobs when the baby comes, Lee?"

Lee sighed. "I've been thinking about that a lot on this trip. I know I don't want to be out in the field without Amanda. Solo work just doesn't appeal to me any more and I'm damned if I'll go through breaking in another partner. It took almost three years to get used to Amanda."

"Three years?" the colonel asked with raised eyebrows.

"OK, OK, so I'm exaggerating—but it isn't worth it going through all that again. My Amanda's one in a million—one in a billion, really—and nobody else can ever measure up to her. Trouble is we haven't talked about it. She hasn't said whether she plans to work full-time after her maternity leave. So we have a lot of talking to do."

"Have you thought about your options?" the colonel asked.

"Yeah, we have so many options. We could stay as we are—partners in the field. We could come out of the field and take other positions with the Agency—but I don't know if we could continue to work together. And I'd like to keep working with Amanda. We make a great team. We could leave the Agency and take offers elsewhere: State keeps sending openings to me; ATF to both of us; I have a friend at the FBI who has hinted we could be instructors at Quantico; and then there's the private sector. There are lots of options. Maybe too many options. We just have to find time to talk about it. And we have to do it soon. Four more months and the baby is here. We still haven't worked out the living arrangements with a new baby. I don't want Dotty to move out—but the house just isn't big enough for another person," Lee ran his hand through his hair again.

"Sounds like you've got a lot on your plate. But you're looking to the future. That's good. Children have a way of making you do that, you know."

"And you would know all about that," Lee said wryly.

"Look boy—when I promised your parents I'd raise you if something happened to them and your grandma couldn't take you, I never thought I'd be honoring that promise so soon after I made it. I think your parents knew—your mother knew at least—that they wouldn't live to see you grow up. So they planned ahead. You'd better do that, too."

"Hey, Amanda and I aren't planning on going anywhere."

The colonel sounded sad. "You never plan that sort of thing, son. Life is what happens to you despite your best plans. Remember that. And even if you were an accountant for the IRS, well—people die in car wrecks every day—just accidents."

Lee winced at the mention of car accidents. "Yeah, I hear you…"

"Have you done anything with that trust fund your parents left you?"

Lee shook his head. "Not really. I've never really needed it. I made Amanda and the boys beneficiaries when I got married—and I'll add the baby once its here. But I have a good income and investments of my own—separate from the trust. Maybe I could just leave it for the kids—it would get them through college at least."

"What about the boys' father? Doesn't he have anything set aside for them?"

"I don't really know. Amanda has a small college fund for the boys—but she hasn't had that much extra money—she's been full-time at the Agency for only three years. Before that she was a civilian auxiliary and didn't make much. I had to co-sign on a loan for her to get her appliances and car fixed. She didn't make enough to qualify on her own with the Agency credit union."

"Was that when you were dating?" the colonel asked interestedly.

Lee smiled ruefully. "Actually it was about three months before that. I guess I was hooked even then—I just didn't know it."

"You were hooked when I first met Amanda—but neither of you realized it at the time."

Lee shook his head. "Why did everyone see it but me?"

"You weren't ready yet," the colonel replied sagely.

"Yeah." He was quiet for a moment. "I'm just lucky Amanda decided to wait for me to be ready. She told me once—'With love you have to be patient.' She has the patience of a saint."

"You're a lucky man, Lee. I'm glad you've realized Amanda and your family are more important than your job."

"Amanda taught me that for sure," Lee affirmed.

They were quiet for a while, each man lost in his own thoughts.

Then Lee spoke, "Sir, how did you hook up with the Beggar? He's an old contact of mine—I've dealt with him for over 10 years. How do you know him?"

The colonel smiled and replied, "I was stationed at Jacobabad for a while back in 1980-81 helping the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. We trained personnel and supplied support and shipped supplies in. One day I'm off work, walking down the street of the town adjoining the base, and this grubby beggar comes up to me and asks—in English, mind you—if I was interested in a better way of getting supplies to the Afghanis. I talked to the man a while—made no commitments—and when I got back to the base I went through channels to try to check him out. I was allowed to read a few reports from the CIA and the Agency—a couple were filed by an agent codenamed "Scarecrow". After that, I figured the guy was OK, so I went back a few days later, same time and hoped he'd be there. He hit me up for alms, and then we sat at a tea shop and talked at length. When I want to contact him, I send word to a baker in town near Jacobabad base, and he sends word back to the base. When we heard about the F-16's and I was assigned to the matter a month ago, I remembered the Beggar. I figured if anyone could get me in and out, it was that guy. I finally got word back, and he said I should be at Jacobabad base five days ago, and when we met in person, he agreed to help. So here I am."

Lee nodded. "How much did you have to pay for his services?"

"$7500," the colonel replied quietly.

Lee was surprised. "It only cost me $5000."

"What did that get you?" the colonel asked.

"Access to the trucks that were shipping the suspected cargo. I got to examine them on the base while the drivers were having their dinner."

The colonel nodded. "I had to get to the F-16's and closely examine them—including the cockpit if possible. He probably had to bribe a few more people for that."

"Uh huh," Lee agreed. "Your jet at Jacobabad?"

"Yeah."

"We'll probably be there by morning."

"We should try to get some sleep."

"Yeah. Hey—Uncle Bob—thanks. For … everything." Lee said softly.

"Lee, you're family. You do what you have to for family," the colonel replied.

"Yeah well—thanks just the same."

They settled in to sleep.

QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ

Once they returned to the US after two rest and refueling stops, Lee and Colonel Clayton were debriefed at the Agency. Before they had returned to Andrews, Billy had cleared it with the Air Force, and other powers-that-be and it was agreed by all that it would be in everyone's best interests to conduct a joint debriefing at the Agency.

By 4PM all the debriefing was finished, and Lee and Colonel Clayton went up to the Q Bureau where Amanda was waiting for them. She welcomed Lee home with a warm kiss as the colonel watched. "I'm sorry I was out when you arrived. I was getting some follow-up information from TP. I missed you, sweetheart." Amanda ran her hand along Lee's chest as she talked. When they were finished, she turned to Lee's uncle, "Hello Uncle Bob. I'm glad to see you, though I'm a bit surprised."

The colonel embraced Amanda. "Hello Amanda. I ran into your husband in Pakistan—he needed to get home so I let him hitch a ride in my plane."

"Thank you, sir," Amanda said gratefully. "I'm glad to have him home that much sooner."

"I was glad to help out." He stepped back and regarded Amanda. "You're looking mighty good, little mother."

"I feel pretty good, too. How long will you be in town?"

"I have to report back to Andrews tomorrow and fly back to my home base."

Amanda smiled. "Would you like to stay with us overnight? The boys would sure like to see you."

The colonel shook his head. "I wouldn't want to put you out."

"Sir," Lee jumped in, "it's no trouble. Amanda's right, the boys—and I—would like to spend some time with you."

Amanda looked surprised at Lee's enthusiasm. "How about it, Uncle Bob? Mother's made lasagna—it's no trouble to set an extra place at the table."

The colonel was taken aback by the double assault. "OK, OK. But please allow me to bring some wine and dessert."

"That's not necessary," Amanda said.

"But it would be greatly appreciated," Lee finished for her.

"Then it's settled," the colonel said.

"Let's get our gear in the car, and head home," Lee gathered them to go.

Amanda stopped. "Except we need another car. I drove the 'Vette today. Mother was going grocery shopping this afternoon, so she's got the Wagoneer."

Lee volunteered, "I'll get something from the motor pool. Then I'll drive you to Andrews in the morning, and drop it off afterward."

"Thanks, Lee. That'll be a big help." The colonel accepted gratefully.

Amanda looked at the two men. "You guys made a pretty good team—you," she looked at the colonel, "found evidence that the F-16's had been modified—and you," she looked at Lee, "found the German electronics and trace radiation readings. With what I found out about the tritium," Lee and the colonel looked surprised, "we got conclusive intelligence on the situation and now the President can formulate a policy to deal with Pakistan."

"Tritium?" Lee asked weakly.

"TP found out the Pakistanis bought a tritium source from the West Germans," Amanda replied. "I was out getting confirmation and maps from him when you got back."

"But you asked him to nose around. If you hadn't we wouldn't have that information," Lee sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "This isn't good at all, Amanda."

"No, it isn't—but we got the information—we did our jobs," she affirmed.

"This one was a real family mission," the colonel said.

"I'm glad you were there, sir. I worry about Lee when he works alone," Amanda said as she stroked Lee's arm.

"A—man—da! I was fine. And really, he only showed up at the end."

She nodded. "But that was when you needed him the most. Otherwise you'd still be on your way back."

Lee nodded. "Yeah. Thanks again for everything, Uncle Bob."

"Anything for family, Lee," the colonel said as he slapped his nephew on the back.

Tag

Back at 4247 Maplewood Drive, the Stetson-King-West-Clayton family was finishing up dinner.

"Can I have another éclair, mom?" Jamie asked.

"Two is your limit, young man," Amanda replied, heading him off.

"But they don't keep forever, mom," Philip said as he tried an end run around Amanda and Jamie.

"They'll be just fine until tomorrow evening, boys," Dotty said as she swooped in and retrieved the rest of the assorted pastries the colonel had brought for dessert. "That was awfully nice of you, Robert, to get these for dessert. We can have them two nights in a row! And that wine you brought was delicious."

"My pleasure, Dotty. I don't get home-cooked meals very often, so I like to show my gratitude." He took Dotty's hand and kissed it. "My compliments to the chef."

Dotty smiled. "Oh Robert! It was just my lasagna. Next time, give me some warning and I'll make something special for you."

"Next time, I'll take you out to dinner," the colonel said with a warm twinkle in his eye.

"I'd like that," Dotty replied with an answering twinkle.

Lee and Amanda exchanged looks. Was there romance in the air?

Lee said, "Once the dishes are cleared, we'll open the gifts I brought back."

"Oh boy! Presents!" the boys chorused, as they leapt up to help clear the table quickly.

Once the table was cleared and the dishes were done, the family gathered in the living room. Lee brought several bundles in with him from his duffle.

"Who's first?" the colonel asked.

"Me—me," the boys said. The adults laughed at their eagerness. Lee felt the two largest bundles and handed one to Philip, and the other to Jamie.

"These are authentic. They're not for you to wear—but they're great historical pieces," Lee said as the boys began carefully unwrapping the oiled cloth.

They revealed the Persian helmet and mail shirt. "Wow!" "Cool!" they exclaimed. Philip tried on the helmet—it was very small. Jamie held the mail shirt up. "This is really neat—is this welded mail?"

Lee nodded. "Yes Jamie, each link is individually welded as it's added to the shirt."

"That must have taken forever!" Jamie exclaimed.

"Maybe you can go to the library and look up the techniques used to make those things, boys," Amanda suggested.

"Yeah," Philip replied with enthusiasm, "maybe we can try making something like it for ourselves, too."

"I don't think so, boys," Lee temporized. "We'd have to build a forge, and I think the Arlington fire regulations might prohibit something like that."

"How old are they? Where did they come from?" Jamie asked, as he examined the fine workmanship that went into making his mail shirt.

"They're pretty old. They came from Pakistan, though they're more Persian in design. They may be Moghul—but I'm not sure. You guys could research it and find out for yourselves. I only know what the shopkeeper told me." Lee said.

"Wait until the guys see this neat stuff! Thanks, Lee—these are really cool!" Philip enthused.

"Yeah, thanks Lee." Jamie said more quietly.

"I'll show you how to treat them so they don't rust and how to store them properly." Lee nodded in return. "Now, I think these are next." He passed two smaller bundles to Dotty and Amanda.

Amanda opened her package and held up her gift. She gave Lee a look and said, "Scarves, Stetson?"

"Oh Lee, this is beautiful!" Dotty exclaimed. She tried her shawl on and felt the soft impossibly fine wool. She leaned over and kissed Lee on the cheek.

Lee looked back at Amanda, and she smiled in return. "Thank you Lee, it's a beautiful shawl." Amanda kissed Lee as well.

Philip noticed there were three other unopened bundles. "Hey! There's more here. Who are these for?"

Lee passed a smaller bundle to his uncle. "This is for Uncle Bob."

The colonel looked surprised, but opened his gift. He pulled out the decorated curved knife and admired it. "This is exquisite work, Lee. It must have cost you a pretty penny."

Lee evaded that question. "The blade's Damascus steel—the finest there is. And the inlay is pure silver. I thought you'd like it. And it's relatively small so it won't be a problem to pack with your gear when you're transferred from base to base."

The colonel looked touched. "I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Lee." Both men knew the colonel was speaking about more than just the knife.

"What about those other two packages?" Jamie pointed to the last two bundles.

"This," Lee handed the larger bundle to Amanda, "is for you when the baby comes, and before, too."

She opened the gift and removed the deep blue embroidered bathrobe. "Oh Lee! It's gorgeous!"

"Yeah. I thought you could use it when you were nursing…" he said in a soft voice.

Amanda smiled broadly. "Its perfect. Thank you, sweetheart." She kissed her husband again.

"And this," Lee handed the last bundle to Amanda, "is for the baby."

Amanda opened the gift and held up the decorated baby blanket. "It's so beautiful—and it matches my bathrobe!"

"Yeah—I saw them and I couldn't resist…" Lee got a silly wistful expression on his face.

Amanda kissed him. "We still have four months to go before the baby's here."

"And we're going to need every minute of it," Dotty chimed in.

They all laughed and settled in to have a quiet family evening together.

The End

Historical overview. In 1989, the world did not know that Pakistan was on the verge of gaining full nuclear capability. Since 1974, when India announced it had achieved full nuclear capability (and probably before that) Pakistan had tried to gain the secrets of building their own nuclear bomb, and worked toward being able to deliver it to India, their neighbor and bitter enemy. Dr. AQ Khan, Abdul Qadeen KhanAbdul, was the physicist in charge of Pakistan's nuclear project. Eventually he was accorded the "Hero of the Nation" award after Pakistan had revealed the successful achievement of its goal on May 28, 1998.

By 1987, Pakistan had supposedly successfully carried out a controlled nuclear explosion, in the northern mountains bordering Afghanistan. In 1989, there were multiple reports of Pakistan modifying US supplied F-16 aircraft for nuclear delivery purposes. In 1989-90 there were reports of secret construction of an unsafeguarded nuclear reactor in Pakistan, using components from Europe. In 1990, western intelligence sources claimed Pakistan had recently 'cold tested' a nuclear device and was building a plutonium reactor and was cooperating with Iran in nuclear matters.

The main research facility was the Kahuta uranium enrichment compound in Punjab, roughly 32 kilometers ESE of Islamabad.

The scandal of West German complicity in allowing Pakistan to achieve nuclear capability didn't break until the late 1990's, shortly after they announced they had attained their goal. There was a big flap about why was this technology allowed to go seemingly unhindered to a third-world country, but no good answers were forthcoming. Evidently, it was all about selling merchandise, and the businesses involved never worried about the consequences of their sales. They just enjoyed massive profits.

But the world was largely ignorant of the extent and success of Pakistan's efforts until the mid-late 1990's. They kept their secrets very well. They triggered their explosions in an area of the world prone to many earthquakes, and indeed, a few of their bombs triggered earthquakes. Seismic readings indicated massive explosions—probably nuclear in nature—were taking place in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but actual confirmation was not forthcoming. Add to that, the difference between being able to trigger a controlled nuclear explosion, and to be able to successfully make a nuclear bomb and then to be able to deliver that bomb to your intended target is vast, so the exact progress being made was shrouded in many questions and massive secrecy.

The nuclear material came from China and North Korea. This was not especially surprising, but it was very worrisome, adding another layer of volatility to the general instability of the Mideast and south Asia.

By the time Pakistan officially announced their nuclear capability in 1998, the world had already come to the realization Pakistan had the bomb for several years—possibly a full decade—before that announcement was made. India had certainly taken that into account in their dealings with Pakistan. So the actual announcement was something of an anti-climax. Still, the fear that India and Pakistan would start WWIII was strong, and still makes many people sleep badly. To this date, neither India nor Pakistan has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.